Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5d6d958fb5-8cb25 Total loading time: 0.772 Render date: 2022-11-29T12:30:20.478Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Part VI - Representations and Constructions of Violence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Garrett G. Fagan
Pennsylvania State University
Linda Fibiger
University of Edinburgh
Mark Hudson
Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte, Germany
Matthew Trundle
University of Auckland
Get access


Image of the first page of this content. For PDF version, please use the ‘Save PDF’ preceeding this image.'
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bibliographic Essay

While there is a great deal of writing on ancient Indian kingship, until recently exploration of the relationship between kingship, violence and non-violence has been very meagre. For a recent comprehensive and detailed treatment of the subject, see Singh, Upinder, Political Violence in Ancient India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017). For an overview of the history of the important framing concept of dharma, see Olivelle, Patrick (ed.), Dharma: Studies in its Semantic, Cultural and Religious History (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2009). For writings on violence and non-violence, which include essays on religion and politics, see Houben, Jan E. M. and Kooij, Karel R. van (eds.), Violence Denied: Violence, Nonviolence and the Rationalization of Violence in South Asian Cultural History (Leiden: Brill, 1999); Vidal, Denis, Tarabout, Gilles and Vidal, Eric Meyer (eds.), Violence/Nonviolence: Some Hindu Perspectives (New Delhi: Manohar and Centre de Sciences Humaines, 2003). On the concepts of ahiṁsā and ānṛśaṁsya, see Lath, Mukund, ‘The Concept of Ānṛśaṁsya in the Mahābhārata’, in Dandekar, R. N. (ed.), The Mahābhārata Revisited, papers presented at the International Seminar on the Mahābhārata organised by the Sahitya Akademi at New Delhi on 17–20 February 1987 (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1990), pp. 113–19; Mehta, J. L., ‘The Discourse of Violence in the Mahabharata’, in Philosophy and Religion: Essays in Interpretation (New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research and Munshiram Manoharlal, 1990), pp. 254–71. On kingship, cruelty, violence and non-violence in the Mahābhārata, see Hiltebeitel, Alf, Rethinking the Mahābhārata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), chapter 5, especially pp. 202–14.

In recent years there have been attempts to investigate warfare and ideas about war in South Asia, largely within religious contexts. See for instance Roy, Kaushik, Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Aquil, Raziuddin and Roy, Kaushik (eds.), Warfare, Religion, and Society in Indian History (New Delhi: Manohar, 2012). Another trend is towards a comparative perspective with regards to war. See for instance Brekke, Torkel, ‘The Ethics of War and the Concept of War in India and Europe’, NUMEN: International Review for the History of Religions 52 (2005), 7286, and Brekke, Torkel (ed.), The Ethics of War in Asian Civilizations: A Comparative Perspective (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).

For a detailed discussion of various aspects of kingship, violence, war and punishment in Aśoka’s inscriptions, see Singh, Upinder, ‘Governing the State and the Self: Political Philosophy and Practice in the Edicts of Aśoka’, South Asian Studies 28.2 (2012), 131–45. For a discussion of these issues in Kāmandaka’s Nītisāra, see Singh, Upinder, ‘Politics, Violence, and War in Kāmandaka’s Nītisāra’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 47.1 (2010), 2962. On Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṁśa, see Singh, Upinder, ‘The Power of a Poet: Kingship, Empire and War in Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṁśa’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 38.2 (2011), 177–98. These three essays are reprinted in Singh, Upinder, The Idea of Ancient India: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Archaeology (New Delhi: SAGE, 2016).

