The Mesoamerican Triumvirate

The Mesoamerican Triumvirate

Hi. Since a very long time (I could call it ‘time immemorial’) I have been fascinated with history, geography and the perfect mixture of both – archaeology. In that, it’s the civilizations that have wooed me more than anything else. It’s fun and exhilarating to learn how the man went from being a caveman to establishing empires – so powerful that they have left an indelible mark in the annals of the development of mankind. My favorites amongst many others are the American triumvirate… the Aztec, Inca and Mayan civilizations.

The Civilization Tree
The Civilization Tree


Mayan Empire
Mayan Empire
Aztec Calendar Wheel
Aztec Calendar Wheel

For quite some time, I couldn’t tell one from another. My limited knowledge led me to believe – there’s little choice in rotten apples. What’s the difference – they all were savages, built pyramids and other great stone monuments, gave us engineering marvels too futuristic for their time, passed on to us – the importance of the Sun, practiced human sacrifice (suspected cannibalism too), were scantily clad (Oh, the chicks!!!), and were eventually annihilated by the Spanish conquistadors. It’s only after viewing several documentaries (thank you, Nat Geo, Discovery, Smithsonian etc.) that I could finally tell one from another. They were great – considering the time in which they not just existed – but flourished. So good, that the Spaniards saw them as adversaries in all respects. The fact, that today the entire world sees them as savages, is something that the Spaniards wanted us to believe. Remember – it was a time of subjective writing. I like you… you’re good. I don’t like you… you’re bad… regardless of what flawless golden character you own.

The 3 civilizations
The 3 civilizations

Present day locations
Present day locations

First things first – these 3 were based 2 (Aztec and Maya) in North America (the southernmost tip though) and 1 (Inca) in South America. The one with the largest area was the Inca empire. It stretched from Colombia to Chile, by the western coast of the continent. They all had lots in common. Here’s how they size up:

Things in common:

  • They practiced polytheism – laying special emphasis on ‘nature’ gods. They envisaged different aspects of nature as gods (what a shame – those we call savages realized this – whilst the civilized man of 2017 still does not respect nature).
  • They were masters in architecture; building temples, pyramids, aqueducts, causeways, and a network of roads – things that the Europeans had not yet thought of.
  • They practically worshiped Gold.
  • They were Mesoamerican civilizations with almost similar ethnicity
  • Despite building engineering marvels – they never used the WHEEL (beats me… why?)
  • They cultivated corn (Americans still do).

Here’s how they differ:

Inca Aztec Maya
Built roads Decorative paintings on their pots Academically advanced
Drained swamps and carved terraces for agriculture Established irrigation systems & built terrace form structures Created calendar system
Human sacrifices Male-dominated society Decorative paintings on their pots
Incas lived in the mountains of Peru and used llamas to help with farming More focused around the city of Tenochtitlan Disappeared back into the jungle and gradually vanished
Independent city state No monetary system Drained swamps and carved terraces for agriculture
Largest civilization Staple food: maize and corn Human sacrifices
Men and women were equal, almost Used Hieroglyphics Maya used “slash + burn” farming
Metallurgy War-like Men and women were equal, almost
Most complicated calendar – by and large, the most perfect one

No writing system

Ruled by kings and priests
Had an established government

Similar social structures
Similar social structures

Survived the longest
Practiced terrace farming and used irrigation

Here are a few of their claims to fame:

Inca Maya Aztec
Machu Picchu Chichen Itza Tenochtitlan
Vilcabamba Palenque Teotihuacan

Just a few words about these legendary monuments – all those still awestruck by the Egyptian pyramids – here’s something that these so-called savages built in a time when anybody would conveniently expect them to build thatched-roof hutments.

Machu Picchu: Built in Cuzco in 1450 on desolate mountain top all of 8000 ft. above sea level, it was a city-fort made for the Inca king Pachacuti.

Vilcabamba: The legendary ‘Lost city of the Incas’ was built in 1539 as a capital of the Neo-Inca state.

Chichen Itza: Meaning ‘at the mouth of the well of the Itza people’, was a city built around AD 800–900 by the Maya. The most famous tourist attraction is the El Castillo (Spanish for ‘the castle’) step-pyramid. The El Castillo was built sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries CE. Each of the pyramid’s four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform on top as the final “step”, produces a total of 365 steps (which is equal to the number of days of the year).

Palenque: An important Mayan city built ca. 1AD. Spread across 4,500 acres, they say only 10% of this archaeological site has been explored. The most important tourist attraction is the Temple of the Inscriptions (read: the tomb of King Pakal). No wonder, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Tenochtitlan: A city-state built in 1325 on an island in Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. The capital of the Aztec Empire. A major attraction is the Templo Mayor (Main temple) built ca 1325 AD.

Teotihuacan: An ancient city located in the Valley of Mexico, 40 km NE of modern-day Mexico City. The site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian era. The most-mentioned city in Erich von Däniken’s book ‘Chariots of the Gods?’

Note: Want a taste of history? Go to Google Maps, switch to Satellite view and finally use Street view. Get an enthralling view of these great monuments. I saved thousands of Rupees with this one easy step?.

Finally, the rise and fall:

Rise Fall
1.       Maya

2.       Aztec

3.       Incas

1.       Aztec empire – 1521

2.       Inca civilization – 1572

3.       Mayans – 1697

Eventually all these illustrious empires fell to the Spanish conquistadors who came to these territories as a part of their colonial expansion plan. Although they did not intend to destroy these cultures, the stiff resistance put up by all these 3 peoples left them with little choice. A war was inevitable. The Spaniards were equipped with better, meaner weapons – guns – something the Mesoamericans were defenseless against. Not only the Spanish, the Inca were decimated by natural killers too – diseases like smallpox which felled 60-90% of the population. This was followed by Typhus ca 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614 and measles in 1618. The pure-bred Inca were wiped off. Only the descendants remain – ones who have mixed parentage (Spanish + Incan). The Mayans proved to be the ‘creaking gates’ that hung the longest. They were finally subdued by the Spaniards ca 1697. It’s sad to note how 3 of the most flourishing and powerful empires were struck down mercilessly and how there say confined to history books only now.

This was my humble effort at getting the world to know once again about the mighty triumvirate of the Americas. More information can be obtained from the following sources:

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