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Yopaat Bahlam II

SAK-JUKU:B? YOPA:T[BAHLAM]-ma. Drawing and transcription after Martin and Grube (2008).

Maya ruler of Yaxchilan [also known as Yoaat B'alam II]. Reigned >749>.

We know of this king not from any mention at Yaxchilan but rather from a sculpture and inscription at long-time rival Piedras Negras; that he is depicted at that site in the guise of a peaceful visitor may account for the fact that all mention of him seems to have been obliterated by his successor in his own kingdom, Bird Jaguar IV (Martin and Grube 2008:127, 129).

The context of Yopaat Bahlam's reign is what Tatiana Proskouriakoff has referred to as the "interregnum" of Yaxchilan, during which, she hypothesized, an intense rivalry for the throne took place following the death of Itzamnaaj Bahlam the Great in 742 (ibid.:127). This illustrious king lived into his late nineties and may well have outlasted his principal heirs; as the son of a junior wife, the future Bird Jaguar IV was probably not among these (ibid.:126-128). The heir apparent was more likely to have been a son of Lady K'abal Xook, the queen for whom Itzamnaaj Bahlam built Temple 23 with its magnificent lintels; Lady K'abal Xook survived her husband by six years (ibid.:126-127). One of her relatives was taken prisoner by Dos Pilas in 745, although it is not particularly likely that this affected the succession (ibid.:127). All that is known for certain is that a holy lord of Yaxchilan bearing the name of the dynasty founder Yopaat Bahlam appears in the text and probably the figural scene of Piedras Negras Panel 3 in 749 in the context of witnessing the 20-year anniversary of Piedras Negras Ruler 4's accession (ibid.:127, 149).

Panel 3 (photo) is a masterfully composed scene of Classic Maya courtly life. Ruler 4 sits on a large throne in the center surrounded by nobles of his kingdom and foreign courts; on the left, facing the seated ruler and listening to his spoken words, are visitors from Yaxchilan, the foremost of whom cannot be securely identified by his eroded caption but is readily inferred to be the Yopaat Bahlam named in the main text (ibid.:127, 149). The Piedras Negras ruler's speech is incised in glyphs between him and his guests; addressing Yopaat Bahlam in second-person speech, Ruler 4 talks pointedly of the accession, under Piedras Negras supervision, of "your grandfather/your ancestor", Bird Jaguar (ibid.:127). But the possibilities for the associated date do not fit with any Bird Jaguar known from the inscriptions at Yaxchilan; the implication is that Piedras Negras is setting the record straight about (or giving its own version of) a bygone act of subordination that has been suppressed in the records of Yaxchilan itself (ibid.:127).

It should be remarked in passing that the implications of the Piedras Negras ruler's speech would seem to feed into the hand of those who would argue against the veracity of Maya inscriptions (ibid.:127). It has been argued that Maya kings were not above falsifying their records in the service of their own agendas, but it is worth noting that not a single instance has been produced of two opponents claiming victory in the same battle (ibid.:127). To take an example from Yaxchilan, Izamnaaj Bahlam III omits any reference in his extensive listing of military victories and dates to the capture of one of his lords by Piedras Negras in 726, but neither does he claim a victory of his own in that encounter (ibid.:126-127). Moreover, archaeology has recently proven the essential validity of a disputed text from Copan (ibid.:127, 192-193). Certainly the inscriptions of one kingdom can be used to provide essential insights into what goes unstated at another while bearing in mind the rhetorical agendas on both sides a not-unreasonable historiographical method.

The foregoing is based on Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube (2008:127, 149, 192-193). Their sources include Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1963, 1964) for the "interregnum"; Kathryn Josserand and Nicholas Hopkins (personal communication 1993) for the implications of the capture at Dos Pilas; David Stuart (personal communication 1996) for the second-person text of Piedras Negras Panel 3; and Joyce Marcus (1992) for the supposed unreliability of Maya texts. Martin and Grube (2000:231, Yaxchilan n. 27) note that the information set out by the Piedras Negras king in Panel 3 is "[u]sually thought to the the accession of Bird Jaguar IV under Ruler 4 in 757, but could refer to an earlier pairing of these recurring names at the two cities."

One is left to wonder what Yopaat Bahlam's successor Bird Jaguar IV would have thought of his predecessor's apparently willing reception of the words spoken by Piedras Negras Ruler 4 and his very presence in such a context at the rival city. Whether Bird Jaguar nursed a grudge at being bypassed on the throne upon his father's death in 742, or whether he found Yopaat Bahlam's implicit subjugation to Piedras Negras a rank apostasy, he seems to have made a conscious effort to blot his predecessor from the pages of history. There is not a single reference to Yopaat Bahlam II at Yaxchilan. Instead there is Bird Jaguar IV's monumental king list of Hieroglyphic Stairway 1 that starts with the dynasty founder and culminates in himself (Martin and Grube 2008:129). Although erosion has deprived us of the years between 537 and Bird Jaguar's accession in 752 (ibid.:121), it is unlikely that there was ever any mention of Yopaat Bahlam II.

Bird Jaguar's Stela 6 and Hieroglyphic Stairway 1 itself were recarved over earlier monuments; one or the other or both may well have been commissions of Yopaat Bahlam II (ibid.:129-130).