When you point out some of the less appealing aspects of ancient societies, someone usually accuses you of anachronistic morality. For example, it is very hard to find a writer in the ancient world who objects to slavery as a malum in se. There were people who objected to the wrong kind of people being enslaved, or to cruelty to slaves, but there are very few surviving texts where anyone says that slavery is wrong in and of itself. Isn’t it unfair to accuse the ancients of not knowing that slavery was always wrong if none of them seems to have realized this? There are various counters to this, like pointing out that people who point out admirable aspects of ancient societies seldom face the same criticism. But the best counter is listing some ancient practices which other ancient people objected to. One of the central themes of Roman literature is complaining how terrible Romans in the author’s day are.
The Second World War created the world that I grew up in, and the central event of that war was the Nazi-Soviet struggle. 80% of the Germans and Austrians killed or captured in the war were killed or captured by the Soviets (Glantz, The Soviet-German War 1941-1945: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay ). My standby reference on the war, R.A.C. Parker’s brilliantly concise The Second World War: A Short History (Oxford University Press, 1989), was written too early to take advantage of the opening of the Soviet archives and the deconstruction of the German generals’ memoirs. Two recent English books represent two major approaches to writing about this unspeakably terrible conflict.
The Centre for Ancient Cultures in Innsbruck is a glass and steel building full of carefully catalogued books next to a grain field and a car dealership. A block away on one street is a church, a block away along another is a Chinese buffet. Our building and its neighbourhood embody the heritage of the ancient Near East
Most of the crops and animals which fed and clothed Eurasia until the Columbian Exchange were domesticated in the Near East. Many of the trees in our orchards come from the mountains of central Asia through gardens in Iran. Writing has been independently invented at least four times, but it was Near Eastern Semitic-speakers who turned hieroglyphics into the aleph bet gimmel which became our alphabet. And it was people in the fertile crescent in the first centuries CE who turned Near Eastern texts and customs into the largest single family of religions today, and their descendants who kept the Fertile Crescent a place of great religious diversity until the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Arzl has not had a king or a Caesar for a long time, but it is still Keith Hopkins’ World Full of Gods. And like unto the Esangila, this house has been covered with scaffolding for a long time due to a little dispute over who should pay the bills for restoring it. I don’t... Continue reading: Temple and Palace, Gods and Kings
Robin Reich, “Historians have too Many Learning Objectives” (In the Anglo tradition) history as a field does not explicitly discuss our basic assumptions, methods, or theories and so what we as historians agree on we only pick up informally or through snippets and crumbs dropped by our advisers. In my undergrad curriculum at a small... Continue reading: I am Re-Reading
I am too tired to find some appropriate ancient picture, so how about this bird? One of my articles is out in Ancient History Bulletin 32.1-2, “A Prosopography of the Followers of Cyrus the Younger.” This one is about the forgotten Cyreans: the ones whom Xenophon classed as part of ‘the... Continue reading: The Cyrus Dossier
Front view of a painted marble statue of a torso from Verona. Photo by Sean Manning, April 2017. I was travelling last week and am sick this week, so don’t have time for a full post. Instead, I thought I would post some photos of a statue in the Museo Archaeologico,... Continue reading: A Mysterious Armour from Verona
Some years ago, I made up one of the famous Persian hoods in red linen cloth. I machine-sewed it and bag-lined it, and did not have sources other than reliefs, the Darius Mosaic, the bonnet from one of the Pazyryk tombs, and an interesting woodcut which Jona Lendering showed me. I used linen because it was available and appropriately light and flowing. I had a feeling that wool would have been more common. Back then, I knew that Strabo said that ordinary Persians wore a rag of sindōn (fine linen? by the middle ages sindon was a delicate silk) about their heads while rich ones wore a tower-like felt hat, so I had one possible source for linen (the original Greek is ῥάκος σινδόνιόν and πίλημα πυργωτόν and the citation is Strabo, Geography, 15.3.19). In the meantime I learned a bit of Greek, and also some Akkadian. It turned out that both of those languages are relevant. Read more