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Theocratic Ministry School Review October 2014

Study information for Theocratic Ministry School Review

The following questions will be considered at the Theocratic Ministry School during the week beginning October 27, 2014.

1. Why did the Israelites complain against God and Moses as recorded at Numbers 21:5, and what warning is there in this account for us? [Sept. 1, w99 8/15 pp. 26-27]

^ (Num. 21:5) And the people kept speaking against God and Moses, saying: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and we have come to hate this contemptible bread.”

^ ***w99 8/15 pp. 26-27 Benefiting From “the Grain of Heaven”***
expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) Had God not commanded the manna, the people would have starved—a fact they readily admitted. (Exodus 16:3, 4) Appreciative Israelites were daily reminded of their total dependence on Jehovah and were therefore humbled. Once in the Promised Land with its material abundance, they would be less likely to forget Jehovah and their dependence on him.
Like the Israelites, Christians must remain conscious of their dependence on God for life’s necessities—physical and spiritual. (Matthew 5:3; 6:31-33) In answer to one of the Devil’s temptations, Jesus Christ quoted the words of Moses as found at Deuteronomy 8:3, saying: “It is written, ‘Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.’” (Matthew 4:4) Yes, true worshipers of God are nourished by reading Jehovah’s expressions found in his Word. Additionally, their faith is strengthened when they experience the beneficial effects of these expressions in their lives as they walk with God and put his Kingdom interests in first place.
Imperfect humans can lose their appreciation for things that become a routine part of life—even if these things are a reflection of Jehovah’s loving concern. For example, the supernatural provision of manna both astonished and gratified the Israelites at the start, but in time many of them complained. “Our soul has come to abhor the contemptible bread,” they moaned disrespectfully—an indication that they were beginning to ‘draw away from the living God.’ (Numbers 11:6; 21:5; Hebrews 3:12) Their example, therefore, serves as “a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.”—1 Corinthians 10:11.
How can we take to heart this warning example? One way is by never allowing Bible teachings or the provisions we receive through the faithful and discreet slave class to become ordinary, or commonplace. (Matthew 24:45) Once we start to take Jehovah’s gifts for granted or become bored with them, our relationship with him begins to cool off.
For good reason, Jehovah does not flood us with a constant downpour of exciting new things. Rather, he sheds increased light on his Word gradually, progressively. (Proverbs 4:18) This allows his people to assimilate and put into practice the things they learn. Jesus followed his Father’s example when teaching his early disciples. He explained God’s Word to them “as far as they were able to listen,” or “understand,” as some translations put it.—Mark 4:33; compare John 16:12.
Fortify Your Appreciation for God’s Provisions
Jesus also employed repetition. The mind, of course, may readily comprehend a certain point—a Bible principle, for example—but taking it to heart and making it a part of the Christian “new personality” may take a little longer, especially if old worldly ways and attitudes are deeply entrenched. (Ephesians 4:22-24) That certainly was the case with Jesus’ disciples when it came to overcoming pride and developing humility. Jesus had to teach them about humility on a number of occasions, each time presenting the same basic point from a different angle so that it would sink in, which it eventually did.—Matthew 18:1-4; 23:11, 12; Luke 14:7-11; John 13:5, 12-17.
In modern times, Christian meetings and Watch Tower publications follow Jesus’ example in the well-thought-out use of repetition. So let us appreciate this as an expression of God’s loving concern for us and never become weary of what we receive, as the Israelites wearied of the manna. Indeed, as we patiently apply ourselves to absorbing Jehovah’s regular reminders, we will see fine fruitage in our lives. (2 Peter 3:1) Such an appreciative attitude truly shows that we are “getting the sense” of God’s Word in our hearts as well as in our minds. (Matthew 13:15, 19, 23) To that end, we have a fine example in the psalmist David, who, although not having the variety of spiritual food that we receive today, described Jehovah’s laws as “sweeter than honey and the flowing honey of the combs”!—Psalm 19:10.
“Manna” That Gives Everlasting Life
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said to the Jews. “Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness and yet died. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever . . . The bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51) Literal bread or manna did not and cannot give everlasting life. But those who exercise faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice will eventually enjoy the blessing of everlasting life.—Matthew 20:28.
The majority of those who benefit from Jesus’ ransom will enjoy everlasting life on a paradise earth. “A great crowd” of these—prefigured by the “vast mixed company” of aliens who joined the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt—will survive the coming “great tribulation” that will rid the earth of all wickedness. (Revelation 7:9, 10, 14; Exodus 12:38) An even greater reward is enjoyed by those whom the Israelites themselves foreshadowed. The apostle Paul described these ones, numbering 144,000, as constituting the spiritual Israel of God. Their reward at death is a resurrection to life in heaven. (Galatians 6:16; Hebrews 3:1; Revelation 14:1) There Jesus will give them a special kind of manna.


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Uxmal | Ancient History & History of Religions

Definition of Uxmal

by Mark Cartwright
Uxmal, in north-west Yucatán, Mexico, was an important Maya city which flourished between the 6th and 10th centuries CE. The city, following an extensive restoration programme, is the best preserved of all Maya sites, and it possesses some of the most outstanding examples of Terminal Classic architecture anywhere.
First settled in the 6th century CE, or even earlier, it was between 850 and 925 CE that Uxmal fully established itself as the capital of a collection of lesser cities in the eastern Puuc region. Along with other northern sites like Chichen Itza, Uxmal survived the collapse which affected most other Maya cities c. 900 CE. Indeed, the city embarked on a new round of monument building in the 9th and 10th centuries CE and became by far the largest Puuc site. Later, in the 13th and 14th centuries CE, Uxmal was a part of an alliance of Yucatan city-states led by Mayapan.
Puuc style architecture prevails and arched doorways and elaborate Decoration are a common feature of Uxmal buildings.

Layout & Architecture

The limestone buildings of Uxmal are, in the main, oriented along a north-east axis. The exception is the House of the Governor which faces the rise of Venus at its southern-most cycle. Fortification walls surround the central sacred complex. Puuc style architecture prevails and arched doorways are a common feature of Uxmal buildings, as are distinctive boot-shaped blocks designed specifically to support vaulting. Building façades are divided horizontally into two distinct parts - a plain lower portion and a highly decorative upper section. Fine veneers over a rubble core are also characteristic of the Puuc style. The city includes the typical sacred causeways (sacbe) of Maya cities. The 18 km one which connected Uxmal to Kabah began with a huge monumental corbel arch and steps which is reminiscent of the Roman triumphal arch. The structure is unique in Maya architecture.
Besides the major monuments mentioned below, Uxmal also includes a ballcourt with unusual vertical sides, the Cemetery Group, the North Group - a collection of structures built around a chambered pyramid, the squat House of the Turtles, and the square four-level pyramid known as the Pyramid of the Old Woman, which is the oldest structure at Uxmal.

