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Plazas, Performers, and Spectators: Political Theaters of the Classic Maya


by Takeshi Inomata

Not only does theatrical performance communicate preexisting ideas but it also defines political
reality as it is experienced by participants. Theatrical events, thus, constitute a critical process of
integration and conflict in a wide range of societies, but present particularly significant effects on
the maintenance and transformation of premodern centralized polities. The study of performance
allows archaeologists to explore the interrelations between political, social, and cultural factors
and provides an approach to action and meaning different from the one that views the material
record as text. The analysis of plazas in Classic Maya society (AD 250-900) suggests that
performance by the rulers depicted on stone monuments involved a large audience and that
securing theatrical spaces for mass spectacle was a primary concern in the design of Maya cities.
Such events gave physical reality to a Maya community and counteracted the centrifugal
tendency of non-elite populations.

Keywords: Archaeology, Classic Maya, theatrical performance, political organization
TAKESHI INOMATA is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of
Arizona (PO Box 210030, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA []). Educated at the
University of Tokyo (B.A., 1986; M.A. 1988) and Vanderbilt University (Ph.D., 1995), he has
conducted field investigations in Honduras and Guatemala, focusing on social change and
political organization in Classic Maya society. His publications include (edited with Stephen
Houston) Royal courts of the ancient Maya (Boulder: Westview, 2000), and (edited with Ronald
Webb) The Archaeology of settlement abandonment in Middle America (Salt Lake City:
University of Utah Press, 2003).
How did large societies far exceeding circles of daily interactions achieve a certain degree of
cohesion underscored by collectively-held cultural and moral values? Anderson (1991:6) has
argued that all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps
even these) are imagined, in the sense that individuals never know most of their fellow
members or meet them, yet they bear the image of their communion (see Canuto and Yaeger
2000). There is, however, a vast gap between primordial villages and modern nation states, for
which Anderson developed his concept. Although Anderson (1991:12-19, 37-46) has
emphasized the role of written media for the creation of imagined communities, many large
communities in the past emerged without much benefit of writing. While avoiding the nave
concepts of true or natural community, we need to recognize that human sociality and identity
are rooted in our sensory perceptions of the presence and actions of others. Many communities in
antiquity are probably not something totally imagined, but groups based to some degree on direct
interactions between individuals. In addition, we should note that no organization can exist
without associated symbols, which give concrete, sensible forms to group identities (Kertzer
1988:15). The values, traditions, and identities of a community are not timeless, transcendent
entities, but must be anchored to the tangible images and acts that each individual can directly
The relation between the tangible and imagined aspects of society is particularly
important when we examine political entities in the premodern world. The way the ancient
people experienced the presence of such political organization is not always the same as ours.
Whereas today the notion of state is internalized in the political consciousness of numerous
individuals, many early states may not have had resources and mechanisms to assert their
constant presence in the minds and daily lives of their subject populations. Foucault (1977:187)
noted that, in premodern Europe before the technologies of discipline were developed, the state
power was what was seen, what was shown, and what was manifested. Likewise, before the rise
of modern nationalism, each individuals identity as a member of a state may often have been
weaker than that of smaller social groups, such as kin groups and localized communities
(Anderson 1991). In certain historical contexts, then, the subject populations perception and
experience of authorities and national unity were highly uneven, accentuated in the specific
temporal and spatial contexts of state-sponsored events, such as ceremonies and construction
projects, but diluted or even non-existent in the routines of daily lives. In those cases, what many
individuals consciously recognized and thought about may have been the tangible images of the
rulers body, state buildings, and collective acts, but probably not the abstract notion of the state.
These considerations of the tangible and imagined aspects of human sociality bring our
attention to the political implications and consequences of theatrical performance in public
events, in which a large number of individuals senses and witnesses the bodily existence and
participation of other members and the cultural and moral values of the community are
objectified and embodied. In particular, I argue that the development of large, centralized polities
would have been impossible in any historical context without heavy reliance on public events.
Classic Maya society (AD 250-900), in which rulers and elites actively sponsored and
participated in public rituals and festivals, provides a fertile ground for exploring the intersection
of theatrical performance and politics (Figure 1). By analyzing the spatial contexts of public
performance at Maya centers, I examine how public events facilitated and conditioned the
integration and identity formation of a community and how they set stages for imposition and
negotiation of asymmetrical power relations.

Theater, Community, and Power
Recent developments in performance theory, theater studies, and dramaturgic analysis
provide a theoretical ground for this study. We first need to examine diverse perspectives, as the
concepts of performance used by social scientists comprise a wide range of meaning. On one end
of this continuum is a prescribed act in modern theater. Schechner (1977:75; 1988:6-16; 1994)
distinguishes theater from other types of performance, such as rituals, sports, and games, by
noting that it requires the physical presence of an audience who are observers and evaluators
with an emphasis on entertainment. Beeman (1993:379) stresses the symbolic reality of theater,
in which the performers represent themselves in roles detached from their lives outside the
performance. On the other end of the continuum is a broad definition of performance as an
enactment of what it refers to (Pearson and Shanks 2001). In this view, the emphasis is on what
human beings do as opposed to thoughts and abstract structures. An explicit theoretical
formulation of this perspective is found in the concept of performative utterance in speech act
theory. Certain utterances do not simply describe social relations but effect them (Austin 1962).
Goffman (1959:22, 1967) has also proposed a broad definition of performance, all the activity
of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a
particular set of observers and which has some effect on the observers. He has emphasized the
theatricality that is present even in everyday activities and has examined their communicative
and expressive qualities, through which a person projects different identities and images under
different circumstances.
The present study builds on these diverse theoretical views. Nonetheless, the purpose of
my research requires a definition of performance that is tighter than those of Austin and Goffman
yet broad enough to include various activities which take place outside of formal theaters (see
MacAloon 1984a:6). Following Hymes (1975:13-19), I define performance as creative, realized,
achieved acts, which are interpretable, reportable, and repeatable within a domain of cultural
intelligibility. What distinguishes performance is its qualities that are consciously recognized by
performers and an audience. I am particularly concerned with its theatricality, that is, the quality
of communicative acts that requires the presence of an audience acting as observers and
evaluators (Beeman 1993:383-384). Theatricality is defined in terms of the level of emotional--
including both positive and negative--responses that performance causes on the participants and
the level of symbolic reality with a semiotic system distinct from that of unconscious, routine
acts (Fischer-Lichte 1992: 139-140; 1995; Pavis 1998:395). In addition, theatricality involves the
use of material images in dynamic motion as media of expression and communication, in which
the human body takes a central role (Grimes 1987; Read 1993:10). In this sense, theatricality is
present in many contexts outside of the modern formal theater. Although many of the events that
I discuss may be called rituals, I often use the term theatrical performance to make my
theoretical approach explicit (see Moore and Myerhoff 1977).
The significance of these theoretical developments concerning performance can be
situated in a broader trend in archaeology and other social sciences, which, with inspirations
from practice theory and agency theory, calls stronger attention to what people do (Bourdieu
1977; Giddens 1984). This view is accompanied by a broader conceptualization of political
processes, which are indissolubly tied with the so-called cultural domain of society. By
demonstrating that even tastes for certain types of art are associated closely with asymmetrical
power relations, Bourdieu (1984) has criticized restricted conceptualizations that view such
cultural practices as nonpolitical acts operating in closed systems of aesthetics (see also Inomata
2001b). He has also broken away from the other theoretical extreme in which art, theater, and
other cultural domains are treated strictly in terms of the expression or imposition of dominant
ideologies. Bourdieu has emphasized their relation to cultural capital, or valued cultural
knowledge, which can be converted into symbolic capital and political power. Likewise,
Gramscis concept of hegemony has urged social scientists and humanists to examine the all-
encompassing political processes. Building on Gramscis ideas, Williams (1977) has noted that
hegemony is a process of dominance and subordination, in which political, social, and cultural
forces are interlocked in a complex manner. Thus, the concept of hegemony, as a whole body of
practices and expectations, over the whole of living, is broader than that of ideology. Such
theoretical developments regarding the political implications of cultural practices provide critical
inspirations for the archaeological study of performance, which crosscuts the political, social,
and cultural domains.
The archaeological study of performance even has the potential of going beyond
approaches inspired by practice theory. A central issue in this regard is how we grasp the
immediacy of material presence and physical action. As important as the influence of practice
theory has been, it does not sufficiently elaborate how the materiality of space, in which peoples
practices are situated, empowers and constrains agents (Munn 1992; Smith 2003:15; see Hall
1966). Likewise, it does not fully address the bodily presence of audiences who perceive and
affect the practices of actors. The study of performance urges us further to examine specific
details and processes of embodied acts, material and spatial contexts, and interactions between
actors and observers (Inomata and Coben n.d.). The heightened attention to the materiality of
space and body also provides an encouraging avenue for archaeological engagement in political
At the critical intersection of culture and politics are the generation, negotiation, and
contestation of meaning. The focus on performance provides a perspective different from the one
that views the archaeological record as text (see Hodder 1986). The text-based notion of meaning
assumes the priority and pre-existence of generative rules, thoughts, and ideas over bodily
actions, sensual perceptions, and lived experience (see Geertz 1973; Lvi-Strauss 1963). This
assumption is not unrelated to the nature of academic practice centered on intellectual reflections
that are detached from the practical concerns of the world (Bourdieu 2000:51; Stahl 2002:829).
The study of performance, with inspirations from practice theory and phenomenology, explores
the duality--rather than dichotomy--of thought and action without privileging either one of them
(see Meskell and Joyce 2003). In other words, performance does not simply transmit preexisting
meaning, but also creates new meaning and transforms the existing one. It acts upon the world as
it is experienced by participants and creates social changes (Bell 1992, 1997:72-83, 1998;
Schechner 1994:626-632; Tambiah 1979). Performance shapes the identities of participants and
defines their social relations (Palmer and Jankowiak 1996; Turner 1957, 1972).
It follows that performance creates and communicates meaning in a manner distinct from
text. Although there usually exists a conventional meaning of performance shared by the
majority of a society, such acts are multivocal at a deeper level, representing different meanings
for different people and in different situations (Turner 1967:50). The ambiguity and diversity of
meanings in performance, however, do not necessarily imply ineffective communication. Seeing
is believing. Images do not deceive while words can be easily manipulated (Rappaport 1999;
Robbins 2001). Thus, bodily performance may sometimes have more persuasive power than
verbal communication. We need to explore the persuasive, creative, and transformative power of
performance while recognizing the fluidity, ambiguity, and indeterminacy of its meaning.
These considerations lead to an important methodological implication for archaeologists.
The inherent multivocality of performance indicates that an overly optimistic view about the
possibility of recovering meaning in the past may result in an imposition of the researchers own
internal narratives. Wuthnow (1987:332-344) has suggested that what he calls the dramaturgic
approach in social sciences, with its focus on the observable dimensions of actions, utterance,
and interactions in human lives, shifts researchers attention from the quest of subjective or
semantic meaning to a more productive inquiry of the conditions under which symbolic acts are
meaningful. This observation is particularly true for archaeology (see Barrett 1994). Instead of
presupposing preexisting fixed meanings, archaeologists need to explore contexts and processes
in which performance becomes meaningful with tangible social and political effects.

