People of the Jaguar

Royal Regalia

Ruling was no easy task. The king's duties were many: maintaining control over his domain; organizing military offensives to expand his territory and defending his territory against threats from neighbouring states; proving his legitimate right to rule while remaining wary of rivals from within the noble class who could challenge his position. It was his responsibility to negotiate trading alliances, maintain the business of the state, and undertake municipal and architectural projects. One of his prime duties was to intercede with the spirit world, bringing divine energy into the material world to guide his people and ensure the success of their endeavours.

Maya kings and nobles conducted public ceremonies on the platforms of temples. Their elaborate clothing identified them as those who had special powers to intercede with the gods. Kings were considered the living embodiment of a god who possessed the wisdom to guide the affairs of the people. Through fasting and bloodletting rituals, Maya kings and other members of the elite entered trances and travelled to the spirit world to bring divine energy into the material world.

Kings and nobles wore a variety of elaborate headdresses and jewellery to signify their status.

Intricately decorated royal regalia was imbued with spiritual and symbolic meaning. Feathers from the sacred quetzal bird, jade decorations, jaguar skins, shells, and flints were used by the elite to proclaim their high status in the Maya kingdom. Ceremonial regalia linked the kings to the Creation story and to the power of the gods. For example, some headdresses were made from maize leaves, linking them to the Maize God; the hairstyle and sloping nose of the stucco head of Pacal, found beneath his sarcophagus, imitate the classic features of the Maize God. Other headdresses were made in the shape of a tree, to create an association with the Great Tree (the central pole that holds up the sky and joins together the Underworld, the Middle World and the Sky World); and some are shown with a bird image associated with the Celestial Bird, Seven-Macaw, a figure in the Creation story, or were made from the long, brilliant green feathers of the quetzal bird symbolic of Seven-Macaw.

    (left) A detail from stone lintel 26 in Temple 23 at Yaxchilán shows Shield-Jaguar, high king of Yaxchilán (A.D. 681-742), dressing for battle with the assistance of his wife, Lady Xoc, who holds his jaguar helmet. The purpose of the battle was to take captives to be sacrificed in the dedication rites for the temple.
    (centre) A similar scene, in which Lady Xoc delivers a jaguar helmet to Shield-Jaguar, was re-created for the IMAX film. This type of ceremony might also signify a marriage or political alliance.
    (right) Jaguar helmet (reconstruction).