Captive Bodies, Kingly Splendor: Warfare and Social Identity in Ancient Maya Art

Caitlin Earley
Asst. Professor, Department of Art History
University of Nevada, Reno
November 4, 2016 – 3:30p – Silsby 113

By the Late Classic (c. 600-900) period in the western Maya lowlands, warfare was a part of daily life. Dynastic polities in this region maintained centuries-long enmities, recording their feats on carved stone monuments and painted ceramic vessels. Scholars have traditionally used the imagery and writing on these objects to glean information about political history and the practice of Maya warfare—but they also provide a window into the meaning of warfare, and in particular, the power of the human captive. In this study, I suggest that warfare imagery was a key driver of elite social identity in the Classic Maya world. Considering images of the disempowered as well as the powerful, I examine how depictions of captives created an elite discourse of war that stressed the role of elites as potential captives, the restoration of world order, and the significance of the human body.