Book and Sword
felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

Book and Sword

A New Script from Iron Age Georgia?

A stone step about a foot high covered completely with a row of deep marks like letters
One sample of the possible script from the excavations at Graklani in eastern Georgia-in-the-Caucasus. Photo from Georgia Today, 20 August 2015; photographer not named.

I am still sick, so this week I will be brief and talk about some of the papers which were read at the conference of the Societas Iranologica Europaea in St. Petersburg. Abdoula Souvadar did his best to argue that a sheet of silver containing an inscription in Old Persian which claims to be the word of Otanes announcing that Darius has become king is not a modern forgery. Askold Ivantchik discussed 235 arrowheads found in the ruins of a small fort near Gordion in Phrygia which seems to have been destroyed by Cyrus’ armies. So far, most of the physical remains of Persian battles and sieges which have been found come from Anatolia. And Vakhtang Licheli talked about an Iron Age site which he is excavating on the hills above a main highway in Georgia-in-the-Caucasus. Most of this site appears to date roughly to the Achaemenid period in the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries BCE. For most of his paper he discussed the sorts of details of interest to specialists, but in the last few minutes he mentioned something else. Some of the stone altars at this site have deep marks like letters carved in them, but none of the marks looks like a known script such as the Imperial Aramaic or Attic Greek alphabets. Several people in the audience whipped out cell phones and cameras to catch Dr. Licheli’s slides, but it turned out that the photos of the possible text is available online.

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The Pazyryk Shield

Closeup photo of a shield of sticks thrust through zigzag slits in a sheet of leather
The shield from Pazyryk kurgan 1. Label not legible in my photo of it. Located in The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo by author, September 2015.

I recently had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg and see some things which I had wanted to see for very many years. One of these was the shield excavated by S.I. Rudenko from the barrows at Pazyryk in the Russian part of the Altai mountains where Russia, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Kazakhistan come together. The structure of the barrows and the local climate caused permafrost to develop beneath them, preserving some of their contents despite the intrusion of grave-robbers. Shields made in a similar way appear in Greek paintings of Persian soldiers from just over another border of the Achaemenid empire. The barrows (Russian singular kurgan) at Pazyryk are usually attributed to the fourth or third centuries BCE, but many of the objects found in them are older. To the best of my knowledge, the next surviving examples come from the siege of Dura Europos at least 500 years later (a photo is available in Nicholas Sekunda, The Persian Army, p. 21).

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Becoming a Source

A country Bahnhof in southern Germany (Herbertingen, Spring 2014). Photo by author. On Sunday the 13th Germany announced that it was imposing customs inspections on the border with Austria in response to the flood of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and the horn of Africa and the reluctance of countries to the... Continue reading: Becoming a Source

How Do You Pronounce Those Accented Characters in Ancient Near Eastern Languages Anyways?

An old cutwater of natural stones set in concrete, barely higher than the water which flows by it and into cracks in the end facing the onrushing water; some stones are covered with slimy moss
Rivers have their own interesting sounds. The cutwater of the old footings of a bridge in the river Inn. Photo by author.

Specialists in ancient Southwest Asia do not always name and define the special accented characters which they use to transcribe words in languages like Aramaic, Babylonian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. While this is convenient for fellow specialists, and avoids taking side in some debates about the sounds of ancient languages, it makes it hard for readers without their special training to read these words, to pronounce them, and to copy them on a computer. They also sometimes refer to these characters after their Greek or Hebrew names, which can also be confusing if one does not know these alphabets and how they are transcribed in Latin letters. One of the appendices to my doctoral thesis will give the names and pronunciations of every special character which I use. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience. If a passing phoneticist drops in to prevent a poor historian from mangling the International Phonetic Alphabet or spreading nonsense about Akkadian phonology, so much the better! I would rather be corrected now than by a reviewer when in the distant future the dissertation becomes a book.
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Economists vs Historians on Economic History

A man with stag`s horns growing out of his head and a spear in his hand is bitten by a pack of small dogs with long snouts
Aktaion is devoured by his hounds. Imagine me as a particularly yippy one just out of scene. Photo of an Apulian red-figure vase in the Badisches Landensmuseum, Karlsruhe, Germany courtesy of the Theoi Project http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/K6.8.html; they have copyright

Economists such as Gregory Clark and Brad DeLong like to tell people that between the dawn of time and 1800 or 1900 there was no growth in GDP per capita and very slow population growth. As an ancient historian this leaves me scratching my head. I decided to write this post after reading the 1998 version of DeLong’s ideas but similar ones appear to be common.

