Month: January 2022
Categories: Ancient, Modern
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Month: January 2022

An Apposite Quotation

In the before times, before the plague, I was looking up an article in an edited collection and I was transfixed by a section in the preface. Someone has reminded me that 27 January is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, so this week, I will give you that section. Martin Ostwald was born... Continue reading: An Apposite Quotation

Call For Sources: Spears in the Imperium Romanum

An intact spear and buckler from the famous excavations at La Tène, Switzerland. Planche II of P. Vouga, “La Tène: Quatrième Rapport, Foulles de 1910 et 1911,” Musée Neuchâtelois, XLIXme Année (1912) pp. 7-15 http://doc.rero.ch/record/12454

There are many great publications of Germanic, British, and Celtic spears. Are there any published spears from the imperium Romanum, especially the eastern half? Or from pre-imperial Italy? I’m curious about what woods were used, how the diameter varies from point to butt, and the overall length.

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Some Thoughts on “Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts”

cover of "Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts" by Ian W. Walker

Ian W. Walker, Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa (The Crowood Press: Ramsbury, UK, 2003)

Even during the war, nobody wanted to tell the truth about the Italian army. The fascist government and their pet generals did not want to admit that they had entered the war on a whim and sent soldiers with too little training and equipment into battle. German soldiers often disliked the Italians for good old ethnocentric reasons, and found that it was very convenient to blame them for everything which went wrong. And as they suffered defeat after defeat in 1940, 1941, and 1942, the British leaned on their own stereotypes to depict the one Axis power they could beat as frivolous and cowardly. The Italian army did not always fight its unjust wars enthusiastically, and did not keep fighting for two years after the war had been lost, but it is rarely praised for this. Ian W. Walker’s Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts is a good summary of the reassessment by an amateur historian who can read English and Italian. It has basic sketch maps and handy line drawings of key Italian equipment such as the M11, M13, and M14 series of medium tanks. Rather than a traditional review, this week I will post three things I learned from this book.

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Female Military Historians

soldiers in pleated kilts and helmets carry a beam, while others stand by chariots with spoked wheels
Detail from a New Kingdom relief of soldiers in the Museo Civico, Bologna. Photo by Sean Manning September 2018.

I have said that the ‘hoplite debate’ from 1989 to 2013 was an argument between people who were very similar to each other. One way they were the same was that they were almost all men. Is that because academic military history in general is male-dominated? That would not be a very good argument because military history is so marginal at universities that most people who do it have another research field. But more importantly, I can think of about two dozen 40 women who have made significant contributions to ancient and medieval military history. From my point of view, a doctoral dissertation, scholarly book, or several influential articles are enough to be significant.

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Longsword Fencing in a Manuscript in Fulda

People who are interested in martial arts from the 14th century onwards can work from books meant to describe those arts. But that does not mean that other types of evidence suddenly become irrelevant. A fundamental principle of historical research is that claims should be backed by multiple kinds of evidence. We can study arms and armour, the culture of violence, and poems about people training. And we can also study pictures of people fighting. The painter of a book of Old Testament stories in Fulda (Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda, manuscript Aa 88) shows many things which resemble fencing manuals painted a few decades later. The library in Fulda estimates that it dates around 1350-1375 and that seems about right to me.

a late 14th century painting of two groups of soldiers.  The leader on either side has crossed swords
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weltchronik_Fulda_Aa88_142r_detail.jpg
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When to Engage with Ideas You Don’t Think are Well Founded

In another place, some people got very upset that I would not engage in a discussion whether some populations have a hereditary difference in intelligence from other populations, and that I thought a famous professor who enthusiastically endorsed this idea had trusted some untrustworthy people. Doesn’t that make me a bad scientist who refuses to look at the data? Haven’t I talked about how I miss the rational argument culture of the early Net? Isn’t engaging with people a better way to convince them (and to convince onlookers) than implying that I think their ideas are silly? Am I just like those posturers on corporate social media who try to ban all dissent, or the lobby groups who try to ban research whose conclusions might harm their cause?

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