Maya WI: The Kaanul defeat Tikal in 695 AD

By all reports the Kaanul (or "Snakes") empire was something quite unlike any other Classical Mayan state. It was more organized and larger (at its height ruling over a realm of some 1.75 million people, 250,000 of those city dwellers) than anything that had come before.

For some centuries, the Kaanul competition with the powerful city of Tikal was the dominant force in Mayan politics, with both cities building alliances with, sponsoring putsches in, or outright conquering other Mayan cities, with even powerful cities like Copán subject internal violence sponsored by the competing powers.

The Kaanul would finally rise to supremacy when King "Sky Witness" crushed Tikal in battle in 562. However, this period of ascendancy would only last 133 years. It would end in 695 AD with another battle with Tikal - this one under the obese and likely diabetic King Yuknoom Ixquiac (or "Jaguar Paw Smoke"). After this, no comparable Mayan empire arose until the Chichen Itza built her empire in the Postclassical period.

What makes the Kaanul's fall particularly interesting is that the weak organizational abilities of late Cassical Mayan polities seems to have played a big role in making the Mayan collapse after 900 AD so bad. Better organized polities would have been able to institute food and water management policies to lessen the severity of the disaster. And the Kaanul kingdom, had it survived until 900 AD, seems to have possessed the requisite organization.

So let's say that Yuknoom Ixquiac (who in his younger years seems to have been a capable enough military commander) eats less soft tomales and avoids his diabetes. When the briefly resurgent armies of Tikal seek battle with him, it is they who end up getting crushed and the king of Tikal gets sacrificed. Tikal thus continues its decline and the Kaanul kingdom continues to solidify its power.

By 900 AD, it would probably be on its last legs, but let's say that it still has the authority to get the governors of the satellite cities (the Kaanul allowed only one king - the Kaanul king of kings - rulers of subject cities were not allowed to be kings) to institute some water management and food storage and rationing policies. Most likely the Kaanul fall during the period of environmental stress (in 900 AD their empire would be 338 years old - most empires don't make it past 350 years). What sort of legacy would this more organized late Classical Maya period have and what sort of legacy would a less severe Mayan collapse have?

My first thought is that whichever European nation sends conquistadors in this ATL, the Mayan region would likely fall more easily (since a more centralized civilization is a more easily conquered civilization) and likely more important during the colonial period, due to greater population and wealth.

fasquardon
 
So, I am guessing this is one of those cases where it is an interesting WI, but no-one feels they know enough to comment?

fasquardon
 
Pretty much. There is a lot that's still not understood about the Mayan decline.

One problem is that most of our knowledge of the Kaanul comes from their enemies, AIUI, both due to preservation issues at Calakmul and the fact that Tikal has been better excavated. Although it's been years since I did much reading on the subject, so I'm not sure to what extent that's changed.
 
I tend to think an aversion of the Collapse could actually benefit the Maya by the time the Spanish come knocking. While its simpler to target a centralized state, it's easier to take advantage of divisive warring factions which is what the Spanish did IOTL instead of taking on a unified front. The Yucatan was the first place on the mainland they got to really so they wouldn't have had a lot of native auxiliaries to gather if they wanted to topple a hypothetical Kaan hegemony that lasted several centuries more.
 
I've been reading a book called "The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life and Death" by Richardson Gill, and if it is accurate, there would have been no hope for any of the central Mayan cities to survive. The megadrought was simply too long and severe. It lasted two centuries, from c. 800 to c. 1000, and none of the great Mayan cities made it more than half-way through it before expiring.

It also makes a strong case that Chichen Itza has been incorrectly dated, and was abandoned (like every other Mayan city in the region) in the Terminal Classic, with the last recorded calendar date actually being 911, comparable to the other longest-lasting Mayan cities. The great Post-Classical city never existed, instead there was a 300-year non-urbanized hiatus between the death of the Classical Maya world and the rise of Mayapan. This is supported by the radiocarbon evidence as well.

The book goes into considerable detail about what must have happened at that time, and it is very grim reading. Almost the entire population of the Classical Mayan lands (many million of people) died where they had lived, of hunger, thirst and exposure, in the first half of the megadrought. In the second half, there were hardly any people left in the entire region. The people who eventually repopulated the region after the megadrought ended came from the fringes of the Mayan world, and mostly spoke different languages/dialects from the previous inhabitants.
 
