Paper explores the effective use of power in the Bronze Age societies of Central Europe


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During the first part of the Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe, a large proportion of the population lived in what are known as tell-building societies.

Ceremonial pick-axe from the Carpathian basin, dated to the Middle Bronze Age. A thesis in archaeology from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) shows that the leaders of these societies had the ability to combine several sources of power in an effective way in order to dominate the rest of the population, which contributed towards creating a notably stable social system.

Tell-building societies are named after a distinct form of settlements with a high density of population and construction, which over the course of time accumulated such thick cultural layers that they took on the shape of low mounds.

On the basis of a discussion and analysis of previously published material from the Carpathian Basin and new findings from the tell settlement Százhalombatta-Földvár in Hungary, the author of the thesis, Claes Uhnér, describes the ways in which leaders could exercise power.

Tell-building societies had relatively advanced economies. The subsistence economy, which was based on agricultural production and animal husbandry, produced a good return, and the societies were involved in regional and long-distance exchange of bronzes and other valuable craft products.

“By exercising a degree of control over these parts of the economy, it was possible for leaders to finance political activities and power-exerting organisations,” says Uhnér.

He shows in his thesis that, through military power, leaders were able to control surrounding settlements from fortified tells. As the majority of these settlements were situated next to rivers and other natural transport routes, they could demand tribute from passing trade expeditions and act as intermediaries in the exchange of goods that took place in the region.

In addition, a large tell was a manifestation of a successful society with a long history. This situation made it possible for leaders to use the cultural traditions of the society in ideological power strategies.

“The tells served as physical manifestations of a social system that worked well, which legitimised the social position of the elites and their right to lead.”

An important conclusion drawn by Uhnér is that the sources of power could be used in strategies where they supported each other.

Economic power made it possible to master military and ideological means of power. Military power was utilised to safeguard economic and ideological resources, while ideology legitimised the social system.

This was largely possible because the tell settlements served as political power centres. Redistribution of staples and specialised production was attached to these sites, and they had key military and ideological significance.

“By controlling tells and the activities carried out in them, leaders had an organisational advantage over the rest of the population, and others found it very difficult to build up competing power positions,” says Uhnér.

Source: University of Gothenburg via EurekAlert [January 11, 2011]



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