Yaxchilán was a powerful city-state during the Classic era, ruled by the Jaguar dynasty, which traced its roots to A.D. 320 and a ruler named Yat B’alam (Jaguar Penis). The earliest recorded date at the site is from A.D. 435, and the first major monuments appeared early in the 6th century.
Yaxchilán’s greatest ruler was Izamnaaj B’alam, or Shield Jaguar, who was born in A.D. 647 and ruled for more than six decades (A.D. 681–742), a remarkable feat for a man whose life expectancy would have been less than 40 years. He undertook numerous construction projects, including the construction of Structure 23 on the main plaza.
Dedicated to his wife Lady Xoc, it is the only Maya temple known to have been built specifically in honor of a woman. (Palenque’s Temple XIII, in which archaeologists recently excavated the so-called Tomb of the Red Queen, may be another, but that is not confirmed.) But the construction and dedication of Structure 23 may have more to do with politics than enlightenment; Shield Jaguar took a second wife late in life and named the son from that union, Bird Jaguar, heir to the throne. Structure 23, which shows Lady Xoc conducting various noble rituals, may have been a way of appeasing her powerful family.
Bird Jaguar succeeded Shield Jaguar; curiously he was not crowned until A.D. 752, a full 10 years after his father’s death. Archaeologists interpret this as a sign of tepid political support for the young monarch; as further evidence they point to Bird Jaguar’s obsessive self-aggrandizement once he finally did assume the throne, as if he were desperate to legitimize his position. Bird Jaguar built numerous buildings, most notably Structure 33, and seems to have commissioned a stelae or relief carving to commemorate his every accomplishment, including military victories, bloodletting ceremonies, the sacrifice of important captives, and even winning a ball game match.
Bird Jaguar was the beginning of the end for the Jaguar dynasty, which lasted until about A.D. 800. Its last ruler, Ta-Skull, Bird Jaguar’s grandson, is credited with just two small rather poorly constructed temples (Structures 3 and 64), which contain the latest known date inscription at Yaxchilán, A.D. 808, commemorating a military victory. Yaxchilán gradually depopulated and by A.D. 900 had been returned to the jungle.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition