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Pomona's wars against Palenque

After a reign of approximately 21 years, Lady Ol-Nal dies at, less than two years after the hubuy event. Her successor to the throne of Palenque is her son Ak Kan. With his inauguration a new lineage begins at Palenque because Ak Kan is in the patrilineage of his father. The reign of Ak Kan is extremely short with only eight years between his accession and his death at During his reign, Palenque continued to be the target of military attacks. The east panel of the Temple of the Inscriptions records another attack against Palenque (figure 4).

The event is the phonetic spelling of the axe war event deciphered as ch'akah (Orejel 1990; Looper and Schele 1991) and concerns lakamha, the place name used to identify the central plain with the Palace and Group of the Cross at Palenque. Dated to (Nov. 24, 610), this event seems to have involved a raid that penetrated into the central precinct at Palenque. It is followed on (April 7, 611) by another phrase that seems to say that the raid was done by a lord of pi-a, mentioned often in the hieroglyphic texts of Pomona. Pia occurs in Pomona both with the affixes as well as in the syntactic position of an emblem glyph (figure 4). It seems that pia first was a toponym (Stuart and Houston n.d.:30) and later, in addition to the Pakab emblem identified by Mathews (1988:fig. 11-2), was also used as an emblem.

A Palenque captive at Piedras Negras

A captive from Palenque is recorded on Piedras Negras Stela 26, a monument erected at (figure 5). The monument records various events in the life of Piedras Negras Ruler 1, who acceded to the throne on and died on Though there is no information about the date of this capture, it is very possible that this Palenque captive was taken either during the reign of Ak Kan, or of his successor, Lady Sak K'uk', or even during the early years of Pakal's reign. The front of the stela, on which no date is recorded, shows two kneeling captives. The captive to the right is called ch'ok balam. His title identifies him as an ah k'una, perhaps a courtier of the divine lord of Palenque (Houston 1993:130-134). The other captive to the left is from the sak tz'i site. The sak tz'i site has not yet been located. However, the fact that the name is mentioned in Piedras Negras and Bonampak, and that, in turn, monuments that may originate at the sak tz'i site mention Bonampak and Piedras Negras, can be taken as arguments that the sak tz'i site is located near these cities.

In any case, it is clear that the reign of Ak Kan did not last long and was, as we see later, not considered to have been very successful. His portrait is missing on the sides of the sarcophagus. Instead, his place is taken by Hanab Pakal I, who, according to the sarcophagus rim text, died 155 days before Ak Kan. We suspect that he was the older brother of Ak Kan, and that he would have been the legitimate successor to the throne (Schele and Mathews 1993). The reason why he never acceded to the Palenque throne is not known, but it is not impossible that he also was involved in the troublesome events around Palenque - perhaps he even found his death in the battlefield.

That Hanab Pakal I was regarded as the legitimate successor is supported by the fact that he provided the next successor to the throne. Again, the traditional pattern was given up and a female successor, Lady Sak K'uk', took over. Through this succession, a second displacement of the royal lineage occurred.

The problems the Palenque dynasty was facing were also expressed in a highly ritualized rhetoric. The long hieroglyphic text of the Temple of the Inscriptions records the dynastic history of Palenque in the frame of a K'atun prophecy similar to the K'atun chronicles of the books of Chilam Balam. The east tablet records the K'atun endings between and In the passage associated with K'atun 3 Ahaw, the K'atun that ends, a sequence of glyphs records the couplet satay k'u - satay ahaw 'lost are the gods; lost are the kings' (figure 6). Here, the loss of kingship is connected to the loss of the gods. The lost gods are quite probably the statues of the gods of the Triad that were thrown down, as described in the passage from the Hieroglyphic Stairs mentioned before. After this phrase there follows a sequence that begins with the verb ma u nawah 'it is not adorned'. The next two glyphs spell the name of a Venus god. Then the text repeats the formula ma yak'wa 'it is not given' in the context of certain offerings, because no offerings could be given to the gods destroyed in the wars.