Performance may take place on diverse scales, ranging from a solitary act of one
individual with deities, ancestors, or natural beings serving as a perceived audience to a mass
spectacle involving thousands of people. Theatrical events of different sizes all have important
political implications. Even daily practices on small scales can be highly political as they reflect
and recreate power relations of the society at large (Bourdieu 1977). We, thus, need to explore
diverse operations and functions of theatrical events on different scales without falling into
mechanistic categorization. At the same time, the implications of different scales should not be
underestimated. In the interest of tight argument, this paper focuses on large-scale performances
involving a substantial number of participants, such as public ceremonies, festivals, and courtly
interactions. MacAloon (1984b:243-246) and Handelman (1990) call them spectacles and public
events respectively.
Public events physically bring together numerous individuals and allow them to sense the
presence of others and to share common experience. In other words, large public performance
grounds the constitution of a community that exceeds the range of daily face-to-face interaction
in the physical reality made up by its members (Da Matta 1984; Handelman 1990:116-135;
Singer 1959, 1972; Turner 1986:24). It presents moments of a real community. In addition,
performers in public events typically dramatize the moral and aesthetic values of a community in
ostentatious manners (Singer 1959). Theatrical performance is not simply a reenactment of
timeless community traditions, but it objectifies and embodies otherwise abstract notions (Bailey
1996:13; Connerton 1989; Hobsbawn and Rogers 1983; Rockfeller 1999:123). This means that
spectacles provided premodern communities, which may have lacked print media and other
communication technologies, with opportunities to create shared identities and common values
among its members. Theatrical events, thus, have real and direct political effects. They create
and recreate a community, sometimes even transcending ethnic and linguistic boundaries (Futrell
1997; Handelman 1990).
The central role of theatrical performance in the constitution of a political community
implies that it was a critical arena for the negotiation of meaning and power (Comaroff and
Comaroff 1991; Dietler 2001). One aspect of this process is the use of theatrical performance for
and by the dominants as a means of conveying their versions of worldviews, history, cultural
ideals, value systems, and social order (Baines and Yoffee 1998:235; Demarest 1992; DeMarrais
et al. 1996; Lucero 2003). Another important aspect is the effect of public performance that
defines the political reality. Bloch (1974:59-60) has suggested that the formalized discourse of
ritual does not allow deviation, leaving only the alternative choices of either participating in it
and following the protocol faithfully or denying such an event totally. The implications of
serious confrontation or punishment in the latter choice force most individuals to opt for the
former. No matter how the participants resent such events quietly, the acts of participation and
following the decorum define certain aspects of the social relations among the parties involved.
Theatrical performance, thus, is not empty ritual behind which the real mechanism of power
works. It is the real process of politics (Bell 1992:197-223; Kertzer 1988:77-101).
Theatrical events, however, rarely work in unambiguous ways. The inherent
multivocality of theatrical signs makes the propagation of dominant ideologies difficult, if not
impossible. Theatrical performance does not homogenize the emotion and identity of participants
(Evans-Pritchard 1974:207-208). The ambiguity of meaning and the uncertainty of effects are
indeed critical aspects of ritual and other public events (Fernandez 1972; Kertzer 1988:57-76;
MacAloon 1984a:9). As Bell (1992:221-222) points out, ritual and other theatrical events tolerate
a fair degree of internal resistance and disinterest among the participants, while requiring their
external consent in the form of their participation. Public events become effective because they
ground and display a sense of community without overriding the autonomy of individuals. Thus,
the solidarity of a community is produced by people acting together, not by people thinking
together (Durkheim 1965; Kertzer 1988:76).
Scott (1990:2-19, 67-90) particularly emphasizes schisms hidden under superficial
conformity. He contends that, whereas the public transcript enacted on public stages is the
representation of elites as they want themselves to be seen, both elites and non-elites have their
own hidden transcripts played out off stage, which diverge from and contradict the public
transcript. In addition, theatrical events may be dangerous times for the dominant, in which the
established order can be challenged and subverted (Van Gennep 1960). In particular, carnivals
and similar public events may provide occasions on which the populace openly expresses dissent
from and resentment toward the powerful (Bakhtin 1968; Kertzer 1988:144-150; Scott 1990:172-
175). The system of cultural and aesthetic values of such events may also bind dominant groups,
limiting or weakening their power (Bloch 1986; Inomata and Houston 2001). The paradox of
theatrical performance is that even ones designed for the purpose of the dominant simultaneously
empower those who are intended to be subjugated through emotional elevation, affirmation of
social identities, and renewed affinity to a community (Fernandez 1972).
Geertz (1980:123-135) goes further to claim that public performance in the theater state
of historical Bali was the states primary purpose. In this view, the elaborate dramatization of
cultural themes through royal ceremonies was not a tool for the states political purpose, but the
state served for the realization of this cultural drama. This claim appears rather farfetched, and
his interpretations have been criticized by Balinese specialists on empirical bases (e.g., Lansing
1991). Theoretically, his view gives primacy to cultural meaning that dictates peoples actions,
which is at odds with the central proposition of the present article. Still, Geertzs call for the
poetics or aesthetics of power as opposed to the Weberian notion of the mechanics of power
provides an important perspective (see Smith 2000; Reese-Taylor and Koontz 2001). Although
we should probably avoid Geertzs extreme argument, it is meaningful to explore the historical
conditions of theatrical events that stimulated political centralization and stratification.
Small, egalitarian societies, as well as large, hierarchical ones, actively engage in public
events. The preparation of large-scale spectacle, along with the construction of theatrical space,
may have promoted the development of hierarchical organization by requiring dramaturgical and
logistical organizers. Clark (2004; Hill and Clark 2001) presents fascinating data indicating that
in Formative Mesoamerica extensive plazas were constructed at critical junctures of social
transformation from small villages to larger, more centralized communities. Large-scale
spectacles with associated architectural spaces may not have been created after and as a result of
the establishment of hierarchical political authorities, but they may have preceded and facilitated
such political changes (Barrett 1994:27-32; Bradley 1984:73-74). Moreover, public events may
have created a condition in which the emergence of central figures in the form of dramatic
protagonists was tolerated, or even desired and demanded, by an audience. Such individuals may
have had the potential to become political leaders. In this regard, rulers in many ancient polities
appear to have shared certain qualities with ritual specialists in non-hierarchical societies and
with theater or music stars in the modern world (see Schechner 1994:623). The archaeological
study of the development of large, centralized polities should direct its attention not only to the
political maneuvering of a small number of aggrandizers but to the motivation and roles of an
audience or the masses (Pauketat 2000).
These diverse views of theatrical performance are not mutually incompatible. In any
society, the potential of performance for ideological unification and imposition coexists with the
persistence of multivocality and a possibility for the subversion of power through theatrical acts.
So does the use of theater by the state with popular demands for large pageants that facilitate the
emergence of a state. We need to examine intersections of such diverse forces and the political
dynamics created by them.

The study of these extraordinary events does not necessarily run counter to the recent
emphasis on domestic lives and daily routines in archaeological studies, but they complement
each other. On the one hand, public performance is embedded in social relations, experiences,
and economic activities of everyday lives. On the other hand, the memory of past events and the
anticipation of future ones shape and affect the perceptions and experiences of daily life. In
addition, mass spectacles affect day-to-day routines economically and physically as well,
because they require a long period of dramaturgical and logistical preparation, including
rehearsal, construction of theatrical stages, and acquisition of foods and gifts to be consumed and
distributed during the events. For example, the colonial-period Maya put substantial work into
growing turkeys over the year to consume them on rare festive occasions (Cogolludo 1971,
I:243, 295), and their Classic-periods ancestors spent many days of the year in constructing
plazas and associated buildings.
In this regard, there is a certain analogy between perceptions of space and those of time
in many societies. As Eliade (1957) noted, in premodern societies the spatial aspect of the world
was not experienced as uniformly neutral, but the landscape was marked with monuments and
sacred places charged with unique, condensed meaning. The same is true for the temporal aspect.
The passage of time was not viewed as monotonous or homogeneous, but as punctuated by
heightened emotional experiences of extraordinary events. Even in modern societies, both rites
of passage associated with individuals, such as weddings and funerals, and calendrical events of
a community, such as New Years Day and Christmas, structure peoples perceptions of time and
life. Thus, as we cannot grasp unique public events without addressing their basis in daily life,
we cannot adequately understand the ordinary of everyday routines without considering its
dialectic relation with the extraordinary.
This consideration of the ordinary and the extraordinary leads to the relation between
what is generally called the public and private spheres. It should be clear that by focusing on
large-scale events I do not intend to privilege the public and the extraordinary over the
private and the ordinary. Moreover, an increasing number of archaeologists and
anthropologists question the uncritical distinction between the public and the private (Inomata et
al. 2002; Robin 2003). This, however, does not mean that we should abandon the concept of the
public. The work by Habermas (1991) remains significant in this regard. He demonstrates that
what we call the public sphere was developed and transformed under specific social conditions
of the modern Western world. Instead of abandoning the concept of the public or presupposing
its universality, we need to analyze how the public sphere is constituted in each historical
context. For this purpose, the public sphere should be defined in a loose, heuristic manner as a
social field of interaction which potentially involves a substantial number of individuals and
shapes political processes on a large scale.
At the same time, we need to pay attention to the common criticism of Habermas that his
notions of public sphere in different periods are highly idealized and their categorical distinctions
are overemphasized (Calhoun 1992). Habermas argues that, in the feudal society of Middle Age
Europe, the rulers power was merely represented before the people, constituting the publicness
of representation, but the public sphere as a social realm of political debate did not exist.
Performance theory, however, indicates that such public representations are not one-directional
acts. Instead, they involve political negotiations between the central authority and those who
view and perceive such representations, though their negotiations may not take explicit
discursive forms. These processes, then, are not totally unlike those of the modern public sphere
that Habermas describes.
I should add that the public nature of political negotiation through performance is not
limited to large, centralized polities in the premodern world. Small communities, where daily
face-to-face interactions are possible, engage in collective theatrical events, which create
important political arenas. Even in modern societies public performances, such as inaugurations
and speeches of presidents, continue to have political significance. I should reiterate that the
importance of mass spectacles in premodern polities is rooted in the political significance of
performance in general, which can take place on diverse scales in diverse social contexts. We
need to explore public processes of political negotiation in various historical monuments to
expose their commonality and variation.