Architectural Highlights

Pyramid of the Magician

The three-level pyramid has two distinct profiles which leads scholars to believe the structure had two separate building phases, beginning in the 6th century CE and ending in the 10th century CE. The pyramid is distinctive for its rounded corners which make it almost oval in shape when seen from above, making the pyramid unique in Maya architecture. A steep staircase embellished with carved masks climbs the west side and reaches a doorway carved to represent the mouth of a terrible serpent monster. A less steep staircase climbs the eastern side and ends in a single-chamber structure.
Nunnery Quadrangle, Uxmal

Nunnery Quadrangle

The building was built in the late 9th century CE with various additions being made in subsequent decades. A large courtyard enclosed by four separate rectangular buildings is accessed via a monumental staircase on the south side which leads up to a large corbel arch entrance. The building is in the richly ornamental Puuc architectural style. The structure includes vaults, finely-cut veneer masonry, roof-combs, and an unusually high number of doorways precisely numbered along each façade and set closer together as they move towards the ends.
The North Building of the Nunnery is the highest and has a many-chambered terrace accessible via a second wide staircase leading from the courtyard. This structure has 13 doorways, almost certainly a representation of the 13 levels of the Maya heavens. Opposite, the South Building has nine doorways, imitating the nine levels of the Maya Underworld (Xibalba). Significantly, it is also the lowest set building of the four. The West Building has seven doorways, this time reflecting the Maya mystic number of the earth. Further, representations of the earth god in the guise of a turtle (Pawahtun) suggest the building represented the Middleworld which for the Maya was the place where the sun descends into the Underworld. Mosaics on the East Building suggest this structure may represent the point in the Middleworld where the sun rises. Decorative elements on all four buildings include stone masks, sky bands, double-headed snakes, modest thatch-roofed houses, and statues in the round. The exact purpose of the building is unknown.
House of the Governor, Uxmal

House of the Governor

This 24-room building was constructed in the 10th century CE to commemorate the reign of Lord Chahk, the last great ruler of Uxmal, whose portrait is placed above the main entrance. Also built in the Puuc style it was perhaps originally conceived as three separate parts connected by corbel doorways. The whole building, just as with the Nunnery, leans slightly outwards (negative batter) giving an impression of lightness and also correcting the distorted perspective created by the long horizontals of the building. The top portion of the façade employs stone mosaic decoration using motifs such as serpents, step frets and lattice work along with human portraits and small thatched houses. Decorative stone serpent-masks are arranged in diagonals to create striking outlined triangles on all façades. In contrast, the corners of the building each have a vertical line of five serpent-masks. As well as the royal residence of Uxmal, the building was used as the city's main administrative centre.
House of the Pigeons, Uxmal

House of the Pigeons

Located immediately west of the House of the Governor and the Great Pyramid, this buildings gets its name from the intricate façade with its many small apertures which resembles a dovecote. The complex has three courts, each diminishing in size as one climbs the three levels of steps. Its poorer condition and highly decorative architectural style suggest the building is several centuries older than the Nunnery and House of the Governor.

Written by Mark Cartwright, published on 10 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.


  • Coe, M.D. The Maya. Thames & Hudson, 2011.
  • Kubler, G. The Art and Architecture of Ancient America, Third Edition. Yale University Press, 1984.
  • Miller, M.E. The Art of Mesoamerica. Thames & Hudson, 2012.
  • Nichols, D.L. The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology. Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Phillips, C. Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec and Maya. JG Press, 2008.
Retrieved from: Ancient History Encyclopedia

The Goths | Ancient History & History of Religions


by Joshua J. Mark
The Goths were a Germanic tribe who are frequently referenced for their part in the fall of the Roman Empire and their subsequent rise to power in the region of northern Europe, initially in Italy. They are first referenced by Herodotus as Scythians, but it should be noted that Herodotus was inclined to sweeping definitions of people whom he considered "barbarians" and perhaps designated the Goths as "Scythians" simply because they lived in the regions surrounding the Black Sea, traditionally Scythian territory. Modern scholarship has rejected the identification of the Goths with the ancient Scythians. The primary source on Gothic history is Jordanes' work Getica (6th century CE), which presents a half-mythic version of the story of these people, and so his account is accepted carefully by some scholars and rejected completely by others. Jordanes' work was a distillation and summary of a much longer work, now lost, by Cassiodorus, a Roman official who served in the court of the Gothic king Theodoric the Great (c.454-526 CE), and it is generally accepted that Cassiodorus invented much of his history to legitimize the reign of Theodoric by giving the Goths an illustrious past. Where the Goths originally came from is unknown.
The legacy of the Goths is difficult to determine, until one realizes that without them, the modern world would not exist.
In Roman history they first appear in Pliny the Elder's account (c. 75 CE) of the explorer Pytheas' travels in northern Europe and his interaction with the people he called the Gutones, a Germanic tribe identified as the Goths (an identification further supported by the account of Ptolemy, a writer who lived shortly after Pliny). The Goths are given fairly extensive treatment in Tacitus' Germania (98 CE), where they are described in detail, and they are further dealt with by later writers such as Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 390), who wrote a continuation of Tacitus' histories. They were later defined by Cassiodorus and categorized as "Visigoths" (western Goths) and "Ostrogoths" (eastern Goths), but they did not originally refer to themselves by these designations. The claim that the Visigoths were originally ruled by a family named Balthi (or Balts) and the Ostrogoths by the illustrious Amal family seems to have some truth to it but is thought to have been embellished upon by Cassiodorus or, perhaps, Jordanes.

