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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 44 (2016) 14–30
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An economy of human sacrifice: The practice of sunjang in an ancient state of Korea Matthew Conte, Jangsuk Kim ⇑ Department of Archaeology and Art History, Seoul National University, 1 Gwanak-ro, Seoul 08826, South Korea
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Article history: Received 13 November 2015 Revision received 6 July 2016
Keywords: Human sacrifice Korea Religious market Public goods Monopoly Standardization
a b s t r a c t Motivations for human sacrifice are explained from various perspectives: the sociopolitical benefits gained by elite hosts and the ideological, cultural, or locally unique factors that motivate community members and victims of sacrifice to participate. While these perspectives are pertinent, in this paper we employ a political economic framework to investigate how retainer sacrifice was practiced over two centuries in the ancient kingdom of Silla in Korea and why it was ultimately banned. We suggest that retainer sacrifice rites can be regarded as public goods supplied by elite hosts and consumed by the public at large. On a regional scale, the supply of retainer sacrifice was maintained by an oligopolistic or cartellike market structure, which shaped sociopolitical relations among Silla royalty, elites, and communities. Rising costs of retainer sacrifice and an opportunistic strategy of the central government to monopolize the religious market brought about the illegalization of retainer sacrifice followed by the adoption of Buddhism as a state religion. Ó 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction The practice of human sacrifice has long elicited a great deal of public and academic interest (e.g., Baadsgaard et al., 2012; Bataille, 1962; Campbell, 2012; Girard, 2005; Hughes, 1991; Sugiyama, 2005). Ethnohistoric and archaeological studies have revealed the extensive occurrence and the great diversity of human sacrifice in human societies and have thoroughly dispelled any notions that human sacrifice was merely an exotic, barbarous behavior that occurred under anomalous circumstances. In order to better understand its underlying motivations and meanings, many researchers have attempted to provide generalizable and/or casespecific explanations for motivations behind the practice of human sacrifice, which vary a great deal depending on focus and perspective. Harner (1977) argues that the underlying motivation behind Aztec human sacrifice was cannibalism, a solution to a scarcity of protein and fat among a growing population with limited animal resources. This hypothesis has found some support, and it has been suggested that population pressure and conflict for land and resources are positively correlated with human sacrifice in other regions of the world as well (Winkelman, 1998). Porter (2013), in
⇑ Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: [email protected]
(M. Conte), [email protected]
(J. Kim). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2016.07.004 0278-4165/Ó 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
a different light, discusses human sacrifice in third millennium Mesopotamia as it relates to local meanings, in particular its role in creating and recreating relationships between the living and the dead. These perspectives seek to explain the ostensibly irrational behavior of participating community members by purporting ecological necessities or various ideological justifications that are unique to particular societies located in particular times and places. Meanwhile, focusing on its apparent association with the formation of early states, many researchers (e.g., Ingham, 1984; Trigger, 2003) have noted that human sacrificial rituals and public ceremonies that include human sacrifice have been used to justify the accumulation of wealth and inequality and as a means of displaying and expanding political authority (e.g., Besom, 2013; Hayden, 2014; Yoffee, 2005). This latter perspective clearly favors a top-down view, in which elite hosts of rituals involving human sacrifice seek clear political benefits, usually at the expense of victims of human sacrifice and the general populace. We believe that all of these perspectives shed light on pertinent aspects of human sacrifice. It is important to note that human sacrifice is a multifaceted behavior and that these perspectives need not be mutually exclusive. It is not unreasonable to imagine that hosts may have benefited from the practice of human sacrifice, and that at the same time, local environmental factors, customs, and beliefs may have encouraged the participation of community members. However, in this paper we would like to propose a slightly different perspective. In some variations of human sacri-
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fice, ecological impetuses were not prerequisite, nor did community members have to be ideologically duped into participating in such rituals. Rather than assuming that community members were simply forced or required special incentives to participate in human sacrifice rituals, we suggest that in some cases, community members and kinsfolk of sacrificial victims believed that they benefited from human sacrificial rituals, and thus participated in such rituals not only with little reluctance, but considered them as important community activities. In order to clarify this dynamic, we propose a model that draws an analogy between ritual activities and economic behavior. Our model compares human sacrifice with a game in which various agents with different strategies participated to reach outcomes that benefited them. It borrows partially from the ‘‘religious market” model, conceived of (but not by this particular name) by Smith (1976 ) in The Wealth of Nations. Simply put, the religious market model treats religions as analogous to commercial markets: religion is supplied by religious firms and consumed by the participation of followers (Finke and Stark, 1988; Iannaccone, 1991). In liberal religious markets, a greater number and variety of religious firms compete with one another for participants. On the other end of the spectrum, states may declare a state religion, encouraging (or in many cases, requiring) its citizenry to participate in only one religion (Barro and McCleary, 2005). The religious market model is undeniably a simplification of the complex realities of religious belief and practice. Nonetheless, we believe the model’s strength lies in its simplicity: it treats both suppliers and consumers of religion as equally rational—even if not hyper-rational—agents, and therefore acting in their own interests. This allows us to imagine scenarios in which the motivated participation of community members—and even victims of human sacrifice—is just as important as that of the hosts who sponsored the ceremonies. We attempt to demonstrate how this model might best describe an archaeologically and historically known form of human sacrifice called sunjang that was practiced in the ancient state of Silla in the southern part of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the first millennium CE. Rather than describing participating community members as passive audience members and sacrifice victims as offerings in elite performances designed to signal authority, we view them as agents who actively tried to contribute to and benefit from human sacrificial rituals. Using archaeological and historical records of the Three Kingdoms Period of Korea in the first half of the first millennium, we propose a political economic model that explains why human sacrifice was perpetuated over 200 years with little resistance from victims of human sacrifice and their kin as well as commoners, but ceased rather rapidly. First, defining elite mortuary rituals and human sacrifice as goods supplied by hosts and consumed by community members, we emphasize the role of community members in participating in sunjang mortuary rituals as active participants seeking their own benefits. A second and equally important problem we address is the question of the cessation of sunjang as an elite mortuary practice. There seems to be a tacit assumption that such rituals cease to be practiced because they were socially, politically, and economically unsustainable over a long period of time, leading to inevitable shifts in ideologies that are more in tune with modern conceptions of morality. While ideological shifts may play an important role in the cessation of human sacrifice, such explanations often rely on post hoc connections. By considering sunjang as a practice pursued by multiple agents acting in their own interests, we explore which changing factors made such rituals unsustainable and why ideological changes occurred in order to justify the cessation of those mortuary rituals.
2. The three kingdoms, Silla, and the practice of retainer sacrifice The Three Kingdoms Period (1C BCE – 668 CE) of Korea refers to the period in which three polities—Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla—first coalesced and dominated the Korean peninsula for much of the first millennium CE, occupying different parts of the Korean peninsula as well as parts of present-day northeastern China (Fig. 1). The histories of the Three Kingdoms are described in the earliest extant text in Korean history, the Samguksagi (The Histories of the Three Kingdoms), which was compiled by historian Kim Busik in the 12th century CE. The three polities are thought to have developed into centralized states (or kingdoms) around the late 2nd to 3rd centuries CE. Gaya was an influential fourth polity but is usually considered a confederacy, not fully developed into a centralized state (Lee, 1997). After centuries of alternating alliances and conflicts, Silla annexed Gaya in 562 CE and allied with the Chinese Tang Dynasty to conquer Baekje (660 CE) and Goguryeo (668 CE), ending the Three Kingdoms Period and ushering in the Unified Silla Period (668–935 CE). While the Samguksagi describes the deeds of kings and conflicts among the three states in great detail, it provides very little information regarding burial practices of the three kingdoms. The only mention of specific Silla burial customs recorded in the Samguksagi refers to the illegalization of human sacrifice by King Jijeung (reign: 500–514 CE) of Silla in 502 CE: Year three [502 CE], Spring, Second Month: The King decreed that sunjang (human sacrifice) be forbidden. In the past, when a king died five males and females each were sacrificed, but this is now forbidden. [B. Kim, 1998 ] This record indicates for the first time that sunjang—human sacrifice—occurred as a royal burial custom in Silla but was banned shortly after King Jijeung took the throne in the third year of his reign. After this entry, the Samguksagi goes on to describe several other measures carried out by King Jijeung, including standardizing rules for mourning garb, promoting the use of oxen in farming, creating a system of administrative districts for the kingdom, ordering the construction of twelve fortresses, and expanding the kingdom’s territory (B. Kim, 1998, 2012 ). Unfortunately, sunjang is mentioned only in the context of its illegalization, leaving many important details, such as the origins, the frequency and extent, and the purpose of the practice to speculation. However, archaeological studies in the last few decades have revealed much about Silla burial practices and sunjang. The earliest distinct burials identified in the polity of Silla are wooden coffin tombs which appeared around 100 BCE when social hierarchy became salient in the area (Korean Archaeological Society, 2010). They lasted until approximately 150 CE when wooden chamber tombs—large pit chambers lined with wooden planks—appeared as elite burials throughout the area and iron tools and weapons became increasingly common grave goods (Y.-S. Kim, 2009). Wooden chamber tombs would have been more visible than their predecessors, as large mounds were constructed above the wooden chambers. While some Korean archaeologists argue that the practice began earlier, evidence of human sacrifice in Silla becomes apparent following the appearance of stone-piled wooden chamber tombs in the 4th century CE (Korean Archaeological Society, 2010). Stonepiled wooden chamber tombs usually have a central main burial chamber, in which the tomb’s main occupant was interred with grave goods, and an auxiliary burial chamber, in which additional grave goods were placed. Above these multiple chambers a large stone-piled mound and earthen mound were constructed (Fig. 2).
