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The Reach of Late Antique Government

By Bernhard Palme

The Later Roman state is often regarded as a repressive, if not “feudal,” regime. The administrative, social and economic structures of the empire are reckoned to have undergone a systemic change owing to political instability during the third century. The public administration system was fully reorganised by limiting the responsibilities of existing administrative units on supra-regional, regional and local levels, while simultaneously increasing their number. Members of most classes had to fulfil specific public tasks and services in the capacity of liturgical “part-time” officials.

Resource Extraction in the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires

By Michael Jursa

This paper opens the assessment of the impact of government by discussing resource extraction (taxes and labor) in the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires of the Late Iron Age. The case put forward is that administrations of the Near East in this period made ample use of mediated resource extraction through entrepreneurial (or quasi-‘liturgical’) middlemen in their core areas, and through local patrimonial elites in the imperial periphery. This practice imposed considerable limitations on the role and reach of centralized bureaucratic administration.

Papyrus Letters and Imperial Government in Greco-Roman Egypt

By Sven Tost

In contrast to the situations discussed by the two previous papers (Orality and Literacy in Early Islamic Administrative Practice; Neo-Assyrian Letters and Administration), during the Greek, Roman and Late Roman periods there is no cause to question the reliance of the state and its administration on letters; generally speaking, documentation in writing is a practice that can be taken for granted.

Neo-Assyrian Letters and Administration

By Heather Baker

In the Neo-Assyrian empire, letters were an important tool of administration. The majority of extant administrative letters comprise correspondence between the king and his officials, especially provincial governors, but we also have many letters exchanged between officials (whether of equal rank or superior/subordinate). Letters served to report information, to issue commands, and to report on actions taken in fulfilment of commands and on problems encountered, as well as simply to “keep in touch” (viz. letters reporting that all is well).

Orality and Literacy in Early Islamic Administrative Practice

By Lucian Reinfandt

Early Islamic administration mixed oral and written aspects: the document was both a symbolic representation of the messenger’s authority, and a medium for transmission of information, which the messenger’s testimony was intended to supplement. As a result, Arab administrative communication was more oral than written. The explanation stems from the important role of oral communication among Pre-Islamic Arabs (especially in trading cities like Mecca), even though they had recourse to writing and written documents.