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The Maya first emerged as a series of city-states throughout the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico and further down into present-day Guatemala. Mayan history was punctuated by the founding of numerous cities were founded and the eventual desertion of the same: for instance, Chichen Itza was founded somewhere between 750 and 950 AD, yet was abandoned by 1224, only to be reoccupied again before being left to the jungle again, the survivors moving to a new city, Mayapan. Although they would be conquered at first by the Toltecs and then the Spanish, they would continue to revolt on and off. In the early modern era, they came under Spanish rule, but managed to achieve independence in the early 19th century. Once this was achieved, however, the territories which formed Spain's former empire collapsed into several smaller nations , whose governments were dominated by the Iberian-descended criollos and mestizos which were (often) at war with one another even as the ethnic Maya continued to remain outcasts in the lower classes of these new nations.
Pre-Columbian Central AmericaEdit
Long before the arrival of the conquistadors in the late 16th century, Central America was home to a variety of civilisations, among which the Maya were the most prominent. Although the Maya can be said to have been present since 2600 BC, it wasn't until the 6th century AD that they came to the fore.
For many years the Maya were thought to be the "mother culture" of Mexico. But further examination of existing artifacts, combined with radiocarbon dating, show the Olmec to have been active in the region hundreds of years earlier.
The Olmnec resided mainly in Veracruz, Tabasco and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They had a written language, math, and calendars. Some indication of their practicing human sacrifice has been inferred.
The Preclassic PeriodEdit
Pre-classic Mayan culture was primarily influenced by the Olmec, from whom the Maya inherited mathematics, writing and astronomy.
The Classical PeriodEdit
The Mayans refined the knowledge learned from them to develop a solar calendar from their astronomical calculations that was more accurate then even the modern Gregorian calendar. The Mayans had also learnt to create a form of paper from specially prepared tree bark, and developed the most sophisticated writing system in Mesoamerica, consisting of over 800 glyphs and symbols.
Despite these seemingly benign developments, the Mayans were still as savage as any race on earth. As with many nations in their infancy, the Maya did not constitute a single nation, but lived in separate and independent city-states scattered throughout Central America. While these city-states formed a network of trade routes that supported a vibrant and cultured society, life was often tough and brutal for the average Mayan: the Mayan were often involved in bitter rivalries with one another.
The Postclassical PeriodEdit
While life would continue and great cities such as Palenque and Tikal would continue being built, however, Toltec culture brought a darker side: human sacrifice. While the Maya had practiced self-mutilation and animal sacrifice, the Toltecs introduced human sacrifice to the Maya. Homage was sometimes paid to their gods through a sacred but deadly ball game where the losers would be sacrificed. These practices were both religious and political. Like other First Nations peoples, they believed that blood was required to ensure that the gods would be appeased and provide for their people, and it was important for the leaders of each state to make these sacrifices to reinforce his prestige and hold on the people.
Around the 13th century, the Maya revolted against their Toltec overlords, and their leader, Hunac Ceel, established a unified empire centred around the city of Mayapan, near present-day Merida in Mexico, yet however, consolidation proved impossible, and by 1500 Mayapan was presumably abandoned after a rebellion killed the ruling family, plunging the Maya back into bloody conflict.
The Columbian EraEdit
The first contact the Maya had with Europeans was in 1511 when a Spaniard named Gonzalo Guerrero was shipwrecked in Maya territory. A most surprising twist of fate awaited Guerrero, who was immediately enslaved by the local Maya, but escaped to a rival tribe, eventually marrying into a Maya noble family based in Chactemal, near present-day Quintana Roo in Mexico. Rising to the status of warlord, Guerrero would later become a staunch foe of the Spanish, and helped the Maya in resisting Spanish rule in the Yucatan. Spanish expenditions against the Maya would meet no success until 1542 with the capture of the city of T'ho, which was subsequently baptised as Mer&iaxcute;da. The rest of the Maya city-states would still put up dogged resistance holding out for several years against the Spanish, but eventually the fate of the Maya was sealed, and by 1697 the Spanish had seized the Peten basin in present-day Guatemala, finally ending Mayan political autonomy once and for all. The new lands seized by the Spanish were subsequently reorganised along with present-day Mexico and the southwestern United States, as part of the Viceroyalty of Nueva España.
For the Mayans, the coming of the Spanish was a disaster, as once the Spanish had taken a city or an area, native cultural practices would be proscribed, with temples razed and conversions forced upon the locals - although some missionaries did make use of the intricacies of the Mayan religion to successfully convert some of the local rulers. The polytheistic religion of the Maya was suppressed but the Maya managed to integrate Christianity with their animist religion combining Christ and the Virgin Mary into their pantheon of gods.
Independence and BeyondEdit
Spanish hegemony throughout continental South America would be maintained for the better part of three centuries, and when independence came, it was not due to the efforts of the colonials themselves, but due to the French. When the French under Napoleon came to occupy the Iberian heartland of the Spanish Empire, this divided the peoples of Spanish America as well into "patriots" and "loyalists".
The first shots of the war against Spanish hegemony were fired in Venezuela. Eventually, it fell to a nobleman of Caracas - Simon Bolivar - to eventually liberate the whole of Spanish America from her colonial overlords. It was not free of peril, however - Bolivar often clashed with his fellow "libertadores" or liberators, and lost many battles with the loyalist forces, but with persistence and financing by the fledgling state of Haiti, he managed to prevail and by 1819, the whole of Spanish Nueva España - now Colombia, Venezuela and several other smaller states - were free. This in turn inspired the Mexican revolution, and by 1821, the Spanish viceroyalty of Nueva España was as good as dissolved, now replaced by two new nations: the Mexican Empire, and the Central American Republic, covering the old Mayan hinterland.
However, even though Spanish hegemony was well destroyed, the old political practices of the old regime continued to dominate the politics of the new Latin American states. Thanks to the French revolution, the libertadors woke up to discover that the peoples of Latin America were now bitterly divided into liberals and conservatives. This soon led to the breakup of the new republics formed out of the old Spanish captaincies-general, and by the 1830s, the whole of Latin America was now torn apart by infighting between the libertadors who were now evolving into caudillos or dictators. Even after independence, the indigenous peoples of the new nations still continued to suffer oppression and discrimination. In 1847, this led the Mayan peoples of Mexican Yucatan to rebel and sparked off what would then be called the War of the Castes, and by 1850, the rebels had founded what would be known as the Maya Free State in present-day Quintana Roo state in Mexico, which would even be recognised by the British government present across the sea in Belize and Jamaica. The Free State would collapse with the Mexican army taking its capital, Huaan Santa Cruz, in 1901, only to transform the war into an insurgency.