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Uprooting people, rooting the state: forced movement and building programs in ancient Assyria
Even a passing familiarity with current events will tell you that state-controlled regulation of bodies through the landscape is a topic of pressing concern in today’s world. Immigration reform, border controls, heightened security measures for international travel—all attest to the state’s prominent, often tangible, role in monitoring the movement of people across boundaries and through territories. Yet, scholars of the ancient Near East have invested relatively little effort in questioning how and why the state, embodied in the king, literally created and mobilized a cultural landscape of relocated and relocating peoples. My paper will explore the “mass deportation” of populations during the Neo-Assyrian empire, particularly during the reign of Sennacherib.
These forced movements of large groups of people throughout the Neo-Assyrian empire have traditionally been interpreted by scholars based exclusively on textual evidence, which is often interpreted literally and uncritically. However, I wish to argue that these texts should be understood, at least in part, as royal rhetoric, while the forced migrations should be conceptualized as a state practice that was materialized in state spectacle. Thus, while I will rely on textual evidence, because it is available, I also want to think about how to incorporate material evidence into this analysis. Consequently, I intend to investigate the monumental architecture attributed to the Neo-Assyrian rulers as one material manifestation of the state’s movement of people within its geographic territory. I argue that these building programs are important and relevant because: (1) they were often built by conscripted labor forces composed of uprooted peoples; (2) the products of these activities leave enduring forms of material culture in roads and buildings for archaeologists to study; and (3) the building process, and the movement of people more generally, were depicted on public and monumental art, underscoring the ultimately spectacular and rhetorical function of the mass deportations. I ground these discussions with an overarching concern for the concept of rootedness and uprootedness, which has a long history in anthropological studies of migration but which has not received much attention archaeologically.
(Very) Preliminary Bibliography:
Apter, Emily. 1999. Continental Drift: From National Characters to Virtual Subjects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Oded, Bustenay. 1979. Mass Deportations and Deportees in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. WiesbadenL Reichert.
Russell, John Malcolm. 1987. Bulls for the Palace and Order in the Empire: The Sculptural Program of Sennacherib’s Court VI at Nineveh. The Art Bulletin 69(4):520-539.
------. 1992. Sennacherib’s “Palace without Rival” at Nineveh. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
------. 1999. The Writing on the Walls: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
Silverstein, Paul A. 2004. Of Rooting and Uprooting: Kabyle Habitus, Domseticity, and Structural Nostalgia. Ethnography 5(4):553-578.