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Fig. 1. The Three Kingdoms and the Gaya Confederacy, ca. 400 CE.
Some of these new types of tombs are much more substantial in size than previous and other contemporaneous tombs, suggesting large-scale labor was mobilized for construction. Furthermore, the exceptional quantity and quality of luxurious goods buried in these tombs indicate that they were reserved only for Silla’s royalty and highest-ranking elites. Cheonmachong (also known as the Tomb of the Heavenly Horse), a large stone-piled wooden chamber tomb located in the Hwangnam-dong royal cemetery in Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, is exemplary of the extraordinary amount of time, labor, and technical expertise invested in the construction of royal and elite tombs during this time (Bureau of Cultural Heritage Management, 1974). The main component of the tomb was its main burial chamber, which was constructed of timber above ground, approximately 6.6 m in length and 4.2 m in width. Boulder-sized stones were stacked on the outside of the burial chamber to create a stone outer
wall, and the floor of the chamber was likewise lined with large stones. In the center of the chamber, there was a central space for depositing a coffin. Surrounding the coffin on all four sides were stone alters built of stacked stones, atop which grave goods including ornaments and iron weapons were placed before the chamber was buried. At the head of the coffin, a large wooden chest was also installed that contained numerous ceramic, gilt-bronze, and glass containers, cups, and pedastaled vessels that were presumably filled with foods and beverages. The inner walls of the chamber were also lined with stone altars for the deposition of additional grave goods and offerings. After the coffin, grave goods, and other offerings were deposited in the wooden burial chamber, a large mound of boulder-sized stones was constructed above and around the chamber. Finally, an earthen mound was constructed above the stone mound that, when completed, reached 12.7 m high and 47 m in diameter. The mound was carefully constructed by adding layers
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Fig. 2. Plan of Hwangnamdaechong in Gyeongju. Burial arrangements for the North Tomb (left) and South Tomb (right) are shown in Fig. 5. Modified from NRICH (1985).
of clay and other sediments to stabilize the tumulus. Horse tack, glass beads, and other goods were found buried in the peak of the mound, perhaps suggesting a final ritual to mark the end of the construction of the tomb. The identity of the individual interred in Cheonmachong is unknown, but there is a general consensus based on the location and scale of the tomb and the lavish grave goods recovered from within that it was constructed for royalty. In particular, the discovery of a golden crown—considered a symbol of Silla royalty—a golden belt, ten golden rings, golden bracelets, and other silver and gilt-bronze ornaments in the central coffin suggest that the individual interred was a Silla monarch. In many of the large stone-piled wooden chamber tombs throughout Silla territories, remains of one or more individuals— in addition to the remains of the tomb’s main occupant—have been recovered from both main burial chambers and auxiliary burial chambers. Even in the case that no human skeletal remains were found due to the high acidity of Korean soil, the distribution of sets of earrings and necklaces found in situ on the floors of chambers clearly indicate that multiple individuals were interred with the main occupants of the tombs. The overall structure of the stonepiled wooden chambers tombs, which were permanently sealed
with stone mounds and enormous earthen tumuli, as described above, clearly only allow for a single burial episode. Moreover, the large number of tombs that contain multiple burials and their widespread chronological and geographical distribution rule out the possibility of multiple burials following the outbreak of a disease or a catastrophic event resulting in multiple simultaneous deaths. Thus, it is now commonly accepted that Silla elite and royal tombs predating the sixth century that contain the remains of multiple individuals reflect the practice of sunjang (Kwon, 1993; Y.-S. Kim, 2002, 2009, 2015; Lee, 2009; Noh, 2012; D.-W. Kim, 2014; Ha, 2011). Multiple lines of evidence indicate that sunjang was a form of retainer sacrifice—a variety of human sacrifice in which individuals are killed following the death of a ruler or prominent leader, presumably, to accompany them into an afterlife (Van Dijk, 2007), which should be distinguished from rituals that involve the mass killing of large numbers of individuals, such as war prisoners. As cited above, the Samguksagi describes a burial custom in which five males and females each were sacrificed and buried with deceased kings, and this record is supported by archaeological evidence suggesting that anywhere between one and up to ten individuals were
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killed and buried alongside deceased elites as part of elaborate funerary rituals. The opulence of grave goods recovered from sunjang tombs and the scale of the tombs themselves suggest that Silla developed to a more centrally administered kingdom in the fourth century and retainer sacrifice was carried out at funerals of only Silla’s highest-ranking elites and royalty (Kwon, 1993; Y.-S. Kim, 2002; Lee, 2009). However, the distribution of sunjang tombs indicates that it was practiced not only in the royal capital, Gyeongju, but also in the hinterlands. So far, 56 tombs have been identified as containing sacrificial burials in elite cemeteries within the Silla polity (Y.-S. Kim, 2009), which are widely distributed in modernday cities and counties including Gyeongju, Busan, Daegu, Gyeongsan, Yangsan, Changnyeong, Seongju, Uiseong, and Yeongdeok (Fig. 3) in the South and North Gyeongsang provinces covering southeastern Korea. Chronological studies of burial pottery from these tombs indicate that sunjang tombs first appeared in Gyeongju and later spread to the hinterlands beyond the capital (Choi, 2011, 2012, 2013). Although the exact relationship between the royal capital and the hinterland communities of Silla are still the subject of some debate, it is usually understood that many communities were somewhat autonomous and that local elites exercised some degree of authority over their areas (Park, 2001; Noh, 1994; Y.-S. Kim, 2009). This view is supported by various references in historical sources of Silla armies wresting control of surrounding areas, Silla monarchs sending officers from the capital to help govern towns in the hinterlands, and a stele that describes an uprising in a hinterland community that had to be quelled by the royal army (Noh, 2015; Lee, 2004). But despite the apparent autonomy of these hinterland communities (or perhaps as a result of it), all areas of the Silla polity seem to have shared in common similar elite mortuary practices. In particular, stone-piled wooden chamber tombs and similar types of grave goods are found throughout the polity and evidence of human sacrifice is found in elite cemeteries associated with major towns (Y.-S. Kim, 2009). Nonetheless, a comparison of the size of burial mounds and the amount and quality of grave goods and the number of sacrificed individuals between the royal capital and other towns indicate obvious signs of differentiation between the royal center and the hinterlands (Kwon, 2008). In Gyeongju, tombs containing evidence of human sacrifice were constructed in what are thought to be royal cemeteries at the center of the ancient capital. Sacrificial burials in Gyeongju have also been discovered almost invariably in tombs in which the tombs’ main occupants were interred wearing golden crowns, headdresses, and belts—symbols of Silla royalty that are not found outside of Gyeongju. In contrast, in elite cemeteries of the hinterlands, sacrificial burials are found in the largest elite tombs, with the tombs’ main occupants interred wearing giltbronze or silver crowns and belts. This disparity in grave goods between royals tombs located in the capital and tombs of the hinterlands areas has been interpreted as a means of materially distinguishing Silla royalty from elites (Y.-S. Kim, 2009). Such disparities seem to have also extended to the practice of sunjang. Only in royal tombs located in Gyeongju is evidence of ten sacrificed individuals found, as described in the Samguksagi; in hinterlands cemeteries, only up to eight sacrificed individuals have been discovered, with the majority of tombs containing between one and three sacrificed individuals (Table 1). Marked differentiation of ornaments worn by the sacrificed between the capital and hinterlands has also been noted. The sacrificed in Gyeongju tombs are often interred wearing golden rings, earrings, and other golden ornaments, but in the hinterlands, with only a few exceptions, precious-metal ornaments recovered in sacrificial burial contexts are all crafted of giltbronze or silver (Y.-S. Kim, 2009). One major goal of previous research the practice of sunjang has been determining the social status of sacrificed individuals. Some
historians conventionally assumed that sacrificed individuals were slaves, but archaeological data suggest a different scenario. Burial goods associated with the sacrificed markedly vary. While some were found with no burial goods, iron weapons such as swords and various iron farming implements have been interred with some sacrificed individuals, leading some researchers to suggest that they may have once worked directly beneath the tombs’ main occupants as servants, handmaidens, warriors, guards, and land managers (Kwon, 1993; Y.-S. Kim, 2002, 2009). In some cases, the sacrificed were interred wearing fine ornaments, including gold, silver, and gilt-bronze earrings and rings, silver belts, and glass and jade necklaces—items that would not be out of place among grave goods interred with elites. Many archaeologists, on the basis of the luxurious items associated with sacrificed individuals hypothesized that some of the sacrificed may have enjoyed relatively high status in Silla society (Kwon, 1993; Y.-S. Kim, 2009; D.-W. Kim, 2014; Ha, 2011). D.-W. Kim (2014) argues that the invariable discovery of numerous pedestaled vessels, cooking and serving pots and containers in sacrificial burial contexts can be taken as evidence of additional funerary rituals for the sake of sacrificed individuals, providing further support for the relatively high status of sacrificed individuals. Although archaeological inference suggested that some sacrificed individuals held relatively high status, such inferences were based mainly on indirect evidence, such as the quality of burial goods. The high acidity of Korean soil, which rarely permits the preservation of organic remains, prevented further considerations, such as analyses of human and animal skeletal remains. But since the 1990s, excavations of the Imdang and Joyeong cemeteries located in Gyeongsan have provided a wealth of information in this regard. Many of the tombs in these cemeteries were waterlogged, providing extraordinarily rare preservation of human and animal skeletal remains. Osteological analyses of human remains from these cemeteries reveal that the age and sex of the sacrificed discovered in sunjang tombs varied, but young adults between the ages of 21 and 35 were most common (D.-W. Kim, 2013: Table 2). Mitochondrial DNA analyses were also carried out on human skeletal remains of 67 individuals recovered from several tombs at the Imdang and Joyeong cemetery sites. The analyses revealed that at least four sacrificed individuals shared matrilineal affinities with tombs’ main occupants, suggesting that at least some sacrificed individuals were matrilineally related with elites (Ha, 2011). The study also found that those who shared matrilineal affinities with tombs’ main occupants were interred wearing exceptionally fine accessories, such as gilt-bronze earrings and silver rings, which were commonly worn by elites in funerary contexts. This is interpreted as strong evidence that at least some of the sacrificed individuals held high social standing, perhaps at a level not far below elites, in Silla society. Archaeological evidence from Imdang and Joyeong cemeteries also strongly suggests the practice of sunjang was carried out in the context of elite funerary rites that included feasting and offerings of rare goods. Numerous remains of terrestrial and marine animals including horses, pigs, wild boar, pheasants, and several species of fish and shellfish were recovered from the main and auxiliary chambers of elite tombs (D.-W. Kim, 2014), and it is notable that many of these skeletal remains appear to have been processed for consumption. For example, Tomb EIII-2 in Joyeong cemetery contained a minimum of 70 pheasants, with heads, necks, feet, and wings removed (Go, 2013). Disarticulated remains of only meaty parts in containers suggest that animals were not merely sacrificed but cooked and/or eaten and that feasting likely took place during funerals. In other containers from Tomb EIII-2, shells of several species of clams and sea snails as well as abalones and scallops were discovered (Go, 2011, 2013), and freshwater fish and marine fish such as carp, Japanese amberjack, flatfish, puffer
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Fig. 3. Distribution of cemeteries containing Silla retainer sacrifice tombs in southeastern Korea.
