Sacrifice in Sports: The Ancient Maya Ballgame

Author Name(s)

Aria James

Faculty Advisor(s)

Jaime Matera


The Ancient Maya ruled over the lands of Central America from 3000 BC to AD 1500. Known best for their towering temples in the jungle, the Maya were also known for their famous game, simply called the ballgame, which is credited as one of the first ever recorded uses of rubber. The archaeological record has found evidence to support that the ballgame has been played since the Middle Preclassic period (300 B.C.) until the Spanish Conquest (around A.D. 1530). Spanning from Belize to Mexico, the ballgame has never once been doubted as being extremely important to the Maya civilization due to its religious connection and the political power it offered. This project examined the ritual practices of the Ancient Maya culture in relation to the ballgame through the literary analysis of iconography and the archaeological record. Using data collected by anthropologists over the last eight decades, this project answers the following question: was the ballgame as violent as depicted in the iconography? Simply put, yes it was. Though some theories swirled about the use of bodies in the game itself, this project determines that human sacrifice and violence occurred before and after the game, not during. With practices varying over the landscape, a common theme arises with religious sacrifice taking place on, around, and for the ballgame.



1 thought on “Sacrifice in Sports: The Ancient Maya Ballgame”

  1. A topic that is of great interest to me. I appreciated the presentation of the Ball Game and learned something. I wonder how or if the Maya Ball Game affects contemporary communities?

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