Lady of Tikal

Signature of the Lady of Tikal. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Victoria Rasbridge

Born in 504 AD, Lady of Tikal was the daughter of King Jaguar Paw II, Chak Tok Ich’aak II, the 18th ruler of Tikal.

Following her father’s death, Lady of Tikal became queen at the unorthodoxly young age of 6 on 19 April 511 AD following a breakdown in the male line of succession at the beginning of the century.

Her life is chronicled in Stelae 6, 12, and 2 (stelae: stone monuments found throughout the Mayan empire in which hieroglyphic text and images are sculpted); however, due to damage to these important stelae, relatively little is known about this Mayan queen.

What we do know, however, is that Lady of Tikal ruled for over 16 years and is believed to have shared her responsibilities as queen with Kalomte’ Balam, also known as ‘Curl Head’.

The relationship between the Lady of Tikal and Curl Head is unclear, whilst some historians claim he was her husband, others believe him to be her son or another male member of her family.

Irrespective of their relationship, the two rulers shared their responsibilities as leaders: the queen performed the key calendrical ceremonies, whereas Kalomte’ Balam was the dedicatee of the stelae.

Once again, due to the damaged stelae in which the Lady of Tikal is mentioned, historians are unable to precisely date the end of her rule and death, but it is often placed between 527-534 AD.

In spite of the relatively scant details of her life, Lady of Tikal’s rule is nonetheless important for what it reveals about the reality of female rule. Namely, that though women often lacked agency relative to men, gendered leadership roles could and did defy expectations.

Recommended Reading

Scott R. Hutson, “History, Politics and Meaning Among the Classic Maya of the Southern Lowlands,” Antiquity 91.356 (2017): 533-35

Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008).

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