Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Palaces and Power in the Americas

Palaces and Power in the Americas

Jessica Joyce Christie
Patricia Joan Sarro
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Palaces and Power in the Americas
    Book Description:

    Ancient American palaces still captivate those who stand before them. Even in their fallen and ruined condition, the palaces project such power that, according to the editors of this new collection, it must have been deliberately drawn into their formal designs, spatial layouts, and choice of locations. Such messages separated palaces from other elite architecture and reinforced the power and privilege of those residing in them. Indeed, as Christie and Sarro write, "the relation between political power and architecture is a pervasive and intriguing theme in the Americas."

    Given the variety of cultures, time periods, and geographical locations examined within, the editors of this book have grouped the articles into four sections. The first looks at palaces in cultures where they have not previously been identified, including the Huaca of Moche Site, the Wari of Peru, and Chaco Canyon in the U.S. Southwest. The second section discusses palaces as "stage sets" that express power, such as those found among the Maya, among the Coast Salish of the Pacific Northwest, and at El Tajín on the Mexican Gulf Coast. The third part of the volume presents cases in which differences in elite residences imply differences in social status, with examples from Pasado de la Amada, the Valley of Oaxaca, Teotihuacan, and the Aztecs. The final section compares architectural strategies between cultures; the models here are Farfán, Peru, under both the Chimú and the Inka, and the separate states of the Maya and the Inka.

    Such scope, and the quality of the scholarship, makePalaces and Power in the Americasa must-have work on the subject.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79610-2
    Subjects: Archaeology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Jessica Joyce Christie

    One of the most spectacular examples of a residence with political functions is without any doubt the palace of Versailles, built in France in the seventeenth century. Commissioned by Louis XIV as a royal residence as well as the seat of government, Versailles materialized Louis XIV′s conception of kingship in its architectural layout and luxurious decoration. Building on the new scientific discoveries by Galileo Galilei that indeed the sun and not the earth was the center of the universe, Louis XIV claimed to be the human personification of the sun, the central celestial body. This notion entered into the architectural...

  6. PART 1. Identification of Palaces

    • CHAPTER 1 Looking for Moche Palaces in the Elite Residences of the Huacas of Moche Site
      (pp. 23-43)
      Claude Chapdelaine

      The Moche civilization is considered a class-structured society and an Archaic State. It is difficult, however, to establish its pristine nature because the North Coast of Peru is known for an early development of public architecture, dating back to the end of the Preceramic period around 2000 B.C. (Moseley 1992; Pozorski and Pozorski 1992). While the Moche civilization inherited the achievements of several preceding complex societies, the Huacas of Moche Site stands out as the first capital city of a multivalley state (Chapdelaine 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003; Shimada 1994; Topic 1982; Wilson 1988, 1999). Within this perspective of a Moche...

      (pp. 44-98)
      William H. Isbell

      Archaeologists know little about political power and kingship in pre-Inka Andean societies. In significant part this is because we have ignored the principal engine of regal power, the royal palace. In fact, many archaeologists avoid identifying palaces and kings in the Andean past, preferring to classify monumental buildings as temples and paramount individuals as priests.

      I suspect that the reluctance to recognize royal palaces in the Andean archaeological record springs from a couple of prejudices. First, archaeologists tend to exaggerate the difference between secular and sacred domains. Kings are secular, and priests are sacred. Wherever the material record reveals significant...

    • CHAPTER 3 Lords of the Great House: PUEBLO BONITO AS A PALACE
      (pp. 99-114)
      Stephen H. Lekson

      Palaces in the United States? Perhaps for colonial governors or railroad barons or newspaper moguls, but surely not for pre-Columbian natives. That seems odd: native peoples built palaces in Mexico, but not (apparently) in the United States. In this chapter, I argue that the idea of ″palace″ be allowed to cross that border. Rather than an extended description of elite residences, palaces, and palace life in the pre-Columbian cultures of the present United States, I limit this essay to an examination of U.S. archaeological attitudes toward palaces and their implications, using Southwestern cultures as my primary examples (Figure 3.1).


  7. PART 2. Palaces as Active Stage Sets of Political Ideology

    • CHAPTER 4 Sacred and Profane Mountains of the Pasión: CONTRASTING ARCHITECTURAL PATHS TO POWER
      (pp. 117-140)
      Arthur A. Demarest

      Recent debate in Maya archaeology has emphasized the great regional variability of Classic Maya civilization. Controversy has also centered around thenatureof ancient Maya states, that is, the degree to which they were ″centralized″ or ″decentralized″ and the realms of action of Classic-period rulers—economic, political, or ideological (see, for example, Fox et al. 1996). More recently, scholars have begun to accept that both perspectives are in part correct, with the degree of centralization and economic involvement of state authority varying over time and space in Classic Maya history (Demarest 1992, 1996a; Marcus 1993). Evidence suggests that in some...

    • CHAPTER 5 Political Dimensions of Monumental Residences on the Northwest Coast of North America
      (pp. 141-165)
      Colin Grier

      Large, multifamily households were a central socioeconomic institution in ethnographic and prehistoric Northwest Coast societies. Households were an important arena for the construction of political power, and houses were important vehicles for the expression and broadcast of the power and status of household elite members. Historic-period descriptions of Northwest Coast houses illustrate that their construction, spatial layout, and symbolic embellishment were imbued with messages that served the efforts of house chiefs to solidify leadership and unify potentially divisive household groups.

      We know much less about the role that houses played in the construction and reproduction of political power and hierarchical...

      (pp. 166-188)
      Patricia Joan Sarro

      El Tajín, on the Mexican Gulf Coast, is a city and culture most often associated with the Mesoamerican ballgame. And with good reason: 17 courts of various sizes and configurations, together with temples, platforms, and multiroom structures, stood at the center of the city and its ritual life (Figure 6.1). Images of the game and its attendant rituals appear in sculpture throughout the site (Figures 6.2 and 6.3).

      The termpalacehas rarely been used to describe any of the city′s buildings. Of the three major types of elite structures found throughout Mesoamerica, the palace, the temple, and the ballcourt,...

  8. PART 3. Correspondences between Material Aspects of Elite Residences and Social Status

    • CHAPTER 7 The Residence of Power at Paso de la Amada, Mexico
      (pp. 191-210)
      Michael Blake, Richard G. Lesure, Warren D. Hill, Luis Barba and John E. Clark

      Beginning around 1600 B.C., ancient Mesoamericans started their ″Neolithic Revolution.″ They became increasingly reliant on cultivated plants, settled into permanent villages, began manufacturing pottery and ceramic figurines, and traded over vast areas for a wide range of exotic goods, including obsidian and jade. Archaeologists recognize that there was variation in the exact timing and characteristics of this transition from relatively mobile hunting-fishing-gathering cultures to those of settled villagers. However, by 600 B.C. most of Mesoamerica′s peoples were organized into complex social and political units that were the forerunners of all later civilizations (Grove and Joyce 1999; Stark 2000). Unlike their...

      (pp. 211-255)
      Sarah B. Barber and Arthur A. Joyce

      In this chapter we use elite residential architecture in the Valley of Oaxaca to trace shifting conceptualizations of social and political power through time. We frame our discussion by making a heuristic distinction between elite residences and palaces. Although this latter term is often used simply to describe an elite residence, we envision palaces here as multipurpose structures that combine both domestic and public functions. Unlike a residence, a palace provides a physical location for the ″pomp and circumstance″ surrounding an important individual or individuals (as opposed to deities, deceased persons, or institutions), and may also include civic spaces such...

    • CHAPTER 9 Rulership and Palaces at Teotihuacan
      (pp. 256-284)
      William T. Sanders and Susan Toby Evans

      Of all the Classic-period capitals in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan was unique in terms of its size, the scale of its public architecture, its large population, and the indications that it managed an expansive domain of political relations. In consequence, Teotihuacan′s palace architecture should be conspicuous—on a larger scale and more luxurious than the city′s other residences and than the palaces of other Classic sites. Unfortunately, identifying the residence—or residences—of Teotihuacan′s rulers has been an archaeological challenge, a problem almost as difficult as understanding the nature of Teotihuacan′s rulership.

      In this chapter, we examine evidence for Teotihuacan′s main palaces....

      (pp. 285-310)
      Susan Toby Evans

      From Classic-period Teotihuacan to Tenochtitlán in A.D. 1521, the cities of the Basin of Mexico and adjacent Tula region centered on civic and ceremonial architecture, the focus of secular and spiritual power (Figure 10.1). Archaeologically, the architectural obtrusiveness of the temple-pyramid ensured its greater survivability after the demise or transformation of the city. In contrast, the palace, generally a one-story building on a relatively low platform, was less likely to leave a recognizable form beyond that of a large, low mound with artifacts pertaining to domestic functions and possibly of more luxurious forms than those of the average house mound....

  9. PART 4. Comparison of Palaces across Cultures

      (pp. 313-352)
      Carol Mackey

      In seventeenth-century France, the turrets and high walls of a lord′s country estate echoed the estate′s past function as a fortress, even though military activities had ceased (Girouard 1999). These impressive structures could be seen from far away, and because of their size, they made a lasting imprint upon the landscape. The scale of these estates and their aura of power apply equally to the monumental structures built by the provincial lords who ruled Peru′s north coast in the centuries prior to the Spaniards′ arrival. The sheer height of the adobe walls and the space they surrounded dominated the coastal...

    • CHAPTER 12 Houses of Political Power among the Ancient Maya and Inka
      (pp. 353-396)
      Jessica Joyce Christie

      The purpose of this study is to compare and contrast palaces and elite residences and their political functions in Maya and Inka societies. At first glance, such an undertaking may seem meaningless because the Maya and Inka people were so different in almost any aspect of culture. But it is precisely because of that otherness that a comparison, or rather contrast, of high-status residential architecture will help illuminate political organization and lead to a more general theoretical discussion of how the two political systems are reflected in the architectural and archaeological record. These issues will be illuminated by the engagement...

  10. Conclusions
    (pp. 397-402)
    William T. Sanders

    In 1987, Arlen and Diane Chase organized a symposium at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting—a session I also participated in—on the theme of the Mesoamerican elites. Many of the ideas and themes and some of the data presented at that meeting were paralleled and amplified in the 2000 session, ″Palaces and Power,″ on which the present volume is based. The ″Mesoamerican Elites″ session was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1992 (Chase and Chase 1992). This earlier session focused on the archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence for a differentiated sector of Mesoamerican societies that enjoyed...

    (pp. 403-406)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 407-414)