The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium

The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium

The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium

The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium

Excerpt

The world’s first known empires took shape in Mesopotamia between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, beginning around 2350 B.C.E. The next 2,500 years witnessed sustained imperial growth, bringing a growing share of humanity under the control of ever-fewer states. Two thousand years ago, just four major powers—the Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han empires—ruled perhaps two-thirds all the people on Earth. Yet, despite empires’ prominence in the early history of civilization, there have been surprisingly few attempts to study the dynamics of ancient empires in the western Old World comparatively. Such grand comparisons were popular in the eighteenth century, but scholars then only had Greek and Latin literature and the Hebrew Bible as evidence and necessarily framed the problem in different, more limited, terms. Near Eastern texts, and knowledge of their languages, appeared in large amounts only in the late nineteenth century. Neither Karl Marx nor Max Weber could make much use of this material, and not until the 1920s were there enough archaeological data to make syntheses of early European and west Asian history possible. But one consequence of the increase in empirical knowledge was that twentieth-century scholars generally defined the disciplinary and geographical boundaries of their specialties more narrowly than their Enlightenment predecessors had done, shying away from large questions and cross-cultural comparisons. As a result, Greek and Roman empires have been studied largely in isolation from those of the Near East. Our book is designed to address these deficits and to encourage dialogue across disciplinary boundaries by examining the fundamental features of the successive and partly overlapping imperial states that dominated much of the Near East and the Mediterranean in the first millennia B.C.E. and C.E.: the Neo-Assyrian, Achaemenid Persian, Athenian, Roman, and Byzantine empires.

This volume has grown out of a series of conferences sponsored by Stanford University’s Social Science History Institute (SSHI). Founded as an interdepartmental program involving faculty and graduate students from the Departments of Anthropological Sciences, Classics, Economics, History, Political Science, and . . .

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