Thursday, October 8, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Ian Morris, Walter Scheidel (ed.), The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xviii, 381. ISBN 978-0-19-537158-1. £47.00; $85.00.
Reviewed by Christopher J. Tuplin,

[Contents listed at the end of the review.]

This book justly claims as a distinctive feature that it brings Greco-Roman empires together with Near Eastern ones in a comparativist perspective.1 I am not sure that it succeeds in being more than the sum of its parts. But its parts are varied and interesting, the unexceeded sum makes an absorbing (at times provocative) volume, and one does not have to end up with (or even want to end up with) a theory of imperialism to benefit from contemplating some imperial particularities.

There are seven chapters (listed in full at the end of this review).2 Five focus on a single empire (Neo-Assyrian, Achaemenid, Athenian, Roman, Byzantine). A sixth addresses a thematic issue pertinent to all empires -- and human society at large. Finally, but placed first, there is a chapter on general issues, providing context for but also (purportedly) drawing analytical inspiration from the rest of the volume. The authors of that chapter say that the individual empires are examined in terms of four questions: (1) how did they come into being; (2) how did they survive; (3) what was the structure of military-political and ideological power relations that facilitated survival; (4) what was the economic basis in respect of production, distribution and consumption of wealth and of the quantitative or qualitative expansion of the base upon which wealth could be generated. But, although there is at least something about all of these topics in each relevant chapter, the selection and balance vary considerably (each contributor has his own Leitfragen) and the volume is not addressing the agenda of comparison by being rigorously systematic. I shall discuss each substantive chapter and return to the analytical-theoretical one at the end.

First the Neo-Assyrian Empire (Peter Bedford). After basic orientation on sources, demography, general ideological principles, the position of temples, imperial organisation, administrative structures and hierarchies3 and economic structures, we are given an historical overview, dividing the imperial era (934-609) into three periods.4 The empire's notoriously sudden demise is addressed with three propositions. (1) The empire did not really end, simply shifted centre to Babylon (and subsequently to Persia). There is an important truth here, but not one that precludes the need to explain what happened in the late seventh century. (2) Assyria was "less well-defended" against attacks from south and east (than north and west). Apart from the implications of what is said about Babylonia (below), this is unexplained. (3) The Assyrians failed to get a sufficiently integrative grip on Babylonia because of a cultural inferiority-complex. But it remains an unposed and so unanswered question why post-630 dissidence in Babylonia proved lethal where that in Sennacherib's time did not. Part of the answer is that the Babylonians had Median allies. But what had happened in Media to make that possible? That is a contentious area, so it is perhaps understandable that Bedford does not broach the issue.

In the chapter's analytical part a recurrent topic is the distinction between client-state and provincial organisation. Client-states are subordinate polities paying tribute, provinces territories incorporated into Assyria and subject to taxation. The distinction is clear, and matched by a clear distinction in terminology for tribute and taxes. The Assyrians preferred the client-state model, but in practice clients were disobedient (despite oaths and the threat of military action) -- in part because of interference from outside powers -- and provincialisation became normal, both east of the Euphrates before 824 and west of it after 744. All this is straightforward in principle, and only slightly problematized by the fact that client-kingdoms were within the boundaries of "Assyria", whereas variations on "they were counted as Assyrian" marked the provincialisation of a region: to be within "Assyria" and to be "Assyrian" can perfectly well be distinct situations. At the same time, the system was playing fast-and-loose with the concepts "Assyria" and "Assyrian". Bedford remarks that "the problem of integration plagued the empire", which might seem strange, given that he also sees the Assyrians as pioneering an ideology that sought to integrate subjugated polities into the ruling-class worldview. But seeking is not the same as succeeding, and the variety of the persuasive definitions of "Assyria(ns)" served to underline a fundamental them-and-us distinction. The only privileges conferred by being "counted as Assyrian" were to pay taxes, have Ashur as a required (though not exclusive) object of worship and be liable to deportation. These quasi-Assyrians are not citizens but helots, and in such circumstances Assyrians deserved to be plagued by an integration problem.

