Month: September 2016
Three years ago I was presenting a poster at a different Melammu conference. Most of the contents of that poster are based on my dissertation (which is available for free download) or paintings and photographs which belong to other people, but I did create one map especially for the poster. This week, I thought I would share it, and some of my thoughts on what is wrong with this picture.
One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.
This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.
Fiore dei Liberi was a startlingly intelligent man, and the words he chose to describe his art reflect this. He worked very hard to find words and design mnemonics which would help his audience understand and remember. Many of these words are still clear to students today, while some require a gloss. Because few of us hunt boar with spears, we need to be taught that the boar kills by ripping diagonally upwards with its fangs, and so does posta dente di cinghiaro (the position ‘boar’s tooth’). Quite a few of the words which he chose have another technical meaning within the world of arms and armour:
A few weeks ago I was distracting myself by chatting about the Battle of Magnesia with Michael Park, a very thoughtful lover of ancient history. This battle was a shocking upset where the Seleukid king and and army raised from his whole kingdom were scattered by a small army from Rome and Pergamon which had not seemed very eager for the fight. The longest surviving accounts are by Livy (written about 150 years after the fact) and Appian of Alexandria (about 300 years later) both of whom had access to contemporary sources. This campaign is interesting to me because Antiochus’ enemies trotted out some 300-year-old tropes from the Persian wars to depict him as an Asiatic despot seeking to enslave Europe with his countless but feckless soldiers. However, they were limited by the fact that Antiochus and his Friends paid people to tell their story in fashionable Greek, so they could not claim that Antiochus had hundreds of thousands of soldiers or wore foreign clothing or was too cowardly to go into battle himself. If they went too far, people who had heard other versions after dinner or read them in a library would cry foul.
In this battle the fighting began on the wings, and each side won on its right: Antiochus and his Friends drove a legion back to its camp with the first charge, while panic broke out on his left wing and Eumenes of Pergamon found himself in control of the field there. The infantry on both sides had not yet engaged: perhaps Antiochus was nervous of the stories that while thyreophoroi were normally no danger to a Macedonian phalanx, the Roman ones had a way of getting into the small gaps which emerged if a phalanx tried to move too quickly or crossed rough ground. Livy gives us his version of what happened next:
As always, citation implies neither approval nor disapproval.
A specialist in early medieval archaeology spells out one big problem with the modern fixation on fitting ancient people into boxes and assigning them distinctive labels:
Before I start, though, I want to address the obvious criticism of the topic, which is that modern scholars work a lot on identities, but did past people care as much? Certainly it can be argued that early medieval people did not say very much about identities, and nor do modern people, outside academia. But they did not say very much about a lot of things that modern scholars obsess over, such as gender, ethnicity, social age, or sometimes even aristocracy or nobility. The only social categories that they wrote much about were ones with precise legal importance, status that had implications for property and legal rights.
It is almost certainly the case that the inhabitants of sixth-century northern Gaul did not think of themselves in terms of many – perhaps most – of the categories that I have discussed here, although some of those aspects of their identity were remarked upon and thought of as important. Nevertheless, even if entirely modern in its framing, I think that, if theorised in sophisticated fashion, the concept of identities and their interplay provides a valuable means of analysing past societies and, on that basis, thinking about the present.
– The thinly pseudonymous Historian on the Edge https://edgyhistorian.blogspot.co.at/2016/06/thinking-about-identity-in-early.html
I’m writing about this now because these vulnerabilities illustrate two very important truisms about encryption and the current debate about adding back doors to security products:
1) Cryptography is harder than it looks.
2) Complexity is the worst enemy of security.
These aren’t new truisms. I wrote about the first in 1997 and the second in 1999. I’ve talked about them both in Secrets and Lies (2000) and Practical Cryptography (2003). They’ve been proven true again and again, as security vulnerabilities are discovered in cryptographic system after cryptographic system. They’re both still true today.
– Bruce Schneier, “Cryptography is Harder than it Looks,” https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/03/cryptography_is.html
The re-enactment world in general, but the Roman one in particular, is very prone to breakaways. I have heard recently of a group of only six breaking in half as egos clash.
– Chris Haines, “History of the Guard,” http://erminestreetguard.co.uk/History%20of%20the%20Guard.htm