Civilizations of the New World were practically unknown for Europeans who came to conquer them and unfortunately, many of them were destroyed by newcomers and invaders from the Old World. Among the most prominent and the most developed civilization of America should be named civilizations of Mayas, Aztecs and Incas.
All of them were quite powerful and influential and consequently absorbed the greatest achievements in American cultures in their pre-conquest history. This is why it would be extremely important to analyze and compare these civilizations since they can permit to realize at what level of development were native Americans before Europeans conquered them. Moreover, they had some common features that could be extrapolated to other American cultures, which were not so significant but dependant on these three major civilizations. On the other hand, each civilization had its own unique characteristics and traits that made it different from others that is extremely interesting for research and helpful in understanding of regional peculiarities of American cultures.
First of all, it should be said a few words about similarities between the civilizations of Mayas, Aztecs and Incas. All these civilizations were geographically distant from each other though Aztecs and Maya could be named neighbors in a way. As for the Incas civilization it was situated quite faraway from both Mayas and Aztecs. However, despite such a geographical distance that separated these civilizations they had some similarities in their cultural, socio-economic and political life.
Furthermore, the civilizations of Mayas, Aztecs and Incas were distant in timeline. If Aztecs and Incas basically reached the highest point of their development or at least were about to reach it than the civilization of Mayas was in decline when Aztecs and Incas achieved the greatest results in their development.
Nonetheless, all these civilizations had one and the same tragic fate all of the were destroyed and conquered by newcomers from Europe and heir historical heritage as well as civilizations themselves practically vanished.
Speaking about the civilizations in details, it should be said that they have similar social structure though each civilization had its own peculiarities. However, basically it is possible to distinguish a powerful ruling class, which was traditionally presented by soldiers, priests and sages or in general they may be called nobility, and subjects or a ruled class that comprised the rest of the population of these civilizations. But in Incas empire the difference between these two classes was so exaggerated that the empire got its name after Incas, which was actually the name of ruling class consisting of soldiers, priests and sages that were called ”˜amautas’. The rest of the population was insignificant and their only duty was to serve to their masters, i.e. Incas.
Furthermore, the civilizations had similar religious beliefs and human sacrifices were quite natural things for them.
By the way, it was one of the reasons why they led such an active expansion policy and naturally they were very aggressive in relation to their neighbors. At the same time, they had one practically similar belief or more precisely a legend about a white deity that once came to their land and promised to return and the legend play a really tragic trick on the fate of the nations. So, Aztecs believed in Quetzalkoatl while Incas believed in Viracocha who were supposed to come and help local people to overcome their problems and to bring happiness. Using such legends Spaniards pretended to be sent by Gods and as the result the civilizations were conquered and finally destroyed.
A few more words should be said about the religions of the civilizations. All of them were polytheistic and there existed a pantheon of gods though as a rule they had at least one main God. It means that as many other civilizations they tended to extrapolate human relations in the divine domain. However, it seems to be quite natural taking into consideration the level of their development though Incas cult was strikingly similar to Christian tradition and was perceived by Spaniards as a devil’s joke.
Despite the similarities that existed between the civilizations of Mayas, Aztecs and Incas they naturally had differences and quite significant by the way. The administrative systems of the civilizations may be taking into considerations in terms of example. So, Mayas, for instance, had not a common center that could be perceived as the main city, the capital. Actually it was a number of city-states united by common interests, culture and traditions.
Aztecs were in a way similar to Maya since they gave a certain degree of liberty to invaded nations. By the way, Aztecs as well as Mayas often used representatives of invaded nations as human sacrifices in their religious rituals.
Returning to administrative system of the civilization, it should be said that Incas created the most capital centered empire that was governed from one center Cuzco, or Cusco. So, if to range the civilizations from the most centralized to the least centralized the list would be headed by Incas, followed by Aztecs and ended by Mayas.
Naturally, such administrative systems were the result of political structure of Aztecs, Mayas and Incas. Actually only Aztecs and Incas are considered to be empires while Mayas, as it has been already mentioned, had their own city-states, which were relatively independent from each other and were governed separately.
As for inner policy of Mayas, Incas and Aztecs, it should be said that Incas was probably the most authoritarian civilization because the administrative methods used in the empire in order to achieve obedience from subjects (ruled) were extremely strict and severe.
A very interesting point for the discussion is writing systems that existed in the civilizations discussed. If Aztecs and Mayas had a relatively well developed system of writing then Incas did not have any system of writing at all. Instead they used a so-called khipu system, i.e. a system of knots on a string, so it could be hardly called the system of writing but rather a system of non-oral communication.
Furthermore, speaking about the differences between the countries, it should be pointed out that despite the fact that all of them were conquered by Spaniards at the moment of their fall they had different level of development. The Mayas civilization was already in decline under the influence of different natural factors that reduced the crops and consequently, productivity of Mayas economy, the attacks of other Indian tribes, etc. Aztecs and Incas, as it has already been mentioned was practically at the top of their development.
Finally, it also is quite noteworthy that both Aztecs and Mayas had well developed trade and commerce, they had a class of merchants where as Incas completely lacked such a class and they were quite far from trade and commerce affairs.
Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to say that the civilizations of Aztecs, Mayas and Incas had both similarities and differences. Probably, Aztecs and Mayas were more alike that could be explained by geographical positions of the states, which were in fact quite close to one another and consequently could be mutually influenced despite the fact that Aztecs were a younger civilization compared to Mayas, in a way they could be perceived as descendants of the Mayas civilization in Central America. At the same time, Incas, being quite distant from the civilizations of Aztecs and Incas also had common features. Probably it was the result of a natural process of development of all civilizations as well as there is a possibility of some links between the civilizations that could influence them. At the same time, each civilization had its own particular features. It is also quite natural because each community develop its own traditions, beliefs and lifestyle at large. The civilizations of Incas, Aztecs and Mayas, were not an exception. Unfortunately, all of them had one and the same end the conquest by Spaniards and a complete decay of local culture and traditions.