Many advances in archeological and epigraphic research has shed new light on Maya civilization, however, there is still much discussion on the political structure and how it was formed. The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization noted for its advanced form of civilization. It reached its highest state of development during the Classic period which ranges from approximately 200-900 AD. Early in the Classic period (292-434 AD), there were several city-states found throughout the Maya lowland region with no defined hierarchy of settlement or regional capitals. However, this seemed to shift around 514 AD with four major capitals forming in dispersed regions throughout the Maya lowlands (Scarre & Fagan, 2008). It is in these regions that emblem glyphs have given us a tremendous amount of insight into the political organization at this time. It appears that the Maya political structure during the late Classic period consisted of a hierarchical structure in which four major ruling capitals each controlled several smaller multi-center polities.
Maya kings were at the heart of political power during the Classic period, with each major capital being ruled by a dynasty of kings. Maya lords used the power of their office to stress their close identity with mythical ancestral gods and thus assert their authority over others (Scarre & Fagan, 2008). Of course, they had their obligation to their people, which was to gather and redistribute commodities, so that all levels of society had access to goods and merchandise. Thus, the size of a polity was limited in size by its ability to gather and redistribute goods from the people of the capital as well as the neighboring cities that were controlled by the ruling capital.
Each regional capital possessed its own emblem glyph, a ruling title that distinguished themselves from the other capitals, and ruled over a well-defined hierarchy of lesser settlements (Chase & Chase, 1998). In this fashion, each capital was able to control the inferior city-states nearby and yet obtain its own independent polity apart from the other ruling capitals located in separate regions of the Maya lowlands. Schele & Freidel (1990) believe that this political structure may have mirrored that of the ancient Maya cosmological structure in which each major capital is associated with a cardinal direction. Of course, it is crucial to know how these four dominant city-states were able to form and take control of the surrounding city-states to begin with.
Joyce Marcus (1976), who studied Maya political territoriality through epigraphy and iconography, has come up with a model of how these four capitals came into power. A new city-state first expands its territory through mechanisms such as diplomacy, political marriage, and military conquest. Eventually, this state will reach a maximum territory threshold. This is because the lord of this city-state must collect and redistribute resources among its peoples and cannot do this beyond the extent of...