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Monumental architecture conveys the power of the state (and the people that control it) as well as the ideologies that undergird its power. Of course, these projects are highly expensive, and extraordinarily labor-intensive. Rulers and ruling classes have mobilized the labor and capital needed to build large monuments in different ways. In some cases, slave labor was used. This is true, scholars believe, of many monuments of the ancient world, but also in modern times: some of the most iconic structures in Washington, D.C., including the Capitol, were built in part by slaves, as were numerous state capital buildings and courthouses throughout the South. In other cases, though, labor was either conscripted, paid, or worked as volunteers. Work on the Pyramids, for example, seems to have been viewed by many Egyptians as a sort of civic obligation on par with building a cathedral in medieval Europe or serving in the U.S. military in time of war, and scholars now believe that the pyramid-builders were paid laborers. In other cases, work seems to have taken on an even more spiritual significance. In Mesoamerica, for example, laborers and architects were often entombed within the very buildings they constructed.
Some monuments have been financed with private capital, as was the case in Renaissance Italy, however, others have been financed through large tax levies. Many medieval and early modern churches, for example, were constructed using subscriptions and even the sale of indulgences. In any case, anthropologists with good reason interpret monumental architecture as a display of power, because the physical size of the structures would point to a leader that could marshal a great deal of wealth and human labor to build them.
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