A century after the fall of Assyria a larger empire was well-established in the near east, that of the Achaemenid Persians. This is the subject of a chapter by Josef Wiesehöfer. It is not easy to summarize the Empire in the space available. Wiesehöfer perhaps attempts to do too much (by contrast with Bedford who has the same space but chooses a narrower thematic focus -- and is dealing with a less diverse imperial entity) and ends up sometimes seeming a little random. The way Mausolus is shoe-horned into the end of a section on economics and standards of living as evidence of the centre's continuing artistic and cultural influence (i.e. proof that post-Xerxes Persia was not moribund) and the self-confidence of local dynasties is disconcerting, both in its brevity and the questions it begs. A similar end-of-paragraph remark about Aramaic as a lingua franca could create misunderstandings. The tiny space devoted to Egypt will seem puzzling to readers who spot what is said in occasional allusions. It is probably due to considerations of source-distribution (an issue Wiesehöfer rightly highlights more than once) -- relative to its importance, Egypt can seem poorly documented compared with Babylonia and so loses out -- but, though understandable, the result is arguably a misjudgement. (A notable consequence is the absence of discussion of the qanats and documents of the Khargeh Oasis.) One might also expect the Persepolis Fortification archive -- certainly by no means ignored -- to figure more colourfully. In this case the trouble may partly be that, although the bulk of what is published of the archive (under half of the readable totality) has been in print for forty years, much interesting work on it is very recent: the last of the conferences underlying this volume was in 2002, and I suspect that we are dealing here -- and perhaps in other cases -- with a chapter whose horizon is more 2004 than 2009.

The big message of the chapter is that Achaemenid imperialism was relatively favourable to diverse political-administrative arrangements and maintenance of the status quo and had no interest in Persianization (in the sense in which one speaks of Romanization). This is certainly correct. It is worth stressing the advantage the Persians derived from the fact that significant parts of their empire were formed by absorption of well-developed states and imperial polities. A version of this advantage actually precedes the imperial project: for, as Wiesehöfer highlights, the role of Elam in Persian ethnogenesis and the creation of a basis for Persian imperial success is very considerable. A number of other points (about long-term goals, Achaemenid Babylonia and the end of the empire) deserve comment, but I consign them to a footnote.5

Next comes the Athenian Empire. Ian Morris deals with this by claiming that it is an ill-formed concept and that the familiar historical phenomena have little in common with the record of other empires under discussion here and cast scant light upon their dynamics. Put bluntly, the Athenians were not empire-building but forming an Ionian Greek territorial state with Athens as its capital city -- a story more analogous (if with different outcome) to that of fifth-century Rome than those of Assyria, Persia, post-republican Rome and Byzantium.

The proposition is not without resonances in classical texts: there are places where Athens' subjects are explicitly or implicitly assimilated to villages or demes -- i.e. the constituents of a single polity. Strangely, Morris does not comment on these texts. Instead, where ancient terminology is concerned, he draws attention only to hêgemonia, summakhia, arkhê and turannos. The first two belong in any case to the pre-imperial stage, but arkhê is more interesting, since it certainly does not terminologically distinguish empire from other forms of rule, including domestic magistracy; and the assimilation of Athens to a turannos is a similar phenomenon. But does use of terms that are also applicable to a single state represent evidence that Athenian rule constituted the creation of a single state -- or simply show that it was the most convenient terminology (whether neutral or negative) available to Greek observers?6

Morris writes at length (smallest empire, longest chapter) and produces many interesting observations about the Athenian arkhê, but the single potentially crucial point against an Athenian "empire" is that the sense of foreignness between ruler and ruled was too small and such differences as existed were political rather than ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural.7 One will certainly acknowledge that the "foreignness" was different in character in the Athenian arkhê from in the Persian Empire. But, when Morris compares the Athens of 421 with Gellner's agro-literate state and classifies the subject poleis as a "series of laterally insulated agricultural producers", he is offering an inadequate description of those poleis; and it is misleading to claim that institutional features of the Athenian arkhêhad so nearly eradicated their political identity that a unitary state was being born.8 Athenians spoke of "the cities over whom the Athenians rule" (not "those over whom they rule"), and in so doing they were affirming a difference that is entirely relevant in the present context. It is simply an unjustified assumption that political "foreignness" is not an adequate basis for an imperial situation; and I am inclined to suspect that such community of identity as there was, based upon Ionian descent, exacerbated the alienation caused by Athenian arrogation of power and resources.9

With Keith Hopkins' chapter we revert to an undoubted empire. The chapter is briefer than the others, reflecting the fact that Professor Hopkins died in 2004 before completing the final revision. We are left with a succinct high-level overview of the empire's history (peppered with statistics and calculations -- many speculative but with their venturesome character always duly noted) in which it evolved from the re-imposition of monarchy upon an oligarchic-aristocratic system that had extended Roman power over the North European, Mediterranean and Near Eastern world but collapsed into civil war. In the long run this monarchy created a professional army (relocated to the frontiers, manned by provincials and effectively depoliticized), promoted and controlled an increasingly non-Italian aristocracy-of-office with low rates of hereditary succession (it was not just a case of changing the membership and then having everything carry on as before) and great wealth,10 turned the plebs into disempowered state pensioners, extended Roman citizenship (but not equality) to almost all inhabitants of the empire, and within a world of fixed outer boundaries created a unitary symbolic system in which local independence was undermined and culture ostensibly Romanized. This is a beguiling picture, though its implications for the distinction between state- and empire-formation (fresh in our mind from reading Morris) are unfortunately not explored.

The essay's final pages are devoted to economic growth. Alongside optimistic comments on extension of the agricultural base or division of labour in cities (places where, however, no more than 20% of the population lived), two topics are notable. First, the army (at 300-400,000) was small in proportion to the population and consumed less of the state's wealth than would have been the case had military participation continued at the levels of the late Republic or some Hellenistic kingdoms.11 But was imperial Rome's comparative wealth really not a sign of economic growth but only of spending cuts? Second, there was a huge growth in money supply but no hyperinflation. Does it follow that there was huge growth in the quantity of goods traded? Hopkins' response is that the question is well formed (one can apply classic price theory to the ancient economy) but the answer may be no, because (a) much coinage may have left the system immediately and more or less permanently either as payment for "Eastern luxuries" or as thesaurized cash and (b) Roman money -- though not immune to long-term patterns that make some sense in terms of economic theory -- was also no more wholly like its modern equivalent than the Roman economy was wholly unembedded. Here the argument and the essay stop abruptly, with no further attempt to guesstimate just how many coins had to "disappear" to preclude hyperinflation and no broader conclusion to the chapter.

Hopkins leaves the Roman world on a comparative high. With John Haldon we move to a later phase. The conventionally-defined Byzantine Empire has a history very much longer than any other empire in this volume (and most other empires anywhere), though it is the history of a contracting entity (three quarters of its income was already lost in the mid-seventh century) and one that latterly, despite imperial pretensions, had almost no territory. Since the social and economic relationships and the administrative apparatus were surely very different in the sixth and the fifteenth centuries, one is not surprised that, as Haldon complains, people have not written about the empire's "dynamic" in the way e.g. Luttwack did about the Roman Empire's and that the Byzantine experience has lacked impact in comparativist discourses. There are plain impediments to visitation from other academic areas: negative western European prejudices about Byzantine archaism and corruption, a sense that the empire's entire history is about losing ground to Eastern and Slavic enemies, and an uneasy feeling that, if the challenge of long-sweep generalisation about a millennium of history is to be met, it will require the investment of an off-puttingly large effort in familiarisation with devilish detail. One might even wonder whether there can be a non-banal "dynamic" for such a length of time. But Haldon does succeed in sketching a possible answer.

