Book and Sword
pontifex minimus

Book and Sword

Twilight of the Scribes

The BBC has a short piece on the vanishing of professional letter-writers in India (link). A generation ago, someone who wanted a letter written or a package addressed could hire someone to do that for them outside most post offices in big cities. In the author’s view, rising literacy rates make letter-writers less necessary, but... Continue reading: Twilight of the Scribes

Persian Encounters

Replica of an Achaemenid bull column-capital from a Bierkeller in Ingolstadt, by Bildhauerei Setayesh On a recent trip, I stumbled over a bar with some Achaemenid sculpture in front. Most of the pillars at Persepolis were crowned with a pair of bull’s heads back-to-back; they supported one set of timbers on their heads, and... Continue reading: Persian Encounters

The Indian Petí Cuirass

A black and white photo of a body armour and helmet of layered cotton 2 cm thick with a smooth surface
Cloth body armour with shoulder flaps and helmet with cheek and neck flaps, captured from Tipu Sultan in 1799, Victoria and Albert Museum catalogue numbers 3517:1to:6/(IS)

Sultan Tipu was a warrior king, and like a warrior king he died when his enemies stormed his palace. Those enemies seized his treasury and hauled it to London, and as London has not been sacked since, most of his treasure is still there. Amidst the jewelled patas and the musical automata is a cloth armour.

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Some thoughts on Brouwers’ “Henchmen of Ares”

Josho Brouwers, Henchmen of Ares: Warriors and Warfare in Early Greece. Karwansaray Publishers: Rotterdam, 2013.

I can enthusiastically recommend Henchmen of Ares to anyone interested in ancient Greek warfare. It is beautifully made, backed by serious research, and clearly written, but its greatest value is that it comes from the perspective of an archaeologist. Most work on early Greek warfare is written by historians or literary scholars, so Brouwers provides an interesting alternative. While Brouwers clearly knows early Greek poetry, he also gives a prominent place to art, architecture, and funerary practice and puts Greek warfare in an East Mediterranean context. In particular, he emphasizes that the development of Classical warfare was bound up with practices in Lydia, Caria, Phoenecia, and Egypt. Not all hoplites were Greek, just as not all early Greek warriors were hoplites. He also makes a serious attempt to cover the period between the collapse of the Mycenaean palace kingdoms and the revival of cities which has left very little evidence (so little, in fact, that a minority of scholars think that it was much shorter than the 400 years allowed in most chronologies). And he explains his methodology, rather than simply telling a plausible story based on sources with a few brief remarks on the literary evidence.

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Learning Sumerian is Hard

A new term is beginning in Austria, and that seems as good a time as any to talk about some of the reasons why I don’t have much time for blogging. Since September I have been learning Sumerian. I could speak about the controversies about Sumerian grammar, or the difficulties of the script, but in this post I will try to talk about the intersection of both.

I have tried to write this post in plain English while following the format which is traditional in historical linguistics (such as writing * before an expression which is ungrammatical, misspelled, or hypothetical). I have also converted the special characters used in transcribing Sumerian such as š and ğ into their Latin equivalents (/sh/ as in “ship” and /ng/ as in “running”). I do not know if I have succeeded, but I hope that this post is at least understandable to people without a background in historical linguistics.

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Manti on Greek Helmets

A new doctoral thesis by Dr. Panagiota Manti on the construction of Greek bronze helmets is now available online (here). Manti had an unusual theory, namely that some Greek helmets were cast in something close to their final form then reshaped by hammering. This idea goes against a lot of comparative evidence for armour being... Continue reading: Manti on Greek Helmets

Three Ancient Traditions of Tactical Writing

A forthcoming conference has me thinking about writings on tactics in the ancient world. While the English word tactics indicate a clever way of fighting, the Greek adjective τάκτικη means “having been put into a formation for battle.” In other words, in the ancient world tactics were what we call organization and drill. Ancient and modern critics have complained that tactics in the Greek sense are insufficient education for a soldier, but experienced soldiers tended to recognize that they were necessary.
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Das Boot

A view along the Nydam ship towards the prow
A view along the Nydam ship towards the prow

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Schleswig. One of the pleasures of the trip was seeing the famous Nydam boat, a thirty-oared galley sunk in a lake around 400 CE. It had apparently been captured in war and was sunk as a sacrifice to the gods in a lake which received sacrifices for several centuries. A Greek would have called it a triakonter, although Germanic ships in the fourth century CE differed from Greek ones in the fifth century BCE in many details.

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