Mayans Incans and Aztecs


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The Mayan civilization was much like the ancient Greek civilization because it was made up of about 50 different city-states that that would come to the aid of each other when needed. The Mayans settled in the Yucatan Peninsula just south of Mexico in what is now central America. At it's height, which was between 600 and 900 AD these city-states each supported between 5,000 and 50,000 people. The total population of the Mayan Empire at it's height is not positively known. Some say the civilization help up to 22,000,000 people while others say it was only about 2,000,000 people.
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Mayan Cities were a cite to behold. Not only are they extremely large with fantastic architecture, but they are also puzzling because most are built in the middle of a rainforest with no water supply but the rain. It is believed that the Mayans got their water from underground tunnels called cenotes which were filled with water. These cenotes allowed the Mayans to be the only ancient civilization with cities not centered around rivers.


Cenotes were also thought to the entrance to the underworld and were said to have vicious monsters in them. Mayans would have religious human sacrifices at the entrance to, and sometimes in cenotes. Below are some pictures of the underground tunnels. Even now they still seem spooky and other worldly. The Mayans had nothing but torches to explore them so one can understand their feelings toward the cenotes.


Marriages in the empire were arranged by a third part, a matchmaker of sorts. Before someone got married extensive research was done to make sure they were not related. Commoners could only have one wife while nobles could have many.


The Mayans were very skilled architects. They built large pyramids with no modern equipment or tools. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, Mayan pyramids were not used for burial and were instead used for religious purposes. Chichen Itza (pictured below), the most famous Mayan pyramid and others like it are also used as an observatory to observe the stars, constellations and planets. We don't know a lot about Mayan architecture however because we have only uncovered about 2% of Mayan structures. This is probably because they are extremely hard to get to because they are located in a thick jungle.

Mayan Education

The Mayan were an extremely advanced society as far as mathematics, architecture, and astronomy go. The Maya were so advanced that they were able to predict things like lunar eclipses. They also created a calendar that is more precise and advanced than our calendar today. The Mayans also came up with the concept of zero as early as 36 BC. The Mayans had little more their their eyes for calculation and still their calculations were extremely precise. A Mayan calendar is pictured below.
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Mayan Politics

The Mayan empire was compromised of several city-states, these city-states often had smaller cities they ruled over called vassal cities. These cities were ruled by Maya kings, these kings had political roles as well as religious roles because they were thought to be descendants of gods. They often had lots of gold and jade along with elongated skulls pictured below.
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Mayan Economy

Not a lot is known about the economic system used by the Mayans. They didn't use money and instead, like most civilization, traded for things they needed or wanted. Often times each city would have a market place where one could buy and sell anything they wanted. Goods they sold consisted of crop surpluses, gold, jade, obsidian, cloth, feathers, and pelts.

Their methods of farming were less advanced than the rest of their culture and is said by some to have even cause their downfall. They used the slash and burn method of farming. They would cut down and burn a section of rainforest and plant crops on that land until it was no longer fertile, which usually took a couple years. When they needed more land they cut down more forest.

Mayan Religion

Human sacrifice was a big part of Mayan religion. Often times they would bring slaves captured in war to the top of monument like Chichen Itza and a priest would take out the still beating heart of the slave right in front of him or her. They did this in worship of their many gods. Slaves were not the only ones who were sacrificed. Animals were often sacrificed as well as athletes in the popular ball game played by the Mayans and sometimes teenage girls were sacrificed to the gods. They also had a sort of hell that they called the underworld, the entrance to which was in the underground cenotes where they got their water. They were not afraid of death, in fact death was a part of life to them and to be sacrificed to the gods was an honor. At the head of their religion was the king who was thought to descend from the gods.

Mayan Hobbies

The Mayans did many things that we still do today as a source of fun. Men played ball games, drank and gambled. Women couldn't do as much however. The Mayan ball game was kind of like soccer. They used a rubber ball their hips, and the object of the game was to get the ball through a stone hoop. This game was played for fun as well as a tribute to the gods. Often times the losing team was executed, and new evidence suggests that the winning team was also executed or sacrificed as a tribute to the gods. Below is a video showing how the game was played.
Xcaret - Pok-ta-Pok - Mayan ball game

The Maya Fall

The Mayans were almost completely extinct by about 900 AD. The reason for their sudden decline is not known but the most popular theory is that their farming techniques caused a drastic change in climate and either caused an extreme drought, or caused many tropical storms that nearly wipe out the empire.


