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

Lecture 3: The War Machine in the Middle Bronze Age

Adam T. Smith (Cornell University)

This lecture will examine how the civilization machine broke down toward the end of the Early Bronze Age, only to be reconfigured and redeployed in the Middle Bronze Age in tandem with a fearsome new assemblage: the war machine.  The operation of the war machine entailed not only the reproduction of social violence but more critically the sharp segmentation of the body public between the sovereign body and subject bodies—the one and the many.  Through the conspicuous consumption of Middle Bronze Age mortuary ritual—and its entailments in the interwoven domains of sense, sensibility, and sentiment—the war machine reproduced the terms on which a new social order of radical inequality was predicated—charisma, violence, and distinction.  But the war machine also operated in a state of contradiction with the broad claims of the civilization machine, situating the emergent sovereign at once inside the body politic and outside it.  The material entailments of this paradox ultimately drove the formalization of an apparatus of sovereign regulation, a political 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.

There will be a reception folowing the event.

This is a public event.

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