Sacred Rule within the Concept of Linear and Cyclical Time

Farriss believes that the inscriptions, which contain “genealogical ties far back into the misty past, well before the Long Count starting date”, was produced to legitimate the dynastic lineage claim of sacred rulership (Farriss 1987: 579). The idea of linear time would support this royal ideology:

... by making time irreversible and the past nonrepetitive over a span of several thousand years, a particular lineage could challenge the accepted rotational system and cling to power with the assertion of a permanent claim (Farriss 1987: 579).

Linear time could justify the position of the sacred ruler and the dynastic lineage since cyclical time represents rotating power. Gossen and Leventhal claims that the Long Count not only accounts “the history of human events” but served, due to the development of a lineage-based kingship “..., in order to legitimate not only the living king, but also his successor, needed a linear calendar of time” (Gossen and Leventhal 1993: 192). Furthermore, they argue that the political-administrative centre and the local periphery are each connected to two different time systems. There are mainly male political and religious authorities, concerned with public affairs, which use the linear calendar (Gossen and Leventhal 1993: 189). Cyclical time is associated with the “Little Tradition” and linear time with political-religious authority of the “Great Tradition”. Linear time constituted, however, a different type of justifying power but was integrated in the cyclical system where these two time principles functioned in an interrelationship (Gossen and Leventhal 1993: 190-196).

Nevertheless, a cyclical time principle can be exploited in order to serve the interests of the regent and the dynastic lineage, which is demonstrated by the role of the Calendar Round within the Long Count computation. Events in the mythic past and the distant future were related to the lives of the rulers, “providing mythological and numerological charter for the positions of the rulers, ...” (Lounsbury 1981: 804). The “contrived” numbers’ (Lounsbury) or “pattern dates” (Nicholson 1971) of the Long Count that connects a date in historical time with pre-historical time in a cyclic manner, confirm that the linear perception of the elite or lord of the city centre was connected to the cyclical structure of the commoners of the periphery (Gossen and Leventhal 1993: 195).

We have seen that inscriptions from the cities Tikal, Quirigua, Yaxchilan, Palenque and Copan do not only compare actions of supernatural beings of the distant past (previous Long Counts) with the actions of regents in the present but also project these into the future. Both the synchronised numerology of linear and cyclic time could accordingly be politically and religiously manipulated in favour of the sovereign and/or the dynastic lineage.

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