Hieroglyphic Staircase

Copan: Hieroglyphic Staircase [January 9, 2004]

"The Teotihuacan theme is seen in...the ruler portraits that graced both the Hieroglyphic Stairway and the roof crest of Temple 26. The rulers are portrayed as warriors par excellence, bearing feathered-fringe rectangular shields and lances. One of them is surrounded by multiple images of the rodent head that forms the mainsign of the name of Waxaklajun Ub'ah K'awil, and is thought to be a portrait of that ruler...

Thus the main theme of the final phase temple and stairway sculpture completed by Ruler 15 is that of royal ancestor worship, embedded in the context of war, sacrifice, and Teotihuacan symbolism. The date of Ruler 13's death is cited in the final stairway text, ennobling it by saying that he perished 'with his flint, with his shield', i.e., on the field of battle. So it may well be that a good deal of the martial iconography on the final version of this singular monument does in fact, as we had originally thought, represent an attempt to compensate for the loss of Ruler 13 to a former vassal from Quiriguá. Indeed, the final building and its elaborate decorations project the sense of a call to arms, erected to galvanize support behind the royal line and its governing systems. The portraits of the rulers serve to identify the distinguished sovereigns whose accomplishments are heralded in the lengthy inscription. The portraits on the stairs and the roof crest also stress the roles of the royal ancestors as great warriors, for virtually all of them bear shields. In this way, the original meaning of Copán's Hieroglyphic Stairway was expanded, enriched, and to a significant degree, transformed."

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 145-146