War of Kings: Some thoughts about protection of the kings during warfare  

Many monuments describe the wars that Maya-cities organized to gain fertile land or prisoners for sacrifices, the images shows triumphing rulers humiliating their rivals.  

The Ahau and his Sahal wear imposing clothes of jaguar skin. Their shields were round and covered with semi-precious stones or feathers. These were used as war attributes, as well as the short spears and wooden swords with flint. The Tok’-Pakal (Spear-Shield) became the symbol of warfare, a warfare in which the ruler himself was taking a great risk to become wounded or even killed. 

To minimize that risk, the ruler probably was accompanied by loyal bodyguards. We already know that the Cocom rulers of Postclassic Mayapan protected themselves with Mexican mercenaries who were known as Ah Canul or ‘Protectors’. Perhaps this practice was an heritage of the Classical Period.

On front of stela 31 in Tikal, ruler Sian Kan K’awil is shown in full robes. What is notable on this stela is that his father is shown on both sides depicted as a warrior in Central-Mexican wardrobe, including a square shield with Tlaloc, the Mexican raingod, depicted on it.

During the archeological season of 1981, archeologists found the looted grave of Ruler X in the Maya-city Río Azul. Three years later they discovered grave 19, and one year after that grave 23. Both graves were near the grave of Ruler X. Judging the pottery and the size of the skeletal bones, archeologists could conclude that the men from grave 19 and 23 originated from Central-Mexico. Probably these men were the loyal bodyguards of Ruler X.

Findings like these suggests that some of the Classical Maya-rulers were not only receiving moral but also physical support. Their allies gave them well trained warriors from Central-Mexico. Perhaps these warriors were send by the rulers from Teotihuacán itself.

In its heydays, Teotihuacán was the most powerful city in Mesoamerica. Its mighty army was feared by every enemy. It is possible that Maya-rulers tried to ensure their safety by surrounding themselves with some of these warriors. But it is also possible that the rulers of Teotihuacán wanted to ensure themselves that nothing would happen to these kings during their wars.  

Teotihuacán had lucrative commercial relationships with cities like Tikal, and had a great stake in protecting these relationships with al means necessary. Perhaps rulers of cities like Tikal en Río azul were given bodyguards from Teotihuacán to protect the investments and agreements that commercial delegations had made with the divine kings of the Maya-cities.


Roeling, Sebastiaan

2004   Terugblik op een Wereldtijdperk: Cultuur en Geschiedenis van de Oude Maya’s, Uitgeverij S. Roeling, Rotterdam.