Women in the Maya Empire Illustration

Maya Women

Maya women participated in government, politics, economics, and farming. They helped ready their men for battle, although women were not warriors themselves. They played an active part in Maya religion, and were responsible for the care of domestic shrines.

Women also had charge of cooking the daily meals, which usually were composed of maize, beans, and squash, plus whatever else they served, unless they had slaves to do this for them. Women made and painted gourds for cooking and serving food. They also tended the kitchen garden and took care of the cattle. Farmers wives made their own clothes by weaving and spinning.

Women, like men, were restricted to their social level. The Maya had a caste system. A caste system is a very rigid social system in which you are born into a social position and cannot leave that position. In a caste system you are required to marry within your own caste. The upper caste was composed of nobles and priests. The middle caste were businessmen, merchants and soldiers. The lower caste was made up of farmers and slaves.

Women could not inherit from their parents. For those families who had no son, when a daughter married, she had to leave home immediately and live with her husband's parents until her first child was born. His parents could treat her horribly. They could not kill her, but they could starve her and beat her, and quite often did. This continued until her first baby was born. Once that happened, the village gave the young couple a piece of land, and they could finally live on their own and hopefully have some sons as well as daughters. When her parents died, their land and belongings were assigned to someone else. Their land would not be given to her male children.

Women could get a divorce and return home if her father would allow her to do so. Divorce was easy in the Maya world. But women of child bearing years were not allowed to stay single. Marriages were arranged, and a new husband would be found for her, like it or not.

Daily Life in the Maya Empire



Mayas for Kids