Possible Origin & Migration

Jordanes, who had a Gothic heritage, claims that the Goths came from Scandinavia, writing:
Now from this island of Scandza, as from a hive of races or a womb of nations, the Goths are said to have come forth long ago under their king, Berig by name. As soon as they disembarked from their ships and set foot on the land, they straightaway gave their name to the place. And even to-day it is said to be called Gothiscandzan (57).
Historians such as Peter Heather have identified Gothiscandza with Gdansk in modern Poland, and this theory is generally supported by archaeological evidence, although it is not accepted by all scholars, most notably Michael Kulikowski. Kulikowski claims that, because Jordanes is the only source we have on early Gothic history and migration, and since much of Jordanes' work is suspect, the theory of migration from Scandinavia must be rejected. Heather contends, however, that "there is still more than enough good-quality evidence to establish that Germanic migration from the north was a major factor in the strategic revolution of the third century" (114). He also maintains that this migration would have taken place centuries before the Goths came to play their pivotal role in the fall of Rome and development of northern Europe. Whether one accepts the Scandinavian origin of the Goths depends on how much faith one has in Jordanes' account and the interpretation of archaeological evidence.
Kulikowski contends that the claim for the Goths originating north of the Black Sea is a "text-hindered fantasy", meaning that archaeological evidence has been interpreted to fit Jordanes' account instead of being evaluated on its own merits (Heather, 113). This debate is on-going and, presently, no new evidence has come to light to fully substantiate one side or the other. While it is probable that modern-day Gdansk is the ancient Gothiscandzan, it cannot be proven conclusively, even though the discovery in 1873 CE of over 3,000 Gothic tombs in Eastern Pomerania, Poland (dating between the 1st and 4th centuries CE) argues in favor of the claim. This find, the so-called Wielbark Culture (named for the Polish village where the tombs were discovered), is also subject to the same controversy addressed above, in that those historians who argue in favor of Jordanes' account claim vindication while, those who do not, argue that the site has simply been interpreted in light of the acceptance of Jordanes' work. The historian Walter Goffart supports the view that one should not interpret archaeological evidence in the context of Jordanes' work because it is simply unreliable. In Goffart's view, there is no "history of the Goths" prior to their association with Rome and the accounts of them given by Roman writers. Goffart states:
A strictly controlled historical narrative presupposes a certain minimum of evidence, rather than a string of hypotheses and combinations; much as one might wish to write the ancient history of the Goths, the documentary basis for doing so is lacking (8).
If they did migrate from north of the Black Sea to Eastern Europe then, at some point, they moved south to populate the region of Germania.

The Goths Prior to Engagements with Rome

The Roman historian Tacitus, who first encountered the Goths in Germany, described them as a cohesive race of Germanic people, indigenous to their land, who were fierce fighters. He writes:
I concur in opinion with those who deem the Germans never to have intermarried with other nations; but to be a race, pure, unmixed, and stamped with a distinct character. Hence a family likeness pervades the whole, though their numbers are so great: eyes stern and blue; ruddy hair; large bodies, powerful in sudden exertions, but impatient of toil and labor, least of all capable of sustaining thirst and heat. Cold and hunger they are accustomed by their climate and soil to endure.
Even iron is not plentiful among them; as may be inferred from the nature of their weapons. Swords or broad lances are seldom used; but they generally carry a spear, called in their language framea, which has an iron blade, short and narrow, but so sharp and manageable, that, as occasion requires, they employ it either in close or distant fighting.
This spear and a shield are all the armor of the cavalry. The foot have, besides, missile weapons, several to each man, which they hurl to an immense distance. They are either naked, or lightly covered with a small mantle; and have no pride in equipage: their shields only are ornamented with the choicest colors. Few are provided with a coat of mail and scarcely here and there one with a casque or helmet. Their horses are neither remarkable for beauty nor swiftness, nor are they taught the various evolutions practiced with us. The cavalry either bear down straight forwards, or wheel once to the right, in so compact a body that none is left behind the rest. Their principal strength, on the whole, consists in their infantry: hence in an engagement these are intermixed with the cavalry; so well accordant with the nature of equestrian combats is the agility of those foot soldiers, whom they select from the whole body of their youth, and place in the front of the line.
In the election of kings they have regard to birth; in that of generals, to valor. Their kings have not an absolute or unlimited power; and their generals command less through the force of authority, than of example. If they are daring, adventurous, and conspicuous in action, they procure obedience from the admiration they inspire.
The Germans transact no business, public or private, without being armed: but it is not customary for any person to assume arms till the state has approved his ability to use them.
In the field of battle, it is disgraceful for the chief to be surpassed in valor; it is disgraceful for the companions not to equal their chief; but it is reproach and infamy during a whole succeeding life to retreat from the field surviving him.
During the intervals of war, they pass their time less in hunting than in a sluggish repose, divided between sleep and the table. All the bravest of the warriors, committing the care of the house, the family affairs, and the lands, to the women, old men, and weaker part of the domestics, stupefy themselves in inaction. Their drink is a liquor prepared from barley or wheat brought by fermentation to a certain resemblance of wine (Germania, 17).
This description fits with later accounts of the Goths, but historians suggest caution in accepting that the later Goths were the same people as those Tacitus wrote of. Like the Alemanni tribe, the tribal identity of the Goths is thought to have undergone a transformation between the 1st century CE when Tacitus wrote and the 3rd and 4th centuries CE when many of the other accounts are given. Heather writes:
All the Germanic groups at the heart of the successor states to the Roman Empire in this era - Goths, Franks, Vandals, and so on - can be shown to be new political units, created on the march, many of them recruiting from a wide range of manpower sources, some of which were not even Germanic speaking. The political units formed by the Germani in the first millennium were thus not closed groups with continuous histories, but entities that could be created and destroyed, and which, in between, increased and decreased in size according to historical circumstance (20).
Those Goths who would later be allied with or against the Huns, who fought for and against Rome, might not be the same people Tacitus describes but, unlike the Alemanni, there seems to be a greater probability that they were, as the later descriptions seem to match the earlier ones fairly closely. In religion, for example, the Goths described by Tacitus practiced the same kind of tribal, Nordic paganism that was later defended by Gothic kings such as Athanaric in the 4th century CE. The veneration of ancestors, an appreciation for nature and recognition of sacred natural sites, and tribal totems were as much a part of 1st century Gothic religion as it was for the later Goths until the coming of Christianity.

