Priority and Continuity of the Redistributive Pattern
It has already been stressed in the Introduction that Polanyi's patterns of reciprocity and redistribution are rather interpretive than descriptive of reality. They do not point out two separate sets of facts, but can be used alternatively with reference to the same facts – of course with different, even opposed, communicative aims and results. A phenomenon as complex and multifaceted as the inter-state circulation of goods contains features that fit particularly well into either pattern. Today, different perspectives are commonly used in order to provide as thorough an analysis as possible of a complex historical situation. But this approach was already evident in the ancient documents, where state interaction is viewed with aims and perspectives that vary from case to case – though it is not surprising that we never find here any unbiased, well-balanced analysis for the sake of ‘history’. The written documentation on international trade in the Late Bronze period does not consist of collections of ‘data’ but of interpretations provided by the actors.
The two basic socio-political and economic situations into which reciprocity and redistribution fit best are those represented by inter-personal or small group relationships (exchange of gifts and work, mutual aid) and administrative organization (centralization of surplus through taxation and corvée). These had already long been a part of the common experience both of the royal palaces and the population as a whole. A more complex and unusual phenomenon like inter-state trade can be understood and recorded according to either model. The palace scribes had at their disposal two solutions: either to enlarge the redistributive pattern from the properly administered inner country to include the surrounding areas, or – by viewing every state as a single person – to transfer the reciprocity pattern from its family/village context to the international setting. Obviously, the first solution was mostly adopted in