Political Landscapes of Capital Cities

Political Landscapes of Capital Cities


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Political Landscapes of Capital Cities investigates the processes of transformation of the natural landscape into the culturally constructed and ideologically defined political environments of capital cities. In this spatially inclusive, socially dynamic interpretation, an interdisciplinary group of authors including archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians uses the methodology put forth in Adam T. Smith’s The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities to expose the intimate associations between human-made environments and the natural landscape that accommodate the sociopolitical needs of governmental authority.

Political Landscapes of Capital Cities blends the historical, political, and cultural narratives of capital cities such as Bangkok, Cusco, Rome, and Tehran with a careful visual analysis, hinging on the methodological tools of not only architectural and urban design but also cultural, historiographical, and anthropological studies. The collection provides further ways to conceive of how processes of urbanization, monumentalization, ritualization, naturalization, and unification affected capitals differently without losing grasp of local distinctive architectural and spatial features. The essays also articulate the many complex political and ideological agendas of a diverse set of sovereign entities that planned, constructed, displayed, and performed their societal ideals in the spaces of their capitals, ultimately confirming that political authority is profoundly spatial.

Contributors: Jelena Bogdanović, Jessica Joyce Christie, Talinn Grigor, Eulogio Guzmán, Gregor Kalas, Stephanie Pilat, Melody Rod-ari, Anne Parmly Toxey, Alexei Vranich

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607324683
Publisher: University Press of Colorado
Publication date: 08/08/2016
Edition description: 1
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jessica Joyce Christie is associate professor of art history at East Carolina University. She specializes in the visual culture of the Maya and Inka as well as in the Southwest and Northwest of Native North America. Her research and resulting publications on palace architecture, landscapes of origin, and Inka sculpted outcrops have been supported by a summer fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, a Research/Creativity Award from East Carolina University, and several college and departmental funding sources.

Jelena Bogdanović is assistant professor at Iowa State University. She specializes in the architectural history of Byzantine, Slavic, Western European, and Islamic cultures in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. She is coeditor of On the Very Edge: Modernism and Modernity in the Arts and Architecture of Interwar Serbia (1918-1941). Her research has been supported by several grants including those from the International Center of Medieval Art and the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities at Iowa State University.

Eulogio Guzmán teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with Tufts University; he specializes in the art and architecture and sociocultural history of Amerindian societies and Spanish colonial territories.

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Political Landscapes of Capital Cities

By Jessica Joyce Christie, Jelena Bogdanovic, Eulogio Guzmán

University Press of Colorado

Copyright © 2016 Jessica Joyce Christie, Jelena Bogdanovic, and Eulogio Guzmán
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60732-469-0


Akhenaten's Amarna in New Kingdom Egypt

Relations of Landscape and Ideology


A few years after Pharaoh Amenophis IV (ruled ca.1353–1337 in the Eighteenth Dynasty during New Kingdom Egypt) had assumed the highest office in Thebes, he decided to radically reorganize and redirect the Egyptian political and religious system: he left the New Kingdom capital of Thebes and demoted the traditional Theban triad of gods — Amun, Mut, and Khonsu — and their powerful attending priestly classes. Out of this tabula rasa he created Amarna as the new capital of his reign, dedicated to the sun disk — the Aten — which he raised to the lone supreme god of Egypt, and to himself as this god's only messenger and earthly incarnation. The new era was initiated by an important act of name changing: Amenophis IV meaning "Amun is content" officially changed his name to Akhenaten, or "Beneficial to Aten"; the new capital, the remains of which are known today as Amarna (or el-Amarna or Tell el-Amarna) became Akhetaten, or "Horizon of the Aten."

Using the model of "political landscapes of relations" developed by Adam T. Smith, I analyze here the urban design of el-Amarna in the specific landscape setting selected by Akhenaten to discuss the ideological claims that surely underlay his decisions. Following Smith, the methodology reconstructs categories such as experience, perception, and imagination, as well as memorialization, emulation, and authorization, to explore the dynamic relations of dominance and submission that would have been shaped between Akhenaten and Aten, Akhenaten and his court, Akhenaten and the citizens of el-Amarna, and Akhenaten and official visitors. The methodology focuses on internal relations as they were masterminded by the ruler and choreographed in the natural site setting of his capital, since el-Amarna had few outside referents but was the brainchild of Akhenaten and reflected his vision of an ordered cosmos. Of course el-Amarna/Akhetaten has an extensive body of literature: most of the articles by members of the Amarna project are narrow case studies of particular excavations while the exhibition catalogues aim to discuss Akhenaten and his capital broadly. The new contribution to el-Amarna studies that the application of Smith's model makes is to bring the multivalent information sources together to reconstruct relations among space, time, and human agents, or simply put: to reconstruct life as it was likely lived rather than a slice of life frozen in time.

I begin with some general comments about sacred geography in Egypt and then revive the multiple discourses Akhenaten engineered between the built and ideological landscapes of his capital, Amarna. The visual arts, and in particular rock art embedded in a sacred geography, became an extraordinary tool to dramatize Akhenaten's authority.

Sacred Geography in Egypt

In ancient times as well as today, the Nile River has been the central axis and pulsating artery of life for the Egyptian people. It is the primary source of water on which all life forms depend. The Nile originates in the higher regions of Upper Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean in a vast delta, which formed the core of ancient Lower Egypt. Water levels rose and fell in a yearly cycle and at times of inundation, Nile waters deposited thick fertile silt soils in the valley and delta. This cyclical regime was permanently altered with the construction of the High Dam at Aswan in the 1960s. Ancient Egyptians learnt early how to channel water away from the river and irrigate and cultivate large portions of the valley. The Nile River Valley has been a green oasis teeming with life in a dry and stark desert setting since ancient times. The valley is bordered by cliffs on the east and west sides, which rise to varying heights and extend into desert landscapes. The Egyptians called the valley plain with its fertile soils Kmt, the Black Land. It was the landscape of the living where people settled and built their villages and towns. The desert was Dsrt, or Red Land, and signaled chaos and death. In the western desert, the sun sank each night below the horizon and metaphorically "died"; as a logical deduction, it was thought of as the realm of the dead. In the morning, the sun rose again from the eastern desert and was thus reborn. In similar fashion, human beings, including their rulers, lived out their lives in the Black Land of the Nile Valley and at death they entered the Red Land to the west. Therefore the valley plain and the desert, the Black Land and the Red Land, east and west, represented dichotomies that were dynamically interconnected. Both poles of the opposites functioned as vital elements in the Egyptian world and were accessed by human beings and gods. It was the sublime task of the Egyptian state personified by the pharaoh to maintain cosmological order (ma'at) and to keep all elements in their assigned places. The rationale of state ideology was to set rules and establish rituals that would defend the value of order and balance against the forces of disorder and chaos that continually threatened the Egyptian world in the guise of invaders from the outside, natural disasters, and internal rebellions.

The burden to keep ma'at was passed on from pharaoh to pharaoh. What is of interest here is how Akhenaten performed this task by commissioning a cultural landscape, which he could model to a still-unoccupied natural landscape setting. Which institutions and strategies used by his predecessors did he emulate and which did he completely revise? The case of Akhenaten and Akhetaten is unique in that we still find the direct materialization of what a sovereign thought his capital city ought to be more than 3,000 years ago. Although we will see that the reconstruction of his political landscape leaves many questions unanswered, the case study of el-Amarna serves as a compelling opening chapter in temporal as well as situational terms.


The political and religious reorganization initiated by Akhenaten had a spatial and geographical correlate: he wished to found his own city, a new capital for Aten, which he named Akhetaten or "Horizon of the Aten," the remains of which are known today as el-Amarna. Notwithstanding its remoteness and the limited conservation on site, a massive amount of data has been collected at this great city from surveys, archaeological excavations, and analyses of artifacts conducted by the British Amarna Project under the direction of Barry Kemp. Since the 1980s, a large number of articles, book chapters, and books have been published by project members and continue to be forthcoming.

El-Amarna is situated in a broad valley basin on the east bank of the Nile, approximately 9 miles south of the present town of Mellawi (figure 1.1). The course of the Nile River makes a slight bend and, as if they responded in a ripple effect, the cliffs arch back, forming a semicircle that was intended to enclose the city and is referred to today as the Bay of Amarna. Somewhat to the north of the semicircle center, yet still close to its central axis, the cliffs are broken up by a wadi, or desert valley, today called the Wadi Abu Hasah el-Bahri, which leads out into the desert. In 1891, one high-status tomb was discovered some 7.5 miles up this wadi. The tomb had been vandalized but has been attributed to Akhenaten. Although his body was not located, the iconography of the reliefs remaining on the tomb walls and its isolated and calculated location add strong support to the tomb's identification as Akhenaten's.

These landscape features are closely related to the hieroglyph Akhet, signifying the eastern horizon, and to a text passage repeated on the two earliest boundary stelae (see below) in which Akhenaten reports on his "discovery" of the building site. Akhet is the principal glyph in the toponym Akhetaten and it strongly resembles a graphic sectional view of two cliffs connected by a depression, upon which rests the Aten sun disk. Cyril Aldred first observed that when viewed from the area of the Great and Small Aten Temples, sunrise over the wadi takes on this very form in the physical landscape (figure 1.2). Thus the rebirth of Aten, the Sun, is performed daily and in perpetuity along the east-west axis of el-Amarna. It now becomes evident why Akhenaten would have chosen the wadi as his ideal tomb location. In death, he permanently united with and became Aten and therefore daily sunrise repeats his rebirth and stages his immortality.

A text passage from the two earliest boundary stelae sketches out an event possibly related to the founding of the capital:

Regnal Year 5, fourth month of the growing season, day 13.

On this day, one was in Akhetaten, when his majesty appeared on the great chariot of electrum, just like the Aten when he rises on the horizon and fills the land with his love, he having made a good journey to Akhetaten, his place of the primeval event ... which he made for himself, his horizon in which his circuit comes into being, where he is beheld with joy while the land rejoices and all hearts exult when they see him.

This text passage clearly links the city of Akhetaten to the rise of the Aten and the "primeval event" of his cycle, which implies the location of the initial rise of the Sun and the initiation of his rebirth. Silverman et al. further discuss the "great offering" of food items, animals, and agricultural products "in front of the mountain of Akhetaten." They interpret the texts that Akhenaten performed a ritual chariot ride from the central city to the wadi and upon his return made the lavish offering to Aten in the fifth year of his reign. He may have entered the sacred wadi for the first time and experienced a symbolic communion with his god, which convinced him to build his capital in the Bay of Amarna and his tomb further up the wadi. This chariot ride was repeated one year later on its anniversary day as well as in subsequent years. Alternatively Akhenaten may have made his offering at the foot of the cliffs, which is the only location in the Bay of Amarna that matches the descriptive term "in front of the mountain of Akhetaten." I will argue below that this primeval founding offering became the core event depicted on the boundary stelae and in numerous relief scenes gracing public buildings in the Main City.

Site selection may further have been influenced by seeking a compromise between the desire for a new and unused space unspoiled by an earlier history and the political need to link Akhenaten in some form to royal ancestors. Janet Richards discusses physical markers of the Egyptian landscape that the first dynastic rulers selected and contextualized in their funerary setting. Richards argues that similar landscape features were sought by later rulers, including Akhenaten, and were set into an ideational landscape layered with political and religious metaphors. She describes North Abydos, which contains several cemeteries with tombs dating to the beginnings of the dynastic era at approximately 3100 BC. These cemeteries are situated on the west side of the Nile at a location where the cliffs sweep back in the form of a crescent enclosing low desert. The low desert rises to the cliffs in horizontal layers of plateaus and escarpments and is split by a broad and shallow wadi leading to the cliffs of the high desert. Richards argues that the ancient Egyptians would have viewed the opening of the wadi in the cliffs on the western horizon as the gate to the underworld and would have used the plateaus and escarpments as theatrical stages for the display and enactment of rituals. By permanently residing in this topographic setting, these early dynastic rulers laid claim to this land and converted neutral and a temporal space into an empowered human place, using Christopher Tilley's terms of phenomenological landscape study. Over the next two millennia, Abydos obtained national renown for housing the tomb of Osiris, the god of the death and vegetation. The sloping sides of the wadi frame his tomb when viewed from a distance.

As noted, these same landscape features are found at el-Amarna, albeit on the east side of the Nile, and are dedicated to Aten, the god of the living and of rebirth. The reverse definition of the sacred geography must be emphasized if Akhenaten was indeed aware of the Abydos model. A similar topography further exists at other Egyptian sites, such as Deir el Ballas and Thebes, between the Archaic mastabas of North Saqqara and Abusir, and probably others.

Richards argues that the topographical setting at el-Amarna may have been the chief factor motivating Akhenaten to construct his capital at that particular location. Although the components of the natural landscape can be experienced even by the contemporary visitor, the written information Akhenaten has left us about himself in the long texts he commissioned emphasize that his primary perception was oriented toward his personal god, the Aten, and that the bay topography itself most likely came second. Upon first entering the Bay of Amarna and looking east, he perceived a connection between the landscape features and the rise of Aten. The ritual chariot ride and the initial offering cemented his perception into the imagination that the wadi constituted the sacred geography in which Aten, the Sun, first rose and where he would unite with Aten in life, death, and perpetual rebirth. This condenses the essence of Akhenaten's ideology and his capital was constructed around this experienced, perceived, and imagined landscape.

El-Amarna was not confined to the east side. It extended west to Tuna el-Gebel on the western bank of the Nile, which encompassed most of the agricultural land required to feed the city population. The complete terrain of the city was marked by sixteen rock stelae carved into the high cliffs that encircled the capital and on one level functioned as its boundary stones. The stelae rise to a height of about 29.5 feet (9 m) in the form of flat, elongated rectangles with rounded tops, which project out from the cliff surfaces (figure 1.3). The lower two-thirds of each stela are covered with a long hieroglyphic inscription. The upper third displays a central image of the sun disk Aten with his personified rays. Under the rays, Akhenaten, his wife Nefertiti, and their daughters are assembled in varied groupings bringing offerings to Aten. Their figures are carved in a sunken low-relief style characteristic of the Amarna Period: the body outlines curve and are sunk into the rock while the body volumes swell out in convex masses. Many stelae are accompanied by high-relief statues of Akhenaten and his family arranged on both sides of the stelae bottoms. The stelae were first professionally documented by W. Flinders Petrie in the 1890s. He named each one with an English capital letter, leaving gaps in the sequence to allow for future discoveries. Petrie's list included A, B, and F on the west bank at Tuna el-Gebel and J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, U, and V for the east bank. Shortly after Petrie, the boundary stelae were independently investigated by the French Egyptologist Jean Daressy and a German expedition led by Georg Steindorff. Since then, Stela X has been added by Norman de Garis Davies in 1901 and Stela H by H. Fenwick in 2006. Davies's publication counts as the most thorough and authoritative documentation of the stelae in the first half of the twentieth century. The most recent academic full documentation and translation of Akhenaten's boundary monuments was published by William J. Murnane and Charles C. van Sicklen. My discussion below builds on their work and my own field observations.


Excerpted from Political Landscapes of Capital Cities by Jessica Joyce Christie, Jelena Bogdanovic, Eulogio Guzmán. Copyright © 2016 Jessica Joyce Christie, Jelena Bogdanovic, and Eulogio Guzmán. Excerpted by permission of University Press of Colorado.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface Jessica Joyce Christie Jelena Bogdanovic Eulogio Guzmán xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: The Spatial Turn and Political Landscapes of Capital Cities Eulogio Guzmán Jessica Joyce Christie Jelena Bogdanovic 3

1 Akhenaten's Amarna in New Kingdom Egypt: Relations of Landscape and Ideology Jessica Joyce Christie 25

2 "Memorials of the Ability of Them All": Tetrarchic Displays in the Roman Forum's Central Area Gregor Kalas 65

3 The Relational Spiritual Geopolitics of Constantinople, the Capital of the Byzantine Empire Jelena Bogdanovic 97

4 Beyond the Ashes: The Making of Bangkok as the Capital City of Siam Melody Rod-ari 155

5 Monumental Perceptions of the Tiwanaku Landscape Alexei Vranich 181

6 The Inka Capital Cusco as the Model of an Imperial Cultural Landscape Jessica Joyce Christie 213

7 Making Landfall: Anchoring Authority in the Public and Private Political Sphere of the Basin of Mexico Eulogio Guzmán 249

8 Provincial Capital vs. Peasant Capital: A Subaltern Perspective on Urban Rise and Fall from Grace Anne Parmly Toxey 287

9 La Parola al Piccone: Demonstrations of Fascism at the Imperial Fora and the Mausoleum of Augustus Stephanie Zeier Pilat 319

10 Tehran: A Revolution in Making Talinn Grigor 347

Conclusions: Ontological Relations and the Spatial Politics of Capital Cities Jelena Bogdanovic Jessica Joyce Christie Eulogio Guzmán 377

List of Contributors 391

Index 393

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