Augmentation of Office in the Neolithic & Beyond


It is not only that office-holders throughout history have used their offices as a base to exploit others; but also that there was a natural tendency for an officer to try to increase the power of the office and its privileges once he was installed in his post.  As offices were most often filled by aggrandizers who wanted more prestige, power and property, this is understandable.  This is so straightforward that I will not belabor the point.  One example will suffice.

The Divine King of the Kuba of Central Africa, the Nyim, periodically would appoint patricians to posts within his administration.  The appointment bestowed upon the office-holder a title, which was a lifetime appointment.  The office-holder could only leave office through death.  Some offices were high up in the bureaucracy, while others were lower and less powerful.  Consequently, those installed in offices beneath their aspirations had great incentive to change the nature of their official privileges and thereby increase their status.  The normal strategy for accomplishing this was for the patrician to become the “friend” of the king i.e., to get close to him and win his favor in one manner or another.  The anthropologist Jan Vansina (1968, 1978) says this approach could result in additional attributes being given to the title he held.  No doubt this involved some negotiation in court and likely would have created tension and conflict with rival aspirants.  The power of these bureaucratic office-holders was prominently displayed by feathers of various sorts in their hair or headdresses.  Adding another feather signaled that the officer had additional powers.  As the king awarded more feathers there was a constant shuffling of power within the ranks of the patricians (see Case 7.4).

Of course, within a bureaucracy or a political administration, when there is such individual striving, there is pressure for the structure to expand.  We will see that in the last chapter where I discuss the state-management system implemented during the Kennedy administration, which grew even more in the Johnson years and yet again having been expanded in every administration since.

Just as leaders throughout history have tried to increase the prestige, power and privileges of office and aspired to convert little chiefdoms into chiefdoms and chiefdoms into kingdoms etc., modern day bureaucrats in the state-management system in Washington DC have grown the war budget to astronomical proportions.  This is the outgrowth of greed, individual achievement and ego-fulfillment by officials within the system, the collective result of which is structural growth, the outcome of numerous rule changes, normative re-formulation and the establishment of newly accepted ways of doing things (see Case 11.1).

Also, there are different kinds of augmentation of office.  Not all have to do with capturing labor power or property.  Some offices may be restricted to accessing prestige, as we see in the case below: 




Case 2.9.  Zuni Leadership: Power without Possessions 


The Zuni of the protohistoric Southwest in North America provide an example of notable concentrations of power in the hands of religious officials; yet, archaeologically these officials appear to have had no special possessions representative of their official privileges.  Furthermore, these offices were maintained within only a few select lineages and corporate organization seems to have circumscribed any broader individualistic aggrandizement on the part of the ritual leaders.  Keith Kintigh (2000) indicates that the exclusionary power was likely balanced by strong corporate aspects of Zuni political organization.  Moreover, today’s ethnography among the Zuni has revealed a strong corporate ideology that seems to prohibit excessive accumulation of wealth. 

Zuni ritual leaders were praised by their peers; but did not, or could not, turn that admiration into high, stratified rank i.e., office with accumulative powers.  Yet, office-holding got them prestige.  Their personal striving seemed to have been limited to that quest by the corporate structure in which they operated. 

It appears that the Zuni polity was heterarchical, indicating a lack of one-dimensional hierarchy.  Their society demonstrated a presence of multiple and noncongruent sources of power that could come into play in different situations.  Heterarchy and multiple strategies of aggrandizement are consistent with diffuse resources, a historical-material condition lacking a single source of wealth that could be accessed by those holding ritual power.




Perhaps the Zuni historical-material conditions were not conducive to using ritual office to acquire property and power over the labor of others; but one thing history shows is that historical-material conditions change and when they do, such offices can become augmented to allow office-holders to exploit in material ways.  An office that is benign in one era can become extractive and abusive in another.  Opportunism awaits a proper material base.


Ritual and War – Mayan Civilization


Ritual, with its attendant ideology, has historically been used by politicos to augment their policies at home.  Let's look at one case of such linkage between ritual and war as avenues to validate home rule.




Case 2.10.  Mayan Ritual & Non-Expansive War 


Mayan society began with hunting and gathering and moved to slash-and-burn horticulture in dispersed settlements that did not lend themselves to political overlordship.  About three millennia ago they migrated out of the highlands of Central America to the lowlands, settling down to farm.

The Maya were established at Komchen in the Yucatán by 2,800 B.P. and were constructing massive pyramids at multiple sites in central Petén by 2,600 B.P.  The florescence of political organization necessary to create such a civilization grew, it would seem, on agriculture and trade in animal pelts and brightly colored feathers in demand by élites elsewhere.

Mayan graves reveal their political evolution.  Previously the dead had been buried under households, indicative of corporate descent group organization; but with the passage of time, bodies began to be interred in public places, indicating the rise of centralized government.  This changeover represents the sanctification of a given ancestral location that could be used for symbolic purposes by the leadership.  Such burial sites were materializations of an ancestral heritage, linking living leaders to those of the past, as well as reaffirming ownership of the land by those with the correct genealogies.  Ancestor worship was a means of structuring the inheritance of property and political office from one generation to the next (McAnany 1994). 

There were other forms of materialization.  State leaders built stone buildings, monuments and erected carved stelæ and had masks of the gods and ancestors represented on their pyramids.  These public façades related to the burgeoning notion of divine kingship in Mayan society (Coe 1993; Freidel & Schele 1988, 1992).

The Mayans did not invent monumental architecture as a political statement but they knew the concept, as evidenced at El Mirador, the largest Preclassic Mayan center in Central America (Matheny 1986).  There the massive Danta pyramid dominates the site and the countryside, a structure that would have been more than impressive to the king’s subjects.

The king-builder had under him a highly organized élite cadre of priests and diviners who controlled the construction of the great city using artisans, architects, engineers and thousands of unskilled laborers drawn from the surrounding villages.  Such undertakings were about creating an architectural heritage that stressed social ranking and the purported eternal nature of royal dynasties.  The buildings were meant to be a statement to competing kingdoms and neighbors, in addition to the king’s subjects (Miller & Taube 1993).  The object of the monumental architecture and the rites carried out there was to create history linking the present to the Otherworld and to the legendary Olmec Civilization of the past (Schele, Freidel & Parker 1995).

This need for genealogy and a crafted history gave birth to the Mayan hieroglyphic script developed by royal scribes, which was used for calculating calendars and regulating religious observances (Coe 1992).  The royal inscriptions carefully detailed the kingly lineage tracing the living king to his royal ancestors, a careful documentation of genealogies (Fash 1991).

To fabricate a mythology of power the Mayan king employed retainers – priests, diviners, scribes and sahalob or noble vassals who received many privileges for their skill and administration; but the king could also be considered a shaman, the primary intermediary with the Otherworld. 

Mayan kings and their cortege used both the awe-inspiring regalia of office and public rituals to stress their close identity with their royal ancestors and the supernatural.  In asserting this linkage they were consciously reinforcing their political authority over their subjects and subordinate chieftains.  As Brian Fagan put it:


The king believed himself to have a divine covenant with the gods and ancestors, a covenant that was reinforced again and again in elaborate private and public rituals.  The king was often depicted as the World Tree, a conduit by which humans communicated with the Otherworld.  Trees were the living environment of Maya life and a metaphor for human power.  So the kings of the Maya were a forest of symbolic human World Trees within a natural, forested landscape (1995:496).


