2 Thessalonians 3 – Appeals for Prayer and Labor & Labor and Welfare in the Ancient World

Old former slave with horn formerly used to call slaves, Texas, 1939.
In the United States, the term “freedmen” refers chiefly to former slaves emancipated during the American Civil War.

Slaves freed before the war, usually by individual manumissions, often in wills, were generally referred to as “Free Negroes”.

In Louisiana and other areas of the former New France (especially before annexation to the U.S. under the Louisiana Purchase), free people of color were so identified in French: gens de couleur libres.

Many were part of the Creoles of color community, well-established before Louisiana became part of the U.S.

The community in New Orleans increased in 1808 and 1809, with a wave of Haitian immigrants after the Haitian Revolution.

This strengthened the French-speaking community of free people of color.

This is the last chapter of this book so tomorrow we will begin with the book of…

2 Thessalonians 3
Appeals for Prayer and Labor

1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:

2 And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.

“Unreasonable” – the Greek for this word means “out of place,” and elsewhere in the New Testament it is used only of things.  Perverseness is always out of place.  For Paul’s difficulties at Corinth (what Paul wrote this letter).

3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.

4 And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.

5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

“Withdraw” – not withdrawal of all contact but withholding of close fellowship.  Idleness is sinful and disruptive, but those guilty of it are still brothers.

“Walketh disorderly” – the problem was mentioned in the first letter and evidently had worsened.  Paul takes it seriously and gives more attention to it in this letter than to anything else but the second coming.

7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;

8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:

“Eat any man’s bread” – a Hebraism for “make a living.”  Paul is not saying that he never accepted hospitality but that he had not depended on other people for his living.

9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Relief from Smyrna (present-day Izmir, Turkey) depicting a Roman soldier leading captives in chains.
Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy.

Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions.

Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves.

Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated.

Unskilled slaves, or those condemned to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills.

Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short.

Pagan parallels are in the form, “He who does not work does not eat.”  But Paul gives an imperative: lit. “let him not eat.”  The Christian must not be a loafer.

11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

“Busybodies” – worse than idle, they were interested with other people, gossipers, a problem to which an unruly idle life often leads.

Here are two good examples of busybodies today:  1) the media.  At one time the media was to report news so people would know what was going on, but today they eaves drop into people’s lives for the sole purpose of selling their story, no matter how damaging it may be.

And number two is talk shows, such as the Oprah Winfrey show.  She does the exact same thing that the media does, but her main purpose is not to be the sneak that the media is, but to build herself, to convince the world that she is a great person.

12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.

14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

“Be ashamed” – and repent.  The aim is not punishment but restoration to fellowship.

15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.

17 The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

 The second epistle to the Thessalonians was written from Athens.

Labor and Welfare in the Ancient World

In the ancient world there were three classes of laborers: freemen, slaves and a middle group, serfs, who were bound to work the soil or to perform other menial tasks on behalf of some state or institution.

A sketch in rust-red drawn on a limestone ostraconOffsite Link represents the self-portrait of the scribe, Sesh, wearing a knee-length kilt, his arms raised to present a papyrus roll and possibly a writing pallette.

The sketch is signed with the hieroglyph of “scribe”, consisting of a palette with wells for red and black ink, shoulder strap, water pot and reed pen. Measuring 11 x 12 cm, it was created in Deir-el-MedinaOffsite Link, Western Thebes, 19th or 20th dynasty, and excavated there, circa 1975.

Slaves and serfs naturally labored under the direction of their overlords, but freemen were obliged to find means of providing for themselves. Most men learned their trade from their fathers, just as most women acquired domestic skills from their mothers.

The varieties of occupations an individual might follow involved both skilled and unskilled labor.

Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward (Lk 16:1-9) illustrates two extremes: stewards (educated people who managed the financial affairs of others) and those who dug ditches or even begged.

A remarkable Egyptian document called Dua-Khety, or “The Satire on the Trades,” lists a wide variety of possible occupations: jewelers, carpenters, barbers, smiths, potters, agricultural workers, couriers, cobblers and others.