Language & Religion

The Gothic language is known through the missionary Ulfilas' translation of the Bible from Greek into Gothic c. 350 CE. The language was Teutonic in nature but seems to have differed significantly from other Germanic languages spoken in the region. The Gothic Bible's translation is based on uncial Greek (a form of script which uses only capital letters), which Ulfilas drew from to create his Bible using Gothic runes. Whether the language had been written down before is unknown and, since no evidence survives except fragments of Ulfilas' Bible, this question cannot be answered. Most scholars believe, however, that Ulfilas was the first to make a written record of the spoken language.
Ulfilas' efforts, of course, were to further his missionary work among the Goths; efforts which were not appreciated by many Goths and, especially, the Goth leadership. The religion of the Goths prior to the coming of Christianity, as noted, was a Nordic paganism which emphasized the close presence of the spirits of the land, one's ancestors, and the primacy of the Norse gods. Christianity presented a completely different view of the universe with a single God, high in the heavens, who had sent his son to earth to redeem human being's souls. As Christianity was seen as a "Roman religion", and a threat to the Goth's heritage and way of life, the Gothic leaders took measures to stop missionary work among their people; these measures usually took the form of brutal persecutions. Although the persecutions would turn Gothic families against each other, and may have played a significant role in the later Gothic Civil War, the Gothic authorities seem to have considered them worth the cost to keep at bay the influence of Rome.

The Goths & Rome

The first Gothic invasion of Rome took place in 238 CE when they attacked the city of Histia in modern-day Hungary, which had been part of the Roman Empire since 30 CE. What drove the Goths to this invasion is not fully understood but, most probably, it was simply the weakness of the empire at that time that made provincial cities like Histia attractive targets for the Goths and other tribes because of the Roman's inability to respond with the military might they once had. Rome, at this time, was going through a period known as The Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 CE), in which the empire was in a state of constant turmoil that resulted in it actually breaking apart into three separate regions. Whatever their initial motivation was, the Goths continued to make further incursions into Roman territory. The next few decades were marked by a number of Gothic victories over the Romans such as at the Battle of Abrittus in 251 CE, where the Romans were completely defeated and the emperor Decius and his son both killed in battle. The Goths also raided the coastal regions and, with a newly-formed navy, practiced piracy. At this point in their history, the Goths were regarded by the Romans as less than human and more as dangerous pests. The historian Herwig Wolfram describes the Roman view of "barbarians" in general and Goths in particular in the 3rd century CE thusly:
They are barbarians; their language does not sound human, more like stammering and mere noise. The barbarians also speak diverse languages all at once or side by side, for in their eyes language is no criterion of tribal membership. Under the assault of their horrible songs the classical meter of the ancient poet goes to pieces. Their religion is superstition, and though not actually pagan, it is hardly more than corrupted Christianity, heresy and worse. For barbarians can neither think nor act rationally; theological controversies are Greek to them. If a storm approaches, they fear the heavens are collapsing, give up any advantage they may have on the battlefield, and flee. At the same time, they are dominated by a horrible death wish: they actually look forward to dying. Even their women take part in battle. Barbarians are driven by evil spirits; they are possessed by demons who force them to commit the most terrible acts. Barbarians simply resemble animals more than they do human beings, concluded contemporaries, wondering whether barbarians shared in human nature at all (6).
While the Goths may have been considered inferior beings by the Romans, that did not stop the Roman Army from recruiting them into its ranks. The Goths fought alongside the Romans in the Roman-Persian Wars and were involved in the Battle of Misiche in 244 CE, which ended in a Roman defeat and raised Philip the Arab to power in Rome. The accepted historical narrative of the Goths claims they then continuously made incursions into Roman territory, even while their kinsmen were fighting with the Roman forces, and finally contributed significantly to the fall of Rome. Recent scholarship, however, has challenged this view and, as Goffart writes:
According to the traditional schema, the Germanic peoples had been in motion since the third or first century B.C., engaging in periodic mass migrations that pressed northern tribes down upon earlier emigrants to the south with such increasingly disruptive force that the Roman frontier, which had impeded the migrant's progress for several centuries, was torn down around A.D. 400. The moving Germanic masses then surged forward and halted in imperial territory. Yet this final step turns out to be remarkably modest: those involved in it were a mere handful of peoples, each group numbering at the most in the low tens of thousands, and many of them - not all - were accommodated within the Roman provinces without dispossessing or overturning indigenous society (4-5).
It is now thought that, between c. 238 CE and 400 CE, while there certainly were clashes between the armies of Rome and those of the Goths (most notably the First Gothic War of 376-382 CE), a sizeable portion of the population of the Roman Empire was Gothic and that these Goths had adopted the Roman way of life. A number of the engagements fought in the 1st Gothic War were the result of disputes over land agreements, promises made and broken, or mistreatment of the Goths by the Romans. Prior to the invasion of 238 CE, the Goths had lived along the Roman borders as neither friends nor enemies to Rome. After 244 CE there were Goths who lived as Romans, and many who served in the military, and there were those who continued to live where they used to and maintained their Gothic culture. Those who had settled close to the Roman borders, or in the provinces, separated themselves from those who remained in their ancestral regions and would, in time, be known as Visigoths from the name of the Roman military unit they served in, Visi-Vesi (though their original name was Thervingi), while those who remained where they had always lived were designated Ostrogoths (whose original name was Greuthungi). These later names did not originate with the people themselves but were terms set down by Cassiodorus in the 6th century CE who claimed "Visigoth" meant "western Goths" and "Ostrogoth" referred to "eastern Goths". This is not to claim that there were no Ostrogoths serving in the Roman legions nor any Visigoths living in Germania. The two names seem to have been created for ease of reference to Gothic peoples who, generally, populated one area or another or fought for or against Rome.

