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Tikal Becomes the First Great City of Maya

The city of Tikal came a long way from its humble beginnings as a small farming settlement deep in the El Peten forest of Guatemala to one of the Maya people’s first great city by the Early Classic Period (at the end of 500 AD which is where it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History). From a simple community, it evolved into a large complex society by the first century AD and had a ruling dynasty established at this time. By 150 AD, El Mirador was abandoned, and the rulers of the city of Tikal took advantage of the power vacuum to dominate the lowland region. The rulers later launched military campaigns into other Maya cities in the Peten region which include Uaxacton, Rio Azul, and Naranjo.

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“Tikal (Guatemala), temple 1”

Conquest was not the only way the rulers of Tikal dominated other cities. They also made alliances through royal marriage, as well as long-distance trade networks that reached as far as the cities of Central Mexico. By 378 AD, the great Central Mexican city of Teotihuacan reinforced Tikal’s dominance in the region with military and economic assistance. Traces of its influence could be seen in the Maya city’s architecture (talud-tablero style) and iconography (Maya warlord Siyaj K’ak in full Teotihuacan battle regalia of the feathered serpent), but its influence over the Maya city declined in 550 AD.

Tikal’s was considered a great city at its height and most of its former grandeur can still be seen today. The Tikal landscape was dotted with pyramid temples, acropoleis, palaces, and plazas. The construction of these magnificent buildings was temporarily stopped when the cities of Caracol and Calakmul dominated the region. Tikal rose again after King Jasaw Chan K’awil defeated the then-powerful city of Calakmul in 695 AD.

Picture By Raymond OstertagSelf-photographed, CC BY-SA 2.5,
Cremin, Aedeen. The World Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2007.
Taube, Karl A. “The Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Cult of Sacred War at Teotihuacan.” Latin American Studies. Accessed June 24, 2016.
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