Any and all of these jobs, this text asserts, were miserable occupations in comparison with the work of the scribe.

The rise of the Roman Empire also gave rise to a class of citizens that to some degree lived off the public dole:  During the period of the Roman Republic, politicians sought to gain the votes of the masses by periodically giving people a supply of grain, either freely or at a greatly reduced price.

C. Sempronius Gracchus (122 B.C.) made this a regular feature of Roman life by establishing a monthly ration of grain at a set price. In 58 B.C., P. Clodius Pulcher made the beginning of the empire, Augustus reorganized the system of the public dole, instituting the tradition of providing “bread and circuses” for the masses.

Apart from the state welfare system for the Romans, Christians were encouraged to donate freely to the poor, especially to fellow believers in need.

Cinerary urn for the freedman Tiberius Claudius Chryseros and two women, probably his wife and daughter.
Rome differed from Greek city-states in allowing freed slaves to become citizens.

The act of freeing a slave was called manumissio, from manus, “hand” (in the sense of holding or possessing something), and missio, the act of releasing.

After manumission, a slave who had belonged to a Roman citizen enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote.

A slave who had acquired libertas was thus a libertus (“freed person,” feminine liberta) in relation to his former master, who then became his patron (patronus).

Such generosity could be – and invariably was – abused.  Already in 2 Thess 3 Paul found it necessary to rebuke those who were content to live off the charity of other Christians, confronting them with the maxim, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”(v.10).

ln 1Tim 5:3-15 Paul provided guidelines for providing assistance to widows who were indeed needy, in contrast to those who should not have been living off the beneficence of the churches.

Brought up in the Jewish tradition in which every son learned a trade, Paul supported himself as a tentmaker and he expected other Christians to work for their livings as well.

…First Timothy.

2 Thessalonians 2 – The Man of Sin & The Five Most Sinful Cities in America

When a person commits any of the below sins, or especially when a government does, other people feel the effect. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at…



2 Thessalonians 2
The Man of Sin

1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

“Shaken” – the Greek for this verb was often used of a ship adrift from its mooring and suggests lack of stability.

3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

“A falling away” – at the last time there will be a falling away from the faith.  But here Paul is speaking of activity rebellion, the supreme opposition of evil to the things of God.

“That man of sin” – the leader of the forces of evil at the last time.  Only here is he called by this name.  John tells us of many “antichrists” (1 Jn 2:18), and this may be the worst of them – the beast of Rev 13 – though Paul’s description of the man of sin has some distinctive features.

He is not Satan, because he is clearly distinguished from him in v. 9.

4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

“All that is called God, or that is worshiped” – he is not merely a political or military man, but claims a place above every god and everything associated with worship.  He even claims to be God.

5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

6 And now ye know what with holdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

“Mystery” – in the New Testament a mystery usually denotes something people could not know by themselves but that God has revealed.  The expression here indicates that we know some things about evil only as God reveals them. 

This evil is already at work, but will in the day of the Lord (The Great Tribulation) intensify dramatically.

8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,

17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

“Comfort…stablish” – the prayer is for inner strength that will produce results in both action and speech.

The Five Most Sinful Cities in America

The Seven Deadly Sins

There really isn’t any city that is more sinful than another in the eyes of God.  Randy Nelson of Movoto (Real Estate Agency) has given us five most sinful cities.

A lot of people say that Las Vegas is “Sin City.”  Nelson says Vegas is the 10th most sinful city in the United States, CNN Travel says it is 4th.  I say that the winner would be Los Angeles thanks to Hollywood.

The information here in regards to these sins comes from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is usually pretty good, but it is done by volunteers and the information it gives is not necessarily always correct.

I have never found anything incorrect with Wikipedia except for what they say about the Christian faith.  The information it gives is never completely wrong, but it is never correctly right either.  That is what false teachers/prophets do, not meaning that Wikipedia is a false teacher.

