Saturday, July 17, 2010

Amanda H. Podany's "Brotherhood of Kings"

Amanda H. Podany is Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She has published a number of books and articles on topics in ancient Near Eastern history, including The Ancient Near Eastern World.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East, and reported the following:
In Brotherhood of Kings readers embark on a journey (indeed, many journeys) across what is now the Middle East, in the company of a series of messengers, ambassadors, traders, kings, and princesses. The journeys start around 2300 BCE, with the earliest written evidence for diplomacy, and continue to 1300 BCE, when the great kingdoms of the Near East formed a largely peaceful international community—the “brotherhood of kings” of the title.

By page 99, the reader is exploring the trade that flourished around 3,800 years ago between Ur in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Dilmun (now Bahrain). Dilmun was over four hundred miles to the south of Mesopotamia, reached by boat across the sometimes treacherous waters of the Lower Sea (the Persian Gulf). But traders went there regularly because Dilmun was a source of all kinds of luxury goods that came from farther afield: carnelian and ivory from South Asia, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and, especially, copper from Magan (Oman). “Copper ingots poured in from Magan, and everyone in the Near East needed copper for their bronze weapons and utensils.”

On previous pages, readers had met Lu-Enlila, a trader who lived two centuries earlier. With the support of a local temple, he had obtained copper in Oman.
A successor to Lu-Enlila continued trading on behalf of Ur’s temple,… but he traveled to Dilmun rather than Magan. His name was Ea-nasir….We know quite a bit about him from Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavations in the city of Ur.
Though wealthy enough to own a house and brave enough to routinely travel by boat from Ur to Dilmun, Ea-nasir was not famous in his own time. Like almost every other individual mentioned in the book, his existence, his words, concerns, and lifestyle all had to be rediscovered through archaeological excavation, especially from the clay cuneiform tablets that he wrote and received.
In his house, Ea-nasir kept some of the letters that had been written to him when he was in Dilmun, and they were still on the floors when Woolley excavated. Woolley (somewhat idiosyncratically) named the streets of Ea-nasir’s neighborhood after the streets in England; according to him, the Dilmun trader lived at No. 1, Old Street.
Page 99 ends with a walk through the streets of Ur, near Ea-nasir’s house.
The roads in Ur were narrow and labyrinthine. Some led to public squares and busy crossroads, others dead-ended into the doors of the houses at the end. No street signs marked the way, and houses were not identified with names or numbers (signs would have been of little use, anyway, since the vast majority of the population was illiterate). People defined where they lived by the names of their neighbors. No spaces marked where one house ended and another began; all a pedestrian on the street would have seen was a long, high mud-brick wall interrupted here and there by a front door. …There were no front or back yards to houses, no sidewalks, no windows onto the streets that we know of, and almost no visible clues about the homes that lay beyond the closed wooden doors.

It was probably loud in the streets—the Mesopotamians were forever worrying about upsetting the gods with all their noise. The gods needed their sleep, and the din of people and animals in the street around the temples threatened to keep them awake.
If you were to read ahead a few pages you would learn about Ea-nasir’s house, read a letter that he received from an angry customer, and discover that on one occasion he brought back to Ur a huge shipment of 13,000 lb of copper. The chapter then shifts to a diplomatic mission sent to Dilmun from Northern Mesopotamia, the kings exchanging ambassadors and gifts.

The Page 99 Test works well in the case of Brotherhood of Kings. This page is typical in its focus on real people and places as it explores ancient trade and diplomacy. It also discusses the evidence that survives, allowing scholars to reconstruct the ancient world. One sees that the peoples of the ancient Near East were surprisingly sophisticated in their approaches to trade and to international relations.
Read more about Brotherhood of Kings at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue