Ancient Mayan and the Modern Criminal Justice Systems

In human understanding, justice and law mean respect for rights and, therefore, is the result of progressive evolution. Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, natural law, religion, fairness and objectivity, and punishing violations of relevant social norms. The laws of the ancient peoples like Maya were rather cruel since human life was not recognized as the highest value, as is the case in our time (Von Hagen, 1960). In addition, as can be seen from the description of the customs of the Mayan civilization, social norms were significantly different from modern ones, which determines the features of the criminal justice system.

Comparison of the justice of the Mayan civilization and modern English common or Roman civil law clearly shows that the content of criminal justice changed. It depends on a particular historical era, the type and form of the state, the dominant legal doctrine, and the level of legal culture. One of the goals of punishment, namely the suppression of the commission of new crimes, was achieved by the Maya and is being achieved today. However, the Mayan system of punishment was characterized by the principle of retribution, the penological doctrine of intimidation. The modern legal system is based on the fact that the correction of the offender is considered the main or one of the main purposes of punishment. In addition, the modern principle of restoring justice presupposes that the punishment should be proportional to the degree of social danger of the deed and the personality of the perpetrator. Moreover, the modern justice system provides broad opportunities for re-socialization of persons who have committed a crime, which was not the case in ancient Maya.


Von Hagen, V. W. (1960). The world of the Maya. Mentor Press.

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