Palenque's revenge

After the accession of Pakal at Palenque's history changes radically. Palenque becomes an active player in Lowland Maya politics and is no longer the target of attacks. Furthermore, the royalty of Palenque begins to write down its own history. The earlier history of Palenque is known only from retrospective texts.

The early years of Pakal's life are not well known. However, Balam Ahaw, ruler of Tortuguero, carries the Palenque emblem glyph and leads a series of successful attacks against polities and places that cannot yet be located precisely [note]. It is very possible, therefore, that Balam Ahaw, who certainly was a member of one of the branches of the Palenque dynasty, was given the privilege of using the Palenque emblem in acknowledgment of his successful wars. These wars certainly helped Pakal expand his political influence over a large area and confirmed his claim to power in the capital of the Palenque state against other competing nobles. That Balam Ahaw was granted his high status through Pakal finds support in the fact that all his monuments - Monument 6, Monument 1, the inscribed jade earspool, and Monument 8 - were executed after, when Pakal finally had reestablished the power of Palenque, and Balam Ahaw had finished all his campaigns.

For Palenque and Pakal, this series of wars, captures, and decapitations, which all took place in the relatively short span of only ten years, must have been a very important step toward regaining power. Though the area against which these campaigns were undertaken cannot yet be defined, the involvement of Tortuguero suggests that Palenque wanted to consolidate its power in the west. From later texts we know that Comalcalco had come under the control of Palenque. Inscribed bricks from Comalcalco make reference to Palenque both by mentioning the Lakamha toponym as well as the Palenque emblem.

Indeed, Palenque forces had no chance to move in any other direction but west: to the north, Piedras Negras was a powerful opponent and potential enemy; in the south Tonina did not permit further expansion; and in the east was Bonampak, which in the time of Pakal's reign was dominated by Piedras Negras (documented on Piedras Negras Lintel 2), and later, by, probably came under the dominion of Tonina.

Palenque's alliance with Tikal

The passage from the House C Hieroglyphic Stairs that describes Calakmul's attack against Palenque has proven to be one of the most difficult passages in all the inscriptions of Palenque. It is hard to determine where the passage begins. The most logical beginning would be with the verb preceding the Palenque moon formula in a number tree, because this verb contains the iwal 'and then' focus marker. The hand-leaf superfix substitutes for the pas part of the name Yax Pas in Copan (figure 7). In Palenque it is also used in the name of the central war/sun icon of the Tablet of the Sun. The substitution in the regal name at Copan especially suggests a reading iwal pasah 'and then it emerges'. In context with the number tree that contains the Palenque moon formula, the passage can be interpreted as a description of a lunar eclipse. The glyph for the eclipse is not only the number tree, but also a head with markings around the eyes, probably because it represents a supernatural associated with eclipses (like Colop u uich kin 'Tearer of the Eye of the Sun' in Colonial Yucatec).

Linda Schele, Peter Mathews and Floyd Lounsbury discovered there was a 70% umbral lunar eclipse with its maximum at 00:32 A.M. on August 11, 659 (Schele and Mathews 1993). The possessor of the eclipse is nun balam lakam chak, a name identical to the guardian jaguar on Tikal Temple 1 Lintel 3. This guardian jaguar is interpreted by Simon Martin and me as a huge protector figure resting on a portable palanquin (Martin 1993a). The precise function of these palanquins is still hard to discern. On the lintels of Tikal they occur as captured objects displayed as trophies by the victorious Tikal kings. As Simon Martin suggests, their initial function could have been that they were carried into the battlefield where their fearsome appearance could serve as the focus of an armed force.

Nu Balam Lakam Chak is said to be the y-itah 'companion of' Shield Jaguar of Yaxchilan. Shield Jaguar would have been ten years old at the time. What is the meaning of this passage? I believe this passage uses the same metaphor as Tikal Lintel 3, where a solar eclipse is used by Tikal to lead an attack against El Peru. Here, the lunar eclipse probably was taken as a bad omen for Yaxchilan. As Mary Ellen Miller has shown, Yaxchilan was controlled for a very long time by the more powerful Piedras Negras (Miller 1991). Indeed, Piedras Negras Lintel 2 shows ahawoob and warriors from Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Lakanha attending a ceremony at Piedras Negras only 290 days before the "eclipse over the battle standard" event recorded at Palenque.

