Book and Sword
felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

Book and Sword

The Elamite Relief at Naqš-e Rostam

A relief set deep into a mountainside of seven men standing on either side of a tall, crowned figure holding a sword

Naqš-e Rostam is famous because Darius and three of his successors were buried there in a new style of tomb cut deep into the rock, and for the mysterious stone cube (Kaˁba) which probably also dates to his reign. The reliefs by the Sasanid kings, and the long inscription of Shahpur boasting of his victories over the Romans, are also renowned.

If you climb up from the parking lot past the souvenir shops and toilets through the remains of the Sasanid ring wall, and follow the cliffs beneath the tombs of the kings of old and past the Kaˁba, you will find something else.
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Some Thoughts on “A Greek Army on the March”

John W.I. Lee, A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon’s Anabasis. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2007. DOI Bookfinder link to the hardcover version.

John Lee’s book on the Greek-speaking half of the army of Cyrus the Younger does not seem to have found the audience which I think it deserves. That is a shame, because I found it very useful when I was writing my Master’s thesis, and I think that a wide variety of other people both inside and outside the university would find it helpful too.

Many books on life in the Ten Thousand have been written by retired soldiers or policemen, and implicitly or explicitly take the bureaucratic armies of the last hundred and fifty years as a model. Writers searched for a detailed chain of command with large units made up of small ones and a network of officers and non-commissioned officers, a relationship between the organization of the army in camp and the organization of the army in formation, and other things which modern armies have. It was possible to do this by ignoring or minimizing a large number of anomalies. John Lee had the courage to ask “what if we take Xenophon seriously? What if we accept that what he describes seems very different from a modern army, and ask him what he means?” And so he wrote a book about how the Ten Thousand functioned as a community of men and women living and marching and fighting together.
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A Famous Couplet

Self at Naqš-e Rostam, May 2016. Is it not passing brave to study this, And stroll in triumph through Persepolis? With apologies to Christopher Marlowe.

How Many Ancient Military Historians Are There at Canadian Universities?

A painting of a two-humped camel with bit and bridle next to a saddled horse
Like camels in the Brenner pass in the fourteenth century, military historians are more common in pictures and stories than real life in Canada today. Wall painting from about the 1330s in the Burgkapelle Aufenstein near Matrei am Brenner. Photo by author, July 2014.

Although military history fills the television screens, YouTube channels, and bookstore history aisles in Canada just as in other countries, its presence at universities is very modest indeed. Until October 2015 I did not know of anyone who studies any aspect of warfare before the nineteenth century who teaches history at a Canadian university to fund his research. At least a hundred faculty are paid to teach history before the nineteenth century at a Canadian university [1], but very few chose to publish on the military aspects. This week I thought I would list the determined scholars who insist on working on this topic at an advanced level at Canadian universities.

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Monster-Headed Axes

The weapon bearer from the relief of the North Staircase, Apadana, Persepolis courtesy of Jona Lendering of Livius.Org.

On the great central relief of the North Staircase at Persepolis, which was presented front and center to visitors approaching the palace for an audience, a weapon bearer stands in the background with the royal axe and bow. His axe has a long, narrow head like a pick. A clever craftsman has formed the socket into the head of a strange creature, and the blade into something which comes from its mouth, while the back-spike becomes its tail. Several iron or bronze axeheads of this type survive, but none is so beautifully formed.

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Three Historical Novels

Three books sitting on a hardwood floor: "The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate" on an eReader, "Flashman and the Dragon" in paperback, and "Tyrant" in paperback

Last winter I read some novels instead of puttering around on the Internet. This week I thought I would talk about three novels by three authors which span the range of the genre of adventurous historical fiction. While all of these have peril, romance, blood, and all the other Dionysiac fluids, each has its own mix and its own style. In some ways this reflects the three different adventurous individuals who wrote them.

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The Great Hall is Ablaze with Bronze

A “Chalcidian” helmet in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. From Nymphaion necropolis, tomb 16, acquired by the Hermitage in 1876. Attributed to the early fifth century BCE. When we look at ancient bronze in museums, we usually see dark, corroded surfaces. Modern sculptors and costumers often deliberately imitate this look, leaving surfaces rough or coating the... Continue reading: The Great Hall is Ablaze with Bronze

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A round, domed wicker shield with a spiked steel boss and a cloth-bound rim.  Three short scimilars hang behind it with their handles up and blades crossed at the middle.
A Turkish target and three Turkish scimitars from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century in the second armoury, Schloss Ambras. Photo by author, October 2015.

(Due to some events in my private life, this post is late and pulled out of my file of drafts)

Gui Minhai, a Chinese Suetonius who did not wait until his targets were safely dead, was disappeared in October 2015. In January 2016 he appeared on Chinese state TV to make a confession then vanished again.

A character sketch of Edward Luttwak, another of those curious American academics-cum-policymakers whom my readers may know for his Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire and Grand Strategy of the Bzyantine Empire.

A watercolour of Innsbruck in 1495 courtesy of Albrecht Dürer. He sat to sketch a little bit downstream from Conrad Seusenhofer’s house.

In December 2015, Steven Payne made a pilgrimage on foot from Southhampton to Canterbury in fourteenth-century kit.

L. Sprague de Camp’s historical novels set in the Mediterranean between the fifth and the second centuries BCE have been reprinted in codex and ePub by Phoenix Pick. One of them imagines the events which might lie behind the very detailed description of an elephant in Aristotle; readers who enjoy stories about the gifting of large animals over long distance might enjoy reading up on the elephant Harun al-Rashid gave to Charlemagne, the elephants Nadir Shah sent to St. Petersburg for Emperess Anna of Russia, or the giraffe which Sultan Faraj of Egypt sent to Samurkand for Tamurlane.

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The Man from Arados

A relief map of the eastern Mediterranean showing Rhodes off the southwest coast of Turkey (ancient Caria) and Arados off the coast of Syria opposite Cyprus
Modified from a map by the Ancient World Mapping Center Version 1 date 22 November 2004

In the time of Antigonos the One-Eyed, an ingenious character named Kallias of Arados came to Rhodes and impressed the city fathers with his knowledge of all the latest engines for defending a city, and some which were so new that nobody had yet turned his sketches and models into a full-sized prototype. Kallias did such a good job of impressing them that they gave him an office in place of a Rhodian and funds to turn his ideas into reality. When Demetrius the Sacker of Cities arrived outside of the walls, Kallias executed his office until the Rhodians found out that his favourite machine, a crane for lifting siege towers as they approached the wall, would never work in full-size as well as it did on a model.

There are a lot of things which could be taken from this story, and a lot of details which could be imagined in turning this fable about the square-cube law back into the story about human beings which lies behind it. The detail which I want to point out is that Arados is an island off the Phoenician coast, whereas Rhodes is an island off Caria.
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The Forces of Madness Gather

Clockwise: Three pounds of cotton, a pound of linen thread, five ells of unbleached linen, two ells of smooth blue fustian, two and a half ells of unbleached linen, assorted silk floss for eyelets and buttonholes, one spool of purple silk thread

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