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Regnal Numbers

  Most people today take for granted the custom of numbering kings, so that James Stuart is James VI of Scotland and James I of England.  I am not certain that any society used this before the sixteenth century, although I have heard a story that it was invented in 14th century England to deal... Continue reading: Regnal Numbers

Another of my Tools

A few weeks ago I showed what a bare-bones publication of a cuneiform text looks like.  A much newer book is a good example of a lavish edition.

The blue hardcover of a book
John MacGinnis and Cornelia Wunsch, Arrows of the Sun: Armed Forces in Sippar in the First Millenium BC. Babylonische Archive Band 4. ISLET-Verlag: Dresden, 2012.

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A Comment to “The Prince”

Nicolo Machiavelli, tr. W.K. Mariott, Il Principe courtesy of Project Gutenberg:

Chapter IV Why the Kingdom of Darius, Conquered by Alexander, did not Rebel Against the Successors of Alexander at his Death

Considering the difficulties which men have had to hold to a newly acquired state, some might wonder how, seeing that Alexander the Great became the master of Asia in a few years, and died whilst it was scarcely settled (whence it might appear reasonable that the whole empire would have rebelled), nevertheless his successors maintained themselves, and had to meet no other difficulty than that which arose among themselves from their own ambitions.

I answer that the principalities of which one has record are found to be governed in two different ways; either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favour and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince. Such barons have states and their own subjects, who recognize them as lords and hold them in natural affection. Those states that are governed by a prince and his servants hold their prince in more consideration, because in all the country there is no one who is recognized as superior to him, and if they yield obedience to another they do it as to a minister and official, and they do not bear him any particular affection.
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Letters and Tally Sticks

A photo of a flat wooden stick with black ink writing and lines and notches along the edge
A tally stick from Bactria or Sogdiana dated to the third year of Darius the King (probably 334/333 BCE). The text is in the Official Aramaic script. 12 cm long, 2 cm wide. Catalogue number D3 in Aramaic Documents from Ancient Bactria.

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Two Admirable Letters

An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan by several students

 In the project briefs the university expresses an aspiration to improve the quality and quantity of humanities research. It intends to do this by removing some programs, and merging others. Research is a valuable goal, but to suggest that the problem with specific humanities programs within Arts and Science is that they are insufficiently productive is to miss the point. The University of Saskatchewan is not just a research institution. It is a university for the residents of Saskatchewan and for its students, and should take some time to consider their needs. The study of the humanities is a creditable pursuit and central to the idea of the university, it should be clear that the University of Saskatchewan has some obligation to provide a space, perhaps small but at least well defined, for the pursuit of that study. It is our belief that the proposals enumerated in the recent project briefs fulfill only half of this obligation. The space for the humanities presented in the briefs is certainly small, but it is also poorly defined.

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The Bronze Battle Scene from Pergamon

In 1913 Alexander Conze published some of the antiquities found at Pergamon. One of these was a remarkable relief from the second century BCE showing a battle on land. While Greek artists usually portrayed battle as a fight between scattered individuals, this relief shows different types of soldiers crowded together and even a Macedonian phalanx with its battle standard. The University of Heidelberg has generously digitized their copy of Conze’s book as part of the Heidelberger historische Bestände- Digitaler:

A line drawing of a bronze plate with reliefs of infantry fighting and cavalry dashing back and forth
1. Beschlagstück, mit Eisen gesüttert, darüber in Bronzeblech getriebenes Relief, 0,24 m lang. Im Haputfelde Kampf von Reitern und Fußgängern ganz links scheint ein Feldzeichen zu stehen. Das Dreiecksfeld der einen seitlichen Spitz mit einem Ägismuster und Medusenhaupte geföüllt. Abbilding beistehend. (Caption from Alexander Conze, “Altertümer von Pergamon,” Bd. 1 Text 2 p. 250

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One of My Tools

Only a fraction of the tablets from the Achaemenid period which have been excavated have been published, and many of the published ones look like this: A typical entry in Strassmaier’s “Inschriften von Darius, König von Babylon” (Liepzig, 1892): “1 1/2 mina 2 1/2 shekels silver …” One Johann N. Strassmaier... Continue reading: One of My Tools

Technologies of recordkeeping in Mesopotamian history

Although this is the end of term in Austria, I made time to hear a very exciting talk by Dr. Jens Høyrup of Copenhagen. What was billed as an overview of mathematical and scribal culture turned into a survey of Mesopotamian history from the Agricultural Revolution to the Neo-Assyrian Empire as seen through the lens of the technology of numbers. Høyrup has some provocative views, including the idea that Sumerian is descended from a creole. He also had a good overview of the transition from counting tokens to impressions of tokens to sketches of tokens to cuneiform writing. The first stage of this transition does not seem to have soaked the popular literature, and I will try to find and link a good article on it one of these days. (A famous book is How Writing Came About by Dr. Denise Schmandt-Besserat of Texas).
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Two thoughts on the accession of Darius I

Darius the Great, fourth notable king of Persia, came to the throne under unusual circumstances. In the version which he tells, he was a distant relative of king Cambyses, an impostor pretended to be the king’s brother Bardiya and took the throne, and when Cambyses suddenly died it was necessary for Darius and six of his companions to slay the impostor, fight nineteen battles in a single year against rebels and pretenders, and restore order and unity to the world. This story has been preserved in one of his inscriptions at Behistun in Iran, in a damaged papyrus from Elephantine on the Nile, and by the Greek historian Herodotus. Some of my recent readings have made me reconsider my views on it.
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