Although his plans misfired, indeed more than three millennia have passed since the day Akhenaten, standing in his chariot of gold, read out his proclamation of revelation and hope to an inspired and enthusiastic audience gathered on the site of his new city at el-Amarna.
Some two thousand years after Akhenaten's birth, towards the end of the 8th century AD, on the opposite side of the globe, the Japanese imperial court took the radical decision to abandon the existing capital at Nara and move, lock, stock and barrel, to a new site elsewhere. There would be two attempts at the shift: first stop, in 784, was a site known as Nagaoka, located to the southwest of present-day Kyoto; and this move was followed, a decade later, by a second transfer to the site of Kyoto itself, then named Heian-kyo. For Japanese historians, the abandonment of Nara marks the start of a flourishing new era, the Heian period; what interests the Egyptologist is less this future glory than the dynamic behind the move.
Japanese society at this time was dominated, and would continue to be dominated for some years to come, by the influence of a single family: the Fujiwaras. The strength of the Fujiwara clan depended upon two factors: first, various key positions they held within the government structure had, during the course of time, become hereditary; and, secondly, the tradition had grown up of marrying-off Fujiwara daughters not only within the imperial family but to the very emperor himself.
The jealousies and intrigues Fujiwara prestige generated at court were considerable, and beginning to pose a real threat to stability; matters were made worse by an extraordinary rise in the wealth and political power of the Buddhist temples and their personnel, and an attendant jostling on the part of the priests themselves for worldly influence and control. It was a situation which clearly could not be allowed to continue.
With the accession of a new and capable emperor, Kanmu (who owed his own rise to a Fujiwara plot involving the removal of an inconvenient rival prince), the problem was addressed by upping sticks. It was a clever ruse: by it, the troublesome priests were abandoned in Nara, while the drain on time, effort and money required to build the new capital provided a more than adequate distraction to those among the aristocracy inclined to make mischief. When this mischief continued, in 794 the process was repeated, and the capital moved yet again, to another site geographically close-by but physically more remote; and this time it worked. With the aristocracy cut off from their economic base, and the priesthood left behind in their temples, power was again concentrated firmly in the hands of the emperor.
Although the cultures of Egypt and Japan are separated by a great distance in time, space, and much else besides, the parallels between Kanmu and the Amarna experience are striking: for 'Fujiwara' substitute 'Yuya family'; for 'Buddhist priesthood', 'Amun priesthood'; for 'Kanmu', 'Akhenaten'; for 'Nagaoka' and 'Heian-kyo', 'Akhetaten'.
But What is Nationalism?
It is worthy to start with the modern theory of Nationalism, in this case based on a reading of two well known experts A.D.Smith The Ethnic Origins of Nations, 1987, and Eric Hobsbawn, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, 1990.
In their widely held view, the nation refers to an ideal-type of a named human community with the following features:
1) the nation is a geographically bounded community, with clear and recognised borders, within which the members reside, and with a clear centre of authority;
2) the nation is a legal community, that is, its members have common rights and duties as members under a single law code;
3) as a result, the nation is a mass participant community, with all classes participating in politics and society;
4) the culture of the nation is equally a mass, public culture, with culturally distinctive elements inculcated through mass educational institutions;
5) the nation is an autonomous community, and the members are accordingly citizens of a national state;
6) the nation and its state are part of a wider inter-national system of national states, of which they are sovereign members;
7) the nation is a human community that owes its conception and legitimation to nationalism, the ideology.
Now, measured against the yardstick of this ideal-type, ancient Egypt clearly fails to qualify as a nation. Not only does it lack many of the features of the ideal-type nation, it also exhibits features that are not part of that type - for example, a theocratic and dynastic ideology in place of nationalism. It appears to lack legal rights and duties common to all members of ancient Egyptian society, since they were specific to particular classes, and we cannot speak of mass participation of all classes except in the corvee and army. Egyptian culture, albeit quite distinctive and very public, could hardly be described as a mass culture and education system, and though there were diplomatic relations with other states, certainly at the time of the New Kingdom, it is doubtful how far we can speak of political membership in an `internatiorial system', even in the Tell-el-Amarna epoch of the second millennium BC .
