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    The Cambridge World History
    • Volume 3: Early Cities in Comparative Perspective, 4000 BCE–1200 CE
    • Edited by Norman Yoffee
    • Online ISBN: 9781139035606
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Book description

From the fourth millennium BCE to the early second millennium CE the world became a world of cities. This volume explores this critical transformation, from the appearance of the earliest cities in Mesopotamia and Egypt to the rise of cities in Asia and the Mediterranean world, Africa, and the Americas. Through case studies and comparative accounts of key cities across the world, leading scholars chart the ways in which these cities grew as nodal points of pilgrimages and ceremonies, exchange, storage and redistribution, and centres for defence and warfare. They show how in these cities, along with their associated and restructured countrysides, new rituals and ceremonies connected leaders with citizens and the gods, new identities as citizens were created, and new forms of power and sovereignty emerged. They also examine how this unprecedented concentration of people led to disease, violence, slavery and subjugations of unprecedented kinds and scales.

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  • 7 - Introduction: a history of the study of early cities
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    This introduction presents a brief history of the study of early cities, archaeological research on the nature of ancient cities. It also provides an overview of key concepts covered in the subsequent chapter of this book. The book delineates some distinctive features of ancient cities and then compares these features. It first concerns early cities as arenas of performance, which includes studies of Egyptian, Maya, and Southeast Asian cities. Next, the book analyzes early cities and information technologies. Then, early urban landscapes are explained. The book also considers cities in the Harappan tradition and their successors in South Asia, and explains the rise and fall of Cahokia. Finally, the book focuses on Rome in the early centuries CE, the capital cities of imperial Assyria in the early to middle centuries BCE, and Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, in the fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries CE.
  • 9 - Ancient Egyptian cities: monumentality and performance
  • DOI:
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    By about 3100 BCE ancient Egypt formed a large state extending northward for a thousand kilometers from the First Cataract of the Nile to the Mediterranean Sea. The location of the primary urban settlement of early Memphis has been plausibly identified by drill cores as a relatively modest-sized area well beneath the modern floodplain. The third millennium state, especially its prime city and royal residence, was strongly oriented toward ceremonial, and ritual performances were often depicted or evoked in images. This admittedly hypothetical picture applies most strongly to the 3rd and 4th dynasties. Configurations of cities in the Middle Kingdom are poorly understood because the Memphite area has yielded little evidence. The picture sketched so far is markedly different from that of the New Kingdom, when Thebes and Memphis became sizeable cities that were sited on the floodplain.
  • 10 - The dedicated city: meaning and morphology in Classic Maya urbanism
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    Classic Maya cities were dynamic places constructed throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and adjacent zones during much of the first millennium CE. This chapter examines how Maya cities were understood, used, and altered. Other named features of urban landscapes include pyramids and altars, neither, unfortunately, with fully accepted readings of their glyphic references. Other buildings in the Maya texts correspond to stairways, known as ehb, and ballcourts recorded by glyphs that are not yet deciphered. A notable attribute of later Maya ideas about appropriate or correct behavior is that it conforms to movement and handed-ness. Right and straight correspond closely to concepts of truth, virtue, cleansing, even prophecy. A final, remaining theme is that Maya cities accord with general concepts of landscape features yet also remain a malleable work-in-progress. The view of any such city today would contain a certain arrangement of buildings and spaces in urban armatures.
  • 11 - Cities as performance arenas
  • DOI:
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    The rapid development of early cities at different dates in many regions of the world affected their hinterlands profoundly. Ancient Egypt, in many periods a territorial state unlike the typical city-state configuration of the other regions in most periods, presents some of the largest monuments and the longest timespan for investigation, but its urbanism is imperfectly understood. Classic Maya performances were strongly sonic, with anticipation fortified by blasts of trumpet or conch, the pounding of large drums or tapping of smaller ones under the arm, whistles and maracas, singing, and the musical collisions of shells on the king's body. Secular performances in Southeast Asia could involve hundreds or thousands of urban residents as participants and as spectators. Public movement was generally toward a restricted space: ceremonies within a royal court could only ever have small numbers of participants and be observed by relatively few.
  • 13 - Urbanization and the techniques of communication: the Mesopotamian city of Uruk during the fourth millennium BCE
  • DOI:
  • View abstract
    Urbanization in the Ancient Near East is inseparably tied to the name of the city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. This chapter discusses the earlier developments, focusing on the communication technologies, which can count as forerunners of writing. Presumably, Uruk was surrounded with a city wall built over during subsequent phases of city growth. The appearance of writing in southern Mesopotamia is preceded by a long development of various means of information storage and processing, related to the evolution of a stratified social system and highly differentiated economy. Information on the time before 3300, including both the older part of the Late Uruk period, and the Early Uruk and Late Ubaid periods, is scarce. The best evidence comes from a deep sounding in Uruk itself, which reaches back into the fifth millennium BCE. Finally, it presents a picture of the interdependence between urbanization and the development of communication technologies.
  • 14 - Writing and the city in early China
  • DOI:
  • View abstract
    Chinese urbanism has a history of more than 5,000 years, and ever since the invention of the Chinese writing system more than 3,000 years ago, the process of urbanization and the uninterrupted transmission of literacy have gone hand in hand. This chapter focuses on the second millennium BCE, the early Bronze Age, and also covers two consecutive episodes of that phase, such as the Huanbei period and the Yinxu period. The Anyang inscriptions are the first substantial corpus of Chinese writing, but they are display inscriptions; neither at Anyang nor at Zhengzhou does everyday writing survive. Unlike Huanbei, Yinxu had no city walls and no clearly demarcated perimeters other than those provided on the north and east by the riverbank. The royal precinct covers about 70 hectares, with over 100 building foundations found so far. It is in storage pits associated with some of the buildings that most of the inscribed divination bones have been found.
  • 15 - Inka administration in Tawantinsuyu by means of the knotted-cords
  • DOI:
  • View abstract
    This chapter presents an overview of the basic institutions and practices of Inka administration. It indicates the central principles and features of the Inka administrative system, as a basis for looking at the cord-records themselves. In early Colonial sources, the Inka Empire is referred to as Tawantinsuyu, which gloss as the four parts intimately bound together. The chapter then discusses state/imperial organization in Cuzco, provincial organization and local administrative organization. As the capital, Cuzco was the center of supreme power and authority in the Inka Empire. The administration within Cuzco was staffed by direct and collateral descendants of the ten to twelve Inka kings who had ruled the empire during its short history. Finally, the chapter investigates the knotted-cord records using the Khipu Database, with the support of the National Science Foundation and the capable assistance of computing consultants Carrie J. Brezine and Pavlo Kononenko, at Harvard University.
  • 16 - Writing and record-keeping in early cities
  • DOI:
  • View abstract
    Writing and other technologies for enhancing human memory and the reach of communication seem, in many instances in the ancient world, to have a special relationship with the rise of ancient urban centers. This chapter compares the diverse instances, in which writing and other forms of record-keeping developed apparently in close coordination with burgeoning cities. The functions to which information technologies were put in early cities run the gamut from economic administration to the performance and commemoration of ritual. One important function of the khipu at Cuzco and other Inka cities and administrative centers is that the technology also served as proof of the official's fulfilment of his duty to execute and document the administrative task so ordered by his superior. In Mesopotamia, pre-writing systems such as different kinds of seals, tokens, and their combinations were already complex enough to require established methods to transfer them, along with other skills, like measuring fields or performing mathematics.

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