Month: October 2019

How Long are the Spears of the Warriors at Susa?

A glazed brick relief of a man holding a spear in both hands next to a clenched fist.  The fist gripping the spear and the live fist are aboout the same size.
One of the polychrome brick reliefs from Achaemenid Susa, now in the Louvre, Paris.

In an earlier post, I talked about the guards in Persian reliefs from Susa who are 17 bricks tall and have spears 19 or 21 bricks tall. Artists often ‘improve’ human proportions according to different ideas of what the well-formed body looks like: these guards are 5 2/3 bearded faces tall (17/3), Cennino Cennini would have them 6 1/2 bearded faces tall (26/4).

When I visited the Louvre in July I had a chance to look at some of those reliefs for the first time since 2016 (a few are on display behind glass in Tehran). As you see, my hand and the hand of the sculpture are about the same size (and I am not particularly tall or short). My hand is slightly closer to the camera than the sculpture is, so it is slightly enlarged.
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Democracies Ancient and Modern

A gathering of people with protest signs in the plaza outside of Innsbruck town hall
The Climate Strike in Innsbruck, September 2019

I had a couple of women, constituents, come to my office and say, ‘We fought so hard to get a seat around the table, and you got there and you gave it away.’ It kind of stunned me. My answer to them was, ‘We didn’t fight hard to get a seat at the table so that we [could] do things the way they’ve always been done and let the boys still run things the way the boys have been running things.’

– Jane Philpott, independent MP for Markham-Stouffville and former cabinet minister, interview with Jason McBride, “Can Jane Philpott Change Politics?” (2019) https://thewalrus.ca/can-jane-philpott-change-politics/

Remember when (the Prime Minister) was held in contempt of Parliament by majority of the members? And the Governor General let him get away with ignoring this and treating it as merely a partisan stunt? … Our elections seem to have been transformed into something like a plebiscite on who makes the best Prime Minister. … our 19th century institutions are in a shambles because we don’t remember the 19th century principles that made them effective, and we haven’t replaced them with more recent principles and institutions

– Steve Muhlberger, “Democracy in Trouble” (2013) https://smuhlberger.blogspot.com/2013/07/democracy-in-trouble.html

Perhaps we find it normal for voters to be told, in every election, that they cannot vote for the party they actually support, but must vote for a party they dislike to forestall the election of a party they detest. But in the vast majority of the world’s democracies that use some form of proportional representation the idea would seem absurd, not to say presumptuous. It is for voters to tell parties what to do, not the reverse. … there’s the obsession with the horse race: where the parties are in the polls, and what strategies they are likely to pursue in response … this is partly a phenomenon of first past the post, and the winner-take-all mentality that accompanies it. The point of an election is not just to find out who won, but what the public wants. And the point of election coverage is not just to report who’s winning, but what the winners would do with the mandate they seek.

– Andrew Coyne, “Shouldn’t every riding be a ‘battleground’? The problems with how we do elections” The National Post 13 September 2019

Formal democ­ra­cy, in such places, rides like a float­ing cork on an ocean of invis­i­ble influ­ences, tan­gled pow­er struc­tures and murky social forces.

– Phil Paine, “A New International Body” (2006) http://www.philpaine.com/?p=425

I am Canadian, and we have an election coming. The past four years have seen a managerial government in Ottawa which worked through some of its easier commitments– legalizing marijuana, providing drinkable water to some but not all First Nations communities, negotiating a not terrible revision of NAFTA with the current administration in Washington, taking a share of Syrian refugees- but avoided deep structural changes like electoral reform or accepting that unceeded land belongs to its inhabitants not the Crown. The three biggest parties have chosen to take vast areas of policy off the table this election: the staffers who run them all agree that we should have a mixed economy with a welfare state, that whoever the United States government defines as enemies are Canada’s enemies too, that their candidates should include men and women with all kinds of ancestry who repeat the same talking points. They dutifully talk about affordability, about “hard-working Canadians” or “the middle class” or “entrepreneurs,” and about cutting a public service here or creating a new one there. Where in some countries candidates spend most of their time calling potential donors and begging for money, in Canada they spend it knocking on doors looking for people to talk to. The new anti-immigration, climate-contrarian People’s Party is not expected to get more than 4% of the vote, and the other parties all talk about anthropogenic global warming even if some of their policies are more coherent than others. If you are outside Canada, it probably sounds comforting. But in Canada people who watch the system are worried that while the forms of parliamentary democracy remain, there is less and less substance underneath. Between writing job applications, I have been reading some excellent reports from the Samara Centre for Democracy based on interviews with former MPs.
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New Article: Mountain Passes Ancient and Modern

Two bay horses in a steeply sloped pasture full of wild grasses and flowers
Descendants of mighty Rhaetian war-horses? West side of the Brenner near Patsch, Tirol.

In mid-September I got lost on my return from the Goldbichl and found myself between Patsch and the Brennerautobahn. If you spend time hiking in Tirol that happens frequently, even though the mountain peaks provide good points of references and there are networks of paved or gravelled paths dotted with nice yellow signs, some of which even point within 90 degrees of the actual direction. And if you think about why that happens, you will understand the topic of my latest article for Ancient Warfare, namely why armies in eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey) follow the same few routes for thousands of years.
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What if the Armada Had Landed?

A parade with men in full armour on armoured horses and a thick cluster of pikes in the background
A good Protestant Englishman’s worst nightmare: Ermanni and Jacopo Ligozzi, fresco with a Cavalcade of Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII into Bologna, 1570s, from the Casa Fumanelli a Santa Maria in Organo, Verona, now in the Museo degli Affreschi, Verona, no. 1466

As it became clear in 1587 and 1588 that the Spanish were really going to send a fleet to collect the Army of Flanders and carry it across the channel to Kent or Essex, the English alternated between panic and self-delusion. No town in England had modern fortifications so the English put their trust in garrisons in temporary earthworks or “sconces” along threatened sections of coast. The Dutch had great success with sconces, and the militia was replacing its old bills and longbows with modern pikes, arquebuses, and muskets and surely that would be enough? Sir John Smythe of Little Badow, a crusty old veteran who had served in the wars on the continent, tells us what he thought of the English plan after spending the summer in Elizabeth’s camp at Tilbury:

I say, that if anie such as doo hold that won∣derfull opinion of the effects of Mosquettiers (how good soldiers soeuer they thinke themselues) were at anie Hauen in England with fiue or sixe thousand of the best Mosquettiers that they euer saw of our Eng∣lish nation, without 〈…〉 of horsemen and foot∣men of other weapons to backe them, I thinke they would worke verie small effect against the Enemie landing, although they had ensconsed themselues (as they terme it) in such Sconses as they and their Engi∣ners formed this last sommer 1588. vppon the Sea coasts of Suffolke, and in Essex and Kent, on both sides of the riuer of Thames. For if they should see a Nauie with an Armie of thirtie or fortie thousand men (be∣sides seamen, and such as should be left for the gard of the shipps) vnder some notable and sufficient General enter into anie capable Hauen of England, with wind and weather fit for their purpose, with intention to inuade (which God forbid) they should finde them∣selues in their opinions wonderfullie deceiued.

And Smythe is having a good rant, so he tells us exactly what would happen:
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