Fourth Annual M.I. Rostovtzeff Lecture Series - The Sovereign Assemblage: Sense, Sensibility, and Sentiment in the Bronze Age Caucasus

Lecture 2: The Civilization Machine in the Early Bronze Age

Adam T. Smith (Cornell University)

The second lecture in the series turns to the South Caucasus during the Early Bronze Age in order to outline the schematics of the first of the three machines critical to the manufacture of sovereignty: the “civilization machine”.  During the Early Bronze Age of the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BC, communities in the South Caucasus anchored a broad transformation of highland southwest Asia under the auspices of the Kura-Araxes archaeological horizon.  This lecture will examine how the assemblages that defined the Kura-Araxes ecumene formed a machine that operated to reproduce a discrete, geographically extensive public.  This civilization machine provided a formidable logic upon which was built an enduring Early Bronze Age order that stitched together previously heterogeneous communities into a civilization; a locus of collective identification distinguished, quite formidably, from their neighbors.  The Kura-Araxes civilization machine forged, to borrow Pierre Clastres’s terms, a “civilization against the state”, committed to egalitarianism and a rejection of organized violence as a tool of repression.  The discussions in this lecture will utilize the recent work of Project ArAGATS in the Tsaghkahovit Plain of central Armenia to understand the sense, sensibility, and sentiments that shaped the reproduction of the civilization machine.

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Series Abstract - The Sovereign Assemblage: Sense, Sensibility, and Sentiment in the Bronze Age Caucasus

The modern understanding of political association has centered resolutely on the person of the citizen, whose interactions with other members of the body politic establish and reproduce the possibilities and limits of sovereignty.  However, rarely do we interact with one another directly as citizens.  Rather, a vast assemblage of things, from ballots and bullets to crowns and regalia to licenses and permits, incessantly intrudes upon our political relations.  What role has this assemblage played in the historical formation of our political practices?  What principles fundamental to sovereignty does an archaeology of this assemblage reveal?

Taking the narrow isthmus of the Caucasus as their geographic focus, the lectures in this series describe the emergence of a complex set of material assemblages that originated in the Bronze Age yet continue to shape our politics today.  The lectures provide a detailed account of the transformation of communities in the Caucasus from small-scale Early Bronze Age villages committed to an ideology of egalitarianism to Late Bronze Age complex polities predicated on radical inequality, organized violence, and a centralized apparatus of rule.  These formidable social transformations were made possible by the efficacious operation of three critical assemblages, or machines, that reordered human communities.  Each was vital to the operation of the next, forging the polity over time in the articulation of things and persons along three linked dimensions: sense, sensibility, and sentiment.  It is by attending to these points of articulation between our things and our selves that we can illuminate the enduring sovereignty of the assemblage.

About the Lecture Series

Michael I. Rostovzteff, a Russian ancient historian, came to the U.S. after the Russian Revolution and taught for many years at Yale University as Sterling Professor of Ancient History. Rostovtzeff's prodigious energies and sprawling interests led him to write on an almost unimaginable range of subjects. ISAW's Rostovtzeff series presents scholarship that embodies its aspirations to foster work that crosses disciplinary, geographical, and chronological lines. The lectures will be published by Princeton University Press.

Adam T. Smith is Professor of Anthropology at Cornell University.

This is a public event.

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