Book and Sword
A “Primitive” Battle in Afghanistan
The Indian Petí Cuirass
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.Read more
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.
De Constructione Bellicarum Machinarum
British Library MS. Burney 69 f. 12v Photo c/o The British Library. Not abstract art, but a technical drawing from an ancient treatise on siege machines by Biton. The catalogue says that this manuscript was copied in 1545, almost 1800 years after Biton wrote. Technical drawings have always been a problem... Continue reading: De Constructione Bellicarum Machinarum
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.
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.
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.
Did the Greeks Wear Glued Linen Armour?
A recent scholarly book argues that ancient Greek soldiers wore body armour of many layers of linen glued together. This would be surprising, since most cultures with linen armour sewed it together, but some people are concerned that Greek images of this armour rarely show stitch marks.* The book briefly cites two 19th century articles as evidence that such glued linen armour has been found.** Many curious readers will not be able to follow up on these references, since the necessary journals are hard to obtain outside of a large reference library, and since the articles are in Italian and German. One perk of studying in Innsbruck is that I do have access to the necessary publications, and I can read German if not Italian. I therefore spent a few hours flipping through online databases and back issues of journals with gilded titles on the spines and „königlich und kaiserlich“ in the stamps on the title page. Because many interested people do not have access to these articles, I have decided to reproduce the key passages with an English summary.
The first article describes the contents of an Etruscan tomb at Tarquinia. (It was published as W. Helbig, “Oggetti Trovati nella Tomba Cornetana detta del Guerriero,” Annali dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archaeologica 46 (1874) 249-266). The relevant passage seems to be as follows: