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Maya Warfare

Archaeologists for a long time believed the ancient Maya to be gentle and peaceful people. We now know that Maya warfare was intense, chronic, and irresolvable, because limitations of food supply and transportation made it impossible for any Maya kingdom to unite the whole region in an empire. The archaeological record shows that wars became more intense and frequent toward the time of the Classic collapse. That evidence comes from discoveries of several types since the Second World War: Archaeological excavations of massive fortifications surrounding many Maya sites; vivid depictions of warfare and captives on stone monuments and on the ceramics and murals; and the decipherment of Maya writing, much of which proved to consist of royal inscriptions boasting of conquests. Maya kings fought to capture and torture one another.

Warlord, Cotzumalguapa, in the Pacific Lowlands.

Highland Guatemala , mold made figure of a warrior with shield. He also wears a back rack made of feathers similar to the costume on an Ilk site vase.

Yaxhá, Lateclassic, Bronze Axe Head.

Maya warfare involved well-documented types of violence: wars among separate kingdoms; attempts of cities within a kingdom to secede by revolting against the capital; and civil wars resulting from frequent violent attempts by would-be kings to usurp the throne. The affiliation of several cities changed with time, being the Naachtún case the most dramatic, the city's geographic location, between Tikal and Calakmul, served even for "Peace Talking" between these Classic "superpowers",  All of these events were described or depicted on monuments, because they involved kings and nobles. Not considered worthy of description, but probably even more frequent, were fights between commoners over land, as overpopulation became excessive and land became scarce. The god Bolon Yookte' K'uh is associated with War and Xibalbá, and is the one that will descend on the end of this 5Th. Maya Era, (Dec 21, 2012), he is depicted in the 7 and 11 gods Vases from Naranjo. For description of the wars in the Petexbatún area. See Maya Collapse.

Actual shape of the Vase of the 7 godsA council of gods aiding in the setting of the jaguar throne. Here the main actor is God L, the commerce and trade god, while the Jaguar Paddler, who is named in the Quiriguá Stela C, (see Cosmology  for description of it's text), sits at the head of the upper row of god, this vase along with the eleven gods mention the war associated god Bolon Yookte' K'uh. The text narrates that “on 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk’u it was set in order, Black-is-its- Center,” (Chan Ahaw Waxak Kumk’u tzakhi Ek’-u-Tan). The name of the location, Ek’-u- Tan, refers to the state of the pre-creation universe as black because the sky had not yet been lifted away from the Primordial Sea or Xibalbá.

 A "star war" is a full-scale war planned in accordance with specific astronomical events, usually the first appearance in the morning sky of the planet Venus. The heliacal rising of the brilliant "star" in the pre-dawn sky was considered by the Maya as a highly evil portent. As such it was an appropriate Hasaw Chaan K'awiil I, Stela 29, Tikalherald of warfare, at least on the part of the attacker. (Schelle).  Nu-Balam-Chak, the "Watery Jaguar", with his head attached, is the image hovering over King Hasaw-Chan-K'awil on one of his lintels at Tikal. Two of the jaguarian divinities intimately associated with Maya warfare of the Classic period, Kin Balam "Jaguar Sun", and Nu-Balam-Chak, "Watery Jaguar", made their appearance in the Late Preclassic period. At the enormous Late Preclassic community of El Mirador in Petén, Guatemala, walls enclosed strategic sectors of the ceremonial center,  so there is some evidence to suggest that war aimed at the attack of ceremonial centers concerned some lords in the Preclassic. However, these defensive works are still a rarity in early Maya centers. Indeed, fortifications do not become a commonplace until the Terminal Classic period, nearly a thousand years later.

Pa' Chan (Probably Yaxchilán or El Zotz) Lord, Son of a Calakmul Lord, captured  by Hasaw Chan K'awil in 695 AD. Bone at Tikal museum

      Warfare seems to have played a part in the ultimate downfall of El Mirador (The Kan Kingdom), as a large wall surrounding the western portion of the site appears to have been built in the Early Classic. One of the only documented battlefields of the ancient Maya world was found atop the Tigre pyramid where dozens of green obsidian spear points were found scattered atop debris indicating that the battle occurred after the pyramid had already fallen into disrepair. This suggests that the forces of Siyah K’ahk’  of  Tikal  overran this area likely some time in the late fourth century AD.

   El Mirador has been only partly mapped, but the scale of its central public architecture is vast beyond anything undertaken by Hasaw- Chan-K'awil of Tikal or his contemporaries during the Classic apogee of the Maya civilization, although it has defensive walls that were made in a rushed manner, indicating that during the Preclassic, they too had their share of conflict. There are numerous other very large Preclassic centers in north central Petén, some of which are fairly close to El Mirador. While these are impressive concentrations of temples and plazas, they are dwarfed by El Mirador and probably were subordinate to that center. To put it simply, the settlement patterns around El Mirador are beginning to take on the appearance of large satellite communities near a dominantThe naked figure is a captive who is being led by an elaborately dressed warrior for sacrificial display capitol, at least in Late Preclassic times. But if El Mirador indeed constituted some sort of primordial hegemonic state, it was the extraordinary exception and not the rule in early Maya civilization. In later Classic Maya history, it might have served as the half remembered glorious precedent for the imperial ambitions of Tikal, Dos Pilas, Naranjo  and other Petén cities; but it did not divert Maya society from its principal political form, the relatively small polity ruled by a single major royal capitol.

For the ancient Maya warfare, (Jub'uy) Glyph T510af:325:575 - JUB'(?)-yi, "Star-Over-Shell" glyph,  was a two-step process: warriors captured  the enemy on the battlefield and then brought the victims back to the court for royal presentation. It is clearly seen in today's Kek'çhí drama The  Rabinal Achí.    The Maya also went to war by the sky, triggered by the planet Venus. Venus war regalia is seen on stelas and other carvings, and raids and captures were timed by appearances of Venus, particularly as an evening "star". Warfare related to the movements of Venus is,  well established throughout the Maya world. The Maya timed certain military campaigns to coincide with celestial events. Werner Nahm, has recently proposed that Lunar Cycles can be linked to those of Venus to produce many more stations at which such war events might occur.

Itz'am Ye, (Vucub Caquix) in the tree and Hunahpú shoots at him with his blowgun

"Texts were a medium through which kings asserted and displayed power, and thus they and the scribes who produced them were targeted during warfare for destruction." The fact that many of the captured scribes were kinsmen of the conquered king and suspected of continued loyalty might have contributed to their fate. But the methods of public torture suggest that the conquerors also intended to send an unambiguous message. "What captors chose to emphasize in public documents was not the physical elimination of the scribes through sacrifice but the destruction through finger mutilation of their capacity to produce for rivals politically persuasive texts," Johnston wrote. "Finger breaking was a significant political act because it produced and revealed the vulnerability of enemies and competitors." In the Dos Pilas hieroglyphic stairway a city's defeat is described as: Brought down were the flint(s) and the shield(s).

Dos Pilas hieroglyphic stairway, central section.

