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MC1.1 Giving as transcultural strategy

Giving as transcultural strategy. Reciprocity in the international politics of the Late Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean

Koordination: Diamantis Panagiotopoulos


The importance of diplomatic gift-giving in the Near East for cementing and advancing political relations between foreign countries is well demonstrated in the letters of the Amarna archive and related sources and has been the subject of an intensive scholarly discourse. This clearly circumscribed field of research owes its most significant advances to a group of Italian Orientalists influenced by the Maussian conception of gift and kindred ethnological and sociological models. In the subsequent years, this influential school of thought found no successors, as scientific interest focused on the symbolic vs. economic character of gift-exchange and the (alleged?) difference between tributes and submissive gifts, thereby showing a greater commitment to empirical data rather than current theoretical models. Viewed from this theoretical background, the project’s basic objective was to overcome the stagnation of traditional research by challenging the strict, monolithic conception of different forms of giving as well as their labelling with modern anachronistic terms. This new approach adopted a dynamic explanation of ancient transcultural practices, whose meaning shifted across time and social space.

A common problem in the sciences of antiquity is the scarcity of evidence which hampers any attempt to grasp cultural phenomena in their full complexity. International politics in the Late Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean and its adjacent regions is a notable exception to this general rule. In this case, the archaeologist and/or ancient historian enjoys the rare privilege of being able to refer to an interwoven web of material, pictorial and textual evidence than enables him a thick description of historical reality. These historical or quasi-historical testimonies, which are always elegantly combined with the habitual phraseology, provided a firm base for studying this complex phenomenon. The project has focused on this rich reservoir of information providing new insights into the wide array of political, economic and personal reciprocities in the context of intercultural relations in the late second millennium BC Eastern Mediterranean. The various forms of giving and receiving including the exchange of diplomatic gifts at a level of parity, the strategies of establishing and cultivating hierarchy between rulers and vassals through largesse, favours, protection, loyalty, services and compulsory gifts, the bundle of economic dependencies among partners of different status levels, comprised a lively panorama that offered a most fertile ground for studying the potential and risks of giving in a transcultural context.