Aztec or Mayan: What's the Difference?

EDITOR NOTE: Differences between the two native cultures of Mexico are plenty. Aztecs were more of a warrior culture and the Mayans held high regard to the study of science and astronomy and were even credited with inventing zero as a number. Both had strong beliefs that sacrifice was necessary to please the gods.

Aztecs and Mayans are both ancient American civilizations that the conquering Spaniards encountered when they set foot on that continent. There were some important differences between the two. Firstly the Aztecs were huge believers of human sacrifice and were at it all the time. The Mayans on the other hand believed in offering blood instead, though they were not averse to sacrificing the captain of a leading football team!

What really set the Mayans apart was there very scientific temperament. They studied stars and in fact had come up with a very scientific calendar comparable to the modern one. They had an obsession with time and tried to measure it by studying astronomy and correlating it with their current events. The Aztecs on the other hand were a very warlike people who waged war against their neighboring tribes forcing them to pay tribute. The male warrior had the pride of place in the Aztec society. Among the Mayans who consisted of many city states, each with their own sovereign ruler, the ruler’s prestige mattered the most. The Aztecs on the other hand were ruled by one supreme ruler.

The Aztecs and Mayans were at different geographical locations as well. While the former ruled the roost in Central America the latter held sway in the western South America. The Mayans are an older people and were around a thousand years before the Aztecs even arrived in Central America. The Aztecs were the dominant culture in Mexico at the time of Cortez’s arrival in Mexico in the 1500s. The Mayans by then had deteriorated into a decadent and decrepit race living on past glory. The Mayans still live in the Yucatan in much the same way as their post classic ancestors. The Aztecs, who on the other hand were decimated by the Spaniards, can perhaps be glimpsed among the present day Mexicans. Their languages too were different. The Aztecs spoke Nahuatl, while the Mayans spoke Maya. Their names for God too were different. Aztecs called him Quetzalcoatl and the Mayans had Kukulcan.

The Mayan style of art was true to life, having representations of contemporary life in murals. Among the Aztecs were outstanding craftsmen and sculptors. Of the two the Mayans were a gentler and kinder, civilization. The Aztecs on the other hand were a proud war like people who took pride in their martial tradition. Perhaps that is the reason that the fearsome Aztecs are no longer around. They lived by the sword and died by it. The Mayans on the other hand can still be found in the millions.

Thus we can see that two native American civilizations distinct from each other and separated by location, religion, custom and indeed time can still dazzle the modern world with their achievements and way of life. Their contact with the old world led to their demise, more so in the case of Aztecs, and this wanton loss of a way of life makes you wonder about the motivations of the so called more advanced Spaniards who colonized a continent.

  • Aztecs believed in human sacrifice, the Mayans believed in offering blood.

  • The Mayans had a scientific bent of mind and studied the stars, The Aztecs were warlike.

  • The Mayans had city states each ruled by a sovereign ruler, the Aztecs were ruled by a supreme ruler.

  • Aztecs spoke Nahuatl, while the Mayans spoke Maya

  • Aztecs called God Quetzalcoatl and the Mayans Kukulcan.

  • The Mayan style of art was true to life, having representations of contemporary life in murals. The Aztecs were outstanding craftsmen and sculptors

Originally Published on: Difference Between

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