The text upon Stela 11 declares "it is finished (ruined, destroyed), the Chok-Te-Na "the bud tree house." This tree is the pervasive lowland Maya metaphor for royal dynasty in the Classic period. Brought to Copan by king Yax-Kuk-Mo' some two centuries after the first known dynasty emerged at Tikal in the central forests of Peten, Guatemala, Copan's dynasty returned with Yax- Pak, his sixteenth successor, to the blackness of oblivion. In the only partly deciphered phrase which follows this sad statement on the glyphic text, come the words "it happened, obsidian, it happened, flint" and then the name of the terrifying god of war, the Waxaklahun U-Bah-Chan, the 18-Rabbit Snake (Fig. 1:2). Then, the text says that "it was the pushing out of Yax-Kuk-Mo' (by?) Yax-Pak, Sky Penis, Two Katun lord of Copan". Where, how, and even exactly when Yax-Pak met his fate remain unknown. The action of the 18-Rabbit snake is still enigmatic. Yet I think this text reveals a vital role of war in that demise. More than the end of a king, or even of a dynasty, Stela ll marks the end of an era, a Warring States phase of Maya history. On January 16, 378 A.D., the city of Tikal conquered the powerful neighboring capitol of Waxaktun in the central southern lowlands under the aegis of the 18-Rabbit Snake, a war god Tikal imported from the distant city of Teotihuacan in the Mexican altiplano. 442 years of conquest war, intrigue and grand alliance in the vast regions of the Maya lowlands mark the career of this battle beast to the destruction of Copan's royal house.
In his eloquent contribution to this book, T. Patrick Culbert looks at Maya war in the time of the ninth century collapse as the havoc spun out an imbalanced society. In that crisis, Maya war engendered not a negotiation of contesting powers, but an affliction debilitating all in its path. In the ninth century, there were too many hungry people, too many haughty and demanding elite. An environment and subsistence technology stretched to the breaking point released the desperate imperatives of survival through forceful appropriation. We who have lived in the twentieth century know those imperatives first hand or proximately in the haunted faces of hungry and anguished refugees staring out of our television screens.
Granted the material conditions that can, and will continue to, drive the socially sanctioned wholesale murder that is war. And granted the libraries of reasonable general explanations for war as an instrument of statecraft that render any novel example unsurprising. I still think that Maya warfare may instruct us beyond the clear lesson that exponential population growth is dangerous and destabilizing. For me, warfare is not a matter of reducing a collective madness to social scientific explanations that must be, in the end, our own attempts to exorcise that inscrutable beast in the name of a rational humanity. What the Maya have to contribute to the history of warfare, and what I will try to convey, is their own experience of it and their own explanation of it. The wars of the 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. The history of that cultural engagement of war is, if anything can be, the source of explanation and insight for ourselves. Also, we can only know when the Maya are addressing warfare in their many of their texts and images--a rich source of Precolumbian evidence--if we understand their military concepts.
From a purely practical vantage of what happened on the battlefield, we have detailed murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars at Chichén Itza in Yucatan, along with spectacular murals from a painted temple at the Classic period city of Bonampak in Chiapas. These pictures are among our best guides to Precolumbian Maya combat. Combined with descriptions given at the time of the Spanish Conquest, I can summarize as follows. Firstly, 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, they armed them with shock weapons like short stabbing spears and wooden axes edged with stone blades, and also with projectile weapons like throwing sticks and javelins, slings, and, in the latest period, bows and arrows. Maya soldiers typically carried long flexible shields of hide or smaller rigid round shields.
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 featherwork (Fig. 1:3). In addition to allowing some effective coordination of maneuver on the battlefield, the battle standards were powerful sacred objects housing or focussing 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 signalling 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 that the Spanish invaders quickly adopted it in their campaigns against the Yucatecan Maya. Everyone on the battlefield wore bright war paint and we think that some accomplished soldiers tattooed their faces and bodies extensively.
From what we can tell, battle formations were not highly conventionalized. Pictured battles all look like free-for-alls in which principle lords and warriors are challenging each other in heroic duels. The Bonampak murals 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.
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. This, at least, is what is pictured in the Bonampak murals. The capture of enemies was clearly also important to the warriors of Chichén Itza as pictured on murals there. All this chaos and confusion was accompanied by wooden drums and trumpets, conch shell trumpets, whistles and frantic shouting.
