Networks of Control: Comparing Geographies of Empire between Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages in North Africa (20 min)


Stephen Collins-Elliott, University of Tennessee, Knoxville


North Africa has often been treated as a colonial environment, a frontier space at the periphery of major world empires, whose archaeological remains are often interpreted using thresholds of imperial control—Carthaginian, Roman, Vandal, East Roman (Byzantine), Umayyad, and Abbasid—as the basis for periodization. Such powers are also associated with the production of geographies, from the Periplus of Hanno, to the Roman works of Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, to Arabic geographical treatises such as the Ṣurat al-Ard of al-Kwārizmī and Kitāb al Masālik w'al Mamālik of Ibn Khordadbeh, which served to frame the spatial boundaries of how agents of these empires saw the region. Nevertheless, other perspectives are possible, and local centers of power emerged or coexisted alongside these imperial entities, whose own representation can be recovered from epigraphic and monumental sources that have serve as the material basis for discerning the formation and presence of local state societies. This paper assembles available historical and archaeological data to conduct a large-scale, comparative analysis between antiquity and the Middle Ages, looking at how imperial agents sought to impose control over the peoples of North Africa, via factors such as periodic campaigning, implantation of garrisons and military camps, surveillance, co-option of local leaders, production of coinage, survival or transience of cultural traditions (funerary, religious, linguistic) either local or associated with the external aggressor, as well as building projects, colonization, and resettlement. Then, it proposes a computational model that associates these behaviors with specific spatial features, to map the methods employed by internal and external powers. The resulting model provides a new means of defining connections and boundaries between different regions of North Africa, illustrating the way in which both empires and local societies sought to effect control by forging or breaking preexisting networks.