ASOR/EPHE-PSL European Symposium

Paris, La Sorbonne, September 4-6, 2018

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Abstracts on violence: Interaction between Violence, Order, and Conflict within the Political Sphere of Ancient Worlds

Session description

What are the justifications for human violence used by rulers in ancient Near East and neighboring regions? How was violence used and in what forms? In their book “Order, Conflict and Violence,” Stathis N. Kalyvas, Ian Shapiro and Masoud Tarek (2008) highlight the lack of integration between order, conflict and violence in the study of human behavior. What are the dynamics of order for our periods according to context? What proportion of violence was for the order? What is the part of objectivity in investigating violence? And to what extent can narrative literature and images help us to understand violence in Ancient Worlds? By questioning the interaction between violence, order, and conflict within the scope of politics, the aim of this symposium is to reassess our understanding of violence in the Ancient World from the Neolithic to the Late Antiquity periods.

Day 1: Thursday

Milesians and Saite Dynasty of Egypt

Kaan Eraslan (EPHE-PSL)

The use of greeks by the Egyptians during the turmoils of 26. Dynasty of Egypt is well attested in the documentation. The constant threat from the mesopotamian kingdoms, the interior conflicts of Egypt were two most important combinations for Egyptian kings to search for new allies. One of the results of this search was the recruitement of Milesians by the Egyptian administration. The integration of these previously lesser known people to Egyptian society changed the established order both in Egypt and in Miletus. Milesians found an opportunity to valorise their large source of organic material coming from their colonies in Black Sea region. Egyptians found soldiers and merchants to whom they can sell grain. In our view, Miletus' relation with Egypt was its key asset for prospering herself and her colonies. It motivated Milesians to found new colonies to supply the demand from Egypt. It motivated Egyptians to make large scale expeditions to Africa and enter into the field of international relations of the Mediterranaen during the Late Period as an actor.

Keywords: Ancient Egypt, Late Period, Miletus, Mediterranean Relations, Saite Dynasty


Managing violence; Creating order in the Cyrus Cylinder

Melissa Benson (University College London)

In the inscriptions of ancient Near Eastern rulers of the 1st millennium BCE, ‘order’ is effective protection against various external forces. This includes warfare, but also violent crime, famine, and dangerous beasts, among others. Rulers use their abilities in this respect as a political tool, which enhances their legitimacy. ‘Order’ and ‘violence’ therefore appear at opposite ends of a spectrum, rather than in binary opposition. In this paper, I reflect on the spectrum of order and violence in the Cyrus Cylinder and its inscription. In this foundation cylinder, presenting himself as a traditional Babylonian ruler, Cyrus states that he brought order, and peace, back to the people of Babylon after his conquest of 539 BCE. He contrasts his reign with that of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire, claims the support of Marduk, and describes several building projects he ordered in the second half of the inscription. In the first half of the inscription, ‘order’ is re-established when military activity cease and war is no longer imminent. However, this is not the absence of warfare or violence; but the effective management of it. I explore the ways that Cyrus exploits his violent potential, in line with Kalyvas et al.’s suggestion that order is not possible ‘without an actual or threatened recourse to violence.’ I highlight the centrality and dynamism of violence to the Persian imperial project, from the reign of Cyrus onwards.

Keywords: Cyrus Cylinder, Babylonia, Inscription, Order, Royal Ideology, Violence


Punishing Enemies and Creating the Assyrian World in Ashurbanipal’s Sources

Eva Miller (University of Birmingham)

This paper would examine Ashurbanipal’s narratives of his defeat and punishment of enemies, focusing particularly on the narrative sequences, written and visual, that concern the Elamite king Teumman and his allies. The representation of Teumman’s beheading and the subsequent journey of his severed head in the so-called Til-Tuba Reliefs has received considerable attention within Assyriology, for its innovative artistic and narrative techniques as well as for its intriguing treatment of an individualised enemy whose death and subsequent mutilation is given particular prominence. In my doctoral research (which I am completing now) I examine this incident and these reliefs not in isolation, but as part of a related collection of narratives in which numerous enemies are punished in a variety of ways. I conduct detailed readings of these sequences, with particular regard to the meanings of various enemy punishment, of which Teumman’s beheading is only one example. Ultimately, I argue that the representation of enemy subjugation and punishment in Assyrian art and texts worked to establish an ordered, Assyrian world. Ashurbanipal’s sources used narrative representation to ‘recreate’ events in an ‘Assyrianised’ reality: in terms of artistic style, narrative logic, and scientific and religious knowledges. I consider why enemy punishment was such a particularly fruitful theme for this endeavour of Assyrian self-definition and what this says about how Ashurbanipal and his scholars understood the Assyrian world and their own--and their enemies’--roles within it.