Theatrical Spaces at Classic Maya Centers
Classic Maya society comprised numerous autonomous or semi-autonomous polities, each
centered on the divine ruler. The importance of theatrical performance is evident in stone
monuments and other artistic media. These often depict rulers and other elites engaging in
performance, indicating that the dominants were not only sponsors of theatrical events but also
protagonists. Many stelae show rulers in elaborate attire, such as feather headdresses, masks,
jade pectorals, and shell belts, often in the guise of Maize God or other deities (Figure 2)
(Houston and Stuart 1996). Some of the accompanying texts specifically note that they are
conducting ritual dances (Grube 1992). Tokovinine (2003) identifies a word, chanil in
monuments depicting dance scenes, which may be literally translated as something being
watched. The meaning and use of this term suggest to him that events such as royal dances were
indeed public performance conducted in front of an audience. Other monuments depict elites
playing the ballgame, which was a ritual, as well as athletic, event tied to human sacrifice and the
creation myth. Many public events probably involved numerous performers, including musicians
and dancers, as indicated by the murals of Bonampak (Miller 1986). Although such iconographic
depictions provide valuable information, they deal exclusively with performers and remain
virtually silent about the role of an audience and the spatial settings of the events. In addition,
such pictorial renderings should be viewed as idealized notions of performance and as
representations of how performance was remembered rather than as the unbiased record of past
events (Bergmann 1999; Joyce 1992).
Theatrical performance in Classic Maya society most likely took place in various spatial
contexts, including small residential complexes and sacred locations outside of centers, such as
caves. Yet many of mass spectacles involving a large audience were probably held in plazas--
large, open spaces surrounded by temples and other symbolically charged buildings that marked
the core of every Maya city. The use of plazas for this purpose and the participation of numerous
spectators among the colonial-period Maya are well-documented in historical accounts (Barrera
Vsques 1965; Ciudad Real 1976:II:314-371; Estrada Monroy 1979:168-174; Tozzer 1941:94,
152, 158-159; see Inomata n.d.). Comparable activities in plazas during the Classic period have
been suggested by many Mayanists (e.g., Andrews 1975:37; Fash 1998; Jones 1969; Looper
2001; Lucero 2003; Ringle and Bey 2001).
A more significant line of evidence is the presence of numerous stelae there. It is
probable that monuments commemorating public ceremonies were erected in the same spaces
where the events took place to help people to remember and re-experience their grandeur and
excitement (Grube 1992). To develop this argument, I should address competing hypotheses,
particularly the one presented by Bassie-Sweet (1991) that many stone monuments represent
rituals held in the more exclusive settings of caves. The elaborate headdresses and backracks and
heavy jade ornaments shown on stelae, however, appear extremely cumbersome for entering
caves, which often require climbing down cliffs and crawling through narrow, muddy passages.
Most paintings found in caves indeed render figures with simple clothing (Stone 1995:131-154).
Although Bassie-Sweet correctly points out that some stelae present symbols of caves and
mountains, it is equally possible that performance was conducted on or in front of pyramids and
temples facing plazas that symbolically represented sacred mountains and caves (Schele and
Mathews 1998:43; Stone 1995:241).
We should note that courtly events held in palace rooms and depicted in ceramic
paintings include rulers and other elites wearing relatively simple attire with small headdresses
or hats (Reents-Budet 2001). In other words, the attire shown on stelae with enormous
headdresses and backracks made of brilliantly colored feathers are far more extravagant than
those used in exclusive architectural settings and appear to have been designed specifically for
high visibility in mass spectacles. More direct evidence is found at Chichn Itz, Uxmal, and
other northern centers, where small, low platforms were placed in large plazas. Noting the
association of thrones with these platforms, Ringle and Bey (2001:277) argue that rulers
occupied these structures to address large audiences that filled the plazas (see also Kowalski
The Bonampak murals lend further support for this view. They depict scenes of captive
presentations and elaborate dances held on a wide stairway, which Miller (1986:115; Schele and
Miller 1986:218) has convincingly identified as the one flanking the plaza of this center. This
spatial setting presents an effective theatrical stage, heightening the visibility of performers.
Although the murals do not show audiences, the plaza was most likely filled with a large number
of spectators. Also suggestive is the use of large palanquins to carry rulers and other elites, as
depicted on lintels at Tikal and some graffiti (Figure 3) (Chase and Chase 2001b: fig. 4.12;
Harrison 1999:133, 153, figs. 77, 94; Trik and Kampen 1983: figs. 71, 72, 73). Ciudad Real
(1976:II:327) recorded similar litters used by the colonial-period Maya in public events. Some of
the Classic-period palanquins were decorated with enormous statues of deities and jaguars
towering behind the rulers. Such ostentatious presentations make sense only for their use in mass
spectacles in open spaces.
Given these lines of evidence, it is highly likely that a large portion of stelae depict public
performance held in plazas and other open spaces in the presence of a large audience, although I
do not deny the possibility that a small number of them show rituals that took place more
exclusive settings. In this regard, we should note that some of the lintels at Yaxchilan and panels
at Palenque appear to represent acts held in semi-closed architectural settings, although others
refer to public events comparable to those shown on stelae. In other words, there is a loose
correlation between the spatial settings in which various types of art were viewed and those of
the acts shown in these art pieces. Stelae set in open plazas and viewed by many visitors depicted
public performance involving a large audience, in many cases, held in the same spaces, whereas
lintels and panels that adorned elite buildings and could be seen by a limited number of high-
status individuals often dealt with rituals attended mainly by court members and held in
exclusive spatial settings (see Sanchez 1997). Ceramic paintings were viewed only by a few
individuals at a time, typically in elite residences or administrative buildings, and many of them
rendered scenes of courtly interactions that took place in similar architectural settings. Thus,
stelae and other artistic media typically served to prompt viewers to remember, re-experience,
and re-imagine the depicted acts in spatial settings that were the same as, or comparable to, those
of the original events.
These observations, however, do not mean that plazas were used only for public
theatrical events. Various authors have proposed that some plazas were used as market places
(Becker 2003:265-266; Jones 1996:86-87; Smith 1982:107). Although direct evidence for market
places is difficult to obtain, such use of plazas is not incompatible with their primary function as
theatrical spaces. Even in public ceremonies, plazas may have been used in diverse manners.
Such events appear to have involved placements of scaffolds and other temporary structures, as
well as banners, movable thrones, and palanquins, which affected the movements of participants
and their perceptions of theatrical spaces (Houston 1998:339; Suhler and Freidel 2000; Taube
1988). Likewise, erections of stelae in plazas probably narrowed the potential ranges of human
bodies physical flow and of the places meanings by emphasizing memories of specific events.
The Maya in some cases reset old stelae, which constituted attempts to alter or reconstitute such
effects of monuments in the physical and perceptual construction of theatrical spaces.