It also makes a strong case that Chichen Itza has been incorrectly dated, and was abandoned (like every other Mayan city in the region) in the Terminal Classic, with the last recorded calendar date actually being 911, comparable to the other longest-lasting Mayan cities

That is very interesting!

So does that mean Chichen Itza's empire flourished between c. 700 AD and 900 AD?

I've been reading a book called "The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life and Death" by Richardson Gill, and if it is accurate, there would have been no hope for any of the central Mayan cities to survive. The megadrought was simply too long and severe. It lasted two centuries, from c. 800 to c. 1000, and none of the great Mayan cities made it more than half-way through it before expiring.

My understanding is that there was still water available - but due to the porous nature of the stone beneath the lowlands, the remaining water was underground where the Maya couldn't reach it. Might better wells have made the collapse less serious?

Or is my understanding completely wrong?

fasquardon
 
So does that mean Chichen Itza's empire flourished between c. 700 AD and 900 AD?

Some short quotes from the book (should be allowable under fair use):

The radiocarbon evidence from Chichen Itza itself ranges from cal AD 670 to 890 plus/minus a few years at either end. Two independent sources of dates, hieroglyphic and radiocarbon, coincide; both fall before AD 900. Further, they fall within the stated dates for the arrival of the Itza at Chichen Itza in katun 8 Ahau, ending AD 692, and their abandonment of the city for Champoton in katun 1 Ahau, ending 899, in The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin and slightly different but similar dates in The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, as interpreted by Edmonson. There appears, from the dates on buildings, to have been no major construction after 900. [...] Chichen Itza would appear to have been a Classic Maya city and to have suffered the same fate as other Classic Maya cities.

Classic civilization throughout the Maya Lowlands appears to have collapsed by at least AD 910. The immediate aftermath, however, is very difficult to determine. There are indications from some lines of evidence that the collapse was abrupt. Other lines of evidence indicate a more gradual decline over the course of a century or so.
 
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The radiocarbon evidence from Chichen Itza itself ranges from cal AD 670 to 890 plus/minus a few years at either end.

Hmmm. Sounds like a surviving Kaanul empire may have faced off against a rising Chichen Itza then.

Sounds like it would make an interesting story, for sure!

There are indications from some lines of evidence that the collapse was abrupt. Other lines of evidence indicate a more gradual decline over the course of a century or so.

I'm guessing that the places where collapse was abrupt would not have been salvageable by any sort of state system.

I would have thought the places where there was a more gradual decline would have been able to do better though.

(I would lay good odds on the collapse doing the Kaanul empire itself in, regardless. The best chance for the Kaanul to be the ruling empire when the Europeans arrive is for Kaanul empire to collapse, then some member of the dynasty rebuilding a neo-Kaanul empire as conditions improved.)

fasquardon
 
It's a terrible shame that the inscriptions at Calakmul are mostly unreadable. I suppose it was almost inevitable, they naturally used local rock which happened to be a soft easily eroded limestone, but if there was one city I would wish had all its inscriptions readable, it would be Calakmul.
 
Another quote from The Great Maya Droughts:

Most sites in the southern and central Lowlands were abandoned after the Collapse. Those few sites not abandoned had reduced populations. Surviving inhabitants in the Peten Lake District were concentrated on islands or along the shores, where long-term sources of drinking water were available. In the basins of Lakes Yaxha and Sacnab, population was confined to the Topoxte Islands and a landlocked peninsula in the southwestern portion of Lake Yaxha. In Lake Macanche, population was restricted to Macanche Island. In addition, on the ithmuses of Muralla de Leon and Ixlu, and on the Zacpeten peninsula, the Postclassic population was not broadly distributed across the landscape, but rather situated in densely settled nucleated communities on naturally defensible landforms, largely surrounded by water and broken terrain.
 
but rather situated in densely settled nucleated communities on naturally defensible landforms, largely surrounded by water and broken terrain.

This is a big reason I would have thought strong state institutions could have helped cushion the collapse - if an empire - or several decent sized successor kingdoms - had existed to provide security, then habitation could have continued in some of the more favorable areas for living.

fasquardon
 
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