Theaters of power: Inca imperial performance

2012 2012

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Abstract (summary)

Military and police power has proven time and again to be necessary but not sufficient to create and maintain an empire. Empires must employ a multitude of strategies to expand and survive, one of the most important of which is state-sanctioned public spectacles, ceremonies, and rituals. This dissertation examines the roles of these large-scale non-quotidian performances that are organized and directed by political agents, occur generally at specified times and locations, and include elements of the spectacular, theatricality, cosmological invocation, and feasting.

These, state-sanctioned public spectacles, ceremonies, and rituals, have received inadequate attention from archaeologists. Archaeologists traditionally focused on the development of administrative and economic systems, ignoring the roles of performances in imperial expansion, which have often been considered epiphenomenal.

My own research has focused on one of these empires, the Inka, and how it grew from a small single valley in Peru to a powerful polity ranging north to Ecuador and Colombia, south to Chile and Argentina, and east to Bolivia and Paraguay. This expansion occurred without many of the tools historically considered critical to such expansion, including a writing system, horses, and the wheel.

I analyze religious and state constructions and spaces for their roles in and as the settings for spectacles and ceremonies. Utilizing a performance-based perspective and theories of semiotics and pragmatics drawn from semiotic anthropology, I focus on a particular set of Inka performance spaces and their role in imperial expansion and control: the capital Cuzco and certain replicas of that capital constructed in other parts of the empire.

I suggest that these sites served as the settings for a calendar of ritual ceremonies and spectacles that referenced certain repeated physical attributes and were performed by and for an audience of the Inka themselves, and did not, like other performances in the empire, involve the meaningful participation of other social groups within the empire. I also suggest that these Cuzco replicas were strategically placed in areas of war and rebellion where the utilization of ritual performance to maintain, reinforce, inculcate and manipulate Inka ideology, identity, and power was a critical element of imperial strategy.

Indexing (details)

Latin American Studies
0324: Archaeology
0465: Theater
0550: Latin American Studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Communication and the arts; Archaeology of performance; Empires; Inca; Inka; Political theater; Ritual; Semiotics
Theaters of power: Inca imperial performance
Coben, Lawrence S.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 73/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Erickson, Clark L.
Committee member
Agha, Asif; Preucel, Robert W.
University of Pennsylvania
University location
United States -- Pennsylvania
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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