What Was The Olmec Form Of Government Like?

The Olmec form of government may have been a theocracy, according to many experts. This culture flourished in the lower coastal region of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco in the Gulf of Mexico from approximately 1250 to 500 BC.

Thanks to new archaeological discoveries, the Olmec is considered the first great Mesoamerican civilization. 
The Olmec culture is believed to have been the forerunner of all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures such as the Mayans and Aztecs.

Theocracy as a form of government of the Olmecs

It is generally assumed that, like most Mesoamerican civilizations that succeeded them, the Olmecs were a theocratic society.

Theocracy is a form of government that is guided by divinity, or by officials who are supposed to be divinely guided.
It is very common then for government leaders to be members of the clergy. It is also typical that the state legal system is founded on religious law.

Thus, clearly distinctive social classes would coexist in the community centers of the Olmecs: priests, bureaucrats, merchants, and artisans.

Those of the privileged classes lived in finely built stone structures. Many of these constructions were temples on top of the pyramids.

The Olmecs had paved streets and aqueducts that brought water to these temples.

Archaeological discoveries seem to support the theory of a theocratic government. The famous colossal basalt heads represented, possibly chiefs or kings.

Furthermore, the crying baby-faced statuettes are considered to symbolize the descendants of Olmec deities. 
These and other symbolic artifacts realize the importance of religion in this culture.

For his part, the archaeologist Richard Diehl has identified religious elements of this civilization.

In this sociocultural context there were sacred sites, rituals carried out by shamans and / or rulers and the conception of a cosmos where divine beings and gods controlled the universe and interacted with men.

Other theories

Many theorists consider that the archaeological evidence is not sufficient to affirm that the Olmecs were a theocratic society.
In this way, it has been proposed that it could have been an empire, a chiefdom or even a rudimentary form of state.

First, an empire is defined as a major political unit that has a large territory or several territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.

Some argue that the Olmecs were an empire that exercised political, economic, and military dominance over other local leaders.

But it is unlikely that the population was large enough to have an army controlling other localities. Also, there is no archaeological evidence to support this idea.

On the other hand, chiefdoms are hierarchically organized societies whose basic principle of internal organization is rank.

In these cases, the highest rank is held by the boss. The fact that many of the societies that had contact with the Olmecs developed complex chiefdoms seems to reinforce this theory. However this has not been proven yet.

Finally, the Olmecs are also spoken of as a state. A state is a fairly elaborate society in which better conditions exist than a tribal one.

It also implies a clear differentiation of social classes. Many consider that the Olmec culture reached the level of a primitive state where there was a highly centralized control of the population.

References

  1. Cheetham, D. (2006). The Americas’ First Colony? In Archeology archives. Vol. 59, No. 1, Jan-Feb.
  2. Mark Cartwright (2013, August 30). Olmec Civilization. Recovered from ancient.eu.
  3. Theocracy. (2014, November 04). Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Recovered from britannica.com
  4. Theocracy [Def. one]. (nd). Merriam-Webster Online. At Merriam-Webster. Recovered from merriam-webster.com
  5. Waldman, C. (2009). Atlas of the North American Indian. New York: Infobase Publishing.
  6. Minster C. (2017 March 07). The First Mesoamerican Civilization. Recovered from thoughtco.com.
  7. Empire [Def. one]. (nd). Merriam-Webster Online. At Merriam-Webster. Recovered from merriam-webster.com.
  8. Pool, C. (2007). Olmec Archeology and Early Mesoamerica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Evans S. and Webster DL (2013). Archeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland publishing.
  10. Bernal. B. (1969). The Olmec World. California: University of California Press.

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