The analysis of plazas as theatrical spaces provides an effective step for the study of public
events by archaeologists, who cannot directly observe ancient performance. One way to test the
use of plazas is to analyze their potential capacities. In his study of plaza capacities, Moore
(1996:147) cites the estimated densities of participants, ranging from 0.46 to 21.6 m
/person. The
figure of 0.46 m
/person would imply a tightly packed area with little space for movement,
whereas 21.6 m
/person would leave ample space around each person or a large open stage for
dynamic performance. The figure of 21.6 m
/person, taken from data on Yanomam villages,
however, is probably too large for the more urban situations of the Maya lowlands. Anywhere in
the world, city dwellers have to endure smaller space than those who live in rural settings. In this
article I thus apply the figures of 0.46, 1, and 3.6 m
/person. We should note that Moore did not
find a consistent correlation between plaza sizes and the estimated populations of the settlements
in his analysis of Andean data. He suspects that this is because there existed widely different
ways to use plazas for theatrical performance. Thus, these densities need to be viewed only as
tentative values for heuristic purposes.
I examine plaza spaces of three centers of different sizes as examples (Figure 1): Tikal,
which was one of the largest Maya centers (Figure 4); Copn, a center of medium size in the
southeastern periphery of the Maya area (Figure 5); and the relatively small center of Aguateca
(Figure 6). Tikal had a long history of occupation and monumental constructions since the
Preclassic period, and boasted numerous plazas connected by wide causeways. Culbert et al.
(1990:116) estimate the Late Classic population of Tikal for the 120 km
area defined by
seasonal wetlands and earthworks at 62,000 people. Along with the West Plaza and the East
Plaza, the Great Plaza probably formed the central ceremonial core of Tikal (Figure 7). Other
plazas associated with Temple IV, Temple VI, and twin pyramid complexes, also had the
capacities to accommodate a substantial number of people.
Early occupations at Copn also date back to the Preclassic period, but substantial
constructions at the ceremonial core started during the Early Classic period. According to
Webster and Freter (1990:52), the Late Classic population of Copn was around 22,000. The
public theatrical space of the primary importance consisted of the large continuous flat spaces of
the Great Plaza, the Middle Plaza, the East Plaza, and the Plaza of the Hieroglyphic Stairway
(Figure 8). Freidel et al. (1993:463) point out that stone sculptures depicting the Maize God
dancing were recovered from a large platform east of the Great Plaza and suggest that the
platform was possibly a place for the preparation, practice, or execution of dances.
Most ceremonial constructions at Aguateca date to the Late Classic period prior to an
enemy attack that resulted in the burning and rapid abandonment of the central elite residential
area. Although the analysis of settlement data from peripheral areas of Aguateca is still in
progress, 8,000 would probably be a generous estimate of its Late Classic population. Most
monuments depicting rulers performances are found in the large Main Plaza. A short causeway
connected this highly public space with a more restricted compound of the Palace Group, or a
probable royal palace (Inomata 1997).
Table 1 indicates that these plazas had substantial capacities. In addition, their layouts
show easy access from outside, implying an emphasis on the inclusion of a large number of
participants. In particular, the Main Plaza of Aguateca was large enough to accommodate the
entire population of its settlement. The combined ceremonial plaza of Copn could also hold the
entire population, but it did not make an effective theatrical space with consistent visibility
because buildings obstructed sightlines between various parts. The Great Plaza and the Middle
Plaza constituted a more consistent theatrical space, but a gathering of the entire population in
these areas would have resulted in a highly crowded situation. At Tikal, if participants were
packed tightly, the entire population may have been accommodated in each of the central
complex, of the area in front of Temple IV, and of the area in front of Temple VI. Realistically,
however, most theatrical events probably required ample stages for performers, which would
make gatherings of the entire population in these spaces less likely. These observations indicate
that, whereas the main plazas of smaller centers may have been able to hold the entire population
(see also Houston et al. 2003:234; Looper, 2001:128), public events with the simultaneous
presence of the entire community became increasing difficult as the size of a center grew. This
tendency may be reflected in the overall site layout of centers of various sizes. Small centers,
such as Aguateca, tend to have one large plaza as a focus of community rituals, where most of
the stone monuments are found. The medium-sized center of Copn still maintained this focus on
one continuous plaza area. Large centers, such as Tikal, tend to have multiple large plazas of
comparable sizes, and their stone monuments are more dispersed.
In addition to inclusive mass spectacles, the Classic Maya conducted more exclusive
performance. Smaller spaces of the East Court of Copn and the Palace Group of Aguateca were
most likely places for theatrical events. Along with their arrangements surrounding open, flat
spaces, their function as theatrical complexes is hinted at by Structure 10L-25 of Copn and
Structure M7-33 of Aguateca. These low platforms appear to have served as open stages without
roofs or walls and were probably used for ritual dance (Fash et al. 1992; Inomata et al. 2001).
The estimated capacities of these plazas based on the density of 3.6 people/m
range from 5.6 to
11.4 percent of the total populations, which may correspond roughly with the elite sectors of
society. In addition, architecture and excavated objects suggest that the Palace Group of
Aguateca was the primary residential complex of the royal family of this center. Yet we should
note that performance in the Palace Group of Aguateca was probably visible not only from an
audience occupying the plaza of the complex but also from spectators who stood in the causeway
(Inomata 2001a). Theatrical events in restricted spaces appear to have retained a certain level of
openness and inclusiveness.

