26 May, 2013
On the universal anachronism of studying the ancient world, it is one thing to rattle on about narratives of difference, false universals and the imperialism of neoclassical economics. It is another thing to put it this way:
It is gross ethnocentrism to assume that the monk, the feudal lord, the Inca priest-king, the commissar, and the Trobriand islander are directed in their material lives to abide by the same market rules that drive the London stockbroker and the Iowa wheat farmer (George Dalton, 1971).
26 May, 2013
A significant source for The Sacred Economy is Soviet-era research on the ancient Near East. Apart from Igor Diakonoff, to whom you will find occasional references in other works, one of the great pleasures in doing this is to include many references to people like: Iu. Semenov, G. A. Melikishvili, M.A. Vitkin, Nelly Kozyrova, K.K. Zel’in, L.V. Danilova, Ninel Jankowska, G. Il’yin, and good old Vasilii Vasilevich Struve.
24 May, 2013
Posted by stalinsmoustache under Sacred Economy
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‘A room of your own’ is a comparatively modern concept, which has, through many centuries, been filtered down from the great houses of the wealthy. Shared rooms, shared attics, shared beds, shared lives have been and are the common lot of most people, involving a close, noisy, often smelly intimacy between people and livestock (Roberts, Landscapes of Settlement, p. 85).
Or as an old Dutch saying has it, ‘where it smells it is warm’
23 May, 2013
We don’t seem to know, for, as Marc van de Mieroop points out: ‘ Archaeological evidence of latrines in houses is lacking, and public toilets do not seem to hаvе existed either’ (The Ancient Mesopotamian City, p. 159). Out in the village-communes that would not have been a great problem, but in what are often called ‘cities’, it was a different matter entirely. In the rivers and canals? But that was also drinking water.
23 May, 2013
The scribes of ancient Egypt certainly had their hands full with even the most simple of letters. For instance:
It is the servant of the estate Sekhsekh’s son Inetsu who addresses the lord (may he live, be prosperous and healthy), Sekhsekh’s son Penhensu: It is in order to learn about every favourable circumstance of the lord (may he live, be prosperous and healthy), that the servant of the estate has sent this letter. In the favour of Montu, lord of the Theban nome, of Amon, lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, of Sobek, of Horus, of Hathor and of all the gods! It is as the servant of the estate desires that they shall let the lord (may he live, be prosperous and healthy), spend millions of years in life, properity and health, starting from today.
The servant of the estate has said: this is a communication to the lord (may he live, be prosperous and healthy), about sending me a rudder post of pine wood, a steering-oar of juniper, and a rudder-rest of ebony for the poop of your humble servant’s sea-going galley. Moreover, it is your humble servant’s poop. It is good if the lord (may he live, be prosperous and healthy) takes note.
If only we wrote memos or emails like that today. The astute reader may have noticed the egalitarian thread running through this note. Another example this Egyptian virtue, along with a dash of altruism, may be found in the letter of a landlord writing home (from another location) to the servants and others concerning some food shortages that have come to his notice:
Lest you be angry about this, look here … I’m responsible for everything so that it should be said: ‘To be half alive is better than dying outright’. Now it is only real hunger that should be termed hunger since they have started eating people here. and none are given such generous rations as I give you. Until I come back home to you, you should comport yourselves with stout hearts.
22 May, 2013
One of my arguments in The Sacred Economy, at least in the chapter called ‘On Fluid Bodies: Clans, Households, and Patrons,’ is that the ancient Near Eastern clan included both human beings and domestic animals in a continuum. I base this on the ‘bestiality’ laws, which assume such continuity, since they appear within the framework of what are called ‘incest’ laws. ‘Incest’ here includes both blood and non-blood human relations, as well as your expected sheep, goat, cow, pig, and dog.
Some more evidence has come to light, from the method of recording in the late Uruk period (late fourth millennium). There, clay tablets list rural and estate labourers, distinguishing between male and female, age groups (children are ‘womb-sucklers’), and their groupings. The curious thing is that exactly the same method is used for recording animals, down to the common term for ‘herd’.
So where were the boundaries? A stronger one was between ruling class human beings and those who tilled the soil and herded the sheep and goats. But the most noticeable boundary was between wild animals and domesticated animals-humans. The clan certainly did not include those wild types, unpredictable as they were and outside the bounds of what counted as part of the tribe.
20 May, 2013
Those great lefties at Haymarket Books have just released the paperback of Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels, and Theology. This is the one that thoroughly re-examines all that the duo had to say on theology. Nice price too.