Much the same might be said of the ancient Persians. It is true that the Persians had a clear sense of themselves as a distinct community of language and religion, as much as did the Egyptian elites, and that on the staircase of the Apadana in Persepolis we may still see the sculptured reliefs of various peoples of their empire bearing gifts for the Persian New Year. But the Persians too were class divided; there was no sense of popular participation in politics, no common rights and duties for all Persians and no nationalist legitimation. Nor is it clear where the borders of the Persian community ran, both before and after the acquisition of an empire by the Achaemenids, even after their migration to the Iranian plateau.
Much the same can be said about the Hittites and other peoples of Antiquity. True, the Old Kingdom of the Hittite nobles had its centre in the bend of the Halys river, and Hittite kings consulted a pankush, or assembly of notables, but this is hardly evidence of common rights and duties, let alone mass participation. As with many other early peoples of the ancient Near East, such as the Elamites or the Kassites, the record is insufficient to allow any inference about the intensity or diffusion of a sense of collective cultural identity beyond a very small ruling class. There is slightly more evidence for the sentiments and conduct of city-states like those of the Sumerians, Phoenicians and Philistines, but earlier theories of a primitive form of Sumerian democracy seem to have been misplaced, and the fierce rivalries of many of these city-states seem to have prevented any attempt or even desire to give unitary political _expression to their sense of common ethnicity based on myths of common origin, language and customs, though Nippur did serve as a religious centre for the Sumerians, and the Philistine lords did manage to field joint armies against external foes.
I shall not run through the gamut of possible candidates for nationhood in the ancient world, but, given its enduring legacy to the modern West, the `failure' of ancient Greece to constitute itself as a political nation needs to be recalled. For there, the panhellenic dreams entertained by a small minority around Isocrates continually stumbled on the rock of loyalties to the polis, with the result that cultural identity centred on Hellas or its ethno-linguistic subdivisions (Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians etc.) remained, for the most part, apolitical. 'Hellas' remained a cultural network of common religion, languages, customs, calendars, artistic styles and the like. Of course, many Greeks did recognise that there was a political dimension to Hellas; Pericles' Funeral Oration can be read, inter alia, as an Athenian bid for political as well as cultural leadership of 'all-Greece'. But, even under dire Persian threat, some poleis medised; and if Edith Hall is right, the idea of Hellas really gained currency only as a result of the Persian Wars.
Must we then accept the argument that the ancient world had no trace of, and no place for, nations?
So let us start from the premise that the nation, unlike the state, is a form of human community which is conceptually a development of the wider phenomenon of ethnicity, and that particular nations originated as specialised and politicised subvarieties of one or more ethnic categories, networks and communities (or ethnies). The latter, in turn, may have derived from smaller clan-based groupings, but by the time they became ethnic networks or communities, they had lost any earlier kinship elements, except in their myth of origin and descent. Ethnies can be defined ideal-typically as named human communities, with myths of common descent, shared memories and one or more elements of common culture such as language, religion and customs, and a sense of solidarity, at least among the elites. While they are often linked to specific territories, ethnies may continue to function outside any homeland as diasporas, and remain resilient over centuries.
On `state' and `nation', see Connor, Ethnonationalism, ch. 4; and more normatively, Maurizio Viroli, For Love of Country: An Essay on Nationalism and Patriotism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). For the definition of ethnie, see Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), ch. 2; on its kinship basis, see Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), chs. 1-2, and Pierre van den Berghe,'Does race matter?', Nations and Nationalism 1, 3 (1995), 357-68. On diaspora ethnies, see John Armstrong, `Mobilised and proletarian diasporas', American Political Science Review 70 (1976), 393-408.
Though the concept of the nation shares certain elements with that of the ethnie, the emphasis falls elsewhere. For example, fictive descent myths play a much diminished role in nations, except in the nationalist rhetoric of blood and perhaps in times of extreme danger. Instead, nations are distinguished by a panoply of shared memories, myths, symbols and traditions, including foundation myths; but the cultivation of shared memories, myths and symbols is only one of the processes of nation-formation that endow it with such power. Conversely, where a link with a given territory may have been present in the case of the ethnie, if only symbolically, that link turns into occupation and possession of a homeland and comes to occupy centre stage in the concept of the nation.