Also the triumph is glorified with several titles like: In August 5,  695 A.D., Mutul (Tikal) ruler Hasaw Chan K’awil brought down, (Ju-b'u-yi)  the Tok’ Pakal or ("flint-shield", or war emblem, battle standard) of Yuknom Yich’ak K’ak’ of Kanal (Calakmul), son of Yuknom Ch’en, as recorded in the text on the wooden Lintel 3 of Temple I (Structure 5D-1-1st). Hasaw Chan K’awil was the son of Nun Uhol Chak (Burial 116). In A.D. 711, some 32 years after the defeat of Nun Uhol Chak of Mutul (Tikal) and 16 years after his triumph over Yuknom Yich’ak K’ak’ of Kanal (Calakmul), on Stela 16, comissioned by his son, Yax k'in Ca'an Chak, the builder on the Temples IV and VI and the Acanaladuras Palace Hasaw Chan K’awil proudly boasted the Tikal dynastic title (Unab’nal K’inich. (By adding K’inich to their name, these kings not only wanted to evoke the protection of K’inich Ahau, but some may have also believed that by doing so they then became the terrestrial manifestation of the god himself). In the text on this stela he also was entitled K’uhul Mutal Ahaw “God-like lord of Mutul (Tikal)” and additionally he carried the title Hux Winikhab’ Kalomte’ “Three K’atun Kalomte’,” being kalomte’  one of the most prestigious and ancient titles linked to ultimate and supreme dynastic power.
Kalomte’ Glyph

Nebaj Vase showing a Tok’ Pakal or battle standard

  Archeologists find the aftermath of war and captive taking in the dismembered or decapitated remains of sacrificial victims buried under floors of public buildings and in stone images and inscriptions that refer to such practices (when the names of the victims indicate their origin, they are invariably from rival settlements).  We don't know if the early Maya went to war mainly to acquire territory, take booty, control conquered groups for labor, take captives for sacrifice in sanctification rituals, or a combination of these. 

   But the first war of which there is a readable record--fought some 1,600 years ago between  Tikal  and Uaxactún, two kingdoms in the center of Petén, the northern region of Guatemala--laid a pattern for those that followed. The epigrapher that break the code of the Maya texts, Tatiana Proskouriakoff Tikal Stela 31and years later Peter Mathews, of the University of Calgary, were the first scholars to detect evidence of their great conflict.  In a study of early inscriptions, she noticed that both Stela 5 at Uaxactún (right) and Stela 31 at Tikal (left), recorded the same date and action by a Tikal ahau, or "holy lord" , a very rare finding in the Maya Culture, (Two exact texts in different sites). Mathews deduced that these texts recorded an important interaction between the two towns, that Tikal was the dominant partner, and that one of two political events was most likely involved--an alliance by marriage or a conquest. Stela 31, erected long after the conquest, describes Siyaj K’ahk’ or Fire Is Born as Ochkin Kaloomté, or Warlord of the West. Some Maya experts have also suggested  that Siyaj K’ahk’ or "Fire Is Born" represented a faction that had fled to the west—to Teotihuacán—after a coup d'état by Great Jaguar Paw's father years earlier and had now returned to power. The military expedition most likely set out, on January 8, 378 AD, for Tikal, from Waka',  in war canoes, (it can hold up to 50 men and their weaponry),  heading east, up the San Pedro River. Reaching the headwaters, the soldiers disembarked and marched either along the river or on the canyon rim overlooking it. Garrisons probably dotted the route. News of the advancing column must have reached Tikal, and somewhere along the stretch of riverbank and roadway, perhaps at a break in the cliffs about 16 miles (26 kilometers) from the city, Tikal's army tried to stop Fire Is Born's advance. Inscribed slabs, called stelas, later erected at Tikal suggest that the defenders were routed. Fire Is Born's forces continued their march on the city. By January 16, 378—barely a week after his arrival in Waka'—the conqueror was in Tikal, and Tikal's king , " Great Jaguar Paw I", whose Mayan name was Chak Tok Ich'aak, or "Great Burning Paw", died that very day, Structure 5D-46, the palace of Jaguar Paw, was preserved throughout the occupation of Tikal. Schele and Mathews see this as a sign that Chak Tok Ich'aak continued to be venerated down through the years. (Some scholars suggest that Siyaj K’ahk’ came from Kaminaljuyú, a site in the Central Highlands, with strong economic ties with Teotihuacan).

