Month: February 2022

Month: February 2022

Things I Don’t Know About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Canadian journalists can’t be bothered to find and print maps of the war but this one on Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2022_Russian_invasion_of_Ukraine.jpg updated 26 February 2022

Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, criminal, and mistaken invasion of Ukraine on 24 February surprised me. The most important things to know about it are that so far Ukrainian forces are holding out and that people in neighbouring countries are helping refugees while the world begins to punish the Russian government. Refugees Welcome Polska, https://berlin-hilft.com/ukraine/, and the Kyiv Independent seem like three worthwhile projects; a replica armourer in Ukraine shared the Telegram channel by a former co-worker https://t.me/s/saveukrainestoprussia; the index of demonstrations against this war at https://www.stopputin.net/ is at least more useful than being angry on social media. If you don’t mind American spooks and think tanks, the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, DC has daily situation reports at https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-updates Because this attack was so surprising, and because I am so ignorant about the region, I decided to write this post about all the things I know I do not know, and then expand the jargon in one of the reports I have seen. But my ignorance is not at all important compared to the people who are fighting or fleeing for their lives!

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How Long a Sword is Too Long?

three male peacocks and a female peacock on a concrete staircase next to a Baroque castle garden
Just before the plague hit, I took this photo. Schloss Ambras, February 2020.

Experience making and using low-tech kit is very valuable, but our experience is usually limited. Most of us have experience either using our weapons on foot or on horseback, but rarely equal experience with both. Most of us have experience in friendly or competitive play, but not in murdering or defending our lives. And Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung (not to mention Alexander Pope) teach us that someone who has survived one assault or won one championship tends to proclaim themself an expert and pronounce that everyone should do what worked for them. So we always have to question what of our experience does not apply as widely as we think it does. I like to fill in the gaps of my own experience by listening to others, such as the grandfather of all English blowhards, Sir John Smythe of Little Badow.

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Some Thoughts on Kaplan’s “Imperial Grunts”

Yeehaw! Kaplan wants readers to think about paintings like “Coming and Going of the Pony Express” by Frederick Remington (1900) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Remington_Coming_and_Going_of_the_Pony_Express.jpg

Robert D. Kaplan, Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond. Random House: New York, 2005 (Reprinted Vintage Books, 2006)

One night while cleaning an old Lee-Enfield rifle on a Bukhara carpet, Custer provided me his theory on the problem with the War on Terror as it was currently being waged in Afghanistan. … It wasn’t really his theory so much as everybody’s- that is, when people were being honest with each other.

Imperial Grunts p. 225

I wanted something silly to read in December, and Imperial Grunts delivered. This book is like a glimpse into an alternate universe, a world where steely-eyed, Protestant soldiers wander the world bringing order not chaos, where US military inventions are hindered only by journalists, metropolitan intellectuals, and the backwardness of the people they operate among, a world where Apple is a has-been and Microsoft is an important company (pp. 262, 263) It is based on the author’s travels as a reporter embedded in various US military units around the world from late 2002 to early 2004 (Yemen, Columbia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Iraq). But a considerable part comes from the author’s library and neo-conservative ideology. As I read it, I noticed a way of thinking which I have also seen in writings about the Achaemenids.

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Iranian Tunics for Plataea

A horseman on an Achaemenid Period silver rhyton from Erebuni, Armenia. Note the bands around the upper arms and wrists of the tunic, along the shoulders, and from throat to hem. To learn more about this hoard see Mikhail Yu. Treister, “A Hoard of Silver Rhyta of the Achaemenid Circle from Erebuni,” Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia Vol. 21 (2015) pp. 23-119 (thanks Christopher Tuplin for the citation). Photo by Jona Lendering https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erebuni_achaemenid_rhyton_2_mus.jpg

If you want to go to the reenactment event at Plataia (currently scheduled for 26-31 July 2022), the most important things are shoes, clothing, and something to sleep on and eat from. And the most important site for those things is the sale mine at Chehrābād, Zanjan province, Iran. This mine was worked from 700-400 BCE, then from 300 to 600 CE, then from the 17th century to the 20th century. North-West Iran suffers from earthquakes, and bad earthquakes buried some of the miners and their possessions. As of 2016, six salt mummies had been found from the Achaemenid and Sasanid periods. Just like the salt mines at Halstatt, Austria, the salt at Chehrabad preserves things which rot in air and wet. Since the 2010s, the objects from this site have been examined by a joint European-Iranian team with resources to do things like scan the mummies with a CT machine. So far, 600 pieces of textiles have been catalogued. The following post is based on a lecture in German by Dr. Karina Grömer of the Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien, at the University of Innsbruck on 18 January 2016. I delayed posting it partially because I was too sick and busy to make the illustrations, and partially because I was ashamed that I made a mistake in my article on the trousers from Chehrabad. I will continue to edit this post as I have time to make, scan, and clean up illustrations.

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