Walter Scheidel

  • C'est une fresque immense que l'historien Walter Scheidel a brossée : sur des milliers d'années et au sein des sociétés les plus diverses, il met au jour les processus qui ont fait reculer les inégalités économiques. Nous y découvrons, de manière tout à fait contre-intuitive, que la réduction de ces inégalités est en réalité moins probable en période de paix, d'abondance, de stabilité politique et de croissance qu'en période de souffrance et de chaos. De cette plongée historique, Scheidel déduit que le retour de l'égalité peut avoir lieu à travers quatre grands types de cataclysme : la guerre, la révolution, l'effondrement des structures de l'État et l'épidémie de masse - qu'il dénomme les quatre cavaliers de l'Apocalypse. Mais Scheidel s'éloigne de toute vision déterministe : ces quatre cavaliers ont un rôle possible, sinon probable dans le processus de remise à zéro des inégalités. En démontrant, avec une efficacité saisissante, cette mécanique d'anéantissement et de renaissance dont le capitalisme mondial est le dernier avatar, Scheidel pose les bases d'une réflexion indispensable sur le progrès social et les temps futurs. Sur l'urgence de répondre politiquement à une globalisation inégalitaire dont les fragilités accumulées pourraient entraîner un collapsus à l'échelle mondiale.

  • Two thousand years ago, the Qin/Han and Roman empires were the largest political entities of the ancient world, developing simultaneously yet independently at opposite ends of Eurasia. Although their territories constituted only a small percentage of the global land mass, these two Eurasian polities controlled up to half of the world population and endured longer than most pre-modern imperial states. Similarly, their eventual collapse occurred during the same time.
    The parallel nature of the Qin/Han and Roman empires has rarely been studied comparatively. Yet here is a collection of pioneering case studies, compiled by Walter Scheidel, that sheds new light on the prominent aspects of imperial state formation. This essential new volume builds on the foundation of Scheidel's Rome and China (2009), and opens up a comparative dialogue among distinguished scholars. They provide unique insights into the complexities of imperial rule, including the relationship between rulers and elite groups, the funding of state agents, the determinants of urban development, and the rise of bureaucracies. By bringing together experts in each civilization, State Power in Ancient China and Rome provides a unique forum to explore social evolution, helping us further understand government and power relations in the ancient world.

  • On Human Bondage-a critical reexamination of Orlando Patterson's groundbreaking Slavery and Social Death-assesses how his theories have stood the test of time and applies them to new case studies. Discusses the novel ideas of social death and natal alienation, as Patterson first presented them 35 years ago and as they are understood today Brings together exciting new work by a group of esteemed historians of slavery, as well as a final chapter by Patterson himself that responds to and expands upon the other contributions Provides insights into slave societies around the world and across time, from classical Greece and Rome to modern Brazil and the Caribbean, and from Han China and pre-colonial South Asia to early modern Europe and the New World Delves into a wide range of topics, including the reformation of social identity after slavery, the new historicist approach to slavery, rituals of enslavement and servitude, questions of honor and dishonor, and symbolic imagery of slavery

  • The world's first known empires took shape in Mesopotamia between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, beginning around 2350 BCE. The next 2,500 years witnessed sustained imperial growth, bringing a growing share of humanity under the control of ever-fewer states. Two thousand years ago, just four major powers--the Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han empires--ruled perhaps two-thirds of the earth's entire population. Yet despite empires' prominence in the early history of civilization, there have been surprisingly few attempts to study the dynamics of ancient empires in the western Old World comparatively. Such grand comparisons were popular in the eighteenth century, but scholars then had only Greek and Latin literature and the Hebrew Bible as evidence, and necessarily framed the problem in different, more limited, terms. Near Eastern texts, and knowledge of their languages, only appeared in large amounts in the later nineteenth century. Neither Karl Marx nor Max Weber could make much use of this material, and not until the 1920s were there enough archaeological data to make syntheses of early European and west Asian history possible. But one consequence of the increase in empirical knowledge was that twentieth-century scholars generally defined the disciplinary and geographical boundaries of their specialties more narrowly than their Enlightenment predecessors had done, shying away from large questions and cross-cultural comparisons. As a result, Greek and Roman empires have largely been studied in isolation from those of the Near East. This volume is designed to address these deficits and encourage dialogue across disciplinary boundaries by examining the fundamental features of the successive and partly overlapping imperial states that dominated much of the Near East and the Mediterranean in the first millennia BCE and CE.
    A substantial introductory discussion of recent thought on the mechanisms of imperial state formation prefaces the five newly commissioned case studies of the Neo-Assyrian, Achaemenid Persian, Athenian, Roman, and Byzantine empires. A final chapter draws on the findings of evolutionary psychology to improve our understanding of ultimate causation in imperial predation and exploitation in a wide range of historical systems from all over the globe. Contributors include John Haldon, Jack Goldstone, Peter Bedford, Josef Wiesehofer, Ian Morris, Walter Scheidel, and Keith Hopkins, whose essay on Roman political economy was completed just before his death in 2004.

  • Transcending ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries, early empires shaped thousands of years of world history. Yet despite the global prominence of empire, individual cases are often studied in isolation. This series seeks to change the terms of the debate by promoting cross-cultural, comparative, and transdisciplinary perspectives on imperial state formation prior to the European colonial expansion.
    Two thousand years ago, up to one-half of the human species was contained within two political systems, the Roman empire in western Eurasia (centered on the Mediterranean Sea) and the Han empire in eastern Eurasia (centered on the great North China Plain). Both empires were broadly comparable in terms of size and population, and even largely coextensive in chronological terms (221 BCE to 220 CE for the Qin/Han empire, c. 200 BCE to 395 CE for the unified Roman empire). At the most basic level of resolution, the circumstances of their creation are not very different. In the East, the Shang and Western Zhou periods created a shared cultural framework for the Warring States, with the gradual consolidation of numerous small polities into a handful of large kingdoms which were finally united by the westernmost marcher state of Qin. In the Mediterranean, we can observe comparable political fragmentation and gradual expansion of a unifying civilization, Greek in this case, followed by the gradual formation of a handful of major warring states (the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, Rome-Italy, Syracuse and Carthage in the west), and likewise eventual unification by the westernmost marcher state, the Roman-led Italian confederation. Subsequent destabilization occurred again in strikingly similar ways: both empires came to be divided into two halves, one that contained the original core but was more exposed to the main barbarian periphery (the west in the Roman case, the north in China), and a traditionalist half in the east (Rome) and south (China).
    These processes of initial convergence and subsequent divergence in Eurasian state formation have never been the object of systematic comparative analysis. This volume, which brings together experts in the history of the ancient Mediterranean and early China, makes a first step in this direction, by presenting a series of comparative case studies on clearly defined aspects of state formation in early eastern and western Eurasia, focusing on the process of initial developmental convergence. It includes a general introduction that makes the case for a comparative approach; a broad sketch of the character of state formation in western and eastern Eurasia during the final millennium of antiquity; and six thematically connected case studies of particularly salient aspects of this process.