State Formation, Part 1: Premodern States Reconsidered

AHA Session 224
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1C (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
J. G. Manning, Yale University

Session Abstract

Much has been written about “ancient,” “archaic” or “premodern” states. This work describes individual states; analyzes relationships among states, and offers theoretically informed comparative studies such as Feinman and Blanton, Archaic States (Sante Fe, 1998), who suggested that we can only advance by understanding ancient polities along multiple scales from household to the macroscale. But what made these polities “states” in the first place? How was social power structured? By what methods might we examine this terrain? Traditionally ancient historians tended to avoid both comparison and social theory: polities were either city-states or empires and that was all that needed saying. This has changed dramatically in the last twenty years.

The emphasis now is on the heterogeneity of premodern polities. Did all premodern empires, for example, share the same traits? How did ancient empires differ from each other and from Medieval, Early Modern ones, or nation-states? Did nationalism, for example, exist in the ancient world? What were the connections between social networks and central political power? That has been a major and contentious issue for some time. How does a comparative historical framework help? This panel brings together experts in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Early Modern European and Chinese history as well as historical sociologists, and a population biologist, to reconsider structure and dynamics of ancient polities, the determinants of state size and durability, and how we can best understand social complexity and social dynamics within pre-modern states.

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