Athanaric and Fritigern: The Gothic Civil War

A major division among the Thervingi Goths occurred with the Gothic Civil War of the early 370's CE fought between Athanaric and Fritigern. Wolfram writes, "the confused tradition [of records of this war] does not reveal the exact date" (70). Athanaric was king of the Goths (claimed by some sources as the first king) a position known as a reiks (pronounced "rix") which meant "judge". Ancient sources claim that, when he was younger, Athanaric had sworn a vow to his father never to trust the Romans and never to set foot on Roman soil. Modern scholarship, while not discounting this possibility, speculates that perhaps in his role as judge he was prohibited from leaving the region of the Goths because he embodied the spirit of his people and could not de-value his position by traveling to another land (which, according to his beliefs, would have been under the guidance of other divinities) and leaving his people without a leader, even for a brief period.
Whatever his reasons, Athanaric was a sworn enemy of Rome, while Fritigern courted Rome's favor through his association with the emperor Valens. Further complicating the relationship between these two men was their difference in religion. Fritigern was an Arian Christian, while Athanaric maintained the traditional pagan beliefs of his people which, as judge, he was sworn to defend and so persecuted the Gothic Christians. Their differences drew sharp lines between pagan Goths and Christian Goths, and they went to war. Athanaric defeated Fritigern in battle, and the latter appealed to Valens for help. The emperor, also an Arian Christian, came to Fritigern's aid and, according to some sources, it was at this point that Fritigern converted to Christianity as part of the agreement with Valens. According to other sources, he was already a Christian who had been converted by the missionary efforts of Ulfilas the Goth (311-383 CE), who was the primary missionary to introduce the new faith into the region of the Goths, a mission encouraged by the Romans who believed that uniting the Goths under Roman religious beliefs would "civilize" them and lessen the possibility of conflict. Fritigern may have converted, along with his followers, at Valens' request but, as the two were in contact prior to the recorded conversion in c. 376 CE, Fritigern was most likely already a Christian, even if only in name.
Most likely, as Wolfram speculates, Fritigern saw an alliance with Valens as a quick path to admittance into the territories of the empire and settlement of his people in Roman Thrace and so made a public show of conversion to Arian Christianity at the emperor's request later on. Between 367-369 CE Valens engaged Athanaric in battle, but the Gothic leader consistently outmaneuvered the Romans, drawing them deeper and deeper into his territory where he could engage in guerilla warfare. Although the sources do not report heavy losses on either side, these accounts (like many from the period) are often unreliable, and it is possible that Valens' army suffered more heavily than the Roman sources wished to admit. The Roman army continued to march and fight in formation against an enemy who knew the terrain and could strike without warning and vanish away into the forest. This kind of warfare would have been very de-moralizing to the troops and, had Athanaric been able to continue the war, he might have been victorious.
He was prevented from this, however, by the coming of the Huns. The Hunnic raids destroyed the Goth's food supplies and, with the lack of trade with Rome resulting in a shortage of food, Athanaric was compelled to seek terms of peace from Valens. The two leaders finally concluded a treaty, signed on a boat in the center of the Danube, so that Athanaric would not break his vow never to set foot on Roman soil and Valens would not compromise his status as an emperor of Rome by meeting the Gothic leader (a man he claimed to have defeated) on Gothic ground. The treaty was only between Valens and those Goths under Athanaric's rule, as Fritigern was already an ally of Rome. This division among the Goths would only grow more pronounced in the next few decades with the invasion of the region by the Huns led by their king and chieftain, Attila.

Attila the Hun

It is popularly understood that the Goths were pushed into the regions of Rome by the Huns, and while this is true for the years c. 376-378 CE, it is not an accurate portrayal of Goth-Roman relations in their entirety. There were many Goths, as already noted, living in Roman provinces and serving in the Roman army. The later king of the Visigoths, Alaric I (reigned 394-410 CE), served Rome as a soldier before his ascent to power and eventual sack of Rome in 410 CE. Alaric's decision to lay siege to the city came after his repeated requests to Rome for proper treatment of his people were ignored. Alaric's war on Rome exemplifies the tension that always existed between the Goths and the Romans. The Goths would fight for Rome but, too often, were still not considered on equal standing with Roman citizens.
Attila the Hun
Another "barbarian tribe" who was employed by the Roman army was the Huns. The Huns were a nomadic tribe who lived in the region known as the Caucasus (the border between Europe and Asia) and are first mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania (98 CE) as Hunnoi. They defeated another Germanic tribe, the Alans, and then proceeded against the Greuthungi (Ostrogoths) and subdued them. They then launched attacks on the Thervingi (Visigoths) who fled across the borders of Rome. By 376 CE Fritigern had appealed to the Roman emperor Valens for asylum under the protection of Rome, which was granted, and the Goths under Fritigern crossed the Danube to settle in Roman territory. Poor treatment of these Goths by provincial administrators would result in their rebellion under Fritigern and the Battle of Adrianople (9 August 378 CE) in which Valens would be killed and from which the empire never fully recovered. Many historians have traditionally cited the Battle of Adrianople as the true end of the Roman Empire and cite the Hun invasion, which drove the Goths into Rome, as a major contributing factor. The Huns were a persistent threat to Rome, even though they often served as mercenaries in the Roman army, even after the rise of Attila to their supreme leader. However great a role Attila may have played in Rome's demise, it is certain he exerted a powerful influence on the future of the Goths. It is because of the early Hunnic raids into Gothic territory c. 376 CE that so many Goths crossed the Danube into Rome and provided the basis for the traditional view of a "Gothic Invasion" of the Roman Empire but it was due to Attila's campaigns that the Goths would be divided even further and, eventually, dispersed.
In 435 CE Attila and his brother Bleda negotiated the Treaty of Margus with Rome which was supposed to have kept the peace; they then swiftly broke the treaty and raided Roman territories. Once they had plundered numerous cities and slaughtered the inhabitants, they extorted enormous sums of money from Rome to keep them from doing so again. When Bleda died in 444 CE, Attila was the sole sovereign of the Huns and embarked on an almost continual harassment of the empire. He invaded the region of Moesia (the Balkans) in 446/447 CE and invaded both Gaul (in 451 CE) and Italy (in 452 CE) until he died in 453 CE. The invasion of the Huns divided the Goths and Attila's war on Rome did so further with Ostrogoths primarily fighting for the Huns and Visigoths fighting against them. At the famous Battle of the Catauluanian Plains in 451 CE there were Goths, as well as Alemanni, fighting on both sides of the conflict.
Following Attila's death, the divided Goths kept their new separate identities. The king of Italy, Odoacer (433-493 CE) may have been Visigoth, Ostrogoth, or some other Germanic ethnicity but, whatever he was, he provided a home for the primarily Visigothic soldiers under his command by appropriating one third of the land in Italy for them once he came to power. The Ostrogoths who had fought under Attila either now joined the Roman forces or returned to their homeland where they would eventually come to serve under their king Theodoric the Great of the Ostrogoths (454-526 CE). Theodoric assassinated Odoacer in 493 CE and became king of Italy. He was able to rule over a separate-but-equal kingdom of Romans and Goths until his death in 526 CE. After his death, the country erupted in turmoil which culminated in the 2nd Gothic War (535-554 CE). During the latter part of this conflict, the Goths of Italy were led by the King of the Ostrogoths, Baduila (better known as Totila) who fought against the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire led by the general Belisarius. Totila was defeated at the Battle of Taginae in 552 CE at which he was mortally wounded. After his death, the Goths continued their fight for independence from Rome until they were completely defeated in 553 CE at the Battle of Mons Lactarius. By 554 CE their cause was lost and the Goths began to disperse into the regions of northern Europe (present day Italy, France, and Spain) and, by 562 CE, the name "Ostrogoth" was virtually unknown and the kingdom of the Visigoths had become that of the Franks. Their names exist in the present day only in the histories.
Europe in 526 CE


