Historical Perspective

Gold Relief from Mayan Tomb at Palenque
The Maya were a collection of independent states that settled in the Yucatan Peninsula of Southern Mexico, and as far south as modern day Honduras. Their civilization began around 2600 B.C. but came to fore by 500 A.D. They were greatly influenced by the Olmec and later the Toltec civilizations, in the way they formulated their culture and became known as the Maya. Throughout their history, the Maya were subject to a continual state of rise and falls. Cities would be built up and then abandoned, and then repopulated or abandoned once again as the vagaries of war, politics, trade and resources dictated.

Their political structure during their height, was similar to the ancient Greeks city-states. The Maya all shared a common religion, language, artistic and architectural traditions. But each state, ruled by hereditary monarchs, was independent from one another and were constantly jockeying for economic and political dominance, either through alliance, marriages or warfare. Their concept of warfare also appears to be more practical then that of their Aztecs cousins. They, like the other Mezo-Americans, went to war to collect sacrificial victims. For the Maya however, it was merely a part of the reasons for war. Their main goal was primarily for economic and political. This practical approach to war also meant that the Maya were adopters of defensive structures to protect their cities and trade routes, unlike those in the Aztec Empire which were subject to and accepted ritualistic warfare under the Aztec hegemony, who ruled from a single city. These factors combined with their disunity made them a far more challenging people to subdue for the Spanish Conquistadors. Indeed the struggle continues to the present day.

Mayan history is divided into four main periods. The pre-classical (1800 B.C. to 250 A.D), classical (250 A.D. to 1500 A.D.), colonial (1500 A.D. to 1821 A.D.) and modern (1821 A.D. to present). Not much of the early Mayan history is known except that like most civilizations in the world they started out as hunter gatherers that migrated into the area in prehistoric times Numerous cities were founded and lost to the jungle throughout its history. Cities such as Uxmal and Chichen Itza in the North Yucatan, coastal cities like Tulum with its ports and trade routes along the coast and neighboring islands. Palenque in the west, Caracol in the East, Copan in the South and Tikal in the central region all form an intricate economic and political network that sustained the Mayan culture for over a millenium. Amongst these Tikal and Copan which rose to prominence in the Classical period were also founded during the Pre-classical period and forms two of the oldest cities in Mezo-America. These now ruined cities provides a glimpse of the vast Mayan polities. The Jungle may yet reveal other lost cities, as new archeological sites continue to be discovered today. It was also in the pre-classical period that the Maya's tendency to found cities and then abandon them also emerged, with the founding of the city of Cerros in 50 B.C. and its abandonment just one hundred years later.

Maya Temple at Tikal
During the pre-classic period, the Maya were primarily influenced by the Olmecs. The Mayan's basic knowledge of mathematics, writing and astronomy were derived from the Olmecs. The Mayans refined the knowledge learned from them to develop a solar calendar from their astronomical calculations that was more accurate then even the modern calendar. They also developed the most sophisticated writing system in Mezo-America, consisting of over 800 glyphs and symbols. But unfortunately much of their written knowledge is lost after the Spanish conquest. Today only 4 individual books survive. The Maya also did not have a standing military like the Aztec's but instead called upon all able bodied men to form a militia in times of war. The Maya also had some curious practices for cosmetic surgery, preferring a long flattened head and slightly cross-eyed. This was achieved by fastening boards to the heads of infants, and beads in front of their eyes to make them focus towards the middle. The Maya religion consisted of many gods with each god looking after different aspects of life, with both male and female counter parts, and multi aspects serving different functions in each guise. Itzam Na served as their supreme deity, depicted as an old man, and believed to be the inventor of writing and the patron of science and learning. Maya society was also fairly equiltarian between the sexes, with both men and women having the opportinity to rise to high positions, indeed on some occasions in their history they had an equivalent to a queen ruling over them.

Temple of the Magicians at Uxmal
During the Classical period, the highlands come under the domination of the Teotihuacan from central Mexico in 400 A.D. causing parts of the Maya polity in the region to disintegrate, being replaced by Toltec culture. The city of Tikal also reached it height during 500 A.D. becoming the center of a great trading hub within the Mayan polities. The city of Palenque also came to prominence, as evident from the astounding gold relief found in the tomb of one of their Kings, that of King Pacal. The Maya had practiced self-mutilation and animal sacrifices as religious practices. But with the Toltec influence, the practice of human sacrifice is introduced to the Maya. They were also introduced to Quetzalcoatl, the featured serpent by the Toltecs, whom the Maya renamed Kukulkan. The main temple at Chichen Itza was built to honor this god, and the steps of the pyramid would form a perfect shadow of a snake writhing down from the temple at the seasonal solstices. Homage was sometimes paid to their gods through a sacred but deadly ball game where the losers would be sacrificed. These practices were both religious and political. Like other Mezo-Americans they believed that blood was required to ensure that the gods would be appeased and provide for their people, and it was important for the leaders of each state to make these sacrifices to reinforce his prestige and hold on the people. Indeed every Mayan King was required to take a prisoner in battle, and sacrifice him during the ruler's ascension ceremony. By 600 A.D. Tikal becomes the most populous city in Mezo-America with over half a million inhabitants. However by 751 A.D. trade and alliances between the Maya city-states began to break down, leading to a period of war. By 899 A.D. Tikal is abandoned, marking the decline and eventual collapse of the southern Maya cities.

