Book and Sword
felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

Book and Sword

Fortification Report: Schloss Ambras, Part 1

A field of ashphault leading up to an impressive stone gateway in a large, plastered wall.
The gate to the lower court, Schloss Ambras. Photo by Sean Manning, July 2013.

Today Schloss Ambras is the sort of castle where lizards scamper across the stones in the sun and wedding parties wander across the lawns looking for the perfect place for some photos. After all, it was converted to a living and hunting castle for Philippine Welser in the sixteenth century, with a beautiful sloped park full of trees, a scenic view down onto a gorge and the Inntal, and plenty of space for hunting. But like some other places, it has a few secrets.
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Heraclitus Sighted in Innsbruck

I am more familiar with this one as πάντα ῥεί but “Alles Fließt” and “everything flows” are perfectly fine translations too. Looking north from the Innsbrucker Marktplatz not so far from Conrad Seusenhofer’s house and the mansions and warehouses turned hotels and souvenier shops, April 2016. Edit 2022-12-26: fixed formatting broken when WordPress introduced the... Continue reading: Heraclitus Sighted in Innsbruck

Low Water in the Sill

A crystal-clear river with broad stretches of gravel and some hibernating trees on either bank and a blocky glass building in the background.
Low water in the river Sill at the beginning of March 2015. Photo by Sean Manning.

Living in Innsbruck, its hard to ignore the changes in the local waterways over the course of the year. The local rivers are fed by runoff, and these days large areas of the Alps are bare by May. I took these photos on the tenth of March, in a week where snow fell for several days but melted as it hit the ground of the valley.

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I Was Wrong about the HEMA Movement

Photo of a stunning church entrance with a multicoloured stone archway with double doors set inside it
I understand that its traditional in the German-speaking countries to nail these manifesti to a church door, but since this is the 21st century, and there do not seem to be any historical fencers in Innsbruck, a photo of San Anastasia in Verona will have to do.

There are those who say that because most people forget their false predictions and remember their true, it is healthy to make a note when one notices that one was wrong about something. There is a movement variously known as historical European martial arts, Western Martial Arts, or historical fencing. Its central activity is recreating dead martial arts from the manuals which they left behind, although many practitioners also try to recreate ‘prehistoric’ martial arts which died without leaving manuals, or revive obscure but still living European martial arts such as Irish stick-fighting. And my understanding of what it is about, and what sort of people it attracts, has drastically changed over the past few years.


When I got involved in historical fencing, I thought that it was a community of amateur scholars with a broad interest in history like the serious re-enactment groups I knew. The end of the community which I became involved with was led by former members of the Society for Creative Anachronism who had drifted away from the organization as their interests drew them in a more historical, less creatively anachronistic direction. While my academic déformation professionnelle means that I often have small differences with people whose focus is on recreating past skills and experiences, I can usually find enough common ground to have a conversation with them, and sometimes I have a source to contribute which is much more useful to them than to the academics who originally discovered it. It was obvious to me that turning 15th century manuscripts into working martial arts required a broad familiarity with academic research in medieval studies, and the historical fencers whom I knew seemed to agree.

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Snark or Piety on an Assyrian Muster Roll

Carving of two bare-headed scribes, one beardless with a scroll and one bearded with a writing boardin several leaves, in a grove of date palms.
Scribes take notes as an officer rewards a soldier for taking enemy heads. An Assyrian relief from Nineveh, late 7th century BCE. British Museum, Number 124955. Image courtesy of the British Museum here.

Tel Halaf 23 = Aaron Dornauer, Das Archiv des assyrischen Statthalters Mannu-kī-Aššur von Gūzāna/Tall Ḥalaf. (Harrasowitz Verlag: Wiesbaden, 2014) no. 21 Truppen vor Hūˀa-dīdu pp. 53, 54

This little, undated tablet is a list of names with a note every dozen lines. It was written sometime around the 8th century BCE. Texts like this are rarely exciting, but if one pays attention details sometimes leap out.

Meˀīsu, his son
Hannān, his son
2 son (sic) of Zannānu
Adda-sakā, 2 sons
(5) “God as my witness, she’s really a daughter”: Sîn-iprus
Saˀīlu, 5 sons
Kuwayni, 2 sons
Manānu, his brother
Qatarā, 2 sons
(10) Nanî, Igilu
Total: 25 troops
who are before Hūˀa-dīdu

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The Rewards of Scholarship

Bottoms up! A prize bottle of whiskey. There is an old joke that most of the people who will ever read your dissertation are in the room when you defend it (and that not all the examiners will be among them). I recently received a royalty cheque from ProQuest for the princely sum of CAD... Continue reading: The Rewards of Scholarship

The Shoulder-Flap-Cuirass from Golyamata Mogila

A photo of an armour comprising a Chalcidian helmet with hinged cheeks, a leather gorget covered in iron scales, and a leather cuirass with a skirt of feathers and two shoulder-flaps (aka. Jarva type IV/tube-and-yoke/linothorax) completely covered with iron scales
From Daniela Agre, “The Tumulus of Golyamata Mogila near the villages of Malomirovo and Zlatinitsa” (Sofia: Avalon Publishing, 2011) p. 73

Although many scholars grumble about reviews of academic books in academic journals, those reviews can still be valuable. In a review of that valuable but frustrating book from the Midwest, Raimon Graells i Fabregat mentioned some relevant evidence which the authors did not discuss:

In chapters 3 and 4, the author’s experiment is described, with a commentary on the materials and techniques used to reconstruct linen body armor. What is surprising is the absence of an analysis of the two iron cuirasses designed in the same way as linothorakes, one from Tumulus II of Vergina and the other from Burial III of Aghios Athanasios or even the complete linothorax from the Golyamata Mogila near Malomirovo and Zlanitsa. These metal cuirasses would doubtless have provided useful support and verification for technical aspects of the reconstruction.

The third armour was excavated a few years ago in modern Bulgaria (ancient Thrace), and pictures have been floating around on the Internet for some time. Fabregat cites the book in which it has been published with parallel Bulgarian and English text. It is made of one layer of medium-weight leather covered with iron scales. The collar should remind readers of the Alexander historians of a certain passage, and the difference between the right and left shoulders should make readers of Xenophon on horsemanship 12.6 ponder. The author has posted her book on academia.edu where it is available for free download (link). Download both files with the Roman numeral III in the title, and start at page 72.
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Cross-Post: Achemenet News

Those of you who share my interest in Achaemenid studies will have noticed changes to the very important Achemenet website, partially good (it now works without Adobe Flash player) and partially bad (old links to the transcriptions of Achaemenid tablets by Francis Joannès, Caroline Waerzeggers, and other scholars have been broken and PDFs replaced with HTML, so that a citation in one of my forthcoming publications is already obsolete). For several years Achemenet was hosted by the Musée du Louvre. On Friday 19 February, the editors announced that since November 2015 the Louvre has refused to let them determine Achemenet policy or continue to support their open-access journal ARTA and series of monographs Persika, and that they are therefore ending their connection with the Louvre and moving Achemenet to the ARSCAN laboratory in France.

I quote their letter below without comment except for glossing a few names.

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