Titoomaj K'awiil: a mayan patron of arts

by Luis Lopes

(photos copyright of Justin Kerr)

1. Introduction

Art, namely finely painted ceramics, was sponsored by the elites ruling classic mayan polities. Indeed, maya vases and plates were used as gifts between ruling lineages and played an important role in establishing diplomatic bonds. The ceramic piece often carried dedication texts specifying its owner and this re-enforced the power and prestige of such a gift. Moreover, besides more mundane functions, these vases were art objects in themselves, designed to be admired, looked at or even read. As such they became highly esteemed possessions of mayan lords who carried them in their journey to xibalba .

Given the importance of ceramics to the classic mayan elites, it is natural to assume that rulers and maybe even higher aristocracy may have had workshops and teams of artists producing items for their own use or to be used as diplomatic currency[Taschek&Ball 91]. It is also natural to think that some rulers may have been especially dedicated to the arts. This may have been the case with some rulers from Naranjo such as k'ak' tiliw chan chaak or k'ak' u bajaw chan chaak [Stuart 89]. In fact, some of them may actually have been artists themselves. In this short essay I will present the case of a ruler whose name, titoomaj k'awiil, appears in no fewer than six codex style vases. There is also some evidence for a dynastic sequence since his own father, named yopaat b'ahlam, is the owner of several codex style vases.

2. The codex-style vases

The so called "codex-style" vases are characterized by a very distinctive painting style: fine black line drawing against a white or light yellow background, framed by a bright red rim. The name was given to this sub-group of mayan ceramics for its similarity with the pictorial and presentation style of the known mayan books - the codexes. Until recently, when a fine example was excavated at Calakmul, none of these vases had been found in their archaeological context. Since the fifties the vases keep showing up in the international art market where they are frequently sold for several tens of thousands of dollars either in auctions or privately. Thus, for many years the geographical origin of these vases remained a mystery. The advent of neutron-activation analysis has since allowed the chemical tracing of the clay used to produce these ceramic masterpieces to the Nakbé-El Mirador region, in Guatemala [Budet 94]. In terms of political landscape, the region was in control of Calakmul and its allies [Martin&Grube 95] for most of the late classic period and it is likely no coincidence that several codex vases depict the wayob of the holy lords of kanal.

3. The inscriptions in codex-style vases

Many codex vases do not feature the PSS dedication text so common in other mayan ceramics. The texts in these vases seem to form small phrases describing some kind of event/ritual of mythic relevance (e.g., the famous sacrifice of the baby jaguar), the names of fantastic wayob characters or mythic royal lineages (e.g., the dynasty vases).

On the other hand, in those codex vases where the PSS is present, it quite often indicates the possession (y-uk'ib, u-jawante', u-lak) by individuals carrying the title k'uhul chatan winik, a title seemingly associated with the Nakbé-El Mirador region. The region is of great importance in the genesis of the maya culture and may have remained as an important mythic landscape for the late classic maya. The title itself may reflect some attempt in associating the local elites with these mythic origins [Martin 97].

A common title also carried by such individuals, often in conjunction with the above, is sak wayis ("resplandescent soul-companion") [Martin 93]. This title is quite common in the Calakmul political sphere. Famous examples are the ballplayer from one of the La Corona (Site Q?) panels, one chak kuts' kan sak wayis and, the Maasal (Nachtuun?) ruler in altar 5 from Tikal who was named kan tuun wayis. Indeed, in the same altar, jasaw chan k'awiil himself is referred to as a kan sak wayis person, perhaps indicating some link to the Calakmul dynasty.

4. Titoomaj K'awiil

From the many codex style vases known from the Late Classic Period, several name a particular ruler, titoomaj k'awiil, that carries the k'uhul chatan winik title. The vases carrying this ruler's name cover an interesting variety of themes, from the sacrifice of the baby jaguar, the resurrection of the maize god, wayob processions, k'an-cross monsters and a quite beautiful and original vessel with the shape of a gourd. This last vase provides a parentage statement for the ruler who was apparently the son of one yopaat b'ahlam, also carrying the k'uhul chatan winik title and he himself the owner of several codex vases and plates.

Vase 1:

K1650 , a "sacrifice of the baby jaguar" scene. The very short PSS right next to god A reads: yu-k'i-b'i ta-TSIH ka-ka-wa ti-to?-ma-ja K'AWIIL K'UHUL cha-TAN-na wi-WINIK-ki.

Plate 1:

K1892 , a "maize god resurrection" scene. The more standard PSS reads: a-?-ya T'ABAY hi-CHI u-la-ka ti-to-ma[ja] K'AWIIL-la SAK WAYIS.