Table 1 Present-day locations of Silla cemeteries containing retainer sacrifice tombs and estimated number of sacrificed retainers per tomb. Modified from Y.-S. Kim (2009). Present-day location
Number of identified retainer sacrifice tombs
Estimated number of sacrificed retainers per tomb
Bokcheon-dong Haksodae Gyo-dong Bisan Guam Hwawon Jukgok-ri Munsan-ri Naedang Hwangnam-dong Imdang Joyeong Seongsan-dong Daeri-ri Tap-ri Bukjeong-ri Goesi-ri
3 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 2 5 10 15 5 2 2 1 1
2–>4 >2 1–3 1–2 1–2 1 1–2 ? 1 1–10 1–>5 1–8 1 1–2 1 3 >2
Changnyeong County Daegu
Gyeongju Gyeongsan Seongju County Uiseong County Yangsan Yeongdeok County
fish, and shark were also recovered (E.-Y. Kim, 2011). These marine fish and shellfish would have been transported inland tens of kilometers for the ceremony. Together with the prestige grave goods,
processed animal remains and the large number of pedestaled vessels, cooking and serving pots, and container jars discovered in royal and elite tombs (Fig. 4) imply that Silla royal and elite
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Table 2 Estimated age range and sex of sacrificed retainers from Imdang and Joyeong cemeteries, Gyeongsan.a Modified from D.-W. Kim (2013). Estimated age range of sacrificed retainers Child
Female Male Unknown
0 0 16
0 2 5
10 11 12
3 4 1
0 1 1
0 0 2
Note: The age estimates provided in the original reports used several different age range categories to describe the estimated age of each individual. We use more inclusive age range categories: ‘‘Child” refers roughly to individuals estimated to be under 12, ‘‘adolescent” to individuals estimated to be between the ages of 12 and 17, ‘‘young adult” to individuals estimated to be between 18 and 35, and ‘‘middle adult” to individuals between 36 and 50.
Fig. 4. Numerous pots, container jars, and pedastaled vessels from the auxiliary chamber of Tomb 38 in the Seongsan-dong cemetery site in Seongju. Adapted from Y.-S. Kim (2015).
funerals were extravagant affairs that included not only events of human sacrifice but also displays of opulent jewels and ornaments, and feasting and drinking as well as offerings. Following King Jijeung’s ban of sunjang by royal decree in 502 CE, the practice of human sacrifice seems to have waned out, and the stone-piled wooden chamber tombs are gradually replaced by a new type of tomb: the stone burial room with corridor entrances. The size of the mounds covering these new tombs and the amount of burial goods deposited within them significantly decreased, and they were also built with entrances that could be reopened, allowing husbands and wives to be interred in the same tomb, which had become a widespread mortuary custom. This new tomb structure became increasingly common until cremation was popularized as a result of Buddhist influence. Buddhism was adopted as Silla’s official state religion by King Jijeung’s successor, King Beopheung (reign: 514–540 CE), in 527 CE, 25 years after banning the practice of human sacrifice. To summarize, sunjang, the practice of retainer sacrifice in Silla, is historically attested in the Samguksagi and has been identified archaeologically in many tombs in the region administered by Silla. The appearance and increasing frequency of retainer sacrifice in Silla seems to closely coincide with the appearance of large mounded tombs and increasing differentiation between royalty in the capital and local elites in the hinterlands as evidenced by regional contrasts in the scale of tombs and the lavishness of grave
goods in the 4th and 5th centuries. The practice of retainer sacrifice, which had lasted longer than 200 years, was banned by royal decree in the beginning of the 6th century, and the disappearance of the practice is reflected archaeologically as well. Shortly after the illegalization of sunjang, Silla adopted Buddhism as a state religion. In investigating the practice of sunjang, we do not intend to address why or how sunjang initially appeared in Silla and what particular ideologies were associated with it. Instead, we ask (1) why sunjang was practiced for over 200 years, despite the potential risks associated with resistance from commoners? Was it because Silla commoners were ideologically manipulated or surrendered to sanctions or violence? Were there any motivations or practical benefits, for elites and commoners alike, to be gained from participation in sunjang? (2) If sunjang provided the elite class of Silla with effective tools for power exercise, why was it banned by a king? Was the illegalization of sunjang a direct consequence of ideological change, or were there other mundane factors involved? Finally, (3) what was the relationship between the ban of sunjang and the official adoption of Buddhism as a state religion 25 years later? Were those two independent incidents or did they share related sociopolitical motivations? Viewing sunjang as analogous to a religious market in which various transactions between suppliers and consumers take place, we propose an economic explanation that focuses on the dynamic interplay among various agents with different strategies and practical interests associated with the practice and cessation of sunjang. 3. An economic interpretation of the Silla practice of sunjang We begin by discussing how and why the practice of sunjang was maintained over a long period of time in Silla society. Regardless of whether it was coercive or based on ideological manipulation, a key to answering this question is investigating how sunjang was legitimized in Silla over two centuries, despite potential resistance from commoners. 3.1. Mortuary rituals for whom? Like many other examples of human sacrifice, sunjang occurred in the context of royal/elite mortuary rituals. Although few details regarding how precisely sunjang was carried out are available, the funerals would have been extremely ostentatious affairs that included the deposition of luxurious grave goods and the consumption of rare, expensive foodstuffs for feasting, evidenced by findings of shells and fish bones obtained from distant areas (E.Y. Kim, 2011; D.-W. Kim, 2014). These events would have taken place only occasionally—perhaps only once in a few decades—most likely occurring only following the deaths of individuals belonging to a small minority of the highest-ranking elites. Such funeral ceremonies would have likely been one of the largest and longestlasting events in Silla communities.
