Professor Michael Zerjadtke of https://www.linothorax.de/ has dealt with the problems with publishing by self-publishing a book on his and his students’ experiments reproducing ancient linen armour. It is available on Amazon for EUR 14,99 which is much more affordable than a book from a German academic press!
Der griechische Leinenpanzer im experimentalarchäologischen Versuch: Eine Zwischenbilanz des Hamburger Projektes mit Ausblick zum Hoplitenschild (Books on Demand, 2024) ISBN 978-3758315619 (Publisher’s Webpage) (amazon.de)
Film and TV costumers love to give extras vests with random pieces of metal or leather laced or riveted to them separated by gaps. Traditional armour was meant to stop spears and arrows, so all armour like this would do would be cause the points to slide into the gaps between the plates and go through. The late Tony Bryant says that some of the very cheapest Japanese tatami-do armours were made like this, but it was never common. On the Internet we often call these Braveheart brigandines after the infamous 1995 Mel Gibson film. But the trope is older!
To be honest, though, I’m sometimes embarrassed by where I have been forced to find my statistics, but beggars can’t be choosers. Very few historians have the cold, calculating, body-count mentality that I do. They prefer describing the quality of suffering rather than the quantity of it. Often, the only place to find numbers is in a newspaper article, almanac, chronicle or encyclopedia which needs to summarize major events into a few short sentences or into one scary number, and occasionally I get the feeling that some writers use numbers as pure rhetorical flourishes. To them, “over a million” does not mean “>106“; it’s just synonymous with “a lot”.
Matthew White’s Great Big Book of Horrible Things (W.W. Norton and Company, 2011) lists 100 tragedies, but the 101st tragedy is the book itself. White worked very hard to find numbers for various atrocities, and noticed that often he could find no source for the number in the glossy magazine or the airport book. He noticed that some of the numbers seemed to be just made up, he noticed that some didn’t seem to be meant to be taken literally, and he noticed that often the new book or article relies on the old book or article without correcting its mistakes or asking whether we have learned anything since. When I look at the website which became the book, I see how he came close to agreeing with me that almost all of these numbers before the 19th century say more about other modern numbers than about the past. He could have written a good book about how we just don’t know how many people were killed by Tamurlane, or the An Lushan Rebellion, or the Crusades. But instead he wrote yet another book full of made-up numbers backed with footnotes, and he gave old nonsense a whole new audience when a very famous Canadian psychologist took his numbers and ran with them.
In December 2023 my article with an overview of Teispid and Achaemenid armies and warfare became free to download. Whereas my first book is an academic monograph with lots of history of ideas and arguments for and against different position, this article was concise and focused on facts (originally it was intended for a companion or handbook which was derailed by the COVID pandemic). The final published version has some more academic things at the beginning after the three or so rounds of peer review. This week, I want to share why I think its fundamentally wrong to measure the Achaemenids against the Roman empire or the British empire and look for ‘Persian customs’ or ‘ethnic Persians’ in the archaeology and the tablets.
Many imperial powers emerge in two stages: first a city or dynasty gains control of and homogenizes a core territory, and then it expands outwards. During the phase of homogenization, a common language and writing system are spread, laws and customs harmonized, weights and measures standardized, and a sense of common identity develops. During the phase of expansion, the city or dynasty begins to take control of peoples who are too far away, too different, or simply too numerous to assimilate in the same way. It often chooses to rely on troops from the core territory, and to create a few standard patterns of military unit which can be recruited from that core territory and sent wherever needed. These standardized units from the core territory bring their own military culture into distant parts of the empire. The reliance on soldiers and administrators from the core territory can be understood as a political measure to keep power flowing to those who benefit from the empire. However, it also reduces cultural tensions and language barriers within imperial armies and administration and supports the rulers’ claims to be powerful and necessary. This model fits some famous world empires such as the Roman and the British. But it is not a very good fit for the Teispids and Achaemenids, whose kingdom emerged in different circumstances.
“The Armies of the Teispids and Achaemenids: The Armies of an Ancient World Empire,” Journal of Ancient Civilizations Vol. 27 Nr. 2 (2022) pp. 151-153 hosted here
Creating one of these lists is difficult, because scholars don’t read a lot of similar books end to end like novel readers, but dip into a variety of books looking for data. I reserve the right to skip some things I read and decide when a partial read ‘counts.’
Xenophon once uses the verb λευκόω “to whiten” to describe how anti-Spartan Athenians made shields to fight the pro-Spartan oligarchs:
The Thirty thereupon retired to Eleusis; and the Ten, with the aid of the cavalry commanders, took care of the men in the city, who were in a state of great disquiet and distrust of one another. In fact, even the cavalry did guard duty by night, being quartered in the Odeum and keeping with them both their horses and their shields; and such was the suspicion that prevailed, that they patrolled along the walls from evening onwards with their shields, and toward dawn with their horses, fearing continually that they might be attacked by parties of men from Piraeus.  The latter, who were now numerous and included all sorts of people, were engaged in making shields, some of wood, others of wicker-work, and in whitening them (ἐλευκοῦντο).
Xen. Hell. 2.4.24-25
As I was studying Aeneas Tacticus before the conference on Stadtbelagerungen zwischen Ost und West (Innsbruck, 12-13. October 2023) I found a passage which helps interpret this one!
For the conference on city sieges in Innsbruck in October 2023, I have been reading or skimming all the ancient Greek and Roman manuals of siege warfare. This let me finally see another theory about how the Greeks got battering rams.
The 2010s were a difficult decade which destroyed our ability to believe in some solutions to problems, but did not provide alternative paths to follow. That decade left many of us in a state of what the Greeks called aporia. At the start of the decade, Jona Lendering had some thoughts about one problem, the spread of misinformation from bad pop books, documentaries, and the Internet. Here is how he saw it in the hopeful time around 2010.
The late George Cawkwell said that Xenophon’s Hellenica is for conoisseurs who can spot what he refuses to talk about or misrepresents. The whole year that he left out of his history may have been an accident, but he had strong ideas of what should and should not be talked about. Arrian’s Anabasis has some of the same quirks. Lets have a look at how he describes Alexander the Great’s march across Anatolia.
(Alexander cut the Gordian Knot). Next day he started for Ancyra in Galatia, where he was met by a delegation of Paphlagonians, who expressed their wish to be on terms of friendship with him, offering the submission of their people, and begging him not to march their troops into his territory. Alexander in reply ordered them to take their orders from Calas the governor (satrapes) of Phrygia, and then proceeded to Cappadocia, where he received the submission of all territory bounded by the River Halys and also of a large tract to the west and north beyond it. Then, leaving Sabictas as governor (satraesp) of Cappadocia, he advanced to the Cilician Gates. When he reached the position where Cyrus had once encamped in his campaign with Xenophon, he found the Gates strongly held.