Life at the Ancient City

Mayapan was a cosmopolitan, international city that was linked to a wider network of allies and trading partners well beyond the northern Yucatan peninsula. The Caribbean isle of Cozumel was probably a member of the confederacy, and close allies included the Chetumal polity by the Belize/Mexican Caribbean border and the Tabasco Gulf Coast trading port of Xicalango. Trade with Honduras and indirectly into central Mexico was systemic. Economic and political ties were cemented by shared elite culture, regalia, and rituals. Information flowed across linguistic and geographic boundaries, and local art and architectural traditions incorporated aspects of symbols, myths, and traditions embraced broadly among interacting Postclassic cultures. Direct international ties are also recorded. The Cocom rulers invited non-Maya Gulf coast peoples into the city, who served them at one point as mercenaries. Some deities from central Mexico and mural styles also suggest firsthand knowledge of foreign traditions.

Political Organization

Perhaps the most interesting facts about Mayapan pertain to its political organization. It was the central government of a confederacy that united political rulers of townships covering much of the northern Yucatan peninsula. This "council rule" system seems to have its origins at Mayapan's immediate northern predecessor, Chichen Itza. It is often contrasted with the divine kingship monarchical system of earlier Classic Period Maya sites and it is fair to say that this Postclassic organization was more bureaucratic with formal mechanisms for power-sharing. However, the council of Mayapan was dominated by one or two of the most ancient and powerful noble families who acted in the capacity of paramounts throughout its history. The Cocom family was the most powerful, and its major rival was the Xiu family. Although ruling council members wielded much influence, this was a hierarchical government. The institution of the priesthood was also highly-developed at this time, with its own complex set of ranked offices. Second sons of the political nobility entered the priesthood and priests were influential in secular affairs. Long distance merchants were also of noble rank. The fall of Mayapan during K'atun 8 Ahau (A.D. 1441-1461) was caused by internal factional strife – the Xiu led a revolt against the Cocom, whom they executed. Important buildings at the city were burned, and it was abandoned. The Xiu and some of their vassals may have lingered on at the city until an epidemic drove them out between 1481-1500.