What I Did Instead of My Summer Vacation

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Categories: Ancient

A cheap steel bookcase full of academic texts and a thesis bound in linen with the title "Dissertation: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire" (Sean Manning, MA, 2018)

On a foggy Monday the 3rd of September I sent my dissertation to the printer in Salzburg. I will defend it around the start of November. I suppose I should talk about what I have been working on for five years, aside from learning all of these languages, poking around museums and archaeological sites, and publishing articles.

If you look around for research on armies, soldiers, and warfare under the Teispids and Achaemenids, you will find that there are a lot of articles but only a few short overviews, and the methods behind those overviews are not the best. Scholars have all kinds of opinions, but they generally write what they think rather than list the different interpretations and make a case for one of them, and the people working on lists of equipment from Babylonia don’t talk very often to the people trying to decide what Herodotus was doing or the people excavating mounds in Turkey.

My doctoral dissertation has 348 pages and seven chapters. More specifically, there is a chapter on the history of research and why what we read today sounds so much like what Eduard Meyer wrote under Kaiser Bill, a chapter on war in the time of the the Neo-Assyrians and Achaemenid armies in the context of an ancient Near Eastern tradition, a chapter on warfare in royal inscriptions and imperial ideology, a chapter on warfare in documents and the ordinary soldier, a chapter on archaeological evidence, a chapter on warfare in classical literature and the pitfalls of interpreting those sources, and a conclusion which looks at the problem through Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific paradigms. This is partially a thesis about the ancient Near East, and partially about the forces and ideologies in the last hundred years which shape how we talk about it.

Some things from the original plan ended up in my files-of-snippets. I did not have time or room in my head to write the chapter on the nobility at war and art as a source. There are good articles on soldiers in specific kinds of art by Christopher Tuplin, Xing Wu, and Anne Bovon. I wrote a chapter on battle standards as an example of the Achaemenid heritage in Hellenistic times, but did not have time to go over it, polish it, and secure rights to all the illustrations. The bibliography contains 1,100 items and is probably still missing a few from my footnotes: I decided it was quicker to start with my master bibliography for this project and then go through the footnotes adding things to it than to start with the bibliography, list the works cited and then write out their bibliography entries.

If you want to know where the idea of a feigned flight at Cunaxa comes from, what method Abraham Valentine Williams Jackson pioneered, or which site reports to read for Achaemenid arms and armour, this dissertation has answers.

When I sketched out this post at the end of July or beginning of August, I planned to illustrate it with the famous painting of McClintock discovering the sledges of the Franklin expedition with their brass bedsteads and romantic novels. But in a world where the last traces of the sources and societies we study are being blown up and burned, that seems a bit melodramatic. Academe has many problems, but given a few years most people with a PhD do allright financially (it is a deep shame of academe that often those who end up poorest are the ones who try hardest to find work in academe and end up in a series of short-term contracts). I can’t complain about being paid minimum wage for four years to learn dead languages, explore the pizzerie of Innsbruck with charming South Tiroleans, and try to answer a hard problem.

Now if you’ll excuse me, its time to take a real summer vacation …

10 thoughts on “What I Did Instead of My Summer Vacation

  1. Aaron Bell says:

    Congratulations, and very well done. Hope to get a chance to read it at some stage.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Thanks Aaron! I think that a version will be available on Innsbruck’s online repository, and I will probably revise it and turn it into a book next year or in 2020.

  2. Pen Name says:

    I viewed a documentary called”The Silk Road” recently on BC’s Knowledge network. The historian who made it mentioned that the language of Darius and Cyrus is still spoken by isolated tribes people in one of the former USSR countries.

    While the language may not be quite dead it is under threat. The soviets relocated the people in their version of North American Native Residential schools. Entire populations were relocated to free up land for soviet government run livestock operations and to try and get them to assimilate approved soviet languages and cultures by embedding them within larger population centres following mainstream Soviet language and cultural lifestyles.

    Some of the people moved back with the split up of the USSR, but a lot of the culture associated with the language may be gone forever.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      James Palmer talked a bit about the situation of the Mongols, who are divided between (former Soviet) Outer Mongolia and Chinese Inner Mongolia, in “The Bloody White Baron.” He seemed to think that the former was slightly less disastrous for their culture, especially since Outer Mongolia became independent again, but only slightly.

      My supervisor is trying to track down people in the ‘stans who can still turn animal skins into floats for crossing rivers … apparently there are a few places where they still make them as toys, but a lot of people in the Middle East and Central Asia are being shoved away from their traditional territory into cities or refugee camps, and then their children don’t learn the old skills.

  3. Pat Dykes says:

    Well, Sean. A great step on your journey. I appreciate that you shared the thought processes that informed your dissertation explorations. It is wonderful to see the picture of a printed copy. Enjoy your “summer vacation”. Patty

    1. Sean Manning says:

      You are welcome! I hope all is well in V.

  4. Pavel Vaverka says:

    Dear Sean,

    again congratulations to Your superb work. I’m looking forward for Your book.

    Have nice holiday!

    1. Sean Manning says:

      You are welcome Pavel! Good luck with your book on Xenophon and your other projects.

  5. Graham says:

    Congratulations! A long campaign approaches a victorious conclusion — just one defensive engagement left to fight, I guess, and with any luck your opponents won’t treat that as a battle to the death. I hope you’ll have a few days or weeks of peace before proceeding to yet greater conquests.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Thank you Graham! I will try to get back to your email after I am rested.

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