One Name, One Person: The Problem of Reconstructing the List of Early Kings of Piedras Negras in Light of the Hieroglyphic Texts from Yaxchilan

Keywords: Classic Maya, hieroglyphic texts, political history, Yaxchilan, Piedras Negras


This article is concerned with an important episode in the early history of two neighboring kingdoms located in the western part of the Maya lowlands: Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras. The two sites were at war with each other and sought dominance in the Upper Usumacinta region for almost the entire duration of Classic Maya history (3rd to 10th centuries AD). The article examines some controversial issues related to the founding of the Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras dynasties and highlights the initial stage of their military confrontation, which took place in the second half of the 5th century. It is shown that the founders of both royal houses were probably of non-local origin, having arrived in their new capitals from elsewhere. The main sources used in this work are hieroglyphic inscriptions from Yaxchilan: lintels 11, 35, 37, and 49 and Hieroglyphic Stairway 1. These texts contain a list of local kings and a brief description of their military triumphs. In particular, it is mentioned that Jatz’oom Jol, the seventh ruler of Yaxchilan, and his successor Yaxuun Bahlam II gained victories over Piedras Negras and seized important captives. A ruler of Piedras Negras called Itzam K'an Ahk is mentioned in connection with both wars. Jatz’oom Jol captured Itzam K'an Ahk himself in the second half of the 450s at the earliest, and Yaxuun Bahlam II captured a military commander who served Itzam K'an Ahk in the late 460s or 470s. The opinion that two different rulers who successively sit on the throne of Piedras Negras, Itzam K'an Ahk I ("Ruler A") and Itzam K'an Ahk II ("Ruler B"), are mentioned on the Yaxchilan triumphal monuments is firmly established in historiography. However, having two successive Maya kings with the same name on the throne would have run contrary to the established practice of changing regnal names: the direct heir to the throne never repeated the name of their predecessor in the history of Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras. Besides that, the monuments from Yaxchilan only mention the capture of the enemy king, not his death. Maya history is replete with examples of defeated rulers returning home after being captured and ruling their kingdoms for many more years. This is what may have happened to Itzam K'an Ahk I. However, there is a plausible explanation for his being mentioned twice that is even simpler. Subordinate rulers and dignitaries in Classic Maya society maintained a personal relationship with their overlords even after the death of the latter. A military commander from Piedras Negras could remain a man of Itzam K'an Ahk I even if his suzerain had died in captivity long before the second war. Therefore, there are no sufficient grounds for distinguishing between the early Piedras Negras kings Itzam K'an Ahk I and Itzam K'an Ahk II. It is much more likely that the same person, namely the enemy king Itzam K'an Ahk I, is mentioned in the inscriptions in Yaxchilan and the list of rulers of Piedras Negras requires correction.


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How to Cite
Styuflyaev, M. (2023). One Name, One Person: The Problem of Reconstructing the List of Early Kings of Piedras Negras in Light of the Hieroglyphic Texts from Yaxchilan. The Journal of V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. Series: History, (63), 30-61.