Captive Bodies, Captive Power: Reexamining the Role of the Captive in Ancient Maya Art

Author(s): Caitlin Earley

Year: 2017


Stripped, humiliated, and often sacrificed, the captive in ancient Maya art acted as a potent symbol of defeat. Captives are a central theme of Maya art, appearing on media from painted vases to carved stone monuments. However, discussions of ancient Maya captives often focus on their captors: rulers, usually depicted as conquering warriors. "Captive Bodies, Captive Power" investigates, instead, the captives themselves. Treating the captive body as a cultural project that both modeled and reflected the embodied experiences of ancient people, I argue that depictions of captives performed ideas about world order and constructed specific social identities. Combining fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico, with archaeological data and a broad survey of captive imagery across multiple media, the paper begins by reexamining the identification of captives in Maya art. Focusing on the carved stone captives of Tonina, the paper then explores the experience of captives, both actual and implied; and the role of the captive in establishing rhetorical relationships between the powerful and the disempowered. Moving beyond traditional studies of kings and nobles, this paper clarifies the identification and significance of captives in Maya art, revealing the power of the captive body to shape the ancient Maya world.

Cite this Record

Captive Bodies, Captive Power: Reexamining the Role of the Captive in Ancient Maya Art. Caitlin Earley. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429603)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections


Art Performance Warfare

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17178