The ancient civilizations of the Aztecs and the Mayans were among the most fascinating and influential cultures in Mesoamerica. Although they shared some similarities due to their geographical proximity and cultural exchanges. However, there were also significant differences between the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. This article aims to explore and highlight the key distinctions in their social structure, political systems, religious beliefs, and artistic achievements of Aztec and Mayan Civilizations.
In the evolution of time, different civilizations developed in different regions of the world. These two civilizations are among them. They are developed in the Americas or the Far East separated by the boundless Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Aztec civilization developed several centuries ago in the Mesoamerican region of Mexico. The Mayan civilization flourished in northeastern Mexico and the Caribbean Sea region of Central America. So both are the civilizations of America. But some differences can be noticed between these two civilizations (1) & (2).
1. Aztec Society
The Aztec civilization arose between 135 and 1521 AD. This civilization was a sprawling civilization that covered most of North America. They followed a social hierarchy in which individuals were identified as nobles, commoners, serfs, and slaves. The nobles included government and military leaders, high-ranking priests, and lords.
Priests had their own internal caste system and were celibate and abstained from alcohol. Nobles were entitled to respect from commoners in society. The common class included farmers, artisans, merchants, and low-ranking priests. And serfs worked on lands that were owned by nobles and did not live in Calpuli. Slaves in this society were those who were guilty of a crime or failed to pay tribute. Thus the social structure of this society was formed.
In Aztec society, women had a lower position than men, but women had many rights. Girls could own property and have recourse to the law if necessary. However, only men had the opportunity to progress in life (3).
2. Mayan Society
The social classes in Mayan society were divided between nobles, commoners, serfs, and slaves. The Mayan civilization was based on many independent city-states. A city-state had a population of 25,000 or more. Social hierarchies existed in Mayan society. The highest class was the place of the nobles and the priestly class. Below them were the places of farmers, artisans, and traders. And below them was the place of the poor and propertyless (slaves) people. They were at the bottom of society. Slaves had to do the hardest work in the Mayan kingdom. Each Mayan city-state had a ruler or king. The king was the supreme authority in social, religious, and war matters. Village headmen, priests, and prominent advisers were members of this advisory council. The noble class of the state is formed with the king and various levels of rulers-administrators (2).
1. Aztec Empire
This empire was formed of city-states. At the center of each city-state was a large city that ruled the area. The government here was like a monarchy where an emperor or king was the primary ruler. They called their ruler Huey Tlatoani. The king was the ultimate force in the country. When an emperor dies, the new emperor is chosen by a group of high-ranking nobles. Usually, the new emperor is a descendant or relative of the previous emperor.
This empire made up of a series of city-states which is known as Altepetl. Each Altepetl was ruled by a supreme leader and a supreme judge and administrator. Cihuacoatl was second in command after the emperor. He was a member of the nobility. He served as the supreme judge for the court system, appointed all lower court judges, and managed the financial affairs of this empire (1).
2. Mayan City-States
The Mayan civilization was ruled by kings and priests. They lived in independent city-states. These were linked together through trade, political alliances, and obligations of tribute. Some city-states were independent and others were a part of larger political hierarchies. These states were initially ruled by simple chiefs.
Each Mayan kingdom had a supreme military commander called a NACOM. Nacom worked for a three-year term. The primary job of Nacom was to formulate military strategy and call troops into battle. Independent states also had a high priest. He led a hierarchy of priests, fixed the dates of festivals, and predicted auspicious events for the ruler.
Their political structure was complex. The kings were powerful and claimed to be descended from gods and planets (1).
1. Aztec Religion
The Aztecs had many gods. But the chief deity of the Aztecs was Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli was the god of the sun and war. The Aztecs were sun worshippers. Large pyramids were built in all the cities of the Aztec empire. At the top of the pyramid was the temple of the sun god. Human sacrifice was also prevalent in Aztec civilization. Another deity of the Aztecs was Quetzal Cohatl. He was the god of wind and sky. There was no human sacrifice provision for him.
In Aztec art, this god is depicted as a snake covered in feathers. This combined animal was a symbol of the earth and sky. Earth is the mother of all people and the sky is the father. The ball game was part of a religious ceremony (2).
2. Mayan Religion
Mayans worshiped the sun. There was always a stone altar in the Mayan temple at the top of the pyramid. People were sacrificed to the sun god on this altar. Apart from the sun, the Mayans worshiped many other gods. Religion was an integral and important part of the entire life of the Mayans. The religious consciousness of the Mayans governed their entire social activities. The Mayan polity was also controlled by the priesthood and theocracy. Priests maintained complete control over the entire way of life of the Mayans.
