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Democracy's Ancient Ancestors
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  • Page extent: 390 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.74 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 939/.43
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: DS99.M3 F54 2004
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Mari (Extinct city)--Politics and government

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521828857 | ISBN-10: 0521828856)

Democracy's Ancient Ancestors examines the political landscape of the ancient Near East through the archive of over 3000 letters found in the royal palace of Mari. These letters display a rich diversity of political actors, encompassing major kingdoms, smaller states and various tribal towns. Mari's unique contribution to the ancient evidence is its view of tribal organization, made possible especially by the fact that its king Zimri-Lim was first of all a tribal ruler, who claimed Mari as an administrative base and source of prestige. These archaic political traditions are not essentially unlike the forms of pre-democratic Greece, and they offer fresh reason to recognize a cultural continuity between the classical world of the Aegean and the older Near East. This book bridges several areas of interest, including archaeology, ancient and classical history, early Middle and Near East, and political and social history.

• Offers a rare application of the massive written evidence from ancient Mesopotamia to broad questions that occupy social historians • Shows how resilient tribal and town leadership could survive by adapting to the innovation of royal authority • Offers a provocative historical context for understanding the cultural backdrop of the Greek invention of democracy


Preface; Part I. Introduction: 1. The Mari texts; 2. A survey of Mari history; 3. The Mari archives and political history; 4. A text-based study: comments on methodology; Part II. The Tribal World of Zimri-Lim: 5. Tribally organized pastoralists and the Amorrites; 6. The primary constituents of the confederacies: Sim'alite gayum and Yaminite li'mum; 7. The local leader of tribe and town: the Sugagum in service to the Mari kingdom; 8. The chief of pasture: the Merhum; 9. The 'Hana' tent-dwellers; 10. The other confederacy: the Yaminites; Part III. The Archaic State and the Matum 'Land': 11. Urbanism and archaic states; 12. The matum: the basic unit of regional politics in the early second millennium; 13. Subdividing the major matums: the halsum district; 14. Population terminology not tied to political entity; 15. Zimri-Lim and the land of the tent-dwellers (mat Hana); Part IV. The Collective and the Town: 16. The towns of the Mari archives; 17. The collective face of town or land; 18. Elders; 19. Heads; 20. Words for assembly; 21. Imar, Tuttul, and Urgis: old towns with strong collective traditions; 22. Mari in third-millenium towns; 23. On explaining corporate power; Part V. Conclusions: 24. The political world of the Mari archives; 25. Before democracy; Bibliography; Glossaries; Indices.


'This is an important and impressive work … What emerges from this study is a picture that is much more complex, nuanced, and to some extent confusing than those traditionally drawn of Mesopotamian societies and states. It is thus certain to be received with great interest by a number of disciplines beyond Assyriology (such as history, political science, and anthropology) and to stimulate intensive discussions on a wide range of issues. Not least, it makes a serious contribution to an old debate, triggered more than a half-century ago by Thorkild Jacobsen, on whether certain traits in Mesopotamian mythical and literary traditions can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of 'primitive democracies' in an early period, before the emergence of the great empires led by centralized monarchies. In this respect the book is certain to attract the interest of classicists and ancient historians as well.' Kurt A. Raaflaub

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