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“Send a force and rescue us!”

A map of the southern Levant in antiquity with Eqron about 20 km inland from and a bit north of Ashkelon and 30 km west of Jerusalem
If one were reduced to a single atlas of the ancient world as I am, this one would not be a bad choice. From Anna-Maria Wittke et al., Historische Atlas der antiken Welt (J.B. Metzler Stuttgart 2012) Seite 45 Karte B.

Sometimes life is really like a romance. One of the oldest letters in Aramaic to survive from Egypt goes like this:

(1) To the lord of kings pharaoh; your subject Adon king of E[qrom wishes you well. May … the lady of] (2) heaven and earth and the lord of the heavens, [great] god, [make the throne of the lord of kings] (3) pharaoh like the days of heaven and seed [… Your subject wishes you to know that the forces] (4) of the king of Babylon have come and have reached Apeq and … (5) they have seized and brought … with all … (6) because the lord of kings pharaoh knows that his subject [cannot stand alone he begs you] (7) to send a force and rescue us and not abandon us. [If the lord of kings pharaoh does this,] (8) your subject will remember this kindness and this princeling … [If the king of Babylon takes it, he will establish] (9) a governor in the land, and alter the record …

(tr. Manning after the text in TADE, as I am only a beginner I urge readers with a serious interest to find a professional translation while keeping in mind that this edition of the Aramaic is different from some earlier ones)

One of pharaoh’s scribes in Egypt dutifully added a note in demotic on the back which mentions the “lady of Eqrom,” but pharaoh’s answer is unknown. While most ancient letters are the sort of text which only a special kind of nerd could love, I think that this one has potential. Scholars call it the Adon letter after its author or the Saqqara papyrus after the place where it was found in 1942. Although I don’t expect that any of the excavators were locked in a tomb full of snakes, conducting an excavation in quasi-independent Egypt while the Afrika Korps dashed back and forth between Tripoli and Alexandria must have had some excitement.

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Two Negau Helmets

See caption and neighbouring pictures
Helmets number 1 (brown, on left, on bottom of case) and 2 (green, on right, elevated atop a block) in the basement of the Tiroler Landesmuseum, Innsbruck. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2013

I do not have many words left this week, and I have been a bit verbose and academic lately, so this week I think I will show some photos from my collection. The Tiroler Landesmuseum, Innsbruck has a large collection of arms and armour from graves on display in its basement including these helmets.
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Some thoughts on John Lynn’s “Battle”

Title text over a sixteenth-century charcoal drawing of a man with a fleshy face in profile wearing fanciful embossed armour
Cover photo c/o The Caffeinated Symposium blog


John A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture. Updated with a new epilogue. Westview Press: New York, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-8133-3372-4 (Bookfinder link)

This week I am going to talk about a book written by a specialist in the wars of Louis XIV of France, only two of whose eight chapters deal with ancient warfare in the broadest sense. That is because the book is one of the few which does the work of demolishing one of the most influential and least accurate ideas which an ancient military historian has ever presented to the public: the Western Way of War. Yet rather than be purely destructive, it goes on to sketch a scientific approach to war and culture, and even presents a model which scholars can apply to other cases. It does all that in an affordable volume written for lay readers in the United States where belief in a western way of war is strongest.

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How Can Ancient Art Help Us Read Ridolfo Capo Ferro?

A photo of two naked fencers with round strapped shields and long thrusting swords.
Capo Ferro’s engraver illustrates the perils of lifting one’s shield to parry a feint to the high left, giving one’s opponent a chance to strike low unseen (Gran Simulacro, Siena 1610 edition, plate 42). Photo c/o Wiktenauer http://www.wiktenauer.com/wiki/File:Capo_Ferro_42.jpg

A discussion on another blog revised an old controversy, namely what size of sword the Italian master Ridolfo Capo Ferro expected his students to use. I am not a student of any seventeenth-century art, whether rhetoric or fencing, so I can’t contribute to the discussion with a perspective on what length of sword works best with his techniques, or what length was most common in northern Italy in 1610. I am a student of ancient literature, so this week I will talk about some things from the ancient world which help me to interpret his manual.

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Link Dump

A votive statue of Chai-Hapi (a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of all good things to him!) excavated from the remains of Roman Vienna. Carved from gneis. In the style of late 19th Dynasty Heliopolis. Wien, Kunsthistorisches Musem, Ägyptische-Orientalische Sammlung, Inv. Nr. Äs 64. Photographed on special... Continue reading: Link Dump

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