Liberty and Duty in Late Bronze Age States

Vortrag von Prof. Eva von Dassow

Dienstag, 13. Juni 2017, 18:00 Uhr c.t.

Altes AKH/Hof 4/Seminarraum Arabica


The power of conscription and taxation is essential to the existence of a state. To be more specific, the authority to compel its people to contribute labor, wealth, or lives is one of the criteria that qualifies an entity as a state rather than something else. The reproduction of a state over time as an entity that transcends its individual participants depends on their collective assent to its exercise of this authority, which is inherently coercive. Who then accepts being coerced to contribute what? As a Sumerian proverb exhorts, “a free man cannot avoid corvée duty”. Those whom a given state may legitimately conscript cannot include subjects of another state, or of other men; it cannot include persons who categorically lack the capacity to consent or contribute, such as persons who are enslaved to others. The constitution of a governing power requires the force of arms more than it requires material sustenance, for wealth can be extracted from sources other than a state’s own subjects. So can labor, especially when one community has subjected another, as Sparta did the Helots. But only persons who belong to the state as its members – as citizens – can be called upon to fight for it (with rare institutionalized exceptions, paradigmatically exemplified by the Janissaries). Hence the regulation issued by the Hittite state for Išmerikka stipulated that “only free men, no slave or mercenary, may be sent to serve in the army”.

Conscription for military and labor service is therefore the form of taxation most fundamental both to the state’s existence and to the relation between subject and state. What is more, inasmuch as the state cannot demand service from any but its own subjects, the duty to serve is predicated on the subject’s free status. The present paper will demonstrate this proposition on the basis of documents from Hatti, Emar, and Ugarit.



Datum: 13.06.2017
Zeit: 18:00