Lecture 12 - Chapter 10: Power, Prestige, and Wealth

Power: ability to coerce behavior from others

Prestige: ability to command influence in a society

Bands: only situational leaders

At Copan, 3,000 years ago, due to low population, no single group had an advantage: all burials were simple and contained similar goods.

Egalitarian: as many leadership positions as there are individuals to fill them; leadership is achieved.

Tribes: Papua New Guinea

Leader: "Big Man" achieves a high amount of prestige and influence through personal ambition, charisma, hard work, and persuasiveness.

"Only those who raise many pigs get to arrange the major ceremonies."

"He who does not have pigs is nothing!"

Giving gifts creates indebtedness, thus giving prestige to the giver until the gift is reciprocated.

Bigmen have the most prestige (influence) than anyone else in an egalitarian society, but they have little real power: they can cajole people to work for them, but they cannot force them . In the video, this lack of power is demonstrated when the Bigman's (Onca) supporters ran to attack another group against his wishes and he was powerless to stop them.

Were there bigmen at Copan? At the Type 4 site, 9N8, all the early burials were contained similar goods except that of an adult male which contained unusual pottery (religious knowledge?) and jade (wealth).

(Pacific) Northwest Coast: Chiefdoms

Ruled by a lineage descended from a single ancestor. The closer you are to that ancestor, the higher your rank: Totem Pole was the insignia of that rank.

Each lineage head (chief) wanted to organize the salmon harvest to gain prestige. To prevent conflict, rules of succession evolved. Status was automatically determined by birth. Chiefs governed by the consensus of other chiefs.

Copan:: When was rank first inherited? 2-4,000 people

AD 435: earliest known inscription stated that the leaders father was the founder of the dynasty: therefore, inherited status, and a chiefdom.

Question: did Copan ever develop into a state? Population grew to 15,000 by AD 700. During the reign of king "Smoke Shell (Imix)", a doubling of the population resulted in more conflict over the best land. Resolving these conflict gave the king more prestige and power. Thus, he was able to place inscribed markers around the periphery of the Copan Valley, the first royal construction outside the Main Group. Was he staking a claim?

The next king, 18-Rabbit appeared to consolidate power: his palace required 30,000 person days to construct, verses 9,000 person days for the Type 4 dwellings of the other noble lineage heads (compared to 100 person days for a Type 1). Because the king was able to utilize more than three times as much labor are the next highest ranking individuals, the authors conclude that Copan was an incipient state-level society: the king of Copan still have very little real power.

When 18-Rabbit was captured and killed by the rival Maya center of Quirigua, the royal lineage had to share power with the other lineage heads.

Copan devolved from a state to a chiefdom. Houses of lineage heads grew faster during this time.

Copan, like most other Maya centers, was socially limited because the king always had to share power with the other lineage heads: decentralized leadership. Therefore, incipient state-level society.

State: In contrast, Rome under the Caesars was able to centralize power and developed a large number of classes. Rome continued to evolve beyond where Copan ended:

The nobles overthrew their king and ruled by consensus for 500 years (Roman Republic). Family armies conquered the Mediterranean region, but the generals were still subject to the noble families. When Julius and Augustus Caesar centralized power to become emperor, they made standard rules that enabled the members of the military to work toward privileges (similar to the Aztec system). This took influence away from the generals and gave it to the emperor.

Herculeneum, neighbor city of Pompeii, demonstrates the wide range of classes present in Roman society (and absent at Copan): social stratification.


- Individuals in all societies strive for status, prestige, and power. Their success depends on the individual's charisma and birth-right, but mostly on the structure of the society and its relation to its environment.

- At one time, all people lived in egalitarian societies.

- As the population increased, charismatic individuals were able to gain prestige.

- Prestige became formalized and inherited by selected heirs.

- As population increased, small groups monopolized key resources and classes emerged.

- States evolved to protect the elite classes by relying on force to centralize power.