Clearly, staying in power was a prime mover in Mayan political life.  The Maya were comprised of various competing polities and were not united by an overarching political or economic structure; still they shared a common cosmology (Coe 1993; Fash 1991).  Yet the shared ideas about the Otherworld and the place of humans in the cosmos were not enough to prevent warfare, which was a tool of kings as much as their rituals – in fact, the two were linked in theory and action.  Much of their art and writings concentrate on the ceremonial and cosmological aspects of warfare i.e., the acquisition and sacrifice of captives as a means of validating political authority (Schele, Miller & Kerr 1992). 

It would have been difficult to completely dominate an enemy city-state because Mayan rulers lacked standing armies.  In fact, warfare seems to have been less about conquest and the extraction of value from defeated enemies than about internal validation of kingly authority through the act of war and post-conflict sacrifice of captured nobles.  

The normal warring procedure was to attack a neighboring city, capture its king and élite cadre and ritually kill them back home in a public display of military victory (see: Case 5.2).  This would effectively eviscerate the enemy city-state because no nobles remained in it; but typically the Mayan conquerors did not occupy the fallen city-state.  




There were glaring exceptions to the lack of interest in true conquest among the Mayans.  For instance, the aggression of Tikal and Palenque. 




Case 2.11.  Mayan Imperialism


Tikal’s most important monarch, Yax-Moch-Xoc (A.D. 219-238) established the ruling dynasty of Tikal’s Classic Period.  His ninth successor, Great-Jaguar-Paw (r. A.D. 320-?), defeated the army of neighboring Uaxactún in A.D. 378 under the generalship of Smoking Frog.  His army ignored the long-established tradition in Mayan military history of not sacking a neighboring city.  After killing the Uaxactún king and nobility, Smoking Frog set himself up as Lord of Uaxactún, founder of a new dynasty there.

Tikal’s royal lineage prospered in the coming centuries, eventually establishing an empire through military conquest, extending their trading influence in this manner and through establishing judicious marriage alliances.  At its zenith, Tikal’s territory covered 965 square miles and had over a third of a million subjects.




The Rise to Power through Military Service


In the New World Smoking Frog used military service to become Lord of Uaxactún; but in an Old World context it was also used to be near to power and, as we will see, merely being close to pwer has benefits.  My ancestors,[1] the Mendoza family, were members of one of Spain's most renowned noble dynasties, rising to great prominence in the Renaissance (Nader 1979).  Let’s investigate the political and economic rewards that came their way as they plied their knightly skills in the service of Spanish kings.




Case 2.12.  The Mendoza Rise to Power in Spain


The Mendoza caballeros were the kingmakers behind the rise of the Castilian throne and went on to have great political influence on royalty without being royal themselves.  Their rise to prominence is a good example of how the caballeros of early rural Spain were able to maintain privileged access to royal power and in the process amass a great fortunes and the highest prestige in the land.

The lineage had its beginning as an élite family in the province of Álava (Basque: Araba), a traditional Basque province in Northern Iberia (Nader 1979: Chapter 2).  They incorporated themselves into high Castilian society by means of the fueros (royal charters) during the reign of Alfonso XI (A.D. 1312-1350).

Prior to the Mendoza family’s entrance into Castilian society, Álava had been a battleground for centuries with incessant feuding between the local seigniorial families.  The first historical evidence for such feuding goes as far back as the tenth century.  Around A.D. 1332, these Mendoza caballeros moved to Castile and incorporated themselves into the Castilian fighting force, climbing the ladder of rewards available to those who gave military service to the Crown.  

These rough-and-ready hidalgos operated under the Medieval concept of res publica – that the upper class held a responsibility to support the royal family in their governance of Castile.  In this capacity, the Mendozas became military entrepreneurs and were considered vasallos del rey (vassals of the king), receiving horses, income and lands in return for outstanding military service.   Some were rewarded with posts in the royal administration, with the attendant incomes and perquisites.  

Accordingly, being attached to power was an avenue to holding formal positions in officialdom.  Some of these royal administrative posts included: the admiralty of Castilian fleets; military governorships, chief notaries of the provinces and royal administrators of the cities.  Military governors guarded the cities, royal fortresses, walls, towers, and bridges of the cities, as well as the royal castles and fortified towers of the countryside. 

Fighting for the Crown was their gateway into corporate groups, since the Mendoza hidalgos also received positions in three of the corporate jurisdictions: the municipalities, the Honrado Concejo de la Mesta (guild providing tolls for the passage of sheep) and the military orders.  All of these memberships provided the Mendozas with status and income.  Military service, therefore, allowed the Mendozas to move from the outside to the inside of officialdom and the organized and stable associations of high society.

In the offices they held, the Mendoza caballeros exercised judicial, executive, legislative and military functions.  Accordingly, they were judges in criminal cases within the jurisdictions (señoríos) of their public offices and judges of civil and criminal cases in their private señoríos.  Thus, when the Mendozas moved into high society in Castile, they became participants in the public life of the kingdom.

The first Mendoza to appear in the service of the Castilian Crown was Gonzalo Yáñez de Mendoza.[2]  He fought against the Muslims at the battle of Algeciras and served as montero mayor (chief huntsman) to Alfonso XI (1311-1350).  When he moved to the Castilian province of Guadalajara, and settled in the city of Guadalajara he became a regidor (city councilman) and married into a very prominent and wealthy family there.  His wife was the sister of Iñigo López de Orozco, also a caballero from Álava who made his fortunes in the service of the Crown.  Thus, élites were linked together through marriage to others with common interests to form a cohesive ruling class.

The power and prestige of the lineage would continue.  Gonzalo's son, Pedro González de Mendoza (d. 1385), was particularly adept, as were many in the family, at choosing the winning side at a propitious moment.  Using his family name and influence, he too became established as one of the leaders in the Castilian class of rich and powerful families in fourteenth-century Castile.  He did this during King Pedro the Cruel’s violent reign (1334-1369), receiving privileges and income in return for military service.  But when Enrique de Trastámara, the half-brother of Pedro the Cruel, challenged the unpopular king, Mendoza threw his support to Enrique and promptly received extensive lands and privileges from him.  Enrique also gave Mendoza two strategic towns north of Madrid – Hita and Buitrago.  

At first Mendoza’s support of Enrique was rather tenuous; but garnered an ardent and solidifying commitment because of the upsetting events that took place at Nájera, when Mendoza's uncle, Iñigo López de Orozco, was treasonously murdered by Pedro.  At that point Mendoza, along with his band of fellow soldiers of fortune, were imprisoned and held for random.  From that time on, Mendoza fervently supported the Trastámara Dynasty and its politics and allied himself with other Enriquistas who had undergone the same sort of conversion at Nájera.  Helen Nader notes that generations of Mendoza sons would bear the name of their martyr, Iñigo López and the sense of unity created at their Nájera confinement was to unite these freelancers into a tight-knit core within the highest ranks of Castilian society.

Pedro continued to threaten Enrique until the latter killed him in 1369 and consolidated his power in the peninsula through the help of Mendoza and other loyal caballeros, whom he rewarded for their services.  Enrique's rewards formed the core of the Mendoza patrimony and in the fifteenth century they were to become the basis for the greatest fortune in Trastámara Castile.  Clearly, being near to power was a rewarding enterprise.

The Mendoza fortune was thus built upon their adherence to the Trastámara cause at a critical moment. As military entrepreneurs, they offered their services to the most profitable cause and in so doing acted as a powerful political force in Castilian history.  As their power and wealth grew during the fifteenth century, the mere fact of their choosing one side over another became enough to tip the balance in favor of the parties to whom they lent their political support.

In The Scripting of Domination in Medieval Catalonia I wrote about how Catalan caballeros first used the sword to take land and then used the pen to fabricate written deeds to secure their ownership of those lands and to create serfs of the peasants working them.  The sword and pen are two instruments of coalescing control over power, prestige and property; but the marriage ring can be considered a third.  War got the Mendozas to the heights of Castilian society and marriage sealed the family’s place in Spanish history.  The extended family that grew out of the Nájera group, those who were captured and imprisoned by King Pedro, formed by a unique common historical experience, became a solid ruling class, what Helen Nader called a “closed corporation within the Castilian aristocracy.”  

During the fifteenth century, the Nájera prisoners and their descendants would intermarry with other powerful Castilian families and would advantageously ally themselves with a variety of political forces.  But throughout the Trastámara Period (1469-1516), the offspring of the Nájera prisoners, many of them Mendozas, continued to be a tight-knit interlaced network of élites who were set apart from other Castilian aristocrats by their mutual ancestry and by being inextricably bound up with the trauma at Nájera.

In the class-based ethos of Trastámara Spain, it was the monarch’s place to demand loyalty from families such as the Mendozas; but the kings also felt a need to reward their reliable followers with mercedes (gifts).  In his first grant of lands to Pedro González de Mendoza, King Enrique was cementing a vital relationship with a powerful family, one that had become so by providing military service to kings.   

The very origins of their dynasty contractually bound the Trastámara kings to the Nájera prisoners and their descendants, especially the Mendoza family.  The natural consequences of this fact for the Mendozas were enormous.  From the time Pedro González de Mendoza committed himself to the Enriquista cause at Nájera, the family became a key pillar of the ruling dynasty, as well as the prime beneficiaries of Trastámara stipends.  

With the Mendozas at the center, the wealth of royal rewards was kept within a small band of élites united through intermarriage.  With these marriages, the Mendozas built a set of connections with other Enriquistas, links that bound Pedro González de Mendoza’s descendants to the political party that had triumphed in the civil war.  Understandably, the Mendozas came to hold the highest political and military offices of the kingdom.

The eldest son of Pedro González de Mendoza, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, continued this profitable policy of active military and political support of the new royal dynasty.  As Admiral of Castile, he rendered valuable military services in the wars against Portugal.  In the power struggle during the minority of Enrique III (r. 1390-1406), he sided with the winning side by allying himself with his uncles, Pedro López de Ayala and Juan Hurtado de Mendoza.  In so doing he became del consejo del rey (counselor of the king).

Sometime before 1395, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza received the patronage of the city offices of Guadalajara as a merced.  Additionally, he held the hereditary right to name the city's procuradores to the Cortes (legislators to the legislature).  Henceforth he and his descendants were able to dominate the politics of the city of Guadalajara and the surrounding province. 

When his career was cut short by death in 1404, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza was reputed to be the richest man in Castile, having inherited a large fortune from his father to which he added large tracts of land.  Also, he received estates as mercedes from both the kings Juan I (r. 1379-1390) and Enrique III (1390- 1406) that increased his holdings in the provinces of Guadalajara and Madrid.  He also extended the family's interests into Asturias by marrying a second time to Leonor de la Vega, in 1387.  Leonor was the sole heiress of the vast Vega fortune and brought extensive seigneurial Asturian lands into the Mendoza holdings, including sheep-grazing lands, salt mines, and seaports – the latter becoming great sources of Mendoza income in a period of extensive wool trade between Castile and Flanders.

But the marriage was also a political move, being a renewal of the alliance system which the family had formed with the Enriquista nobility – the first supporters of the Trastámara cause.  These connections were further strengthened by the second marriage of the admiral's eldest sister, Juana, to Alfonso Enríquez, a nephew of Enrique II.  

The intertwining of relations with the top families in Spain served the Mendoza family well.  Alfonso Enríquez succeeded Mendoza as Admiral of Castile and this office became a hereditary right held by the Enríquez family, which gave a powerful connection for Mendozas throughout the fifteenth century, long before their cousin, Fernando the Catholic became king.

Pedro González de Mendoza and his son, Admiral Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, transformed the Mendoza lineage from a provincial military family into a wealthy, aristocratic dynasty that dominated the entire province of Guadalajara and its chief city of the same name.  Mendozas held the highest national offices, enjoying close family ties to a powerful network of the country’s highest families, including the royal family itself.  All of this was accomplished through their participation in national affairs, including military service, as well as establishing influence at court and holding high national office.

Helen Nader’s early work on the Mendoza family focused on how its men strategized to move up in Castilian society, in terms of prestige, power and property.  In 2003 Nader turned her attention to the Mendoza women with a book of essays by Renaissance scholars entitled: Power and Gender in Renaissance Spain: Eight Women of the Mendoza Family, 1450-1650.  These essays explore the lives of powerful women whose lineage in the Mendoza family gave them very high status within an overarching patriarchal society designed to keep women out of public life.  

Each of the influential and literary women discussed in this volume handled her rank differently.  Strikingly, their disquiet with patriarchy was not dissimilar from the concerns of feminists today.  Spanning the two centuries between Juana Pimentel, a widow who was skilled at manipulating the patronage system to her own ends, and Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, who rejected both a life cloistered in a convent and marriage in favor of missionary work, this book reveals a multifaceted society in which women were limited by laws and a male-centered culture, and yet their social status and the Mendoza name made those laws negotiable.  

These women found that their personal agendas had a broad societal impact because of their upbringing and the power of rank.  They were, each in a unique way, able to challenge the laws of the land and patriarchal assumptions about women's inferiority.

Here we have seen the case of self-seeking males in the Mendoza family positioning themselves near the Castilian King and providing him with military service and unflinching loyalty in order to rise in society to the highest levels.  Admittedly, the Mendozas switched sides when it seemed in their best interest to do so e.g., in the support of the contender to the throne, Enrique de Trastámara.  It proved to be the right move and, once again, they were highly connected with the best families in the land and the Crown.  In making these alliances the Mendoza men built a great fortune, occupied the highest posts in the royal administration and established the Mendoza name in Spanish history. 

We also see that high rank and a famous name helped several Mendoza women have influence in a male-centered world where their feminist ideas would not have had purchase without the leverage of their illustrious lineage.  It is a case of strategizing men and women working their way forward in a world of norms, some of which had to be altered, ignored and challenged, sometimes with a sword, at other times as office-holders and, on the female side, with a pen.




Scripting Information for Power


With the emergence of a storable-stealable-surplus, information control became vital to those wishing to manage society.  It is a truism that information is power.  Throughout history part of the illicit power capacity of office-holders lay in their extra-office networks.  These networks allowed power seekers a flow of information and influence, as we just saw in the Mendoza case.  More broadly throughout history, along established lines flowed information that could be subversive to the stated functions of office, thereby undermining the goals for which structures were designed.  Along such network avenues corrosive vested interests could flow into the official structure.  Sometimes this strengthened the structure and at others it weakened it.  In either case, political leverage came from having the right information.

After the Agricultural Revolution, control and compartmentalization of information, avoidance of outside evaluation, circumvention or alteration of regular procedures and selection of personnel to be involved in any undertaking led to the development of a class of advantaged élites, those with privileged access to information.

Office could be used to harbor secrets, which could be strategically leaked or ceremonially paraded for political purposes, thus shaping the scriptwriting process.  In any case, the images transmitted to the public were filtered by the designated personnel of the office-holders.  Usually the key objective was the maintenance of opacity i.e., autonomy from public inspection or outside control in order to maintain privileged access to power, property and prestige.

This was partly accomplished by harnessing information or maintaining the right to access information allegedly coming from Deity, which took various forms – God, the ancestors, a sacred oracle and so forth.  In this way, élites set themselves up to define and control social, economic and political reality for the masses.  To accomplish this, various forms of propaganda were put in place.  This was meant to reduce transparency and create a docile population.