Macaw Ballcourt Hoop at Copan

Main Temple at Chichen Itza

By 1200 A.D. the decline spreads to the north and many cities began to be abandoned. Notable is the city of Chichen Itza which was established by the Toltecs during the early classical period, but again by 1224 A.D. it is also abandoned. A people known as the Uilcil-abnal who later take the name Itza settles in the abandoned city but again abandons it 20 years later. They then move on to build the city of Mayapan in 1263 A.D. becoming the capitol of a unified Maya state in 1283 A.D. Yet in 1461 A.D. a rebellion within the city causes that city to be abandoned as well, breaking the Mayan kingdom into 16 rival states.

In 1511 A.D. a Spaniard named Gonzalo Guerrero is shipwrecked and washes on shore in Maya territory. He ends up thoroughly assimilating into Maya society and marries into a Maya noble family. He would later become a staunch foe of the Spanish, and helped the Maya in resisting Spanish rule in the Yucatan. In 1517 A.D. the first organized Spanish expedition under Hernandez de Cordoba arrive on the Yucatan but he is killed in battle against the Maya and his expedition fails. But it had introduced European diseases into the region and within the next century 90% of the population is decimated. A few years after Cordoba, Hernado Cortez makes his way to the Yucatan, and in 1524 A.D. meets the Itza people who remained the last of the Maya to be conquered by the Spanish. They would remain so until the 17th century. The rest of the Maya states continue to put up dogged resistance holding out for several years against the Spanish. However, the Spanish manages to establish the capitol of Merida in 1542 A.D. to control their possessions in the Yucatan. But the Maya would continue to revolt on and off through the rest of next century, and then again in 1724 A.D. continuing though Mexico's independence in 1821 A.D. and beyond. It is not surprising given the Maya spirit, and the miserable conditions that they were placed under Spanish rule. The native religion of the Maya was suppressed but the Maya managed to integrate Christianity with their animist religion combining Christ and the Virgin Mary into their pantheon of gods. This marks the colonial period of Mayan history.

After Mexico's independence, the Mayan rebellions continues and in 1847 A.D. almost manages to take over the entire Yucatan Peninsula in what became known as the War of the Castes. In 1850 A.D. a religious miracle occurred according to the Mayan rebels that inspires them to continue the rebellion against the Mexican and Guatemalan government for the next 50 years. Other Maya groups based in the Chiapas region who started the rebellion in 1724 A.D. continued to fight into the 1990's. Throughout this time, the Maya remains a group at the bottom of the social-economic ladder in the countries they now inhabit. In 1992 A.D. a Maya woman from Guatemala named Rigoberta Menchu Tum wins the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against the extermination of the Maya by government backed death squads. Their struggle still continues.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Overall Strategy for Players Using Maya

Painting of Mayan Warriors in Battle
The most interesting ability of the Maya is their free militia upgrade. This would give the player using Maya a decided edge in nomad maps where villagers are scattered about the map without a city. They could seriously set back an enemy if not conceivably eliminate the opposition by turning the villagers into effective combat units and hunting down the enemy villagers before they can establish themselves. This ability will also be useful but a bit more risky in regular random map type games if they want to risk their initial villagers in a villager rush, but they would probably need a supply cart to really be effective and not leave the Mayan player high and dry. At the very least it will help the Mayan player greatly in defending a rush. They could also in the early game build an all militia army for some serious rushing and harassing as villagers tend to cost less then regular military units.

Their self-firing towers and fortresses will also help greatly in defending the Mayan player without having to spend military units to make these structures effective. This ability can turn into a very effective offensive weapon being useful in conducting a tower rush. With the intention to contain the enemy and deprive them of vital resources early in the game. Sure to be a favorite tactic for the aggressive forward builder, giving them some good old fashion fire and forget appeal. Combine this with villagers that can transform to militia, they can be building and defending their build effectively if discovered prematurely.

The Maya unique units in the earlier ages are of the slingers variety which are good against archers, so they can be used quite effectively against archery based civilizations, either offensively in a rush or harassment attacks. In addition the Mayan variety are superior to most other light infantry making them at least competitive in this arena against other light infantry centered civilizations. However, they should be careful when facing the traditional cavalry based rushing civilizations. Perhaps using their cheap unique units in forward harassment attacks avoiding heavy infantry and cavalry enemies units. While building up heavy troops and pikemen in defense against early attacks, until a large combined arms force is available for a more serious attack on the enemy. In the later ages they are given a line of fast, effective anti-tank unique units. These units will be very useful defense against a tank rush type of attack. But could also be use as a very effective attack unit in a reverse psychology type of strategy where most people would use tanks as their mainstay in their attack strategy. Your counter unit, in case you meet up with those units, can take them out without difficulty but still deal significant damage to the enemy economy. This could very well win you the game if the enemy was foolish enough to only use tanks. But at the very lease forces them to build counter units to your own thus blunting their attack strategy.

Maya as modelled in Rise of Nations

Unique units

  • Light Infantry Line
Balamob Slinger (Ancient Age)
superior form of slinger.

Royal Balamob Slinger (Classical Age)

Eagle Balamob Slinger (Medieval Age)
slinger that is superior to javelineers.

  • Archer Line
Heavy Archer (Medieval Age)
Mayan replacement for crossbow.
  • Heavy Infantry Line
Recoiless Gun (Modern Age)
more powerful speedier version of bazooka.

Dragon AT Missile (Information Age)
more powerful speedier version of AT missile unit.

Unique powers (Power of Architecture)

  • Buildings 50% tougher and 50% faster
  • Buildings except Wonders, and military cost 33% less timber
  • Stationary Defense Structures like towers, forts fire without garrisoning
    and fire extra arrows/bullets

Written By: One Dead Angel


Mundo Maya,, Nova Online.