Sequences of construction projects at these centers shed light on strategies of designing
community ritual spaces at Maya centers. At Tikal, the final layout of the city resulted from its
growth over centuries. During the Early Classic period, the Great Plaza, along with the adjacent
East and West Plazas, was probably the primary focus of community-wide spectacles at Tikal,
although the Mundo Perdido complex also appears to have provided an important theatrical
space. The Great Plaza was located between the North Acropolis, which was the most important
funerary place for dynastic members since Preclassic times, and the Central Acropolis, which
served as the main residential complex for the royal family (Coe 1990; Harrison 1970). Clearly,
this plaza was a symbolically charged place with direct connections to the dynastic past and
present. Both during the Early Classic and Late Classic periods, stelae were placed in lines in
front of the North Acropolis facing the south, leaving ample space in the southern portion of the
area. This pattern may imply that the use of the plaza as theatrical space remained relatively
consistent, with performers often occupying the northern part and audiences placed mainly in the
southern portion. It is interesting to note that Structure 5D-119, an elevated room built on the
roof of Structure 5D-120 (Harrison 1970:27), was equipped with a throne facing Temple I and
the Great Plaza (Figure 9). It is probable that the ruler or other elites occupied this vantage point
to view theatrical events (see Valds 2001 for a comparable throne at Uaxactun).
A significant change in the configuration of the Great Plaza, however, occurred with the
construction of Temples I and II, which probably started in the reign of Jasaw Chan Kawiil
during the early 8th century (Harrison 1999:142). The construction of the enormous temples
diminished the floor space of the Great Plaza and reduced access and visibility between the Great
Plaza and the adjacent plazas, thus transforming the Great Plaza into a more exclusive ritual
space. In addition, the population of Tikal, as well as that of many other centers, was growing
rapidly during this period (Culbert et al. 1990:108). The reduction in flat space in the central area
was compensated by a series of construction projects during the reign of the next ruler, Yikin
Chan Kawiil, in the mid 8th century. This ruler probably commissioned the construction of
Temples IV and VI, along with large open spaces in front of each (Harrison 1999:153-162;
Martin and Grube 2000:49). Temple IV measured 64 m in height, and the ruler who stood on the
stair of this building must have been visible from a wide area.
This sequence shows that the shortage of theatrical space in the central complex was dealt
with through the construction of new open spaces associated with newly built temple pyramids.
Each space in front of Temples IV and VI is substantially larger than the Great Plaza. This trend
of increasing theatrical space can also be seen in twin pyramid complexes. During the Late
Classic period, the Tikal dynasty built a ceremonial complex with a pair of pyramids at the end
of each katun (20 year period) cycle. For the Maya who enthusiastically held various calendrical
rituals, katun-ending ceremonies occurring only a few times in the life of an individual were
particularly important. Many stelae from various Maya centers commemorated these events. At
Tikal, a newly constructed twin pyramid complex was most likely the main stage of a katun-
ending ceremony in which residents throughout the community participated (Jones 1969). Each
time, an ever larger twin pyramid complex was built, reaching the apex in Twin Pyramid
Complexes Q and R commissioned by Yax Nuun Ayiin II during the late 8th century (Harrison
Despite these efforts, Tikal appears to have been reaching the point where a congregation
of the entire population in one space was physically difficult. The problem may have been
mitigated by the use of causeways as additional theatrical stages. Harrison (1999:158, 160)
suspects that Yikin Chan Kawiil, who appears to have commissioned Temples IV and VI, was
responsible for the construction of the Maler, Maudslay, and Mendez Causeways that connected
these temples with other areas. The Mendez Causeway measured 50 to 80 m in width, the Tozzer
Causeway 50 to 80 m, the Maler Causeway 20 m, and the Maudslay Causeway 30 to 50 m.
Segments of these causeways were as large as plazas of small centers, and their width exceeded
the practical needs of daily transport (cf. Chase and Chase 2001a). These wide streets were
probably stages for processions by elites, which may have been viewed by a large audience
occupying spaces along their edges (see Reese-Taylor 2002; Ringle 1999). The lintels of
Temples I and IV depict rulers seated on elaborate litters, which suggests that rulers were carried
through causeways before they reached the main stages in front of the temples. The use of
causeways as stages of mass spectacle is comparable to that of carnivals and festive parades in
large cities of modern societies.
At Copn, the Great Plaza and Middle Plaza were constructed at the beginning of the 5th
century, which may correspond with the establishment of a dynasty by Kinich Yax Kuk Mo
(Traxler 2004). A substantial amount of fill was placed to create a plaza, which suggests to
Cheek (1983b:344) that its construction involved a significant part of the community. From the
beginning, the plaza appears to have had a dimension and layout comparable to those of the later
stage, with its northern end marked by Structure 10L-2 and its southern portion occupied by a
ball court. A notable difference is that the area south of the ball court was originally a patio
surrounded by platforms, and Cheek (1983b:342-345) proposes that this area served for
residential and private use whereas the northern sections were used for public and communal
activities. In the later part of the Early Classic, the Copanecos gradually raised the plaza floors,
covering some platforms and creating an open space that would become the Court of the
Hieroglyphic Stairway. They also laid out the floor of the East Plaza at the beginning of the Late
Classic (Cheek 1983a). This sequence may reflect an effort to expand the plaza space as the
population of Copan grew. Although over the centuries the Copanecos constructed ever higher
pyramids on the southern side, they appear to have consciously preserved plaza spaces.
The configuration of the Great Plaza of Copn as a theatrical space may have been
altered during the 8th century by the 13th ruler, Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kawiil, who erected a
series of stelae in the central section (Figure 2). This arrangement of monuments may imply a
somewhat different use of space than that of the Tikal Great Plaza. Fash (1998:240) suggests that
the stairs surrounding the Great Plaza of Copn may have provided seating areas for audiences.
If so, in many of public events performers may have occupied the central part of the plaza while
spectators sat or stood along its edges. Structure 10L-4, located in the center of the open space,
probably served as a focal point of such performance.
At Aguateca, the Main Plaza was built at the time of the centers foundation around AD
700. Whereas the stelae of the early rulers were placed mainly in front of Structure L8-5 on the
eastern edge of the plaza, the last ruler, Tahn Te Kinich, erected his monuments in front of
Structures L8-6 and L8-7 located in the southeastern corner, as well as in the middle of the plaza.
This may reflect a shift in main theatrical stages with the construction or renovation of these
buildings. Prior to the final abandonment, Tahn Te Kinich was in process of constructing a
large temple on the western edge (Inomata et al. 2004). Thus, having sufficient plaza space, the
ruler of Aguateca did not have to expand it, but the use of this space apparently changed through
These analyses show that the configuration of theatrical spaces in terms of movements
and placements of performers and spectators varied from one center to another. In some cases,
even the use of the same plaza changed over time with the construction of associated buildings
and monuments. This observation points to the inherent flexibility of plazas as theatrical spaces.
Yet the most important implication of these histories of plazas is that securing sufficient spaces
for public events was a primary concern in the design of Maya cities. This means that plazas
were meant to accommodate a large number of individuals and such gatherings were extremely
important for Maya polities. Plazas and causeways were not secondary spaces defined after the
placements of temple pyramids, but social spaces of extreme importance in their own right
(Ringle and Bey 2001:278).