The amount of money a casino makes per day varies greatly. It can depend on the casino itself, the location, and the days of the week.
The yearly revenue for a casino can vary just as much. The Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada makes around $5.777 billion dollars as of 2010.

The next highest grossing casino’s is Atlantic City, New Jersey. The gross roughly $3.573 billion dollars a year.

The casino’s that are highest after Atlantic City are Chicagoland, Illinois.

My advice though is to never go to Wikipedia with an answer about Jesus, the answer you are looking for is in the Bible and if you can’t understand that ask of God (Jas 1:5) and if you can’t hear Him then more than likely the answer you are seeking is not important, at least not at that time.

If you cling to Jesus at all times, then you will see.  He will guide you, He will correct you, He will show you many things and you will be amazed.

The Seven Deadly Sins

The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, is a classification of vices  that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct Christians concerning fallen humanity’s tendency to sin.

Wrath – is an emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged, or denied. Often it indicates when one’s basic boundaries are violated. Some have a learned tendency to react to anger through retaliation.

Greed – also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is the inordinate desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of abstract value with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort. It is applied to a markedly high desire for and pursuit of wealth, status, and power.

Sloth – refers to laziness.  And is defined as spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. It can also be either an outright refusal or merely a carelessness in the performance of one’s obligations, especially spiritual, moral or legal obligations.


Pride – an inwardly directed emotion that carries two common meanings. With a negative connotation, pride refers to an inflated sense of one’s personal status or accomplishments, often used synonymously with hubris.



Lust – an emotion or feeling of intense desire in the body. The lust can take any form such as the lust for knowledge, the lust for sex or the lust for power. It can take such mundane forms as the lust for food as distinct from the need for food.


Envy – from Latin invidia is an emotion which occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.



Gluttony – derived from the Latin gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow, means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste.



America’s fifth-most-sinful city: Milwaukee

Milwaukee puts the “sin” in “Wisconsin,” with Gluttony representing the community’s biggest moral failing — at least according to CDC obesity rates.

The Brew City’s long winters and good beer have apparently teamed up to help make 32.1% of Milwaukee residents obese.

“There’s a lot of beer there, and you know that stuff can pack on the pounds,” Nelson says. “I’m a good example of that.”

Wisconsin’s largest city also ranks 14th for Envy, 16th for Pride and Sloth and 18th for Wrath.
On the plus side, Milwaukee only comes in at 40th place for Greed and 62nd place for Lust.

Pittsburgh -America’s fourth-most-sinful city
The sins of Pride and Sloth will definitely test your mettle if you move to the Steel City.

Movato found that Pittsburgh places sixth among communities studied in terms of Pride, with one cosmetic surgeon practicing there for every 3,170 residents. The city also comes in ninth for Sloth, with the CDC estimating 28.4% of Pittsburghers are inactive.

Among other sins, Pittsburgh ranks 14th for Greed, 20th for Lust, 26th for Wrath and 27th for Gluttony.

But residents do score low on Envy, placing just 66th among the 95 cities that Movoto studied.

Minneapolis – America’s third-most-sinful city:
Sloth is big in the Mini Apple.

The CDC estimates 30% of Minneapolis residents are inactive — a rate second only that of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lust and Pride are also twin winners in the Twin City, with Minneapolis placing 10th in the Movoto study for both. The community also ranks 15th for Gluttony, 23rd for Wrath, 31st for Greed and 37th for Envy.

Orlando – America’s second-most-sinful city:
Disney (DIS_) World’s hometown isn’t Mickey Mouse when it comes to sin.

Orlando ties St. Louis for third place in terms of Sloth, with an estimated 28.8% of local residents considered inactive. The Florida city also places fifth for Envy and Pride, 11th for Lust, 19th for Wrath and 24th for Gluttony.

On the other hand, Orlando residents are far less Goofy when it comes to Greed. Movoto says the city only comes in at 48th place for that deadly sin.