The Islamic conquests of the mid-seventh century marked a real new beginning -- the creation of a dyophysite Orthodox Christian state of limited geographical reach but considerable historical and cultural pretension, with a more centralized institutional structure and new meritocratic elite. In the ensuing eight centuries the elite reverted to an aristocracy (one in perpetual conflict with the state about resources), decentralization or devolution re-emerged, and the cultural pretensions proved damaging. This last point stands out. The Byzantine renaissance of the later first millennium was an important aspect of emergence from the nadir of seventh century losses but it fostered a cultural self-congratulation that had fatal consequences in relations with conquered territories and, especially, with the west. Initially Byzantines categorized westerners as barbarians; then, as westerners became too powerful to be dismissed out of hand, Byzantines became more Hellenic but also more Orthodox (the church was a more powerful organ than the empire) -- thereby exacerbating the conflict; and all along the rooting of Byzantine identity in a sense of continuous tradition from the intellectual and social values of antiquity inhibited promotion of commerce and other forms of private investment. The state raised taxes on land, persons and commercial activity. As the empire shrank, the significance of the last rose -- but it was levied upon an object almost entirely outside the control of the state or its elite-members. Commerce occurred, of course, but (by contrast with certain mediaeval Italian city-states) it was not perceived as an important aspect of the political economy, not associated with high socio-political status and not apt to influence political calculations. Cultural considerations thus led the Byzantines to hand opportunities to Venetians or Genoans that the latter were disinclined (and could not be forced) ever to surrender and, as a consequence, they lost real power over their own destiny.

This sounds (to a non-Byzantinist) a plausible picture of at least one of the empire's dynamics.12 Haldon spends some time worrying about why the Byzantines allowed cultural values to expose them to an economic Trojan Horse and seeks illumination in W.G. Runciman's theory of social selection alias competitive selection of social practices. In truth, it does not seem particularly surprising, and we do not need a sociological theory to protect us from what Haldon perceives as the danger of our supposing that the Byzantines deliberately sailed into an evolutionary dead-end. The irony is that doing so kept their imperial state going, albeit precariously, long after the Islamic caliphate whose emergence must have seemed to sound its death-knell by cutting it to half its original size and one-quarter its original wealth. For the caliphate had its own structural weaknesses (analysed in the latter part of the chapter) which proved fatal comparatively quickly. Rapidly formed and previously unimaginable imperial structures are vulnerable when young; the Byzantine Empire of the seventh to fifteenth centuries already had a great deal of history behind it at its inception. If that weight of history in the end was its undoing, it was also what kept it going so long.

The final chapter is devoted not to an empire but a piece of (very) macro-analysis. Walter Scheidel begins by complaining that Mann took for granted that humans seek to increase their means of subsistence. For this he substitutes a different fundamental proposition, that the underlying purpose of existence and determinant of activity is reproduction. But after another couple of pages we are back, inter alia by way of a seminal (sic) work by E.O. Wilson, to a near-admission that, at least among sedentary agriculturalists, means of production and reproduction are not very far apart as drivers of human behaviour. That seems reasonable: resources may "have intrinsic utility only in as much as they are instrumentalized in enhancing inclusive fitness", a concept defined by Badcock (sic) as "the reproductive success of individual genes, including that of identical copies which are present in near kin", but in the real world that makes them important. Mann might, therefore, consider himself a little bit vindicated. Nonetheless it is sex, not arable, that dominates Scheidel's chapter -- a lengthy but engaging application of evolutionary concepts (in particular the imperative of maximizing reproductive success) to data associated with ancient empires and more modern environments.

Any explanatory force Darwinian models have does, of course, belong in the category of "ultimate causation". Scheidel's discourse operates at a level of such abstraction from most differentiae in which historians are normally interested that it is hard to produce a conclusion that is interestingly different from the premise.13 His view is that we must amalgamate the "almost tautological" proposition that ancient empires were established to facilitate sexual exploitation with a "culturalist" perspective on conscious motivations and ideological representation to produce a coherent whole. Unfortunately, he does not attempt to perform this task.

Still, gathering data about the accumulation of women for sexual use by rulers in various places and times -- from Mari, Nuzi and Ur-III to contemporary North Korea -- can help us keep a sense of proportion about harems,14 remind us that the male citizens of Greco-Roman slave-owning republics surely took advantage of their structurally embedded access to extra-marital sex and, in general, encourage us to bring sex from the back of the mind to the front and re-introduce it in contexts where accidents of angle-of-vision may be apt to make it less prominent than it should be.15 That this is necessary suggests that the need Scheidel feels to rehearse his argument tells us as much about contemporary academic society as about antiquity. Against the background of a western world that oozes sex, the hang-ups of bien pensant intellectuals about sexual goings-on, gender relations and ethnic stereotyping apparently make it hard to be matter-of-fact about the promiscuous mating of some people in ancient societies, especially non-Greco-Roman ones. A firm dose of Darwinian theory is just the morally neutral thing to get us out of this bind -- and, if it can constitute an intellectually respectable objective argument against those who dismiss everything they find distasteful as the product of prejudiced stereotyping by Greeks or other unfashionable groups, then all power to it.

