Since 2020 I am trying not to talk about corporate social media but I want to record this thought. Authors are seeing books appearing on amazon.com with their name and titles but a text generated by chatbot. Scammers hope that people will buy these books thinking they are the real thing. People who buy consumer goods on Amazon are seeing a lot of knockoffs with random strings of letters for a brand name; the people who sell these goods focus on search-engine optimization, buying positive reviews and suppressing negative ones, and other marketing tricks rather than on making good products. And of course sites like Facebook gladly sell ads promoting hate, and suggest genocidal propaganda in users’ feeds, while claiming that they are not responsible for what users post and that they carefully vet ads before accepting them.Read more
Book and Sword
I got a blog post (and a sentence in a scholarly encyclopedia) out of what Niccolo Machiavelli thought about the fall of the Persian empire. I found another comment by the medieval scholar John of Garland who was active from c. 1220 to 1252.Read more
Martin Rundkvist has told me that Russell Gray is writing about Proto-Indo-European using phylogenetics again (basically, trying to figure out when languages diverged from one another by seeing how many words they have in common). The last paper in Science on this topic using these methods was so poor from a linguistic point of view that a whole monograph from Cambridge University Press was needed to explain the problems. Like the last paper, this one is in Science, which is a good journal for some things but not competent to review papers on linguistics. I’m a philologist but not a linguist or a specialist in PIE. Can any of my gentle readers point me to where linguists are discussing it? I am sending out the <*bhat> signal.Read more
The famous ancient historian Walter Scheidel has reviewed a book on mathematical models of the economy of the Roman empire.
The current system of academic training, recruitment and promotion is not well equipped to recognize work that is routinely collaborative, may result in electronic outputs rather than traditional deliverables, and is not overtly focused on the monograph as the basic coin of the realm. All that makes it hard to reconcile with norms and expectations that are deeply entrenched in the academic humanities, most notably in the United States where institutionalized individualism and fetishization of the little-read book rule supreme. Academic incentive structures will need to be tweaked in favor of collaborative and non-traditional work to give simulation studies a chance to flourish.
Some of my gentle readers may not know that in ancient world studies we have a situation where to make a bibliography count for academic promotion, we have to print a few hundred copies and sell them to libraries where they collect dust while researchers check the website with PDFs or a searchable database. Rachel Mairs’ Hellenistic Far East Bibliography faces this barrier, so does the ETCSL. And peer-reviewed publications in ancient history and philology are still expected to be written by one or two authors, whereas in natural science there are often a dozen or more authors who contribute different specialized skills (perhaps one performs a chemical test, another writes the software, a third does most of the writing, and a fourth manages the project). But I see a big problem with pushing to focus on understanding the ancient world through mathematical models.Read more
When I was growing up a fashionable big idea stated that two democracies almost never go to war with one another. The exceptions tend to be very old (like Athens vs. Syracuse or Rome vs. Carthage) or very small (such as the Western Allies v. Finland in 1941-1944 and some armed fishing disputes after 1945). This democratic peace theory fit the mood in the 1990s because it said we could put an end to war just by changing political systems and not tedious negotiations about arms control and international law. My amateur understanding is that its not a bad theory as long as you treat it as a rule of thumb not an absolute (both ‘war’ and ‘democracy’ are vague enough that advocates and critics can interpret things the way they want). But there is another observation that democracies are often more warlike (and put more resources into war) than kingdoms or oligarchies or one-party states or military rule. I was reminded of this by Raimund Schulz’ article on the Persian Wars in the Journal of Ancient Civilizations.Read more
The Greek Hoplite Phalanx is a survey of warfare on land in Athenian literature. That is both more and less than the title promises. Readers who sit down with it over long winter nights or lazy summer days will find thoughtful comments on many old questions. Readers who want something broad or concise may be less satisfied. In many ways it resembles John Kinloch Anderson’s Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon from 1970.Read more
One of the most frustrating things about Charles Oman is that he ignores when his medieval sources were alluding to famous ancient texts. At the battle of Benevento in 1266, the army of Charles of Anjou crossed the Apennines in February only to find themselves trapped between the mountains and the swollen River Calore with Manfred of Sicily and his army on the other side. Charles’ men were already reduced to eating fallen pack animals, and it was hard to see how they could go forward or back. But then fortune intervened:
Ricordano Malaspina wonders why Manfred crossed the River Calore at all since if he had waited a day or two, King Charles and his people would have been killed without a blow of a sword through lack of vittles (columns 1002, 1003). Oman wonders whether Manfred was worried about treachery or desertion, and asks whether “perhaps in the spirit of the mediaeval knight, he preferred to beat his adversary by the sword rather than hunger.” But any attentive reader in the 13th century would have seen that beating the enemy with hunger rather than the sword is a strategic principle from the third book of Vegetius on military matters. He mentions it three times: 3.3.1, 3.9.8., 3.26.32. It seems to me that Malaspina was just as unimpressed with Manfred’s strategic decisions as Oman was.snippet cut from a forthcoming piece in Medieval World (Karwansaray Bv)
Like many bookish people I grew up with books on Oak Island and ghosts and mysterious disappearances. I don’t think any of them covered Somerton Man, who was found dead on a beach in Australia in 1948 with a scrap of the Rubiyat of Umar Khayum in a pocket. Younger me would certainly not have recognized that 1948 was the perfect time, because many of the things which feed paranormal television today were invented between 1945 and 1975 (Bigfoot, flying saucers, and grey aliens for example; D.B. Cooper also hijacked his airplane in 1971). Things stay in this category because they are inherently hard to understand, so mainstream institutions do not take over investigation. Larry Kusche thought he had solved the Bermuda triangle mystery in 1975, but the sea is so wide and unknown that people who want to see mystery in a lost ship or plane can see it. Following these topics can be frustrating because there are many excited cranks for each new tidbit of information. But one of these cases has moved forward!Read more