Keywords: Assyrian Reliefs, Enemies, Kingship, Neo-Assyria, Violence, Visual Representation


The Devasted Body : Violence in Khorsabad. Texts and Images in Dialogue

Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel (Université de Strasbourg) and Ariane Thomas (Musée du Louvre)

Sargon II, king of Assyria (721-705 BCE) built his own capital in Khorsabad, in Northern Iraq. It was named Dūr-Šarrukin (« the fortress of Sargon ») and was conceived as the centre of the political and religious power of the king. Whether it is in the royal cuneiform inscriptions of Sargon II or in the numerous reliefs from Khorsabad – and other representations which served together an overall program –, violent scenes seem to be present, and function as a tool for the royal rhetoric against the enemies of the Assyrian empire. Conceived as an interdisciplinary dialogue, the present paper will investigate two different types of sources, that is, texts and images from Khorsabad taken as a case-study. It will focus on the topic of physical and psychological violence on the human body, whether they are male, female, adults or children. Often present on the same monuments, texts and images share the same message to transmit to different audiences: the power of the Assyrian king as a protector of the cosmic order in the name of the Gods. His strength and power are expressed by his violence toward the enemies of the Assyrian power. But how does the iconographical rhetoric differ from the written one? What is the exact message transmitted thanks to these two different mediums? Who is concerned by it?

Keywords: Assyria, Body, Cuneiform Texts, Enemy, King, Reliefs


Shepherding the Land and People: Internal Control and State Violence in the Ancient Near East

Shana Zaia (University of Helsinki)

The Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires controlled large swathes of territory in the Near East over the course of the first millennium BCE. The official texts, correspondence, and archives reveal that, in order to expand and maintain hegemony, the state conducted regular acts of violence, including military campaigns and deposing local rulers due to unrest or rebellion. Perhaps less well studied is how state violence affected not the external population that was being conquered and subjugated but the internal one; that is, the methods of violence and intimidation employed by the state to ensure the loyalty and order of its own, native population. This study will examine events from the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, including such large-scale concerns as internal rebellions and the deposition of native kings and usurpers to smaller-scale cases such as imprisonment and execution of individual dissidents or enemies of the state. Juxtaposing the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires will further allow for comparisons of how state violence may intersect with identity politics, as the Assyrian kings considered their core territory to be homogeneously “Assyrian” while there was no unified “Babylonian” identity and thus the southern kings acknowledged diverse groups such as Chaldeans, Akkadians, Aramaeans, and so forth. Overall, this paper will focus not only on the act of state violence but also on local responses to it, and will shed light on how state-sanctioned violence functioned and was justified in imperial ideology in the ancient Near East.

Keywords: Local Response, Neo-Assyrian Empire, Neo-Babylonian Empire, Official Archives, Propaganda, State-sponsored Violence

Day 2: Wednesday


The Exercise of Power by Violence: the Case of the Babylonian Conquerors in the Province of Yamutbal at the Time of Hammu-rabi

Baptiste Fiette (Collège de France)

In 1763 BC, the troops of Hammu-rabi, king of Babylon (1792-1750 BC) conquered the kingdom of Larsa, in southern Mesopotamia. A new provincial administration has been established in this land henceforth called Yamutbal, with Babylonian dignitaries among high officials. Although the laws of Hammu-rabi were applied throughout his kingdom, some governors and officials abused their dominant position: they have enforced people of the new province by violence, who have been recruited into the army or employed for hard labour at the service of provincial institutions; they also ousted them of their possessions. All cases of spoliation, forced labour and forced recruitment, and more broadly of exercise of power by violence are documented by letters written in Akkadian by Hammu-rabi to Sin-iddinam, governor of the province of Yamutbal, and Šamaš-hazir, manager of the royal domain. This paper will investigate first the Akkadian vocabulary related to acts of violence, compulsion and intimidation. Secondly it will focus on forms of institutional violence exercised by royal dignitaries over the population of a conquered land, and reactions of the king as guardian of justice and order in his kingdom. Thirdly, it will interrogate the distance between royal power (exercised since the capital Babylon) and local power (exercised by its representatives, physically present in the province of Yamutbal), as a source of abusive institutional violence.