Finally we return to the start, and Jack Goldstone and John Haldon's "Ancient states, empires, and exploitation: problems and perspectives". They acknowledge that "state" is incapable of uncontentious definition and best treated simply as a heuristic tool. For this purpose they take it to denote a territorially demarcated region controlled by centralized governing or ruling establishments, which may or may not have a monopoly over use of coercion but usually have the coercive power to assert their authority over territories they claim, at least on an occasional "punitive" basis. The set-up is underpinned by ideological legitimation, and surplus extraction is managed by an administrative and bureaucratic system that is in principle non-kinship-based, has some life of its own and can survive dynastic changes and the like. An empire, in turn, is (they suggest) a territory ruled from a distinct organizational centre with clear ideological and political sway over varied elites who in turn exercise power over a population in which a majority have neither access to nor influence over positions of imperial power. The degree of cultural unification and of integration of local elites into broader imperial structures may vary, but several other things seem implicitly or explicitly clear.

First, the "organizational centre" will be a state and the "varied elites" must include some who represent the power-holders in (other) states. Second, "distinct" is presumably meant both to capture the need (at least originally) for a degree of foreignness as between centre and subjects and to avoid insisting on any particular degree of foreignness. Third, the empire is a state or a potential state.16 Fourth, everything is fluid and evolutionary. Goldstone and Haldon reject talk of the "structure" of an empire as too static and architectural, preferring "equilibrium" (an artificial disjunction, of course, since architectural structures depend on an equilibrium of forces) and "evolution" in a biological sense (to evoke a world of myriad unpredictabilities). Fifth, empires always end, but this is not a matter of internal decay: we should speak rather of a "breakdown of the dynamic equilibrium that maintains apparent stability" and allow that there can decay that is not necessarily destructive. Sticking with architectural imagery one can agree that the facade may degrade long before the building starts to collapse. But one might also say that a single unexpected shock can upset the force-equilibrium of a sound edifice, and the authors seem less inclined to acknowledge this: process is preferred to catastrophe -- which is perhaps why they are wary about the architectural reading of equilibrium in the first place.

Although they are explicitly trying to derive general conclusions from what is said in other chapters, they rarely key their remarks to the contents of those chapters, and almost never do so at all specifically. (The allusion to Scheidel's chapter on p. 27 is the most obvious exception -- perhaps tellingly, since more than any other chapter it deals with high-level and very long-term "explanation" of empire.) Some propositions about generic issues are said to be raised by the volume, but without specific references or systematic attempt to locate discussion of details about individual empires in relation to the relentlessly high-generality discourse of the introduction. This is regrettable, both because it exacerbates the comparative indigestibility of the introduction and because the volume thus does less than it might to justify the claims advanced for the value of comparative history. The thought arises that the introduction could have been written before the rest of the volume existed. The reality is different -- but not wholly so. The book derives from a series of conferences at which particularities and generalities will have been discussed at great length, and Goldstone and Haldon's overview is formed by that process. But the length of the process has resulted in the overview floating into a different cognitive space from the finally fixed form of the case-studies that informed it. It is as though they present the solution of a mathematical problem without showing their working -- and this in a case in which the working is of as much interest as the solution.

Still: students of the empires in question here are not always as well-informed about the others as they should be, and those who feel that they may be in this category will benefit from reading this volume, both in acquisition of data and in the opportunity to reconsider what it is that they are trying to discover as they retrieve, dissect, analyze and interpret the evidence about the imperial phenomenon that is their own speciality.


