On two separate sides of the world, at different times in history, were two civilizations so different it seems unlikely they would have anything in common. The Mayans were located in, present day Yucatan Peninsula and the Guatemalan Highlands. They thrived from 2000 B.C. until 1500 A.D. The Greeks were, and still are, in modern day Greece. They lasted from 2500 B.C. until 641 A.D. All civilizations have the same basic “ingredients”, three of which are religion, some form of commerce, and government.
The Mayans had a polytheistic religion. They worshipped many gods that were represented by physical objects in nature. Their relationship with their gods served to explain events in nature. The sun, moon, rain, earth, and maize (corn) are just a few of the objects worthy enough to have a god that controlled them. To stay on the good side of the gods the Mayans would sacrifice animals in the god’s honor. If they felt like a more worthy sacrifice was needed, humans were sacrificed; this practice was not frowned upon because it was thought to be an honor to die, if sacrificed to the gods. The human in question would be guaranteed honor in the afterlife, and would be credited for saving their family and people that were still living.
The Mayan’s form of commerce did not include coin money. It was more of a bartering type of commerce. A chicken could be traded for six pieces of gold or a basket of maize. Jade was valued above everything else until the cacao bean. Jade to the Mayans was very valued and was like our fifty dollar bill while cacao beans would be our hundred dollar bill. Goods were moved from city to city using the rivers that ran through the Mayan’s territory. At the height of their economical power, the Mayans were the center of trade and commerce in the Americas.
In the beginning, the Mayan’s were not ruled by one king or governing body, just village leaders. As time went on, the Mayans banded together and formed different social classes. Nobility was the smallest yet most influential class. One family of this noble class became royalty and a man of their family, king. From then on the Mayans were ruled by a king who was thought to have the powers of a demigod. Once dead his sons or another male relation would take the throne.
The Greeks had a polytheistic religion also but their gods possessed human like qualities and were not meant to explain the world and nature, but to explain to the Greeks why humans were they way they were when fits of passion took control or in everyday life. The Greek gods controlled the fate of every Greek and had super human strength. Their leader, Zeus, is the god of the sky and has two brothers, Poseidon and Hades (the latter rules the underworld while the other rules the sea and horses). There are twelve major gods and goddesses and many others of lesser importance, all of which are a family. The gods are the sons, daughters, wife, sisters, or brothers of Zeus.
The Greeks were located in a land whose terrain was mountainous and dry. No major rivers ran through Greece and the terrain was too rocky to move goods across in a timely fashion. So they turned to the sea that surrounded them and became the best sailors in the Mediterranean. The Greeks shipped olive oil, pottery, bronze, silver and gold vessels, wine, and textiles to Egypt, Persia, and Africa for other exotic items or food since it was hard to grow crops in the infertile soil of Greece. The Greeks starting in 600 B.C. had coined money. They still bartered for goods, but coined money was used in trade and was the most dominant form of currency.
Every city-state in Greece had its own form of government. The city-states were their own countries in a sense, because they had their own political structure. Greece was not a unified empire because of the mountainous terrain that separated every settlement. They all had a sense of superiority and a bond to their fellow Greeks, but a stronger bond tied them to their own city-state. All of the city-states started as a monarchy ruled by aristocracy or, if a militaristic city-state like Sparta, a dictatorship. Many city-states at some point rebelled against this form of government and had a tyrant who was in power for the common people. The common people in many city-states, like Athens, soon overthrew their tyrant and created a form of government named popular government. Athens was the only city –state that created a democracy, the first ever. Overtime democracy in Athens changed but was always a democracy in some form or another.
The Mayans and the Greeks both had polytheistic religions, but the reasons for the religion were different. The Mayans wanted to have an explanation for nature while the Greeks wanted an answer to why humans acted they way they did. The Greek gods were related while the gods for the Mayans were their own person and had nothing to do with the other gods. Both the Mayans and the Greeks used water ways to transport goods; rivers and oceans, and were the centers for trade and commerce. The Greeks used coin money though, while the Mayans continued to use the system of bartering throughout their civilization. The Mayans and Greeks started out with the same form of government, monarchy, but that is where the similarities end. The Mayans were a unified empire under one king throughout their civilization, while the Greeks were separated and had city-states all with their own form of government. All of the city-states went through changes with their governments and were not a unified empire under one king. While the Mayans and Greeks do have some basic similarities, the two civilizations are too different to be “peas in a pod”.