According to an accepted argument in the study of borders, until the modern period no linear border existed. The border was always a frontier, a strip whose width was dependant upon the desire and capability of the ruling authority to enforce its laws within it.
The lecture will examine this assumption in light of two terms taken from the study of borders: ‘border or boundary’ and ‘frontier’ which reflect two methods of territorial separation that differ from both a quantitative and a substantive standpoint.
The quantitative standpoint relates to the ‘thickness of the line’. A ‘border’ is a line demarcating geographic regions. On the other hand, the frontier region is two dimensional and its width depends on the ability of the center to govern it. It is likely to reach several kilometers in width and it separates two political entities (a political frontier), or it is an area that extends beyond the inhabited domain (a settlement frontier).
From a substantive standpoint, the difference between the terms lies in the concept of the territorial separation. A ‘border’ applies to the bounded domains inside. It is connected to agreements, and stabilizes and restrains the behavior of the inhabitants on both sides of it. The term border expresses a philosophy that recognizes the existence of other centers of power, a philosophy of ‘multiple centers’. Contrasting this is the term ‘frontier’ which reflects a division of an area that is oriented outward and is dynamic; it is ‘a process more than a region’. This term is for the most part associated with ownership claims of external areas and it is related to a centralist philosophy, a single center differentiating between a proper and cultured center and its chaotic fringes and their barbaric residents.
Literary evidence from the ancient Near East proves the existence of the single center and multiple center philosophies and in keeping with that, divisions of area that fit the definition of ‘frontier’ along side divisions that fit the definition of ‘border’ during antiquity. Also in the biblical descriptions of the country one can identify verses that reflect a border and that entail a multiple center political concept next to verses reflecting a ‘frontier’ and a single center political concept.
In light of this textual evidence from the ancient East and from the Bible there is no validity to the approach that views borders as solely a modern phenomenon and it is necessary to examine each territorial division on its own, according to its definition, function and substance.