The historian Herwig Wolfram writes:
Anyone in the field of Gothic history must expect to be misunderstood, rejected, even stigmatized. This is hardly surprising, for the subject is burdened with the ideological weight of a readiness throughout the centuries either to reject the Goths as an embodiment of everything wicked and evil or to identify with them and their glorious history (1).
Wolfram points out that no other nationality, such as the Celts, seems to carry as much emotional and historical baggage as the Goths. They are either traditionally blamed for the destruction of the civilization of the Roman Empire that plunged western culture into a "dark age" or as heroes who refused to bear the yoke of Rome submissively (best exemplified in the figures of Athanaric, Fritigern, Alaric I, and Totila). It is entirely possible, however, to see the Goths as both these entities. Recent scholarship presents a view of the Goths which is more balanced than the either-or view, which has defined them for so long. The historian Philip Matyszak writes:
Until recently it was automatically assumed that Roman civilization was a Good Thing. Rome carried the torch of civilization into the barbarian darkness, and after the unpleasantness of conquest, Rome brought law, architecture, literature and similar benefits to the conquered peoples…There is now an alternative view, which suggests that Rome became the only civilization in the Mediterranean area by destroying half a dozen others. Some of these civilizations were as advanced as Rome's, or even more so. Others were developing, and the form they might have finally taken is now lost forever (9).
Since histories have relied primarily on Roman sources to present the history of the Goths, these people are frequently equated with the concept of the "uncivilized barbarian" or the "noble savage". In fact, they were neither. As Wolfram points out, their history cannot be claimed as that of the ancient German people nor of the Slavic people nor of any people presently living (74-75). The Goths entered history at a pivotal moment in the decline of the Roman Empire and played their part in that drama. With the empire gone, they ruled over two great kingdoms: one of Odoacer and Theodoric the Great in Italy, and the other in France (that of Theodoric I). In Totila, the last great king of the Ostrogoths, they produced one of the most brilliant military leaders in history, a match for the legendary Belisarius of Rome, known as the "Last of the Romans'. With Belisarius' victory, the history of the Goths ends. It is therefore difficult at first to determine exactly what the legacy of the Goths is to the modern-day world until one realizes that, without them, there would not be one. The kingdom of Odoacer preserved the best aspects of the Roman Empire and that of Theodoric the Great maintained that preservation. Western civilization continued after the fall of Rome, an entity that was disintegrating daily and would have fallen anyway even if the Goths had never set a single boot on Roman soil; it was the Goths who preserved the light of western civilization, even as they helped to topple the empire that had given rise to it.

Written by Joshua J. Mark, published on 12 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.


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Athenian Democracy | Ancient History & History of Religions

Definition of Athenian Democracy

by Mark Cartwright
Athens in the 4th to 5th century BCE had an extraordinary system of government, whereby all male citizens had equal political rights, freedom of speech, and the opportunity to participate directly in the political arena. This system was democracy. Further, not only did citizens participate in a direct democracy whereby they themselves made the decisions by which they lived, but they also actively served in the institutions that governed them, and so they directly controlled all parts of the political process.

Historical Sources

Other city-states had at one time or another systems of democracy, notably Argos, Syracuse, Rhodes, and Erythrai. In addition, sometimes even oligarchic systems could involve a high degree of political equality, but the Athenian version, starting from c. 460 BCE and ending c. 320 BCE and involving all male citizens, was certainly the most developed.
The contemporary sources which describe the workings of democracy typically relate to Athens and include such texts as the Constitution of the Athenians from the School of Aristotle; the works of the Greek historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon; texts of over 150 speeches by such figures as Demosthenes; inscriptions in stone of decrees, laws, contracts, public honours and more; and Greek Comedy plays such as those by Aristophanes. Unfortunately, sources on the other democratic governments in ancient Greece are few and far between. This being the case, the following remarks on democracy are focussed on the Athenians.
Any citizen could speak to the assembly and vote on decisions by simply holding up their hands. The majority won the day.

The Institutions of Democracy

The word democracy (dēmokratia) derives from dēmos, which refers to the entire citizen body, and kratos, meaning rule. Any male citizen could, then, participate in the main democratic body of Athens, the assembly (ekklēsia). In the 4th and 5th centuries BCE the male citizen population of Athens ranged from 30,000 to 60,000 depending on the period. The assembly met at least once a month, more likely two or three times, on the Pnyx hill in a dedicated space which could accommodate around 6000 citizens. Any citizen could speak to the assembly and vote on decisions by simply holding up their hands. The majority won the day and the decision was final. Nine presidents (proedroi), elected by lot and holding the office one time only, organised the proceedings and assessed the voting.
Specific issues discussed in the assembly included deciding military and financial magistracies, organising and maintaining food supplies, initiating legislation and political trials, deciding to send envoys, deciding whether or not to sign treaties, voting to raise or spend funds, and debating military matters. The assembly could also vote to ostracise from Athens any citizen who had become too powerful and dangerous for the polis. In this case there was a secret ballot where voters wrote a name on a piece of broken pottery (ostrakon). An important element in the debates was freedom of speech (parrhēsia) which became, perhaps, the citizen's most valued privilege. After suitable discussion, temporary or specific decrees (psēphismata) were adopted and laws (nomoi) defined. The assembly also ensured decisions were enforced and officials were carrying out their duties correctly.
There was in Athens (and also Elis, Tegea, and Thasos) a smaller body, the boulē, which decided or prioritised the topics which were discussed in the assembly. In addition, in times of crisis and war, this body could also take decisions without the assembly meeting. The boulē or council was composed of 500 citizens who were chosen by lot and who served for one year with the limitation that they could serve no more than two non-consecutive years. The boulē represented the 139 districts of Attica and acted as a kind of executive committee of the assembly. It was this body which supervised any administrative committees and officials on behalf of the assembly.
Speaker's Platform, Athens Assembly, Pynx, Athens
Then there was also an executive committee of the boulē which consisted of one tribe of the ten which participated in the boulē (i.e., 50 citizens, known as prytaneis) elected on a rotation basis, so each tribe composed the executive once each year. This executive of the executive had a chairman (epistates) who was chosen by lot each day. The 50-man prytany met in the building known as the Bouleuterion in the Athenian agora and safe-guarded the sacred treasuries.
In tandem with all these political institutions were the law courts (dikasteria) which were composed of 6,000 jurors and a body of chief magistrates (archai) chosen annually by lot. Indeed, there was a specially designed machine of coloured tokens (kleroterion) to ensure those selected were chosen randomly, a process magistrates had to go through twice. It was here in the courts that laws made by the assembly could be challenged and decisions were made regarding ostracism, naturalization, and remission of debt.
This complex system was, no doubt, to ensure a suitable degree of checks and balances to any potential abuse of power, and to ensure each traditional region was equally represented and given equal powers. With people chosen at random to hold important positions and with terms of office strictly limited, it was difficult for any individual or small group to dominate or unduly influence the decision-making process either directly themselves or, because one never knew exactly who would be selected, indirectly by bribing those in power at any one time.

