Tag Archives: Empires

Empires of Ancient Eurasia

Benjamin, Craig. 2018. Empires of ancient Eurasia: The first Silk Roads era, 100 BCE – 250 CE (New Approaches to Asian History). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Silk Roads are the symbol of the interconnectedness of ancient Eurasian civilizations. Using challenging land and maritime routes, merchants and adventurers, diplomats and missionaries, sailors and soldiers, and camels, horses and ships, carried their commodities, ideas, languages and pathogens enormous distances across Eurasia. The result was an underlying unity that traveled the length of the routes, and which is preserved to this day, expressed in common technologies, artistic styles, cultures and religions, and even disease and immunity patterns. In words and images, Craig Benjamin explores the processes that allowed for the comingling of so many goods, ideas, and diseases around a geographical hub deep in central Eurasia. He argues that the first Silk Roads era was the catalyst for an extraordinary increase in the complexity of human relationships and collective learning, a complexity that helped drive our species inexorably along a path towards modernity.

About the author: Craig Benjamin is Professor of History at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He is the author of several books and numerous chapters and articles on ancient history, including Volume 4 of The Cambridge History of the World (Cambridge, 2015). Craig has filmed programs and courses for the History Channel and The Great Courses. He is a Past President of the World History Association and Vice President of the International Big History Association.

Achaemenid Seal and Monumental Art

Drawing of a lenticular seal from Tomb 33, Prosymna. Athens (after Sakellarakis 1982, no. 27)

The recent volume Friedhelm Pedde & Nathanael Shelley (eds.), Assyromania and More. In Memory of Samuel M. Paley (Marru. Studien Zur Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 4), . Münster: Zaphon. contains two chapters of hight interest for Iranian and Achaemenid Studies:

The Parthians at the margins of the empire

In this issue of L’Histoire, entitled Les mondes d’Alix and dedicated to the graphic novel series Les voyages d’Alix, specialists of antique history explore various aspects relating to the world and time of the novels. The historian Giusto Traina writes on the Parthians.

Traina, Giusto. 2018. Les Parthes aux marges de l’empire. L’Histoire 6. 66–71.

Administration in the Achaemenid Empire

Jacobs, Bruno, Wouter F. M. Henkelman & Matthew W. Stolper (eds.). 2017. Die Verwaltung im Achämenidenreich – Imperiale Muster und Strukturen. Administration in the Achaemenid Empire – Tracing the Imperial Signature. Akten des 6. Internationalen Kolloquiums zum Thema »Vorderasien im Spannungsfeld klassischer und altorientalischer Überlieferungen« aus Anlass der 80-Jahr-Feier der Entdeckung des Festungsarchivs von Persepolis,. Landgut Castelen bei Basel, 14.-17. Mai 20. (Classica et Orientalia 17). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
In recent decades, a number of local archives and other primary sources for the history of the Achaemenid empire have been made available for the first time, or have received new treatment. Foremost among these are the Persepolis Fortification archive and the correspondence between the satraps of Bactria and Egypt and their respective staffs. Several contributors to this volume try to analyze the events and transactions documented by these sources in terms of bureaucratic and administrative protocols and to interpret them within an empire-wide network. Recurring patterns reveal a system of administrative hierarchies and structures. Among other things, the Achaemenid administration managed supplying official travelers, assuring regular communication between the empire’s core and the provinces, and it used some of the same methods and institutions to manage supply, assignment and logistics of workers sent from the provinces to do labor service in the center of Persia.
Another approach represented in this volume confronts these primary sources with information about Achaemenid imperial administration in classical sources, the primary material serving both as corrective and as analytical tool. Combined, these complementary approaches lead to a similar assessment: the imperial administration was not characterized by rupture and ad hoc responses to crises but rather by continuity and stability, and these long-term factors were important reasons for the unprecedented scope and endurance of this first world empire.

Arsacids, Romans and Local Elites

Schlude, Jason & Benjamin Rubin (eds.). 2017. Arsacids, Romans and local elites: Cross-cultural interactions of the Parthian Empire. Oxbow Books.

