Not an expert
I don’t claim any particular expertise on the subject of these posts. Caveat lector …
It is easy for ancient historians to forget about farming. Ancient literature does not say much about it, ancient art rarely depicts it, and farming is distant from our own lives. Yet most people in the ancient world made most of their living by farming or herding or fishing, and the basic realities of farming pervaded their mental world. I am therefore glad that some of the land near the Zentrum für alte Kulturen in Innsbruck is still working fields and orchards. Although the caked soil at the edge of the field is marked by the tyres of the farmer’s tractor and not the hooves of his oxen, and the plot is crammed between a modern glass monstrosity, the loading dock of a supermarket, and a concert hall built out of shipping containers, it is still worth watching as the seasons turn.
War is a very old and very common custom, and so are commemorating it, celebrating it, and praying it away. Others more learned than I have commented on the war which was raging in Europe one hundred years ago. Today I thought I would share two perspectives on war from four thousand years ago.
Alex Usher of the Higher Education Strategy Associates recently posted a summary of some surveys of students at Canadian universities. He and his colleagues found that students at most Canadian universities answered questions about their university the same way. Usher often suggests that he wants universities to become more diverse, but in this post he mentions with a hint of disdain another view, that universities exist to provide a uniform social service. That strikes me as a very good description of the role which I would like Canadian universities to play. Moreover, while I think his heart is in the right place, I can see a few disadvantages of greater “differentiation” which Alex Usher has not spelled out.
A recent editorial reminded me of the problems of estimating army sizes. Many ancient armies were not divided into neat units of uniform size, they did not have a central quartermaster’s service or staff which tracked numbers, and as Thucydides reminds us everyone lied about the strength of their own forces. Reporters who want to estimate the size of a demonstration face similar problems and rhetorical pressures (chose a high number to shock, or a low one to dismiss? Trust the police or the protestors? Base it on whether the crowd seemed larger or smaller than one whose size you ‘know’?) Like ancient historians, modern reporters don’t always give a source for their numbers, but when people ask them they tend to be frank:
My visits to Heuneburg and Haithabu/Hedeby reminded me that I don’t know enough about one of the great puzzles in world history: why cities spread so slowly, with frequent retreats and abandonments. There were towns in the Balkans before the Indo-Europeans came, but it was almost the year 1,000 before there was a single town on the Baltic, and that was burned and abandoned. Why did it take 5,000 years for cities to spread from Mesopotamia to Denmark, when other innovations spread in a few centuries? And why did many societies which once had prosperous cities give them up?
In April I participated in a prehistoric bronze-casting workshop with Dr. Bastian Asmus at the open air museum at Heuneburg (near Herbertingen, Baden-Wurtemburg, Germany). I believe that it is helpful for historians to understand the world of things and skills in which their subjects lived. Like any other art, imitating historical bronze-casting requires a range of skills and is best learned by practice.