Objects of Prestige? Chariots in the Late Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean and Near East
Marian H. Feldman & Caroline Sauvage Egypt and the Levant. International Journal for Egyptian Archaeology and Related Disciplines XX (2010): 67-181.
Abstract (from the Introduction)
The light, two-wheeled chariot, which makes its appearance in the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean during the second millennium BC, is often seen as a hallmark of the great states and internationalism characteristic of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600-1150 BC). Chariots are credited with revolutionizing warfare, hunting, and transportation, as well as providing a new emblem of royal and elite status. Numerous studies have documented the physical and mechanical apparatus of these chariots and have discussed them on a broad level within the spheres of military and diplomatic engagement and on a more specific level in terms of the regionalized construction. However, their ideological, sociological and representational significance in Late Bronze Age interactions has typically been glossed over or taken as monolithic across all regions. This study takes a close look at the surviving evidence from archaeology, texts and images to probe more deeply the symbolic role of the chariot during this ‘international’ age. The pan-Near Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean interest in chariots during this period comes to the fore, but with clear regional patterns in each culture’s rhetorical deployment of the vehicle.
Typically, studies of the Late Bronze Age either focus on a specific region like Cyprus or Mitanni, emphasizing its regional and local peculiarities, or they examine all the regions as participants in a singular sphere of international interaction, producing a fairly homogenized international map of the entire Near East and Eastern Mediterranean. Even if the regions occupy different levels of power and influence within the sphere, the assumption is one of a common ‘cultural’ language of engagement. Both of these approaches are valid, yet they tend to compartmentalize and divorce the aspects of the local and the international, which in reality were constantly in dialogue and tension with one another. Our study of chariots, which sees them as both international and regional, opens up a new avenue for understanding this dynamic.
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