Keywords: Conquest, Hammu-rabi, Institutional Violence, Justice, Larsa, Old Babylonian Period


When Violence is Legalized: the Nuances of Violence in Old-Babylonian Society

Franscesca Nebiolo (EPHE-PSL)

Violence is an expression of society. In particular circumstances, violence becomes a legitimate and codified means for the maintenance of legal order, whether it is actually exercised or only feared. In Mesopotamian jurisprudence violence as a means of punishment assumed different forms, not only in relation to the committed crime, but also to the desired impact on society. In addition to the punishments provided by the Hammurabi Code, probably one of the most modern pre-classical codes (death penalty, mutilations...), the Old-Babylonian literature presents several punishments using both physical and moral violence. The transgression of an oath which concluded a legal document was not only judged and punished by the divine authority; the sanction imposed by the society, when previously fixed by the clauses, used a kind of violence with a strong psychological connotation (partial shaving of the head, punishment through bitumen, etc ...). The violence of these punishments produces a strong humiliation for the individual that turns into a social warning. It is a violence "of right", authorized by the law and thus accepted. The acceptance of violence as "due" also appears in the self-curses all across the textual sources. This violent punishment invoked by the individual is legitimized by possible fault and it exists as a devastating power that, in self-curses, can be extended to the offspring.

Keywords: Curses, Humiliation, Mesopotamian Law, Moral, Punishment, Violence


Violent Deaths: Political and Religious Justifications, According to Few Akkadian Texts (2nd Millennium BC)

Virginie Muller (Laboratoire Archéorient (UMR 5133) - Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée - Lyon)

This paper deals with how and why violent deaths were used and justified, in some specific cases, by the political sphere, according to various Akkadian texts from the 2nd millennium BC (letters, law codes, omens). The texts mention the violent death of various characters (allies, vassals, ordinary citizens, etc), whose actions have disrupt the political order or its organization. Breaking an alliance, instigating a rebellion, a treason or a plot could be such actions. Not only did such threats have serious political involvements, but they also included a religious dimension. On one side, these acts directly harmed the ruler, who is the gods’ representative on Earth and the guarantor of the world order. On the other side, a sworn oath, which linked most of these protagonists to the ruling power, involved deities. The violence, and its paroxysm the death, were thus used against those people who committed perjuries, sacrileges and other kinds of rebellions. What forms could these violent deaths take on? How did they serve as a strategy for the ruling power, by putting an end to these damaging intrigues, while being used as a deterrent example? More importantly, how and why were these violent acts and these killings justified in the texts? Indeed they seem to indicate that, besides the direct political sanction, these violent deaths were often attributed to the gods’ intervention, thus legitimizing the use of violence.

Keywords: Divine Punishment, Perjury, Sacrilege, Sovereignty and Political Organization, Treason, Violent Death


Rhetoric of Violence: Dealing with Patterns of Meaning. The Case of the Hebrew Root YRŠ

Régine Hunziker-Rodewald (Université de Strasbourg)

One of the main loci of violence in the Hebrew Bible is the tradition of the Promised Land. It is supposed to be God’s gift to Israel, but what happens to the previous occupants? The main Hebrew verb used in these contexts is YRŠ hi. meaning “to assign inheritance, dispossess, drive out, destroy”, which in ancient and modern translations, depending on the ideology of the translator and the syntactic analysis derived from it, is associated with hidden or overtly expressed God-sanctioned violence. It is not a new insight that the meaning and use (to be distinguished from “usage”) of a lemma are directly correlated, but how can features like subject and object, the use of prepositions, collocations and synonyms/antonyms meet the need of a context? These details matter mainly on a sentence level. But, for example, for the translation of Jg 11:24, it is of utmost importance to consider the argumentation developed in Jg 11:19-23, especially in v.21. Lexicographers and translators who do not take into account text cohesion and text syntax continue guessing its meaning and translation - with implications for the targeted use of the Bible in the context of theological and/or political argumentations.