On territory and nation, see David Hooson (ed.), Geography and National Identity (Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Mark Bassin, `Russia between Europe and Asia: the ideological construction of social space', Slavic Review 5o,1 (1991),1-i7; Eric Kaufmann and Oliver Zimmer, `In search of the authentic nation: landscape and national identity in Switzerland and Canada', Nations and Nationalism 4, 4 (1998), 483-510. For discussions of traditions of poetic landscape and the territorialisation of memory, see Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995), and Anthony D. Smith, Chosen Peoples: The Sacred Foundations of National Identity (Oxford University Press, 2003), ch. 6.
Here briefly the main elements of an alternative ideal-type, which, as the nation is a moving target', are better conceived as generic processes of nation-formation. They include: 1) the discovery and forging of a common self-image, including a collective proper name, which symbolises `us' as opposed to others around us; (2) the cultivation of distinctive shared memories, -myths, symbols and traditions of the historic culture community formed on the basis of one or more ethnic categories and communities;
(3) the occupation, residence in and development of a common ancestral homeland with clear and recognised borders;
(4) the creation and diffusion of a distinctive public culture for the members of the collectivity;
(5) the observarrce of distinctive common customs and the framing of common laws for the members.
Of course, these processes vary in duration and extent, and their develoment can be reversed. Collective self-definition, myth and memory cultivation, territorialisation of ancestral memory, creation and diffusion of public culture, and development of law and custom: these are the essential processual elements of nation-formation, and they are simultaneously subjective and objective, a mixture of unplanned development and conscious intervention. Analytically separate, they develop historically in different ways and at varying rates, depending on a host of economic, political and cultural circumstances. If and when they combine to an observable extent, the result is the creation of what we term nations out of pre-existing ethnic and cultural elements. Ideal-typically, then, a nation would be a named and self-defined human community whose members cultivate shared memories, myths and symbols, occupy and develop an ancestral territory, create and spread among themselves a distinctive, public culture, observe common customs and are bound by common laws. It is to this pure type that given instances of communities termed `nations' (by themselves or others) approximate.
For fuller discussion of these
processes, see Anthony D. Smith, `When is a nation?', Geopolitics 7, z (2002),
5-32; also Gordana Uzelac,
`When is the nation? Constituent elements and processes', Geopolitics 7, 2
(2002), 33-52, and other essays in the same Special Issue. For some measures of
these processes of ethnic and national formation, see Eric Kaufmann, `Modern
formation, ethnic reformation: the social sources of the American nation',
Geopolitics 7, 2 (2002), 99-120.
Nations in Antiquity?
With this simpler, and more generic, ideal-typical definition of the nation in mind, let us return to the initial question of the relations between `nations' and the various kinds of collective cultural identity found in the ancient Near East and the classical world.
That is, how far were these processes developed in the ancient Near East and to what extent were they combined in such a way that we may begin to speak of nations in Antiquity? Let us look at three possible cases: Edom, Aram and Armenia. As regards the first, in the Book of Numbers (20:21), we read: `Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border'; a little later we meet the phrase (20:23) `at the border [gebul] of the land [eres] of Edom'; and much later Edom was conquered by the Hasmonean kings. On the later conquest and forced conversion of the Edomites, see Shaye Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), ch. 4.
It is also possible that Edom had become a monolatrous society under its local god, Qaush, by the late eighth century, as had Judah under Yahweh. But we know nothing of other relevant processes: no myths of origin nor historical memories, no distinctive public culture nor laws and customs, only references in the Hebrew Bible to kol-Edom (all Edom) and edomi (the Edomites).See Steven Grosby, Biblical Ideas of Nationality, citing , for example, II Samuel 8:14.
The case of Aram is more complex and intriguing. The treaties on the Sefire Stele of c. 745 BC contain the following clauses: and the treaty of KTK with [the treaty of] Arpad; and the treaty of the lords of KTK with the treaty of the lords of Arpad; and the treaty of the un[ion of... ] W with all Aram and with <the kings of> Must and with his sons who will come after [him], and [with the kings of] all Upper-Aram and Lower Aram and with all who enter the royal palace.( Ibid., p. 127 , Grosby's emphasis, citing Sefire Stele I, face A ,11. 3-6).
