Containing Connectivity: Empires and Globalization in the Axial Age

Recorded: July 3, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 2
Citation: Versluys, Miguel John. "Containing Connectivity: Empires and Globalization in the Axial Age." Pourdavoud Institute: Achaemenid Workshop 2 (July 3, 2023).

by Miguel John Versluys (Leiden University)

Empires continue to be associated with power and imperialism in the first place. However, as Walter Scheidel once observed: “It is unnecessary and unhelpful to examine claims and ideologies associated with imperialism and exploitation when we are interested in ultimate causation.” In my lecture, I will explore the idea that the main ‘evolutionary’ function of Empires is the containment of increasing connectivity. This thought is particularly relevant for the period 800 – 200 BCE; famously characterized as the Achsenzeit (Axial Age) by Karl Jaspers. There seem to be defining correlations between the subsequent waves of Globalisation that characterize this period on the one hand and imperial transformations on the other. As the first to understand itself in global, universal terms, the Achaemenid Empire plays a key role in this respect. The extraordinary heterogeneity and the essentially pluralistic outlook of Empires in this period is well known. Can we explain this by interpreting them as ‘instruments’ that emerged on the stage of world history to contain and make sense of increasing connectivity? And what could such a perspective add to a better understanding of imperial transformations in the ancient Near East during the Axial Age in particular?

About the Speaker

The research and teaching of Professor Miguel John Versluys explore the cultural dynamics of the Hellenistic- Roman world (roughly 200 BCE – CE 200) from the point of view of Afro-Eurasia. He investigates these processes from local, regional and global perspectives and by means of a variety of methodologies and techniques derived from the Social Sciences & Humanities as well as the Natural Sciences. Interdisciplinarity is key to his research in all respects, as he believes that this approach is the only way to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the big and long-term picture he is interested in. His research has two distinct focus points: the interconnection of cultures and their various identities (‘Globalisation’), and the interdependence of objects and people (‘Material Culture Studies’). His ambition is to rewrite the history of Antiquity from the perspective of increasing connectivity and developments that took place in (wider) Afro- Eurasia – as part of the Global History of the ancient world – and to do so with a focus on objects and their affordances.