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The Political Landscape

The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities

Adam T. Smith
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 346
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  • Book Info
    The Political Landscape
    Book Description:

    How do landscapes—defined in the broadest sense to incorporate the physical contours of the built environment, the aesthetics of form, and the imaginative reflections of spatial representations—contribute to the making of politics? Shifting through the archaeological, epigraphic, and artistic remains of early complex societies, this provocative and far-reaching book is the first systematic attempt to explain the links between spatial organization and politics from an anthropological point of view. The Classic-period Maya, the kingdom of Urartu, and the cities of early southern Mesopotamia provide the focal points for this multidimensional account of human polities. Are the cities and villages in which we live and work, the lands that are woven into our senses of cultural and personal identity, and the national territories we occupy merely stages on which historical processes and political rituals are enacted? Or do the forms of buildings and streets, the evocative sensibilities of architecture and vista, the aesthetics of place conjured in art and media constitute political landscapes—broad sets of spatial practices critical to the formation, operation, and overthrow of polities, regimes, and institutions? Smith brings together contemporary theoretical developments from geography and social theory with anthropological perspectives and archaeological data to pursue these questions.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93699-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Surveying the Political Landscape
    (pp. 1-29)

    In 1928, theIllustrated London Newspublished a sensational pair of images based on C. Leonard Woolley’s excavations at the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur that seemed to capture political authority at the very instant of its reproduction.¹ The precociously cinematic illustrations depicted the tomb of Queen Puabi at a moment in the mid-third millennium b.c. when the retainers of the recently dead royal were assembled in the “Great Death Pit,” preparing to accompany the queen into the after-life.² In the first image, guards, servants, oxen, and carts are set in place around the vaulted chamber of the interred queen...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Sublimated Spaces
    (pp. 30-77)

    Charles Olson, poet and precocious postmodernist, was wrong. Although his call in 1948 to spatialize our understanding of the human past is regularly trotted out as an intellectual precursor to late-twentieth-century trends in social and literary theory, it would be difficult to argue at present that space has indeed become central to historical reflection. This is particularly the case for investigations of early complex polities—ancient political formations in which authority was predicated on radical social inequality, legitimated in reference to enduring representations of order, and vested in robust institutions of centralized governance. Despite halting movements toward geographic critiques of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Archaeologies of Political Authority
    (pp. 78-111)

    It is not coincidental that the vision of modern political analysis came to be obscured just as the spatial dimensions of human life were systematically dismissed as elements of explanation, interpretation, and critique. Only at rare moments in twentieth-century thought—when the highly abstract theoretical position afforded by the State (capitalized to reflect its universalist ambition) has receded in the face of direct accounts of the production of relationships of authority—has political life been described in explicitly spatial terms. In perhaps the most important of these accounts, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn employed a geographic trope to describe “that amazing country of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Geopolitics
    (pp. 112-148)

    InThe Rise and Fall of the Great Powers(1987), Paul Kennedy describes modern macropolitical history as a progress of successive “Great Powers” across the world stage. Such powers are born as they marshal economic and technological resources superior to their neighbors; they die, inevitably, as their commitments in the wider ecumene (particularly demands on the military apparatus) outstrip the available resources. Once proud polities fall into decline, the benefits and burdens of “greatness” are taken up by others, renewing the cycle. What endures over time, in Kennedy’s account, is the temporal axis of political development—the organic pattern of...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Polities
    (pp. 149-183)

    Perhaps the most remarkable single artifact bearing on the formation of an early complex polity is the shield-shaped slate “Palette of Narmer” that was discovered in the ruins of a temple at Hierakonpolis in the Nile River valley of southern Egypt (fig. 18). On one side of the palette, carved in low relief, a king, wearing the bulb-tipped white crown of Upper Egypt and identified by the Horus name “Narmer,” stands poised with mace in hand ready to smite a captive (perhaps a rival ruler) delivered by Horus from the Delta region of Lower Egypt (Kemp 1989: 42; Aldred 1984:...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Regimes
    (pp. 184-231)

    The urban precincts of Chichén Itzá, the first major post-Classic period (a.d. 925–1530) political center in the Yucatecan Maya lowlands, mark a significant departure from the Classic period Maya political landscape. Whereas the Classic period cities bore the personal imprint of individual rulers and dynasties in the form and aesthetics of major constructions (see chapter 3), Chichén Itzá bears the traces of a more plurally sited governmental apparatus (Stone 1999: 299). None of the pivotal events in the life of a ruler (birth, accession, death) that provided major narrative foci for Classic period monuments are recorded in early post-Classic...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Institutions
    (pp. 232-270)

    The tumult during the 1990s over the rebuilding of the Federal Chancellery in Berlin has attracted much attention because of the intense political symbolism at play both in the transfer of the seat of German government back to Berlin and in the form and aesthetics of the building itself (fig. 39a). Two elements of the design have come in for the most intense scrutiny. First, its sheer size has inspired some unease in pundits, European politicians, and architectural critics insofar as it appears to reinscribe Albert Speer’s monumental vision for the political center of an imperial Nazi Germany, or at...

  12. Conclusion: Toward a Cartography of Political Landscapes
    (pp. 271-282)

    Above a gate into his imperial city of Samarkand, the legendary Timur ordered inscribed the resounding architectonic boast “If you doubt our might—look at our buildings” (Kapuściński 1994: 77–78). Although their straightforward syntax clearly denote a politically motivated concern for the built environment, these lines conceal as much about the relationship between landscape and political authority as they reveal. We might interpret Timur’s magniloquence in a number of ways. One would be to translate the volume, energetics, or size of Samarkand’s built environment into a figure that might be compared with that of, for example, Persepolis or Anyang....

  13. References Cited
    (pp. 283-314)
  14. Index
    (pp. 315-331)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 332-332)