For example, in Mesopotamia there were several efforts by various governments to regulate the economy; but most efforts failed since the bureaucracy lacked the tools to analyze economic processes; but the kings and bureaucrats felt that they had to be seen to be doing something about economic crises.  The kings of Mesopotamia put forth various decrees and edicts but to no avail in most instances.  In royal inscriptions kings alluded to fixing prices; but these were propaganda ploys to show how well-paid and happy their subjects were.  Since we now have these royal statements and other documents showing the real prices, we know that the royal inscriptions exaggerated the well-being of the people living in the realm (Robertson 1984; Sollberger 1965).

Misinformation coming from officialdom is something we are accustomed to in the modern age; but it began early on in human history.  Mesopotamian kings did it and so did Medieval popes, as we see in the next case:




Case 2.13.  Papal Falsification of Information in the Middle Ages


The legitimacy of the Holy Roman Empire was based on the idea that the pope and his bishops were the recipients of the authority of Jesus and his apostles, a mystification called apostolic succession.

For the early church Rome’s version of things was only one’s bishop’s script.  However much of that script is questionable and some of it is an outright forgery e.g., the Donation of Constantine and the “False Decretals” (see below). 

Much of the religious energy in the nascent Christian Era actually took place in North Africa and Rome’s rise to prominence could not have been easily foreseen by those struggling to put together Christianity in some coherent form after the execution of Peter and Paul by the Romans and their burial in Rome.  In fact, this materialization of their graves for the Christian religion was the most important fact in swinging the seat of power to Rome and transforming the Bishop of Rome into il papa, the pope.  The graves of these two apostles became a focal point exploited by Roman popes.  As Duffy writes:


Christianity all over the Roman world in the first and second centuries was in a state of violent creative ferment.  What would come to be seen as mainstream orthodoxy coexisted alongside versions of the Gospel which would soon come to seem outrageously deviant, ‘heretical’.  But the outré and the orthodox were not always easy to distinguish at first sight, and the early Christian community in Rome had more than its fair share of competing versions of the Gospel (2006:12).


Early popes had a difficult start; some being dragged through the streets, beaten, their eyes gouged out, their tongues ripped from their bodies and others were simply assassinated in their beds.  Finally history saw the birth of papal Rome and the pope emerged not only as the head of Christianity in the West; but also the equivalent of a medieval potentate – a prince that operated not unlike the other counts and kings of the era. 

This began with the reign of Pope Damasus I (A.D. 366-383) who perfectly embodied the growing power of the papacy and its mounting grandeur.  To survive the internecine competition of Roman politics and the machinations of other churchmen, Damasus had to be a ruthless powerbroker, one who would not hesitate to mobilize the city police and the Christian mob to back up his rule.  To win election he had been able to deploy squads of thugs, the notoriously hard-boiled Roman fossores, who massacred 137 followers of the rival pope in street fighting that ended in a bloody siege of what is now the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  Machiavelli would have been proud of the good pope.

After Damasus, subsequent popes of the eternal city self-consciously put together a series of documents that elevated to the occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to be the church’s supreme lawgiver, one claiming plenitudo potestatis.  They were seeking informational power by scripting a particular view of reality for general consumption.  The pope had to compete with other princes who also had power, so the lawmakers of the papacy wanted to have the greatest power possible in order to deal with other potentates. 

This princely papacy saw an early acme in the reign of Pope Leo “The Great” (A.D. 440-461).  Leo saw the pope’s office as the head of an imperium, which was not of this world and which superceded any secular claim to hegemony.  However the “papa-cide” and anti-papal movements weren’t finished; but little by little the power of the Prince of Rome coalesced and by the reign of Pope Gregory (A.D. 590-604) the church had become the largest single landowner in the West.  Information control was generating material benefits.

Landowning was one strength; documents were another.  If you are going to have power, a script is helpful.  During the papacy of Zachary (A.D. 741-752) the Frankish King, Pepin (r. 751-768), made what is now known as the Donation of Pepin, whereby he undertook to return to the pope the Duchy of Rome, the Exarchate of Ravenna and the other cities and lands captured by the Lombards.  Pepin made war in Italy, defeated the Lombards and fulfilled his promise, depositing a document detailing the donation on the grave of St. Peter.  A Papal State had been inaugurated. 

However, the Eastern Church was not happy with this elevation of the Roman Pope to such princely heights and seemingly Pope Zachary felt the need for more documentation of his supremacy.  A forgery was in order and was duly fabricated by papal scribes, called the Donation of Constantine:


This document purported to be a solemn legal enactment of the first Christian Emperor.  In it, Constantine recounts the legend (accepted as historical fact in the eighth century) of his healing from leprosy during his baptism by Pope Sylvester I.  In gratitude for this miracle, and in recognition of Sylvester’s inheritance of the power of Peter to bind and loose, Constantine sets the Pope and his successors for ever above all other bishops and churches throughout the world.  He gives him also ‘all the prerogatives of our supreme imperial position and the glory of our authority’.  Constantine tells us how he had himself handed Sylvester his imperial crown, ‘which we have transferred from our own head’; but the Pope in respect for his priestly tonsure, chose not to wear it.  Instead Constantine gave him a cap of honour, the camalaucum… (Duffy 2006:88-89).


Papal primacy was, therefore, counterfeited into reality.  Based on this fraudulent document the pope received the city of Rome and “all the provinces, districts and cities of Italy and the Western regions.”  In other words, it was documented that il papa was now the Prince of Europe, the dominant political and religious force in the West.  He was not only princeps; but also Emperor of Christendom.  As “Emperor” he could now install kings.  In fact, Pope John VIII (872-882) anointed Charles the Bald (875-877) and Charles the Fat (879-888). 

Papal authority also grew in church affairs and the pope, standing on his faux documents, rose to become the ultimate source of canon law.  But it seems that one major forgery was not enough.  About 850 there appeared a series of letters of early popes, now known as the “False Decretals.”  These forged letters were mixed in with real ones, some garbled documents, genuine records of council meetings and the Donation of Constantine to form the documentary foundation of papal authority:


Their systematic presentation of a massive body of authoritative ecclesiastical legislation (however dubious some of it might be) made the collection of the most often cited reference-books of the medieval Church.  The role of the papacy as the fountain of all jurisdiction in the Church, even that of councils, already widely accepted, gradually became axiomatic (Duffy 2006:98-99).


This was about fabricating power and with these documents the pope became supreme judge and legislator of Christendom and a princely influence in secular affairs (saeculum).  For example, Pope Nicholas I (858-867), the last pope to be called “The Great,” felt that no synod or council had binding force without his approval and that no bishop might be deposed without his agreement.  Now all decisions as pope had the force of law and secular monarchs were on earth to use their military might to protect Rome and the man sitting on the Throne of St. Peter. 

It goes without saying that not all the great prelates of the church agreed with this interpretation of papal sway.  Nicholas and ensuing popes often had to bring high ecclesiastical dignitaries to heel.  Local churches, like provinces in the secular world, did not always want to give up their established local laws.  The power of the papacy was to suffer under such attacks from within, the obstinacy of kings, Roman politics, papal indiscretions and other problems that beset succeeding popes; but based on the documents safely stored in papal vaults, the supremacy of the Vicar of Rome survived through the ages.

