Athar Jaber

Zainab Bahrani - Rituals of War

Zainab Bahrani:
Rituals of War (2008)

Chapter six: The Art of War

A military tactic in Near Eastern Antiquity was the abduction of monuments.
According to Paul Virilio‘s politics is directly linked to the polis. It follows that war is inextricably linked to the city.

Territorial space is drawn into the service of the war machine and reconfigured for and by sovereign power.

The destruction of monuments and images redefines the forms of the state or city as urban phenomena. The identities of the ancient city-states were continually constructed and marked through monuments, images, public rituals, and architectural structures. War was fought at the level of monuments as much as land and natural and economic resources. War was a means of unsettling and reordening space, monuments, and populations and reconfiguring them into new formations.

The movement of images during battles was an elaborate and complex practice. At times, wars were fought specifically for images, to acquire royal monuments and the cult statue of a god.

The aim in obtaining sculpture and monuments was not the acquisition of material wealth. The removal, abduction and transfer of an image was a form of banishment and exile and relocation. It was a productive operation of war similar to contemporary “psyops”.
The power of Cult images of the god and depictions of the king on statues and public monuments was such that the removal of any of these was believed to have serious consequences for the state.

Ashurbanipal exhibited statues of Elamite kings that had been taken as war booty from Susa. After being transferred they were deliberately mutilated and then displayed in damaged condition in the Assyrian palace. The defacement was an act of punishment analogous to the mutilations of humans.

Deities were associated with particular cities as patron gods. The cult statue was more than an image. It was the manifestation of the god in the realms of human beings. After completion, the statue was put through a mouth-opening ceremony. After that, the statue was no longer an image; it was the phenomenon of the deity on earth.

The removal of the god from the city has disastrous consequences. The god was exiled. Its divine power and protection were removed from the city.

On the presence of a narrative of destruction of monuments in war laments.

On the cult image of Marduk and how wars were waged to conquer the statue.

On “The Marduk Ordeal”, a ritual that described Marduk as a prisoner in exile who is then released. The meaning of the ritual is enigmatic, but it is certainly related to the practice of image abduction.

On the Erra Epic.

Stautes of gods were not the only target of removal and relocation strategies of war. Also statues of kings and public monuments were assaulted and abducted. The monuments appear to have been chosen specifically because of their historical and local significance.

The parallels between organic bodies, the corpses of defeated enemies, and their portrait-statues were used as a terror tactic and a form of magical violence that relied upon the blurring of boundaries between the body and its image.

Mass deportation was a standard feature of war, the uprooting of civilians as a form of punishment.

In Neo-Assyrian period, exile and deportation became a standard strategy of imperial expansion, domination of people, and deliberate demographic control. The aim of deportation was not so much the acquisition of slave labour but the forced uprooting, deliberate dispersal, and at times the nomadisation of settled communities. Since the city was the primary locus of identity and allegiance, exile was a harsh penalty.
One of the functions of war is the reconfiguration of space. The reordering of space can be achieved by moving things and people. Mass deportation reconfigures space.
The Assyrian empire aimed toward dislocation as a permanent structure, using destabilization as a form of political organization similar to current policies of global war.


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