From what the Spanish tell us and our glimpses of Precolumbian combat in Maya art, Maya armies 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 a logistically sustained through temporary appropriations of food and other materials from unhappy peasant villagers. In perhaps the most impressive Maya campaign in all their history, the rebel Chan Santa Cruz Maya of the nineteenth century drove back the forces of modern Mexico to the gates of the capitol city, Merida. The Maya generals could not sustain a siege, however, because their troops had to return to their fields to plant their crops. In all probability, ancient Maya military leaders faced similar constraints on strategy.
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 stelae portraits and temples of the enemy in their centers and the right to extract humiliating tribute according to Spanish Conquest period accounts. As we shall see, at the height of the Classic period, wars of conquest allowed the temporary creation of wealthy and powerful, if rather small, imperial hegemonies.
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 Quiche Maya culture hero Tecum Unam in 1523, 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. In Yucatan, at the far northern extreme of Maya country, we find another example of such combat in the above mentioned Upper Temple of the Jaguars at Chichén Itza, probably built in the late ninth or early tenth century. The city's finest painters depicted many battle scenes celebrating the Itza rise to power. 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 (Fig. 1:4). There is no reason to doubt that this scene was, for the Maya, just one more realistic view of combat.
The lords of Chichén Itza were continuing age-old practice. Kings of the mighty Classic period city of Tikal in the southern lowlands carried the title Ch'ul Way Ahaw, Holy Transformer Lord, surely exalting their ability to become Otherworldly beings in times of necessity such as combat. Gods also accompanied lords and armies in Classic period struggles. One truly great king of Tikal, prosaically termed Ruler A by archaeologists, named him- self Hasaw-Chan-K'awil, the spiritual embodiment of the battle standard. In so doing, he virtually claimed to be war itself incarnate. In two beautifully carved lintels spanning the door- ways of his funeral temple, Temple 1 of Tikal, Hasaw-Chan-K'awil portrayed himself seated in majesty upon ornate litters. Behind him on one of the litters looms a huge image of the 18-Rabbit Serpent portrayed as a limbed and clawed monster covered with mosaic spangles. The monster leans over him to grasp the battle standard attached to the front of the litter (Fig. 1:5). On the second litter, an enormous jaguar, Nu-Balam-Chak, (Fig. 1:6) ("deadly friend great jaguar?") menaces in the same pose, reaching over the king's head to hold the battle standard.
These Tikal idols no doubt housed gods, but they were made of material. There are numerous informal graffiti scratched on palace walls at Tikal that show lords being carried around in litters with these huge idols. And we can be sure that Maya armies carried these litters into battle. King Flint-Sky-God K of the city of Dos Pilas south of Tikal exulted in one of his victory texts that he captured the predecessor of Hasaw-Chan-K'awil, King Shield-Skull of Tikal. His successor Shield-Sky-God K proudly declared himself guardian of the Kin Balam (Fig. 1:7), the Sun Jaguar, of Tikal. This is the war god Shield-Skull evidently accompanied on his litter into that catastrophic conflict. No wonder, then, that Hasaw-Chan-K'awil celebrated the construction and activation of new war images for his city. Those gods served Tikal well, for Hasaw-Chan-K'awil's successor later depicted himself seated on the captured Sun Jaguar litter of an enemy king from the city of Naranjo (Fig. 1:8).
The language and symbolism of ancient Maya warfare reveals its spiritual and supernatural dimensions decisively and in ever- widening ways. Conversely, we are increasingly aware of the centrality and pervasiveness of warfare in Maya political life as we recognize that what we once thought to be purely religious or civic rituals are in reality also celebrations of victory. Like all major ritual actions, combat engaged the gods along with the people. But the Maya practiced no simple allocation of a pantheon into singular and distinctive rival deities, loyal patrons to local states. The same gods and battle beasts defended and attacked both sides of any conflict, embodied in distinct and rival human and artifactual manifestations. The manifest power of idols, standards, and masks carried into combat hinged as much on the ritual prowess of the antagonists as it did on such practical conditions as manpower, tactics and weaponry. For the rulers at least, Maya war was the crucible of supernaturally charged charisma, and charisma was the foundation of their political power at home and abroad. Having looked at some of the major features of the Maya cultural definition of war, we are ready to review Maya militarism historically.