For almost 500 years (247 BCE–224 CE), the Arsacid kings of Parthia ruled over a vast multi-cultural empire, which encompassed much of central Asia and the Near East. The inhabitants of this empire included a complex patchwork of Hellenized Greek-speaking elites, Iranian nobility, and semi-nomadic Asian tribesman, all of whom had their own competing cultural and economic interests. Ruling over such a diverse group of subjects required a strong military and careful diplomacy on the part of the Arsacids, who faced the added challenge of competing with the Roman empire for control of the Near East. This collection of new papers examines the cross-cultural interactions among the Arsacids, Romans, and local elites from a variety of scholarly perspectives. Contributors include experts in the fields of ancient history, archaeology, classics, Near Eastern studies, and art history, all of whom participated in a multi-year panel at the annual conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research between 2012 and 2014. The seven chapters investigate different aspects of war, diplomacy, trade, and artistic production as mechanisms of cross-cultural communication and exchange in the Parthian empire. Arsacids, Romans, and Local Elites will prove significant for those interested in the legacy of Hellenistic and Achaemenid art and ideology in the Parthian empire, the sometimes under-appreciated role of diplomacy in creating and maintaining peace in the ancient Middle East, and the importance of local dynasts in kingdoms like Judaea, Osrhoene, and Hatra in shaping the geopolitical landscape of the Near East, alongside the imperial powerhouses of Rome and Parthia.

Ancient States and Infrastructural Power

Ando, Clifford & Seth Richardson (eds.). 2017. Ancient states and infrastructural power: Europe, Asia, and America (Empire and After). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

While ancient states are often characterized in terms of the powers that they claimed to possess, the contributors to this book argue that they were in fact fundamentally weak, both in the exercise of force outside of war and in the infrastructural and regulatory powers that such force would, in theory, defend. In Ancient States and Infrastructural Power a distinguished group of scholars examines the ways in which early states built their territorial, legal, and political powers before they had the capabilities to enforce them.

The volume brings Greek and Roman historians together with specialists on early Mesopotamia, late antique Persia, ancient China, Visigothic Iberia, and the Inca empire to compare various models of state power across regional and disciplinary divisions. How did the polis become the body that regulates property rights? Why did Chinese and Persian states maintain aristocracies that sometimes challenged their autocracies? How did Babylon and Rome promote the state as the custodian of moral goods? In worlds without clear borders, how did societies from Rome to Byzantium come to share legal and social identities rooted in concepts of territory? From the Inca empire to Visigothic Iberia, why did tributary practices reinforce territorial ideas about membership?

Source: Ancient States and Infrastructural Power | Clifford Ando, Seth Richardson

King of the Seven Climes

Daryaee, Touraj (ed.). 2017. King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE – 651 CE). UCI Jordan Center for Persian Studies.

 

In a Middle Persian text known as “Khusro and the Page,” one of the most famous kings of the ancient Iranian world, Khusro I Anusheruwan, is called haft kišwar xawadāy “the King of the Seven Climes.” This title harkens back to at least the Achaemenid period when it was in fact used, and even further back to a Zoroastrian/Avestan world view. From the earliest Iranian hymns, those of the Gāthās of Zarathushtra, through the Younger Avesta and later Pahlavi writings, it is known that the ancient Iranians divided the world into seven climes or regions. Indeed, at some point there was even an aspiration that this world should be ruled by a single king. Consequently, the title of the King of the Seven Climes, used by Khusro I in the sixth century CE, suggests the most ambitious imperial vision that one would find in the literary tradition of the ancient Iranian world. Taking this as a point of departure, the present book aims to be a survey of the dynasties and rulers who thought of going beyond their own surroundings to forge larger polities within the Iranian realm.

Thus far, in similar discussions of ancient Iranian history, it has been the convention to set the beginnings of a specifically Iranian world at the rise of Cyrus the Great and the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire. But in fact, this notion is only a recent paradigm, which became popular in Iran in the late 1960s owing to traditions of Classical and European historiography. At the same time, there are other narratives that can be given for the history of the Iranian World, including those that take us to 5000 BCE to sites such as Sialk, near Kashan, or other similar archaeological localities. As attractive as an archaeologically based narrative of local powers can be, however, the aim of the present work is to focus on political entities who aimed at the control of a larger domain beyond their own local contexts. As a result, this book starts its narrative with Elam, the influential civilization and kingdom that existed long before the Achaemenids came to power. Elam boasted a writing system and a complex culture and political organization contemporaneous with that of Mesopotamia, and was made up of cities such as Susa and Anshan. As Kamyar Abdi shows in his chapter, the Iranian civilization owes much to the Elamites and their worldview and conception of rulership. Thus, we do not start the present narrative with 550 BCE and Cyrus, but with 3000 BCE, in the proto-Elamite Period, when signs of a long lasting civilization on the Iranian Plateau first appeared.

Table of Contents:

Cosmopolitanism and empire

Lavan, Myles, Richard Payne & John Weisweiler (eds.). 2016. Cosmopolitanism and empire: Universal rulers, local elites, and cultural integration in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean. Oxford University Press.

