History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How specialized were laborers among the ancient Maya? Would the same person dig irrigation ditches and plant corn? Would the same person go into battle and hunt in the forest? Would jade carvers go to war? Would architects harvest cacao?

I'm specifically interested in the Classic Maya civilization.

(Edit: Thanks to a clarifying question from Mark C. Wallace, I've given examples of skilled labor along with unskilled labor.)

share|improve this question
I note that the examples you cite are unskilled/agricultural labor and warfare (and warfare is frequently a general draft for unskilled infantry). Specialized labor is generally skilled labor. I think a more interesting question would be "Does the farmer make his own tools? Do craftsmen farm?" (there is a name for this theory, but I'm having a senior moment. – Mark C. Wallace May 6 '13 at 18:18
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The wiki article on Mayan Trade has a good overview of Mayan social structure. In essence:

The Maya relied on a strong middle class of skilled and semi-skilled workers and artisans which produced both commodities and specialized goods.

They also had a large base of slaves and serfs - agricultural specialists. Members of the nobility had specialized hereditary roles: military leaders, farm administrators, tax collectors, etc.

There is some difference of opinion on the military - warfare was either carried out by and for the elite; or it was the duty of all social strata and distinguished military service resulted in social promotion.

share|improve this answer
Could you please also give a reference for the last theory you mentioned? (That all social strata took part in warfare) – Felix Goldberg May 7 '13 at 8:24
@FelixGoldberg - Here's a well cited blog post on the topic of Mayan war that covers it: ancientamerindia.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/… – RI Swamp Yankee May 7 '13 at 11:46

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.