The subordination of the royal dynasty of Yaxchilan under the dynasty of Piedras Negras seems to be the explanation for the absence of monuments at Yaxchilan in the early years of the reign of Shield Jaguar. Even though the royal dynasty continued to exist, it was not allowed to erect its own monuments. Therefore, Shield Jaguar's youth remains almost unknown. All events known from this time are from later texts. Yaxchilan's royal dynasty was subordinate to the dynasty of Piedras Negras, which itself was closely connected to the house of Calakmul. Shield Jaguar's marriage with a Lady from Calakmul (Schele and Freidel 1990:265-271) might finally have brought the recognition of Yaxchilan's independence. Simon Martin has shown that on about a bloodletting was undertaken by Kan Mahk'ina from Calakmul. Yaxchilan Stela 35 and Lintel 39, the monuments describing this event, probably are the first monuments erected at Yaxchilan after the recuperation of its independence.

Texts from Piedras Negras state clearly that its royal house was one of the allies of Calakmul. On Stela 35 (figure 8b), the Calakmul emblem is mentioned with the date which is only three years after the Hieroglyphic Stairway date. Shortly thereafter, Piedras Negras is involved in a "Star War" against an unknown place. The Calakmul association with Piedras Negras is also recorded on a looted panel from a minor satellite of Piedras Negras. This panel records that an event was done against Piedras Negras Ruler 2 by a sublord of Jaguar Paw of Calakmul (figure 8a). The sublord carries the title y-ahbak 'his man of the captives'.

After describing the "eclipse over the battle standard of Yaxchilan," the next passage is introduced by iwal chukah 'and then was taken' u bak 'the captive of', and the name of Shield-Skull of Tikal (Schele 1989). The Tikal emblem glyph probably followed his name, although only the outlines are preserved. What this passage seems to say is that Shield Skull of Tikal at took captives, without, however, providing their names. Since this event clearly is associated with the same date as the "eclipse over Yaxchilan," the most likely interpretation seems to be that Yaxchilan, which at that time was under the dominion of Piedras Negras, became the target of an attack lead by Shield Skull of Tikal. The logistics for such a long-distance attack must have been extremely difficult. Possibly, Tikal used a dependent state closer to Yaxchilan for leading this attack, though there is no evidence. Furthermore, this attack cannot have had long-lasting effects, for on Yaxchilan Lintel 46 Shield Jaguar is credited with taking captive a sublord from a site called muktun only three years later.

This situation would better explain why Shield Jaguar of Yaxchilan married a woman from Calakmul (Schele and Freidel 1990:265-275). This marriage would have given him an associate and protector against aggressions by Tikal and its partners.

The text on the stairs continues with chukah 'it was taken', then mentions the date, and continues with the y-itah companionship expression. I suggest that this companionship existed between the main protagonist of the stairs (Pakal) and the subject of the last passage, Shield Skull of Tikal. The underlying intention is to connect and compare Tikal's war against Yaxchilan with that of Pakal against Pomona. While Yaxchilan certainly was under the auspices of Piedras Negras, there is no clear evidence yet for Pomona. However, the rhetoric of the Hieroglyphic Stairs suggests that the two campaigns by Pakal and Shield Skull had the same political intentions.

At the least Shield Skull's attack of Yaxchilan would have been a provocation of the dominating dynasty of Piedras Negras, which in turn had taken a captive from Palenque a couple of years before. Shield Skull's war against Yaxchilan must have been in the interest of Pakal. Perhaps we can go so far as to say that Shield Skull and Pakal had coordinated their activities. On the West Tablet of the Temple of the Inscriptions, Shield Skull's name appears with a date six days later, Kaban 10 Ch'en (August 16, 659) (figure 9).