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The structure of the tombs’ chambers suggests that elite funeral ceremonies were not rushed; the construction of the burial chamber, the procurement of luxury food items for feasting, and the production and procurement of fine grave goods would have had to be completed before bodies were interred. It is thus likely that elite funeral ceremonies included several stages, each accompanied by the appropriate mortuary rituals. Retainer sacrifices would have likely occurred in a later stage, before the burial of the chamber and the construction of the tomb’s mound (D.-W. Kim, 2014). The sacrifices would have been emotionally affecting events that finalized the extravagant ceremony. For onlookers—probably including kin of the deceased, elites invited from other parts of the polity, as well as attendees from the populace at large—the sacrifices were likely perceived as both spiritually potent and perhaps distressing at the same time. Although we may never be able to uncover the emic aspects behind the practice of retainer sacrifice in Silla, adopting an economic perspective allows us to infer mundane motivations and functions for the practice. Assuming that all participants involved in the rituals were acting in their own self-interests, we can consider the mundane motivations or practical benefits that retainer sacrifice offered elite hosts, participating community members, and even sacrificed retainers. Much previous work on human sacrifice has emphasized the various sociopolitical benefits that such rituals have afforded elite hosts. For example, Besom (2013) points out that Inkan human sacrifice rituals and rituals worshipping mountain gods were one means by which Cusco elites subjugated and then incorporated elites from newly conquered regions. Often, it was the children of elites from the hinterlands who were selected for such sacrificial rituals, involving hinterland elites personally in the rituals (Besom, 2013). It has also been suggested that human sacrifice has been used in a more direct manner, to intimidate populaces into cooperating with a dominating regime (Schwartz, 2012). It was argued that Aztec sacrifice of slaves was meant to intimidate commoners into maintaining productivity and remaining subservient to the hierarchy. And the mass ritual sacrifices of captured warriors from other regions were carried out with the intention of intimidating communities in the hinterlands into subservience (Ingham, 1984). More generally, Yoffee (2005) argues that large public ceremonies hosted by rulers were an important part of the formation of early city states. While such public ceremonies were ostensibly held for the sake of the public, leaders of early states hosted public ceremonies in order to legitimize their rule and naturalize a new political reality in which the accumulation of wealth and social inequality became the new norm. Hayden (2014) dismisses any notion that human sacrifice served any purpose besides its ‘‘transparently self-serving” functions for elites. For Hayden, human sacrifice was the stick of the ‘‘carrot and stick” mechanism that was the royal funerary feasts of early states. In other words, it was a means of demonstrating power to rivals and the populace at large. The carrot, of course, took the form of various forms of entertainment and luxurious banquets provided for guests. Such funerary feasts established continuity in rulership by ritualizing the order of succession and promoted an ideology that suggested that the basis of elites’ worldly power was in the cosmic realm (Hayden, 2014: 301–303). Hayden also emphasizes the special opportunity that funerals provided for aggrandizers. He views them as opportunities for aggrandizers to host extravagant feasts that the local populace as well as rival elites would be obliged to attend. The severe emotions associated with death and loss allowed for a unique malleability in the attendees that aggrandizers eagerly exploited, suggesting a sacred bond between the wealthy and powerful and their ancestors and sanctifying relationships of obligatory reciprocity between the hosts of the funeral feasts and attendees (p. 62).
Such feasts were not merely media for disseminating ideologies; they had real, tangible benefits for hosts. By building relationships of obligatory reciprocity, hosts indebted attendees within their communities as well as rival elites from afar, receiving interest in the form of property, foodstuffs, animals, or prestige items, gaining access to potential spouses, and even enslaving deeply indebted individuals and families. Thus the benefits of retainer sacrifice and associated mortuary rituals in some cases translated into actual material wealth. At the same time, communal rituals and retainer sacrifice, as many researchers point out (e.g., Aldenderfer, 2010; Clark and Blake, 1994; Earle, 1997; J. Kim, 2014; Kolb, 1994; Yoffee, 2005), are effective tools in the exercise and reproduction of power. Elite hosts of Silla funerary ceremonies likely reaped similar benefits. But what benefits did retainer sacrifice and its related mortuary rituals confer on the populace at large? A great deal of literature deals with the roles rituals fulfill in societies of all levels of complexity. For instance, rituals were the focus of Durkheim’s classical study on religion, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Durkheim (1995 ) viewed rituals as ‘‘something more than offspring of a chronic delusion with which humanity deceived itself” (p. 352); Durkheim highlighted the importance of rituals in constituting society itself—its role in bringing about a ‘‘collective effervescence” that removes individuals from the constraints of their everyday material needs and brings them together collectively. Important rituals and religious ceremonies, he argued, were not unlike festivals in that they pulled individuals from their daily occupations and brought the masses together in a state of excitement, sometimes even delirium (p. 386). Thus, ceremonies and rituals put collectivity in motion by subjugating individual identities to the group; but in doing so, the individual is also revitalized. Years later, Turner (1969) ascribed a similar role to rituals in initiating ‘‘communitas,” a more or less unstructured or undifferentiated union of individuals. Although Turner himself recognized the elusiveness of the concept, communitas is a part of everyone’s experience and is central to religion, art, literature and drama. For Turner, rituals and religious ceremonies consisted of a dialectical opposition between structure and communitas. Structures in which hierarchies of dominance and subordination coexist are challenged by communitas: the effect of rituals that temporarily disintegrates social structures. In other words, rituals and ceremonies are dualistic by nature, in the sense that they both encourage members to conform to behavioral norms and shared cultural values that perpetuate social structures, but at the same time, rituals join community members together in a temporary state of undifferentiated unity (Olaveson, 2001). The experience of collective effervescence and communitas is admittedly an abstract reward when contrasted with the more tangible benefits that motivated hosts to sponsor mortuary rituals mentioned above. But when described as concrete social phenomena in the context of actual historical events these concepts become increasingly substantial. Schwartz (1991) points to Abraham Lincoln’s elaborately planned state funeral as an example of how mourning rites can play an important role in producing social identities. Despite Lincoln’s lack of popularity preceding his death, his assassination was almost universally condemned in the United States not just as an attack on the president or his office, but as an attack on the moral unity of the nation (Schwartz, 1991: 355). Through mortuary rites, Lincoln was transformed by the American public into a flexible, shared symbol of nationhood. He is still memorialized today by monuments and on American currency, and his name is still commonly evoked by political leaders as America’s spiritual ancestor. It is in this regard that public funerary rites transcend the mourning of any particular individual and their identity and take
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on a broader social significance—one of communal identities—created and shared by attendees. Many processual archaeological works based on systemic, functionalist understandings of rituals are also in alignment with these views, albeit in a clearly different vein. Rituals are often viewed as adaptations that reinforce social integration and identity, provide resolutions to conflicts among members, and even retain and transfer important information involving subsistence activities and local environments (e.g., Flannery and Marcus, 1976; Hayden, 1987; Johnson, 1982; Minc, 1986; Peebles and Kus, 1977; Rappaport, 1971; Stein, 1987). Retainer sacrifice, as it was carried out in the context of mortuary rituals, can be interpreted to have played a similar role in communities in Silla society. From the perspective of community members, the funeral rites of local elites functioned as events through which community identities were created and perpetuated. Not unlike the presidential state funeral mentioned above, the elites being mourned, as well as their ancestors, came to symbolize a generalized community identity. Sacrificed retainers contributed to maintaining this community identity, even in the afterlife, as the eternal servants of deceased elites. These views focus mainly on either elites or ritual hosts’ motivations and associated benefits on the one hand or communal benefits from rituals on the other and provide valuable insights to understanding sunjang as communal rituals. However, it is still unclear whether commoners participated in the rituals forcibly or to avoid potential sanctions, or if they actively participated, contributing to social integration and the confirmation of community identities. To better understand non-elite roles in sunjang and elite mortuary rituals, it is necessary to consider how sunjang was provided or supplied and what commoners could gain from participating in, or consuming, the rituals. 3.2. Retainer sacrifice as public goods: A dualistic perspective Elite motivations for hosting sunjang and associated rituals and communal solidarity do not explain fully why sunjang was practiced for over 200 years in Silla. Coercion, sanction and intimidation may have been tools for continuously practicing sunjang, but this strategy would have been very risky and unsustainable due to possible resistance from commoners. The fact that sunjang was practiced for a long time suggests that in Silla society, hosts of sunjang employed strategies that legitimized retainer sacrifice and that commoners somehow accepted these legitimizations. Besides the communitarian benefits of rituals mentioned above, how else could human sacrifice have been legitimized in the eyes of commoners? From the standpoint of hosts, sunjang and mortuary rituals were a cost-incurring activity, which would have been adopted only when its political benefits were expected to exceed economic costs. Commoners, on the other hand, would participate in these practices or accept them if they found them beneficial, or at the least, harmless (Earle, 1997). While this relationship between ritual hosts and participants has been a concern for many archaeological and anthropological studies from a variety of perspectives (e.g., Adams, 2004; Aldenderfer, 2010; Dietler, 2001; Dietler and Hayden, 2001; Fleisher, 2010), we here, applying a religious market model, view the relationship as a transaction of goods (i.e., rituals) between suppliers and consumers. Then, a key to clarifying both elite and non-elite roles in the practice of sunjang is to understand the nature of the goods that they transacted and what both parties expected from the transaction. Borrowing concepts from economics, we suggest that elite mortuary rituals and retainer sacrifice as they were carried out in Silla can be viewed analogously to public goods supplied by hosts and consumed by community members. In general, economics draws a distinction between public goods, private goods, common
resources, and club goods, according to excludability and rivalry in consumption (Samuelson, 1954; Mankiw, 2011). Public goods are defined by two main attributes: non-excludability and nonrivalry in consumption (Mankiw, 2011). Non-excludability refers to the attribute of a product that does not allow anyone to be excluded from consuming (or participating in) it. Non-rivalry is an attribute that ensures that the consumption of the product by one individual does not prevent, reduce, or negatively affect the consumption of the same product by another individual. These attributes, of course, distinguish public goods from private goods, which are both excludable and rivalrous; common goods, which are non-excludable but rivalrous; and club goods, which are excludable but non-rivalrous. Examples of public goods commonly given by economists include communal festivals, fireworks displays, uncongested freeways, public education, and national defense. Although the contents vary depending on context, public goods are often assumed to be supplied by governments and freely available to the public. We suggest that qualities of Silla retainer sacrifice imbue it with characteristics of public goods, assuming that sunjang would have been provided by elite hosts of mortuary rituals and were consumed by community members in a nonexcludable and non-rivalrous manner, as is the case of a communal festival, a typical example of public goods. An important underlying assumption about public goods in modern societies is that they are supplied usually by governments for the sake of public benefits (Samuelson, 1954). But this view has recently been criticized by some economists. Holcombe (1997), for example, argues that the suppliers’ provision of public goods is not merely carried out with the aim of providing public benefits. He points out that the very concept of public goods justifies the authority of suppliers (usually governments in modern economies) and is thus often strategically promoted by them. He sees, for example, government supply of public education as media through which the concept of public goods is disseminated and advocated, indoctrinating citizens to accept taxation for the provision of supposedly indispensable public goods, such as national defense. Along these lines, public goods can also be seen as tools of government control, naturalizing the necessary role of governments as resource-managing systems as well as protectors. This discussion clearly indicates dualistic qualities of communal rituals as public goods. Communal rituals can be said to benefit all—the public-at-large—without being rivalrous or excludable to those who consume them. Meanwhile, the very concept of supplying a public good may be used to legitimize power and the authority that allows elites to pool and allocate resources. No doubt, perspectives of the public—the potential consumers of public goods—will have varied. One important characteristic of public goods is that unlike a private good, which people can consume in different quantities according to their demands, with a public good everyone can consume the same quantity of the good but individuals can value it differently (Mankiw, 2011). Thus, public goods, once supplied, can be consumed by people often regardless of their individual demands. Some will have actively consumed the communal rituals (through participation) because they perceived them as necessary, important, or perhaps enjoyable. Others may have been indifferent to the rituals but simply consumed them because they incurred no costs to participate. Despite these differences, as long as the public goods did not have negative effects on individuals’ rights, property, or satisfaction, there would have been no reason to resist them. If feasting were involved in Silla elite mortuary rituals as described above, it would have also been seen as contributing to the redistribution of wealth and therefore legitimized as a public good and broadly accepted by society. This is closer to the more traditional, Samuelsonian (1954) notion of public goods, as non-excludable, non-rivalrous, and generally beneficial to the public.
