Mayan Social Classes

Much like other civilizations of the ancient world, the Mayans depended on their social classes to keep order and structure within their society.

The people at the bottom of the Mayan social ladder were the farmers and slaves. These two groups made up the base of the power pyramid of the Mayas. Most people in Mayan civilization were farmers, but their rights in society were not much better than those of slaves. Slaves were usually captured enemies or criminals from within the Mayan citizenry.

The farmers and slaves performed most of the hard labor, and of course, the farmers provided the entire society with its most important resource--food. They likely made up a bulk of the Mayan military as well.

The middle class within Mayan society was made of of professionals, bureaucrats (government workers), artisans, and merchants. They had considerably more wealth than the lower classes, and they were to be respected by the farmers and slaves as well. The middle class also served an important function in Mayan society--they provided a source of goods and services (other than food and labor) that could be exchanged in trade. They were also expected to supply some amount of free labor to the upper class, and they tended to make up the middle ranks in the Mayan military.

The smallest (and most wealthy and powerful) layer of Mayan social structure was the ruling noble class. The head of this class and of all the citizens in each Mayan city was the king. He was flanked by his priests and nobles. Nobility was hereditary in Mayan society.

This structure worked because the lower and middle classes believed that the upper class had been granted the right to rule by the gods. In fact, they probably believed that the nobles were somehow descendant from the gods.

Women probably were members of all three social classes depending on their family position and/or by marriage.