Difference Between Aztecs and Maya

The main difference between Aztecs and Maya is that the Aztec civilization was in central Mexico from the 14th to 16th centuries and spread throughout Mesoamerica, while the Maya Empire began to expand from 2600 BC.

Aztecs and Maya are two empires or civilizations that stretched across the American continent hundreds of years ago. The Aztec civilization belongs to the pre-Columbian period, while the Maya civilization belongs to the pre-classical period.

Key areas covered

1. What is Aztecs - definition, history, characteristics 2. What is Maya - definition, history, characteristics 3. Similarities between Aztecs and Maya - overview of common characteristics 4. Difference between Aztecs and Maya - comparison of main differences

key terms

Aztecs, Empire, Maya Difference Between Aztecs and Maya - Comparative Summary

What is aztec?

"Aztec" refers to a civilization of people who lived in Tenochtitlan, modern Mexico City. The Aztec Empire flourished as a result of an alliance between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan to defeat Azcapotzalco. However, Tenochtitlan became the most powerful and dominant city. in alliance. This resulted in the Aztec Empire expanding in both military power and trade. The Aztec Empire reached its peak in 1519 AD, shortly before the arrival of the Spaniards in Tenochtitlan in 1521. As a result of the Spanish conquest, the city coincided with their civilization.

Aztec civilization

The Aztecs built huge pyramids. Although Tenochtiltan fell, some of these pyramids are still in the Valley of Mexico today. For example the ruins of the Templo Mayor.

The Aztec civilization was essentially built around the cultivation of corn. All children received an education until they were 14 years old. During the Aztec era, the empire was ruled by an emperor. There was a huge socio-economic gap between the “Pipiltin” (nobility) and “Macehualli” (residents). Aztec civilization also practiced slavery, in which individuals become slaves because of debt, as prisoners of war, or as punishment for criminals.

In addition, during the Aztec civilization there was no mechanism of travel and transportation using animals or wheeled vehicles. Hence, there were only footpaths for traveling on foot. The Aztecs focused on their religious beliefs and revered Huitzilopochtli, the symbol of war and the sun, and practiced human sacrifice as a form of devotion.

What is maya

The general assumption is that the Mayan Empire was founded in 1800 BC. Spread from southern Mexico to Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and northern El Salvador. However, the southern Maya Empire collapsed in the 8th and 9th centuries due to overpopulation, revolts, foreign invasion, and the breakdown of trade routes, while the northern Maya cities flourished until the Spanish conquest.

During AD 250 and 900, the Mayans built many city-states, temples, step pyramids, and castles, and developed a hieroglyphic writing system. In addition, they began long-distance trading activities with other Mesoamerican communities. There are many significant Maya sites that still exist today, including Altun Ha, Cancuen, Coba, Copan, Caracol, El Mirador, Naranjo, Tikal, and Yaxha.

Aztecs versus Maya

The Mayans had a system of separate city kingdoms ruled by a monarch. Similar to the Aztecs, the Mayans also lacked workhorses, wheel-based travel, and transportation and metal gadgets. Unlike the Aztecs, however, the Mayans used a writing system, a combination of phonetic symbols and logos, and a base 5 and base 20 numbering system. They also invented a 365 day calendar based on the movement of the sun. The Mayans believed in the earth, the sky above them and the underworld below. Similar to the Aztecs, the Mayans practiced human sacrifice to worship their gods.

Similarities Between Aztecs and Maya

  • Neither the Aztecs nor the Mayans used work animals or wheeled vehicles for travel and transportation.
  • Monarchy was common in both civilizations.
  • Both Aztecs and Mayans built pyramids.
  • Human sacrifice was practiced as a form of worship throughout both civilizations.
  • Both civilizations were heavily dependent on agriculture. The main crop they grew was corn

Difference Between Aztecs and Maya


The Aztec civilization inhabited central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries, while the Mayan Empire expanded from 2600 BC.


The Aztecs used to speak the Nahuatl language, while the Mayans spoke several languages ​​including Yucatec Maya , K'iche ', Kaqchikel, Sacapultec, Chol, Teco, and Tojolabal. However, Yucatec Maya was the most widely spoken Mayan language. In addition, the Aztecs did not use written language; they just presented their ideas in pictures or glyphs. In contrast, the Maya had a fully developed written language.


The Aztec civilization belongs to the pre-Columbian period, while the Maya civilization belongs to the pre-classical period.


The Aztecs practiced the Aztec religion while the Mayans practiced the Mayan religion.


The Mayans used cocoa seeds, salt, obsidian or gold, while the Aztecs used quachtli and cocoa beans as currency.


The main difference between Aztecs and Maya is that Aztecs lived in central Mexico from the 14th to 16th centuries, while the Maya Empire expanded in 2600 BC. In addition, the Mayans had a more advanced written language system, while the Aztec written language was just the images and symbols.


1. " Aztecs ." History.com, A&E Television Networks. 2. " Maya ". History.com, A&E Television Networks.

Image courtesy:

1. “ Aztec Empire c 1519 ” By Badseed based on work by Historicair, which in turn is based on work by Madman2001. - (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia2. “ 676352 ” (CC0) via Pxhere

About the author: Anuradha

Anuradha holds a BA in English, French and Translation Studies. She is currently studying English literature in a second language context in the master’s course. Her areas of interest include arts and literature, language and education, nature and animals, cultures and civilizations, food and fashion.