7 junio, 2024

Economic organization of the Maya

What was the economic organization of the Mayans?

The Mayan economic organization it was based mainly on agriculture and trade, like many ancient societies. The Mayans developed agriculture incorporating innovative techniques to work the soil and in the way of growing crops.

Corn stood out among the most important crops. They had a strong production in various items, and with the surplus they began the commercial activity.

Agriculture and livestock as the basis of the Mayan economic organization

The owners of the land allowed the farmers to work on it, and all that was produced went to the ruler of the land. The owner or lord of the lands received the name of Halach Uinic.

The owners used to give the workers some portions of the crops, or also other items such as salt, cloth, honey, fruits and domestic animals. These payments were used to buy and trade other goods.

Within agriculture, the most important crop was corn, to the point that everyone depended on it. Cacao, tomato, cassava, squash or beans were also important.

Animals or crops were often exchanged for clothing or other items once or twice a week at a small market, which was usually situated on a plain by the river. This area was advantageous for planting crops and raising animals.

As a result of this large amount of fertile land, there was a growing population that contributed to the formation of a basic market. In these markets, powerful individuals established the first rules that ensured the proper functioning of trade and agriculture.

Population declines in many of the central lowland settlements during the Late Classic and Terminal Classic periods are thought to have been partially due to agricultural deficiency.

Drought could also be a problem for the Mayans. It was probably caused by widespread deforestation on the ground, which in turn was the result of insufficient crop production.

Trade in Mayan society

The Yucatán peninsula in Mexico was widely inhabited in the Classic period, and more in the Terminal and Post Classic periods, which led to the collapse of activity in the central lowlands and subsequent migration to areas in the Yucatán and the success of various civilizations, including the Puuc and the Toltecs.

The importance of salt

Experts point out that the salt beds that border the coasts of the Yucatan area provided a profitable trading environment and helped the success of this civilization.

It is estimated that the population of Tikal, of approximately 45,000 inhabitants, consumed approximately 131.4 tons of salt annually.

Salt was not only necessary in the diet, but also widely used as a preservative. During the Classic and Postclassic periods, the small island populations of Ambergris Caye and Isla Mujeres exchanged salty fish.

An exchange relationship between the insular communities and the mainland was necessary, since these geographically isolated groups were incapable of sufficient and sustainable agriculture.

Salt was also frequently used for rituals and as medicine, as evidenced at least by the archaeological sites located in the Yucatan peninsula, where surrounding salt beds considered sacred were found.

Thanks to the boom in the salt trade, coastal cities such as Chunchucmil, Tzeme, and Dzibilchaltún expanded rapidly, with populations ranging from 10,000 to 40,000.

Other resources used by the Maya as currency were cocoa beans, sea shells, corn, chili peppers, cassava, amaranth, palms, vanilla, avocado, tobacco, and hundreds of other resources. furtherwhose value depended on its rarity and cost of cultivation.

The Maya people did not use metallurgy as a valuable object until about the year 600. Likewise, the Maya traded in stones such as obsidian, jade, and other rocks and minerals, which were also used in the production of tools.

Evidence suggests that the increase in trade in obsidian and polychrome ceramics coincided with an expansion in the salt trade.

mayan malls

For the most part, subsistence items were traded within the main commercial centers of the city.

These items were for the elite: quetzal feathers, jaguar skins, highly decorated pottery, and high-quality jewelry were symbols of power.

Various authors point out that the role of «intermediary» of the city of Tikal was a key source of economic support during the Classic Period of the Mayan civilization, since it allowed the city to participate in trade without having many profitable resources.

Due to the new trade routes in the Terminal and Postclassic periods, the city experienced a continuous decline.

Speculation suggests that a decline in the lowland population was diverting the flow of trade to the large centers such as Tikal and Copan.

In addition, maritime trade proved to be more efficient and practical, especially if the shipment started in the Central Area.

Archaeological excavations in the ancient city of Cancuén have shown that this city had substantial control of crude resources, which allowed it to be one of the most powerful forces in the region between AD 400 and AD 800.

Archaeologists believe that the great fortune of Cancuén was acquired through a vast hegemonic war. The excavation of the city and the absence of defense walls have led experts to believe that such abundance was obtained through intercity trade.

Another factor that also contributed to the prosperity of Cancuen was that they probably established alliances with other more powerful city-states, supplying their allies with jade, obsidian, pyrite, quetzal feathers, and other necessary goods.

The ancient trade in obsidian stones has been studied using evidence on the location and size of workshops in cities. It is estimated that the city of Tikal had about a hundred of these workshops, approximately in 700 AD.

The transport and treatment of obsidian created a veritable labor industry in the Mayan world, since its production required everything from simple porters, usually slaves, to expert craftsmen.

The control of the obsidian deposits was crucial for the economic development of the Maya, since it was commercialized in the spheres of the elites.


Economy of the Maya civilization. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org.
Ancient Maya Markets And The Economic Integration Of Caracol, Belize. Retrieved from snail.org.
Maya Economics. Retrieved from geog.berkeley.edu.

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