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Capital Cities in Late Bronze Age Greater Mesopotamia

  • Author(s): Carlson, Evan
  • Advisor(s): Carter, Elizabeth F
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores the relationships among founding capital cities, defining state territories, and creating and propagating national identities. In the modern period and deep into history, nascent nations struggling to define themselves and unify diverse states have founded capital cities to embody a national ethos, reveal a shared history, direct the relationship among subjects and government, and differentiate a society from its international peers. In the Late Bronze Age (LBA) (1550-1050 BC) Near/Middle East, numerous expanding territorial-states developed means of defining their territories and relationships to their international peers, and these means included founding new capital cities. This dissertation investigates three capital cities built ex nihilo in LBA Greater Mesopotamia (Iraq and Southwest Iran): Dur Kurigalzu in Babylonia (Southern Iraq), Al Untaš Napiriša in Elam (Southwest Iran), and Kar Tukulti Ninurta in Assyria (Northern Iraq). Eponymous kings founded these cities while seeking to unify and control vast territories of overlapping relationships among people, cities, tribes, gods, and kings. These cities exhibited the power of kings who desired total territorial control, but to unify their states and maintain rule over diverse territories, they needed populations to internalize their propaganda. By founding new capitals, these kings tried to combine their personas into a new state identity and encouraged urban, regional, and international groups to interact with their monumental building projects.

The three capitals in question have yielded very different archaeological datasets. These myriad datasets allow an investigation of different issues concerning each capital, including: how the capitals relate to regional state-building projects, how monumental architecture and inscriptions represent ideological manifestations of the king and state, how people interacted in planning and constructing the city, and how different urban populations constructed their own spaces and experienced the monumental schemes. At a regional level, archaeological survey data reveal the commercial and administrative networks that LBA powers developed and utilized to support their new cities and control and unify their territories. Archaeological remains of inscriptions and architecture reveal how rulers used religion and history to create “national” identities that merged the king and state. Analyzing the layouts and uses of space in the cities and the context and content of inscribed material reveals both how kings sought to impose their visions over the spaces where people lived and how people negotiated these systems and merged their practices with the royal visions. Comparing different archaeological datasets from the three different cases and the role of capital cities in ancient and modern periods reveals the motives of those who built, maintained, and abandoned these spaces and the interactions among political forces, populations, and landscapes in forming and maintaining territorial-states.

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