Government Illustration

Maya Empire for Kids


The Maya Empire was not one unified nation. There was no central government. The Maya Empire was a collection of independent cities (city-states). One noble family controlled each city. Some cities were very large. Those families had a great deal of power because they had a large army.

The Maya built hundreds of cities. Each city had a noble family in charge of it. Control of the city passed from father to son.

Although there were many cities, all the Maya spoke the same language (Mayan). They worshipped the same gods. They set up their cities in the same way. They had very similar laws. They dressed in the same way. The cities were connected with roadways that were kept in good repair. But, they were not the same cities. These Maya city-states were often at war with each other.

The head of the noble family in each city-state had government officials to help him rule his city. He chose the officials. His officials could be a mix of retired warriors, elders, and members of his family. Some of these officials acted as judges, others were in law enforcement. In the Maya Empire, a woman could be the ruler of a city-state. Women could be active in government as well as economics and religion.

There was no reason to send officials to other cities to collect taxes, because each city-state ruled only itself. But officials did visit other cities on government business. Cities might team up to fight other cities. They might team up to repair the roads. The Maya knew people in other cities. They might rule individually, but they were an empire, one civilization. What united them was their common culture, language, calendar, religion, and way of life.

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