Tribe and State: The Dynamics of International Politics and the Reign of Zimri-Lim.

Author:Reculeau, Herve
Position:Book review

Tribe and State: The Dynamics of International Politics and the Reign of Zimri-Lim. By adam E. Miglio. Gorgias Studies in the Ancient Near East, vol. 8. Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2014. Pp. xvi + 271, maps. $95.

In this revised version of his dissertation, A.E. Miglio analyzes eighteenth-century b.c.e. letters from Mari from an interdisciplinary perspective that involves not only Assyriology, but also anthropology, political science, and social theory. Miglio's declared aim is to elucidate the role of inter-tribal relations within the diplomatic game of early second-millennium b.c.e. Syria and Mesopotamia.

The first chapter (pp. 1-22) offers a short historiographical and methodological survey, where the influence of social theorist A. Giddens is formative (also in the conclusion, pp. 235-39). The book aims to apply Gidden's model of inter-societal systems to cuneiform evidence and establishes that the sociopolitical organization of the Mari kingdom was a mixed form of tribal and state-based social organization, which had a direct impact on the way Mari king Zimri-LIm conducted politics. Demonstrations of this hypothesis are developed in the following four chapters.

Chapter 2 (pp. 23-53) discusses the fundamental concepts of state and tribe. Against a growing trend in Near Eastern Studies to define social organization according to ancient terminologies (Schloen 2001; Charpin 2004: 299-304; Reculeau 2008: 326-37), Miglio argues for the use of modern sociological and anthropological concepts. "State" is defined in a strictly Weberian way as based on the king's "claim to a monopoly of violence" (p. 42), while tribes are addressed through some reflections on debates in 1960s-1970s anthropology. Miglio's opinion is that, in Mari, "an alternative to identification by state was identification by tribe" (p. 43), and that tribes acted as non-state actors "with substantial degrees of autonomy" (p. 51), like present-day NGOs (pp. 49-50). This is an interesting hypothesis, but the study does not offer convincing arguments to prefer it to the usual understanding.

Chapter 3 (pp. 55-108) discusses at length the title "king[s] of Mari and the Land of Pastoralists/Sim'al tribe," understood as defining the king as both a "head-of-state" and a "tribal leader" (p. 237). It focuses on "internal" administration, as opposed to "diplomatic" relations with other polities and/or tribes. However, some misunderstandings of the administration of the Mari kingdom narrow...

To continue reading