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The Aztec Empire started in the mid 1300s and went until they were conquered by Spain in 1521. They built their empire in Mexico with their capital being Tenochtitlan or what is now called Mexico City. They were a nomadic tribe looking for a place to build. When they saw an eagle on a cactus they took it as a sign to build their city. Tenochtitlan was built on an island in the middle of a lake.


Like the Mayans the Aztecs had a trading economy where they traded surplus in crops for clothing, minerals like gold, feathers and jaguar teeth.


The Aztecs were incomparable to the rest of the world as far as agriculture. They built floating gardens where they grew their crops with different tools like hoes and shovels. These floating gardens were called Chinampas. They didn't domesticate animals however, and didn't have access to a wheeled vehicles to move products. They also used terraces in the mountainous regions to farm crops. Their floating gardens are pictured below.


They mined in the mountains for gold, jade, obsidian, silver, copper, and turquoise and used them to make ornament, weapons, and gifts for the gods. These items also sold for a large price at the market

Conquered People

Conquered people had to pay tribute. They could pay tribute with corn, cloth, animals, bird feathers, jade, honey, rubber, and/ or gold.


The Aztecs were polytheistic which means that they worshipped many gods. They built temples and shrines for different gods, godesses, and priests. Gods were often depicted as animals which is probably where the spirit animal originated.

Priests often beat themselves with a cactus and never bathed. They also performed rituals like drowning, ripping out and burning someones heart, or beheaded them. Usually slaves were the ones being sacrificed. They also believed that human blood needed to shed in order for the sun to rise each day.

Aztec Children


Boys and girls went to school. Girls learned how to be good wives and care for household problems while boys learned history, religion, building and fighting. Noble children went to a special school where they also learned astronomy and war techniques. Noble children usually became priest, members of a ruling council or leaders of the armies.

Aztecs didn't develop a writing system and instead used hieroglyphs to write and a dotted system for counting as depicted below.

Work and Discipline

Children were expected to help parents in whatever way possible at a very early age. They were also severely disciplined if they did something wrong. Children were discipline by; being forced to inhale the smoke from burning chili peppers, being pricked by a cactus several times, and being bound at the hands and feet for days. Sometimes it was a combination of several.
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Women were 12-15 men were slightly older. Marriage was arranged by a love doctor, or match maker at the time. The husband was expected to provide for his wife and children and the wife was expected to care for the children and household. Nobles usually had many wives while commoners usually had only one. An Aztec marriage ceremony is shown above.


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Emperor - head of society, makes all decisions, dress in feather and lots of color

Nobles and Priest

- meat in council lead by serpent women (actually the emperors brother)

- Advise emperor

- often the leaders of smaller cities

Professional Soldier

- more prestigious than commoners, less than priests or nobles


- Some are free some are like indentured servants

- Were usually farmers, merchants, or craftsmen

- Developed clans

- Clans put up schools, markets and farms


- bought and sold like property, often used as sacrifices

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Aztecs Fall

The Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes ended the reign of the Aztecs when he conquered them in 1521. He got help from a native women who spoke the Aztec language and the Spanish language. She helped Cortes team up with tribes conquered by the Aztecs. He also had help from measles, small pox, and influenza which killed nearly all of the Aztec people.


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When They Lived

The Incas occupied the the Pacific coast of South America between 1200-1572, until diseases, along with a civil war weakened them to the point where Fransisco Pizzaro, a Spanish Conquistador, could finish them off.


Land Control

The Incas controlled a land mass that was 2,000 miles North to South and 200 miles off the of the coast. This is possibly the longest empire in the ancient world. To travel through this large mass of land the Incas built what is probably the best road system in the ancient world.
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In the Andes Mountains people herded llamas and grew potatoes using terraces farming. In the valleys people planted corn and beans. In the rainforest squash, tomatoes and other tropical fruits were grown. Coastal Incan peoples hunted birds and fished.
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The Incas didn't have a system of writing. Instead they used knotted strings called quipus. A quipus was attached to a central rope. The color of the string determined the item being counted, the knot or knots told the number of that thing.