Bibliographic Essay

My interpretation and contextualisation of ‘Violence and the Bible’ depend on the following: Bourdieu, Pierre, ‘Sur le pouvoir symbolique’, Annales 32.3 (1977), 405–11; Riches, David, ‘Aggression, War, Violence: Space/Time and Paradigm’, Man n.s. 26.2 (1991), 281–98; Riches, David, ‘The Phenomenon of Violence’, in Riches, David (ed.), The Anthropology of Violence (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986]), pp. 127; Galtung, Johan, ‘Cultural Violence’, Journal of Peace Research 27.3 (1990), 291305. More recent theorisations of violence among anthropologists are Schmidt, Bettina and Schröder, Ingo (eds.), Anthropology of Violence and Conflict (New York: Routledge, 2001), and Aijmer, Göran and Abbink, Jon (eds.), Meanings of Violence: A Cross Cultural Perspective (Oxford: Berg, 2000). Among biblical scholars who have framed discussions of violence and the Bible, Collins’s, John J.The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence’, Journal of Biblical Literature 122.1 (2003), 321 provides an important starting point, while contributions to Bernat, David and Klawans’s, Jonathan Religion and Violence: The Biblical Heritage (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008) make important progress towards a critical analysis of violence in Hebrew Bible and New Testament literature. From that volume, Ziony Zevit’s ‘The Search for Violence in Israelite Culture and in the Bible’ provides a thorough overview, including discussion of the biblical Hebrew vocabulary for ‘violence’. Subsequent volumes have focused on specific types of violence featured in the Bible, such as war – Kelle, B. E. and Ames, F. R (eds.), Writing and Reading War: Rhetoric, Gender, and Ethics in Biblical and Modern Contexts (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2008) and Kelle, B. E, Ames, F. R. and Wright, J. L. (eds.), Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2014) – ritual violence – Olyan, Saul (ed.), New Perspectives on Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015) – and textual practices – Shaul Boustan, Raanan, Janssen, Alex P and Roetzel, Calvin J (eds.), Violence, Scripture, and Textual Practices in Early Judaism and Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2010). Klawans, Jonathan discusses violence and biblical ritual structures in ‘Pure Violence: Sacrifice and Defilement in Ancient Israel’, Harvard Theological Review 94.2 (2001), 133–55. Bruce Lincoln theorises ancient Mediterranean ‘sanctified violence’, focusing on divine combat, military defeat, millenarian revolt and ‘mortification of the flesh’, in Sanctified Violence’, in Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars: Critical Explorations in the History of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). Hendel, Ronald S. addresses the contemporary utilisation of biblical themes to justify violence in ‘The Bible and Religious Violence’, Biblical Archaeology Review 42.2 (2016), 22, 66. For discussion of the psychology of the modern ‘apocalyptic’ application of biblical themes, see Jones, James W., ‘The Divine Terrorist – Religion and Violence in American Apocalyptic Christianity’, in Blood That Cries From the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 88114. For a condensed treatment of violence within modern ‘biblical religions’, see the chapters on Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions by Ron Hassner and Gideon Aran, Lloyd Steffen, and Bruce Lawrence in Jerryson, Michael, Juergensmeyer, Mark, and Kitts, Margo (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Bibliographic Essay

Violence in relation to warfare in the ancient Near East has been extensively treated by Bahrani, Zainab, Rituals of War. The Body and Violence in Mesopotamia (New York: Zone Books, 2008). On beheading see Dolce, Rita’s ‘The “Head of the Enemy” in the Sculptures from the Palaces of Nineveh: An Example of ‘Cultural Migration?’, in Collon, D. and George, A. (eds.), Nineveh. Papers of the 49th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Part One (London: British Institute for the Study of Iraq, 2004), pp. 121–31, and Têtes en guerre en Mésopotamie et en Syrie’, in D’Onofrio, S. and Taylor, A.-C. (eds.), La Guerre en tête (Paris: L’Herne, 2006), pp. 3346.

For an anthropological perspective see Dominik Bonatz, ‘Ashurbanipal’s Headhunt: An Anthropological Perspective’, in Collon and George (eds.), Nineveh, pp. 93–103. On the symbolic value see Testart, Alain, ‘Des Crânes et des vautours ou la guerre oubliée’, Paléorient 34.1 (2008), 3358. On mutilation of enemies in war see De Backer, Fabrice, ‘Fragmentation of the Enemy in the Ancient Near East during the Neo-Assyrian Period’, in Michaels, A. (ed.), Ritual Dynamics, Usurpation, Ritual, vol. iii, State, Power and Violence (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008), pp. 393–412, and De Backer, Fabrice, ‘Cruelty and Military Refinements’, Res Antiquae 6 (2009), 1350.

On the rituality of violence see Porter, Ann M. and Schwartz, Glenn M. (eds.), Sacred Killing: The Archaeology of Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012), and Ralph, Sarah (ed.), The Archaeology of Violence: Interdisciplinary Approaches (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2012).

