Ancient Maya Social Classes

We know that most of the ancient civilizations believed in different human capabilities as a result of which social classes or levels were formed. Social stratification thus was the common feature of all human societies. Mayan civilization also maintained social levels. It is said that the social structure of Mayans seemed to have incorporated the caste system.

Ancient Mayan Social Structure

The structure may be briefly stated as follows. The top of the pyramid was constituted by priests and kings who lived in the palaces. They were followed by wealthy nobles. The next level consisted of officers and commoners. As Mayans also seemed to have believed in the class which was destined to work, slaves and servants formed the bottom of the pyramid.

According to some historians, priests came below the kings and the nobles.
But most agree that religion played an important part in Mayan society. Religion regulated almost all walks of life. This is why it is accepted that the Priests were considered to be the most important out of all the people.

Ancient Mayan Social Hierarchy

The superiority of the upper class was accelerated by the divine theory of state. The divine theory stated that a particular class has been assigned the task of ruling others by god. Thus that class becomes the messenger of god. Disobedience to the orders is a sin because it meant disobeying the orders of the gods.


Primogeniture was the rule in both priesthood and the ruling class. Primogeniture meant the succession of the eldest son when a king died to take over the crown. After the birth of an heir, the kings performed a blood sacrifice by drawing blood from his own body as an offering to his ancestors.

A human sacrifice was then offered at the time of a new king's installation in office. To be a king, one must have taken a captive in a war and that person is then used as the victim in his accession ceremony. The king was supposed to show that that he was also the mediator between the supernatural and the real worlds.

The priests were also called the ahkin. They performed activities of ritual, sacrifice, divination, astronomical observation, chronological calculations, hieroglyphic writings, religious instruction, and management of the monasteries apart from assisting the ruler in administration of affairs.

Mayan Nobles

The nobles helped the kings with orders. Nobility was also hereditary in nature. The noble class was small in number but very powerful. The middle class within Mayan society was made of professionals, bureaucrats, other officers, artisans, and merchants.

Mayan Nobles

Artisans bought and sold goods. Among the peasants, some were asked to be the slaves. Servants and slaves performed most of the hard labor. They constituted a large part of the Mayan military as well. Captured enemy soldiers also became slaves.

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