Plate 2:

K2226 , a magnificent plate with the shape of a gourd and with a firefly head smoking a cigar (see K521 , K1003 , K1815 ) in the bottom. The relevant part of the PSS seems to read: ti-to-ma[ja?] K'AWIIL (u)-K'AK'-NICH?-IL kan-wi-K'ATUN K'UHUL AJAW. Thus titoomaj k'awiil is the son of a 4 k'atun lord. The same exact title is carried by the owner of K1560 , depicting an episode between the maize god, dwarfs and god L. The PSS of K1560 reads: a-?-ya T'ABAY-yi yu-k'i-b'i ta-TSIH le-TE' ka-ka-wa kan-wi-K'ATUN K'UHUL-AJAW YOPAAT-ti B'AHLAM-ma K'UHUL-to?-cha-TAN-WINIK. Given the similarity of styles for the vases and the rarity of the 4 K'ATUN title I speculate that titoomaj k'awiil was the son of yopaat b'ahlam . Other vases such as K1335 and K5424, also name yopaat b'ahlam as their owner in the PSS. In K1335, for example, we have: YOPAAT[B'AHLAM]-ti K'UHUL to?-cha-ta-wi-WINIK-ki SAK-WAYIS . Other additional codex style vases name yopaat b'ahlam in short nominal sentences.

Vase 2:

K8498 , a vase depicting two unusual wayob. The left one is particularly rare and appears in some "sacrifice of the baby jaguar" vases (e.g., K4056 , R&H vase #28). The PSS reads: yu-k'i-b'i ? ka-ka-wa ch'o-ko ti-to-ma-ja K'AWIIL.

Plate 3:

Robiscek & Hales, Vase F/ Table 23, page 222, a vase depicting a k'an-monster surrounded by a circular sky frame. The relevant piece of the PSS reads: hi-CHI u-la-ka ti-to-ma-ja K'AWIIL ?-cha-TAN-WINIK SAK WAYIS. Notice the variation of the syllable to in the name of the ruler.

Vase 3:

Robiscek & Hales, Vase C/Table 11, page 212. The visible PSS in this inferior quality vase reads: ti-to-ma-ja K'AWIIL.

5. A tentative translation of the name

Observing K1892, the name of this ruler seems to read: ti-to-ja-ma K'AWIIL-la or, titojam k'awiil. However, observation of other spellings of this name in other vases seems to indicate that the artist in K1892 conflated the ja syllable with a ma or to main sign for presentation (space) reasons. For example, in K1650 the name is clearly spelled with a final ja syllable, as well as in K8498 and, even more telling, in R&H Vase F/Table 23. In this last example the name is given as ti-to-ma-ja K'AWIIL (with a to syllable for main sign).

From the above observations, the name of this ruler may thus be interpreted as a verbal root titoom in the passive form titoom-aj followed by the subject of the action k'awiil. The author was unable to find an appropriate entry for titoom in the available sources. In [Vasquez 01], the word to'om is glossed as "espina para punzar / spine to puncture" and may be relevant here.

Alternatively, the name could be interpreted as the future aspect -oom of a verbal root tit. The function of the aj in this case (usually it passivizes verbs) is unclear to the author. A candidate verbal root tit may appear in [Vasquez 01] where it is glossed as "sacudir / to shake" (as in shake clothes). The name would, in this case, perhaps translate into something like "k'awiil will be shaken".

Finally, there is also a possibility that something else less transparent is going on in the compound.

6. Conclusions

In this short essay I have provided evidence that may indicate that some rulers were particularly prolific in the use of fine ceramics. The evidence for this comes from the unusually large number of occurrences of the name of one ruler: titoomaj k'awiil in several codex style vases. This indicates that this ruler must have been an active patron of the arts or that, he himself was an artist (c.f., the case of prince aj maxam from Naranjo [Stuart 89]). Moreover, the vases associated with this ruler range over very distinct themes and iconographic motifs, a clear demonstration of the creativity of the artists involved. The author believes that, an analysis of painting techniques in other codex style vases without PSS information may point to additional vases originating from the workshops of this same ruler. Finally, this titoomaj k'awiil seems to have ruled some polity in the Nakbé-El Mirador region given the prestigious title k'uhul chatan winik sak wayis. Indeed, one vessel in particular, K2226, seems to provide some dynastic information by naming his father as one yopaat b'ahlam, himself the owner of several codex style vases.

Acknowledgements. The author would like to thank Justin Kerr for generously publishing his maya vase database on the Web. This has been a source for countless hours of pleasure and discovery. The author would also like to thank all those who read and commented on this short essay. Their feedback was very rewarding and invaluable to the final version of this work. That said, any mistakes are of the author's unique responsibility.


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