On third millennium warfare in Syria, see Archi, Alfonso, ‘Men at War in the Ebla Period on the Unevenness of the Written Documentation’, in Wilhelm, G. (ed.), General Studies and Excavations at Nuzi 11/2 in Honor of David I. Owen on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday October 28, 2005 (Bethesda: CDL Press, 2005), pp. 1535, and Biga, Maria Giovanna, ‘Au-delà des frontières: guerre et diplomatie à Ébla’, Orientalia 77 (2008), 289334. On warfare in third millennium Mesopotamia see Schrakamp, Ingo, ‘Kommentar zu der altakkadischen “Rüstkammerkunde” Erm. 14380’, in Kogan, L. et al. (eds.), Babel und Bibel 3. Annual of Ancient Near Eastern, Old Testament, and Semitic Studies (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), pp. 161–77. On representations of war and violence on cylinder seals see Nadali, Davide, ‘Representations of Battering Rams and Siege Towers in Early Bronze Age Glyptic Art’, Historiae 6 (2009), 3952.

On Assyrian warfare see the following: Fales, Frederick Mario, Guerre et paix en Assyrie: Religion et impérialisme (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2010); Nadali, Davide, ‘Assyrian Open Field Battles: An Attempt at Reconstruction and Analysis’, in Vidal, J. (ed.), Studies on War in the Ancient Near East: Collected Essays on Military History (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2010), pp. 117–52; Collins, Paul, ‘Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Violence: Warfare in Neo-Assyrian Art’, in Brown, B. A. and Feldman, M. H. (eds.), Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), pp. 619–44.

Bibliographic Essay

General surveys of Roman representational art include the following: Kleiner, D., Roman Sculpture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); Ling, R., Roman Painting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Dunbabin, K., Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). The significance of style in pictorial art is addressed by Hölscher, T., The Language of Images in Roman Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), in which the author examines Hellenistic and Roman battle imagery. The portrayal of war across a variety of media can be found in Dillon, S. and Welch, K. (eds.), Representations of War in Ancient Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Noteworthy studies concerning Roman battle scenes and iconography are as follows: Faust, S., Schlachtenbilder der römischen Kaiserzeit (Rahden: Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2012); Picard, G.-C., ‘L’Idéologie de la guerre et ses monuments dans l’Empire romain’, Revue Archéologique 1 (1992), 111–41; Schäfer, T., ‘Römischer Schlachtenbilder’, Madrider Mitteilungen 27 (1986), 345–64. The development of war iconography and triumphal display is discussed in the following: Holliday, P., The Origins of Roman Historical Commemoration in the Visual Arts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Beard, M., The Roman Triumph (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Östenberg, I., Staging the World: Spoils, Captives, and Representations in the Roman Triumphal Procession (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Sources on Roman attitudes towards gladiatorial combat are gathered and discussed in Wistrand, M., Entertainment and Violence in Ancient Rome: The Attitudes of Roman Writers in the First Century CE (Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1992). Studies of gladiatorial images in funerary and domestic contexts are offered by Flecker, M., Römische Gladiatorenbilder (Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2015) and Papini, M., Il Mondo delle immagini dei gladiatori (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 2004). Mosaics of gladiatorial combat in domestic settings are addressed by Brown, S., ‘Death as Decoration: Scenes from the Arena on Roman Domestic Mosaics’, in Richlin (ed.), A., Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 180211, and Dunbabin, K., The Mosaics of Roman North Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978).

Representations of violence as a cultural phenomenon within the Second Sophistic are dealt with in the following: Morales, H., ‘The Torturer’s Apprentice: Parrhasius and the Limits of Art’, in Elsner, J. (ed.), Art and Text in Roman Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 182209; von den Hoff, H., ‘Horror and Amazement: Colossal Mythological Statue Groups and the New Rhetoric of Images in Late Second and Early Third Century Rome’, in Borg, B. (ed.), Paideia: The World of the Second Sophistic (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004), pp. 105–29; Newby, Z., ‘The Aesthetics of Violence: Myth and Danger in Roman Domestic Landscapes’, Classical Antiquity 31.2 (2012), 349–89, which also treats violent myth scenes in Pompeian painting. For more on violent scenes in Pompeian painting, see Frederick, D., ‘Beyond the Atrium to Ariadne: Erotic Painting and Visual Pleasure in the Roman House’, Classical Antiquity 14.2 (1995), 266–88; Koloski-Ostrow, A., ‘Violent Stages in Two Pompeian Houses: Imperial Taste, Aristocratic Response, and Messages of Male Control’, in Koloski-Ostrow, A. and Lyons, C. (eds.), Naked Truths: Women, Sexuality, and Gender in Classical Art and Archaeology (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 243–66; Severy-Hoven, B., ‘Master Narratives and the Wall Painting of the House of the Vettii, Pompeii’, Gender & History 24.3 (2012), 540–80, with an excellent summary of the use of feminist theory and film criticism in scholarship on Roman painting since the publication of Mulvey’s, L. Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989).Finally, violent myth scenes on sarcophagi are catalogued and discussed in Zanker, P. and Ewald, C., Living with Myths (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), while the specific meaning of the Medea myth is analysed in Gessert, G., ‘Myth as Consolatio: Medea on Roman Sarcophagi’, Greece & Rome 51.2 (2004), 217–49.