Participation in Government

As we have seen, only male citizens who were 18 years or over could speak (at least in theory) and vote in the assembly, whilst the positions such as magistrates and jurors were limited to those over 30 years of age. Therefore, women, slaves, and resident foreigners (metoikoi) were excluded from the political process.
The mass involvement of all male citizens and the expectation that they should participate actively in the running of the polis is clear in this quote from Thucydides: "We alone consider a citizen who does not partake in politics not only one who minds his own business but useless". Illustrating the esteem in which democratic government was held, there was even a divine personification of the ideal of democracy, the goddess Demokratia. Direct involvement in the politics of the polis also meant that the Athenians developed a unique collective identity and probably too, a certain pride in their system, as shown in Pericles' famous Funeral Oration for the Athenian dead in 431 BCE, the first year of the Peloponnesian War:
Athens' constitution is called a democracy because it respects the interests not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. (Thuc. 2.37)
Although active participation was encouraged, attendance in the assembly was paid for in certain periods, which was a measure to encourage citizens who lived far away and could not afford the time off to attend. This money was only to cover expenses though, as any attempt to profit from public positions was severely punished. Citizens probably accounted for 10-20% of the polis population, and of these it has been estimated that only 3,000 or so people actively participated in politics. Of this group, perhaps as few as 100 citizens - the wealthiest, most influential, and the best speakers - dominated the political arena both in front of the assembly and behind the scenes in private conspiratorial political meetings (xynomosiai) and groups (hetaireiai). These groups had to meet secretly because although there was freedom of speech, persistent criticism of individuals and institutions could lead to accusations of conspiring tyranny and so lead to ostracism.
Critics of democracy, such as Thucydides and Aristophanes, pointed out that not only were proceedings dominated by an elite, but that the dēmos could be too often swayed by a good orator or popular leaders (the demagogues), get carried away with their emotions, or lack the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. Perhaps the most notoriously bad decisions taken by the Athenian dēmos were the execution of six generals after they had actually won the battle of Arginousai in 406 BCE and the death sentence given to the philosopher Socrates in 399 BCE.


Democracy, which had prevailed during Athens’ Golden Age, was replaced by a system of oligarchy after the disastrous Athenian defeat in Sicily in 409 BCE. The constitutional change, according to Thucydides, seemed the only way to win much-needed support from Persia against the old enemy Sparta and, further, it was thought that the change would not be a permanent one. Nevertheless, democracy in a slightly altered form did eventually return to Athens and, in any case, the Athenians had already done enough in creating their political system to eventually influence subsequent civilizations two millennia later.
In the words of historian K. A. Raaflaub, democracy in ancient Athens was a unique and truly revolutionary system that realized its basic principle to an unprecedented and quite extreme extent: no polis had ever dared to give all its citizens equal political rights, regardless of their descent, wealth, social standing, education, personal qualities, and any other factors that usually determined status in a community.
Ideals such as these would form the cornerstones of all democracies in the modern world. The ancient Greeks have provided us with fine art, breath-taking temples, timeless theatre, and some of the greatest philosophers, but it is democracy which is, perhaps, their greatest and most enduring legacy.

Written by Mark Cartwright, published on 13 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.


  • Ferguson J. et al. Political and Social Life in the Great Age of Athens. Ward Lock Educational Co Ltd, 1979.
  • Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus. Anchor Books, 2009.
  • Hornblower, S. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Kinzl et al. A Companion to the Classical Greek World. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • Nichols et al. The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Thucydides. The Landmark Thucydides. Free Press, 1998.
  • Xenophon. The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika. Anchor, 2010.
Retrieved from: Ancient History Encyclopedia

The Classic Maya Collapse | Ancient History & History of Religions

by Mark Cartwright
The Terminal Classic period in Mesoamerica between c. 800 and 925 CE saw one of the most dramatic civilization collapses in history. Within a century or so the flourishing Classic Maya civilization fell into a permanent decline, so that once great cities were abandoned and left to ruin, in many cases, to be reclaimed by the jungle and so disappear from human memory for centuries. Some northern Maya cities, conversely, prospered like never before in this period, as did the Maya along the Gulf Coast and central highlands of Mexico; however, for the majority of the Maya in the southern lowlands, the period was nothing short of disaster and, as the historian M.E. Coe describes, 'This was surely one of the most profound social and demographic catastrophes of all human history'. The question, then, which has preoccupied scholars ever since the re-discovery in the 19th century CE of mysterious ruins built by, at the time, an equally mysterious civilization, is why did this happen? Below are some of the reasons presented by historians today as to just what caused such a dramatic reversal in fortunes.
Temple at Tulum by Catherwood

