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Faces of Rulership in the Maya Region

March 25  –  27, 2021
Through this three-day symposium, scholars aim to better understand concepts of rulership and governance in Ancient Maya culture.


Kingship has been characterized as one of the most durable forms of human governance. Yet within this form of authoritarian rule, there reside myriad possibilities for the construal of authority, particularly in how rulers relate to history, the cosmos, their constituencies, other rulers or religious authorities, landscape, and resources. This symposium explores the different faces of rulership in the Maya region with an eye to the monumental and enduring fashion in which rulers inscribe their legacies on landscape and how structures of authority were reconstituted, with innovations, through time. Although the symposium emphasizes the Classic period as the apex of a populous and ruler-filled landscape, it also gives attention to forms of rulership that survived or were revived during the Postclassic through Contact periods. Speakers consider crosscutting themes of ruler personae, including sociohistorical identity, mythical charters, adornment, and consumption habits that distanced lords from their subjects. The symposium fosters comparisons and syntheses of the organizational foundations of both northern and southern Maya kingdoms, bridging scholarly approaches that too often are confined to the subregional scale. Speakers consider how northern and southern courts differed in terms of the creation of divine charters and the liberties and constraints of kingly authority. Importantly, this symposium explores the underlying structural properties that explain divergent expressions of power and the relationship between rulers and those who were governed. The evolution and survival of authoritarian regimes is a prescient topic in the world today with direct consequences for future pathways. By focusing on the Pre-Columbian Maya region of the Americas, speakers in this symposium address divergent concepts of authority.

Symposiarchs: Patricia McAnany (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Marilyn Masson (University at Albany, SUNY)


  • David Wengrow (University College, London), “Towards a New Framework for Comparing Ancient and Modern Forms of Social Domination (or, ‘Why the State Has No Origin’)”
  • David Freidel (Washington University, St. Louis), “Kingship, Kinship, and Community: Excavating the Foundations of Classic Maya Alliance and Conflict”
  • Simon Martin (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), “Dynasty and Moral Order: Cohesion of the Classic Maya Southern Lowlands”
  • Alexandre Tokovinine (The University of Alabama), “Whose Mountains? The Royal Body in the Built Environment”
  • Joanne Baron (Bard Early Colleges), “8,000 Sky Gods and Earth Gods: Patron Deities and Rulership across the Classic and Postclassic Maya Lowlands” 
  • William M. Ringle (Davidson College), “Masked Intentions: The Expression of Leadership in Northern Yucatan”
  • John Chuchiak (Missouri State University), “Denying the Rights of ‘Natural Lords’: Maya Struggles for Rewards and Recognition in Colonial Yucatan, 1550–1750”
  • Traci Ardren (University of Miami), “Strange and Familiar Queens at Maya Royal Courts”
  • Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire (Davidson College) and Patricia A. McAnany (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), “Relatively Strange Rulers: Relational Politics in the Southern and Northern Maya Lowlands”           
  • Jaime J. Awe (Northern Arizona University), “Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi: Examining the Rise, Apogee, and Decline of Maya Kingship in the Belize River Valley” 
  • Shanti Morell-Hart (McMaster University), “Maya Gastropolitik: Tactics, Strategies, and Entrapment”
  • Christina Halperin (University of Montreal), “Temporalities of Kingly Costume in the Maya Lowlands”           
  • Antonio Benavides C. (Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia, Campeche), “Jaina Figurines: Insights into Maya Representations of Rulership and Society”
  • Scott Hutson (University of Kentucky), Discussant
Seated male figurine excavated by Román Piña Chan on Jaina Island (photo: Jorge Pérez de Lara)