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On the other hand, many public goods are supplied according to suppliers’ demands rather than consumers’ demands. Mortuary rituals including retainer sacrifice would have been tools by which elite hosts, the providers of public goods, were able to legitimize and naturalize their positions in their communities, as a class that pools and allocates community resources and leads the community politically, and perhaps spiritually. This is not dissimilar from the roles that Holcombe (1997) ascribes to public goods, as conceptual tools that legitimize the very existence of government. For suppliers of public goods aiming to achieve this goal, maximizing consumption of the rituals would have been crucial. If we regard Silla elite mortuary rituals and sunjang as a means of ostentatiously displaying wealth and power and legitimizing the position of hosts, the suppliers, then it follows that the greater the number of attendees, the more effective the rituals would have been. Thus, for elites, providing appealing non-excludable and non-rivalrous events that encouraged participation would have maximized the effects of the rituals. Although it is difficult to determine archaeologically whether Silla funerary rites were open to the public and who were permitted to participate in these lavish events, much ethnographic evidence suggests that in many early states, elite funerary ceremonies were attended by extraordinarily large numbers of community members; even in instances in which particular rites and banquets were meant to highlight social positions through exclusion, in many cases, individuals of lower social standing participated from the periphery of the ceremonies (Hayden, 2014). Although not directly related to the royal funerals of Silla, an historical description from the Samguksagi of a royal funeral that took place in the kingdom of Goguryeo, bordering Silla to the north, suggests that royal funerals of this region were also attended not only by royal family members and elites, but by servants and commoners as well: Year 22 (248 CE), Ninth Month: The King died in autumn, in the ninth month. His funeral was held at Siwon. He was called Dongcheon. Remembering his grace, all of the people of the land were filled with sadness. Many of his retainers wished to follow him in death, but the new king declared this was unrighteous and forbade them. [Nonetheless] On the day of his funeral, many people took their own lives at his tomb. [B. Kim, 1998 ]
This record clearly shows that Goguryeo people were well aware of the king’s death and that the funeral was open to public. In our view, royal and elite Silla funerals would have similarly involved many members of local communities as participants, many of whom were also likely enlisted in planning and constructing the tombs and procuring food for feasting and offerings. Even if some community members were somehow excluded from attending elite funerals, at the least, these events would have been well known throughout the community. In Gyeongju, sunjang tombs are concentrated at the central locus of a basin surrounded by mountains in the city proper, only a few kilometers distant from commoners’ residential areas (Choi, 1992). The tombs of the Imdang elite cemetery in Gyeongsan were also constructed in areas that were clearly visible from residential areas (D.-W. Kim, 2014), which would have made the spectacle of funeral rites visible from afar and assured that the completed tumuli were monumentalized. These monumental mounds permanently memorialized royalty and local elites and the social identities they symbolized, not unlike more recent monuments erected to memorialize famous national personalities. Therefore, while the mortuary rites themselves were important public events, the tumuli, another form of public goods, served as permanent reminders of the mortuary rites and retainer sacrifices.
The dualistic nature of sunjang as public goods explains the practical motivations of sunjang from the perspectives of both elite hosts and non-elite participants. Higher levels of participation increased the effectiveness of the rituals from the perspective of the elite hosts. To achieve this goal, elite hosts, the suppliers of public goods, would have encouraged commoners, the consumers, to participate in the rituals and persuaded them that participation was important, necessary, or beneficial. In turn, commoners of Silla achieved increased satisfaction through fulfillment, enjoyment, and/or solidarity obtained through participation in the rituals. Because the rituals were considered harmless, even those who were more or less indifferent to the rituals would have participated, as minimal costs encouraged higher levels of participation by non-elite community members, regardless of whether participants actually benefited and whether they were cognizant of the suppliers’ intentions. It was precisely this stable, transactional relationship between elite hosts and community members that sustained the practice of sunjang in Silla over a long period of time. 3.3. The cost of Silla retainer sacrifice Although the concept of public goods has helped us to clarify motivations for both elite hosts and community members to participate in retainer sacrifice rituals, we have not yet been able to consider how a third involved party—the sacrificed retainers— may have perceived their roles in sacrifice rituals. We assume that there may have also been incentives for retainers to participate in sacrifice rituals. In order to explore some of these incentives, we first consider another aspect of Silla retainer sacrifice, namely the cost of supplying retainer sacrifice. Ethnohistorical studies suggest that funerals were very costly events hosted by elite households (Hayden, 2014). Indeed, it was not unheard of for wealthy and elite families to impoverish themselves in order to carry out proper funeral ceremonies for highly respected family members. Archaeological evidence suggests that Silla elite funerals also were immensely costly events. Some of the basic costs would have included the construction of a large tomb; the procurement of burial goods including funerary garments and silver, gold, and gilt-bronze ornaments; and the procurement of rare and extravagant feasting foods. For funerals that included retainer sacrifice, elite families would have had to furnish an additional and perhaps one of the most exorbitant costs: the cost of human sacrifice. Attempting to investigate the cost of carrying out retainer sacrifice unavoidably involves contemplating the value of human lives. And of course, the value of a human life necessarily concerns culturally relative conceptions of life, death, and the afterlife as well as many other unquantifiable aspects of social relations, such as emotional bonds between family members and community members. But if we set these problems aside and approach the question from an economic perspective, there are some criteria that are helpful to consider. Labor power of sacrificed individuals would be a critical factor in estimating the cost of human sacrifice. A lifetime of potential labor power can be translated into contributions towards subsistence and material wealth for family members and kin of sacrificed individuals. In this light, the sacrifice of individuals would have meant a substantial loss of wealth to surviving family members and kin in Silla society. Particularly in the case that the sacrificed individuals were of a young age and of high social standing, the loss of a family member or kin group member may have spelled a larger economic loss. It should be remembered that the majority of sacrificed retainers discovered in elite Silla tombs were children, adolescents, and young adults under the age of 35 (Table 2; D.-W. Kim, 2013), and mitochondrial DNA analyses (Ha, 2011) demonstrate that some sacrificed retainers shared matrilineal lineage with the main tomb occupants, suggesting that they belonged to
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a privileged class. Not only were many retainers sacrificed at ages at which they were still economically productive, but many of them were also likely of high social standing in Silla society. The loss of economically valuable family members would have undoubtedly led to conflicts between elite groups and the families of retainers, who were also likely of relatively high social standing in Silla society. Under such circumstances, retainer sacrifice would not have been sustainable for long. We believe it is most likely that conflicts were avoided through various forms of compensation provided by elite hosts of funerary ceremonies for kin and family members of sacrificed retainers. Compensation for the loss of labor power in forms of dowries and bridewealth is ethnographically well reported from many societies (e.g., Goody, 1973; Rao, 1993; Schlegel and Eloul, 1988). Although the idea of material compensation for death may seem crude to some, the custom of providing blood money to compensate for murder or causing injuries is also well attested ethnohistorically (Dunbar et al., 1995; Wolfgang, 1965) and material compensation for the families of victims of accidents, disasters, and acts of terror are commonly provided by commercial firms and governments today. Assuming that retainers willingly participated in sacrificial rites, perhaps an appropriate modern comparison would be with suicide attackers. Setting aside obvious differences, the actions of suicide attackers are often regarded as irrational and motivated by deep ideological convictions. However, there are rational and self-serving motivations for suicide attackers to volunteer their lives. Many suicide attackers may sacrifice their lives in order to signal their loyalty and affiliation with religious organizations that provide public goods such as safety, education, healthcare, youth programs, and charities, particularly in regions where governments tend to be inefficient suppliers of such important public goods (Berman and Laitin, 2008). Perry and Hasisi (2015) point out that besides religious rewards, many modern-day suicide bombers also seek personal and social rewards, including gaining honor and fame and status upgrades in their communities both for themselves and their families. In many cases, families of suicide bombers are also rewarded materially with cash, houses, flour, sugar, clothing, and provided with access to jobs, schooling, and healthcare (Perry and Hasisi, 2015). We imagine that compensation for sacrificed retainers could have taken many forms, from direct material compensation to being regarded with higher standing within the community. Of course, compensation would not have been the sole motivation for participating as sacrificial victims. For instance, ideological conceptions must have played some role in encouraging participation. However, we argue that without any form of compensation, retainer sacrifice simply would not have been socially sustainable for over 200 years. This scenario, of course, assumes that sacrificed retainers were regarded as free citizens and independent earners. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that sacrificed retainers in Silla society were regarded as property of the elite households they served as slaves. In this case, members of the households of the deceased elites who would have inherited the retainers would have borne the cost of the rituals. Even in this case, sacrificing house servants or slaves would have caused a loss of property. Put simply, sacrificing a retainer would have meant losing part of their labor force, undoubtedly at a very high cost. Regardless of whether retainers were considered free citizens or slaves, their ritual deaths would have resulted in very high costs that would have greatly exacerbated the already exorbitant costs of hosting elite funeral ceremonies. The brunt of the cost of retainer sacrifice in Silla, therefore, was likely borne by the elite hosts of the ceremonies. Aside from furnishing costs of preparing the funerals, sacrificial victims and their kin would have to be adequately compensated for the loss of a lifetime of potential earnings through labor, dowries, and bridewealth,