No Money No Problem

Items were not often traded in the Incan empire. Everything in the empire was the property of the Sapa Inca. Commoner and officials worked for the Sapa Inca once a month. In return everyone was well fed. Commoner would farm his land, build roads, temples and fortresses, and work in the mines. Women would farm the land and care for the house while the husbands worked for the emperor. They also planned ahead for disaster and had store houses with food and water in them. People who couldn't work were given food and housing for nothing.

Conquered Peoples

Conquered people were taught the Incan way and were given complete freedom as long as they worshipped the Sun God and the Sapa Inca. The Incas also learned from the peoples they conquered, and took a yearly census.



The Incas created a complex bureaucracy that help their empire flourish. The empire was split into 4 sections each with its own governor who met with the Sapa Inca and carried out any orders he had. There were also officials below the governors that helped carry out the Sapa Incas request.

Social Classes

Sapa Inca

He was considered the son of the sun and was a god. He would marry is sister, the daughter of the moon to ensure that the bloodline was pure. He was always dressed in colorful embroidered robe and headdresses. He was dressed and fed by servants. Finally he was carried around the empire in a throne called a litter. Even though he was dressed so extravagantly if a commoner looked at him they were killed on the spot.


Nobles were all sons of the emperor and dressed much like he did. They usually worked as priest, judges, and army officials. Noble children went to school and were taught poetry, history, religion, and math. At 14 years old boys became men and were whipped at the legs to remind them to respect their elders.


Commoners worked as farmers, laborer and craftsmen. They dressed much less extravagantly than the emperor. They lived in family groups called ayllus where the decision were made by a group of elders.



The Incas worshipped many gods including but not limited to, a sun god, a thunder and lightning god, an Earth god, and finally a creator god.


Like other civilization the Incas also built temples to commemorate and show worship to gods. Unlike most they also had holy places called Huacas. They were believed to have magical powers and could be anything from a tree, to a rock, to a cave. Often times the Incas would perform human sacrifices at the the Huacas.
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The Inca were very intelligent as far as medicine and the human body. They were so intelligent on the subject that they were actually able to perform surgeries by using plants in the rainforest as a type of amnesia. They also had steam houses that they used to cure common colds. They would put wood up against a mud/clay hut and light them on fire. Then when it was hot enough they went inside and splashed water on the walls. This created a modern day steam room. They also mummified bodies like the Egyptians.

Importance of the Road System.

The Incan road system was used for many purposes. It was used to transport goods throughout the empire and to keep everyone fed. It was used to crush uprisings days after they started because the armies could travel so quickly. Finally this road system was the birthplace of the mail system. Relay runners relayed a message from one side of the empire to other in less than a week, and in the Andes mountains no less. This was far more advanced than anything anyone else was doing at the time.

The Incas Fall to Pizzaro

Though Incan medicine was strong their immune systems were no match for small pox, measles and influenza brought over from Spain. These diseases killed most of them and allowed Fransisco Pizarro to take over the empire. First he came to the capital city and kidnapped the emperor. Then he threatened to kill him if a ransom was not paid. The ransom was paid but the emperor was killed anyway. This was the first step to conquering the Incas which was eventually accomplished in 1532
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American Gold Leads to Capitals

Spain Finds Gold

When Spain finds tons of Gold in America it encourage other countries, especially England, to look for riches in the new world. England then sets up the colonies but instead of gold they find the tobacco and cotton industry.

Triangular Trade

Merchants who sell cotton and tobacco want to produce it more cheaply. To do this they get slaves from Africa and the triangular trade system begins. Slaves become the cheap labor force.
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Free Market

Merchants then own all the product and are not regulated by the government. They sell there product at any price they want, but they have to keep in mind competition and supply and demand. They can sell goods at whatever price they want and pay works as little as they want. Eventually England started to tax the sale of those goods which made the country rich.

Consumer Gains Control

Now instead of government regulations making everything cost the same supply and demand, and competition determine the price of goods. The consumer then decides who they want to by from and the merchants compete for the consumers business.

Capitalism is Born

A free market, a cheap labor force, and small amount of people owning a large amount of wealth. These are all characteristic of capitalism that all started when the the Spanish stole gold from the Incas and Aztecs.


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