Book and Sword
pontifex minimus

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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How Heavy were Iron Age Bows? Part 1

See caption for description of painting
Another important detail: A Martyrdom of St. Sebastian in the BNM Munich showing the telltale red belly and yellow back of a bowstave made from the heartwood of a yew tree.

At the moment, many archery enthusiasts are telling anyone who will listen that soldiers’ bows usually had draw weights of 100 lbs and more (Deer hunters today usually use bows with a draw weight on the order of 50 lbs, casual or target archers often use bows about half as heavy, and even hunters of larger game rarely use a bow with more than twice that draw weight). In other words, you could draw the bow to its full draw length by hanging it string-down and suspending 100 lbs or more from the middle of the string.  If this idea is correct, many men in the ancient world did something which is much more physically demanding than is commonly thought. This week, I would like to post some of the evidence which I know which might be relevant to the strength of bows used in the eastern Mediterranean around the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries BCE. I hope that some of my readers can suggest more sources.

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Ferdinand of Naples on the Importance of Uniforms

a field looking towards a flock of sheep, a second-growth deciduous forest, and a small town in a valley
In another October this field was full of angry Frenchmen and Prussians not white sheep. Looking south from the battlefield of Jena, October 2010. Photo by Sean Manning, October 2010.

Long ago I heard the story of the South Italian prince who interrupted a discussion about the army’s new uniforms with “dress them in red, blue, or yellow, they will run away all the same.” The story embodies a truth that there is a big difference between looking like an army and being an army (and that some types of reform have more of an impact than others). But where does it come from? Twentieth-century British writers like Bernard Cornwell love telling stories about European foreigners and their national deficiencies, and I grew up reading a lot of twentieth-century British and US writers.

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Cross-Post: International Ancient Warfare Conference 2022

a socketed steel spearhead on a varnished wooden table
What questions can we ask about a spear? Find out at IAWC 2022

The latest International Ancient Warfare Conference will happen online from Thursday 23 June to Saturday 25 June under the sponsorship of Prof. Graham Wrightson in South Dakota. I am speaking in session 14 from 10.45 to 12.15 Saturday. The topic I picked is “Get to the Point: What Questions Should We Ask About a Spear?”

Sessions are open to the public and will not be publicly recorded (I may share my talk afterwards). There is no website for the conference, but here are a list of panels with links. All times are US Central Time (UTC -5.00).

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Google Pulls All Cornell University Library Videos

A "this page isn't available" scren for the YouTube channel of Cornell University Library
The status of Cornell University Library Channel as of 18 June c/o Dr. Alex Gill, Columbia University https://nitter.it/elotroalex/status/1538168994712399872#m

For about a week in June, Cornell University Library’s seven-year archive of videos were not viewable on YouTube. This was because they had posted an interview with the editors of pioneering lesbian magazine On Our Backs. You can find the details on Susie Bright’s new blog and check the status of their videos on Piped, a front-end for YouTube without the surveillance. Because they are a US institution with on the order of $10 billion in investments, and because censoring lesbian theory during pride month is a bad look, Cornell University was eventually able to have the channel restored. I just want to make one point.

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How Thick Were La Tène Shields?

This century, researchers such as Roland Warzecha have worked to spread awareness that most round centergrip shields from the Baltic were rather thin in the centre and even thinner at the edges. An overall thickness, including wood, skins, and any intermediate layers, of about 8 mm in the centre and 4 mm at the edge is typical from the sacrifices at Illerup Ådal around 200 CE to late Viking Era graves around 1000 CE. We do not know as much about shields in dryer, warmer parts of Europe where it was not customary to deposit arms in lakes and bogs. But we can study the surviving shields from La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. If you read the original reports, you will learn many things which Peter Connolly did not tell you.

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Elbow Brooches

a brooch consisting of a bronze piece like a bent arm and hand.  A steel spring is inserted into the 'shoulder' end of the bronze and pokes towards the hand end which catches it
A Stronach type iii.7 fibula by Mark Shier of http://medievalwares.com/index.php? 4 cm long, price as of 2022 is USD 23.95

Folks preparing for Plataea 2022 know that there are no commercially available fibulae (safety pins) suitable for the Aegean in 479 BCE. Mark Shier of medievalwares.com in Canada now offers a copy of a type which was very common from Egypt to Western Iran during, before, and after the Achaemenid period. These elbow fibulae are often found in graves from Babylonia through Syria to Judea. If you want to learn more, check out these websites and articles:

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Automattic is Creepy

This peaceful presenter is in a pickle! Leaving his usual home to be photographed by PA Media, he finds himself trapped in the triple web of an invasive content delivery network! Can he escape with his shiny toy? An example of Automattic’s CDN grabbing and serving an image from a random URL from i0.wp.com/, in this case Sir David Attenborough at https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/125EA/production/_125324257_hi076596136.jpg

On 7 June I learned that Automattic automatically copies images and other uploads to their own servers at the domain http://i2.wp.com/ It does so whether or not the uploads have been shared publicly. Not only that, but it keeps doing this once you move from their hosting with the Jetpack plugin to independent hosting without it. Their pretext is that if they host the same file in many physical places, they can generate your site quicker for people in distant parts of the world, but they keep doing this even if you are no longer using the Jetpack plugin which provides this service. I was completely unaware of this while I was hosting my site with Automattic (ie. WordPress-the-company, distinct from WordPress-the-open-source-software).

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When Trust is Verified Badly

Now, we can observe many flaws in just this one passage, but it should be noted that Low has done her reading and cites widely. The problem is that the analyses on which she is working are themselves flawed and, without detailed study outside of her discipline, she and other academics are unlikely to realise this. This is a hard warning for those of us who wish to research that assumptions are pervasive and insidious.

Rob Runacres, “HEMA Research: false truths and wishful thinking,” Western Martial Arts Workshop, Racine WI,September 2017 https://www.renaissanceswordclub.com/2017/09/27/hemaresearch/

In an earlier post, I argued that science advances human knowledge through a network that tests claims before they become premises in bigger arguments, and then tests the structure of those arguments to make sure they can hold the weight placed upon them. Past the early days of a field of knowledge, understanding advances because of systems and communities not lone geniuses who do everything themselves. Communities can ask more and harder questions than any one person can. But anyone who follows science news knows that this does not always happen. How can this system of verified trust fail?

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When the Spartans Turned and Fled

Monty Python shows how it is done! Image courtesy of http://www.billdamon.com/ (Internet Archive)

An article by Roel Konijnendijk and Paul Bardunias reminded me of one of the passages which made researchers rethink early Greek warfare. Plato’s dialogue Laches discusses the nature of courage and the value of education or training. Laches, a gruff soldier, has just defined courage or manhood in the way Athenians in Plato’s day usually defined it: as the ability to stay in the place assigned to you and defend yourself. Plato’s Socrates can think of some counter-examples:

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