After an involved discussion, Grosby concludes that, with the city-kingdom of Arpad at its head, Aram was in the process of nation-formation:
This common designation of 'Aram' in the terms `all Aram', `Upper Aram' and `Lower Aram' would appear to indicate the developing sociological uniformity of a collective self-consciousness of a nation. An element of this uniformity may also be seen in the fact that Hadad appears to have become the leading god of the Aramean pantheon. (Ibid., pp. 135-6.)
This conclusion is supported by the wide diffusion of the Aramean language throughout its city-kingdoms and a probable sense of common ethnicity, expressed in the very names of the Aramean states: the Bible speaks of Aram-Naharaim, Aram-Zobah, Aram Beth-Rehob, and AramDamascus, and Tiglath-Piliser III speaks of `The kings of the land of Hatti (and of) the Aramaeans of the western seashore'.( Ibid., p. 135, citing Stele IIIA of Tiglath-Piliser III from Iran.)
A preference here could be to treat the Arameans as a large-scale ethnic network, divided, in the manner of Hellas, into a series of rival, but culturally similar, city-kingdoms whose jurisdiction waxed and waned as a result of intra-ethnic wars and of encounters with external powers, notably Assyria. In this, they conformed to a well-known pattern of development with a long history in the area, including the Phoenician, Philistine and Canaanite city-kingdoms whose members shared elements of culture such as language and religion, but retained separate political identities. The isolation of this pattern allows us to discriminate between looser ethnic city-kingdoms and confederations with shared culture and more compact ethnies and ethnic territorial kingdoms in which processes of nation-formation begin to be visible, in which we can also observe the links between such ethnic networks and ethnies, on the one hand, and the formation of nations, on the other.
The third example, Armenia in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, may help us to clarify the distinction and illuminate some of the processes involved. The period commences with the conversion to Christianity of King Trdat III and his family by Gregory around 314 AD, and sees a remarkable flowering of religious activity, language reform, art and epic history wriing. The self-definition of Armenia and Armenianness was no longer purely ethnic - stressing the myth of Haik and early Armenian migration - nor purely territorial-political - a relatively autonomous province of Achaemenid Persia and then Parthia, with a temporary period of greatness as an independent state under Tigranes the Great in the first century BC. Now the emphasis shifted to culture, and more specifically to the Gregorian version of Monophysite Christianity and the Armenian language, the latter soon to be reinforced by the deliberate invention in the fifth century by Mesrop Mashtots of a separate script both to secure internal cohesion and to aid external missionary activity. Missionary activity by Gregory and his successors in Iberia and Albania to the north stimulated the parallel growth of the Georgian Church and kingdom, and compensated in no small measure for the depressing political situation of Armenia, with the mountain kingdom being a regular battleground for Roman and Sasanid Persian armies. By 387, the Armenian kingdom had been partitioned, but this did not end the succession of revolts followed by repression or the need to invoke Roman/Byzantine aid against the Sasanid threat.
For a detailed history of early Armenia, its myth of origins and its conversion to Christianity, see Anne Redgate, The Armenians (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), especially chs. 1, 4-6. On the dating of the conversion, the debates about Chalcedon and the missionary efforts, see Vrej Nersessian, Treasures from the Ark: boo Years ofArmenian Christian Art (London: The British Library, zooi), chs. 1-3. On early Armenian literature and script, see David Lang, Armenia: Cradle of Civilisation (London: George Allen and Unwin, î98o), ch. 7. For a more general discussion of pre-modern Armenian ethnicity and modern Armenian nationalism, see Razmik Panosssian, `The past as nation: three dimensions of Armenian identity', Geopolitics 7, 2 (2002), 121-46.
In many ways, Armenia possessed an orientalising culture, much influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism, and her social structure mirrored that of Sasanid society. But, as Nina Garsoian points out, the conversion to Christianity, perceived as a western Roman religion, together with unbending Sasanid hostility, pushed Armenia towards Rome and the West, though never to the point of accepting the Chalcedonian position adopted by Byzantium in 451. The myth of Armenia as the `first Christian nation', and in time the one truly Christian nation, became a source of pride for subsequent generations, as did its missionary record.See Garsoian, Church and Culture in Early Medieval Armenia (Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum, 1999), ch. 12.
Equally important for self-definition was the glorious defeat of Avarayr in the self-same year of 451. In fact, the defeat was not comprehensive, and was one of a series of battles with the Sasanids, in much the same way as the later Serbian defeat by the Ottomans at Kosovo Polje in 1389 was one of a series of battles. But because, like the Serbian king Lazar, the Armenian commander, Vardan Mamikonian, and many nobles with him fell heroically on the field, this battle has been commemorated throughout the centuries as a saints' day, and has continued to inspire resistance. Even more potently, it was quickly embedded in the collective historical memory retailed in the flowering of epic histories from the late fifth to the eighth centuries, from the histories of Agat'angelos and Paustos Buzand to those of Elishe and Mouses Xorenatsi. Thus Paustos' Epic History proclaims that the `pious martyrs [who] strove in battle ... died so that iniquity should not enter into such a God-worshipping and God-loving realm ... [so] let every one preserve continually the memory of their valour as martyrs for Christ for ... they fell in battle like Judah and Mattathias Maccabei‘. (bid., p. 128, citing Paustos Buzand, Epic Histories III, xi, 80-1.)
By the fifth century, Armenian elites were provided with a providentialist reading of their history and situation, through the cultivation of myths, symbols and memories. Equally important, that reading placed the ancestral homeland, erkir Hayoé (land of Armenia), at the centre of their self-understanding, and it is clear that for the Christian historians its boundaries were well known. For example, Agat'angelos' History recounts in great geographical detail the missionary travels of Gregory throughout the length and breadth of Armenia. There is also a much greater cohesion in terms of a distinctive public culture. This is partly the result of the adoption of a unique script, but even more because of the influence of a particular religious culture and its theological concepts. Through the institution of the Church and its scriptures, liturgy and clergy, Armenians became party to a covenant with Christ, and thus subject to its laws and regulations. Here, too, we find some movement towards a greater legal uniformity and cohesion, at least in theory.
On the boundaries of Armenia at the time of the missions, see Nersessian, Treasures from the Ark, ch. i. On the religious culture of Christian Armenia and its combinations with earlier Sasanid Zoroastrian beliefs and rituals, see Anne Redgate, The Armenians, chs. 6-7. On the Armenian Monophysite religion and Church, see A. S. Atiyah, A History of Eastern Christianity (London: Methuen, 1968), Part IV, and K. V. Sarkissian, `The Armenian Church', in A. J. Arberry (ed.), Religion in the Middle East: Three Religions in Concord and Conflict, vol. 1: Judaism and Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 1969).
At the same time, this process should not be exaggerated. Armenia was a semi-feudal peasant society, divided into regions dominated by great noble families or Naxharars, as well as lesser nobility or azats; even the Church was a feudal appanage. Armenia was also divided into Roman Lesser Armenia and partitioned Greater Armenia, so that the picture of unity given by the Christian historians was considerably idealised. Nevertheless, there was a supreme noble family, that of the royal dynasty, to which the church leaders in fact belonged, which acted as a restraint on the Naxharars. Moreover, the spirit of martyrdom for the holy covenant of the Armenian Apostolic Church united the aristocracy to a clear conception of the Christian nation of Armenia. Lazar P'arcepi's sixth-century History speaks of the valiant princely men `who gave themselves in countless numbers to martyrdom on behalf of the covenant of the holy church. (Nina Garsoian, Church and Culture, p. 128, citing Lazar P'arcepi's History, LPI, ii, 2,34.)
Elishe, too, according to Robert Thomson, argues that the reason for the covenant, which he thinks was modelled on the brit qodesh of the Maccabees, was to preserve the Armenians' `ancestral and divinely-bestowed awrenk, a term that embraces more than religion to include customs, laws and traditions, a whole way of life that characterised Armenians as Armenians. See Robert Thomson (ed.), Elishe: History of Vardan and the Armenian War, Harvard University Press, 1982, p. 1o. Thomson's Introduction places Elishe's History in the context of the wars and martyrdom, and of the new history writing of the period.
In other words, though the fragmented social structure appeared to deny the possibility, a conception of nationhood made its appearance and received _expression in the distinctive institution of the Armenian Church and its covenant. This is something more than the vague relationship of 'all-Aram', or the separate territory of Edom. There are even references in Paustos' Epic Histories to the gathering of an Armenian `council (zolov)', which included `even [some/many?] of the ramik (ordinary people) and sinakan (peasantry)', though we should not make to much of this. See Grosby, Biblical Ideas of Nationality, p. 145, citing Paustos Buzand, Epic Histories III, xxi, and indicating the parallel with Josiah's council in II Kings.
Once again, the evidence for processes of nation-formation is uncertain and conflicting. Centrifugal and unifying elements appear side by side. But for students of modern nations this should come as no surprise. Well into the nineteenth century, the aristocracy dominated political life and assemblies, even in western national states and even when their estates no longer afforded a base for separate political activity; and large sections of the population remained disenfranchised into the twentieth century, with little protection from the law. Instead, we should look for parallels in an earlier period: Armenia was closer to early modern nations in absolutist states, with their great nobles competing with the court and bureaucracy, but with a clear sense of a shared origin and history, the growth of a distinctive public religious culture, a growing attachment to an ancestral land, and the appearance of laws and customs specific to the inhabitants of that land.
Similar centrifugal and centripetal forces can be discerned in ancient Israel and Judah. Leaving aside the ongoing debates about early Israelite tribal assemblies reflected in the relatively egalitarian laws of the Mosaic code, and the lack of evidence for a strong united monarchy, there is little doubt that by the eighth century BC, clear self-definitions of `Israel' and 'Judah' as related sociological communities had taken hold among many people in both the northern and southern kingdoms. But, despite the efforts of certain prophets such as Amos and Hosea, following in the traditions of Elijah and Elisha, to insist on the exclusive worship of Yahweh and popular obedience to His laws, the ruling elites of the materially more advanced northern kingdom of Israel were much more powerfully influenced by the pagan Phoenician and Aramean cultures than were the rulers of its poorer southern neighbour. For all that, the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 721 BC and the deportation of its elites did not entail the destruction of the northern religious traditions. Rather they seem to have been incorporated into the Deuteronomic, and other, editings of the much older Israelite laws, histories and prophecies that appear to have achieved their present biblical form in Judah and Babylon from the seventh to the fifth centuries.
For Steven Grosby, the Judaites of the time of King Josiah in the later seventh century BC possessed the characteristics of a `nationality'. By that time, they appear to have had a clear self-designation and a sense of their collective existence as a people under threat, as well as an exclusive devotion to a single God of the land. They were also in the process of collating the many traditions, memories and myths of their ancestors in a fixed religious centre, Jerusalem, and they had a clear attachment to the God-given land of Eretz-Israel, which they claimed to have fixed boundaries which they were intent on reoccupying in the wake of the Assyrian withdrawal. But the extent to which the reforms of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah, and the laws of the Deuteronomic code, were observed and accepted by non-priestly segments of the Judean population is uncertain. The facts that pagan asherot (sacred trees which came to be regarded as idolatrous by Judaite leaders) had to be destroyed in the high places throughout the land, that a Book of the Law was `discovered' in the Temple around 621 BC, and that it had to be publicly promulgated in the purified Temple by Josiah, suggest that we are witnessing only the beginning of a process of observance of common laws.
On early biblical history, see inter alia Martin Noth, A History of Israel (London: A. & C. Black, 1960); G. W. Anderson, Tradition and Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979); Irving Zeitlin, Jesus and the Judaism of his Time (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988); Gosta Ahlstrom: Who Were the Israelites? (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1986); and from an archaeological perspective, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts (New York: The Free Press, zoos).
On the Josianic reforms, see Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, ch. u.
It was really only after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah that a restored Judean community committed to the worship of Yahweh and the observance of His laws, and centred on Jerusalem and the Second Temple, seems to have been able to persist as a separate ethno-religious community first under Persian, and later under Ptolemaic and then Seleucid, protection. Though there were schisms - between hellenisers and traditionalists and then between Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes - they do not appear to have undermined the sense of a separate Judean ethnicity, or the boundary introduced by the exclusive worship of Yahweh, the importance of Shabbat and the annual festivals, and the observance of the Mosaic law code throughout the whole community, right into, the period of Hasmonean and Roman rule. Indeed, it may be that, as Shaye Cohen has so fully and vividly documented, it is in this latter period that the creation of a Jewish ethnicity vis-à-vis Edomites and others can be traced. See Shaye Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2ooo), chs. 3-4. See also Martin Hengel, Jews, Greeks and Barbarians (London: SCM Press, 1980), Parts II and III.
But does all this allow us to characterise ancient Judea as a nation' in this period? For Doron Mendels in his provocatively titled The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism, the Jews are indeed a nation, and one of many cases of `nationalism' in the Hellenistic and early Roman world. This term, Mendels makes clear, actually signifies `ethnicity'; it is quite unlike the modern usage of the term. But, then, says Mendels, historians of Antiquity frequently make use of anachronistic terms like `imperialism' and `utopia'. In fact, Mendels is really concerned with the ethne (peoples) of the Hellenistic world, though, like S. G. F. Brandon before him, he is happy to speak of nationalist feelings or nationalistic traits such as `language', `territory', `history', `culture', and `religion'. Indeed, on the same page we read that Alexander the Great, for all his ideas of the unity of mankind, failed to abolish the existence of nations, just as Napoleon, with similar `universalist' ideas, actually aroused nationalistic feelings among some of his subjects. Yet, in this modern sense of the term, there is little evidence of `nationalism' in Maccabean or even Zealot circles.
All this seems to me to be a far cry from the penetrating sociological enquiry of Steven Grosby into the presence or absence of constitutive elements of nationality in Judah and other collectivities in the ancient world. On the other hand, one must admit that Mendels's choice of epoch is a more likely milieu for the generation of nation-forming processes in Judea. As I indicated earlier, it is unclear to what extent the Mosaic code had a deep impact in the seventh or sixth centuries BC. But it clearly became much more widely observed in the late Second Temple epoch, as well as in the Mishnaic period, when, as Jacob Neusner documents, a much more participant synagogal Judaism had replaced the Temple hierarchy and when the rabbis sought to create a largely self-governing community, mainly in Galilee, based on the needs and circumstances of the Am-haaretz, the common man of the land. Here, I would argue, we have the nucleus of a nation operating according to its own religious laws, even though it was at the time under Roman/Byzantine occupation and suzerainty. In this respect, we should recall that not all nations have sought outright independence, even in the modern world, as the cases of modern Scotland, Catalonia and perhaps Quebec remind us, but they have nevertheless exhibited all the processes of nation-formation that I enumerated earlier.
Both in Armenia and Judea, the emergence of a national community took place in the crucible of pre-existing states in which political action appeared as the main factor in ethno-genesis. In other words, kingdoms helped to forge these nations by providing the arena and impetus for those processes of self-definition, myth and memory cultivation, territorial development, the diffusion of public culture and legal standardisation that together constitute the bounded sociological and cultural community we call the nation.
But this is only one aspect of the matter. For all their importance as impetus and arena, political action and the state require other non-political sources and factors to galvanise the processes of nation-formation, in particular shared origin myths, historical memory and culture (mainly language and religion). In both Judea and Armenia, these factors, and especially those of religious belief, sacred law and clerical institutions, were able to `carry' the sense of common ethnicity and the memory of nationhood into exile and diaspora. While it is possible to argue that, unlike most ethnic categories, networks and communities in Antiquity, Judea and Armenia exhibited a balance between state and nation, and this was significant for survival, it was ultimately the strong territorial attachments, distinctive scriptures and messianic beliefs of their members that enabled these ethnic communities to persist through the vicissitudes of diaspora and to nurture over the longue durée the dream of collective territorial restoration to an ancestral homeland.
On the importance of institutions in `carrying' ethnicity and ensuring its persistence, see John Breuilly, `Approaches to nationalism', in Gopal Balakrishnan (ed.), Mapping the Nation (London: Verso, 1996). For the Armenian case, see Ronald Suny, Looking Towards Ararat: Armenia in Modern History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993), and Panossian, `The past as nation'. For the case of the Greek diaspora and the Orthodox millet under Ottoman rule, see G. Arnakis, `The role of religion in the development of Balkan nationalism', in Barbara and Charles Jelavich (eds.), The Balkans in Transition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963). For a critique, see Paschalis Kitromilides, "`Imagined communities" and the origins of the national question in the Balkans', European History Quarterly 19, 2 (1989), 149-92. On national restoration movements among Greek, Armenian and Jewish diasporas, see Anthony D. Smith, `Zionism and diaspora nationalism', Israel Affairs 2, 2 (1995), 1-19.
With Armenia and Judea in mind, we can return to our original question. In some ways, ancient Egypt exhibited the processes of nation-formation. After all, it had a clear name and self-definition, a consciousness of being a separate community and a suspicion of outsiders like the Nubians and the Hyksos. When King Kamose of Thebes around 1S7o BC exclaims
I should like to know for what purpose is my strength. One prince sits in Avaris, and another in Nubia, and here sit I with an Asiatic and a Nubian, each having his slice of Egypt ... I will grapple with him, and rip open his belly. My desire is to save Egypt which the Asiatics have smitten ... Your counsel is wrong and I will fight with the Asiatics ... Men shall say of me in Thebes: Kamose, the protector of Egypt.( Grosby, Biblical Ideas ofNationality, p. 31, citing A. Kirk Grayson and Donald B. Redford, eds., Papyrus and Tablet, 1973, p. 22.)
he is surely referring to a wider collectivity than Thebes or Upper Egypt. There is also much evidence of territorial attachments in ancient Egypt, as for example in the Song of Sinuhe, who had fled Egypt and become prosperous in Palestine (Upper Retenu), but felt a foreigner there and desired to be buried `in the land wherein I was born'. There was also, of course, a rich corpus of myths and symbols, including Creation myths, widely disseminated by priests and scribes and enacted in temples, together with a considerable repertoire of historical memories recorded in both inscriptions and papyri. We may also discern the growth of a distinctive religious public culture perpetuated in powerful priesthoods and scribal institutions, in whose culture all upper-class Egyptians were educated. Finally, there is little doubt about the high degree of legal regulation by the well-developed state bureaucracy, and its penetration of the countryside.
But this is where the problem lies. We can certainly point to a relatively powerful, and enduring, Egyptian state and its culture, but can we equally speak of a sense of Egyptian nationhood? In terms of rights and duties, Egypt was a very unequal society, even if there were links and pathways from commoners to scribes and even nobles; but then that is true of a great many other, modern societies. More important, there was nothing like a pact or covenant between the Pharaoh and his people such as we have seen in the case of fifth-century Armenia or of first- and second-century Judea. It is also difficult to know to what extent Egyptians were imbued with the scribal culture or were inculcated with its values.
The public culture was that of the state and the priesthoods. So when Kamose claims the title of `protector of Egypt', is it the nation he desires to liberate, or the state and its territorial integrity? It may be difficult, given the nature of the sources and the dynastic monopoly on inscriptions, to go behind royal propaganda, but we should attempt to ask these questions, if only to clarify our own conceptual categories and test the limits of comparison.
In this connection, it is interesting that, while a clear sense of common Egyptian identity persisted through the Saite and Persian periods (witness the serious revolts against the Assyrians and Persians) and into the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, to re-surface subsequently in more than one period, it was less marked than that of Armenians and Jews in their diasporas, at least before the modern epoch. Perhaps the processes of nation-formation had gone much further among ancient Jews and Armenians, and while all three cases had been formed in the chrysalis of the state, an emergent Egyptian sense of nationhood was more tied to the success of an all-powerful and all-pervasive bureaucratic state. The latter's fragmentation signalled the reversal of nation-forming processes among the Egyptians.