Pakal (Pacal) The great

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The Maya pyramid in Palenque

Who was Pacal, The Great?

Pakal was the ninth ruler of Palenque and is considered one of the most important Maya kings of all time. Pakal ruled during a period of unprecedented glory in the Maya world when trade with other Mesoamerican states was at an all-time high, and the arts flourished.

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Birth and Early Life of Pakal the Great


Pakal was born Pakal the Great of Palenque on March 23,603 BC (or around this time). He came from a noble and wealthy family; his mother was Sak K’uk’. She came from the royal family of Palenque. Unlike his mother, his father, K’an Mo’ Hix, came from a family of lesser nobility. His grandmother Yohl Ik’nal, ruled Palenque from 583-604.

Early Life

Pacal experienced a challenging childhood. The Kaan dynasty had overruled the Palenque kingdom. His parents, however, planned a break up in 612 AD and returned to Palenque. His mother crowned him as king when he was barely twelve on July 26, 615 AD. Pacal parents played the role of advisors and regents until they passed away.

Despite being a solid king, Pakal’s reign was anything but tranquil. The Kaan dynasty had not forgotten Palenque, and the opposing exile group at Tortuguero frequently waged war on Pakal’s subjects. The ruler at Tortuguero launched an attack on one of the cities in Palenque, but the warriors of Palenque were victorious. The warriors returned with three foreign warriors who sacrificed to their god K’awiil. Their win gave the kingdom some breathing room, although the peace did not last forever. 

Pakal the great reign

Pakal’s greatest triumph was building a magnificent city at Palenque, which included a large palace complex. The palace complex included many of his remarkable achievements, such as the Palace of the inscriptions, in which he tells the story of his life and historical events in Palenque. There were two smaller temples near the Palace, one dedicated to astrology and another to music.

Palenque Temple Complex

Besides constructing this royal court and Palenque itself, Pakal established a powerful military. He led forces against Tortuguero, Kaan, and Yohl Ik’nal (Palenque’s rival). His military prowess was so great that he held control over the entire Maya world. He sent emissaries to trade with other countries, receiving exotic gifts made of gold and obsidian.

Pakal’s reign was all about building Palenque. He built a series of roads and connected the northern and western parts of Palenque by road.

Death tomb and succession

On July 31, 683, Pakal passed away and was interred in the Temple of the Inscriptions. Fortunately, archaeologists under Dr. Alberto Ruz Lhuiller unearthed his grave in the late 1940s and early 1950s rather than thieves. Pakal’s corpse was buried deep within the Temple, down some stairs later blocked off. As a representation of the nine afterlife levels, his burial chamber’s painted walls are covered with nine warrior figures. He was succeeded by his son K’inich Kan B’ahlam.

Importance of pakal the great

Pakal is considered the most important Maya king. He brought prestige and wealth to the Palenque Kingdom and raised it to the highest level. His reign more or less ended the Kaan dynasty, which had destroyed Palenque under the rule of Yohl Ik’nal. This made the Palenque a strong political and military force in the Maya world. He was called “The Great” because of his numerous accomplishments, some of which are mentioned below:

1. Pakal the great built a spectacular complex of temples and palaces at Palenque that lasted more than 300 years.

2. He had military victories against his rivals Yohl Ik’nal, Kaan, and Tortuguero, none of which threatened him.

3. He was a successful ruler in trade. He kept up strong relationships with the other royal families and came in contact with other Mesoamerican states.

4. He was not only a good king but also an excellent artist. He was considered one of the greatest Classic Maya artists who had control over all aspects of art, such as painting, sculpting, and relief work.

5. He wrote the history of his life and Palenque in the Temple of Inscriptions which is today one of the most visited monuments in Mexico.

Significance of the public works projects of pakal the great

Palenque was one of the most beautiful and important cities of the Mayan Civilization. Pakal took a greater interest in the city than any other ruler had taken before him. He devoted his last years to build a new palace, Temple, and many other public works projects. The construction projects were so impressive that people still talk about them today. Some of Pakal’s greatest architectural achievements are explained below:

1. Monastery and Palace of the inscriptions.

Pakal dedicated this complex of buildings to himself. This Temple was built on a raised area called the “plaza mayor”, which was the highest point in Palenque. The construction of this complex lasted more than 20 years and was completed in 681 AD. Inscriptions of Pakal’s accomplishments were applied to all four walls of the Temple.

2. Temple of the cross, Temple of the moon, and Temple of the Foliated Cross.

These three small temples are all decorated with stone relief carvings. The Temple of the cross is close to the Palace and was probably used by Pakal as a place for meditation. The temples are named after their crosses, believed to have been symbols of Pakal’s royal bloodline.

3. The Palace complex

Pakal built a large palace complex that included more than 100 rooms and an audience hall used for special social and political events. The Palace was also decorated with murals depicting the king’s life and his military campaigns. The main themes of the murals were rain, water, sun, constellations, and divine creatures.

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Categories: History