 Central Acrópolis in Tikal, the palace of Chak Tok Ich'aak Jaguar Paw
Structure 5D-46, the palace of Chak Tok Ich'aak Jaguar Paw

The three glyphs on this section of the lid of the inauguration of St 5D-46, cache pot
read "holy building, Chak Tok Ich'aak, Tikal Lord".


The text on the back of the stela records the date of the commemorated event,  11 Eb' 15 Mac, (see Calendar), or January 16, A.D. 378, and names Siyaj K’ahk’, a lord of Tikal, as the protagonist.
 11Eb' in Stela 31. 

The front of the stela 5, shows Siyaj K’ahk’ holding an obsidian-edged club and a halab'  spear-thrower (or throwing stick, used to launch darts Glyph T683v.121 - JUL-li dart [hul] with great impetus) and wearing a uniform that in later monuments epitomizes a war of conquest.  Only in defeat could Uaxactún have accorded a lord of a rival city such recognition.   Stela 31 at Tikal, erected fifty years later, provides no pictorial representation of the conquest, but the inscription repeats the same date, actor, and event.  It also registers that the reigning king of Tikal at the time was Great-Jaguar-Paw, and that he celebrated the victory by an act of bloodletting from his genitals.  From other inscriptions, we now know that Great-Jaguar- Paw was one of the most celebrated of Tikal's early rulers and that Siyaj K’ahk’ was his brother, and, very probably, his war chief. Later events confirm this was a war of conquest.  A year after his victory, Siyaj K’ahk’  succeeded his brother, but he ruled not from Tikal but from Uaxactún.  His empire now included both cities, and it was under his authority that a 'K'atun' lord (less than 20 year old), his nephew,  the son of Great-Jaguar-Paw, Nun Yax Ayin  was installed as the new lord of Tikal, that carried conquest as far as Palenque and in 426 AD, Tikal's ruler Siyah Chan K'awil II ("Stormy Sky"), the Grand son of the queen Lady Baby Jaguar,  took over Copán, 170 miles (274 kilometers) to the south in present-day Honduras, and crowned its own king, Kinich Yax Kuk Mo, (Shining Quetzal Macaw), who became the founder of a new dynasty. (Recently ADN test of his remains, prove that he came from Tikal)

 The name of "Spearthrowing Owl", is mentioned but scholars debate about his role, suggesting that he could be the King of Teotihuacan at this time, and that Siyaj K’ahk’ acted in his name, others see this name as a War Title, no image of him is known to date. It is widely asserted that the Maya, independent and self-sufficient, had merely appropriated symbols of prestige and legitimacy from Teotihuacan.A few think that Siyaj K’ahk’ came from Kaminal Juyú, am important Central Highlands Maya site.

     The seeds of this war were apparently sown centuries earlier, when the Maya in this lowland region first built pyramids and formal public buildings in their towns.  As archeologist Richard Hansen has reported, large public architecture, complete with the symbolism of political power, appeared at the site of
Nakbé in The Mirador Basin, between 2,600 and 2,300 years ago (Natural History, May 1991).  As it developed in the following two centuries, this symbolism came to include depictions of severed heads, apparently referring to the decapitation sacrifice that became so prominent in later Maya ritual.  Images of kings have also been found from these early times, although by the large the rulers remain anonymous because so far we have found no readable texts.

During the Classic period, warfare was conducted on a fairly limited, primarily ceremonial scale. Maya rulers, who were often depicted on stelas carrying weapons, attempted to capture and sacrifice one another for ritual and political purposes. The rulers often destroyed parts of some cities, but the destruction was directed mostly at temples in the ceremonial precincts; it had little or no impact on the economy or population of a city as a whole. Some city-states did occasionally conquer others, but this was not a common occurrence until very late in the Classic period when lowland civilization had begun to disintegrate. Until that time, the most common pattern of Maya warfare seems to have consisted of raids employing rapid attacks and retreats by relatively small numbers of warriors, most of whom were probably nobles.

Mace or club head. The design is one of the vision serpents.

