Book and Sword
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Book and Sword

My First Book is Out

the cover of "Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire" (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2021) with a background of coloured rectangles

Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects. Oriens et Occidens Band 32 (Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart, 2021) 437 pp., 8 b/w ill., 4 b/w tables. ISBN 978-3-515-12775-2 EUR 74,– (softcover) (publisher’s website)

My first book is coming out from Franz Steiner Verlag this month. It is the first book on Achaemenid armies since 1992, and the first written by someone who can read any ancient Near Eastern language. I show that most of what we think we know about Achaemenid armies and warfare goes back to classical writers and to 19th and 20th century stereotypes about the east. So many books sound the same because they are repeating the ideas of early authorities in new language. By focusing on indigenous, contemporary sources and placing the Achaemenids in their Near Eastern context- the standard methods in Roman Army Studies and Achaemenid Studies since the 1980s- we can tell a different story.

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What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?

two bundles of planks on a yellow plastic deck chair. One bundle is longer thin white planks, the other is shorter thicker red planks
16 linear feet of 5/16″ thick tilia Americana (left) and 9 linear feet of 2″ thick alnus rubra (right)

People often guess that particular kinds of wood were used for shields in ancient Europe, including hard, dense woods like oak and soft, brittle woods like pine. But did you know that we can just examine the objects they left behind and see what woods the ancients used? Or that ancient writers tell us which woods are best for making shields and why? This week, I will list the woods used in some surviving ancient shields and then quote those ancient writers.

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Objectives in a War on the Eurasian Steppes

a map of territory controlled by government forces, Russian forces, and neither in eastern Ukraine
Ukraine war map, 27 April, by Nathan Russer https://nitter.net/Nrg8000/status/1519328137821454337#m After two months of war, Russian gains are in pockets a few kilometers deep and 10 km wide like an offensive in 1916

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine stalled in early March, I see some people on old and social media who are latching onto the fact that Russia still occasionally takes a new village in eastern Ukraine. Isn’t winning a war all about advancing?

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Where Did the Weapons Come From?

Back in February, as the evidence grew that Putin was about to commit the great mistake, journalists were sharing stories like this:

Dmytro Skatrovsky said he had not been notified by text but had turned up anyway outside the Svyatoshynskyi recruitment centre, in western Kyiv. He spent three years in the army and took part in the 2014 battle to evict separatists from the port city of Mariupol, he said.

“I’ve bought two sniper complexes with good optics,” he added. “I’ve also ordered a drone on Amazon. It hasn’t turned up yet.” Skatrovsky said a group of friends had chipped in to get the rifles – at a cost of $10,000 (£7,370). US contacts had paid $2,300 for the drone, he said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/23/business-brisk-at-kyiv-gun-shops-as-ukrainians-rush-to-buy-arms

Over on corporate social media, I see some people who are amazed and offended to see a wide range of kit in photos from the war in Ukraine, ranging from the latest and most fashionable rifles to Maxim guns on steel carriages and – well, I have not personally seen the 1903 Springfield rifles, and the WW II vintage Panzerfaust may have been stolen from a museum. I am not sure if that is as unusual as they think: the German army which invaded the USSR in 1941 has been described as a military museum on wheels, one of the machine guns in the Citadel at Halifax was removed from the museum collection circa 1991 because the Army needed it again, and an American National Guard veteran claims that his unit invaded Iraq in 2003 with old M3 grease guns last produced in 1945. In fact, if you looked at a random army sometime in the past few thousand years, I think you would see just such a diversity of arms, some bought from private sources, others made in rough workshops, others donated, and yet others purchased by the state.

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Two Links on Armoured Fighting Vehicles

Warfare between two powers with airforces and armoured divisions is complicated and technical, and many of the people who talk about it have ulterior motives. Some want to keep their audience by talking about the latest topic, others want to sell something, and a third kind are propagandizing for a state or a movement. Here are two links I found helpful¸and one topic which I wish I had a link on.

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Science as Verified Trust

“Ad faciendas cartas de pellibus caprinis more bononiense”: In this case I don’t have to trust: Reed’s Ancient skins, Parchments, and Leathers (1972) p. 74 cites a chapter by “Theophilius” on making parchment in British Library MS. Harley 3915 fol. 128r, but the text cited is actually an anonymous text on fol. 148r of the same manuscript as Theophilius (British Library database, see them for image rights)

The higher you rise in any hierarchy, the harder it is to get accurate feedback about your decisions because people are afraid to tell you the truth. I’ve worked with several (US) presidents. All have made big blunders. I’ve also known and written about CEOs of big corporations who have made terrible mistakes. In every case, they had flawed systems for getting useful, accurate and reliable feedback.

Robert Reich (some kind of former political appointee from the USA) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/01/vladimir-putin-ukraine-truth-deniers-bad-decisions

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the role of trust in science or scholarship. Engineers such as Bill Nye and political propagandists throw around the phrase “trust the science”! On the other hand, the rationalists whom I mentioned last year brandish the Royal Society’s motto nullius in verba “Take nobody’s word for it” like a sword. I think both sides are working from some misconceptions about how science or scholarship work.

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Achaemenid Clothing in Greek Eyes

a Greek vase painting of Darius on his throne as a man in Greek dress approaches to give advice
This painting is contemporary with Darius III, but the material culture does not convince me! Note the nice long kopis cleaver and the knobby walking stick. The Darius Krater in the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, Naples (from Apulia, c. 340-320 BCE), c/o Wikimedia Commons

Greek and Roman literature is certainly an important collection of evidence for clothing in the Achaemenid empire. Most of these passages describe the clothing of the king and satraps, or simply say that such-and-such is the Persian equivalent of a Greek garment. Herodotus and Strabo provide information about the garments of other people. Herodotus says that Babylonian men dress as follows:

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Another Chance to Register for Plataia 2022

A group of men and women in hoplite kit on a sandy beach
An Ethiopian hoplite on the beach at Marathon circa 2011 or 2015. Photo courtesy of Hoplologia Toronto, photographer unknown https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53442cfae4b011260e4040da/t/5bafce47b208fc046cb97e2b/1538249515737/11232033_982241378481876_1738786449720157603_o.jpg?format=1000w

Some of you will remember that the registration for the reenactment event at Plataia, Greece, was posted in 2018. From Giannis Kadoglou, there is now a new site to re-register for the event at https://plataea2022.com/

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Why Monster Talk is Important

As the emergency sirens howl, a handful of greasy people in shabby clothes are crawling around and assessing the damage. These people never got paid much for their work, and they were often opposed by institutions and ignored as they cried the alarm. These are people who look into weird stuff and the intersections between pop culture and pseudoscience such as Monster Talk podcast.

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