Power throughout Christendom was enacted based on such claims, which of course no lay member of the church or empire had the knowledge or power to refute.  Men claiming to be holy and anointed by Peter and Constantine through the Roman Pope – like the church apparitor or sheriff, the official of the ecclesiastical courts who could summon people to appear before them – had great sway over the minds of European Christians in the Middle Ages.  He served the summons, arrested an accused person and, in an ecclesiastico-civil procedure, took physical possession of persons and property on behalf of the judge.  Claiming to be called of God, he acted in very poleconomic ways.  Not surprisingly, some of the appritors’ confiscations found their way into private pockets.  In fact, writs and canon laws that provided mystifying power to the Pope of Rome and his churchmen were the result of a long struggle by successive popes and decretists in a very human search for prestige, power and property.




The Power of Ideology


The assertive men who wished to break out of the bonds of a kinship-based society and establish rulership faced the problem of “compatibilization,” as Merquior (1979:2) puts it; or how to get people who had been socialized to the ethos of kinship and a communal way of life to enter into a new world of rulership.  Another way to express this is to say these early reformulators faced the problem of “bindingness” as discussed by Max Weber (1978) i.e., how to create a legitimate form of overarching rulership when it did not exist in the segmented kinship order.  We know that in many cases these reformulators were successful because many Neolithic societies made the transition from being ruled by leaders of kin segments to being ruled by chiefs.

To aid these power seekers in the reformulation of the values and norms of kinship these early aggrandizers created a new ideology, one often based in cosmological ideas.  An ideology:


is a belief system by virtue of being designed to serve on a relatively permanent basis a group of people to justify in reliance on moral norms … the legitimacy of the implements and technical prescriptions which are to ensure concerted action for the preservation, reform, destruction or reconstruction of a given order (Seliger 1976:120). 


One can assume that the elders of the kinship order were bent on preservation of their way of life; while the reformers had an eye on its destruction or reconstruction.  To do so they had to pull an “ideological veil” over the eyes of the members of society who were accustomed to following the kinship-based way of life.  It was Clifford Geertz (1973) who characterized ideology as a mask and a weapon.  It was Marx (1977 [1844]) who famously wrote: Die “Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes,” although the concept in the Marxian literature that religion is a drug could be expanded to include ideology in general. 

In short, throughout history ideology was, in various places, being designed to further the interests of those putting it forth.  That process continues today through the manufacture of consent by controlling the political economy and the media (Chomsky 2002, Chomsky & Herman 1988). 

Ideology is two-sided.  On the one hand, there is the stated ideology, that which is broadcast by the communicative channels of power.  We can call this the “broadcast ideology,” that which was designed to influence others in society.

On the other hand, there is the ideology, a segmental interest-driven belief system privately held by officials of the ruling authority.  They may set up symbolic strategies to communicate the stated ideology to further their interests; while withholding their private beliefs from the audience. 

In a sense, through their broadcasts Neolithic reformers were intent on creating the illusion that their new ways would not conflict with the generalized reciprocity and communalism of the kinship order.  But this veil could not have been entirely obfuscating, as history is full of examples where rulers combated claimants to power and more than a few kings took the throne by way of regicide. 

Part of the problem facing these men who wished to reform the kinship order was the need to conceal the linkage between what they were proposing and the fact that it would lead to a new stratified structure that would unduly benefit the reformers at the expense of the vast majority of society’s members.  Seen in this way, an ideology was an implement of its creators, a form of intended misapprehension (Giddens 1971:213).  Its intent was to create the illusion of universal validity in what was really a sectional set of interests i.e., the intensions and concerns of the aspiring rulers.  Rulership had to have been couched in terms that led society’s members to believe that it would be beneficial to them, not exploitative. 

Remember that for eons of time in human societies, from Paleolithic band life to early kinship orders, aggrandizement and self-promotion were scorned.  It would not have been easy for these early deconstructionists to convince people of the efficacy of rulership.  If ego-driven; they had to portray their actions and intentions as socially advantageous.  If their desire was for greater power, prestige and property; they had to emphasize the need to have leadership to protect the group and enhance its prosperity.  Their broadcasts to the general public served this function.

For these early men desirous of creating rulership putting together an ideology was an entrepreneurial effort.  Their broadcasts formed an intentional ideology, a “gospel” intent on setting up an officialdom that would catapult one man to the chieftaincy and others to high places in the new political structure.  The broadcast ideology was partly comprised of words – chiefs were often praised for their oratorical skills – but also non-verbal aspects.  For instance, they created the institutional elements historians call the palace-temple complex – a cosmology linking rulership to the occult world, a priesthood with attendant oracular power, shrines, a temple and other monuments to impress society’s members.

As Pierre Bourdieu (1977:188) cogently noted, “the most successful ideological efforts are those which have no need of words, and ask no more than complicitous silence.”  This is consistent with Pareto’s view of humans as basically influenced by imaginary solutions (1966) and as a result all societies are chronically mal-integrated, with various segments following different ideological components (Geertz 1973).  The reformist ideology broadcast from the palace-temple complex was an attempt to counter this centrifugal tendency in society, though unite it under one ruler.

This brings up the Marxian view that ideology functions as the generator of false consciousness in those who stand in the aim of the ideologues.  But in Marx’s writings (1963 [1869]) he also indicated that to some taking aim, their ideology is not only a “weaponary lie” aimed at others; but rather is, at the same time, an unconscious belief of those who proffer an ideology.  Nevertheless, we must avoid the simple minded idea that all members of any one segment of society think alike; in contrast to all members of another segment or society at large.  There is diversity of thought and perception in every society and every segment within a seemingly unified cultural system.  Each such system is riddled with contradictions and oppositions.  For example, in my fieldwork among the Sisala of Northern Ghana I found that some religious practitioners firmly believed in the efficacy of their rites; while others employed them without a firm belief that they would work (Mendonsa 1982).  These “doubtful practitioners” often participated in rituals because it was expected of them as members of a kin group, not because they actually expected to rites to bring about results.  One man went so far as to tell me, “Well, who knows?  It might work.  The world is a complicated place.  There are many things I cannot explain.”  The early Neolithic men who wanted to become leaders were “explainers,” those who wished to feed on those very kinds of doubts.

It is the “aimed ideology” that interests us here, those proffered ideas on the part of aspiring rulers designed to influence thought patterns and behavior.  The “aim” of the ideologues was to create “blindness” in those they wished to exploit.  Once rulership became firmly established in the Neolithic, rulers continued to broadcast and demonstrate their prowess.  They were intent on maintaining their grip on power through the use of “thought domination.”


Their intent was to influence the forma mentis of other élites and members of the general public.  Lukács (1971 [1923]) indicated that people have a tendency to reify many aspects of their natal societies as they perceive them e.g., material objects, social relations and ideas.  Ideological propaganda as used by aspiring rulers, as well as those already in office, has been a strategy of aggrandizers throughout history, a strategy to nudge the reification tendency of their fellow societal members.  I frequently ran into this in my study of Sisala religion when informants explained their participation in rites they considered of dubious efficacy simply because “we saw our ancestors do it.”

I take an agency approach to the development and use of ideology in society.  By its detractors this approach may called conspiracy theory and could be denounced as being reductionist and ignoring the “hidden springs of collective behavior” (Vincent 1973).  Hamilton (1974:29) claims that agents trying to create false consciousness are not producing their ideas to cover up reality in conspiratorial fashion.  I beg to differ.  History and ethnography have too many examples to the contrary, some of which I have included in this work as cases.  Furthermore, the fact that the creation of ideology may have aspects and outcomes other than the creation of a ruling élite with the capacity to exploit the labor power of the general public does not negate the historical facts.  Time and again we see chiefs and shamans, kings and priests, creating cosmological ideas and broadcasting them in an effort to influence public opinion.  All too often these high officials are then provided with the opportunity to siphon of wealth through rent-taking.  Broadcasting and stratification go hand in hand.  Furthermore, many forceful men sought office for that very purpose i.e., to have the ability to access greater power, prestige and property.  I contend that this was true before the solidifying of the first true chiefships and also throughout the history as various forms of the State emerged. 

