What Was the Structure of the Mayan Government?

structure-mayan-government Credit: Dennis Jarvis/CC-BY-SA 2.0

The Mayan government featured control of government operations and political affairs primarily at the state level; individual city-states derived leadership from military leaders called nacoms and high priests or kings, who ruled as individuals or in groups. Typically, each city-state under Mayan control combined military rule with religious law. Although some Mayan states enjoyed autonomy, others fell under control by larger units called capital cities.

Along with nacoms, noble figures such as kings and priests formed the top of the Mayan government hierarchy. Nacoms served terms of three years. During their tenure as leaders, nacoms oversaw military operations of their governed states. They developed military strategies for short-term and long-term operations, and organized troops for fights. Mayan city-states lacked standing armies, but called reserve soldiers to fight when needed. Nearly 20 state units existed in the Mayan government structure. These states featured similar layouts with defined urban centers and outer rural areas. Civilians within the city-states enjoyed protection from leaders, and in turn safety, but faced repercussions for disobeying the commands of superiors. City-states gained religious leadership through a similar structure. A single high priest instructed groups of priests, called batabs, to carry out administrative functions and plan religious events and activities. Local councils, formed of town officials, and constables helped batabs organize and enforce laws.