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How did the elite in complex societies use architecture to establish

their position of power?

Shakil Mirza
212 908 505
Professor: Cathie Sutton
TA: Cathie Sutton
Anthropolgy 2150
April 12, 14
Word Count: 1025

Never would someone believe in this technological advanced age

that men would be able to build such monumental architecture
thousands of years ago. Even blueprints to map such structures
required extensive planning and analytics. The rise of complex
societies was defined by Childe as division of labour within a system
regulated by laws over a large population density (Chazan 2011:265266). In this essay, I will highlight how aspects of architecture in
complex societies, were used by the elite to establish position of
power. The elite used ritual practices as one cluster to gain power
through architecture, the stronger the elite the stronger force of
inequality among the society, and lastly the elite used architecture for
administrative purposes as well.

Firstly, one common ritual strategically used by the elite were

mass feasts for all the people of society. The earliest form of a complex
society was Northwest Coast that was comprised of mostly huntergatherers and source of food was salmon and shellfish. Sharing is a
distinct feature of this group and took in the form of competitive
sharing through feasts called potlatches (Chazan 2011:274). The
biggest antiquity found to support great feasts were in Cahokia, Mound
51 was excavated and found vessels, pottery, and bones of and deer
and hints at the fact that Monks Mound was a place which showed the
elites power by organizing such events which gathered 30,000 people

(Chazan 2011:297-297). Also, architectural monuments have been the

hubs of sporting events. The elites would set up a game between
players, and was sometimes a matter of life and death. The game was
an echo of the myths held by the Mayans and was played in the heart
of the city (Chazan 2011:378). Furthermore, in Ancient Egypt, heavy
faith was based on mythology and the relationship with the Pharaoh
who in return would promise slaves for life in the hereafter. Many of the
pyramids and other architectures in complex societies were built
because of this very notion of the afterlife being promised raising the
questions of coercion through manipulation and that is a very basic
explanation in a way which elitists gained power through architecture
(Chazan 2011: 321-322). The take home message is that these rituals
brought together enormous amounts of people, and showed that the
elites had control of the society, and the more often these events were
held, the stronger the connection to elitists.

Secondly, the gap between the rich and the poor proliferated in
the complex societies. Distinct appearances were created so that there
was a separation between the nobleman and slaves. For example,
Maori women from New Zealand had a high status inferred from the
feather cloaks and jade pendants (Chazan 2011:267). Also, in Pueblo
Bonitio lies The Great House and is evidence of social inequality and
restricted two rooms where two males were found with lavish offerings.

The function of Pueblo Bonito was to serve as a ceremonial center,

which was attended by many people. The Royal Tombs of Ur which was
found with large amount jewelry, tools, musical instruments in
Mesopotamia displayed extracts of inequality, evidence of hairstyle
and clothing appeared to be a major difference between the upper and
lower class (Chazan 211:311). The more greed of power of the elitists
lead to selfish and sometimes questionable reasoning, because, kings
sacrifice precious objects for the destruction of wealth to accumulate
more of it; this effort was the key to the rulers power (Chazan
211:312). Next, wherever we have seen warfare, there was a strict link
to the centralized bond of wealth and power that kept the society tightknit to a unified symbol for example the Aegans. Although only covered
a small area in comparison to other societies, it had the most elaborate
halls detailed to the carvings, which were the center of the
Mycenaeans called a megaron. The violence was mainly with the
Minoans, but the based on objective evidence, Mycenaeans had better
able and skillful bodies. The elitists took credit, assuring their people
safety, and in return strengthened their position of power by gaining
the trust of the citizens (Chazan 2011:340-343).

Third of all, architectures of these complex societies were also

used as administrative purposes. As Mesopotamia expanded their
empire, regional centers were set-up but to unify the pockets of

habitants to one center required the advancement of technology. One

department of administration was concerned with the economy;
Mesopotamia was set up in between to water streams and this allowed
trade networks to fuel merchants to work not mainly on the coasts but
inland. The government had a specialization and surplus on vessels,
and bowls and used this for monopolization on wealth (Chazan
2011:310). In Chaco Canyon, all roads lead to Pueblo Bonito called the
Chacoan Network. This compelled people to bring food and pottery
from surrounding areas because the elitists had gained control using
the Great Houses as the meeting point of collecting taxes (Chazan
2011: 292). In the Incan empire, it was the unorthodox tradition, that
the kings had to get wealth on their own and that it was not just
handed over to them or inherited. This led many kings to go on
conquests, and obtain wealth on their own. However, Machu Picchu
was home to masonry style aristocratic buildings to serve as a
ceremonial site to remember the predecessors of the society, and the
panaqa was a mark of success of a king to fascinate the peasants
psyche for them to understand the authority of elitists (Chazan 2011:

In conclusion, I would reiterate that the elitists evolved, as did the

complex societies from Easter Island to Mesopotamia to Central and
South America and to China that showcased its own way of

establishing power among its people. Elitists used rituals, producing

inequality, and trade networking in relation to architecture works in
establishing their position of power. The monuments served many
functions and purposes, but that would never had happened, without
organizing a mass unification under the elitists.


Chazan, Michael
World prehistory and archaeology: a pathway through
time. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Inc.

If you could be an ordinary citizen in any of the ancient civilizations we

have studied, which would it be and why?
Shakil Mirza
212 908 505
Professor: Cathie Sutton
TA: Cathie Sutton
Anthropolgy 2150
April 12, 14
Word Count: 1034

If I were an ordinary citizen in any of the ancient civilizations, I

would choose to live in the Indus Valley. My family is originally from this
area, where the excavations were discovered and that just connected
me back to my homeland, and in hopes of touring that area which is
now called Sindh. But mainly why I was intrigued by this society was
that the Harappan civilization remains wrapped in enigma and
mystery (Chazan 2011:346). Many features of the Indus Valley really

stood out to me that distinguished from other societies were

landscape, organization, and governance.

The Harappan civilization is located along the Indus Valley, which

the Indus River flowed through from the Himalayas through modern
day Pakistan into the Arabian Sea stretching 3,000 km (Chazan
2011:346). Although it was very dry, this society faced torrential and
unpredictable changes in water level fluctuations where they would
have gone from either sometimes no water, to flooding of the city.
Secondly, Archaeologists can tell what Indus Valley people ate from
examining their teeth and discovered that agriculture was rich, with a
wide arrange of domestication of crops and animals such as wheat,
barley, peas, dates, grapes, melons sheep, goats, and cattle. According
to this list of items, it is without a doubt the Harappans had a healthy
lifestyle (Sutton 2014:lecture notes). Also, the city had culture, which
was mainly craftwork such as bead making, shell working and ceramic
that was excavated and analyzed using material analysis and sourcing
(Kenoyer 1997:262). Religiously, it cannot be said with certainty what
the religious life of the people since our information is fragmentary.
However, what we do know is that the Indus people worshipped a
Mother Goddesses and is evident from Harappan seal impressions,
terracotta, metal figures, and mortuaries and to clear a misconception
that may have crept into peoples minds is that these goddesses have

nothing do to with Hinduism, since they were introduced 1000 years

before the decline of this civilization (Caspers, 1993:74).

The city was very symmetrical as in the streets followed a grid,

the streets followed parallel of each other and all were relatively
orientated to the points on a compass. This would show there was
some sort of civil authority to carry out these public work tasks. There
were also drainage systems in Harappa that was a unique feature of
Indus Valley civilization because it was not found in any other city of
the same antiquity, it was regularly inspected and at constant
intervals. The city is characterized on its own by the highly effective
use of services rendered by the municipal authority were the first signs
of urbanization and town planning. (Mughal 1990:15-30) The most
impressive structure was the Great Bath found in Mohenjo-Daro it was
a gypsum mortar, three meters deep and a flight of stairs down the
basin and archaeologists interpret this structure as either a religious
ritual for cleanliness or a nice place to cool off on a hot summer day
(Chazan 2011:348). Another aspect in the city life that amazes me was
that there were wells; a commonality found on the sites located near a
group of mud-brick houses. Simplistic pipelines were also set up to
catch rainwater flowing into a reservoir in a central location for the
people and storage systems were excavated at sites which have the
same function as modern day silos, today (Jansen 2006: 180-186).

Thirdly, with governance came the advancement of writing. The

Harappan script were small carved stone sealings used to mark
vessels and bundles (Chazan 2011:348). A wide array of objects were
used in this civilization to forward messages inscribed on copper
pieces, gold pendants, and bronze axes. The mysteries which I was
hinting in the introduction was referring to exactly this, because
Archaeologists have little clues as to what these inscriptions say
because some were unreadable and other had depictions of bulls,
elephants, and rhinos and majestical creatures such as unicorns with
three heads (Chazan 2011:349). The seals were used in trade and
economics as well, the plain cubes of rocks were carved to adhere to a
strict standard, and each sector of society played its role giving
countenance to the state (Chazan 2011:350). Also governance was
highlighted in the previous paragraph highlighting the structures in the
public sphere which impacted its growth and amazes even man today
as how a civilization could establish our modern day systems. Although
little can be said on what kind of government here was it is a fact that
the people lived peacefully, and it did not seem as if there was any
inequality excavated by graves which in comparison to other societies
had six-feet deep full of luxurious materials. Another clue to show
there was an egalitarian civilization was through the blueprints of the
citys layout, all people had the same brick-made houses, the same

wells, and the same quadrants for individual agriculture (Mughal,


To conclude, the Indus Valley people and their everyday lifestyle of

how they interacted amongst each other and the state amazes me.
Although their decline came due to foreign invaders, their civilization
was at peace. There was no caste system, due little information on the
government leaders and religious figures, there would be a divide if
they had been authoritative and compulsive but that is not the case. If
these were the noblemen of civilization, they were great cooperators to
be able to unify a whole civilization under peace and progression
thousands of years (Mughal 1990:72). Peace not because they were
isolated but because they did not have imperialistic desires. Their
resources and niche was confined to them and did not need to venture
out for expansion, although it is evident there was trade along the
Indus River according to Mesopotamian texts referring them as
important trading partners (Chazan 2011:346).

Chazan, Michael
World prehistory and archaeology: a pathway through time.
Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Inc.
Kenoyer Jonathan M.
1997 Trade and technology of the Indus Valley: new insights from
Harappa, Pakistan. World Archaeology 29(2):262280.

Jansen, Michael
Water Supply and Sewage Disposal at Mohenjo-Daro. World
Archaeology 21(2) (1989): 177192.

Mughal, Rafique M.
1990 Harappan settlement systems and patterns in the greater
Indus Valley (circa 3500-1500 B.C.) Pakistan Archaeology. 25:172.
Sutton, Cathie
"Enigmas and Diversities. Lecture, York University, Toronto, ON,
March 13, 2014.

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