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Democracy's Ancient Ancestors
Mari and Early Collective Governance


  • Date Published: July 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107404939

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About the Authors
  • 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
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '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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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107404939
    • length: 390 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.57kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    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

  • Author

    Daniel E. Fleming, New York University

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