1. Jack Goldstone and John Haldon, Ancient States, Empires, and Exploitation: Problems and Perspectives
2. Peter Bedford, The Neo-Assyrian Empire
3. Josef Wiesehöfer, The Achaemenid Empire
4. Ian Morris, The Greater Athenian State
5. Keith Hopkins, The Political Economy of the Roman Empire
6. John Haldon, The Byzantine Empire
7. Walter Scheidel, Sex and Empire: A Darwinian Perspective


1.   A parallel volume (edited by Scheidel), Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires (Oxford, 2009), looks to the Far East.
2.   There is a single consolidated bibliography covering the whole volume (an annoying arrangement when the individual chapters necessarily have significantly different bibliographical profiles) and a 13-page index. I have not made a systematic assessment of the latter; but even a brief check reveals that, e.g., there are no lemmata for words such as "province", "commerce", "aristocracy", "tribute" and that the entry for "population" does not have a sub-heading for the Roman Empire. This is all faintly surprising in the light of topics that do come up in the volume, and I suspect that the indexing may have been rather perfunctorily done -- which matters in a volume like this where a thoughtful index can help readers to make cross-period connections.
3.   "There was usually little distinction between military service and civil service": but the implications of this are not really explored.
4.   One issue broached here is never really resolved, viz. how far the empire involved discrete subject areas joined by a communication-network rather than blanket conquest of the whole region between external frontiers (the "oil-stain" model).
5.  (1) Wiesehöfer thinks Darius genuinely intended to stop territorial expansion after the subjugation of Samos, Thrace, Cyrenaica and the Indus valley -- i.e. in around 510. It was only Athenian interference in the Ionian Revolt that necessitated military action in mainland Greece, and no one ever envisaged imperial frontiers going still further west. So far as Ionia goes, this accepts a reading of Herodotus in which Athens' assistance was not only the "start of many evils" but of evils that would otherwise not have occurred. There was a pause in expansion from ca 510, but I doubt it ever seemed satisfactory for Greeks of the east and north Aegean to be Persian subjects, while those on the western side were not. (2) Speaking of extraction of resources from Babylonia Wiesehöfer notes the link between certain landholdings ("bow estates" and the like) and military service, and suggests service was commuted to silver-payment when territorial expansion was over. Things are a good deal more complicated than that, not least because discharge of personal-service obligations in the form of silver payments is already a well-established possibility from the outset. The general representation of Babylonian economic history is perhaps too rosy, and neglects a caesura in terms of the identity of Babylonian beneficiaries after disturbances in 484. (3) For Wiesehöfer, the empire fell because of Alexander's tactical skills, not decadence or lack of internal cohesion. Much does turn on the aptitudes of the attacker and the forces at his disposal. But this does not preclude our saying that it was a weakness of Achaemenid imperial management that an adept non-Persian attacker would find it comparatively easy to inherit the Great King's empire and position. Persian subjects tolerated Persian rule quite well, but emotional investment in the situation, at least in non-Iranian regions (and not always there), was modest and did nothing to empower Darius III's resistance.
6.   Such observers ascribed Persians arkhêtoo; the point of the word is not that it can apply to a city-state arkhôn but that it applies to any form of power. Use of turannos in relation to Persia was easy since ultimate power in the Empire lay with a single autocrat. But that highlights that application of turannos to Athens was paradoxical and necessarily analogical. Comparison of her relationship to "the cities over whom the Athenians rule" with a city-tyrant's relationship to that city's inhabitants simply made a point about the degree and the illegitimacy of power involved. In the same way, when people said Athens "enslaved" others, assimilating Athens to a slave-owner, they did not imply she was engaging in oikos-formation -- or not in terms that create presumptions about how we should categorize what was going on. The same might also be said of word not discussed by Morris whose existence prima facie seems more suited to his position, viz. autonomia. This is a term almost entirely confined to discourse about the relations between self-contained political entities, its scope is the self-determination of such entities in the shadow of Great Powers -- initially Greek, but later Persian too -- and it typically excluded military occupation, enforced payment of tribute, sequestration of territory and anything limiting the capacity of a polis to make untrammelled decisions about its actions or fate as a political community. The word's creation does betoken fears for the independence of properly constituted states. But, even so, it probably creates no presumption about the nature or intent of those threats. That state-amalgamation (Argos/Corinth) and state-federation (Boeotia) were outlawed in the fourth century in the name of autonomia does not prove the Spartan demand in the late 430s that Athens let the Greeks be autonomous to be a complaint against territorial state-formation.
