Rule by Councils and Judges

Rule by Councils and Judges

by Daniel R. Johnson USA: California: 2011

Divine kings have always been an integral part of Maya culture, but later sites in the Northern Lowlands instituted a new form of government, perhaps in response to the widespread collapse at the end of the Classic era. At Chichén Itzá, leaders established a capital by conquering surrounding sites and establishing a hegemony, but now it was based on the new principal of multepal, or “joint rule.” Chichén had its divine kings, but unlike their earlier counterparts to the south, they did not erect stelae with texts proclaiming their births, accessions, or victories. Neither do we find accounts of father-to-son dynasties n the records that have survived.

Traditions claim that Chichén was ruled by a council of three brothers who seem to be equal in rank to each other. Kingship was dissolved and this revolutionary confederacy, which apparently originated at Chichén at the time of its founding, continued here and at later sites in the Yucatán like Mayapán . The Temple of the Chac Mool, an early council house buried underneath the Temple of the Warriors, contains a mural depicting an empty throne surrounded by figures, emphasizing the seat of government, rather than an individual leader.

Among the 57 male names that have been identified in Chichén’s inscriptions, a common component is the word kokom. Even down to the time of the Spanish conquest, this was a well-known lineage of Yucatec rulers, but it also designated the office of judge. The title k’ul kokom (divne or venerable judge) was associated with personal names and it is likely that this office was handed down through heredity in the Yucatán until it eventually became a patronymic lineage.68 While Maya kings in the Highlands and Southern Lowlands held the title k’ul ahau (divine lord), in the Yucatán they were judges.

Kak-u-Pakal is a name that appears more than any other at the site. According to its records, he was part of a triumvirate that founded and ruled Chichén. The other members were Hun Pik Tok and Yawahal Cho Chak, who held the title of k’ul kokom, or judge, the highest administrative office. Kak-u-Pakal was commander of the military forces and closely assisted the judge. Hun Pik Tok was also a divine lord of Ek Balam, but his function in this council is unclear. It is likely that these three unrelated men were the founding brothers of legend.

Chichén Itzá’s history may contain some parallels with Nephite records. After the death of the first Nephi, the people were ruled by kings, some righteous, some wicked, until the time of King Benjamin. Because his own son refused the throne, he instituted what became known as the reign of the judges, as recorded in Mosiah 29:11. With varying degrees of success, they governed the Nephites for much of their history. This was an elected rather than inherited office, but often brothers competed for the same position. At times, a judge’s son might take over upon his father’s death, as was the case with Pahoran, who was appointed as the third chief judge of the Nephites. Even though Pahoran was the overall ruler, Captain Moroni, as leader of the Nephite armies, held an influential (hereditary?) role in the government. His working relationship with Pahoran appears remarkably similar to that of Yawahal Cho Chak and Kak-u-Pakal, the founding multepal of Chichén Itzá.