If rulers seem intent on manufacturing consent, precisely how does this come to be?  What makes people apparently go along with beliefs demonstrably foreign to their own interests and ideas that provide a small class of people with much greater power, prestige and property than the average person could hope to achieve?  To meet these questions, I will break my answer into two parts: (1) Early Neolithic Chiefship: No doubt, as I have already said, in the early days of the Neolithic there were men intent on fabricating rulership  and they moved slowly to work within a fieldwork acceptable to those comfortable with the tenets of the kinship order.  They had to have been careful not to alienate too many people.  Furthermore, they slowly produced an ideology connected to acceptable ideas about the sacred and the magico-religious concepts, those notions already in wide usage.  This is why we see that, historically, chiefs often placed their oracles on extant sacred mounds.  Yet again, they constructed monumental edifices that reflected cultural ideas about permanence and power, again often building on sacred ground.  Even many early Christian churches were so situated for the same reason, to wit, placement inspired acceptance by the general public.

(2) Extant states: By the time many kings and emperors took office, the State had been reified by centuries of seeming permanence created by the very processes outlined above.  Again, we continue to see these very methods used today.  The great monuments in Washington DC – the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court Building, the World War II Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial – and governmental shrines – the Constitution under glass, the Liberty Bell, the Authority of Law Statue – all lend credence to the idea that the United States government is here to stay.  Furthermore, just as chiefs, kings and emperors used officialdom to broadcast their messages to the people, modern-day politicians go on talk shows, Sunday political programs and even, famously in the Obama campaign, his broadcasters used the Internet to communicate with voters.  In other words, ideology was historically, and remains, a part of the empirical mechanics of power (Merquior 1979:15).

The overall effect of the seeming permanence of rulership is what Stephen Lukes (1974:21) calls a “mobilization of bias.”  This reification of power is brought about, in his view, by a multitude of decisions and non-decisions that benefit vested interests and create a consciousness in the general population that may not be in their best interest.  This is accomplished through concrete forms of thought control by the agents of socialization e.g., the media, schools or even the seemingly efficacious institution of voting.  While the public has little chance to “talk back” to government through the media or the schools, some believe that voting gives people this opportunity.  However, the vast majority of information is flowing downward and outward from the seats of power.  This creates in the general public an inarticulateness, an inability to comprehend or communicate about their real interests.  This is similar to Marx’s famous “false consciousness.”  While broadcast ideology has the power to chain men’s minds, so does the very existence of the State, or the institutions of the rulers on high.

Roderick Martin (1977:50) also notes that powerless people are those who not only may be burdened by false consciousness; but also those who see things clearly but lack “escape routes.”  That is, they may see action antithetical to government proclamations; but lack the necessary resources to turn consciousness into political action.  This may mean that a people, or segment of society, can be governed by a ruling system that they consider illegitimate.  Some may be under the influence of thought control mechanisms put in place by rulers; but others may see alternative pathways but are unable to steer society in those directions.  For example, Wallerstein (1974:143-144) is doubtful that very many governments in Renaissance Europe were considered legitimate by the majority of the ruled.  On the contrary, rulers were seldom wholeheartedly supported.  More commonly they were simply endured.  Merquior (1977:29) says that outside the interest-bound class circle of rulers, ideology broadcast by them consists primarily as a “set of unchallenged, normally tacit, value-orientations” that amount to a manipulation of bias in favor of privileged groups.  To an extent, then, the status quo has power, the ability to create inertia, to create a docile public.

Ideology, then, has an active side and passive one.  In both broadcasts by rulers and in the institutions rulers of the past have created, ideology actively influences public opinio (Lukács 1971 [1923], Gramsci 1971).  It may stimulate some to action; but it may also create non-action or lethargy.  That is to say, ideological communication by rulers can also have the effect of creating tacit acceptance of the ideas put forth by rulers, which may or may not be good for the society in question. 

We see this in our twin cases (5.2 & 5.3) from Copán, that ancient kingdom that existed in modern-day Honduras.  In that polity rulers of the palace-temple complex espoused a cosmologically-based ideology that encouraged the very activity by the farmers that led to the downfall of the civilization.  This was the royal demands for expansion of output to feed the monumental building plans of the kings.  By claiming the gods were demanding more and more tribute the Copán kings created an environmental disaster as the farmers increasingly terraced the hillsides to grow more crops and thereby eroded its unfertile soil down on top of the valley floor’s fertile soil.  The end result of following the ideological promptings of rulership was the end of Copán society.  Our cases in this book and in history in general demonstrate that such ruling misguidance has been widespread. 

Merquior (1979:30) claims that ideology is creative, or to use his term, “socioplastic,” and in its formation it probably is; but as we see in the Copán case, a mature state may suffer a “hardening” of its ideology, sort of a cosmological hardening of the arteries.  The Copán State’s central creed was that prosperity was enhanced by providing the state with tribute, which was used in the building of monuments to placate the gods.  Viewed another way, the Copán ideology may have been partly created, initially, as a veil for the exercise of power by a few at the top of the social pyramid; but in its sclerotic form it functioned as a veil to the leadership, preventing them from seeing that their demands for tribute was the key factor in creating environmental deterioration in the Copán Valley.

Having said that, ideology broadcast from palace-temple complexes on high, functioning as an agency of social control, creates in the general public unintelligibility by blocking understanding of the world as it really is (or is becoming, as in the environmental deterioration of the soil at Copán).  As Gellner (1973) has pointed out, ideology also may hinder the capacity of society’s members to achieve a more egalitarian existence.  The coagulated norms of the Copán State, as with many other states in history, steeped as it was in inequality, had hardened into absurdity, its demands of deference to royalty being its undoing.  As Veblen (2001 [1899]) pointed out, many of the leisure-class symbols would not work so well if they could be exposed as being as irrational as they really are, their absurdity exposed to the light of an enlightened consciousness (Gellner 1974:Chapter 5).  Like absurdities of etiquette, creeds can hang on past their logicality.  They can become useless and they can even become dysfunctional, as we see in the Copán case.

With regard to broadcast ideology, my main point is that those ideologies transmitted from the heights of the palace-temple complexes of history operated as a “manipulation of bias,” obfuscating realty, enhancing the power of rulership and creating stratification.  At their root, the ideologies of rulership were power symbolics and were the interest-driven thought forms of a tiny segment of society, broadcast to be believed – even beloved – by all, a goal that always seems to fall short since all societies are riddled with segments of contrary thought, even the so-called simple societies sought out by early anthropologists. 

As Gouldner (1975:Chapter 7) has pointed out, ideologies as power symbolics function as devices to compel the continuation of services to rulers for which there is little reciprocity.  Ideologies of rulership, then, are often intended to create a one-way flow of tangibles, promising a return, which in many historical cases remained illusionary.  As such, they are sectarian ideas, created within a section of society and broadcast outward to create legitimacy for the ruling élite.  As Merquior (1979:34) has noted, “much of what has been said and done in the name of legitimacy turned out to be, on closer inspection, no more than the prejudice of privilege, no matter how creative this was in history.”  Yet, in time, sectarian subjective ideas can become “gospelized.”  Again, as Bourdieu (1977:207) indicates, “every established order tends to produce …the naturalization of its own arbitrariness.”  



Mystification and Information Control among the Inka


Popes and their underlings were set on creating informational power by scripting a particular view of reality for the public and their enemies.  We see similar processes at work faraway in the ancient Americas.




