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Imperial Matter

Imperial Matter: Ancient Persia and the Archaeology of Empires OPEN ACCESS

Lori Khatchadourian
Copyright Date: 2016
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    Imperial Matter
    Book Description:

    What is the role of the material world in shaping the tensions and paradoxes of imperial sovereignty? Scholars have long shed light on the complex processes of conquest, extraction, and colonialism under imperial rule. But imperialism has usually been cast as an exclusively human drama, one in which the world of matter does not play an active role. Lori Khatchadourian argues instead thatthings-from everyday objects to monumental buildings - profoundly shape social and political life under empire. Out of the archaeology of ancient Persia and the South Caucasus,Imperial Matteradvances powerful new analytical approaches to the study of imperialism writ large and should be read by scholars working on empire across the humanities and social sciences.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96495-2
    Subjects: Archaeology
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. xix-xxxviii)

    An old and obscure word has recently acquired new currency in the lexicon of contemporary world politics, summoning the attention of anyone who follows the matter of empire. By all accounts, we live in an age of peculiar political entities that go by the names “satrap” and “satrapy.” If the words sound archaic and only vaguely English, it is because they are. To locate their origins is to traverse over two and a half millennia of human history, and arrive at the earliest imperial formations of ancient Persia. Yet these arcane political entities are apparently still among us, in an...

    • (pp. 1-24)

      In his celebrated epic poem theShahnameh, the Persian poet Ferdowsi put to verse a history of the kings of Persia whose mythical beginnings establish in no uncertain terms the infrangible link between the material devices of work and war and the just and good imperial sovereign. Hushang, the second mythical king of yore, who took to the throne after defeating a horde of black demons, inadvertently discovers fire while attempting to strike a snake with a piece of flint. Missing the target, the flint instead hits a nearby stone, producing a spark, which leads first to Hushang’s discovery of...

    • (pp. 25-50)

      The question of how to reckon with the detritus of empire is by no means a uniquely modern one. No sooner did the dust settle on old Rome than thethingsof empire came into focus as a matter of concern in the West. In town and country alike, during the sixth and seventh centuries A.D., for those who lived amid the debris of Roman dominion decisions had to be made on how to deal with the clutter of old power. In the ruins of imperium some saw only the promise of treasure, others a useful stock of processed raw...

    • (pp. 51-78)

      Between 1801 and the 1890s, the production and consumption of soap in Britain increased exponentially, from barely 25,000 to as much as 260,000 tons per year. Manufacture and marketing of this everyday substance developed into an imperial commerce that pushed Victorian cleaning habits to the farthest colonized corners of the globe, just as it brought images of empire into the most intimate spaces of British homes (McClintock 1995: 209–210). In a wide-ranging study of gender, race, and class in imperial Britain, Anne McClintock has shown how advertising campaigns for the mass-produced Pears’ soap (figure 11) contributed to a larger...

    • (pp. 81-117)

      Among the earliest extant documents in the archive of ancient Persia is an astonishing disclosure on the acquisition of material captives and their transformation into dutiful delegates. The text is the work of the charismatic king Darius, who, soon after assuming the throne in the year 521 B.C., saw to the distribution of a number of inscriptions across the buildings of Susa, an imperial center that covers approximately one square kilometer in the lowland plains of southwestern Iran’s Khuzistan Province (figure 12). Some of the texts were written on clay tablets and likely buried in the foundations, others were stamped...

    • (pp. 118-152)

      Alexei Ermolov, the infamous Russian general who ruthlessly brought the Caucasus to heel in the early nineteenth century, understood all too well that peoples of the mountains can at times be rather proficient at what James Scott (2009) has called “the art of not being governed.” From the days of Pushkin to the era of Putin, Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus takes its place in the annals of imperialism as an exceptionally protracted affair. It provides but one example of how expansionary projects of rule sometimes stumble in their attempts to subdue and make legible geographically difficult zones in the...

    • (pp. 153-193)

      As the British archaeologist and diplomat Austin Henry Layard observed during his journey through Ottoman Anatolia in 1849, even the most ordinary constituents of the material world can play a part in the making of satrapal conditions. While passing through the governorate of Erzurum on his overland travels from the Black Sea port of Trebizond to Mosul (where he would resume his famed excavations at Nineveh), Layard encountered a number of humble mountain villages whose peculiar style of vernacular architecture caught his attention. He described the dwellings as “low hovels, mere holes in the hill-side, and the common refuge of...

  4. (pp. 194-204)

    This book began with the observation that contemporary geopolitics has given rise to forms of expansionary power that seem to elude conventional analytics, but that concepts of empire derived from ancient Persia can provide more than the satirical insinuation of hauntingly resurgent “oriental” approaches from the hoary past. An in-depth examination of the sematic field surrounding a millennia-old word that has come down to us as “satrapy” revealed an early material theory of imperial sovereignty, tantalizingly discernable across a range of ancient Persian cultural production. This was intended less as an exercise in historical ethnography, than an effort to investigate...