Lily Haeberle

Period 3
Comparative Essay: Tang vs. Maya
While the Maya Empire was established in 250 A.D. the Tang Empire had yet to
developed until 618 A.D. And although they were created approximately 400 years apart, they
ended at the same time, around 900 A.D. (900 A.D.-Maya, 907 A.D.-Tang). The reigns of these
two empires were full of innovation and victories however. The Mayans invented their own
calendar, mathematics and writing system. They also built elaborate and colorful buildings and
monuments only using simple technology such as levers and stone tools. Their rulers were highly
religious and often connected the supernatural to their politics. The Mayans had a strong military
but its main purpose was not like any other. The Tang Empire flourished by utilizing Buddhist
beliefs to further their political and religious practices. Tang China was successful in trade
because their roads, rivers and canal routes offered access to their highly desired porcelain and
silk. Their military was focused on territorial expansion and succeeded to conquer many areas in
Asia. At the same time, around 400 A.D., the Byzantines faced threats from the Germanic Goths
and the Huns. By 634 A.D., the Byzantine Empire was under the attack of the Muslims who
destroyed the Sasanids (a former threat to Byzantine) and took control of Byzantine territory,
Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. The Mayans and the Tangs shared more differences and similarities
with each other than either one did with the Byzantine Empire. The Maya Empire and the Tang
Empire differed in their organizational structure and militaristic goals but were alike in their
religious connections to politics and women’s role in politics.
One of the major differences between the Maya and the Tang is that they organized their
empire in different ways. The Mayans were never unified politically. They divided their empire
into city-states that were governed by hereditary leaders who were the kings, or ‘Ahaw’, of the

state. They often competed with each other for regional dominance. Each state had its own
central government and ruled as a state system. Although they were separate city-states, they
shared similar ideologies, rituals and political alliances. In contrast, the Tang was a unified
empire with a single emperor. They avoided over-centralization by using local nobles and gentry
to exercise control. The empire was divided into political districts called ‘Zhou’s and ‘Xian’s.
There were 328 Zhou’s and 1,573 Xian’s at the end of Kaiyuan reign. The reason that these two
empires differed in their organizational structure is because of different views on strategies to
rule an empire.
The other major difference between the two empires is that the Mayans and the Tangs had
different militaristic goals. The Mayans wanted to go to war to capture their enemies rather than
capture land. Their goal was to capture enemies instead of killing them. They wanted to capture
their enemies because they could then use them in rituals such as human sacrifice. Kings and
kingsmen actively participated in the wars as well and it was the captured elites who were
sacrificed and the commoners who were enslaved. This military strategy shows where the
empire’s political priorities lie. The Tang Empire had territorial conquest high on their priority
list. They fought in many wars to conquer land such as the northern area of the Mongolian
Plateau, northeastern China, the northern Korean Peninsula, the Baiji area including the
southwestern Korean Peninsula and Central Asia. The Tang instituted strict military leadership
and the military power was under the control of the emperor. The strict regulations on the
military helped ensure the army to become more powerful. They could not have conquered so
much land without order and power. The Mayans were set on capturing prisoners instead of land
because sacrifice was so important to them and their religion. Sacrifice was the only way they
believed they could connect with the supernatural world and they felt that if they didn’t feed the

Gods with human blood, they would be punished. While the Mayans were focused on religious
aspects of war, the Tangs wanted to expand their empire and fight to gain territory so that they
could spread out and rule more people.
Apart from their differences, these two empires were more alike in the religious and
social aspects of politics. The Maya and the Tang both connected their religious beliefs to their
politics. The Mayans built religious temples and created rituals that linked the power of the kings
to the gods. The Mayan rulers served both political and priestly functions. They dressed in
colorful costumes and painted their bodies to emit secular power. They believed in Izamn, the
fire and earth God, and also Kukulkan, the feathered serpent. They communicated with the
supernatural through bloodletting rituals such as sacrifice, as stated earlier. The Ahaw would
offer his own blood to his ancestors to show his not only religious control but also his social
control to his people and rival states. Similarly, the Tang used Buddhism politically. The
emperors legitimized their control by using the Buddhist belief that kings were spiritual agents
who bring their subjects into the Buddhist realm. By protecting the spirits, the emperor would
receive aid in governing his state and no harm would come to his people. Tang emperors such as
Emperor Wu and Emperor Taizong asked monasteries to pray for them and gain them support
and in exchange the monasteries were given tax exemptions, land and other gifts. These two
empires can relate on this account because religion was very important to most people and they
wanted to please their Gods as would any devout religious person would want.
The Mayans and the Tangs both had female involvement in their politics. Women
occasionally ruled Classic Maya cities. Two rulers of the city-state, Palenque, were Lady Yohl
Ik’nal and Lady Sak K’uk. Lady Yohl Ik’nal was the first female ruler recorded in Mayan
history. Women of the ruling lineage also played important roles in religious rituals. They

participated in bloodletting ceremonies that legitimize the rule of their ruling husbands. The Tang
only ever had one woman who ruled their empire, Empress Wu Zetian. She utilized Buddhism to
support and legitimize her rule by building Buddhist temples and making Buddhism the favored
religion of the state. Some were critical of Empress Wu, saying that she was an autocrat who
would do anything to keep her power. It was also extremely rare for a woman to come into
power in the Mayan cities by being borne into a full royal title. Normally women would rule due
to a lack of a male heir or they were filling in for their son to come of age, and not all ruled on
their own. It almost seems as if it was an exception that a woman came to high power in these
empires. And when they did, they were criticized. It shows the position women held in society
and how they were still limited and not completely the equivalent to their male counterparts.