International Relations in the Ancient Near East, 1600-1100 B.C.

By Mario Liverani | Go to book overview
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4
Symbolic Attainment of the World Border

At the ideological level, the physical presence of the king in a remote country is sufficient to demonstrate political control. A successful expedition, even one designed more for reconnaissance than conquest, is all that is necessary for symbolic effect; an administrative machine, which could in any case eventually follow, is not required. It is in fact unbelievable that an area where the king freely walks, receives tribute and subdues the people should not be a part of the organized world, whatever the local political system. But is the symbolic achievement a definitive one, or will the peripheral area revert to chaos as soon as the king goes back to the central core? This is quite possible in terms of political control but his symbolic achievement will remain in the memory. As long as we remember that land, and it remembers the royal expedition, its place in the world as officially defined remains secure.

The appropriate device to obtain this result is a stela, an inscribed upright stone slab or rock relief, set up at the remotest point of the border. 1 The most obvious meaning, indeed the origin, of the celebrative stela is of course to be sought in the boundary markers used to define landed properties inside the territory of the community, and to make clear the state border in a technical sense (see Chapter 5). In a similar way, the stela set up at the very end of the world marks the possession of the universe by the king. But other metaphorical implications can be pointed out. Concerning territory, if we view the border as an elastic perimeter that follows the outward movements of the king, the stela, which has his name and image inscribed upon it, acts as a substitute for his presence. This keeps the perimeter fixed at the farthest point, even when the king returns to a more central position. The border remains ‘anchored’ to the stela, thus leaving the king free to move in other directions without sacrificing the gains of his earlier advance. And concerning time, the stela

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