Keywords: Hebrew Bible, Meaning, Rhetoric, Text Syntax, Theology, Translation


Crime and Punishment and the Performance of Violence in Mesopotamia

Martha T. Roth (University of Chicago)

Walter Benjamin's 1921 essay “Zur Kritik der Gewalt” (“Critique of Violence”) identified three categories of intrastate violence: law-preserving violence that is harnessed by the state in efforts to support its own continuation (such as penal codes); law-making violence that creates new law within the state (such as strikes or revolutions); and mythic (or divine) violence that asserts the power of a higher or divine law in the furtherance and support of the state's interests. For this paper, my work on "crimes and punishments" in ancient Mesopotamia focuses primarily on the late third and early second millennium law collections and on the documents from the practice of law (contracts, disputes, trial records, etc.) to explore the first category: law-preserving violence perpetrated by the state on its own members and inflicted in order to further the state's authority and position. Thus (a) through the regulation of penalties and punishments, the state curbs its citizens' use of self-help and private vengeance, practices that dilute central authority; and furthermore, (b) through the public imposition of corporal punishments and the attending rituals and paraphernalia of oaths and ordeals, the state enacts performative violence that simultaneously targets the wrong-doer and also presents warnings for others who might breach society's approved norms.

Keywords: Corporal punishment, Hammurabi, Oath, Old Babylonian, Ordeal, Talion, Vengeance


The Combat Myth: Finding One's True Self Through Violence Against the Enemy

Teodora Costache (EPHE-PSL)

In the Assyrian Empire, war is perceived as a factor of civilization ; the Assyrians define themselves in opposition with other populations. The geographic disposition of the Empire privileged the development of an antagonism towards the foreigner, due to the idea that the interior of the Empire is cultivated, well-structured, whereas the exterior is populated by uncultivated, savage, and chaotic populations. For certain, war in Mesopotamia is an organized and rational violence, being listed among the MEs of civilization, assuring the legitimacy much needed by the Assyrian kings. The combat myth, and the iconography attached to it, present the royal idea that the strangers are bad, and they represent a danger, that has to be exterminated by the king, the human correspondent of the gods. The way the monsters are described in the mythological compositions parallel the one that describes the strangers and enemies. The Assyrian art uses this motif recurrently ; the image of the tortured and decapitated enemy, becomes the symbol of his defeat, of the Otherness, but most importantly, the symbol of the victorious Assyrians. The combat myth, and the battle in general, can also be perceived as a rite of passage. Despite the gruesomeness of the war, diffused via the literary and iconographic means, there is another aspect that hasn’t been emphasized : the metaphysical one. It has a very esoteric aspect, standing alone as a bildungsroman. It is through violence against the enemy that one can find his true self, and can restore the desired peace.

Keywords: Civilization, Dichotomy, Enemy, Order, Ritual, Violence

Day 3: Thursday

Wuthering Gods. Power and “Fair” Violence in Ancient Mesopotamia

Ilaria Calini (EPHE-PSL)

Mesopotamian mythology provides several examples of narratives showing the dialogic relation between the violent disruption and the reshaping of the world. The case of the Storm-God and its multiple expressions is particularly significant to this extent. Attested since the third millennium BC and then declined in a broad range of divine configurations according to different times and places, the various forms of the Storm-God are nonetheless always marked by destructive aspects associated with the control of atmospheric forces, notably winds, thunder and rain. This paper aims to pinpoint the intrinsically “conflictual” nature which characterises this deity’s modality of action, and to relate it with the ideology of royal power in ancient Mesopotamia. Indeed, Mesopotamian intellectual elites use the mythical struggles of the Storm-God mastering earth and waters through a violent conflict to model the literary representation of the royal function, thus exalting the key function of the sovereign in the disruption and recreation of a balance in the world. In this way, the royal legitimacy to control society is based on the necessity of a “fair” violence, so as to establish the right social, political and ultimately cosmic order.

Keywords: Divine Violence, Mesopotamian Mythology, Royal Ideology, Storm-God


The Ugaritic Chaoskampf Myth and Egypto-Hittite Political Relations in Late Bronze Age

Joanna Töyräänvuori (University of Helsinki)

While the story of the Ugaritic Baal Cycle has traditionally been interpreted either in terms of natural phenomena or as the triumph of order out of primordial chaos, new views have also reflected its contents on the historical situation of the city of Ugarit in the tug-of-war between the Egyptian and Hittite empires in Late Bronze Age. Recently, the interpersonal relationships of the gods in the story have also been used to garner information on the political landscape of the era, especially of the Ugaritic vassalage under the Hittites, functioning as a critical commentary on the prevailing political order. But as the story contains aspects of the timeless and very little in the way of historical detail, being itself an iteration of a myth that has its origins in the Amorite Kingdom period, its usefulness in recreating real world political tensions must be questioned, especially in light of the difficulty in dating the Ugaritic story. This paper suggests that while the myth may incidentally reflect the history and political situation of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age, its main function was in the legitimation of established power relationships and in the resolution of the crisis of monarchy itself.

Keywords: Bronze Age, Chaos and Order, Chaoskampf, Egypt, Hittite, Ugarit


War in Heaven: the Ugaritian Ideology of Warfare as Reflected in the Composition of Ilimilku's Baal Cycle

Nicolas Wyatt (University of Edinburgh)

This paper examines the ideology of warfare as reflected in the work of the Ilimilku, court official, scribe and poet. The Baal Cycle was composed ca 1210 to mark the completion of the reconstruction of the temple of Baal following the earthquake and tsunami of ca 1250 BC. The ancient “Chaoskampf” trope, an ideological and mythically-framed template for the theory of real war (as described epically if hyperbolically in Kirta), was the idiom used to shape the narrative. The paper attempts to show that Ilimilku skilfully wove narrative and ritual elements to demonstrate the cosmogonic theory underlying temple-construction. The death of Niqmaddu IV and accession of ʿAmmurapi II (in the same year, ca 1210) were also mythologized in the narrative of Baal’s fight with Mot. The paper also touches on the analytical work of Zainab Bahrani, Rituals of War (2008), which offers new insights.

Keywords: Baal Cycle, Chaoskampf, Ilimilku, Seismic Event, Ugarit, Warfare

Violence as Justice

Stephen Sumner (University of Chicago)

The images of Yahweh in the Psalter provide fertile ground for the elucidation of violence and warfare in ancient Israel. The psalms reveal the biblical rationale for violence and warfare more clearly and more decisively than other biblical texts. In the Psalter, Yahweh regularly defends the cause of the afflicted as divine judge, then executes his verdicts as divine warrior and with lethal force. The paradigm of justice through violence is realized in the Enneateuch in which Yahweh fights for Israel and against enemies who are deserving of punishment. Individual, cultic, and national violence was construed as purging the land of the wicked, evil, and profane; they are all cultic categories. Israel itself was spewed out of the land for the same reasons. The Psalter, as a text likely complied by temple scribes and Levitical circles, implicates the cultic aristocracy in propagating this theology of violence and, more specifically, warfare.

Keywords: Divine Warrior, Justice, Priests, Psalms, Warfare


The Destruction of Cities and the Construction of Power: A View from the Southern Levant in the Bronze and Iron Ages

Igor Kreimerman (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Destruction layers – usually represented by structures covered with mud brick collapse, ash, charcoal and broken pottery – dominate the stratigraphy of the major occupation mounds in the Southern Levant. An examination of destruction layers from the Early Bronze Age until the Iron Age shows that not all cities were destroyed in the same manner. Although each destruction has its own complexity, several types of destruction, recurring in many sites and periods, can be discerned. This suggests that the destruction of a city was not a necessary outcome of conquest but rather a well-planned rational decision taken some time after the city was conquered and aimed at achieving political goals. Consequently, the treatment of conquered cities and the local non-combatant population could give valuable insights into the decision-making process of the conqueror. The current paper will examine one such “destruction strategy” – the burning of the entire city. It appears that with very few exceptions, whenever a city was completely burned it was also abandoned for decades. There is both archaeological and modern evidence for the reconstruction of burned cities according to the same layout, indicating that the burning of a city does not necessarily entail its abandonment. Thus, the above correlation is far from obvious. Archaeological and written sources from the Bronze and Iron Ages Southern Levant would be used to explain this correlation and the use of this destruction strategy in processes of conquest and state formation.