Case 2.14.  Inka Control of Information 


Let's look at how mystification and information manipulation worked in the Inka Empire, based in Peru.  Their feasts were designed to cement the relationship between the state and most of its subjects.  Inka displays of ritual materialized the power and wealth of the state on a grand scale. 

After conquering new territory, Inka rulers alienated all agricultural lands and reallocated them to members of their own kin-based corporate group and other specially chosen families.  This was supposed to be seen as a demonstration of the benevolence of the Inka State.  In publically granting land rights back to the community, the Inkas legitimated their rights to labor and service from the people.

Corvée crews formed the military, constructed facilities, temples and storehouses and built roads to tie Inka centers together.  In return for these required services, Inka rulers hosted work feasts, providing workers with food and chichi.[3]

Excavations at Huanuco Pampa suggest that state hospitality took place on a massive scale, designed, of course, to maintain loyalty to the Inka State.  This Inka center was located far from agricultural lands and local centers of population, yet its many storehouses contained abundant foodstuffs.  Central to Huanuco Pampa was a nineteen-hectare plaza, a setting for the feasts described by early Spanish chroniclers.  In the plaza's excavated assemblage, the dominant ceramic vessel form was the aribalo, a large, high-necked liquid-storage vessel probably used to serve chichi in public ceremonies.

Thus, Inka feasts were attempts to mystify the nature of Inka rulers and bolster the state's authority.  They were propaganda ploys.  In hosting feasts, they ensured that rights to community labor, formerly a political and economic prerogative of local élites, would instead legitimately belong to the state.  Because, as a tributary state, the Inka Empire did not directly control subsistence production and because it depended upon an extensive bureaucracy, the materialization of ideology appears to have played a key role as a source of mystified power.  Inka feasts reinforced the ties of reciprocity that linked the empire's distant, largely self-sufficient subject communities to the center of power – Cuzco – and to the institutions of Inka religion.

At the same time, this was an ideology of mind coercion, mystifying power relationships and legitimating the rulers.  This hierarchical character is best illustrated by the rites and festivals held at the royal court in Cuzco.  They were organized to observe religious occasions and to celebrate military triumphs.  Participants included successful military leaders and provincial élites who feasted on special food and beer and often received gifts of fine metal, elaborate textiles or precious stones.  Chroniclers described events that included ritual sacrifices of humans, llamas and other animals.  In effect, the state was publically and lavishly trading maize, beer, gifts, food and entertainment for authority. 

At the same time, mystification, coercion and military action were integral elements of this materialized ideology.  For example, as punishment, two Qolla lords who had led an uprising were flayed and drums were made of their hides.  These drums were then played in the celebrations in Cuzco following their defeat and murder.  The symbolism is clear.

Royal festivals mystified and perpetuated the sacred role of Inka rulers.  Essentially, ceremonies were politco-mystical events that elevated the emperor's position, equating him with Inti, the Sun God.  Ancestor worship was a central theme in their religion and myths had the ruling family descending directly from the divine Inti.  Religion and myth augmented the political authority of the emperor, giving him supernatural identity, inasmuch as the ancestors and living members of the royal family were considered divine.

Another form of information manipulation and objectification of mystical ideas can be seen in the mummified bodies of dead emperors, which were cared for by their descendants.  They took these mummies to feasts and publically provided them with offerings.  The idea was to present in a public context a concrete link between present rulers and those of the past.

Materialized ideology was meant to create shared experience and to perpetuate the unquestioned power of the state, especially among unruly and rebellious groups.  In the provinces, large feasts emphasized the state's generosity for peasant laborers as a way of justifying their labor duties to the state.  These feasts were also a time when the workers could see their rulers, attired in splendor.  When the Head of State (the Inka) traveled to the provinces, he went forth on a golden litter surrounded by emblems of the sun and moon and other sacred symbols of the royal lineage.  

Festivals in the capital city, Cuzco, were aimed at provincial élites and others who regularly visited the capital.  At such events information was imparted.  That was the ceremonial aspect to cybernetic formulation; but to further integrate provincial leaders more completely, Inka policy required that their sons spend time in Cuzco to learn the Inka language and to become familiar with Inka customs and culture.  That was the educational aspect of information dissemination by the state.

Thus, we see that the Inka not only used mystification to link the Head of State to the Sun God; but they also held regular ceremonies at which their ideology of superiority could be displayed to impress those that might think otherwise, usually powerful provincials.  This was designed to hold the vast diffuse empire together.




When we look at states like the Inka Empire or Ancient Egypt, it is relatively easy to see how the leaders and their mythmakers created a mystified image of the state.  But culture itself, as it has evolved from a myriad of sources over time, can mystify.  Beliefs can obscure realities.  For instance, the American cultural emphasis on individualism hides underlying structural causes of poverty.  It becomes an oft repeated myth that in America anyone can “make it” by working hard.  This has become known as the “Horatio Alger myth” and is simplistically trotted out by those who find it a useful way of dealing with the complexities of poverty in the richest country on earth.  It is easy to say: “They are poor because they don’t work hard.”  I wonder how that goes down with the worker who spends his entire day working three minimum-wage jobs only to find that he can never get out of poverty. 

But culture is not simply “out there.”  Also, it can be used as a tool.  Mystifications such as American individualism are part of the general culture; but they can also be used as explanatory tools by individuals and groups.  They can be picked up and utilized to explain a particular viewpoint and at the same time obfuscate true underlying causes.  This is the work of those trying to justify their positions in an exploitative structure.  We will see another form of falsification in the next case:




Case 2.15.  Catalonian Falsification of Information 


Let me give you one example of information falsification from medieval Catalonia.  After a time of rampage by castle-lords between A.D. 1020 and 1060 (the seigneurie banale), the Count of Barcelona and the landed élite began to formulate a feudal system to firm up the extreme hardships (mali usatici) the riotous paladin lords had inflicted on the peasants at the tip of a sword.  These tyrannical exactions and oppressive services that had been forced on a more or less free peasantry had to be justified in some way.

The Barcelona Count and the aristocrats of the hinterland put their heads together and came up with the myth that the peasants deserved such harsh treatment because their ancestors had sided with the infidel Moors when they invaded the region centuries before (Freeman 1991).   

That this was a total fabrication did not seem to inhibit the very men who were, according to the aristocratic ethos, supposed to protect and defend those who toiled for them in the fields.  This fairy tale, trumped up at the end of the eleventh century helped to institutionalize serfdom, which lasted for centuries in Catalonia.




With the advent of the Neolithic Revolution spindoctors purposefully began to create mystifications that had poleconomic results i.e., gave them privileged access to wealth and power.  They, and the leaders they served, knew what they were doing, as we saw with the Yokut-Mono chiefs and their shamans (Case 2.7) or with the lies perpetrated by Catalan élites (Case 2.15) or with the mystifying ceremonies of the Inka (Case 2.14).  

But much of the mythologizing of office and leadership was more mundane and less colorful than these extreme cases might indicate.  It was inherent in the process of creating structures such as chiefships, sodalities, guilds, temple-complexes and other corporations that began to deal in the control of wealth and labor.  Officialdom, in time, and for the average person, came to seem to have always been there and its inner workings were impenetrable. 

In creating secret codes of office, and rules of succession to office and privilege, men created walls that blocked most of the people from concentrated information.  In that blockage, or the means of obstruction, lay power.  Undoubtedly these early office-holders sensed this.  They understood that political control could be found in the means of obscuration or mystification, that in order to control the behavior of others, especially in the process of doing work in the everyday world, they needed unassailable leverage.  That leverage was to be found in the creation of authoritative codes and concentrated secret information. 

