The hieroglyphic inscriptions contain information that was deemed worthy of recording from the perspective of the ruling nobility. The content and topics of the texts were often dependent on whether the written and iconographic media were being produced as public memorials or for use in the private sphere. Public media were typically proclamations of the royal court with the goal of legitimizing the power of the king and his lineage. The king thus occupies the center of these texts as executor of religious duties and as defender of the cosmic order.
An important function is also fulfilled by dedicatory texts, which contain reports of the completion and rituals for the dedication of monuments and residential, temple, and funerary complexes. Culturally significant artifacts and written media are frequently tagged with long, self-referential texts, which describe the “biographies” of the corresponding artifacts and their usage in rituals. Biographic information about the royal commissioner constitutes the prologue to those textual passages that relate to the erection and dedication of the written object. These historical-biographical passages in particular, with their reports about dynasty founders, births, accessions, military victories, dedications, rituals, and dynastic relationships, that have significantly enhanced understanding of the culture and politics of the Classic-period royal courts in the past several decades.
The textual media used in the private sphere include portable artifacts, which were components of the clothing and accoutrements of members of the nobility, as well as polychrome painted ceramic vessels with hieroglyphic texts. Ceramic drinking vessels for cacao served as a form of social currency and were not only used in feast contexts, but also exchanged between ruling houses as gifts for the host or submitted as tribute. They featured hieroglyphic dedication formulae and narrative texts that commented on the depicted myths or scenes from daily court life of the kings.
The texts of the three extant Maya codices, which date to the century before the Spanish conquest, constitute the text corpuses with the most extensive content. These books primarily contain almanacs, divinatory and mantic texts, and descriptions of rituals realized over the course of the year. In addition, there are astronomical tables for the Venus cycle, the prediction of solar and lunar eclipses, and perhaps even a Mars calendar. The individual sections contain illustrations of supernatural actors with corresponding hieroglyphic captions.