The Kings or Rulers

Who were the rulers buried?

Who was the last ruler?




Who was the first king of Copán?

Yax K'uk Mo'

The first king or ruler of Copán wasn't born in the Copán valley, but in Tikal. At that time, Tikal was a big Mayan city located in what is now the Petén area in Guatemala. The name of this ruler was Yax K'uk Mo', which means First Quetzal Macaw.The quetzal and the guacamaya were very special birds for the Mayas, so it was a big honour to be named like that. Yax K'uk Mo' probably came to Copán a little before the year 426. The town of Copán wasn't that big then and Yax K'uk Mo' took it over without many problems. From that time on, he was the ruler of Copán, and he held all the power

When Yax K'uk Mo' died, his son, Popol Hol took over the throne, and he passed rule onto his son when he died. So all the rulers have Yax K'uk Mo' as their ancestor. Little by little, the small town of Copán became a big city with a population ofmore than 25,000 people.
Lids of incense burners representing some of the rulers of Copán

How was the ruler crowned?

Blood sacrifice
When a ruler died, his eldest son took over the throne, without anyone considering how old he was, so sometimes the new ruler was very young, still a child! The life of a new young ruler wasn't easy. He had to make important decisions and survive as a warrior. He would participate in many religious ceremonies and at the age of 5 or 6, the boy sacrificed his own blood!
Through the murals and paintings on ceramics, we know that the coronation was a very important ceremony. The future ruler sat on a pillow covered with jaguar pelt and the priests would put a headdress on him decorated with pieces of jade and seashells. The new ruler also received a type of cane that was a symbol of his new power.
The ancient Mayas really knew how to throw a good party! Musicians would play their drums, flutes, conch shells, and maracas while the guests danced and the poets recited their latest poems. Unfortunately, there aren't any songs or musical compositions preserved from the ancient Mayas, but through the images found on the walls and through the music that the Mayan people still play today, we can imagine what the parties must have been like at that time.
Court scene

Who were the rulers buried?

Normally, the peopled buried their dead in or around their own houses, but the ruler was so important that he deserved a very special burial. They would prepare a tomb for him inside one of the temples and they would put the body of the ruler in there with grains of corn in his mouth so that the ruler could eat on his way to the underworld.
Royal tomb
Piece of pottery
They also left pieces of jades with him in case he had to offer something to the gods of the underworld. They also put precious gifts around his body: pieces of ceramic with incense and food, conch shells, animal skins, and jewelry - everything beautiful and valuable so that the dead ruler could continue his journey in luxury and glory.

How did the rulers dress?

Maya King
Thanks to what has been preserved from the ancient Mayas, we have a good amount of information about how the rulers dressed. And it was very different from how we dress today! The rulers didn't wear pants, but instead loincloths, a narrow, long piece of cloth that went around the hips and between the legs, kind of like a baby's diaper. They were embroidered and decorated with pearls and feathers. They also wore an embroidered cape over their shoulders, which was also sometimes decorated with feathers.
For ceremonies, they wrapped their heads with long pieces of cloth and decorated this turban or headdress with quetzal feathers and seashells. Sometimes the men braided their long hair, and they liked to adorn it with jade and obsidian jewelry. They wore rings through their noses and lips, and also wore earrings. Their wrists, knees, and ankles were decorated with bracelets or anklets, and around their waists, they wore leather belts that sometimes had jade plates on the front. They would also often hang human skulls from their belts! And for some events they would paint their bodies.
Because the Mayas only depicted the most important people in their paintings and statues, we don't know much about how the common people dressed. But some clues have been found that suggest that other men also used loincloths, although not as nice as those the royalty wore. They also wore capes over their shoulders, but also simpler than those of the important people. For shoes, the Mayas wore leather sandals. In general, we can say that the more important a person was, the more decorated and elaborate his or her clothes were. Women wore a 'huipil' (pronounced 'wee-peel'), a simple cotton dress that on some occasions was decorated around the neck. In Guatemala and Mexico, many women still dress in this way. The symbols that they embroider into the huipils tell where the women come from, what family they're from, and more!
Noble man's sandalFarmer's sandal

Who was 18 Rabbit?

Stela of 18 Rabbit
18 Rabbit, or Waxaklajuun Ub'Aah K'awiil (his name in Maya) was one of the most important rulers of Copán. He was crowned in the year 695 during the most glorious period of the kingdom, when the custom was to crown the oldest son, but in this case, they broke with tradition. 18 Rabbit was one of the younger sons. He was intelligent, curious, and had traveled a lot to different places in the Mayan world. He liked art and ordered the construction of many famous statues. We can see that every one of these statues is dressed as a different god. He did this to emphasize the he, too, was divine. There is a very beautiful statue of 18 Rabbit with depictures still in tact on both sides of his body. On the east side (where the sun comes up, a symbol of a new day and new life), we see a very young ruler, but on the other side, 18 Rabbit is looking to the west (where the sun goes down at the end of the day and at the end of life), depicted with a beard and as much older.
18 Rabbit also built the last ball court in Copán, which is the one we see today, but a few months after finishing its construction, 18 Rabbit was captured by the warriors from Quiriguá, a neighbouring Mayan city very close to the present-day border between Guatemala and Honduras. In the year 738, after being ruler for 43 years, 18 Rabbit died when the ruler of Quiriguá cut off his head.
Double faced stela of 18 Rabbit

Who are the men depicted on Altar Q?

Altar Q

Altar Q is one of the most fabulous parts of the Copán archeological site. It's a big cube-shaped stone that the Mayas used to sacrifice animals on that they would offer to the gods. On each side, they carved depictions of 4 people. Before, the archeologists thought that they were astonomers, but we now know that the people are the first 16 rulers of Copán. On the front part, we see the founder of the dynasty, Yax K'uk Mo', handing over the scepter of command (an elaborate type of cane or staff) to Yax Pasah.

 The ruler Yax Pasah had many problems during his reign, including not only hunger and sickness in the Copán valley, but he also had to face certain members of the nobility who tried to claim some of his political power and wealth. To show the people that only he was divine and the one who had the right to all the power, he commanded that this altar be built depicting him receiving power directly from the founder of the Copán dynasty.

Yax K'uk Mo' & Yax Pasah

Who was the last ruler?

The last ruler of Copán was named Ukit Took and he ascended to the throne in the year 822 at a time when, as we have seen, there were many problems in Copán. Ukit Took, in his desire to show the people his power, and imitating Yax Pasah, ordered the construction of an altar that was supposed to be as famous as Altar Q. But his problems increased and he never succeeded in finishing it, only one of the four sides was completed. We don't know if Ukit Took died in Copán nor if he fled, but what we do know is that when his reign ended, so did the glory of the city of Copán.
 Ukit Took

Did you know that...

Cross-eyed Kinich
People with a physical deformation (crossed eyes, crippled, midgets, hunchbacks, etc.) were considered divine and were respected. The Mayas believed that their bodies were like houses for the gods.
The Mayan rulers weren't named 'John' or 'Anthony'. Their names always had something to do with the gods and with nature, like the following: Monkey Smoke, 18 Rabbit (you can see the glyph of his name on the right), Snail Smoke, First Quetzal Guacamaya, and Moon Jaguar. An exception was the second ruler, Popol Hol, which meant 'Mat Head' .
18 Rabbit G
The wardrobe of the ancient Maya was very different from ours today. Nowadays we would never see an adult man wearing something like a diaper! But for the Mayas, it was very common. What was not common was showing one's belly button - that was considered indecent!