From the idea of forming priest cults for divine kings, to human sacrifice to nourish the sun god, to ancestor worship, the strength and variety of ideology in societies is absolutely astounding. It appears that appeasing the gods has always been a large focus of ancient societies and still persists today. This took a variety of shapes and was more important to some societies than others. Beyond appeasing deities, many societies also worked to appease ancestors or spirits of important people, such as the idea of divine kingship in Egypt or the split inheritance of the Inca. Temples have always been a large focus in the majority of ancient states, and in the case of some (i.e. Mesopotamia) even had a great deal to do with the economy. This all goes to show the influence of ideology on the ancient state.
Traditionally, ideology has been thought of on an individual basis without much thought given to its effects on a society. This is unfortunate because ideology truly shows how similar many societies are in important values or basic aspects, yet the amount of specifics are incredible. While Mesoamerica was unique in the sense that the people believed in [human] sacrifice to keep the world functioning, is this terribly different from any other ancient state making offerings and erecting temples to various gods? The answer is no, it is the same idea just more extreme. The Aztecs in particular may have feared world destruction, but so did the ancient Egyptians. They had a deep fear of chaos and something going wrong with the Nile floods. Many societies worked to appease the gods, particularly over environmental concerns, which also shows the depth to which environment affects a society. In all ancient societies, the elites and the rulers were often religious in nature and also had a special connection with the spirits, and could intercede on behalf of the people to the gods. Perhaps the reason ancient societies had such powerful rulers was because of their environmental or ideology-based fears. Out of trust (or desperation) the ancient peoples may have given their rulers increased power in return for protection. Starting off as priests gaining more status, eventually rulers were born. This may be overestimating peoples’ fears, yet in societies such as Egypt or Mesoamerica this may have been part of the reason for absolute authority. However, there is never one reason for anything, and thus ideology is not the only reason elites could have arisen, yet it could be part of it. If elites did not arise directly because of ideology, they certainly used it to their advantage, particularly in cementing or legitimizing their power. Using peoples’ ideology in one’s own favor seems like a cheap shot, yet it certainly happened, and still does today.