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Many thanks to all of those who agreed sometimes under duress to read and comment on chapters of the manuscript, particularly Andrew Drabkin, Brian Hughes, Kevin Reilly, and Jill Weber. Joanne Baron, Paul Kosmin, and Glenn Schwartz were kind enough to share their manuscripts with me, and Irene Winter and Piotr Michalowski helped me think through some of the complexities of Seleucid Babylonia when I presented some of this in Copenhagen in I am also grateful to Lev Feigin, who helped me to reconceptualize ritual and religion as I revised xi xii Acknowledgments this manuscript.
Let me also express gratitude to Robert McC. Dyson Jr. Additionally, I would like to thank Kelsey Cloonan, Lara Fabian, and Monica Fenton for their help preparing the images — particularly Lara, who devoted two very hot days to this task during Ramadan in Erbil. I also owe a considerable debt to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism.
Some of the ideas presented in this book have been previously published elsewhere. The students in my courses on the Achaemenid Empire and Its Hellenistic Aftermath; Performance, Ritual, Space, and Politics; and the Archaeology of Syria were instrumental in shaping many of the ideas expressed here.
And my friends in Philadelphia reminded me that there was more to life than Mesopotamian archaeology. I would also like to thank the many people who put up with me while I was devoting most of my attention to this manuscript.
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I owe my parents in particular an enormous amount for their unstinting encouragement, even when I chose to do seemingly crazy things, like excavating in Syria, Azerbaijan, and Iraq. I dedicate this book to them. The primacy of Mesopotamia — its cities are the earliest known in the world, its scribes developed writing centuries before it emerged elsewhere — has led historians and archaeologists worldwide to use it as the paradigmatic case of state formation.
The time frame under consideration has also broadened, with some scholars now focusing on later second-millennium polities as well Yoffee ; Schwartz and Nichols ; Laneri et al. But for the most part, the literature has glossed over the cultural and ideological changes that accompanied the rise of Mesopotamian polities.
I will argue that the inhabitants of Mesopotamian polities — including villages, city-states, kingdoms, and empires — created a sense of political belonging through ritual and daily practice. But there has been little attention to the processes that gave rise to this imagining in ancient contexts in general and in the Near East in particular. How did the inhabitants of different Near Eastern village and urban communities with distinctive identities, histories, and expectations come to share a new idea of the polity and their places within it?
In the ancient Near East, ritual performance was not set apart from the real practice of politics; it was politics. Ritual provided a space and means for sovereignty to be both created and debated. Priests, kings, and ordinary citizens used festivals to negotiate, establish, and contest political power.
Indeed, ritual was one of the main techniques that individuals used to create political communities and establish a framework for belonging. The performance of rituals allowed both elites and nonelites to negotiate the long-standing tensions that allowed for and simultaneously threatened early polities. Daily practices — walking through the city, making pottery, composing administrative texts — cemented the political and social realities of these societies. These analyses are not wholly distinct; each considers Mesopotamian polities during a period of crisis and transformation.
Similarly, each study draws upon landscape archaeology and excavated remains, including cuneiform texts, to trace these processes.
Ritual, Performance, and Politics in the Ancient Near East
Ritual tends to be dismissed as arcane and exotic, at best a colorful mask for the real process of politics. Most political analysis ignores the symbolic and the ritual as something entirely apart from the more respectable analytical spheres of economy and society. Nonetheless, even in contemporary politics, rituals — political conventions, protest marches, stump speeches, and the pledge of allegiance — create a powerful political reality, a process that a growing number of political scientists and cultural sociologists now investigate Kertzer ; Alexander ; Alexander et al.
By employing the creative power of liminality, these events can integrate opposing cultural or social systems, and can facilitate transitions between separate social orders. In short, performance is an essential aspect of both ancient and modern politics. Even if historians are willing to concede the importance of ritual and religion, most archaeologists ignore them due to a pervasive belief that these processes have no material signature and hence are not susceptible to archaeological investigation.
But ritual and politics are realized through the physical world, making an analysis of material culture necessary to understanding their operation. Social and political life is constituted by the daily decisions and actions of people, and these actions take place within a world of things.
But once created, these objects both allow for and limit later activities. This is obviously true of relationships characterized by persistent inequality. If these were only established through social skills — through conversation, negotiation, and persuasion — they would be very transient.
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The stories illuminate how the three concepts that I will consider later — movement, memory, and tradition — have been important in the negotiation of political identity. Although only two of these narratives are archaeological sensu stricto, they all indicate the importance of materiality.
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They illustrate that despite their seeming evanescence, political performances are only effective when expressed through things. These tales will set the stage, so to speak, for a more in-depth exploration of performance and politics in Mesopotamia. Every head of state was invited to the ceremony, which was celebrated at the archaeological sites of Pasargadae and Persepolis near Shiraz. In preparation for the event, Performing Politics engineers worked overtime to renovate the Shiraz airport and pave the road to Persepolis, while the Hessarek Institute launched a campaign to kill all the snakes and scorpions found within 30 km of the ruins so that the eminent guests would be in no danger.
Cyrus [,]. Sleep in peace forever, for we are awake and we remain to watch over your glorious heritage. But the central importance of the pre-Islamic past was never forgotten. Like much of the celebration, the parade was televised and broadcast to the world. Clearly Khomeini interpreted history rather differently than the shah. Within this alternative political vision, an Islamic past provided an ideal setting for rituals of resistance. Textbooks dated the origins of the Persian monarchy to the Median period — BC , but represented Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, as its true ancestor.
This narrative of the nation continued to frame the history of the Islamic period, which stressed the unique contributions that Iranians had made to Islam. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the republican government quickly commissioned new books so that schools could transform children into model citizens of the Islamic republic. Similarly, from to , there were excavations at twenty-six Iron Age and Achaemenid period sites Azarnoush and Helwing — The various interpretations of history in Iran, and the ways that the state has mobilized these narratives, are complicated.
The return of the Achaemenids to classrooms and archaeological research agenda has been part of a transformation of Iranian political and national identity that developed in the Islamic Republic subsequent to the rejection of these themes in the s.