America’s most-sinful city: St Louis

Pretty much the only thing that’s saintly about St. Louis is its name, according to Movoto’s study.
The site found that the Gateway to the West places No. 2 for Wrath and Envy, with 20 violent crimes and 65 property incidents per year for every 1,000 St. Louis residents.

Only rough-and-tumble Detroit scores worse on those measures among cities Movoto looked at. “The two things that really put St. Louis at the top of the list are thefts and violent crimes,” Nelson says.

St. Louis also places third for Sloth, ninth for Pride and 24th for Gluttony.

On the upside, the city only comes in 40th place for Greed and 95th place — dead last — for Lust. Nelson says that’s because no strip joints operate within St. Louis city limits.

…labor and welfare in the Ancient World.

2 Thessalonians 1 – Thanskgiving and Prayer & Lost Cities of the Americas: Tikal (5 of 7)

Every city and empire we’ve looked at worship false gods and/or study astrology.  I doubt if there is any place on earth that doesn’t go against You, Father. 

That is why You flooded the earth (Gen 6) and that is why You destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19).

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but it looks like the United States is going to become the Sodom and Gomorrah of the 21st century.  So just for curiosity, tomorrow we’ll look at…

2 Thessalonians 1
Thanksgiving and Prayer

1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

2 Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;

 4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:

5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:

“Manifest token of the righteous judgment of God” – the evidence was in the way the Thessalonians endured trials.  The judgment on them was right because God did not leave them to their own resources. 

He provided strength to endure, and this in turn produced spiritual and moral character.  It also proved that God was on their slide and gave a warning to their persecutors.

6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

“Righteous thing with God” – the justice of God brings punishment on unrepentant sinners and it may be in the here and now as well as on judgment day.

7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

“Rest” – retribution not only involves punishment of the evil but also relief for the righteous.

“Revealed” – Christ is now hidden, and many people even deny His existence.  But at His second coming He will be seen by everyone for who He is.

8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Flaming fire” – He comes to punish wickedness.

“Know not God” – does not refer to those who have never heard of the rue God, but to those who refuse to recognize Him.

“Obey not” – the gospel invites acceptance and rejection is disobedience to a royal invitation.

9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

“Destruction” – not annihilation.  Paul uses the word in 1 Cor 5:5, possibly of the destruction of the “flesh” for the purpose of salvation.  Since, however, salvation implies resurrection of the body, annihilation cannot be in mind.

10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

“Glorified in his saints” – not simply “among” but “in” them.  His glory is seen in what they are.

11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:

12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lost Cities of the Americas (5 of 7) 


Location: Guatemala
Date of Construction: c 200 B.C.
Abandoned: c 900 C.E.
Built By: Maya
Key Features: Great Plaza; Many Stepped Pyramids; Ball Courts; Palaces; Stelae

The largest and greatest Maya city, Tikal was so utterly abandoned that it was not fully rediscovered until 1848. Yet more than 60,000 people – perhaps up to 200,000 – lived in a city that covered over 47 square miles, and which dominated the Mayan heartland from the Yucatan to western Honduras.

Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras is a republic in Central America.
It was at times referred to as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize.

The country is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

Honduras was home to several important indigenous cultures, most notably the Maya.

Much of the country was conquered by Spain which introduced its now predominant language and many of its customs in the sixteenth century.

It became independent in 1821 and has been a republic since the end of Spanish rule.

Only recently has decipherment of the mysterious Mayan script made it possible to read the wealth of inscriptions (known as “glyphs”) at the site, revealing the city’s bloody history of violence and intrigue.

Tikal in Guatemala was the greatest city of the greatest era of Maya history, the Classic period. The name by which it is known today is a relatively recent appellation, meaning “at the waterhole”, a reference to the semi-artificial reservoirs the ancient Maya constructed to help control the water supply that made their intensive agriculture and very high population densities possible.

According to the glyphs at the site, the city’s inhabitants called it Yax Mutul, and the glyph for mutul, thought to represent a top-knot of hair, itself probably symbolic of a sacred corn sheaf, has been found on stones in cities throughout the region, testament to the city’s long reach.

