Book and Sword
pontifex minimus

Book and Sword

The Armour of Johann von Sporck

Suit of black plate armour with a closed helmet, articulated pauldrons, and tassets which flare at the hips and extend below the knees
The cuirassier harness of Johann von Sporck in the Heeresgeschichtliche Museum, Vienna. To my knowledge his wealth came from land and leading imperial armies, not from eccentric cutlery.

The seventeenth century is a depressing period for lovers of European armour. Europe was desperately poor and wracked by war, while a fashion for very heavy muskets fired from rests meant that armourers could no longer promise to protect most of the body against the most common dangers at a bearable weight, and the sports which had kept the nobility patrons of armour had fallen out of fashion. Both the use of armour and its beauty and craftsmanship collapsed.

Read more

Bonus Content: “Victoria Navalis” Bibliography

A corroded copper-alloy coin with a Roman emperor's profile on one side and the goddess Victoria standing on a ship's prow on the other

A coin of Vespasian with the legend VICTORIA NAVALIS S C, courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Electronic Auction 340, Lot 333, via

In my recent Ancient Warfare article I mentioned that scholars are divided on how to interpret the legend VICTORIA NAVALIS on Roman coins. Some link it with a battle between Romans and Jews in the Sea of Galilee, some with the centenary of Augustus’ victory over the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra, and some with the Roman civil wars of 69 CE. Since I am not an expert on numismatics or Roman Judaea I wanted to get a wide range of opinions. Search engines make it easier to find brief mentions in footnotes and sidebars than it once was, but finding and sorting still takes effort. Here are some scholars who have stated what they think the legend refers to:

Read more

Melammu Again

Gravel road between green lawns passing through a dark brick gate with round, pointed towers on either side
Settling ground, modernizing city fathers, and fire storms could not destroy the fifteenth-century town gate of Lübeck

Earlier in November I attended the eighth Melammu Symposium in Kiel (with an excursion to Lübeck on the day after). This year was smaller than last, with about 30 attendees after some people who had agreed to give posters dropped out. Participants specialized in a wide range of places, times, and methodologies, from Christian Sogdian book culture about the year 1,000 to women in Elam in the third millennium BCE. As often happens, talks and the formal responses to groups of talks ran long. This week, I think I will write about some of the posters and talks related to the Achaemenid empire or military history.

Fabian Winklbauer presented a poster on the government of the Achaemenid empire. This is a proverbially difficult subject, since the documents are not self-explanatory, while the Greek and Latin literary tradition does not worry about such details. On the other hand, we do have a great many documents in many languages, and the Aramaic documents from Bactria suggest that the situation in one region from which few documents survived resembled that in regions where more are preserved. I hope to see more of his work in future years.

Read more

Link Dump

On the Internet as in a cavalry fight, there are too many things flashing in front of your face. Unknown painting of an incident in the Thirty Years’ War, Heeresgeschichtliche Museum, Wien. A village in France has preserved the bedroom of a young officer who died in the First World War Wardle, Higham, and Kromer,... Continue reading: Link Dump

Remembrance Day

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.

Read more

A Weather Report from 651 BCE

Photo of a cloudy grey sky over dark hills with a perfectly square cloud in front of the others
A cloud like this would definitely belong in an astronomical diary (taken 11 October 2014 on the Universitätsbrucke in Innsbruck)

… thunder … The 5th, Mercury’s first appearance in the east in Pisces … towards the south … It rained slowly. The 12th, a halo … The river level rose … The troops of Babylonia fought against the troops of Assyria; the troops … The 13th, the river level rose a little. The 14th, a cloud bank lay to the right of the sun. Night of the 15th, overcast. Three ra[inbows], one in the west, one between north and west, and one in the north, were seen. Rain, lightning, thunder, … clouds. The 15th, one god was seen with the other. Gusty south wind, haze crossed the face of the sky. Night of the 16th, the moon was surrounded by a large halo. The 16th, the sun was surrounded by a halo. The 18th, the sun was surrounded by a … halo; the south wind blew. The 19th, Venus stood in the region of Aries, 10 fingers behind Mars; the moon was surrounded by a halo, and α Scorpii stood in it. The 20th, Mars was 1 finger to the left of the front of Aries; it came close. The moon was surrounded by a halo, Jupiter stood in it. The south wind blew. The 27th, a rainbow whose brightness was very great stretched in the east. … in Hiritu in the province of Sippar the troops of Babylonia and Assyria fou[ght with each] other, and the troops of Babylonia withdrew and were heavily defeated. … [The no]rth wind blew. The 28th, a little rain. In the afternoon, a very red rainbow stretched in the east.

Sachs and Hunger, Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia, Volume I (Vienna, 1988) No. -651. All lacunae marked with /…/ are gaps in the tablet; all square brackets indicate damaged signs which could be reconstructed from context.
Read more

Gadal-iama, Part 2: The Cuneiform Text

Lutz UCP 9.3 p278

Digitalizing old cuneiform texts poses some special issues which digitalizing old Teubners and Loebs does not. Working with the Gadal-iama contract has been an excellent excuse to explore them. I hope that they will have some interest for my readers who don’t read Akkadian.

Copyright is the first issue. At present I do not have time to make my own transcription of the published drawings (this has changed since October 2014- ed.). The following edition is based on that published by Henry Frederick Lutz in 1928. On the basis of Cornell University’s handy guide, I believe it to be in the public domain.

Our understanding of cuneiform writing has changed since 1928. An example which leaps out is that Lutz read the signs AN.BAR as the god Ninurta rather than the adjective parzillu “iron.” I have corrected this and noted where Ebeling’s more recent reading of other signs differs.

Conventions for transliterating cuneiform have also changed. I have tried to move Lutz’ text towards the conventions of the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus as defined in their Akkadian Stylesheet. I have replaced the most obvious logograms with the corresponding Sumerian, but not tampered with Lutz’ sign numbers and vowel lengths where they are slightly different from the conventions today (this has changed since October 2014- ed.). All capitalized Sumerograms and all material in brackets except for the line numbers are my own.

This is neither a completely modernized edition (which would take more time than I have available) nor an exact transcription of Lutz’s edition (which would be hard for many Assyriologists to use). Serious scholars with access to a good library will want the second edition by Ebeling, but I hope that this will be worthwhile regardless. I would very much appreciate it if anyone who spots an error would email me. In the future I may make my own transcription to practice the script and understand which signs lie behind the logograms in the existing transcriptions.

Read more

The University as Social Service

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.

Read more