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UNIT 8: Early Economies

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PERSPECTIVES ON THE PAST

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Transcript of Audio Clip

Peter Winn, Tufts University

We are heirs to an individualistic capitalist tradition which regards landholdings by religious institutions as unproductive and a drag on the economy. The French term "mortmain" literally the dead hand of the church captures this view. In some cases this may be true but historians need to view such received conventional wisdoms critically cause they may obscure more than they reveal. In societies very different from our own, for example, the meaning as such ostensibly religious landholdings may be different from what it seems at least at first glance.

A case in point is the Inkas allocating substantial land and labor resources to support the imperial cult of royal mummies which some scholars have speculated might have been a drag on the economy. But unlike pharoahnic Egypt this Inka cult did not involve the investment of vast resources and ostentatious monuments to the dead like the pyramids. In reality, much of the land and labor allocated to the royal mummy cult was used to support the living relatives of dead emperors.

So what at first might appear to be the allocation of scarce resources to an unproductive religious institution can be read rather as the allocation of increasing resources to support and maintain peace within the royal extended family. Taken together with growing private landholdings by Inka aristocrats in the late Inka Empire, this reading of the mummy cult makes the question of whether the allocation is substantial in increasing resources to support the Inka aristocracy was a drag on the economy but that is a different question.



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