Regents Prep: Global History: Economic Systems
The Mesoamerican civilizations consist of three main cultures, Maya, Aztec, and Inca. All three cultures built powerful civilizations through the use of a traditional economy and limited trade.

The Mayan Civilization (300 - 900 CE) lived in various city-states along the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and in much of Central America. The Mayans built an impressive agricultural society which led to a strong traditional economy and the development of trade.

Mayan farmers developed irrigation systems that allowed them to produce the amount of food necessary to support their large population.  They also increased their amount of arable land by clearing large tracts of rainforest.  Mayan farmers produced crops such as, corn, beans, and squash.  Trade in agriculture products was the basis for the strong Mayan economy. Products such as feathers, honey, and cocoa were traded across Central America.

The Aztec Civilization flourished from the late 1200's until the time of European conquest.  The Aztecs established an empire that consisted of most of Mexico.  They setup a strong, central government, and received tribute payments from many of their subject peoples. Similar to earlier Mesoamerican civilizations, the Aztecs based their economy on agriculture.

Most people in the Aztec Empire were farmers.  As their population increased, the Aztecs developed new ways of farming . To overcome a shortage of land, they developed chinampas, which were floating islands of land anchored to the lake bottom. On these islands, they grew corn, squash, and beans.  The Aztecs also drained swamps to create good farmland, and experimented with a variety of fertilizers to make the most their land.  A strong traditional economy enabled the Aztecs to build a large, powerful empire.

In the 1400's, the Inca conquered an empire that stretched along the Pacific coast of South America.  They instituted a strong central government, and controlled their empire through the use of an elaborate road system. Incan wealth and stability were based on a strong traditional economy dependent on agriculture.

Due to the lack of flat land, Incan engineers developed improved methods of terrace farming.  Terrace farming cuts strips of flat land into hillsides and uses stone walls to support them.  This creates more land for farming, and allowed the Inca to produce the food necessary to support their population. The Inca collected agricultural products in centralized locations before redistributing them across the empire.  To accomplish this task, the Inca carved more than 12,000 miles of roads out of the South American rainforests.  These roads linked the empire together using a system of relay runners. The effective use of these roads as both a communication system, and a network for the movement of goods, allowed the Inca to maintain a very strong, centralized government.


Created by Jeffery Watkins
Copyright 1999-2003 Oswego City School District Regents Exam Prep Center
RegentsPrep and StudyZone are FREE educational resources.