Bibliographic Essay

The identity of warriors, the role of the Kṣatriya class and the concept of heroism in ancient India has received some scholarly attention. For an early treatment see Hopkins, E., ‘The Social and Military Position of the Ruling Caste in Ancient India, as Represented by the Sanskrit Epic’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 13 (1889), 57376. More recently, Hara, M has dedicated several short studies to the issue of warrior identity: ‘A Note on the Rākṣasa Form of Marriage’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 94.3 (1974), 296306; A Note on the Phrase Dharma-Kṣetre Kuru-Kṣetre’, Journal of Indian Philosophy 27.1/2 (1999), 56–8; and Apsaras and Hero’, Journal of Indian Philosophy 29.1/2 (2001), 135–53. For a survey of issues relating to warfare see Whitaker, J., ‘Warfare in Ancient India’, in Meissner, B. et al. (eds.), The Cambridge History of War, vol.i, War and the Ancient World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). On the supernatural nature of epic heroes and their weaponry see Whitaker, J.’s ‘Divine Weapons and Tejas in the Two Indian Epics’, Indo-Iranian Journal 43.2 (2000), 87113, and How the Gods Kill: The Nārāyaṇa Astra Episode, the Death of Rāvaṇa, and the Principles of Tejas in the Indian Epics’, Journal of Indian Philosophy 30.4 (2002), 403–30.

While the concept of heroism in ancient India has received some scholarly attention, it has been poorly defined. For a critical reflection see Whitaker, J., Strong Arms and Drinking Strength: Masculinity, Violence, and the Body in Ancient India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 5962. The Sanskrit terms vīra and vīrya are typically translated as ‘hero’ and ‘heroism’ respectively, but I have argued that in the R̥gveda they convey an explicitly gendered meaning as ‘virile/brave man’ and ‘virility, manliness, masculine power’, while the term śū́ra designates the true heroic champion (Strong Arms and Drinking Strength, pp. 59–108 and 109–31). For further consideration see Whitaker, J., ‘I Boldly Took the Mace (Vájra) for Might: Ritually Weaponizing a Warrior’s Body in Ancient India’, International Journal of Hindu Studies 20.1 (2016), 5194. Likewise, vīra and śūra are frequently conflated in the secondary literature: see Brückner, H. et al. (eds.), The Concept of Hero in Indian Culture (New Delhi: Manohar, 2007), which lacks any critical analysis of the exact nature of heroism; Brückner (p. x) states somewhat naively that the Sanskrit words vīra, marya, śūra/śūla and malla mean ‘hero’ and correspond to the ancient Greek term hérōs (following Sontheimer); cf. Bollée (pp. 1–5) in the same volume. According to McGrath, K., The Sanskrit Hero: Karṇa in the Mahābhārata (Leiden: Brill, 2004), no substantive semantic differences exist between vīra and śūra in the Mahābhārata (see pp. 23, 55), yet elsewhere he notes that although displaying close synonymy, the term vīra is best translated as ‘warrior’, whereas śūra means ‘hero’ (p. 28, n.8). While the six epic chapters are not indicative of the whole epic, a clear semantic distinction can be seen in the use of vīra and śūra. In this vein, Caracchi, P. has drawn a more definitive conclusion about the meaning of vīra and śūra in medieval bhakti texts of the Sant tradition; namely, that śūra denotes ‘hero’: ‘The Hero in Sant Tradition’, in Monti, Alessandro (ed.), Hindu Masculinities Across the Ages: Updating the Past (Torino: L’Harmattan Italia, 2002), pp. 223–45.

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats