Posts on events before the middle of the first millennium CE

A Cornice from Pompeii

a piece of plastered and painted architectural ornament with a flower and shell motif painted in red, blue, and green
Some architectural terracotta moulding from the House of the Black Room, Pompeii c/o BBC

There are many things to talk about the excavations at the House of the Black Room in Pompeii, from the awesome Parthian Perseus to the poor bakery workers who may have been locked in their quarters to die when the volcano erupted. Onetime Bookandswordblog commentator Sophie Hay gets to work there! One thing which I like is this piece of terracotta architectural decoration with painting which is colourful but not fussily precise.

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From Syria to Iberia

a statue of a warrior with a helmet and a disc breastplate against a black background
One of the sculptures of warriors from Cerrillo Blanco near Porcuna, Spain. These were probably carved around 450 BCE. Photo from Wikimedia Commons see more photos at TRAS LAS HUELLAS DE HERÓDOTO. . .

One reason why I like Fernando Quesada Sanz’ Weapons, Warriors, and Battles of Ancient Iberia (publisher’s website) is that he looks east to the Punic world as well as the Greek and Roman worlds. Whereas specialists in archaic and classical Greece rarely pay much attention to any kind of barbarians, Quesada Sanz reminds readers that Iberia has been influenced by people who arrived by sea from the east since the 9th century BCE. A good example is what he has to say about the Iberian disc cuirasses.

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An Unusual Obstetic Technique

My interest in linen armour lead me to texts from around the year 1000. Chrétien de Troyes died leaving one of his works incomplete, and sometime around 1190 to 1210, someone wrote the first surviving attempt to fill in the missing attempts. In one of these passages, an Arthurian hero is arming. The narrator mentions an unusual way of helping a woman in labour deliver:

Then they girdled a sword
Such that in all the world there was no woman in labour,
Who when struck on the head
With the flat of that naked sword (1048)
Would not immediately give birth,
As she hung between death and life.

My translation. Text after William Roach and R.H. Ivy, eds., The Continuations of the Old French Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes. Volume II. The First Continuation: Redaction of MSS EMQU. Romance Languages and Literatures, Extra Series, No. 10. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Department of Romance Languages, 1950), 32-33, 485-486, 548-549. There are complete translations of the continuation in Ross G. Arthur, tr., Three Arthurian Romances: Poems from Medieval France (London: Dent, 1996) and Nigel Bryant, tr., Chrétien de Troyes, The Complete Story of the Grail: Chrétien de Troyes‘ Perceval and its Continuations. Arthurian Studies 82 (Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015), 87; my translation is influenced by this one, especially in the last five lines.
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Shield Making with Theophilius

a wooden shield shaped like a soup plate sitting hollow-up on a linoleum countertop next to a pot of toffee-coloured glue

In April and May I have been making a domed round shield from start to finish. I decided to post a tidied-up version of my lab notes on my Patreon page. If scheduling goes right, my post should be visible here. Part 2 on the gessoing and painting should arrive in early June!

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Ownership History is Hard and Often Does Not Matter

This terracotta statuette from Babylon is one of very few images of a woman in the ‘Elamite robe’ or Faltengewand from the Achaemenid period. Photo of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum, object VA Bab 00405 by Olaf M. Teßmer CC BY-SA 4.0

To establish the ownership history of a manuscript, you need to do archival research in auction catalogues and library catalogues and lists of bookplates and stamps. This history will usually have gaps, because ownership is not a physical property of an object which leaves indelible traces, but a social agreement. People steal books and manuscripts, people sell books and manuscripts which don’t belong to them, people forge evidence that a book or manuscript belonged to someone famous, and people burn the records of grandpa’s used books business to tidy up after his death. Its hard to track the ownership of Greek manuscripts during the fifteenth century for the same reason its hard to track the ownership of antiquities during the 1940s. And if you are using a manuscript to understand the ancient world, the ownership history is not really important. Let me explain.

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How To Track Down a Manuscript of a Classical Text

a colour photo of a Greek manuscript with a small round stamp in the bottom margin
The first page of the manuscript of Herodotus in Florence, courtesy of

Over on another site, Anoneuoid asked how to track down the past owners of a manuscript of a classical text such as the “A” manuscript of Herodotus in Florence (manuscript Laurentianus 70.3).

The first place to start when tracking down the manuscripts of a classical text is a critical edition (that is, an edition in the original language with notes in the margins about how the manuscripts are different from each other and the printed text). I have the Clarendon edition by Karl Hude which was last updated in 1927 but still seems to be the standard edition of Herodotus (the 2015 edition by N.G. Wilson has some updates). Hude discusses the manuscripts in Latin because until recently that was the best way to give a classicist in Egypt and a classicist in Norway equal access to his thoughts. He does not say much on the history of the manuscripts because he is more interested in which are most useful for reconstructing what Herodotus actually wrote.

You can find a much more detailed discussion of the manuscripts of another ancient text and their owners in Philip Rance, “Aineias Tacticus in Byzantine Military Literature,” in Nick Barley and Maria Pretzler, eds., Brill’s Companion to Aineias Tacticus. Brill’s Companions in classical studies (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017).

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Baumwolle is an Old Word

a Victoria, BC street scene with a brick building and a brick building with a stone facade
The building one street up, at Government and Fort, reminds me of architecture from the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire!

Cotton is an old word, but people west of India and north of Sudan often call cotton “tree wool.”

iṣe naš šipati “the tree which bears wool” (inscription of Sennacherib of Assyria describing plants in his garden, 705-681 BCE) Chicago Assyrian Dictionary volume “I” p. 217

“This breastplate had been stolen by the Samians in the year before they took the bowl; it was of linen, decked with gold and tree-wool (εἰρίοισι ἀπὸ ξύλου), and embroidered with many figures” Herodotus 3.47.2 (c. 430-420 BCE) tr. A.D. Godley slightly adapted, cp. 3.106.3, 7.65 on tree-wool in India and Theophrastus, On Plants IV. 7, 8 on cotton grown on the island of Bahrain (Akkadian and Sumerian Dilmun, Greek Tylos)

Middle and Modern German Baumwolle “tree wool, cotton” (already appears in Erec by Hartmann von Aue around the year 1185 per “boumwolle”, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm do not have much to say. The line about a saddle cushion soft as a cotton (ein Paumwol) is line 7703 of the Ambraser Heldenbuch so there is Innsbruck content!)

Do my gentle readers know this calque in other languages?

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Cross-Post: SASA Virtual Conference, Christian Cameron Patreon

The Save Ancient Studies Alliance will have a virtual conference on Representations of the Past in Ancient and Modern Times on 21 and 22 July 2024. The call for papers is open until 16 April.

Novelist, reenactor, Plataia 2024 organizer, and veteran Christian Cameron has launched a patreon I am told that one of the corporate social media services he uses is stopping him from reaching followers just like corporate social media services do whenever they want more money. The Oatmeal has a comic about this.

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Too Many Maiden Castles

a ruined stone castle on a rocky hilltop silhouetted against the sky
Dokhtar castle alias Firuzabad in Iran. Photo by Hadi Karimi from Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. I miss Iran.

Fans of classic Nintento games know that sometimes the princess is in another castle. People researching sites called Maiden Castle have to figure out which of the sites called that in Farsi, Arabic, or English they mean.

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