The origins of lowland Maya civilization are a matter of constant revision in the wake of new information from archaeological excavation in early sites. At the moment, the gap is narrowing between the time when pioneering Maya farmers first began entering the lowland forests around 1000 B.C. and the time that they started building temples and plazas in ritual centers, roughly 600 B.C. Under the circumstances, it seems increasingly likely that the pioneers entered already familiar with the hierarchical institutions of complex society as expressed in Middle Preclassic polities of the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the Pacific slopes of Mexico and Guatemala, and the Maya Highlands of Guatemala dating to this period of time. Our views of Maya warfare are commensurately effected. For just as the lowland Maya pioneers likely brought with them important notions of civic order and supernatural power from neighboring Olmec- related communities, so they also likely brought with them some of the ideas of warfare connected to these throughout later Maya history. Unfortunately, such diffusion must remain, for moment, primarily in the realm of speculation because we have so little concrete evidence of the lowland material symbol system during the Middle Preclassic period beyond the fact they were building big pyramids and plazas in northwestern Peten and some other areas.
We can say, however, that the conditions under which social complexity arose in the lowlands were demographically fluid and uneven as to density. The stress of dense and broadly distributed population on the carrying capacity of the land may have been a factor in the wars of the ninth century A.D. as Culbert suggests; but it is hard to believe that such agricultural stress, or war- fare precipitated by stress, had much to do with the original ceremonial centers of Peten at 600 B.C. Which is not to say that the lowland Maya were peaceful in the beginning. We simply don't have much evidence of violence to go on at this time, beyond the reasonable prospect that some large stone blade and biface tools might have served as weapons.
By the Late Preclassic period (400 B.C.-200 A.D.) we have a better picture of the public culture because of the intricate modeled stucco and polychrome painted decoration Maya rulers commissioned for their buildings. At Cerros in Belize, Structure 5C- 2nd shows jaguarian snarling deity masks that carry the glyph kin on their cheeks (Fig. 1:9). Attached to the elaborate ear-flare assemblages of this mask are glyphs that read yax. In all probability, these masks represent the younger of the Maya Ancestral Hero Twins, Yax Balam. These twin divinities figure centrally in the mythology explaining the origins of the world and the creation of humanity. However, the Sun cheek glyphs also mark the Cerros masks as a related deity, Ahaw Kin, lord Sun, second born of the Triad gods celebrated in the famous Group of the Cross at Palenque. Lord Sun figures prominently in the legitimacy of Maya kingship "Great sun face" is a common Classic royal title. Images of the Classic sun god, Ahaw Kin, overlap significantly with the Sun Jaguar, including the representation of kin glyphs on the cheeks as found on the Cerros Masks. Some Maya scholars think the Sun Jaguar represents the sun in the underworld during the night. Now that we know the Kin Balam, Sun Jaguar, is a major war deity in the Classic period, I suspect that this Cerros mask contains allusions to the war divinity as well as to the gods legitimating royal power.
The Classic period anthropomorphic Sun Jaguar idol displayed on Lintel 2 of Temple IV at Tikal carries a diagnostic cruller over his nose that he shares with Ahaw Kin, Lord Sun. An image with this cruller is portrayed on another monumental stucco mask decorating a Late Preclassic building, Structure N9-57, at Lamanai in Belize. We can't prove that the war-making powers of this complex conundrum of gods are already in place, but the continuities of form show that the Lord Sun-Sun Jaguar complex is an established feature of political ceremony by Late Preclassic times.
Finally, another jaguarian image occurs on Preclassic buildings at Cerros and Tikal in which the mask appears without a lower jaw or with a skeletal mandible gaped open to reveal a large trifurcate scroll. In Classic period depictions of this jawless, severed jaguar head, it is clear that the jaw has been ripped away and blood is pouring out of the mouth or neck, This sacrificed jaguar is intimately related to war and sacrifice resulting from war.
The severed jaguar head image in the Late Preclassic period is perpetuated in Classic period as the head of a particular jaguar deity, called the Waterlily Jaguar, or Nu-Balam-Chak. The head of this jaguar is featured in the Temple of the Sun at Palenque, spitted on a bone-throne below crossed spears and a war shield emblazoned with the face of Kin Balam, the Sun Jaguar. There is no doubt that king Chan-Bahlum of Palenque is particularly concerned with his war-making powers in the Temple of the Sun. Nu-Balam-Chak, the Waterlily Jaguar, with his head attached, is the image hovering over King Hasaw-Chan-K'awil on one of his lintels at Tikal. In sum, two of the jaguarian divinities intimately associated with Maya warfare of the Classic period, Kin Balam and Nu-Balam-Chak, made their appearance in the Late Preclassic period.
