Month: October 2016

Month: October 2016

The Information Density of Cuneiform Tablets

A photograph of a cuneiform tablet against the backdrop of 1 mm graph-paper
Tablet HS 643 in Jena.

When I was visiting the tablet collection in Jena (as one does) my mind naturally turned to fact-checking GURPS books. Back in 2007, some of the thoughtful writers at Steve Jackson Games put together an article “How Heavy is Dense Reading?” on the density of information from medieval manuscripts to modern printed books in words per square metre, words per kg, and words per cartload. They included some guesses about Greek papyri and cuneiform tablets, but did not seem to have as much data for those. Their house style discourages mentioning sources, but I am pretty sure that their medieval data comes from a survey of all surviving medieval European manuscripts which a professor mentioned in my undergraduate days. Today, I would like to put together some evidence on the size and capacity of small cuneiform tablets to help them fill in the gaps.
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Gadal-iama, Part 4: English Translation

In another part of the Achaemenid empire, a cavalryman in hood and body armour rides down his enemies with a spear.  Cropped from a photo y Dan Diffendale https://www.flickr.com/photos/dandiffendale/10506953106 under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
In another part of the Achaemenid empire, a cavalryman in hood and body armour rides down his enemies with a spear. Cropped from a photo by Dan Diffendale https://www.flickr.com/photos/dandiffendale/10506953106 under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Although many translations and summaries of the contract between Gadal-iama and Rimut-Ninurta have been printed, most of the English ones are based on earlier translations into French or German rather than on the difficult original text. As part of my dissertation I have read this text, and I thought that I should provide a translation too. The following text and translation is based on my poster at Melammu Symposium 10, Societies at War, presented on 27 September 2016 with one or two typos and careless choices of word corrected. I hope that I have not inserted any more mistakes in converting from PDF to HTML.
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An Elegant Counter

A few years ago, an article on the locomotor costs of moving in armour was published which made many steel-clad heads meet desks. Most of those heads belong to people who would be happy to explain what was wrong with the article in person, but are not used to writing up what they know with... Continue reading: An Elegant Counter

On Sketching Tablets

A photograph of a cuneiform tablet against the backdrop of graph-paper and bubble-wrap
Tablet HS 643 in Jena. On the graph paper in the background each small square is 1 mm wide.

At the beginning of October I had the pleasure of visiting the Frau Professor Hillprecht Collection in Jena to handle and sketch tablets. Doing so made clear to me some of the issues with reading and publishing cuneiform tablets. In this post, I will try to explain what those issues are.

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Bandits in the Achaemenid and Roman Empires

Map of the Euxine Sea (our Black Sea) showing elevation, rivers, and Greek cities courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Map of the Euxine Sea (our Black Sea) showing elevation, rivers, and Greek cities courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Achaemenid historians with a background in classics are often impressed by the references to revolts and ungoverned areas in the Greek sources. Pierre Briant published a number of works in French on the subject of unruly mountaineers in the Zagros. Are these a sign that the Achaemenid empire was particularly flimsy, and achieved its great size by not worrying too much about the deserts between the great cities and fertile valleys? Did those wonderful, vigorous Greeks and Romans establish a new kind of state which was much more powerful and ambitious?

I have always thought that evidence from the Hellenistic and Roman periods might be helpful. When I read specialists in Roman history, it seems to me that they often quietly mention that large areas in the backwoods were effectively outside of Caesar’s power and in the habit of robbing, extorting, or murdering travellers and neighbours. Now and then this sort of unrest even appeared in Italy, and the army would have to go and haul a ruffian out of a swamp, proclaim him the ringleader, and put him to death creatively. However, it seems to have been especially common in Anatolia. Searching through some old notes, I finally found one reference:

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The Tiroler Scylla and Charybdis

A map showing a rectangular building in the bend of a street with another street running along its other two sides.
A map of the closed main route (red) and blue temporary route
around the Markthalle, Innsbruck. The official sign makes the changes look very orderly.

Odysseus overcame Scylla and Charybdis, Jason the clashing rocks. Cyclists heading towards the Innsbrucker Hauptuni while the streets are torn up to install storm drains face another fearsome challenge, the alley behind the Markthalle. I lost the words to tell stories some time ago, so below the fold I will reveal its horrors in pictures:

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