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Aztec vs. Mayan: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Published on January 9, 2024
The Aztec civilization was a Mesoamerican culture in central Mexico, known for its complex society and monumental architecture, whereas the Mayan civilization, located in the Yucatan Peninsula and beyond, is renowned for its advanced writing, astronomy, a
Aztec vs. Mayan

Key Differences

The Aztec Empire, flourishing in central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th century, was known for its intricate social and political organization, advanced agricultural methods, and significant achievements in engineering and architecture. In contrast, the Mayan civilization, which peaked between 250 and 900 AD in regions now part of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, is celebrated for its deep understanding of astronomy, sophisticated calendar systems, and hieroglyphic writing, one of the most complex in the pre-Columbian Americas.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024
Aztec religious practices centered around a pantheon of gods and involved complex rituals and human sacrifices, integral to their belief system. The Mayan civilization also had a rich pantheon but is particularly noted for its advancements in the field of astronomy, which played a significant role in their religious and cultural practices.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024
The Aztecs are renowned for their monumental architecture, including the grand Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, showcasing their engineering prowess. Mayans, on the other hand, left behind impressive ruins like Tikal and Chichen Itza, reflecting their architectural and astronomical expertise.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024
The Aztec economy was largely based on agriculture, particularly the cultivation of maize, and a complex trade network. The Mayan economy was similarly agricultural but also significantly bolstered by their development of trade routes throughout Mesoamerica.
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Jan 09, 2024
In language and writing, the Aztecs spoke Nahuatl and used pictographs for record-keeping and storytelling. The Mayans had a fully developed written language, consisting of hieroglyphs, that recorded their history, knowledge, and mythology.
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Comparison Chart

Location

Central Mexico
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras
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Jan 09, 2024

Peak Period

14th - 16th century
250 - 900 AD
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Writing System

Pictographs
Hieroglyphs
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Architectural Achievements

Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan
Tikal, Chichen Itza
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Economy

Agriculture-based, trade networks
Agriculture-based, extensive trade routes
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Aztec and Mayan Definitions

Aztec

A member of the indigenous people dominant in Mexico before the Spanish conquest of the 16th century.
The Aztec warriors were feared and respected throughout Mesoamerica.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Mayan

Pertaining to the Mayan civilization, known for its hieroglyphic script and astronomical knowledge.
Mayan astronomy was incredibly advanced for its time.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Aztec

A term relating to Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs.
Many Aztec words have been incorporated into modern Mexican Spanish.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Mayan

A member of the indigenous people of Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala, known for their historic civilization.
The Mayan people today maintain many of their ancestral traditions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Aztec

Relating to the architectural and artistic styles developed by the Aztec civilization.
The Aztec pyramids remain a testament to their architectural genius.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023
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Mayan

Related to the art and architecture of the ancient Mayan civilization.
The Mayan temples showcase a unique and intricate architectural style.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Aztec

Associated with the religious and mythological beliefs of the Aztec people.
Aztec mythology is filled with stories of gods and cosmic battles.
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Dec 16, 2023

Mayan

Associated with the religious practices and cosmology of the Maya.
Mayan rituals often involved complex calendars and celestial events.
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Dec 16, 2023

Aztec

Pertaining to the Aztec civilization, its culture, language, or people.
Aztec art is distinguished by its intricate designs and vibrant colors.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Mayan

Referring to any of the Mayan languages spoken by the Maya people.
There are several distinct Mayan languages still spoken in Central America.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 16, 2023

Aztec

A member of a people of central Mexico whose civilization was at its height at the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century.
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Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

A Maya.
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Dec 13, 2023

Aztec

The Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.
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Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

A linguistic stock of Central America that includes Quiché and Yucatec.
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Dec 13, 2023

Aztec

Of or relating to the Aztecs or their language, culture, or empire.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

Of or relating to the Maya, their culture, or the Mayan linguistic stock.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 13, 2023

Aztec

Of or relating to one of the early races in Mexico that inhabited the great plateau of that country at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1519.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

Designating, or pertaining to, an American Indian linguistic stock occupying the Mexican States of Veracruz, Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, and Yucatan, together with a part of Guatemala and a part of El Salvador. See 2nd Maya.
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Dec 13, 2023

Aztec

A member of the Nahuatl people who established an empire in Mexico that was overthrown by Cortes in 1519
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

Of or pertaining to the Mayas.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

A member of an American Indian people of Yucatan and Belize and Guatemala who had a culture (which reached its peak between AD 300 and 900) characterized by outstanding architecture and pottery and astronomy;
Mayans had a system of writing and an accurate calendar
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 13, 2023

Mayan

A family of American Indian languages spoken by Mayan peoples
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Dec 13, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

What were the major achievements of the Aztecs?

The Aztecs made advances in agriculture, architecture, and mathematics. They also had complex social and religious systems.
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Jan 09, 2024

What is the Aztec religion known for?

The Aztec religion included the worship of gods like Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl and involved rituals, including human sacrifice.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

What language did the Aztecs speak?

The Aztecs spoke Nahuatl, a Uto-Aztecan language.
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Where was the Aztec civilization located?

The Aztecs primarily inhabited the Valley of Mexico, with their capital city, Tenochtitlan, located on an island in Lake Texcoco (modern-day Mexico City).
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Jan 09, 2024

What led to the downfall of the Aztec Empire?

The Aztec Empire was conquered by Spanish conquistadors led by Hernán Cortés in the early 16th century.
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Jan 09, 2024

Where were the major Maya city-states located?

The Maya built impressive city-states like Tikal, Palenque, and Copán in the dense rainforests of Central America.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

What language did the Maya speak?

The Maya had their own writing system, and their language, known as Classic Maya hieroglyphs, was used for inscriptions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

What is the significance of the Maya calendar?

The Maya developed a complex calendar system, including the Long Count, which was used for religious and astronomical purposes.
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How were the Aztec and Maya societies structured differently?

The Aztecs had a more centralized empire with a tribute system, while the Maya were organized into independent city-states.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

Who were the Aztecs?

The Aztecs were an ancient Mesoamerican civilization that thrived in what is now Mexico from the 14th to the 16th century.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

Did the Aztecs and Maya interact with each other?

There is evidence of trade and limited contact between the two civilizations, but they were distinct and had different regions of influence.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

Who were the Maya?

The Maya were an ancient Mesoamerican civilization that flourished in present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

What happened to the descendants of the Aztecs and Maya?

Many of their descendants still live in the regions where these civilizations once thrived, preserving their cultural heritage.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

Are there any surviving Aztec or Maya cities or structures?

Yes, some Aztec and Maya ruins and archaeological sites have been preserved and are open for exploration and study.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

What were the major achievements of the Maya?

The Maya excelled in astronomy, mathematics (including the concept of zero), and architecture, building impressive temples and pyramids.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

Did the Aztecs and Maya have similar religious beliefs?

While there were some similarities in their belief systems and the worship of certain gods, there were also significant differences.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

What led to the decline of the ancient Maya civilization?

The causes of the Maya decline are debated but include factors like environmental stress, warfare, and political instability.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 09, 2024

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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