Lord Sun is celebrated most specifically in the Group of the Cross at Palenque. Indeed the texts in the Temple of the Sun of this Group relate the birth of Lord Sun and subsequently the entry of the royal heir, Chan-Bahlum, into the status of the Sun. The elder two Triad Gods, Hun Ahaw and Mah Kinah Ahaw, are often paired like the Ancestral Hero Twins, Hun Ahaw and Yax Balam. Both sets of gods are important to Maya kingship. Just exactly how the war powers of the jaguarian gods jibe with royal authority, that is, official charisma, remains to be worked out. I think, following the clues of Chan-Bahlum's texts and later descriptions of magical combat, that Maya kings literally manifested as war gods, or war incarnate, in the guise of these jaguars and other fearful beings. In any case, the war-making powers of Maya kings surely involved these jaguarian deities. Late Preclassic images of these deities thus likely pertain to both the war gods and their human counterparts, the kings, and to the contingencies of successful war and prosperous rule already by this period.
From the earliest evidence of the kingship, in the centuries immediately preceding the present era, the king's prowess in war was a public concern evinced in art. The Late Preclassic kings and their warriors have left us a considerably more circumspect archaeological record of combat and defense against attack. At the site of Becan in Mexico, the Late Preclassic rulers of the community commissioned a formidable ditch and rampart surrounding the ceremonial center. This is certainly a defensive fortification and its presence implies a real concern with violent attack aimed at the capture of the center and its inhabitants. At the Late Preclassic site of Cerros in Belize, the inhabitants constructed an impressive perimeter of water reservoirs that could well have served a defensive function as well against surprise attack from the landward side of this coastal community. At the enormous Late Preclassic community of El Mirador in Peten, 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 at some capitols. 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.
As to weaponry in the archaeological record, we know that the Classic Maya favored a sturdy, short stabbing spear with a long flaked stone point for hand-to hand combat. Beginning in the Middle Preclassic period, and continuing in greater frequency in the Late Preclassic period, we find examples of large pointed stone blades with tangs suitable for hafting on spears or knife handles. Although these artifacts could also have served as knives, it seems likely from the way numerous examples have broken at the tang or high up on the blade that they were also used as spears. The tradition of large flaked and pointed stone blades continues throughout the Classic period, changing only technologically from single-faced blades to what we call bifacially flaked tools. We cannot prove that these implements were war weapons, but they certainly could have served that purpose. Additionally, the Late Preclassic Maya crafted millions of stone heads for axes and adzes in stone tool production centers in northern Belize. We know that the Classic Maya employed stone axes for decapitation sacrifice, and it seems likely to me that these also could have served in combat already by Late Preclassic times.
The Late Preclassic Maya had motives for war, the glory of rulers and their elite followers along with more tangible rewards in the form of booty, tribute and control of productive land. They also had the means in potential weaponry, and the defensive fortifications in selective cases to prevent capture and destruction of strategic centers. What about the larger political aims of war in this early period: conquest and hegemony of king over king or state over state? Frankly I find some scholarly schemes for this early period highly improbable, schemes in which the Maya farmers are organized by warlords in desperation to attack or ward off enemies hungry for their land or food. If anything was scarce in the deep interior forests during the Preclassic, it was water during the dry season, when, ironically, the availability of surface supplies of drinking water is a serious problem despite the "rain forest's" name.
Sadly, I don't think well organized hierarchies of people require desperate conditions to undertake war against neighbors. There were hierarchies of Late Preclassic communities in the Peten jungles of Guatemala which bespeak tremendous political power of community over community, the kind of power that comes with successful military force and which is sustained by it. 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 Maya civilization. There are numerous other very large Preclassic centers in northwestern Peten, 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 dominant 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 and other Peten cities; but it did not divert Maya society from its principal political form, the relatively small polity ruled by a single major royal capitol.
So, with the notable exception of El Mirador, it is hard to see warfare in the Late Preclassic period as an instrument of expansive conquest, domination and consolidation of center by center. It is, on the other hand, quite likely that warfare was an integral part of the royal public performance, given the intimate relationship between kings and war gods. What kind of military activity allows the substantial majority of the population to live in open, dispersed and undefended agrarian communities? In my opinion, early Maya warfare, that is in the Preclassic period and first centuries of the Early Classic period, pitted the leaders of communities, their noble followers and a reasonable complement of commoner militia against one another on well known battlefields and on known and planned occasions. That is, I think that Maya warfare had some clear-cut rules of conduct during this early phase of the civilization.
