Mayan Population

The Mayan population originally grew as a result of the Mayan people’s move towards an agrarian lifestyle in the Archaic Period, before 2000 B.C. As these populations settled down into towns and villages, they concentrated on places where they could grow their crops better. Eventually they grew into cities which became as large as having populations of more than 100,000 during the Mayan Classic Period. At the end of the Classic Period, the Mayan population in southern Mayan kingdoms suddenly eroded and shifted for the most part to Mayan lowlands and northern regions.

History of the Mayan Population

Sometime before the 2000 B.C., Mayan people started settling down into villages after taking up agriculture as the primary method of attaining food. These populations became complex and grew first into towns and then cities. The augmentation of the populations in the city-states also improved agricultural methods and the varieties of crops grown by the Mayans. By 750 B.C., Mayans were already living in proper cities with monumental constructions. During the Classic period, major concentrations of the Mayan population were in the great cities of Tikal and Calakmul.


The Mayan population originally grew as a result of the Mayan people’s move towards an agrarian lifestyle in the Archaic Period, before 2000 B.C.

Mayan Populations in Major Cities

Among the early major cities with a huge Mayan population was the city of El Mirador. El Mirador had a population of 100,000 and 250,000 between 1 A.D. and 3 A.D. The ancient Mayan city of Tikal reached the peak of its population in the 8th century with as many as 90,000 inhabitants at the time of its peak. The city of Copan had a Mayan population of up to 20,000 in the Late Classic period. The Mayan city of Coba had an estimated population of 50,000 during the 1st century. Calakmul in the Yucatan Peninsula emerged as a populous Mayan city during the Late Classic period with population reaching 50,000 at its peak.

Population Constitution

Mayan populations, for the most part, comprised of farmers. Since the Mayan society was highly dependent on agriculture, a large number of people were needed to cultivate the required amounts of maize, the staple Mayan food. As a result, huge majorities of most Mayan cities were either directly or indirectly linked with an agricultural occupation. Merchants and craftsmen were also in abundance in the Mayan cities since trade was a vital part of the economy. The fewest in number were the nobility who had a maximum of privileges and rights. The nobility typically occupied positions of civil administration, political offices and as military chiefs during times of war.

Population Problems

Towards the 9th and 10th centuries, major Mayan centres with huge populations were all of a sudden abandoned by their immense populations. The Mayans centres of population then shifted to the lowlands and northern regions. Many experts claim that this was due to the problem of overpopulation in these huge cities. According to researchers, overpopulation led to severe and rapid environmental deterioration which directly affected agriculture. And once Mayans could no longer sustain their huge populations with agriculture, the cities became unsustainable and had to be abandoned. While overpopulation and environmental factors certainly played a role in the collapse of the southern Mayan cities, they were but one of the many reasons that contributed to their downfall.

Mayan Social Classes

Mayan population in major cities was large, varied and strictly hierarchical. At the top of the hierarchy was the nobility which comprised of the political and administrative elite. They primarily dominated governmental affairs and occupied jobs of an administrative nature. They also served as military chiefs.

Under the nobility came the priests, who were sometimes considered at par with the nobles. The priests were tasked with religious rituals and sacrifices, education of the society at large, divination and key sciences such as astronomy, Mayan calendar, Mayan script and writing and mathematics.

On the next ladder of the social organisation came the merchants and craftsmen. Merchants could come from the nobility or they could also hail from the peasant class, lower down in the social order. The same applied to the craftsmen. Being associated with either of these two occupations was a leg up for the peasants who managed to do this by excelling in education and displaying the relevant skills. Peasants stood at the next step down of the social order and were most often concerned with farming, fishing, hunting and other jobs related with food gathering.

Mayan Population Peak

The Mayan population reached its peak during the Classic Period, between the 3rd and the 10th centuries. In this period, a number of major Mayan population centres grew in different regions. It is estimated that some 40 Mayan cities existed during this period, some of them with populations reaching 100,000 and more. At the peak of the Mayan civilisation during the Classic Period, researchers claim that the Mayan population reached around 2,000,000.

Mayan Population Summary

Mayans primarily comprised of a nomadic population which settled down sometime around 2000 B.C. into an agrarian lifestyle. This population then grew into towns and villages which grew different crops to sustain themselves. Over time, the towns and villages grew into cities with huge populations and complex social orders. During the Mayan Classic Period, between 3rd and 6th century, a number of Mayan cities with huge populations rose to prominence.

The population of the largest Mayan cities grew as high as 200,000. In the Classic Period, the Mayan population was primarily concentrated at the southern cities of the Mayan civilisation. At the end of the Classic Period, during the 9th and 10th centuries, the Mayan population in the southern regions underwent a rapid decline. In its place, the population in the northern Mayan regions and lowlands began to increase. As a result, many great Mayan cities were established in these regions during the PostClassic period.

Mayan populations typically comprised of a set social order with different classes and the rights and privileges of each of these classes clearly defined. The population in each Mayan city was divided into nobility and peasants, with peasants often rising to a sort of middle-class by engaging in trade and by becoming artisans. However, nobility had exclusive political rights in most cases.