Frontier and Province in the Premodern World

From Achaemenid India or Han China to Roman Gaul and Egypt to Iraqi Kurdistan, the province and its organizational equivalents (e.g., nomes in Egypt, commanderies in China) have long constituted one of the fundamental building blocks of states, ancient and modern, and a fascinatingly complex site of cultural and political negotiation in imperial encounters. The aim of this year’s core seminar is to explore social equilibria between governance and the governed in the premodern world, via the interaction—religious, artistic, linguistic, administrative, economic—between local units and large imperial frameworks. As an object of comparative study, the province, representing the intersection of imperial power and local communities, allows us to combine “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to the ancient world, to investigate some of the key practices and discourses of empire while attempting to recover the agency and voices of subaltern provincial actors. It offers as well a chance to reconsider the “center-periphery” paradigm taken over from world-systems theory, and to propose new models for understanding the complex relationships between an imperial “center” and the governance of territories.

This interdisciplinary seminar examines a wide range of aspects of the province as a transhistorical phenomenon—law, economy, art, literature, religion, monumentality, urbanism, and politics—across the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond, making use of the unique resources and collections at Yale, especially the Art Gallery and Beinecke Library.

Taught Spring 2016 by Andrew Johnson and William Honeychurch

Course Number: 
ANTH 741, ARCG 741, CLSS 841, HIST 502, NELC 841