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This paper may be of particular interest to:  Practicing and Applied Anthropologists     Students
Type: Paper
Paper Title: THE CHARISMATIC POLITY: JAGUAR HILL AND THE CLASSIC MAYA
Author: JAMES FITZSIMMONS   
Date/Time: Sun., 8:15 AM
Co-Author(s): JAMES FITZSIMMONS 
Abstract: Despite the wealth of information scholars have derived from the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphics, archaeologists remain largely unsuccessful in determining what the borders of an ancient Maya polity actually were. Drawing upon sociological theories of authority as well as indigenous views of political power, this paper argues that ancient Maya rulers employed three basic strategies to define the borders of their polities. These strategies – involving rational-legal, traditional, and charismatic sources of authority – determined territorial integrity and could not only vary proportionally between sites but also between individual dynasts. Rather than focusing on the centralized or decentralized aspects of Maya polities, or drawing upon models derived from other parts of the world (e.g., Tambiah’s ‘galactic polity’), I argue for a flexible polity model (e.g., it allows for a spectrum of political complexity and mobility along that spectrum for a given site). In this model, the personal, ephemeral abilities of Maya rulers played a major role in how political units were territorially defined and conceptualized by their inhabitants. Accumulating sociopolitical capital through these abilities, successful rulers could then emphasize other strategies, such as the ‘traditional’ use of ancestors to support territorial boundaries. Unfortunately, not all rulers were able to do this. Polities like Hix Witz, or ‘Jaguar Hill’ (Guatemala), were primarily “charismatic polities,” relying upon charismatic sources of authority almost to the exclusion of rational-legal or traditional ones. Such political units were inherently unstable: their borders, and even their identity, would change depending upon the individual talents of their rulers.

Program Number: 5-0195
Session Title: MAYAN POLITICS AND POWER
Session Sponsor: Archaeology Division
Session Date/Time: Sun., 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Organizer(s): ANNUAL MEETING PROGRAM COMMITTEE (AAA) 
Chair(s): KRISTIN LANDAU (Northwestern University)  
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