7.   Another argument -- that other episodes of fifth-century state-formation either respond to the Athenian model or establish that state-formation is feature of the era -- does not seem specially cogent. Some such episodes do show that mid- and late-classical city-states developed a taste for combination, especially federal, but I do not see that this proves much about Athens. In the case of Syracuse, Morris virtually uses "state-formation" as a synonym for the intermittent emergence of big-man tyrants, which begs various questions.
8.   For example, the interference with local judicial autonomy that certainly occurred falls way short of the unification of the Aegean region into a single jurisdiction.
9.   "We are all Ionians -- but some Ionians are more Ionian than others". When Neo-Assyrians use the concept "count as Assyrian", we readily see that as a shorthand for "turn into a subject and exploitable population" because it relates to people who are plainly not Assyrian. But, in the absence of power-sharing, the situation is not different in the Athenian arkhê, even if the subjects are certainly Greek. The Ionian connection provided Athens with a piece of ideological discourse. But being Ionian was not associated with political capacity (the debates that surround the pre-Persian Wars Ionian League tend to demonstrate this) -- and colonial mythistory constructed Ionians as subordinate to Athens. The Ionians are at best a "near-abroad" -- a status that does not preclude imperial domination.
10.   The fortunes of the wealthy doubled or trebled in the first century AD and rose another sixfold in the next three centuries.
11.   All the same, Scheidel cites Duncan-Jones for up to three-quarters of the imperial budget going on the army: i.e. the resources of a tax base of 60-70 million people went to 350-400,000 people, which puts things in a different perspective.
12.   It is a version of the idea of sclerotic archaism that traditionally attach to "Byzantine": not a criticism, just an observation that (as often) clichés are not necessarily groundless.
13.   We shall not be surprised to hear that in despotic societies "imperial exploitation would tend to increase inequality in reproductive success by privileging groups closely involved in the system", with a disproportionately large share in resources and mating opportunities for people at the top of the social pyramid -- or that egalitarian imperial societies differ in style but not substance. The investigation validate Darwinian theory by identifying experience that fits its predictions, but one may still feel one has learned nothing new about imperialism.
14.   Assaults on the "harem" as a wicked product of western orientalism must not be allowed to undermine the proposition that the Great King's court was stuffed with sexually available women. We can debate the ramifications of this for the dynamics of court society, but the fact itself (and that it is structural, not contingent) cannot be wished away. It is an added bonus to learn that Dickemann (sic) has figured that "a hard-working emperor might manage to service a thousand women".
15.   An example: the unremittingly documentary character of the Persepolis Fortification archive (a world of names, numbers and resources circulating round memoranda and balance sheets) and the labour-intensive analytical work it imposes upon those who study the bureaucratic systems that underlie it perhaps make it too easy to forget to speculate about the sexual use to which the female workers who figure on its tablets were put. It is not a question that no one has ever considered; but historians are more prone to wonder how many deported workers lived in family groups (cf. Wiesehöfer at p.78) than to consider the availability of women and girls for sexual exploitation or the possibility that some of the children of female workers (an occasion for the provision of special rations) were fathered by Iranian officials.
16.   The authors' propositions about empire plainly derive from their delineation of the "state", and allow that an empire might become a state, not just as the Austro-Hungarian empire became Austria by losing most of its components but because the persuasive definition associated with imperial rule may turn one-time conquered foreign territories into emotionally integrated parts of a homeland. But, although the two definitions have all the same components, the emphases differ. So, for example, the definition of the state makes explicit reference to coercion, whereas in that of empire it is present only as an unspoken element of "political sway" -- despite the fact that empires often result from military conquest, i.e. coercion par excellence. Again, the administrative-bureaucratic angle is emphasized in the state but barely present in the empire, since it might be thought precisely not to be implicit in political sway. Descriptive accounts of empires often dwell on the processes for extracting financial and human resources, so the authors' position here is interesting -- assuming that it is intentional.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.