Ancient States and Infrastructural Power

Ancient States and Infrastructural Power

Ancient States and Infrastructural Power

Ancient States and Infrastructural Power


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?

Contributors address how states first claimed and developed the ability to delineate territory, promote laws, and establish political identity; and they investigate how the powers that states appropriated came to be seen as their natural and normal domain.

Contributors : Clifford Ando, R. Alan Covey, Damion Fernandez, Anthony Kaldellis, Emily Mackil, Richard Payne, Seth Richardson, Wang Haicheng, John Weisweiler.


Clifford Ando

This volume seeks to assess the power—the reach, if you will—of ancient states. Its method is historical and comparative rather than ideal-typical. That is to say, the project does not commence from an idealist understanding of states and state power, according to which states occupy bounded territories whose space and population they both know and control and within which they exercise a monopoly on fiscal matters and the authorization of the use of violence, as well as law-making and law-applying institutions. the choice of method does not arise from an objection to ideal-typical or more broadly sociological analyses of the state as such. It is rather that contemporary ideals of the state and state power are—as has long been recognized—historically contingent. This applies very precisely to notions of territoriality, the control and knowledge of persons, and the generation of norms. the study of ancient states in the light of modern idealist literatures therefore always risks a double fault, of becoming at once little more than a portrait of deficiency, on the one hand, while premodern states and their aspirations to power become mere way stations on the way to ourselves, on the other.

The volume is historical insofar as the chapters take a strictly empiricist approach to the questions posed by its project, which include: What powers did ancient states claim for themselves? What capacity did they have or develop to actualize such claims? What spaces and social fields existed outside the state, and what was their relation to state authority? What possibilities for . . .

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