assuming sacrificial victims were not considered property of elite hosts (in which case, the elite hosts would have sacrificed their own property for the sake of the ceremonies). It must also be remembered that the goal of elite hosts would have been to attract as many members of the community as possible, and so it would have been in their best interest to minimize the cost of participation for community members. Thus, for the two centuries or more that sunjang was practiced in the Silla kingdom, the benefits provided by retainer sacrifice must have been perceived to outweigh its high costs, particularly for the elite hosts who furnished the majority of the costs of the rituals. 3.4. Silla’s retainer sacrifice market We have considered some of the dynamics that characterized retainer sacrifice in individual communities. We also have framed the rituals as analogous to economic transactions occurring between elite hosts who supplied the rituals and community members who consumed, or participated in the rituals. As we discussed above, both parties—and possibly the family members and kin of sacrifice victims—would have had incentives to engage in these transactions, but it was elite families that bore the cost of the funerary rites and thus provided communities with public events that can be compared to the economic concept of public goods. Now we expand our inquiry from individual transactions in discrete communities to consider how retainer sacrifice was perpetuated as a practice on a larger scale—as a practice that was carried out independently in several communities throughout the kingdom of Silla. The supply of retainer sacrifice at this scale might be imagined as something of a retainer sacrifice market. One of the main differences between the modern economic concept of public goods and Silla retainer sacrifice rituals is that in modern societies the supply of public goods is usually monopolized by governments, while in the case of Silla, a centralized government (or royal family) was not the only supplier. Tombs with evidence of sunjang are distributed not only in Gyeongju but also in the hinterlands (Fig. 3). This indicates that retainer sacrifice rituals were also supplied by local elite families in their respective communities throughout the kingdom. The kingdom of Silla first formed as several smaller polities coalesced into a centrally administrated kingdom, but historical and archaeological data suggest that local elites maintained a great deal of influence, perhaps governing their communities semiautonomously, while acknowledging the royal laws and authority of rulers based in Gyeongju (Y.-S. Kim, 2009; Noh, 1994). This relationship, between the royal center in Gyeongju and semiautonomous communities led by elites in the hinterlands, is evidenced by historical accounts of occasional uprisings in hinterland communities that had to be quelled by dispatching royal troops from the capital (Lee, 2004). Furthermore, in the 5th century CE, the appearance of large tumuli and unique tomb styles in the hinterlands of the Silla kingdom also attest to the regionally unique identities of these communities (Y.-S. Kim, 2009). Meanwhile, the Samguksagi and historical studies indicate that leaders in Silla society at this time—royalty in Gyeongju and elites in the hinterlands—were almost certainly not regarded merely as political leaders. A number of authors have pointed out that Silla rulers were likely regarded as spiritual leaders or shamans (Lee, 2004). In the Samguksagi, it is noted that an early title for Silla royalty, chachaung, meant ‘‘shaman” in the Silla dialect and that because ‘‘people believed shamans served spirits and carried out sacrificial offerings they therefore, in awe, respected them” and begun calling their respected leaders by this name (B. Kim, 2012 ). The Samguksagi also describes each Silla ruler, upon succession, personally carrying out sacrificial rites. In other words, rulers of Silla were not merely regarded as individuals of wealth,
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political power, and high social standing; they were regarded as spiritual leaders, endowed with the gift to prophesize the future and carry out important rituals. This perceived spiritual potency would have extended to elite leaders in the hinterlands as well, qualifying them to carry out important ceremonies, including funerary rites and retainer sacrifice. Silla royals and elites, then, did not simply bear the costs of retainer sacrifice—they very likely led the rituals as well. Now we have an emerging picture of what Silla’s retainer sacrifice market might have looked like: a constellation of local elites supplying retainer sacrifice in their hinterlands communities, revolving around the royal capital, Gyeongju, where Silla royalty also supplied retainer sacrifice, among many other important rites. As mentioned earlier, the primacy of Gyeongju as Silla’s political center is evident in the quantity and quality of grave goods discovered in Gyeongju’s royal tombs. Crowns, headdresses, and large belts crafted of gold are only found in the royal tombs of Gyeongju, whereas similar ornaments found in the hinterlands are most often crafted of gilt-bronze and silver, suggesting that social differentiation between royalty and elites was pronounced in Silla society (Y.S. Kim, 2009, 2015). This interpretation is further supported historically by records in the Samguksagi that describe sumptuary laws that dictated even the most mundane details of everyday lives in Silla society—from the types of cloths, designs, and colors one could wear, to the maximum total area of one’s house, to the number of horses one could own—based solely on one’s inherited caste (B. Kim, 1998 ). Silla society was later stratified according to a caste system known as the ‘‘bone rank system (golpumje),” which ascribed each citizen with a caste, with royalty belonging to the ‘‘hallowed bone (seong-gol)” rank, elites and distant kin of royalty belonging to the ‘‘true bone (jin-gol)” rank, followed by several successive ranks assigned to aristocrats down to commoners. An earlier study on Silla tombs from the 4th to 6th century (Pearson et al., 1989) identified several groupings of tombs based on the spatial distribution, size of burial chambers and tumuli, and types of grave goods, with the largest tombs requiring the greatest energy expenditure to construct containing particular types of artifacts such as crowns and belts, greater quantities of gold artifacts, and more
types of artifacts overall. The authors convincingly argue that these groupings suggest clear distinctions in Silla tombs that reflect an earlier prototypic form of the later ‘‘bone rank system”. This enforced differentiation also seems to have extended to the practice of sunjang. Only in tombs of Gyeongju’s royal cemeteries is evidence of up to ten sacrificed individuals found, precisely as it was described as a royal custom for funerals of king’s in the Samguksagi. On the other hand, in the Silla hinterlands, the vast majority of tombs contain only one to three sacrificed individuals (Table 1 and Fig. 5; Y.-S. Kim, 2002, 2009). In royal tombs, the sacrificed were often interred wearing golden rings and earrings, but in hinterlands cemeteries, the sacrificed almost invariably wore ornaments made of gilt-bronze and silver (Y.-S. Kim, 2009). Taken together, this evidence suggests that sumptuary laws, passed down from the capital, most likely regulated which classes of individuals were permitted retainer sacrifices in their funerary ceremonies as well as the number of individuals who could be sacrificed, and perhaps even the class of individuals who could be sacrificed and what types of ornaments they were allowed to wear in the ceremonies. Royal funerary ceremonies featured the greatest number of sacrifices with the sacrificed wearing the finest ornaments, while in the hinterlands, fewer individuals were sacrificed, and the opulence of the ornaments worn by the sacrificed seems to have been restricted. Thus, unlike modern public goods, the supply of which is often monopolized by governments, the retainer sacrifice market might be best described as an oligopoly of public goods. Only the Silla royal family and elite families of the highest class in hinterland areas were allowed to carry out retainer sacrifice as a part of their funerary ceremonies. Not unlike a cartel, the supply of retainer sacrifice—in terms of which classes of individuals and how many individuals could be sacrificed—was fixed and agreed upon to guarantee that only Silla royalty were permitted to supply the rituals of greatest effect and scale in the kingdom. If we assume that grand funerary ceremonies and retainer sacrifice somehow translated into authority and power for Silla royalty and elites, then it is possible to portray the retainer sacrifice market structure as a cartel-like oligopoly consisting of several firms that were generally
Fig. 5. Arrangements of main and sacrificial burials in Gyeongju tombs vs. hinterlands tombs. (1) Hwangnamdaechong South Tomb, (2) Hwangnamdaechong North Tomb, (3) Joyeong CII-2, (4) Joyeong CI-1, (5) Joyeong CI-2, (6) Joyeong EII-2, (7) Guamdong No. 56, (8) Bisandong No. 34, (9) Bisandong No. 37, (10) Yangsan Bubuchong, (11) Joyeong EII-1, (12) Imdang No. 5A. Redrawn and modified from Y.-S. Kim (2009).
