Rituals of War is an investigation into the earliest historical records of violence and biopolitics. In Mesopotamia, ancient (ca. 3000-500 BCE) Iraqi rituals of war and images of violence constituted part of the magical techlogies of warfare that formed the underlying irrational processes of war. In Rituals of War, Zainab Bahrani weaves together three lines of inquiry into one historical domain of violence: war, the body, and representation. Building on Foucault's argument in Discipline and Punish that the art of punishing must rest on a whole techlogy of representation, Bahrani investigates the ancient Mesopotamian record to reveal how that culture relied on the portrayal of violence and control as part of the mechanics of warfare. Moreover, she takes up the more recent arguments of Giorgio Agamben on sovereign power and biopolitics to focus on the relationship of power, the body, and violence in Assyro-Babylonian texts and monuments of war. Bahrani analyzes facets of war and sovereign power that fall under the categories of representation and display, the aesthetic, the ritualistic, and the supernatural. Besides the invention of the public monument of war and the rituals of icoclasm, destruction, and relocation of monuments in war, she investigates formulations of power through the body, narrative displays in battle, the reading of omens before the battle, and historical divination through the body and body parts. Bahrani describes these as the magical techlogies of war, the realm of the irrational that enables the ideologies of just war in the distant past as today.
Zainab Bahrani is Edith Porada Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. She is the author of The Graven Image: Representation in Babylonia and Assyria and Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia.