’And Make Some Other Man Our King’: Mortuary Evidence for Labile Elite Power Structures in Early Iron Age Europe
Session: “Power from Below: Collectivity and Heterarchy in Global Perspective”
Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting, 2017 – Vancouver, Canada
“…we have been set free… by our most tireless prince, King and lord, the lord Robert… Yet if he should give up what he has begun, seeking to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy… and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King” (Declaration of Arbroath April 6, 1320). The Romans in 1st century BC Gaul and the English in 14th century AD Scotland described the political structures of the Celtic-speaking European peoples they encountered as chaotic and decentralized. Historians and archaeologists have tended to represent such socio-political lability as a weakness in the struggle of indigenous peoples against the often superior military strength of highly centralized and hierarchical state-level societies. Based on the evidence for secondary elites, the pares rather than the primus, a case study drawn from the mortuary record of early Iron Age southwest Germany demonstrates that the political structures characteristic of such tribal states were both fluid and highly stable. Built on a foundation of heterarchical relationships, they have proved extremely resistant to millennia of external imperialist pressure.