Politics of Performance in Classic Maya Society
Although some Maya cities held a large population, a significant portion of residents were
scattered over wide areas. Dispersed settlement patterns probably fostered a tendency toward the
breakup of subject populations from the central authorities (Demarest 1992). Economically, rural
non-elites appear to have been largely independent of the central authorities in the acquisition of
many economic items, with possible exceptions of foreign materials such as obsidian and of dry-
season water supplies from central reservoirs in certain areas (Bishop et al. 1982; Fry 1979; Rice
1987; see Lucero 1999; Scarborough and Gallopin 1991). The centrifugal tendency of Maya
populations may have been further strengthened by the high mobility of farmers who could
change their residences--and possibly their political affiliations --relatively easily, as did their
descendents during the Colonial period (Inomata 2004; see Farris 1984:72-79; Restall 1997:174).
It is not clear how important the ties to a specific dynasty were for identities of individual
farmers in relation to their connections with kin groups and smaller local groups.
I argue that critical elements that held together this precarious integration of Maya
communities were mass theatrical events sponsored and organized by the elite. Mass spectacles,
in which a large portion of a community assembled and worked together, provided opportunities
for individuals to witness and sense the bodily existence and participation of other members. Not
only did such gatherings facilitate occasions for exchanging goods, communicating information,
and finding mates, but they also created moments of real communities. Large-scale theatrical
events gave the physical reality to a community and helped to ground unstable community
identities on tangible forms through the use of symbolic acts and objects. In other words, those
who gathered for spectacles made a community. Classic Maya communities, thus, were not
something totally imagined. This also means that the real community of the Classic Maya was
only temporary. The continuous cohesion of a community probably required constant repetitions
of physical gatherings of its members.
As shown in the Bonampak murals and various ceramic paintings, some spectacles
involved numerous elites as performers, but the strong emphasis on rulers found in stelae
indicates that symbolically, and often physically, at the center of public gatherings was the body
of the sovereign. Rulers were at once the sponsors, organizers, and protagonists of many of the
large theatrical events. The visibility of the ruler and other elites was retained to certain degrees
even in political and diplomatic meetings of smaller scales that were held in royal compounds
and spaces associated with elite residences (Inomata 2001a; Inomata et al. 2002). A Maya term
for ruler, ajaw, may be literally translated as he who shouts (Houston and Stuart 1996:295),
implying that the origin of Maya rulership was associated with verbal performance in theatrical
events. Similar concepts appear to have been shared by other Mesoamerican societies. An Aztec
word for ruler, for example, was tlatoani, which means one who speaks, and many
Mesoamerican arts depict speech scrolls representing acts of utterance. The centrality of rulers
in communal events suggests that the identities of a Maya community revolved around the
images of supreme political leaders. Mass spectacles were probably the occasions on which
people felt their ties with the ruler most strongly. Large gatherings also gave the best
opportunities for the elite to impose their ideologies and cultural values on the rest of society
through performance. In public events, rulers often emphasized their divine nature through the
impersonation of deities and glorified themselves through the cerebration of victories in warfare
and the performance of ballgames that mimicked battles (Freidel and Schele 1988; Houston and
Stuart 1996; Inomata and Triadan 2003; Looper 2003; Schele and Miller 1986). Theatrical
complexes made up of temples and plazas were also resting places of royal ancestors, which
constantly reminded the participants of dynastic continuity.
Social memory of dynastic history and tradition, then, was not timeless entity, but a
constant process of reiteration and recreation through performance, which at once allowed room
for their transformation and for the invention of new traditions. It also means that the references
to the dynastic past and royal prerogatives made in theatrical events did not homogenize
perceptions and emotions of the participants but provided objectified notions on which they
could reflect and act. During the Classic period the number of dynasties increased as new rulers
emerged at minor centers. Emergent political leaders were those who took advantage of this
flexibility in the system to invent new traditions that legitimized their political power through the
claim of divine sanction. These observations highlight the nature of hegemony, which is not a
static or given structure, but a process that requires constant attention and action. It is not
confined in the narrow domains of political institutions, but involves the wholeness of
interrelations between the political, social, and cultural as experienced and acted upon by all
those involved (Williams 1977).
It follows that theatrical events were not political tools used one-directionally by the
dominant groups. Rulers and nobles were strongly bound by the cultural and aesthetic values of
theatricality that elites and non-elites alike subscribed to (Inomata and Houston 2001; see Bloch
1986:177). Not only did rulers and courtiers have the right to conduct ritual human sacrifice but
also they had the obligation to perform auto-sacrifice of bloodletting accompanied by severe pain
and the risk of infection. If they lost in battle, they were the ones who were to be sacrificed. In
this sense, emergent rulers at minor centers cannot be viewed purely as the creation of self-
aggrandizing individuals. The growing populations of such settlements may have desired figures
who would take the central stage in communal events. In addition, the demands of spectacles by
elites and non-elites may have been driving forces for political changes not foreseen by the
participants. Large theatrical events required careful planning and logistical organization. As the
population of centers grew significantly during the Classic period, the organization of ever larger
theatrical events and related affairs possibly prompted changes in administrative organizations
with the establishment of specialized offices.
Moreover, we should note that representations of political relations and values through
performance were in constant danger of failing. Theatrical performance as an interaction among
participants inherently involved a process of evaluation by viewers. The meaningfulness and
acceptability of performance were constructed and negotiated through interactions among
participants who shared certain knowledge and expectations but at the same time held divergent,
or even conflicting, views. Theatrical events, thus, were dangerous occasions for actors. Poor
performance in political theater may have meant the loss of power and status. The strong
emphasis on the performance and visibility of rulers implies that they were under constant
The political effects of theatrical events were also conditioned by the physical properties
of the polities, particularly their demographic and spatial scales. This is precisely because the
social significance of performance is rooted inevitably in the physicality of direct interaction and
bodily co-presence. In this sense, large Late Classic Maya polities, such as Tikal, Calakmul, and
Caracol, may have been reaching a size where political integration through public performance
was no longer sustainable. To avoid misunderstanding, I should reiterate that public theatrical
events are politically significant in societies of any size, ranging from small hunter-gatherer
groups to modern nation states. Yet, their effects are not the same in diverse social contexts.
Although Tikal and other large Maya centers invested considerable effort to secure theatrical
spaces for mass spectacles, gatherings of the entire community--thus face-to-face contact
between elites and non-elites--were becoming increasingly difficult. These large centers may
have been moving toward the establishment of a bureaucratic system of a more impersonal
nature (Houston et al. 2003:234). It is suggestive that royal compounds of these large centers
generally had more restricted access, and their occupants were more shielded from outside than
those of smaller centers. The later course of history in the Maya area through the collapse of
many Classic-period polities and the emergence of Postclassic centers, however, tells us that
Maya society never completely crossed this threshold.

