Nomads, Networks, and Political Complexity in the Ancient Near East
Instructors: Richard Payne and Emily Hammer
Course Number: CDIN 40024/ NEAA 49924/ NEHC 40024/ ANTH 46425/ HIST 58003
This course draws on archaeological and historical approaches to examine pastoral nomadism in the ancient Near East. Historians and archaeologists increasingly acknowledge the central role pastoralists and nomads played in the development of cities, states, and empires, as well as the dynamism and complexities of transhumant societies that traditionally figured only marginally in their accounts. The course re-centers the historical perspective through a focus on mobile groups in the geographical and cultural interstices of traditional civilizational “centers.” It insists on the interdependence of historical and archaeological forms of analysis to the recovery of pastoral nomadic societies, economies, and political cultures. The comparative invisibility of nomads and pastoralists in literary and material cultures poses interpretive problems that the seminar seeks to address. On the one hand, archaeologists have innovated a range of approaches to document the activities of mobile groups that often avoided the very nucleation once considered a defining feature of civilization. On the other hand, historians have begun to transcend the sedentary civilizational perspective of their sources to place texts in conversation with material culture. Our aim is to bring together these methods to produce accounts of nomadic civilizations that are simultaneously archaeological and historical. We will also explore the tensions between interpretations drawn from historical accounts and ideas generated via ethnographic analogies. The seminar will discuss recent work emphasizing the economic, social, and political complexity of mobile pastoral groups, and the diversity of nomadic pastoral practices and nomad-sedentary relations in the past, while inviting the students to produce issue-oriented papers on various debates in the field.