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

By Mario Liverani | Go to book overview

8
The Boundary as a Watershed for Responsibilities

Within a precisely delimited territory, the state not only has a monopoly in surplus collecting but also in the use of force. The corollary of the exclusive right to use force inside one's own borders is recognition of an equal right on the part of kings in adjacent state-formations. In a monocentred political ideology the king of the world will punish rebellions and crimes whatever their character and wherever they take place, not least in the outer periphery, where they are such a marked feature of that chaotic zone. Apart from being harmful to humans, rebellions and crimes are a threat to and an offence against the cosmic order. As such, they require royal intervention wherever they occur.

If he wishes to maintain firm authority over his territory, every king in a multicentred political world has to ensure order and satisfy requests for punishment or compensation, even if they come from outside. Conversely, he must insist on punishment or compensation for crimes committed in the territory of a neighbouring ‘colleague’. Only this system of separate responsibilities and efficient reparations can guarantee all the kingdoms against foreign intervention motivated by juridical or ethical complaints. The area that seems to belong to the unreliable, uncivilized periphery is thus reduced to a minimum, not through conquest but through cooperation.

In the Late Bronze period, the acknowledgement of territorial jurisdiction and the consequent practice of inter-state compensation has become routine. The procedure is frequently invoked following border incidents (plunder, hostile incursions, hiding of refugees or runaway slaves) and murders and robberies of foreigners (merchants, messengers). 1 Customary usages plus the political will to cooperate are sometimes sufficient for it to operate without excessive abuse, though when relations become intense and the vested interests great, it is better that the rules are explicitly

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