In Mayan society, only priests could write and read hieroglyphic characters. A type of ball game was prevalent in the Mayan kingdom. This ball game was an important religious ceremony in Mayan society. The game gradually became popular in the region of Mexico and later among the Aztecs (2).
1. Aztec Art
The Aztecs built great pyramids and temples, metal objects, etc. The Aztecs mastered a form of writing. They used to write with the help of pictures. Art was inextricably linked to the activities of their lives. They used to build large stone statues of gods. The Aztecs used to write down various dates and historical dates on round stone discs. It is called panjika or calendar. They could make beautiful hats with feathers.
Aztecs could make beautiful colorful clothes and dresses by placing feathers on woolen cloth. They also could make beautifully designed pottery. The Aztecs did not acquire special skills in woodworking. They, however, used wood for building frames, and could also make wooden drums and a small type of chair. They mainly worked with stone tools and woodworking tools (1).
2. Mayan Art
The Mayan showed absolute excellence in architecture and sculpture. Mayan temples, palaces, pyramids, etc. were built around a square. The pyramids that the Mayans built were different from the Egyptian pyramids. These are step pyramids. A staircase was built on top of the pyramid to climb the temple. The entire pyramid was covered with a stone brick lining. Architects of the Mayan period generally used wood and stone tools.
Scholars believe that the Mayans did not use any metal tools because no metal tools have been found in any of the Mayan cities. Limestone was abundant in the Mayan kingdom. They made lime-grinding limestone. They used to cover the walls of these buildings with stone bricks. Various statues and images were carved to decorate temples and pyramids. Mayan used to build and carve idols of gods or animals and animals related to gods and goddesses to decorate their pyramids, palaces, etc.
Mayan could draw beautiful pictures. They could paint the idols and walls beautifully. Books or manuscripts had pictures. The Mayan used to inscribe various details and dates on the square stone pillars and plaques. They could weave beautifully designed clothes, make jade stone figurines, make pottery, and make beautiful gold and silver ornaments (2).
In view of the above discussion, some similarities, and some differences exist between these two Mesoamerican civilizations. Their key differences are discussed below.
|1. Start time||The Aztec civilization arose between 135 and 1521 AD.||The Mayan civilization settlements date to around 1800 B.C.|
|2. Location||Aztecs were a native people of Northern Mesoamerica.||Maya were native people of Mexico and Central America.|
|3. Language||Nahuatl, is spoken by about 1.5 million people.||These languages were spoken by at least 6 million.|
|4. Religion||Aztec religion||Mayan religion|
|5. Currency||Their currency was Quachtil, cocoa beans.||They used cacao seeds, salt obsidian, or gold.|
|6. Geological era||Pre-Columbian||Pre-classic era|
|7. Particular God||The Aztecs worship Huitzilopochtli as their main deity.||The Maya were polytheistic but did not have a specific god.|
|8. Calendar type||Aztecs used a sacred calendar and a 365–day agricultural calendar.||They used two calendars. One was based on the solar years, and the other was a sacred calendar.|
|9. Political condition||Aztecs formed city-states. At the center of each city-state was a large city that ruled the area. The government here was like a monarchy where an emperor or king was the primary ruler. They called their ruler Huey Tlatoani.||The Mayan civilization was ruled by kings and priests. They lived in independent city-states. These were linked together through trade, political alliances, and obligations of tribute. Some city-states were independent and others were a part of larger political hierarchies.|
|10. Art||The Aztecs built great pyramids and temples, metal objects, etc. The Aztecs mastered a form of writing. They used to write with the help of pictures. Art was inextricably linked to the activities of their lives.||The Mayan showed absolute excellence in architecture and sculpture.
Mayan temples, palaces, pyramids, etc. were built around a square. The pyramids that the Mayans built were different from the Egyptian pyramids.
These are step pyramids. A staircase was built on top of the pyramid to climb the temple.
|11. Today part of||Mexico City||Mexico, Guatemala, and Brazil.|
|12. Script||They did not use written language. They only depicted their ideas in pictures.||They had a fully developed written language (3).|
- Both the Mayans and the Aztecs built pyramids.
- Aztecs and Mayans both civilizations practiced human sacrifice to the gods.
- None of them used work animals or wheeled vehicles for travel and transport.
- Both civilizations depended on agriculture.
- The primary crop of both civilizations is maize.
- The monarchy was prevalent in both civilizations (2).
While both the Aztec and Mayan civilizations shared certain characteristics, such as their polytheistic religious beliefs and artistic achievements, they differed significantly in their social structures, political systems, religious practices, and artistic styles. Understanding these differences allows us to appreciate the rich cultural heritage left behind by these extraordinary civilizations and their lasting impact on them (2).
Written By: Manisha Bharati