The empires of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean invented cosmopolitan politics. In the first millennia BCE and CE, a succession of territorially extensive states incorporated populations of unprecedented cultural diversity. Cosmopolitanism and Empire traces the development of cultural techniques through which empires managed difference in order to establish effective, enduring regimes of domination. It focuses on the relations of imperial elites with culturally distinct local elites, offering a comparative perspective on the varying depth and modalities of elite integration in five empires of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. If cosmopolitanism has normally been studied apart from the imperial context, the essays gathered here show that theories and practices that enabled ruling elites to transcend cultural particularities were indispensable for the establishment and maintenance of trans-regional and trans-cultural political orders. As the first cosmopolitans, imperial elites regarded ruling over culturally disparate populations as their vocation, and their capacity to establish normative frameworks across cultural boundaries played a vital role in the consolidation of their power. Together with an introductory chapter which offers a theory and history of the relationship between empire and cosmopolitanism, the volume includes case studies of Assyrian, Seleukid, Ptolemaic, Roman, and Iranian empires that analyze encounters between ruling classes and their subordinates in the domains of language and literature, religion, and the social imaginary. The contributions combine to illustrate the dilemmas of difference that imperial elites confronted as well as their strategies for resolving the cultural contradictions that their regimes precipitated.

The making of Turan

Payne, Richard. 2016. The making of Turan: The fall and transformation of the Iranian east in late antiquity. Journal of Late Antiquity 9(1). 4–41.

Contemporaneously with the fall and transformation of the Roman West, the Iranian Empire yielded its East to Hun—and later Turk—conquerors. This article traces the development of post-Iranian regimes through the dynamic interplay of nomadic and sedentary political institutions in the fourth through early seventh centuries. The conquerors adopted Iranian institutions, integrated the Iranian aristocracy, and presented themselves as the legitimate heirs of the kings of kings in a manner reminiscent of post-Roman rulers. At the same time, however, the Huns and the Turks retained the superior military resources of nomadic imperialism, included the Ira-nian East in trans-Eurasian networks, and distinguished themselves as rul-ing ethno-classes tied to the steppe. The resulting hybrid political culture came to be known as Turan.

The article is also available from the authors’s academia.edu page here.

Levantine Epigraphy from the Achaemenid Period

Papyrus with an Aramaic translation of the Behistun inscription's text
Papyrus with an Aramaic translation of the Behistun inscription’s text

Lemaire, André. 2015. Levantine epigraphy and history in the Achaemenid period (539-332 BCE). First edition. (Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology 2013). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Inscriptions discovered since 1980 and fresh epigraph research have revealed much about the Archaeminid period in the Levant (533-332 BCE). André Lemaire concentrates on three areas where new data has shed light on the societies living in the largest empire that the world had known to that date.

Phoenicia played a vital political and economic role in the empire because Persian kings had to rely on the Phoenician navy in their wars against Greece and Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean. Newly discovered inscriptions from Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, as well as the results of research into coins, have illuminated the chronology, history and extent of the Phoenician kingdoms, as well as their influence in Palestine.

New inscriptions have added to our knowledge of the Judean Diaspora in Babylonia, Egypt and Cyprus. The main indirect information about the Exiles previously available to us was in the book of Ezekiel. Now, epigraphic data has revealed not only many names of Exiles but how and where they lived and more about their relationship with Jerusalem.

The third region described is the Persian provinces of Samaria, Judaea and Idumaea, especially during the 4th century BCE. The publication of various, mainly Aramaic, contemporary inscriptions on papyri, ostraca, seals, seal-impressions and coins, sheds new light on the daily life and religion of these provinces. The insciptions help us to understand something of the chronology, society and culture of these three different provinces as well as several Biblical texts in their historical and economic contexts.

With over 90 inscriptions illustrated and fully transcribed, this book provides new insight into a period that has proved difficult to study.

Table of Contents:

  • Levantine epigraphy and Phoenicia: the kingdoms of Aradus, Byblos, Sidon and Tyre during the Achaemenid period
  • West Semitic epigraphy and the Judean Diaspora during the Achaemenid period: Babylonia, Egypt, Cyprus
  • Levantine epigraphy and Samaria, Judaea and Idumaea during the Achaemenid period

About the Author:

André Lemaire (Sorbonne, Paris) has worked, first as a researcher in the French National Center for Scientific Research and later as “directeur d’études ” in the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne, Paris), in the field of West Semitic epigraphy, Levantine history and Hebrew Bible in the first millennium BCE, for more than forty years. He has published many new Hebrew, Aramaic and Phoenician inscriptions as well as new historical interpretations. He is especially interested in the connection between West Semitic epigraphy and the Biblical tradition and was a member of the Editorial board of Vetus Testamentum for 36 years.