Four Maya Rulers – Lost and Forgotten

Today I wanted to speak to you about some of the most prominent rulers of the Maya civilization. To my surprise, I thought I would be able to compile sufficient data about these 4 leaders, yet I was proven wrong. It is surprising how little we actually know about them. Even though the decipherment of Mayan glyphs advances, effectively all we have left over by this great culture -and many others in the area of Meso and South America- is their great monuments and archaeological remains. This is the reason why I have taken it as a task- you may have noticed that lately I have been posting quite a bit on this subject- to spread the word about these civilizations, and perhaps inspire others to become experts on the subject to enlighten us all!

Thus what follows is a brief description of these rulers based at Palanque and Tikal, and the few things we know about them. I would also like to advise that, while doing my research, I had to take advantage of my knowledge of Spanish to get details about these characters, because the widely information available in English was truly appalling or insufficient. So, you can consider this a work of history as much as a translation effort!


Pakal the Great / “El Grande”/ Ahau de Palenque (603-683 CE), also known as K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, was ruler of the Maya – and ahau or ajaw as referred to in their culture- with his seat of power located at Palenque. Pakal came to power after a conflicting and bellicose, so consolidating his influence and bringing some stability were key items in his agenda.He embarked himself in a vigorous military campaign that lead him to the acquisition of new land where to assert his position as ajaw.  At Palenque, Pakal begin the huge monumental complex that his own would later on expand. His first contribution to this was the temple El Olvidado, but he is better known for improving the palace. Moreover, he contributed to the improvement of Maya agricultural techniques and begun the series of glyphs from where we obtain most information about these dynasties and their people. After his death Pakal transcended into a divine figure and was worshiped as a god, who was believed to be able to communicate with the new rulers. He was buried at the Temple of Inscriptions, although his remains are still a disputed issue amongst the archaeologists regarding the true identity of these bones. It seems that the Maya manipulated the dates of his rulers and some other important members of society to make them coincide with prominent astronomical and astrological events, as a sign of good omen, or for mythological purposes. Nevertheless, recent research undertaken in 2003 by Vera Tiesler at the Universdad Autonoma de Yucatan re-examined his bones and concluded he was considerably old – estimates of 80 years although not all the researchers agreed on this figure, however they were certain he was at least 55 years old at the time of his death. Moreover, the results pointed out that he has suffered from osteoporosis and arthritis.  Pakal has also raised controversy regarding the iconography of his tomb, leading some -Charles Berlitz amongst them- to believe that he was connected with aliens, as they believed he was depicted piloting his grave as in the fashion of a spaceship. These theories have nowadays lost their popularity, but there are many who still contemplate this idea.

K’inich Kan B’alam II/ Chan Bahlum II (635-702 CE). He was the son of Pakal and was crowned some months after his father’s death in 684 CE. His name is usually translated as Gran Sol Serpiente Jaguar- Great Star Snake Jaguar-. As his father’s heir, he expanded the site of Palenque and commissioned the 3 temple complex. His most important addition is perhaps the Temple of the Cross, which is a crucial source for understanding the Mayan glyphs. He also campaigned primarily against the rulers of Tonina, located 115km south from Palenque, therefore its natural political rivals. However, nothing in particular seems to have triggered this animosity, so scholars have assumed in the past that the rulers of Tonina made a pack with a different Maya settlement, opposed to Palenque. One the other hand, he established alliances with the settlement of Moral-Reforma. In addition, K’inich Kan B’alam II commissioned not only the chronicle of dynasty of Palenque as well as their military epics, but he also introduced mythical narratives, such as the biographical account of Muwaan Mat and his ascendance to divine power.

Jasaw Chan K’awiil I (682-734 CE). Jasaw established his political capital at Tikal (Peten), which became one of the largest Maya cities of its period. Before the Maya glyphs were deciphered he was also known as “Gobernante A”. The period prior to his rule is associated with a time of recession for the people of Tikal which according to Maya experts lasted for 130 years. In addition, this change of circumstances and glorifying raise to greatness is mainly associated with his victory over another Maya ruler located at Calakmul. Jasaw is particularly associated with the site of Tikal Temple I, due to the location of his burial, although there does not seem to be consensus on the actual purpose for this building, aside of its funerary function. The site is a typical pyramid in Peten style.

Yik’in Chan K’awiil/K’awiil el Oscurecedor del Cielo (734-766 CE). He was the son of Jasaw and succeeded his father in the rulership of Tikal. Like his father, prior to decoding the glyphs he was identified as “Gobernante B” and was acknowledged as the 27th ruler in the Tikal line. Maya experts consider him one of the most successful leaders of the time, as he consolidated the realm his father amassed in his lifetime. Moreover, Yik’in managed to defeat two further Maya rulers towards the year 743CE. These were Jaguar Throne, ruler of El Peru, as well as the leader of the settlement in Naranjo. Interestingly though, the location of his tomb is currently unknown, however archaeologists seem to believe his tomb could be located southwards of Temple II.



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