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cooperative to one another’s benefit, but perhaps also competitive at times as elites jockeyed for greater influence and power within and beyond their communities. Although cooperation between firms stabilizes cartels, the lure of greater profits—or in this case, greater influence—often leads to their dissolution. Therefore, while sunjang was non-excludable and non-rivalrous public goods from the perspective of consumers (i.e., community members), there would have been some degree of rivalry in its oligopolistic supply. 4. The cessation of retainer sacrifice and the adoption of Buddhism In 502 CE King Jijeung officially banned the practice of sunjang. Besides this decree, King Jijeung is also known for promoting the use of oxen in farming and standardizing rules for mourning garb. He also created a system of administrative districts for the kingdom, ordered the construction of twelve fortresses, and expanded the kingdom’s territory. Only 25 years after the illegalization of retainer sacrifice, King Jijeung’s successor, King Beopheung, officially adopted Buddhism as Silla’s state religion. If Silla rulers had benefited from supplying retainer sacrifice, what factors led to the illegalization of retainer sacrifice, and how might the illegalization of retainer sacrifice have been advantageous to Silla royalty? Also, how did the adoption of Buddhism as a state religion relate to the cessation of retainer sacrifice? 4.1. The changing cost of retainer sacrifice Sunjang was being carried out in several discrete communities throughout the Silla kingdom following the deaths of highranking elites. These transactions between elite suppliers and community member consumers continued as long as both parties thought that they benefited from the rituals and perceived that returns from hosting or participating in retainer outweighed the costs. However, if any parties involved in the transaction perceived that the cost-benefit balance was no longer sustainable due to an increase in cost or decrease in benefits, the transactions, which were previously based on agreements between the parties, would quickly become problematic. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that changing perceptions of cost, and perhaps benefits, of retainer sacrifice may have contributed to the cessation of mortuary customs that included sunjang. In the early 6th century, the changing scale, structure and contents of tombs suggest a major shift in Silla burial customs that was very likely correlated with the ban of sunjang in 502 CE. This shift is marked by the appearance of the stone burial room with corridor entrances tombs (Korean Archaeological Society, 2010). In terms of scale, these tombs were several times smaller than the stone piled wooden chamber tombs that preceded them and would have required far less labor to construct. The size of these new tombs also left little space for the extraordinary amounts of grave goods that characterized earlier tombs, which became increasingly uncommon in the 6th century. Their structure also allowed for them to be reopened so that the remains of husbands and wives could be interred with one another, which had become a popular mortuary custom on the Korean peninsula by this time (Korean Archaeological Society, 2010). In short, the stone burial room with corridor entrances tomb would have been far less costly to construct than the large mounded stone-piled wooden chamber tombs before it. The appearance of the stone burial room with corridor entrances tomb therefore suggests a mortuary culture that discouraged the extravagant and costly funerary ceremonies that had been so prominent in the previous two centuries. Not only did the amount of grave goods decrease, but now a single tomb could accommodate two individuals, whereas earlier customs
seemed to dictate that each deceased elite required their own tomb. Perhaps not coincidentally, these tombs also appeared almost contemporaneously with the illegalization of retainer sacrifice. The spread of this new type of tomb that required much lesser labor input coincided with an increase in labor demand at a societal level at the beginning of the 6th century CE. Historical records of King Jijeung’s reign describe several military and public works policies that required large-scale labor mobilizations. These include the construction of twelve fortresses, the establishment of new administrative cities (described in the Samguksagi as ‘‘minor capitals”) in the hinterlands areas, and territorial expansion by military conquest. A series of these works led by King Jijeung, which required substantial labor mobilizations, is archaeologically supported by an abrupt expansion of Silla material culture in areas bordering Baekje, Goguryeo, and Gaya in the 6th century (Yamamoto, 2003). Increasing labor demand is further evidenced by a record of King Jijeung introducing and promoting the use of oxen in farming, which suggests a drive to increase agricultural production to a degree that could not be fulfilled by the farming population. This phenomenon does not seem to be restricted to the kingdom of Silla. Around the same time, an abrupt increase in the spatial distribution of settlements in the adjacent Honam region, located immediately to the west of Silla’s territory, suggests that land reclamation projects were underway in Silla’s neighboring polity, Baekje (N. Kim, 2015; S.-O. Kim, 2000). All of these imply that human labor power was in short supply and in high demand in Silla and elsewhere on the Korean peninsula to support the rapidly growing kingdoms. Increasing labor demand would have led to higher costs of human labor, and in turn, higher values placed on human lives. Higher costs of human labor would have drastically increased the costs of hosting extravagant funerary ceremonies, starting with the cost of labor required to construct large tombs and procure large amounts of fine grave goods and foodstuffs. In the case of retainer sacrifices, the cost of economically and socially compensating family and kin of the sacrificed may have surged to an excessive level. In the context of a labor shortage, the economic value placed on human life—which includes a lifetime of labor and earnings as well as potential dowries and bridewealth—would have risen dramatically, causing families and kin of potential sacrifice victims to demand far more compensation. This substantial increase in labor cost would have placed a major burden on elite hosts of funerary ceremonies that featured retainer sacrifice as an important rite. As a result, many elite hosts may have been unable to bear the costs of hosting funerals with retainer sacrifices. In some cases, elite suppliers may have refused to provide the increased costs and carried out the ceremonies by force, which would have evoked conflicts between elite hosts and family and kin of the sacrificed. To be clear, we are not suggesting that the practice of retainer sacrifice itself placed a strain on the labor market. Even the sacrifice of several dozen retainers every couple of decades would have had a minimal impact, if any, on overall labor demand. Instead, we are suggesting that a shift towards a more centrally administrated regime that promoted public works, increased agricultural production, and territorial expansion transformed Silla’s labor market, fundamentally altering perceptions of the potential value of human lives. Within this context, human sacrifice became increasingly difficult to compensate for, materially, socially, or ideologically. On the other hand, it is also likely that the benefits gained from hosting retainer sacrifice were perceived to have fallen or remained unchanged relative to rising costs. J. Kim (2001, 2014) has argued that prestige-authoritarian power, which is produced and maintained through the manipulation of symbols and
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ideologies, is based on a false consciousness that disguises social reality. This false consciousness becomes more unstable over time as societies increase in complexity and the symbols, rituals, and ideologies used to create the false consciousness must be occasionally renewed and modified in order to remain effective (Aldenderfer, 2010; J. Kim, 2001). As a public good that was used as an ideological tool to legitimize elite power, sunjang may have also gradually lost its effectiveness among the populace at large as Silla society became increasingly complex. In such a scenario, Silla elites and royalty would either have attempted to create new symbols, rituals, and ideologies to maintain their prestigeauthoritarian power or invest in establishing a system of direct administrative power. If the effectiveness of retainer sacrifice rituals remained unchanged or was perceived to have decreased and the cost of retainer sacrifice increased, suppliers of retainer sacrifice would select a different strategy that could reduce the costs (J. Kim, 2014). Shifting values of human life resulting in a cost-benefit imbalance must have been society-wide phenomenon in the Silla kingdom. Then, we can assume that all suppliers of retainer sacrifice were affected similarly by the rising cost. If the perceived effectiveness of retainer sacrifice decreased in all communities in which it was supplied, according to our model, the supply of retainer sacrifice would decrease naturally and eventually be brought to a halt by the invisible hand. Why, then, was retainer sacrifice banned by royal decree? To answer this question, we look back to the oligopolistic retainer sacrifice market structure. 4.2. The standardization of funerary rites and the removal of rivals We begin by examining the behaviors and strategies of firms in oligopolistic markets, as we suggested that the Silla retainer sacrifice market is analogous to an oligopolistic religious market. Under circumstances of rising costs and decreasing or unchanging returns, members of an oligopoly will seek avenues to overcome losses. In modern commercial markets, firms usually approach this problem by employing more cost-efficient production techniques or producing less costly substitute goods. However, costreduction strategies and capabilities vary with firms. Leading firms who have more surplus funds and larger market power than rivals may invest in technological innovation or the production of substitute goods that require lower production costs. In contrast, small firms that do not have sufficient supply funds are usually vulnerable to increases in fixed costs and tend to have difficulties keeping up with technological innovations and initiating the production of substitute goods (Caves and Porter, 1978; Cohen and Levin, 1989; Ghosal, 1996). Then, in these circumstances, some small firms would be expected to exit the industry, eventually leading to change in market structure to a monopoly (Klepper, 2002). In the U.S. tire market, for example, it was persistent investment in technological innovation that allowed just a few of the largest and oldest firms to dominate an industry that had once consisted of hundreds of firms (Klepper and Simmons, 2002). For leading firms, an increase in production costs is not simply a crisis but sometimes an opportunity to expand their shares or hold a dominant position in the market. The strategy that leading firms adopt to gain a larger share by using their relative competitiveness and eventually monopolize the market is called ‘‘Raising Rivals’ Costs” (Salop and Scheffman, 1983, 1987; Krattenmaker and Salop, 1986; McWilliams et al., 2002). With this strategy, which includes aggressive investment in R&D and collusion with political powers, leading firms actively assume the increasing costs, forcing smaller rivals to also assume the costs. This strategy may be disadvantageous or risky to the adopters in the short run, but will eventually lead to serious damage to rivals’ competitiveness (Salop and Scheffman, 1987). It is an effective strategy particularly in the case
