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Baker, Heather D./Jursa, Michael/Palme, Bernhard/Reinfandt, Lucian/Tost, Sven: The Power of the Written Word (and its Limitations). Version 03

Abstract: The paper offers a comparative insight into ancient administrative cultures. Using a comparative approach to documentation from three distinct periods of the history of Egypt and the Ancient Near East, from the Iron Age Near East, through Late Antiquity to the early Islamic period, we show how data derived from ancient administrative documents can be juxtaposed, despite their different linguistic and historical backgrounds, in order to highlight aspects of the material that do not necessarily attract attention when a more strictly synchronic approach is adopted. From a methodological point of view, we will use selected text corpora (clay tablets and papyri) for case studies that throw light on the overarching historical questions we wish to address. The two main topics are the importance of the written word in administrative contexts (contributions by Lucian Reinfandt, Heather D. Baker and Sven Tost), and the degree to which central governments mobilized the societal surplus of labour and produce through direct administrative interference at the source, or, indirectly through processes that systematically “outsourced” the task of resource extraction, thereby easing the burden placed on the central government’s administrative resources (contributions by Michael Jursa and Bernhard Palme).

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