Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

26 Warriors and Warrior Institutions
in Copper Age Europe

HELLE VANDKILDE

This study1 assesses the importance of warriorhood in the Copper Age of central Europe, particularly focusing on the Corded Ware culture of the early 3rd millennium BC. A central question is whether warrior institutions existed, and if they did, what their social significance and position was in societies of the past. While we cannot assume that warriors have always been present in all societies, the ethnohistorical evidence allows us to say that – when they are present – warriors organise in a limited number of ways. The point of departure for this archaeological study is therefore a non-comprehensive sociological analysis of warriors that highlights the issues of identification and institutionalisation, an approach that is necessary in order to provide a tool that can enter into a dialogue with archaeological data.


Introductory notes

The warrior is a symbolic figure of power and a specialised user of physical violence. Warfare can be understood as violent social action and war as a situation of recurring warfare: in a study of warriors the phenomena of warfare and war are not out of focus; on the contrary warriors and warfare are interdependent phenomena. It is on the other hand quite clear that the presence or absence of warrior representations in the archaeological record cannot be used as a direct measure of war or peace in the past (cp. Robb 1997).


Why warriors?

Yet why spend time and energy on warriors in prehistory? There are several interconnected reasons for this: First of all, warriorhood is worth studying in any context because of its association with power, dominance, coercion, violence and bloodshed. When warriorhood becomes institutionalised it may even become a dominant field of power in society and hence a factor of oppression. In addition, when institutionalised, warriorhood might have a certain potential for producing, or contributing to, social change. It is also an identity interwoven with ideology, thus attracting opposite meanings of beauty and ugliness, gallantry and brutality, and bravery and cruelty. Furthermore, warriorhood needs an archaeological review because it has played, and still plays, a part in the discourse of large-scale cultural change within the discipline, having evoked scenes of fiercely armed male warriors on horseback conquering new land and of warrior aristocrats divided into war leaders and retinues of chiefly warriors. The question whether such a stereotypical picture can be sustained underlies much of the discussion in this article. The

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