Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Media and Its Discontents

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Media and Its Discontents

Article excerpt

The volume at hand is a collection of the proceedings of a conference entitled "Continuity of Empire: Assyria, Media, Persia," held April 26-28, 2001, in Padua, Italy; a few of the papers (see the preface, especially p. viii) were invited after-the-fact to supply additional perspectives for the published volume. The bold assertion of the conference title gave way to the addition of a question mark after "Empire" to reflect the editors' "more conciliatory" approach as reflective of the open state of many of the questions pursued at the conference and in the published proceedings. This volume is the mother lode for any researcher interested in the history of the mid-first millennium B.C., specifically, the state of the question(s) in the early third millennium A.D. about the place of the Medes in the nonlinear sequence of the great empires from Assyria to Persia, in which are usually included Media, Lydia, and Babylonia. The volume's contributions go beyond synthesis to address a number of stubborn problems associated with the Medes. One of its great virtues is its emphasis on the historiographic issues that lie at the root of the attendant historical problems.

The question of whether or not there was truly a "Median Empire" underlies the volume. Whether the realm of the Medes may be--or should be--classified as an empire depends not only upon perspective, of course, but also on the types and range of evidence considered, general and specific. For example, textual, archaeological, art-historical, Assyrian, Persian, and Greek evidence, among others. Definitions of the term "empire" come into play (note the remarks by the editors in the "Afterword," p. 402), and one's choice of definition will ultimately determine one's approach. This question of definition, while valid and interesting in its own right, does not concern the reviewer at present. Of the twenty-three contributions by twenty contributors (including the afterword, by the editors), the authors of five adhere to or are comfortable with a Median Empire as traditionally defined, ten lean against, and the remainder do not come down on either side (i.e., the question of "empire or not" does not impact their contributions). (1) The collective weight of the contributions, regardless of specific focus, emphasizes that, despite modern scholarship's massive gains in the last few decades regarding our understanding of ancient Near Eastern history, fundamental and vital questions about Medes, Media, and Median history continue to elude satisfactory answers.

A volume of this significance and magnitude deserves a broad audience and, therefore, is subjected to significant summary in this review, though the reviewer's own biases are reflected in the choice of minutiae discussed. Those articles that receive most attention here are those that impinge most immediately upon the overarching question of the Median Empire and its historical place in the succession ("continuity") of empires from Assyria to Persia, as it has been perceived in modern scholarship. The first part of the review focuses on those articles that deconstruct our previously conceived notions of a Median empire; the second part highlights those that hold close to (if they do not perpetuate) the traditional view of the Medes as a powerful, centralized state parallel to Assyria and Persia; and the third covers a number of those essays that deal with closely related issues. Many of these contributions react to the seminal articles by P. Helm and H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg that challenge the historicity of a Median Empire or, at least, Herodotus' account thereof. (2)

M. Liverani's article, "The Rise and Fall of Media," coupled with K. Radner's "An Assyrian View of the Medes" and G. Lanfranchi's "The Assyrian Expansion in the Zagros and Local Ruling Elites," provides the most compelling case for jettisoning all pre-conceived notions of a Median Empire or even of a unified Median entity capable of sustained, imperial activity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.