Similarities And Differences Between Mayan And Aztec Civilizations

If you want to know the similarities and difference between Mayan and Aztec civilizations, you are in the right place.

When travelers plan a trip to Mexico and Central America, they often include visits to historic ruins as a must-do activity. While the Mayan ruins typically come to mind first, it’s important not to overlook the equally remarkable Aztec civilization. Both ancient Mesoamerican cultures offer a wealth of unique attributes, encompassing their religious practices, cultural accomplishments, and societal structures.

The Maya and the Aztec were two of the most influential civilizations in ancient Mesoamerica, spanning from central Mexico to northern Central America. Both societies boasted intricate civilizations marked by notable similarities. Nonetheless, they also exhibited notable differences.

In this post, we invite you to join us on an exploratory journey through these enchanting civilizations, diving both into their similar and distinctive features and intriguing aspects, allowing us to appreciate the similarities and contrasts between the Mayan and Aztec cultures.

Let’s check out some of the similarities and differences between the Maya and Aztec civilizations.

Similarities And Differences Between Mayan And Aztec Civilizations

Similarities And Differences Between Mayan And Aztec Civilizations

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The Mayan Civilization

The Maya, especially those in the southern lowlands, hit their peak during the Classic Period of Maya civilization (from A.D. 250 to 900). They created impressive stone cities and monuments that continue to captivate explorers and scholars even today.

Mayan people were renowned for their remarkable achievements in art, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and written language.
The Mayans inhabited present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Their society was highly organized, with complex city-states ruled by powerful kings.

The Aztec Empire

The Aztecs, often referred to as the Mexica, were a powerful civilization that thrived in Central America from 1325 to 1521.
Unfortunately, they were eventually compelled to surrender to the Spanish forces under Hernán Cortés.

These Central American giants had their capital, Tenochtitlan, situated where present-day Mexico City stands. They were known for their impressive military skills, intricate social hierarchy, and interesting religious customs.

Similarities Between Mayans and Aztecs

1. Both civilizations shared a common worldview

They perceived the world as having three distinct realms. The middle layer was the earthly realm, inhabited by humans. Above this realm, there were thirteen heavens, with the “place of duality” as the highest. Below the earthly layer, there existed nine levels of the underworld.

2. Both made significant strides in diverse fields

Both the Aztec and Mayan civilizations achieved significant advancements in mathematics, astronomy, art, and religion. The legacy of these achievements continues to influence subsequent cultures and fascinate the world with the depth of their knowledge and creativity.

3. Both had a pantheon of gods and goddesses

The presence of a pantheon of gods and goddesses in both the Aztec and Mayan civilizations was a fundamental aspect of their religious and cultural beliefs. These deities ruled various facets of their lives in both cultures.

4. They were both great architects

This architectural prowess was evident in the impressive pyramids, ball courts, and palaces the two civilizations had constructed.

5. Both societies had a calendar system

This calendar system accurately predicted celestial events, including eclipses, demonstrating their deep understanding of astronomy and mathematics in their respective civilizations.

6. Human sacrifice was practiced in both civilizations

Human sacrifices were done by both Mayans and Aztecs to appease gods and honor their ancestors.
In both civilizations, human sacrifice was seen as a necessary act to ensure the gods’ favor, protect the community, and maintain the order of the universe. It was a deeply ingrained religious practice with intricate rituals and cultural significance.
Human sacrifice was a central element of both belief systems and worldview.

Differences Between Mayans and Aztecs

1. Religion and Beliefs



The Mayans practiced a polytheistic religion, venerating a diverse array of gods and goddesses linked to natural elements and celestial bodies. They performed intricate rituals, including bloodletting and human sacrifices, as offerings to their deities.

In contrast, the Aztecs also revered a similar pantheon but placed significant emphasis on Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, believing that human sacrifices were necessary to maintain cosmic equilibrium and honor their devotion to him.

2. Social Structure and Governance

Aztec Slavery

Monarchies were prevalent in both of these ancient civilizations. However, the social structure and governance were different.
Mayan society featured a hierarchical structure where the noble class held sway over commoners and slaves, with their kings wielding significant authority as both religious and political figures.

In contrast, the Aztecs had a more centralized hierarchy. Here, the emperor wielded absolute authority, supported by a noble class, a warrior elite, and specialized professionals such as priests and merchants.

3. Art and Architecture

El Castillo Pyramid Chichen Itza
The El Castillo Pyramid also known as The Kukulcan Temple

Mayan artistic expression and architectural achievements were defined by intricate carvings, vibrant murals, and towering pyramids. They demonstrated mastery in crafting elaborate stone structures, advanced irrigation systems, and majestic temples.

In contrast, Aztec art had its unique flair, characterized by bold colors, intricate motifs, and symbolic patterns. Their architectural wonders encompassed grand temples, expansive plazas, and remarkable ball courts.

4. Agriculture and Trade

Aztec Agriculture

Both societies heavily depended on agriculture.
The Mayans employed advanced farming methods, like terrace farming and irrigation systems, to cultivate crops such as maize, beans, and squash.
In contrast, the Aztecs ingeniously used chinampas, artificial islands, for intensive farming. Furthermore, both cultures excelled in trade, establishing extensive networks, and their bustling markets were renowned for the wide variety of goods they offered.

5. Language

Mayan Language
Mayan Language Tree

While the Mayans spoke various Mayan languages, the Aztecs only spoke Nahuatl.
The Mayans, dispersed across a wider geographical area, spoke diverse Mayan languages, each with its unique dialects. This linguistic variation reflected the decentralized nature of Mayan civilization, where independent city-states developed their own languages and cultures.

In contrast, the Aztecs had a more centralized culture and primarily spoke Nahuatl. They concentrated in Mesoamerica’s central region, where Nahuatl was the sole language that served as both a means of communication and a tool for cultural preservation.

6. Writing System

Mayan Writing

The Mayans developed hieroglyphic writing, utilizing a combination of pictorial symbols and phonetic elements. They recorded their history, astronomy, and religious beliefs on intricate codices.

In contrast, the Aztecs employed a writing system that incorporated pictograms and ideograms, along with phonetic signs, but they did not possess a comprehensive syllabic alphabet, unlike the Mayans.

7. Travel and Transportation

Boats were a prevalent means of transporting goods during the Mayan civilization, with canoes efficiently moving cargo along coastal areas. In addition, many Mayan cities were situated near waterways, facilitating the distribution and delivery of goods. To navigate swampy terrain and cope with challenging rainy seasons, they constructed elevated, paved roads connecting towns.

Residing in challenging landscapes, the Aztecs had minimal transportation options, relying primarily on walking to reach their desired destinations. They had a well-developed network of roads with rest stops for travelers, allowing those on foot to pause and refresh during their journeys.

8. Decline and Legacy

The Mayan civilization saw its decline in the 10th century AD, possibly due to factors like environmental degradation, political instability, or changes in trade routes.

In contrast, the Aztec Empire met its end in the 16th century AD, conquered by Spanish conquistadors under Hernán Cortés.
Nonetheless, both civilizations left an enduring legacy, shaping future cultures and leaving a lasting impression with their extraordinary accomplishments.

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