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Acculturation and Ethnogenesis

As ethnic identity is often structured by political interaction (Barth 1969; Brumfiel 1994; Brumfiel and Fox 1994), ancient imperial frontiers became the catalysts for varying degrees of mutual acculturation and ethnogen- esis. Empires often justified these actions as efforts to impart civilization, although deeper economic reasons were at play (Drummond and Nelson 1994). Whereas some borderlanders actively accepted, manipulated, and adopted imperial institutions and cultural practices for their own ends, others actively rejected them (Helms 1992; Wells 1992). For example, acculturation was a favorite Roman strategy because it minimized the expansion expenditures while sharing the burden of defense with the natives (Drummond and Nelson 1994; Eadie 1977). In Pannonia, the empire Romanized the inner barbarians, who, by defending themselves, also protected interior Rome. In other border regions such as Mauretania- Tingitana, Roman citizenship was granted to the local elite as an inexpensive strategy to ensure loyalty (Drummond and Nelson 1994; Eadie 1977).

Frontier interaction also created the conditions for the emergence of new ethnic identities (Arutiunov 1994; Barth 1969; Hornborg 2005; Lat- timore 1940). The outer pastoral nomads and inner agriculturalists along the Great Wall of China are a good example. Despite the government’s intentions, these populations were distributed along a spectrum of languages, economies, and practices, becoming progressively similar to each other (Elton 1996; Lattimore 1940, 1962:116). In contexts of heightened competition and violence, distinct ethnic differentiation can also emerge as a form of political resistance or to assert political autonomy in the face of imperial encroachment (Arutiunov 1994; Athens 1992; Brumfiel and Fox 1994; Schortman and Urban 1987). This occurred with the Cara populations in the Northern Inka frontier, who enhanced their own ethnic identity and internal unity to openly resist the Inka advances (Athens 1992). In the opposite direction, frontier elite segments can also adopt ultraconservative postures by portraying themselves as the guardians of state cultural traditions in an effort to advertise their imperial affiliation. In the Egyptian frontier of Nubia, imperial representatives adopted “hyper-Egyptian” postures in public spaces, although in a private context this was not necessarily the case (Smith 2003).

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