That does not mean the stakes were low or that war constituted merely a chivalrous game in the Preclassic Maya lowlands. The fact that imperial consolidation was evidently a rarity does not mean that destruction of center by center was also uncommon. When I directed excavations at the Late Preclassic center of Cerros in Belize, it showed clear evidence of having been abandoned as a political capitol precipitously and dramatically. Rituals terminating the sacred power of the temple mountains at the time of their abandonment included bonfires banked up against the masks of the gods, piles of smashed pottery vessels and other materials. People tore sections of the masks from the walls and carried them off somewhere else. I used to think that Cerros was ritually terminated by the people who had built the pyramids and who had lived around them. For indeed the Cerros inhabitants had terminated buildings before in their his- tory and then built over them. Now, however, we have mounting evidence of Classic period ceremonial desecration of monuments by victorious enemies in the centers of the defeated. I strongly suspect the same thing happened at Cerros already in the Late Preclassic period; that the deliberate destruction of all of the pyramids, ballcourts and other major buildings at the time of their abandonment is evidence of a victory celebration by the enemies of Cerros after a disastrous war. Significantly, termination rituals apparently accompanied the abandonment of temples excavated at El Mirador, which also collapsed as a capitol in the Late Preclassic period.
This kind of ritual termination of buildings may eventually turn out to be our best empirical evidence on the ground for Maya warfare. For unlike ditch and rampart fortifications, which remain quite rare in the record until late in Maya history, deposits on the outside of ruined buildings registering their deliberate destruction could be quite common once archaeologists start to look for them. This is a tricky kind of evidence to be sure, for we know that Maya sometimes routinely ritually terminated buildings before rebuilding them. Still, it seems likely to me that if many buildings are ritually terminated and then abandoned, as at Cerros, that this could signal the military defeat of the center and its elimination as a political, economic and military rival.
Late Preclassic Maya fought wars, attacked each other's centers, sometimes defended their centers with permanent fortifications, and sometimes may have succeeded in destroying the capitol of their rivals. El Mirador may even have established conquest and consolidation of expanded territories, formal conquest war, as a strategic outcome. But if imperial expansion was a goal of descendant Maya rulers of the Early Classic period (ca. 200 A.D.- 600 A.D. ), it took the genius of a particular royal family to bring that ambition to a political fruition that all Maya kings could accept. The problem with conquest warfare, generally, is absorption and consolidation of the enemy lands and people into the realm of the victor. The royal house of Tikal managed to accomplish this political objective in the wake of a decisive victory over neigh- boring Waxaktun in 378 A.D.
The Tikal king who won that war we call Great-Jaguar-Paw. As an accident of history, the cities of Tikal and Waxaktun established themselves in rather close proximity, evidently too close for comfort as they both grew to be major political capitols and rivals (Fig. 1:10). At some point in the Early Classic period, Tikal constructed an extensive defensive ditch and rampart along it's northern perimeter. I suspect that this fortification aimed at discouraging raiding from Waxaktun, for Tikal was otherwise protected on its eastern and western flanks by broad swamps. Carved stone stelae at both Tikal and Waxaktun show rulers menacing kneeling captives, one expectable outcome of warfare, well before the decisive war in 378 A.D.
The proximity of Tikal and Waxaktun may have precipitated the all-out conquest war launched by Tikal. King Great-Jaguar-Paw attacked the enemy along with his brother Smoking-Frog. After the defeat of Waxaktun, Smoking-Frog ascended the throne of the conquered city. Linda Schele and I think that the Tikal lords tried to exterminate the royal line of Waxaktun. Smoking-Frog raised a stone stela to himself and his victory at Waxaktun in conjunction with the rebuilding of a strategic pyramid in the city. Associated with the destruction and rebuilding of this pyramid, someone dug a very special tomb chamber into it to inter two women. Next to one of the women lay a small child; the other woman was pregnant. We think this unique burial at Waxaktun contains the immediate family of the defeated king. In any case, Smoking-Frog of Tikal and his descendants ruled Waxaktun for many generations as a second major capitol of an imperial state.
The interesting feature of the Tikal-Waxaktun conflict is the outcome in effective absorption of the enemy. Great-Jaguar-Paw and Smoking-Frog employed a number of innovations in this war designed to make that outcome legitimate. They carried out their attack of Waxaktun under the aegis of a foreign god, the 18- Rabbit snake, adopted from the city of Teotihuacan in Mexico. We know that ambassadors, merchants and military specialists from Teotihuacan had been living in Tikal for many generations before this war. Teotihuacan was a great commercial power, moving precious stone like obsidian and many other products around the Mesoamerican world. The city of Tikal no doubt enjoyed prosperity through this alliance, for the lowland Maya had many agricultural products, chocolate and cotton cloth among them, to exchange for prized materials from distant lands. But Teotihuacan no doubt protected its commerce and alliances with military means. Warriors from the Mexican city used the throwing stick and javelin as favored weapons and they fought in the name of the mosaic serpent monster, the 18-Rabbit serpent as the Maya called this deity. The king of Tikal adopted this god and this weapon in his attack on Waxaktun. We don't know if Teotihuacan warriors fought along with the Tikal army in this war, but the kings of the Tikal hegemony immediately after the war certainly continued to honor their Teotihuacan allies and even dressed in elements of Teotihuacan military garb. Somehow the foreign god made the difference in the acceptability of conquest and absorption. Logically, the Teotihuacan practice of war must have included conquest of this kind. We can't demonstrate this possibility very easily, for the people of Teotihuacan did not write texts like those we have from the Tikal lords and other Maya capitols.
We call this new kind of militarism Tlaloc-Venus war, because along with the 18
Rabbit snake, the goggle-eyed Teotihuacan god Tlaloc is prominently featured in the symbolism of this warfare. As other Maya kings adopted this kind of warfare, they began to time their attacks to movements of Venus in the night sky. These rulers enthusiastically incorporated the 18-Rabbit snake into their repertoire of battle beasts and war gods. The reasons for this rapid diffusion of conquest war are not difficult to fathom. Just how large Tikal became as it expanded its hegemony after the Waxaktun war is still a matter for investigation. Some specialists, like Patrick Culbert, estimate the Tikal state at its height ruled over more than 400,000 people. The immediate and sustained consequences of Great-Jaguar-Paw's audacity were wealth and power for its kings, nobles and urban folk that all could understand, admire and covet.
At the same time, many of Tikal's victims probably had allies, friends and marriage ties among other Classic Maya royal houses. Even those kings outside the immediate circle of royal blood-feuds escalated by successful expansion, capture and sacrifice of notable warriors, would have regarded this imperial state with growing concern and fear for their own security. At least within the heartland of Peten and adjacent regions to the east and west, the success of Tikal's war seems to have unleashed an ever-widening cycle of violence between complex alliances of major and minor kingdoms. This Middle and Late Classic period, between 400 A.D. and 850 A.D, is the span for which we have the most complete documentation in glyphic texts. Although some specialists in Maya texts still think that warfare is a relatively minor issue in the affairs of state, I side with those who see increasing information on the centrality of warfare, conquest and military alliance as we proceed with the decipherment process.
It is difficult to effectively summarize the Byzantine politics the Late Classic Maya kingdoms because every field sea- son brings to light new texts which stand previous interpretations on their heads. What follows, then, is just a temporary progress report of some main developments designed to illustrate the complexity of the relations. Present evidence suggests that Tikal managed to hold off serious threats to its security in the Central Peten for more than a century and a half after the Waxaktun war. Put another way, it took that long for Tikal's enemies to organize a successful confrontation. The signal of serious trouble for the city comes with an initiative from a capitol archaeologists call Caracol, located in modern Belize to the south and east of Tikal. According to texts on a ballcourt marker at Caracol, on April 11, 556 A.D., Lord Water of Caracol carried out an attack on Tikal. On May 1, 562 A.D., the Caracol king exults over a "star war" against Tikal. The king of Tikal, Lord Double-Bird, disappears from textual history on September 17, 557A.D. and there is a period of some 130 years of textual silence at Tikal after this catastrophe. Did the Caracol king capture and sacrifice the king of Tikal? This seems the likely outcome of the defeat, but some archaeologists challenge this conclusion and the idea that Caracol seriously damaged the political order of Tikal. What I see is a serious decline in the expectable royal rituals of building and stela dedication with glyphic texts at Tikal. Further, there is a noticeable reduction in the wealth and quality of burial furniture in high status graves. Finally, archaeologists have documented a reduction in the population of the city and a concentration of those people closer to the center during the time of this social eclipse.
