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In this paper I present a different model of Maya political organization and warfare in the Late Classic which is based on recent research by Simon Martin and myself (Martin 1993; 1993a; Grube 1993; Martin and Grube n.d.). We do not see all states in the lowlands as equal and independent. Two major states, the state of Tikal and the state of Calakmul [note], exercised considerable influence on most, if not all states in the Maya lowlands.

Calakmul seems to be a continuous antagonist of Tikal; the rivalry between these two has shaped most of the Late Classic history of the Southern Lowlands. In terms of population and military strength, there were no states in the lowlands equal or near equal to Calakmul and Tikal. There is evidence that smaller states could be successful in war only if they were allied with one of the two. Many major wars in the Lowlands, therefore, give ultimate credit for victorious wars to Calakmul or Tikal. Thus, we find webs of alliance and patronage that make every state an ally of either Tikal or Calakmul.

The states under dominance enjoyed protection and local autonomy. Through alliances the two superpowers extended a confederacy of friendly states antagonistic to its enemies. These patterns of subordination can be reconstructed from epigraphic evidence based on generally accepted decipherments. We see the hierarchical structures in the Classic Period, not as a formalized system, but as a status quo that crystallized amongst a limited number of rival states. In our model, the basic political unit was indeed defined by the Emblem Glyph, as first outlined by Joyce Marcus (1976) and Peter Mathews (1988), yet these small states were also woven into a fragile network of family ties, subordination, and economic and militaristic dependency centered on Calakmul and Tikal as the preeminent states.

The antagonism between Tikal and Calakmul shaped power politics in the western Maya region, particularly in the area around Palenque. The Palenque area was a showplace of many wars. The kings of Palenque fought wars against kingdoms in their vicinity While Palenque explicitly claims association with Tikal, there is good epigraphic evidence that most enemies of Palenque were in the sphere of Calakmul.


PARI editor's note: the drawing above, of the Tikal and Calakmul emblem glyphs, is by Mesoweb's Keny Davis.

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