Keywords: Bronze Age, Conquest, Destruction, Iron Age, Levant, State-formation


Rebellion, Repression and Political Survival in Ancient Near East. A Game-Theoretic Approach

Sanna Nurmikko-Metsola (Brunel University London)

Violence can be argued to be a powerful tool in securing and maintaining political power. In this interdisciplinary paper, a game-theoretical model is used to evaluate the role which the threat and/or use of violence has in the maintenance of control of a population, particularly as a response to rebellion by groups opposed to the incumbent regime. We are interested in analysing the (economic, social and political) circumstances under which rebellion and its suppression emerged and how these conflicts affected survival of political leaders who may have relied on the support of the military in crushing dissent. The strategic interaction between the military and the incumbent is therefore essential to the examination of political survival. As a further point of analysis we are interested in how incidences of conflict shaped political institutions more generally. The model is motivated by assyriological data on violence. We use this data and the model to analyse the possible options for maintenance of power that repression of the political opposition with the support of the military may enable.

Keywords: Conflict, Game Theory, Military, Political Power, Rebellion, Repression


Persecution of Zindiqs in the ʿAbbasid Period: A Legacy of the Sasanian Period, or a New Form of State Violence?

Pavel Basharin (Russian State University for the Humanities)

The term zindīq was used in Sasanian Iran for the adherents of some communities, which were close to official Zoroastrianism like Mazdakites. These communities opposed their interpretation of Awesta (zand) to the official doctrine and therefore were persecuted by Sasanian powers. ʿAbbasid powers took this term in the 8th century. The ʿAbbāsids used this name for followers of numerous dualistic groups, which shared some ideas of these communities like khurramiyya groups (followers of Sunbād, Abū Muslim, and Bābāk). These doctrines relied on mixing Shīʿī extremists’ ideas and on remaining «heretical» movements of the Sasanian Empire like Manichaeans and Mazdakites. The name zindīq used for all adherents of dualism. Some centres of dualistic ideas were developed in Mesopotamia in the 8th century (especially in the ports). Jaʿd b. Dirham (d. 124/742), a founder of the doctrine of the doctrine of the createdness of the Qurʾān, was the first heretic to be hanged on charges of heresy. The purposeful persecutions of the opposition forces started in 163/779 in the time of Caliph al-Mahdī. The institution of mihna (trial) used for their detection. The remarkable poet Bashshār b. Burd, who asserted the doctrine about the nature of Satan, and Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAbd al-Quddūs, an adherent of dualistic ideas, were proclaimed the zindīqs and were executed in 167/783. ʿAbbāsids inherited a form of government from Sasanian kings. A lot of their statesmen were the heirs of the Zoroastrian aristocracy. Can we say about continuity of state violence in this case?

Keywords: ʿAbbāsids, Dualism, Mazdakites, Sasanian Power, Zindiqs


A Remedy for Violence in the Middle East : The Thousand and One Nights of Scheherazade

Soraya Ayouch (EPHE-PSL)

In a souk in Bagdad, I once heard children listening to stories of the Arabian Nights. They were calm, in peace, listening and reading with passion. The contrast couldn't be greater with the children we see in the violence of the intifada. Could these stories contain the key to a solution for violence in the Middle East? The Arabian Nights themselves trace a history of events in this region. Recall the plot of these tales known to all: A princess, Scheherazade, held by the claws of a king who has become bloodthirsty and violent after seeing a vision of his adulterous wife. What are the justifications for violence used by rulers in the ancient Midde East and in neighboring regions? How was violence used, in what forms? But listening to the stories Sheherazade tells in the Thousand and One Nights, the king calms down and changes the course of destiny. And the transmission of life becomes possible again. What, then, is the essence of these stories that succeeded in transforming the course of destiny, and made the women of a generation no longer suffer the fury of the king? We will discuss some of these stories to highlight their particularities.

Keywords: Arabian Night, King, Scheherazade, Solution, Stories, Transmission of Life