Club with skyband design incised. Drill hole for suspension cord.

Obsidian Spear Point, 10 cm.

The wars of the eight and ninth century collapse were, as Culbert notes, not the precipitate of temporary crisis, but the culmination of a long, creative and destructive engagement of Maya people with the forces of violence. Maya war neither began nor ended with the collapse, we can only know when the Maya are addressing warfare in their many of their texts and images--a rich source of Pre-Columbian evidence--if we understand their military concepts. The  so called "Star Wars", Between Tikal and it's allies, and Calakmul and it's allies is the best documented long war of the Classic Maya.  Iconography suggests that these two rival cities had a lot in common. They shared the same protector deity in the form of the Jaguar god and both cities had dynastic leaders with related lineage names, Jaguar Paw at Tikal and Fire Jaguar Paw at Calakmul. These convergences suggest an even closer affiliation, perhaps based on family ties that may have once connected the patrons of the two cities. It would not be the only time that enmity between cities was based on an earlier family connection. Not enough information is available yet from Calakmul to point to a common dynastic origin for the two opposing politics. Even if deteriorated family ties had been a factor, the most likely explanation for a rivalry that escalated into bloody warfare lasting a couple of centuries is commercial: competition for control of trade routes. The jaguar was also connected to the warriors and hunters of the Maya, those who excelled in these areas were allowed to adorn themselves with pelts, teeth or claws and were considered to possess feline souls

  The woman's role as warlords is well documented by  recent discoveries at
The Hix Witz Polity, formed By la Joyanca, Zapote Bobal and Pajaral, Waka' and Dos Pilas.
The famous Lady warrior Wac' Chanil Ahau  or "Lady Six Sky" that regain the Power in Naranjo (Saal) to the east, and leading the wining wars against Ucanal and Caracol, was born in Dos Pilas. 


War parade, showing shields and weapons

  The Maya did not maintain standing armies. Rather, they assembled militia of able-bodied adult men and boys. From centralized arsenals kept in public buildings,In The Classic, they armed them with shock (B'aj) weapons like:  Stone clubs, with leather strings or wooden handle, short stabbing spears and wooden (hardened with fire) axes edged with Flint or Obsidian blades, and also with projectile (Jul) weapons like: blowguns, throwing sticks and javelins, slings, and, in the latest period, the Jatz'om or 'white heat' (spear thrower), bows and arrows. Maya soldiers typically carried long flexible shields of hide or smaller rigid round shields.

  As armor, many wore cotton vests stuffed with rock salt. Eleven hundred years later, the Spanish conquistadores shed their own metal armor in the sweltering rain forest in favor of these Maya "flak jackets.". The "Kohaw", was a war helmet made of stone as pyrite, wore only by Ajaws and Kaloonte's. An example was found in a Queen's tomb in Waka'.

Armor and round shield Example


Spears, Shield and Halab' (Spearthrower)

Petén. Clay. height 14.8 cm Seated figure with removable helmet (Kohaw). 

La Blanca, Obsidian Preclassic Celt, Pacific Lowlands

Maze or club head. The design is one of the vision serpents.

Tortured Captive, his ear flares, were replaced with paper or leather

Military Titles, Examples from Piedras Negras

"They surrounded the town, crying out loudly, armed with arrows and shields, beating drums, giving war whoops, whistling, shouting,This figurine vividly evokes a Maya lord costumed to impersonate a dynastic ancestor inciting them to fight, when they arrived in front of the town"....."the four gourds which were at the edge of the town were Piedras negras St3, Warlordopened and the bumblebees and the wasps came out of the gourds; like a great cloud of smoke they emerged from the gourds. And thus the warriors perished because of the insects which stung the pupils of their eyes 2 and fastened themselves to their noses, their mouths, their legs, and their arms...."  Popol Vuh, Part 4, Chapter 4, p. 152.