At the same time, archaeologists like Arlen and Diane Chase working at Caracol are monitoring the effects of victory at the city. In addition to finding new texts every field season that amplify our history of this dynasty, systematically surveyed sections of the city show more than a doubling of population in the century following the victory. The population coming into Caracol displays its wealth and prestige with an unmatched frequency of tombs constructed not only in central localities as at Tikal in its heyday, but in residential groups throughout at least the southern sector of the city. Matching what Maya nobles say in texts with the archaeological record will always be a tricky business. Naturally, political leaders will tell their own side of any important struggle and it is only by comparing many texts from many capitols that we can hope to piece together some semblance of what really happened. Nevertheless, the data are mount- g in favor of both the rewards of victory and the penalties of defeat in Classic Maya warfare.
Caracol was not acting alone as it attempted to challenge Tikal and establish its own hegemony. A major force in Classic politics remains somewhat mysterious, known as "site Q" among epigraphers; but the textual references to this kingdom make it clear that it was another great rival to Tikal. I accept the preliminary evidence that "site Q" is the enormous ruin called Calakmul, located on the spine of elevated and rolling country that continues out of the central lowlands north of Peten and in the modern state of Campeche, Mexico. Although there are archaeologists working at Calakmul, we don't have enough information on its glyphic monuments to decide the matter of "site Q" completely. Nevertheless, Calakmul is certainly vast in its monumental architecture and residential zones; a suitable candidate for a major contending power. Under the circumstances, I will refer to Calakmul as the power mentioned in the Classic texts as "site Q".
Present glyphic evidence suggests that while Calakmul and Caracol were ruled by related dynastic families, they were not on the best of terms during the period of Caracol's rise to power in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D.. For one thing, both of these dynasties had an interest in a capitol located between them geographically that has the modern name of Naranjo. Calakmul was possibly involved in the establishment of the Late Classic ruling house of Naranjo, and Caracol attacked this city in a series of campaigns between 619 and 642 A.D., culminating in the establishment of a humiliating victory monument, a hieroglyphic stair- way, raised by the lords of Caracol in the center of Naranjo.
For much of this protracted series of wars, Calakmul may well have acted as an ally to Caracol. On December 27, 631 A.D., for example, a Naranjo captive in a Caracol war underwent some grisly sacrificial rite under the auspices of a Calakmul lord, and indeed the 18-Rabbit snake divinity of Naranjo was captured by these allies. Still, Calakmul could not passively witness the dangerous rise of this power on its eastern flank. Among other things, we now know that Caracol again attacked Tikal in 637 A.D. to confirm its power over this great enemy. So Calakmul's lords responded to this advance indirectly and ingeniously. Among the many alliances the royal family of Calakmul cultivated over long distances, the most fruitful proved to be an extraordinary and vigorous founding king of a new capitol to the south of Tikal: Flint-Sky-God K, or in Maya, Tok-Chan-K'awil, of Dos Pilas who came to power in 645 A.D.. Tok-Chan-K'awil showed all of the qualities of an ambitious and successful leader. He married strategically into neighboring local royal houses, then attacked or intimidated others into following his lead. So impressive was his rise to power that we only have recently come to realize that he was a client king to the house of Calakmul. Tok-Chan-K'awil claimed to be a holy lord of the same name and quality as the dynastic rulers of Tikal. Whether he did this as an audacity or because he was a legitimate, albeit cadet, claimant to that title, only more work will tell. Nevertheless, it adds spice to an already amazing story of intrigue and betrayal. After several decades of careful consolidation, Tok-Chan K'awil challenged the power of Caracol in 682 A.D. by sending his daughter, lady Wak- Chanil-Ahaw, across the battle zone between Tikal and Caracol to the defeated city of Naranjo. There the lady rededicated the ceremonial heart of the city, married an unnamed lord of the house of Naranjo, and promptly bore a son who would be the hero of counteracting wars against Caracol--with his earliest campaigns naturally guided by his mother as the boy king was still a child of five.
The reason that Tok-Chan-K'awil could get his daughter across a vast span of Peten forest past the forces of Tikal and Caracol to Naranjo is because on May 3, 679 A.D. he had defeated and captured the king of Tikal, Shield-Skull, along with his Kin Balam god litter. Thus, in a series of campaigns, the king of Dos Pilas had stymied Tikal's return to power on the one hand, and opened a long-term and ultimately successful war against Caracol on the other. In these successful efforts, I suspect the unseen hand of the lords of Calakmul, judiciously manipulating alliances and armies to their advantage. It is not surprising that when Hasaw- Chan
K'awil of Tikal comes to power in 682 A.D., he turns his attention not southward to Tok-Chan-K'awil in Dos Pilas, nor eastward to Caracol, but rather northward to the true source of danger in Calakmul. It took Hasaw-Chan-K'awil many years to recover the military strength to successfully challenge Calakmul; but in 695 A.D., he captured the king of that powerful realm, Jaguar-Paw, and with this victory he rededicated the center of Tikal.