of economic recessions when smaller rivals are experiencing financial difficulties. One effective strategy that raises rivals’ costs is to establish new standards that rivals must follow (Normann, 2011). Standards are often taken to mean technical specifications or parameters, but can also refer to documented practices, or even more broadly, agreed upon norms and customs (Russell, 2014). New standards which are usually provided by leading firms will create asymmetries of information, technology, and production systems, and thus abruptly raise rivals’ costs, leading to a change in market structure towards a monopoly. Modern examples of standards-based monopolies are numerous. Economists have pointed out that some new standards are adopted not necessarily because of their technological superiority, but often are strategic choices of leading firms to enhance their profits and market share (McWilliams et al., 2002; Salop and Scheffman, 1983, 1987).1 We view, based on analogies with dominant-firm behavior, the illegalization of retainer sacrifice and standardization of mourning garbs as a cost-reduction strategy in supplying public goods on the one hand as well as King Jijeung’s attempt to monopolize the religious market through the establishment of a new standard of public goods on the other hand. Since cost reduction via technological innovation or mass production is not applicable to funerary rituals, King Jijeung attempted to change the contents of funerary rituals so that they required smaller labor costs. In economic terms, it was the production of less costly substitute goods based on a newly introduced standard: the illegalization of retainer sacrifice. Of course, this new standard would have reduced the impact of elite funerary rites, in effect diminishing a major source of power and authority. But one advantage is that illegalizing retainer sacrifice would have abruptly raised rivals’ political costs by depriving local elites of their rights to supply public goods and thus of their power base. In addition, the illegalization of retainer sacrifice need not have been presented as a tactic to undermine elite authority. Rather, the banning of retainer sacrifice could have been promoted in a moral light, as a new law that ensured fair treatment and prevented unnecessary grief and conflict, not unlike the way in which the standardization of weights and measures following the French Revolution was propagandized as a moral quest for fairness and lawfulness (Russell, 2005). The Nihon Shoki, Japan’s earliest extant historical text, describes how Emperor Suinin banned retainer sacrifice in 2 BCE denouncing the practice as a regressive, ancient custom that only caused grief (Aston, 1896).2 Two years after the illegalization of retainer sacrifice King Jijeung’s implementation of rules that standardized mourning garb and the early 6th century transition towards the less costly stone burial room with corridor entrances tomb and the new funerary customs associated with it implemented further specifications for the practice of Silla funerary rites. These new standards, along with the illegalization of sunjang, became barriers that prevented the participation of local elites in organizing and carrying out important community rituals. In essence, the ban of retainer sacrifice removed local elites from the religious market and deprived them of a political power base that had previously been maintained through their rights to supply public goods. It is questionable
1 Baseman et al. (1995) pointed out that Microsoft has achieved a near-monopoly by constantly (and often unnecessarily) creating and recreating data file formats, locking consumers into using its applications and preventing other firms from entering the market. Another well-known example of a standards-based monopoly is Bell System, the previously combined entities of AT&T, Western Electric, Bell Labs, and various regional operating companies (Russell, 2014). It should be noted that new standards are sometimes allowed and enforced with the help of governments and various political actors (e.g., through lobbying). 2 Most East Asian historians regard the date of these records as unconvincing. Reliable Japanese historical records indicate that human sacrifice in Japan was banned in 646 CE (Noh, 2012)
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whether local elites immediately complied with the illegalization of sunjang, which diminished a major source of their power. Although precise dates are unavailable, some tombs containing the remains of sacrificed retainers distributed in hinterlands possibly postdate 502 CE, perhaps hinting that some local elites defied the royal decree banning retainer sacrifice, at least for a short time. However, under pressure from royalty and the increasing costs of retainer sacrifice, local elites would not have been able to withstand for long and eventually had to accept the new standards. 4.3. Centralization of the state and the monopolization of religion The standardization of funerary rituals must have been closely related with centralization and the establishment of administrative power (Kwon, 1993; Noh, 2012). In addition to the illegalization of retainer sacrifice and standardization of mourning garb, King Jijeung divided the kingdom into administrative districts, established minor capitals, ordered the construction of twelve fortresses, and expanded the kingdom’s territory. He also changed his official title from maripgan, a native Silla term for rulers, to wang, a term previously reserved only for Chinese kings. Silla was no longer a confederation of (semi)autonomous elites that acknowledged the authority of its shamanistic royalty. It was a kingdom organized into official administrative districts and ruled by one monarch. However, the establishment of a more administrative-based power system by Silla royalty does not preclude prestigeauthoritarian structures of power. Both coexist in all societies, supporting each other and differing in terms of degrees of significance (J. Kim, 2001, 2014). As discussed before, Silla royalty and elites likely relied on qualities of spiritual potency to justify and maintain their positions of authority. In illegalizing sunjang, King Jijeung also impaired an important aspect of Silla funerary rites, which we have likened to public goods. Silla royalty still required sources of prestige-authoritarian power to ideologically support administrative power, but no longer did it wish to share these sources with elites of the hinterlands. The best strategy would be to find an alternative source of ideological power that only Silla royals could access. In other words, Silla royalty had to find an alternative public good that could be supplied monopolistically. Buddhism, which had already been introduced and had gained a limited following in Silla society, offered a convenient alternative, and King Jijeung’s successor, King Beopheung, officially adopted Buddhism as a state religion in 527 CE. The establishment of a state religion further extended the process of religious standardization, dissolving the oligopolistic, cartel-like religious market structure that once maintained elite authority in the hinterlands and replacing it with a religious monopoly—one driven by Silla royalty. Unable to perform rites that legitimized them as spiritual leaders, the authority of elites in the hinterlands gradually dissipated. Buddhism, with its temples, rites, and ceremonies, had become the new public goods, exclusively supplied by a bureaucracy appointed by Silla royalty (Ahn, 1989). The royal palace and newly constructed temples became the center of the quickly expanding capital city (Lee, 2010; Park et al., 2005), and Silla royalty began the task of associating themselves with Buddhist ideology and important figures in Buddhist scripture. For example, the Samguksagi describes how King Beopheung’s successor, King Jinheung shaved his head, changed his name and lived out his last years as a monk in a Buddhist temple (B. Kim, 1998 ). Many Silla royals adopted the names of important Buddhist figures, such as the name of Shakyamuni’s parents (Ahn, 1989), intertwining their identities with the origins of Buddhism. Before long, the Silla political state became virtually indistinguishable from Buddhism (Park, 2003), and administrative control of the kingdom was firmly solidified in the capital, giving rise to a new expansionist era that led to the eventual unification of the entire peninsula under Silla rule.
In sum, the illegalization of sunjang and the adoption of Buddhism as a state religion by Silla royalty was not merely a strategy that reinforced an inherent tendency towards centralization. A stagnating ritual economy demanded new strategies to maintain or expand authority. New standards implemented by the dominant religious firm culminated in a complete reconfiguration of the religious market structure, changing the rules of a game in which various agents had long participated. 5. Conclusion In this paper, we attempted to provide an economic explanation of (1) how retainer sacrifice was practiced over a long period of time in Silla society and (2) why it was banned by its king and eventually replaced by Buddhism. In answering these questions, we suggested that treating retainer sacrifice rituals analogously to economic transaction games in which multiple players participate for their own interests helps clarify possible practical motivations behind the practice, without having to rely on ideological justifications. We viewed retainer sacrifice rituals of Silla as public goods that royalty and local elites supplied and community members consumed. Participants likely believed that they benefited from such transactions. As the costs of retainer sacrifice increased, Silla royalty attempted to adopt a cost-reduction strategy and to monopolize the religious market by establishing a new standard of funerary rituals and raising rivals’ costs. This new strategy was closely related with centralization, and the adoption of Buddhism as a state religion only 25 years after the ban of retainer sacrifice was an extension of this strategy. We are well aware that in adopting an economic framework, we might overlook many other important aspects of Silla retainer sacrifice. Our model leaves little room for considerations of the symbolism behind the placement of sacrificed retainers in tombs, the ornaments with which they were interred, or the particular ideological foundations of the funerary rites. Such aspects of ritual activity deserve attention and already have been taken up by many scholars researching ritual practice. We suggest that political economic frameworks can also be fruitfully applied towards exploring certain aspects of rituals and that many basic economic concepts need not be oppositional to ecological, ideological or symbolic interpretations. Acknowledgments The authors would like to thank anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments that greatly enhanced the quality of our work. We also thank David K. Wright for reading this paper, pointing out errors, and providing helpful comments. We would also like to thank Daeryong Ha, Hyeon Woo Kim, Junkyu Kim, Seungho Kang, Jiyoung Park, and Areum Song for insightful conversations that helped sharpen our ideas. Also, thanks to Han Bee Lee for assisting with illustrations. References Adams, R.L., 2004. An ethnoarchaeological study of feasting in Sulawesi, Indonesia. J. Anthropol. Archaeol. 23 (1), 56–78. Ahn, K.-H., 1989. Introduction of Buddhism to Korea. In: Lancaster, L.R., Yu, C.S. (Eds.), Introduction of Buddhism to Korea: New Cultural Patterns. Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley, pp. 1–27. Aldenderfer, M., 2010. Gimme that old time religion: rethinking the role of religion in the emergence of social inequality. In: Price, T.D., Feinman, G.M. (Eds.), Pathways to Power. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp. 77–94. Aston, W.G., 1896. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Limited, London (translated from the Original Chinese by W.G. Aston). Baadsgaard, A., Monge, J., Zettler, R.L., 2012. Bludgeoned, burned, and beautified: reevaluating mortuary practices in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. In: Porter, A.M.,
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