   Militias from particular towns or provinces, or perhaps as recruited by particular lords, followed battle standards that consisted of tall spears with large square or round shields attached to the tops. These shields carried various decorations and devices and were usually edged with bright feather work. In addition to allowing some effective coordination of maneuver on the battlefield, the battle standards were powerful sacred objects housing or focusing terrifying supernatural beings. The officers in armies consisted of members of the ruling houses, the urban greater nobility and the lesser nobility from allied provinces and towns. These officers decked themselves out in glorious finery representing supernatural beings. In this way, they stood out on the field to allow effective signaling of commands and to draw attention from their counterparts in the enemy armies. Veterans of battle often wore more prosaic armor as well, consisting of short cotton jackets packed with rock salt--the equivalent of the modern "flack jacket" and tight bindings of leather or cloth on forearms and legs. Cotton armor is so much more effective than any other protection

Prisoners being presented to Ruler

Pictured battles all look like free-for-alls in which principle lords and warriors are challenging each other in heroic duels. The Ceramic and Mural paintings give the impression that important individuals fought accompanied by one or more close companions protecting their rear and flanks. No doubt there was general slaughter on the Maya battlefields, but a clear object of engagement was the capture of enemies alive for later rituals of sacrifice.The warfare also was carried in lakes and rivers, the best documented example is Tayasal, the last conquered Maya city in 1697 AD, where Spaniards were attacked from canoes with spears and arrows.

Vase showing a Canoe

Strategically, Classic Maya battles apparently ended not simply when the enemy was driven from the field, also in the event that the king or other principal people were captured by their counterparts. All this chaos and confusion was accompanied by wooden drums and trumpets, conch shell trumpets, whistles and frantic shouting.

Pre-Columbian combat in Maya art, depicts Maya armies, witch were probably quite large during really important campaigns, that is, numbering in the thousands. But they were not maintained for long periods of time; and, as militia, they were  logistically sustained through temporary appropriations of food and other materials from unhappy peasant villagers. Although, in the Highlands, all the main Post Classic sites, such as Iximché, Mixco Viejo, Gu'marc'aj and Zaculeu, were located in very well defensive positions, opposite to the Classic sites, perhaps influenced by the memories of the Classic Maya Collapse

  In sum, ancient Maya wars probably consisted of a series of brief and deadly encounters culminating in the decisive capture of principal leaders, their imprisonment and eventual sacrifice. Another probable form of victory consisted of the capture and destruction of strategically located border towns with the consequent loss of control over larger frontier regions. Given the enormously dense and widely scattered agrarian populations of the Classic period, warfare typically skirted direct attack of villagers, the destruction of crops on the ground, or other damage to the peasants upon whom all ultimately depended for prosperity. The rewards of victory sometimes included the opportunity to wreck havoc on the stelas portraits and temples of the enemy in their centers and the right to extract humiliating tribute according to Spanish Conquest period accounts. At the height of the Classic period, wars of conquest allowed the temporary creation of wealthy and powerful, if rather small, imperial hegemonies.

Classic Vase showing weaponry and shields

  The Maya did not perceive combat as a clash of people and weapons alone, but rather as a complex confrontation of spiritual and material forces. When, for example, the Conqueror of Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado, engaged the forces of the K'iche' Maya culture hero Tecún Umán in 1524, the Maya lord and his companions flew at him in the guise of eagles and lightening, according to native accounts, only to be defeated by the Spaniards superior spiritual forces in the form of "footless birds", holy ghosts, and a "floating maiden", the Virgin.