These codes, the customs that came to be associated with office, were a means of mystifying the minds of others, a way of making positions authoritative.  Coming from Latin mysterium the verb "to mystify" means to perplex the mind of another, to bewilder, to make mysterious or obscure.  To obscure, comes from the Latin obscurus, meaning to make something dark, dim or indistinct; to conceal or hide by covering.  In pursuit of prestige, power and property office-holders learned to do both, as we have seen in the above cases: Case 2.13., Case 2.14., & Case 2.15.     

The key mystification of office, one that occurs in various forms in different societies, was the fabrication of a link between office and some higher authority, usually Deity; but sometimes simply linkage to previous rulers or, as in the Inka case, both (Case 2.14). 

Once a government was in power, partly political control came to rest in holding secrets, of having powers not available to the general populace, of operating behind closed doors.  With the lack of transparency, office-holders found power in the ability to be the influencer, but not perceived as such.  The influence was attributed to Deity or the ancestors or simply to following traditions laid down by inaccessible entities.


Ziggurats & Other Monumental Structures

Archeologists have shown us that ritual practice began among early hunter-gatherers in prehistory and proliferated in the Neolithic (Maringer 2003).  It would appear that in the Paleolithic ritual was not localized and owned by a group; but rather reflected the fact that associations between people in such mobile societies were transitory.  On the other hand, once peoples began to settle down in villages life there involved participation in a wider sense, with public spaces, communal rituals and shrines that represented the community. 

In time sedentary societies became capable of significant collective action, which we see reflected in monumental building works such as the chambered cairns of Northwestern Europe, Silbury Hill, the Ring o' Brodgar, the Standing Stones o' Stenness, the Avebury Ring, the impressive passage grave of Maeshowe and the more well-known Stonehenge.  There are over 900 other stone cirles in Britain (Wainwright 1989:12).  Of course, there are many other monumental constructs outside of Europe, including the West African stone cirles of Senegal and Gambia (Archaeo News 2006) and Northern Ghana (Anquandah 1987).

It seems that in Europe, however, with the first spread of farming and sedentism, the construction of monuments represented a new sense of community.  Some were associated with permanent burial sites and came to be related to a habitual territory of a resident population.  Renfrew (2007:130-131) believes that segmentary societies of the Neolithic – those with various embedded communities – were especially needful of a ritual and ceremonial focus and that this need was met by places like Silbury Hill or Stonehenge. 

Later, when societies were moving from segmentation to being more unified with a central leadership, such monuments were appropriated to serve the interests of rulership.  They helped to call the political economy into being and renew it at each ceremony held there.  In other words, monumental construction helped promote the emergence of a coherent new sociopolitical unit and the work involved implies an organized pooling of labor, a new kind of engagement not known in the Paleolithic. 

These monuments had the capacity to impress and to reinforce a sense of place, serving both as a marker of the actions of their makers; but also as a projection of the power of rulership.  While they may have merely begun as investments in place, cosmically-charged repositories of the ancestors; in time they were commandeered by rulers who wished to govern large swaths of land.  For example, the Ring o' Brodgar and the Stones o' Stenness represent a massive investment in labor, something like 100,000 work hours and they served a communal focus for the entire islands of Orkney.  The ritual center of Stonehenge took about 30 million work hours to construct.  These sorts of Neolithic monuments were clearly raised by motivated individuals and were seen as instrumental i.e., as symbols capable of uniting diverse people into a polity and they may have contributed to the rise of ethnicity. 

Later in history “mystifiers,” the rulers and priests who wished to control society, often building monuments and massive structures, which became the impressive centers of civilizations e.g., the great Ziggurat of Aqar Quf near Baghdad or Tikal in modern-day Guatemala.  These were some of the first centers where urban elites conspired with ritual priests to formulate the mythologies that would capture the minds of the masses and bring them to subservience.  Like the urban complex itself, the ziggurat was a political statement, for each ziggurat was part of a temple complex, which included other buildings.  

We can see these ancient buildings and monuments as information materialized, designed to impress the general public.  This is an extension of the “material symbolic stage of prehistory during which humans began to use symbols (Renfrew 2007:96, see also: Donald 1991).  As cognition began to develop in humans, material goods came to have a symbolic importance and men began to fashion artifacts that had worth beyond their use-value.  That is, humans began to create things that represented status, political power, access to Deity and ownership.  We see this later in history as crowns, flags, miters, staffs of office, etc.  In earlier times they were shrines, oracles, mounds, burial cairns, henges, ziggurats and monuments.  With wealth at issue, aggressive men began to create and control such status symbols.  A new status-oriented culture was in the making as humans began to deal with a food-storage world. 

This occurred in the theoretic stage of human development, which is characterized by institutionalized paradigmatic thought i.e., ideas that are no longer restricted to the internal memory record (or “endogram”); but rather can be stored externally in “exograms” – e.g., written records or mnemonic aids such as the knotted textile record-keeping devices used by the Inkas (Donald 1991).  At this time, one could speak of a “distributed mind,” and by extension we can interpret monuments as material representations of commonly-held ideas and sentiments. 

When a chief or king came to control a given shrine or other material representation of occult power he did not simply manage a material object; but rather he controlled the cultural frame connected to the object – those ideas attributed to it by society and also the possibilities such ownership opened up.  For example, if the group believed that a given oracle provided its managers with the truth, then the men in control of the oracle ipso facto gained political power. 

Once men created material objects with attendant imaginations the engagement of humans with their material world was supplemented by an engagement with fabricated ideas, some of which could be useful to those wishing to control the flows of wealth in society.  A mound of earth could become clothed in a symbolic wrapping of ideas transforming the mound of earth into a special focus of the group and to manage the mound of earth would provide the manager with power.  This is why some early Christian churches were erected on precisely those ancient mound sites to tap into that mystique of cosmic power. 

Symbolic monuments were constructed with agency and intent.  The construction of ziggurats and pyramids and other monumental architecture by those at the top of the tributary mode of production, royals and their favorites, was a boon to a few who benefited from their construction; but for the average person the centralization that created ziggurats, pyramids and fancy artwork was a source of increasing oppression in an already difficult life.  The burden of the monumental architecture can be taken as a metaphor for the way in which these early states impacted most of the people.

This not withstanding, leaders had to marshall the labor of their people to construct these giants.  This must have taken both power and persuasion.  Monuments were intended to be performative.  Their construction required bringing together community members in a collective effort to manufacture something of value.  The coordination of their efforts may have involved the creation and manipulation of indebtedness, affiliation and alliance. 

Monuments, once built by a community, acquired a history.  Each ritual held at the monument would add to that history, beyond the communal act of construction.  It would then become a materialized focal point for community feelings of unity (communitas) and for the leader who managed its construction and maintenance, as well as all subsequent monarchs who presided over rites at the monument.

And, in my perspective, the monuments and pyramids were another form of script demonstrating a leader's capacity to marshal labor and resources, part of his overall resource amassment system.  For example, pharaohs of the many kingdoms of Egypt employed religious experts, artisans and architects to construct lasting testaments to their divine right to rule.  It was billed as being about eternal life and issues not directly connected with matters of this earth; but it was really about creating a myth of infallibility for the ruling class.  It concerned using a fabricated script to control the minds of the masses so as to corner the market on power, prestige and wealth. 

[1]The Mendonça family in Portugal is genealogically connected with

the Mendoza family of Spain.

[2] Mendoza is actually a village in the province of Álava and hence many

of the family members, who had other names, added “de Mendoza” to them

and eventually Mendoza became a surname of some.

[3] Maize beer – a pale yellow, milky, mildly alcoholic beverage.

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