The Social and Political Evolution of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico: An Analysis of Changing Strategies of Rulership in a Middle Formative Through Early Classic Mesoamerican Political Center

Timothy D. Sullivan

PhD Thesis 2009

This study investigates the evolution of the early polity of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico, from its inception as a political center during the early Middle Formative Dili phase (100-750 B.C) through its apparent peak in political power during the early Terminal Formative Horcones phase (100 B.C.-100 A.D). I approach the evolution of this polity through an analysis of how eight different strategies were employed by rulers in governing the hinterland over the trajectory of Chiapa de Corzo as a political center. My evaluation of the evolution of these political strategies is based on my full coverage survey of 107 km² of Chiapa de Corzo and a portion of its southern hinterland, as well as the large body of research conducted by the New World Archaeological Foundation at Chiapa de Corzo proper. I focus on changes in the following strategies: projection of power into the hinterland; control over access to agricultural lands; control over access to obsidian; control over networks of communication; the use of warfare and coercion; the formation of elite identity, community identity and the use of feasting; and control over ritual and religion.

Changes in how rulers applied different strategies suggest that political power at Chiapa de Corzo did not evolve steadily towards stronger and more integrated authority over the hinterland. In some phases increases in markers of status differentiation between rulers and subjects were accompanied by the development and strengthening of mechanisms to project power into the hinterland. However, in other phases increases in status differentiation at the center appear to have been accompanied by the atrophy of aspects of the projection of power and control over economic activities in the hinterland. While the general trend in the part of the Chiapa de Corzo trajectory covered in this study was towards greater political complexity and integration of the hinterland, a focus on the strategies utilized by rulers reveals that these processes did not proceed uniformly.