This is but a part of the interconnecting wars, intrigues and alliances that gripped the Late Classic kingdoms of the Maya lowlands. Maya textual history contains all of the expectable complexities of a social landscape peopled by many powerful and competing hierarchies--feudal Europe, medieval Japan, the ancient Near East among other places provide reasonable comparisons. Even as the particulars of Maya military history change with new texts and important breakthroughs in the decipherment, I can offer several broad generalizations that I think will last for a while. Firstly, the Late Classic wars, devastating as they may have been for some sectors of the population, did not prevent this age from also witnessing the full flowering of literacy, the most exquisite art and craft work, the most ambitious architectural designs, and other indications of great productivity and prosperity. Some Maya scholars think that the flourishing Late Classic centers mask a desperation of dwindling agricultural productivity or pressing population on the available food supplies, and this could have fueled wars of survival. I am skeptical of the ability of Maya noble leaders to press their populations for ever greater aesthetic performance in their ceremonial centers in the face of real and repeated deprivation. Precisely the kind of dispersed living pattern described by Culbert in his chapter on the collapse calls for effective voluntary collaboration between the people of the centers and those in the hinterland. The first thing the Spanish conquerors attempted in the sixteenth century, intent on the extraction of maximum amounts of goods, was a concentration of Maya farmers into more manageable population centers. So the contradiction I see is that war and prosperity in the Late Classic period expanded simultaneously for a period of some centuries. Warfare indeed became but likely after the collapse of royal domains.
The second generalization is that I think warfare in the course of the Late Classic period became increasingly a means to establishing expanded royal domains, hegemonies of king over king, with the object of extracting tribute in goods and labor from defeated and subordinated enemies. As a practical matter, hegemonies can be an organizational improvement over smaller- scale polities by coordinating productive projects such as commerce, by bringing uninhabited or low population density frontier lands into cultivation, or by maintaining internal security over larger regions. The Late Classic Maya no doubt had many customers for their agricultural commodities, particularly cotton textiles and cacao, in other parts of Mesoamerica. The hegemonic realms may well have amplified their trade exports and their home markets. But politically, the hegemonies were ultimately unstable and prone to internal rebellion or coordinated attack from rivals. Although fought under the aegis of the 18-Rabbit snake and other ancient war gods, conquest war never proved a reliable instrument of statecraft for the Late Classic kings.
The great collapse is described in engaging detail by Culbert, so I will pass over it to point out that some Maya did indeed find a way to combine conquest war with statecraft to forge an imperial organization with long-term promise. These were the Itza lords of Chichén Itza in the far northern lowlands. Building, in all likelihood, on old and traditional ideas of the power of patriarchal councils in the governments of the northern lowlands, the Itza established a government ruled by sodalities of powerful people, "brothers", rather than a government of dynastic holy kings. Evidently in their wars of conquest, they could incorporate defeated lords into such councils rather than disposing of them and usurping their positions. Although Chichén Itza also eventually fell from power, the principle of a central and over arching capitol remained in the north and was intentionally revived in the city of Mayapan, which ruled the northern regions for several centuries before collapsing a few generations before the Spanish Conquest. The Chichén Itza-Mayapan pattern has the markings of a cyclical centralization following successful transition out of a "warring states" phase of civilization.
The Maya did not stop fighting wars with the coming of the Spanish. They fought bravely against the Europeans for many generations and periodically rose in rebellion after that. We have much more to learn about how military institutions worked in the ancient civilization and the role of social violence in both the success and failure of this society. The myth of the Maya was that of a peaceful people ruled by serene priest astronomers. The reality, as it comes into focus, is by no means disappointing. For now the ancient Maya are not merely projections of our wishful thinking, our own utopian dreams of a peaceful world. Now they are people with all of the ambitions, creative inspiration, and tragic flaws of the truly powerful. Like us, the Maya have lived with war and from the vantage of their experience we can contemplate together the seductive opportunities and catastrophic consequences of that art.