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Tikal

The first settlement of Tikal dates back to 800 B.C., but the city only properly began to take shape around 200 B.C., with the laying down of Tikal’s urban core, particularly what would become the Great Plaza.

This was a large flat area covered in plaster, which remained the city’s hub for a thousand years. Tikal’s glory days coincided with the Classic period of Maya civilization, from around 250-900 CE.

Although Maya writing long predates this, the first dated inscription at Tikal – indeed the first one found in the Maya heartland – dates to 292 CE (or in the Maya Long Count calendar).

It is written on a stela, an inscribed upright slab of stone, of which dozens were erected at Tikal, with about 70 in the Great Plaza alone.

By reading these stelae, and inscriptions on temple doorway lintels and other sources, historians have been able to piece together a very precisely dated list of kings and queens, in the process uncovering a tale of dynastic politics and inter-city rivalry that saw Tikal become the pre-eminent Maya city.

The North Acropolis, the ritual center of Tikal — one of several groups of pyramids and other monumental structured, raided above the swampy forest floor and linked by plazas and causeways, which make up the Maya city.

By controlling the lucrative transisthmus trade routes and through force of arms, Tikal dominated most of the Maya heartland.

The inscriptions show that one of Tikal’s most revered rulers, Jaguar Paw (this was the initial interpretation of his name based on the appearance of his glyphs; now that they can be read properly it is known that his name was Chak Tok Ich’aak I) died on January 31,  378 CE, on the same day that Siyah K’ak’, a lord from the Mexican City of Teotihuacan, arrived.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that January 31, 378 was the exact date of a battle in which Siyah K’ak’, a conquering general from Teotihuacan, defeated and slew Jaguar Paw.

Tikal now fell under Teotihuacan influence, with Mexicanized architecture and the introduction of a military innovation, the spear-thrower.

The long-term result was an increase in conflict with its neighbors, which eventually led to the establishment of an alliance between Tikal’s enemies.

Glyphs from Tikal and other sites enable us to trace the politics of this era in fine detail. It seems that its traditional enemy, the city-state of Calakmul, was able to capitalize on a fatal misjudgment by the rulers of Tikal, who sprang a surprise raid on their erstwhile ally Caracol in 556 CE.

The Mayan script, also known as Mayan glyphs or Mayan hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered.
The earliest inscriptions found which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century B.C. in San Bartolo, Guatemala.

Maya writing was in continuous use throughout Mesoamerica until shortly after the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century CE and into the 18th century in isolated areas, such as Tayasal.

Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Mayan writing was called “hieroglyphics” or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, to which the Mayan writing system is not at all related.

Nursing resentment, Caracol allied with Calakmul, and waited until a favorable astronomical alignment to begin its revenge. Caracol’s sorcerer-priest-astronomers declared that the most auspicious moment was when Venus rose in its closest conjunction with the dawn sun, which came to pass in 562.

With Calakmul’s help, Caracol launched a devastating raid on Tikal and in the decades that followed the Calakmul-Caracol axis cemented the suppression of Tikal by engineering alliances with other city-states previously under Tikal’s control.

Finally, in the late 6th century, Calakmul supported a breakaway clique of Tikal nobles who set up a rival city at Dos Pilas, which called itself New Tikal.

By the late 6th century Tikal was entirely ringed by hostile city-states, and for over a century no inscriptions were made at Tikal, a period of silence known as the Tikal Hiatus.

It marks the transition from the Early to Late Classic period and when Tikal finally re-established itself, the nature of Maya culture had changed, with Teotihuacan elements expunged.

In 672 Tikal began its resurgence with a campaign against Dos Pilas and over the next 100 years Tikal regained much of its former power and reached the height of its magnificence.

More and more grand buildings were erected on raised platforms or acropolises around the city center – more than 3,000 in total – including monstrous stepped pyramids up to 210 feet high. There are also numerous palaces (which may in fact be government/administrative buildings), ball courts, causeways, observatories and domestic buildings.

