Reenacting the Archaic and the Long Sixth Century

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For Plataia 2021, a lot of people are interested in the material culture of a particular period of history. Greek archaeologists call it the Archaic and end it in 480 or 479 with Xerxes’ invasion and the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataia, and Mykale; Assyriologists call it the Long Sixth Century and end it in the second year of Xerxes King of Lands (482 BCE) when most of the cuneiform archives in Babylonia end.

Academics and museums have some information which can help, but it has not yet been ‘boiled down’ into a few affordable books with good illustrations. So this page is a guide to some of the most useful books and articles. I hope that people trying to write a guide to how to make a good-enough kit find them helpful, but I have not made enough of these things to give that kind of advice.

Of course you don’t have to read all of this! You can get advice from friends if you prefer. But even flipping through some photos of objects in museums before you buy can save you a lot of money, and the more people who have read the same things, the easier it is to have conversations “I read A and B, and based on this evidence I think …” “well I read C, and she argues that B misinterpreted …” rather than just shouting matches. The best living history groups I know employ a divide and conquer strategy: one member focuses on clothing, another on painting, a third participant on woodworking, a fourth reenactor reads texts in the original language and excerpts the juicy bits, a fifth solves craft problems where the other four get stuck and a sixth handles the paperwork … so its fine to just pick one topic to research, as long as you share the results somewhere they can be found in 10 years!

Table of Contents

  1. Getting Started
  2. Textiles
  3. Clothing
  4. Sashes
  5. Hats and Caps
  6. Pins and Fibulae
  7. Cloak Weights
  8. Jewelry and Seals
  9. Hide Products
  10. Shoes and Sandals
  11. Sacks, Pouches, and Purses
  12. Load-Bearing Equipment
  13. Basketry
  14. Wood
  15. Camp Furniture
  16. Knives, Axes, and Other Edgetools and Replica Edgetools
  17. Firestarting
  18. Glassware
  19. Cooking, Eating, and Drinking
  20. Recipes
  21. Bedding
  22. Shelters
  23. Grooming and Sanitation
  24. Washing
  25. Games
  26. Sports
  27. Music
  28. Writing
  29. Reckoning
  30. Arms and Armour (‘hard kit’)
  31. Bows and Arrows
  32. Horses
  33. