How do landscapes—defined in the broadest sense to incorporate the physical contours of the built environment, the aesthetics of form, and the imaginative reflections of spatial representations—contribute to the making of politics? Shifting through the archaeological, epigraphic, and artistic remains of early complex societies, this provocative and far-reaching book is the first systematic attempt to explain the links between spatial organization and politics from an anthropological point of view.
The Classic-period Maya, the kingdom of Urartu, and the cities of early southern Mesopotamia provide the focal points for this multidimensional account of human polities. Are the cities and villages in which we live and work, the lands that are woven into our senses of cultural and personal identity, and the national territories we occupy merely stages on which historical processes and political rituals are enacted? Or do the forms of buildings and streets, the evocative sensibilities of architecture and vista, the aesthetics of place conjured in art and media constitute political landscapes—broad sets of spatial practices critical to the formation, operation, and overthrow of polities, regimes, and institutions? Smith brings together contemporary theoretical developments from geography and social theory with anthropological perspectives and archaeological data to pursue these questions.