By 750 CE Tikal was at its peak, but little more than a century later the city faced a catastrophic collapse. The last dated stela erected at Tikal is dated 869, while the last to be found anywhere in the southern lowlands dates to 909.

What could have happened to lay low a civilization at the height of its powers, in what University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Robert Sharer calls ‘one of the most profound cultural failures in human history’?

Heading for a Fall

Tikal’s achievements were possible because of its burgeoning population, which seemed to defy the environment as it appears today.

Temple One on the Great Plaza, one of the greatest achievements of the Maya Tikal, built after the city s return to dominance in the Late Classic Period.
Facing west towards the setting sun, Temple One was considered to be a portal to the underworld.

Despite the lush forest that surrounds the city, the southern lowlands where Tikal is sited do not provide the most promising environment for the agricultural base needed to support an advanced civilization. Rainfall is highly variable, with long dry seasons, there are few rivers and, except in valley bottoms, the soils are thin and slow to replenish fertility.

Until relatively recently the area was very sparsely populated. Tikal itself was so utterly abandoned that in 1525 when Hernan Cortes marched through the region, he passed unaware within a few miles of the city.

In 1841, during their survey of dozens of Mayan sites, pioneering explorers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood missed it entirely. So how was it possible for a city of over 60,000 people to have existed here a thousand years earlier?

At Tikal the Maya sought to overcome these limitations by adapting natural depressions and excavating new ones to create massive reservoirs – big enough to hold enough drinking water to meet the needs of 10,000 people for up to 18 months.

They also adopted agricultural innovations, such as mulching to preserve moisture and fertilize fields, multiple cropping in a single year and timing the planting of crops to make maximum use of heavy rains and floods.

Intensive agriculture produced high yields and they were able to support steadily increasing population densities of up to 1,500 people per square mile (for comparison, this is twice that of the most densely populated countries in Africa today and orders of magnitude above what the same landscape supported well into the 20th century).

The Lost World Pyramid is the largest structure in the Mundo Perdido complex.
It lies in the southwest portion of Tikal’s central core, south of Temple III and west of Temple V.

It was decorated with stucco masks of the sun god and dates to the Late Preclassic; this pyramid is part of an enclosed complex of structures that remained intact and unimpacted by later building activity at Tikal.

By the end of the Late Preclassic this pyramid was one of the largest structures in the Maya region.

But this drive to maximize the intensity and prodctivity of their agriculture put the Maya on a collision course with nature. Although the relatively scarce valley bottoms of the southern lowlands could maintain a reasonable level of fertility and, crucially, a reasonable rate of replenishment of that fertility, the marginal zones that the Maya increasingly looked to exploit could not.

With population growth came additional pressures on the environment. Forest clearance for agriculture was exacerbated by wood cutting for construction, firewood and the production of plaster, with which the Maya were obsessed (they used it as a means of beautifying their edifices).

Deforestation led to soil erosion, flash floods, loss of water retention and eventually to climate change through reduced rainfall. Replenishment of soil fertility collapsed and the population was forced to rely on the overextended core arable land of the valley bottoms.

Proxy climate records, such as sediments deposited in lake beds, reveal that this period also saw one of the most severe and extended dry periods for over a thousand years, with particular peaks in drought conditions around 810, 860 and 910.

Environmental breakdown had probably already led to tension over diminishing land and food resources, and the severe droughts plunged the Classic Maya into a catastrophic collapse.

A large stucco mask adorning the substructure of Temple 33.

Authority broke down, conflict raged and millions starved. The archaeological evidence shows that palaces and government buildings at Tikal were burned and it is not hard to imagine a vengeful populace turning on the rulers whose covenant with their people was to ensure prosperity in return for obeisance.

By the end of the 10th century, what was the greatest American metropolis of its age had been completely abandoned, after a collapse that many see as a grim warning to our modern unsustainable society.

…the five most sinful cities in America.