Theory & Facts

Early in the study of the Maya collapse all manner of theories were presented as to what exactly had happened, some more plausible than others. Disease, a social revolution, drought, famine, foreign invasion, over-population, disruption in trade routes, earthquakes, and even hurricanes were held responsible. Unfortunately, the inscriptions left by the Maya themselves are strangely silent on the topic. To find the answer, then, we must reconstruct the past starting with what we do know. From the mid to late 8th century CE, relations between city-states deteriorated. There was a decline in trade and an increase in armed conflicts. We know that the death-rate increased in this period, and from 830 CE no new buildings were constructed in the central Maya area. As the Maya were fond of writing dates on their monuments and stelae, it is interesting to note that no dates after c. 910 CE are seen in the lowlands sites.
From the mid to late 8th century CE relations between city-states deteriorated. There was a decline in trade and an increase in armed conflicts.
We also have evidence of large areas becoming completely depopulated and royal dynasties and elites disappearing without trace. Finally, we can say that the collapse was neither unique - smaller scale abandonment of Maya cities had occurred several times before over the centuries - nor was it a sudden one but rather a process of decline which occurred over a period of 150 years between c. 760 and c. 910 CE. Such a slow decline would seem to cross off the list disease pandemics and natural disasters, like earthquakes, as factors in the collapse. Further, in both these cases populations tend to recover relatively quickly, whereas the Maya lowlands were never significantly re-populated.
Then we must also consider what we do not know about the Maya civilization, as different guesses and interpretations of these points can colour the reasons proposed for the collapse. We do not know with any great accuracy the population figures in the Late Classic period. Nor do we know exactly how the Maya farmed, how agricultural production was managed and controlled, or whether trade of this produce was local, regional, or even cross-cultural. These are the facts of the matter and the latest state of knowledge on the subject; now let us examine the various theories of how the Maya arrived at this situation.
Mayan Glyphs

What Causes Civilizations to Collapse?

Firstly, it has been fruitful to note the process of collapse in other civilizations, such as the Roman Empire. Differences in time, geography, and circumstances mean no direct correlations are possible, but the outstanding point of similarity is that no single factor accounts for a large civilization's collapse. Perhaps another similarity in the complex process which brought the downfall of other empires is the general disregard of rulers for the resources at their disposal and the long-term welfare of the people they ruled. Was this also the case with the Maya? The period prior to the Maya collapse is certainly characterised by extravagant building projects, unproductive wars, and over-exploitation of natural resources, especially land, forests, and water. An ever increasing population may well have driven the Maya to deforest areas which were subsequently eroded. One case which points to the running out of resources is the curious change in wood used in Maya buildings. Sapodilla was the architect's choice prior to the 740s CE for such details as lintels but was then replaced by the inferior wood of the smaller logwood tree. Sapodilla did make something of a comeback, but beams were never the thickness as previously. Had the Maya exhausted their supply of Sapodilla? Had the tree recovered over time or did the Maya even establish protected areas to specifically cultivate the tree?

Three Main Factors

Maya historians have generally settled on a combination of three main factors which could have caused the Maya collapse: warfare between city-states, overpopulation, and drought. The factors were not always contemporary or found all together in a single city.
Warfare had been a part of Maya culture for centuries, but its intensification and scale increased prior to the collapse so that cities began to build fortifications. Previously, warfare had often been token, in that defeat might result in only a small number of important figures being taken as captives. By the Late Classic period, war seems to have been much more damaging to all involved. The conquest of territory and the capturing of a large number of sacrificial victims now became a priority - the former perhaps to increase agricultural production and acquire resources and the latter to appease the gods and return to the more stable times of earlier centuries. The presence of large numbers of arrow heads at certain sites is further evidence that life in the cities was becoming more precarious.
Presentation of Captives to a Maya Ruler
There may also have been a military threat from foreign states. Supporting the invasion theory are several archaeological finds, notably at Ceibal where a figure known as 'Wat'ul' is depicted who has a distinctly non-Maya moustache and hairstyle but who is wearing Maya costume; stelae with glyphs which are not Mayan; a figure in a mask of Ehecatl; the wind god of central Mexico; and the presence of Fine Orange pottery from the Gulf coast. However, such evidence seems sparse to what one would expect to find if the collapse were down to foreign invasion and, significantly, few cities display evidence of deliberate destruction.
Over-population may well have put an unbearable strain on the agricultural production the Maya were capable of managing. Ever more archaeological evidence shows that Maya cities and peripheral settlements were much more heavily populated than previously imagined. Even worse, scientific evidence clearly indicates that the Maya lowlands suffered a sustained series of droughts between c. 800 and c. 1050 CE. However, it should be noted that not all cities suffered from droughts, as some lakes and rivers never dried up completely. For those regions which did suffer a water shortage, the lack of rain and repeated crop failures make it entirely conceivable that either the lower levels of society - 90% of the population were farmers - or perhaps more likely, non-ruling elites, rebelled against the ruling class, who could no longer justify their role as protectors of society and intermediaries with the gods such as Chahk the rain god. With the consequent collapse of the social structure and city infrastructure, those who could may well have migrated to the north and south and the early Colonial chronicles written in Yucatan Mayan do indeed describe a 'Great Descent' and a 'Lesser Descent'. There is no archaeological record of such a large population movement, only that after the collapse, the 60,000 square miles of the Maya lowlands was deserted.


The most reasonable explanation, then, for the Classic Maya collapse is a combination of inter-connected factors. Warfare, social disorder, over-population, and unfavourable climatic conditions combined, perhaps not all together and in varying degrees and with different timing and sequence depending on location, to bring an end to the established order of the southern Maya lowlands.
As already stated, the Classic Maya collapse was not the end of the Maya culture. Northern cities and those in the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala survived up to the Spanish Conquest, and even today seven million people speak Mayan in Mesoamerica. The Maya culture suffered a terrible blow, but it did not disappear completely. In the power vacuum and general social upheaval left by the collapse, one group seized the opportunity to achieve regional dominance: this was the Toltec civilization, and it was they who would pass on the baton of Mesoamerican culture which had begun with the Olmec, been perfected by the Maya, and would end with the Aztecs.

Submitted by Mark Cartwright, published on 18 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.


  • Coe, M.D. The Maya. Thames & Hudson, 2011.
  • Miller, M.E. The Art of Mesoamerica. Thames & Hudson, 2012.
  • Nichols et al. The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology. Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Phillips, C. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztec & Maya& Central America - Including The Aztec.... Lorenz Books, 2007.
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