The date is tied by a distance number to the K'atun ending. The verb is iwal huh 'and then arrived'. In the next passage, the calendar round date is repeated, and this time the text records that Shield Skull arrived in the company of Pakal. The emblem glyph found here with Shield Skull's name has been identified by Linda Schele (Schele and Mathews 1993) as the bird-head variant of the Tikal emblem glyph, deciphered by David Stuart as mutul (Stuart 1993a).

While, as we see later, Pakal's attack against Pomona was successful and Pakal returned home with important captives, Shield-Skull's fate was very different. Shield Skull was involved in several war events with Dos Pilas/Calakmul (Houston 1993:102-110). After having led a battle against Dos Pilas on, he is defeated by the united forces of Dos Pilas/Calakmul on and The latter date is the last date associated with Shield Skull. It is possible that Shield Skull died in this last battle, or that he was taken captive, though the inscriptions of Dos Pilas remain silent in this regard. This last date of his life also falls exactly one K'atun after the "eclipse over the Yaxchilan battle standard" (Schele 1989). It is clear that the date of Shield Skull's defeat by Dos Pilas/ Calakmul was intentionally chosen to celebrate the defeat of Shield Jaguar exactly one K'atun after he had attacked another kingdom in the Calakmul sphere.

Hanab Pakal takes captives from Pomona

According to the text of the Hieroglyphic Stairs, Hanab Pakal had taken various captives from Pomona at Four of the six captives on the east structure of House C are named in the passage immediately after the calendar round date on the Hieroglyphic Stairs (Schele 1989). These were very likely captives sacrificed by Pakal for the dedication of House C, the event recorded at the end of the text. Two of the six captives shown on the east structure of House C are from Pomona: one is a pi-a ahaw 'Pomona lord', the other is called an ah pi-a kab 'he from the Pomona land'.

The origin of two of the captives cannot be identified. One of them is of ahaw status, and another is called a siyan kab ahaw, ho pet kab 'Lord born from the earth, he of five plots of land'. Though only two are explicitly from Pomona, all of them were taken in the same raid and most likely were important individuals from places in the neighborhood of Pomona.

On the west substructure of House A another Pi-a ahaw shows up in association with the date 13 Manik end of Mol (July 16, 663) (figure 10b). The event, the och bih 'he entered the road' verb, interpreted as a metaphor for 'death', occurs four years after the captives were taken. It is possible that one, perhaps the most important of the captives taken, died or was killed after a long period during which he was held prisoner.

The captives that flank the stairs of House D were probably moved in antiquity from different locations, probably closer to the Hieroglyphic Stairs. Two of them have texts carved on their loincloths recording the successive days and (March 28 and 29, 663), days that fall after the capture and before the death of the Pia Ahaw (figure 10a). The verb and subject in both cases is nawah yahal 'was adorned the conquered one of' or 'was adorned the suffering person of'. The owner of the captives is addressed by the "Chakte" war title in one case and the Palenque emblem in the other. The proximity of the dates to the capture date suggests that these were captives from Pia/Pomona and that they were not killed immediately but kept, much like the Aztec tlatoani kept and publicly displayed his most wealthy prisoners, in order to embarrass his enemies.

Through these wars, Hanab Pakal had revitalized Palenque's political importance and had enlarged the territory controlled by Palenque. The Palenque dynasty became independent again, though the independence perhaps was not total in regard to Tikal, which very likely remained a powerful protector. The ties with Tikal were amicable and based on the shared antagonistic relation with Calakmul and its allies. It seems that Palenque was not involved in any further bellicose events for a very long time. Kan Balam II, Pakal's son, probably profited from the military success of his father. There is no epigraphic evidence yet that he was involved in warfare. The same holds true for most of the reign of Kan-Balam's younger brother, K'an Hok' Chitam II. However, by Pomona begins to erect its own monuments. The erection of monuments is a sign that the Pomona dynasty grew powerful enough to display its autonomy publicly. At the same time it shows that the control of Palenque over Pomona may have diminished.

