BMCR 2008.05.03

Representations of Political Power. Case Histories of Change and Dissolving Order in the Ancient Near East

, , Representations of political power : case histories from times of change and dissolving order in the ancient Near East. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007. 1 online resource (xii, 212 pages) : illustrations, map, plans. ISBN 9781575065830 $39.50.

Table of Contents

This book is a collection of eight articles structured around the core theme of changing political systems in the Ancient Near East. The period covered ranges from the third millennium B.C. to the establishment of the Persian Empire. These eight articles cover a range of disciplines, from archaeology to political history, and are grouped in three sections, along with an introductory tract.

The first section of the introduction (pages 1-18) provides the reader with a breakdown of the three different sections of the book: ‘the Reestablishment of Order after Major Disruption’, ‘Changing Order from Within’ and ‘Perceptions of New Order’, and presents a short breakdown of the aspects that the editors believe fall into each category. However, each section only receives a page to a page and a half and the reader is left wanting a fuller discussion of some of the broader themes. The other half of the introduction comes under the heading of ‘Organisation and Summary of Contributions’, which strikes the reader as a forced attempt to justify which articles go within which sections. The summary of the articles also seems forced, especially since the reader has not had the chance to engage with the actual articles yet. Overall the introduction leaves the reader with the impression that the following chapters are a disparate group desperately looking for a central theme.

Section One, the ‘Reestablishment of Order after Major Disruption’, contains three articles, covering the Hittite, Akkadian and Levantine Kingdoms. There are no further arguments given to the wider themes contained within these articles, and the reader is left wondering whether the ‘Reestablishment of Order’ is the best theme to start the book with.

Chapter One, ‘Emar and the Transition from Hurrian to Hittite Power’, by Regine Pruzsinszky, is a short article (pages 21-33, including appendices and bibliography) which takes the form of a case study on the city of Emar and the effects on it of its incorporation into the Mittani and then Hittite kingdoms. The article is an interesting case study of the effects of being incorporated into a larger empire on an ancient city’s institutions, and provides a good snapshot into possible Mittanian and Hittite imperial practises. It is supported by a one-page index and a three-page bibliography. It must be noted that each of the chapters in this book features a similar-sized bibliography, which proves to be an effective research tool.

Chapter Two, ‘Frescoes, Exotica, and the Reinvention of the Northern Levantine Kingdoms during the Second Millennium B.C.E.’, by Marian H. Feldman (one of the co-editors), keeps to the same chronological period (2nd millennium B.C.) and contrasts nicely with the first chapter by taking a broader perspective on the effects of change across a range of sites, through the use of wall and floor paintings. This chapter is a lengthier one (pages 39-65) and allows the reader to engage more closely with the evidence, and is again supported by an excellent five-page bibliography.

Chapter Three, ‘Sargon of Akkad: Rebel and Usurper in Kish’, by Marlies Heinz, (the other co-editor) is again a contrast to the first two chapters and focuses on an analysis of the reign of Sargon of Akkad and the establishment of the Akkadian Kingdom in the late third millennium B.C. This chapter is an excellent one and provides an insightful analysis of the reign of Sargon and the methods he used to establish his reign. It is again supported well by a detailed bibliography.

After the first three chapters, the book turns to section two on ‘Changing Order from Within’, which contains three varied chapters. The section starts off with chapter Four on ‘The Royal Cemetery of Ur: Ritual, Tradition, and the Creation of Subjects’, by Susan Pollock. As the name suggests this chapter takes an archaeological view of the issues surrounding political change and focuses on issues surrounding the growth of hereditary kingship. The chapter has a good cohesive argument and comes to some interesting conclusions and balances the first section well.

Chapter Five is another excellent one: ‘The Divine Image of the King: Religious Representation of Political Power in the Hittite Empire’, by Dominik Bonatz. This chapter provides an analysis of the various religious aspects surrounding Hittite kingship and their importance in Hittite society and the wider Near East, and makes an important contribution to the study of the Hittites. This section concludes with chapter six; ‘Nabonidus the Mad King; A Reconsideration of His Steles from Harran and Babylon’, by Paul-Alain Beaulieu. This article is another excellent one which analyses the reign of Babylon’s last king and not only presents an insightful analysis of the king himself, but also tackles key questions surrounding the fall of Babylon and the wider issues concerning the historiographical treatment of rulers whose empires fall, in the years afterwards.

Although both chapters five and six are excellent studies in their own right, the reader is again left with the feeling that there is little cohesion to the section as a whole. This feeling is only increased by section three, which contains only two chapters. The third and final section is entitled ‘Perceptions of a New Order’ and contains two highly mismatched chapters. Chapter seven is again another excellent one: ‘Cyrus the Great of Persia; Image sand Realities’ by Amélie Kuhrt. This chapter tackles the crucial issues surrounding the formation of the Persian Empire and how this process has been depicted or manipulated in our sources. As such it is an important addition to the field of Persian studies.

Oddly this chapter is followed by a short one on ‘The Migration and Sedentarization of the Amorites from the point of View of the Settled Babylonian Population’, by Brit Jahn. Following a lengthy and perceptive discussion of Cyrus with this chapter is baffling to say the least. Finishing the book with the Cyrus chapter would present a logical end to the work, both in terms of topic and chronology; the creation of the Persian Empire marks a clear turning point in political ruling structures as well as the Ancient Near East in general. Furthermore, in terms of scholarship, chapter seven is probably the finest and the one that will make the greatest impact. Yet Chapter Eight returns the reader to the late third millennium B.C. for a short discussion (pages 196-209) of the Amorite migration and the source problems related to it. After which the book comes to an abrupt halt.

Section Three appears to sum the book up nicely. It contains some excellent historical analysis and makes an important contribution to the study of the Ancient Near East, yet the reader is left wondering about the overall structure of the work and the key wider issues. Whilst it contains a number of interesting and important articles, the whole work does not appear to hold together. The three sections strike the reader as oddly conceived and the chapters within fit oddly. The appearance is that the eight chapters were written first and then the book’s structure was fitted around them.

Thus, in summary, for anyone with an interest in the history of the Ancient Near East, this work contains several important and thought-provoking articles, which merits the reading of the whole. They are ably supported by good bibliographies on each section for further reading. However as an overall work on the theory of political change it falls short.