"At midnight the Indians went to Xel'juh, and the captain of the Indians who had transformed himself into an eagle became anxious to kill the Adelantado Tunathiú [Alvarado] and he could not kill him because a very fair maiden defended him; they were anxious to enter, but as soon as they saw this maiden they fell to the earth and they could not get up from the ground, and then came many footless birds, and those birds had surrounded the maiden, and the Indians wanted to kill the maiden and those footless birds defended her and blinded them." The attackers were paralyzed and blinded by the "Way'ob" of the Spanish [the Macahuitl, Used Only in the Post Classic?, note the similarity with early Classic Stela 5 in UaxactúnVirgin Mary and the Holy Spirit or perhaps angels who looked to them like footless birds]. The next day, February 22, 1524,  1 Q'anel in the Maya calendar, Tecún Umán himself came against the Spanish in his eagle "Way". "And then Captain Tecún flew up, he came like an eagle full of real feathers, which were not artificial; he wore wings which also sprang from his body and he wore three crowns, one was of gold, another of pearls and another of diamonds and emeralds."  Tecún Umán went forward with the intention of killing Alvarado and thus defeating the battle beasts and the way of the Spanish. He struck at the great man-beast with all his power, hitting Alvarado's horse and taking its head off in a single blow. According to the K'iche, his lance was not made of metal, but of shiny stone which had a magic spell on it. When Tecún realized he had killed only the battle beast and not the man, he flew upward and came at Alvarado. The Spaniard was ready and impaled the charging king on his lance. (Totonicapán Title)


  Included among realistic and detailed scenes of siege warfare, hand-to- hand fighting in towns, the capture of warriors and the flight of civilians, there is a battle in which the lords are fighting in the sky, standing upon feathered and scaled war snakes, illuminated by bright red and blue doorways, their portals to the Otherworld. There is no reason to doubt that this scene was, for the Maya, just one more realistic view of combat.

Vase showing Supernatural ("Way") clash of lords

  Understandably we often characterize Maya warfare in dire and fatalistic terms, so that a nobleman's "capture" as recorded in history quickly becomes, in our own analysis, a "capture and sacrifice." Yet it is important to keep in mind that the consequences of Maya warfare are never clearly spelled out in the inscriptions. Perhaps one's "capture" should be taken at face value when further elaboration is missing. Abducted nobles surely met violent and perhaps even prolonged deaths, but high kings, once captured, might have been more highly valuable alive as political hostages or vassals.

  Epigraphers have long known of the "star war" waged against Ceibal by Ruler 3 of Dos Pilas on  9 Chikchan 18 Muwan. This resulted in the capture and subsequent display of the Ceibal ruler Yich'aak B'alam six days later, at which time he is portrayed as a bound and altogether defeated figure on two Petexbatùn (Akul), monuments. However, it is clear that Yich'ak B'alam did not die at the time of Ceibal's military defeat. Later records at Ceibal make it clear that that he was alive as late as, at which time he witnessed a period-ending ritual involving Ruler 4 of Dos Pilas. Yich'ak B'alam had in fact outlived his captor, and he was actively ruling Ceibal for several years, though probably still under the political control of Dos Pilas. The portraits of the bound ruler at Dos Pilas and Aguateca are images of a living ajaw who would retain some degree of local power at Ceibal for many years to come.   After a war, a monument prepared by a loyal scribe-painter soon went up in the victor's city. The triumphant king is shown standing heroically on the backs of prostrate captives -- the Mayan version of a photo op.

The Ceibal ruler Yich'aak B'alam, shown postrated on lower fragments of Dos Pilas, Stela 2.

The "quick death" view for the treatment of captured kings – and there are not many cases to compare in Maya history – has perhaps been heavily influenced by the history surrounding the defeat and beheading of Copan's Ruler 13, Waxaklahun Ubah K'awil or 18 RabbitQuiriguá ruler Butz' Tiliw or Cauac Sky. At Quiriguá we do have clear records of the Copan ruler's sacrifice, but it is an almost unique case, significantly different from other Maya records of conquest.

Zoomorph D in Quiriguá, depicting 18 conejo from Copán, being eaten bu Cauuc Sky, after his defeat.
18 Rabbit Copan´s Ruler In the Mouth of a Jaguar, Representing  Butz' Tiliw, Monument D in Quiriguá



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