The peaceful era came to a sudden end by Tonina's capture of K'an Hok' Chitam II at 13 Ak'bal 16 Yax (August 30, 711). Monument 122 of Tonina shows him as a bound captive with his name written on his leg (figure 11a). The verb here is the star over the "impinged bone" place sign. Monument 107 mentions another captive carrying the Palenque emblem glyph (figure 11b). Unfortunately both the individual name as well as the date are broken off. We cannot be sure that this captive was taken in the same campaign, however it is a good possibility. Tonina also mentions captives from pi-a, or Pomona.

Here, again the capture dates are not known. It is a logical assumption that the battle against Pomona took place after K'an Hok' Chitam was taken and Palenque was deprived of its maximum authority. Since the next accession date in Palenque's history is, we suspect that K'an Hok' Chitam was held captive for a long time, a political means that was also employed by Palenque after the capture of the Pomona lords.

After an interregnum, during which Palenque was ruled by an individual whose relation to the royal family is not clear, Akul Anab III accedes to the throne on 9 Ik' 5 K'ayab (January 3, 722). Akul Anab himself is not credited with any militaristic activities. Chak Sutz', his sahal, however, led several wars and took various captives during the reign of Akul Anab. On 9 Kimi 19 Sak (September 19, 723), he captured tah chih 'torch deer', an ahaw from the la place (figure 12a).

The same place is also mentioned in caption 8 of Bonampak Room 2, where la is the main sign of an emblem glyph and followed by the Bakab title (figure 12b). In Room 2 of the Bonampak murals, a divine lord from la joins Chan Muwan of Bonampak in a raid against an unknown enemy. It is clear, therefore, that the polity defined by the la emblem was allied with Bonampak, which in turn was closely connected to the royal dynasty of Yaxchilan in the Late Classic (Mathews 1980:67). Yaxchilan became attached to the Calakmul sphere, at least after Shield Jaguar married Lady Evening Star. By extension, the la polity also was in the Calakmul sphere. This explains why the Ia polity became the target of an attack by a sahal of the current king of Palenque.

At the end of the Late Classic, Palenque begins to disappear from the stage of history. The disappearance of Palenque, however, may only be an artifact of our limited knowledge of its archaeology. It is interesting, though, that the few texts from the later history of Palenque (Temple XIV Tablet, Dumbarton Oaks Panel, Palace Tablet and Tablet of the 96 Glyphs) do not talk about war at all. The silence in the written record cannot be interpreted as an absence of war. Rather, militaristic events were not recorded any longer, perhaps because they did not continue to follow the established and ritually sanctioned patterns.


A study of power politics in the western Lowlands provides good evidence for an antagonistic pattern with Palenque as an ally of Tikal on the one side and Calakmul and its associates on the other side. The evidence for this pattern is strongest in the years immediately before and after the accession of Pakal. Shield Skull and Pakal may have coordinated their activities in order to fight against their common enemy, Calakmul. As in the "Cold War," direct attacks of the leading forces may have been regarded as impossible or too dangerous. Therefore both Tikal and Palenque directed their attacks against Calakmul's allies.

The carved monuments of Palenque emphasize the political and divinely-sanctioned authority of the local dynasty members who commissioned them, and who certainly underrepresented evidence of wider interaction or subordination. Public expression of subordination would have cast a bad light on the power of the local lords. Therefore, patterns of allianceship are not always obvious, and have to be reconstructed through patterns of warfare and conflicts, as well as through glyphs describing interaction and various forms of relations.

If this model can be applied to explain power politics in the Maya lowlands, it may prove to be productive also for explaining other questions of central importance for Maya archaeology. The collapse of Maya kingship in the Terminal Classic may have its ultimate roots in the disintegration of this fragile hierarchy of polities. The escalation of warfare in the Terminal Classic, observed by many archaeologists (Demarest and Houston 1990; Chase and Chase 1992:258-266) will probably turn out to be a consequence of a balcanization process. Finally, the economic impact of these spheres could be quite significant. It is possible that major trade routes followed these spheres. Also, elite interaction inside these spheres may be reflected in the material culture and thus could provide a base for archaeological tests of this model.


I wish to thank Simon Martin, David Freidel and Linda Schele for sharing ideas and critiques on the conclusions drawn in this paper. Werner Nahm and Stephen Houston provided many of the readings on which my conclusions are based.


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