Large plazas of Classic Maya centers were designed to accommodate a large number of
individuals. The plazas of small to medium-sized centers, in particular, most likely held the
majority of the community members on ceremonial occasions. Although the accommodation of
the entire population in one plaza became increasingly difficult at large centers as the polity
grew, their residents still made a significant effort to secure spaces for mass spectacles by
creating plazas outside of core areas and constructing wide causeways. Along with prominent
representations of rulers on stone monuments placed in plazas, these data indicate that the
Classic Maya strongly emphasized the theatrical performance and visibility of rulers. Theatrical
events probably held together a Maya community around the ruler and the royal court,
compensating for a tendency toward fragmentation. The elite may have taken advantages of
these opportunities to advance their political agendas, but they were at the same time under
constant evaluation by viewers. The presence of plazas of varying sizes at a center suggests that
theatrical events also divided the community, separating those who were allowed to participate in
exclusive performance from the less privileged.
These observations remind us that human sociality is rooted in the sensory perceptions of
others. Public performance is politically significant in any society precisely because this
fundamental aspect of social engagement plays out prominently in theatrical events. Still, social
effects of spectacles are particularly evident in premodern centralized polities, in which constant
face-to-face interactions of members were no longer possible and print media and other
technologies of mass communication were not widely available. In Classic Maya society, and
possibly in various other ancient polities in the world, public events gave physical reality to the
imagined community as the participants witnessed the bodily presence of others and shared
common experience. The political importance of public performance in diverse historical
contexts also derives from the process in which it objectifies otherwise abstract notions of
cultural and moral values through embodied acts and materialized symbols. Such objectified
notions do not necessarily represent homogenized meaning shared by different individuals and
groups but provide tangible, common points of reference upon which people can reflect and
negotiate. In other words, theatrical events set stages for the creation and imposition of power
relations and associated ideologies, as well as resistance to and subversion of them. Instead of
assuming the existence of collectively-held subjective meaning in performance, we need to
address how performance becomes meaningful in terms of political processes with its inherent
multivocality and the inescapable physicality of human bodies, spaces, and objects that condition
and effect the social reality as perceived and acted out by the participants.

I thank Lawrence Coben, Stephen Houston, and Daniela Triadan for stimulating discussion on
this subject. Patricia McAnany and Julia Sanchez, as well as anonymous reviewers, provided
thoughtful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Table 1: The Sizes and Estimated Capacities of Plazas of Tikal, Copan, and Aguateca

Area (m
) Estimated Capacities
(Number of people and the percentage of the total population)
0.46 m
/person 1 m
/person 3.6 m

Tikal (estimated population = 62,000)
Great Plaza
8,506 18,491 29.8 % 8,506 13.7 % 2,363 3.8 %
West Plaza (include areas in front of Temple III)
22,918 49,822 80.4 % 22,918 37.0 % 6,366 10.3 %
East Plaza
6,969 15,150 24.4 % 6,969 11.2 % 1,936 3.1 %
Total Central area
38,393 83,463 134.6 % 38,393 61.9 % 10,665 17.2 %

Area in front of Temple IV (include parts of the causeways)
30,068 65,365 105.4 % 30,068 48.5 % 8,352 13.5 %
Area in front of Temple VI
25,963 56,441 91.0 % 25,963 41.9 % 7,212 11.6 %

Twin pyramid complexes
Complex Q
11,322 24,613 39.7 % 11,322 18.3% 3,145 5.1 %
Complex R
11,880 25,826 41.7 % 11,880 19.2 % 3,300 5.3 %

Copn (estimated population = 22,000)
Great Plaza
12,747 27,711 126.0 % 12,747 57.9 % 3,541 16.1 %
Middle Plaza
10,932 23,765 108.0 % 10,932 49.7 % 3,037 13.8 %
East Plaza
11,194 24,335 110.6 % 11,194 50.9 % 3,109 14.1 %
Court of the Hieroglyphic Stairway
5,123 11,137 50.6 % 5,123 23.3 % 1,423 6.5 %
Total Ceremonial Plaza area
39,996 86,948 395.2 % 39,996 181.8 % 11,110 50.5 %

East Court
4,435 9,641 43.8 % 4,435 20.2 % 1,232 5.6 %
West Court
6,069 13,193 60.0 % 6,069 27.6 % 1,686 7.7 %

Aguateca (Estimated population = 8,000)
Main Plaza
11,456 24,904 311.3 % 11,456 143.2 % 3,182 39.8 %
Palace Group Plaza
3,289 7,150 89.4 % 3,289 41.1 % 914 11.4 %

Note: The areas of plazas include the surround terrace steps. The capacities of terrace steps are based on their areas
regardless of the number of steps.


Figure 1. Map of the Maya area with the locations of the centers mentioned in the text.

Figure 2. Stela H of Copn that depicts the ruler, Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kawiil, in elaborate
ceremonial attire. Behind it is the stairway that defines the eastern edge of the Great Plaza.

Figure 3. A graffiti found at Tikal, which depicts a ruler carried on a large litter with a statue
(Trik and Kampen 1983: Figure 72).

Figure 4. Map of Tikal.

Figure 5. Map of Copn.


Figure 6. Map of Aguateca.


Figure 7. The Great Plaza of Tikal viewed from Structure 5D-71 of the Central Acropolis.

Figure 8. The Middle Plaza and the Great Plaza of Copn viewed from the ball court.

Figure 9. The throne of Structure 5D-119 of the Central Acropolis, which faces the Great Plaza.