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). The Maya built hundreds of cities. One noble family controlled each city. Some cities were very large. Each family had a great deal of power because each family had a large army.

When the ruling noble died in a city, his job passed to his son.  No one else got a shot at it. The noble familiesí right to rule originated with the Hero Twins. Each noble family was supposedly a direct descendant of one of the Hero Twins. That gave them the justification they needed to keep their job. They were directly related to the gods.

The ruling noble did not do his job alone. 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.

Like the ancient Greeks, the Maya city-states were both independent and intertwined. The Mayas considered themselves to be Maya Indians. They all spoke the same language. Their written language was the same. They worshiped the same gods. They told the same myths. They had the same laws. They wore the same style clothing. They thought of themselves as one people. Unlike the ancient Greeks, Maya cities were interconnected with marvelous roads.  Each Maya city had a palace, some temples, some pyramids, a central marketplace, and a ball court.

Maya law was very strict. If you stole something and you were caught, you became the captive of your victim. If you committed a lesser crime, your hair would be cut short. Short hair was a sign of disgrace. It was possible that, as a punishment, all of your possessions might be sold at auction. Punishments varied, but the laws were pretty fair and applied to everyone equally. The Mayas held trials. Evidence was presented against you or for you. This evidence was presented before a judge. It did not matter who you were. If you committed a crime, and you were found guilty after a judge had heard your case, you would be punished. This was rigidly enforced. 

Maya Justice - Crimes, Courts, Punishment

Who was Pakal the Great? - Each Maya city had its own king or queen, but Pakal ruled longer than any other king in the ancient Maya world

Maya Kings - Pacal

Cities, Palaces, Pyramids, Temples, Ball Courts

Maya Stelas

Nobles & Fashion

The Hero Twins

Maya Warriors

What happened to the Maya civilization?

Mayas for Kids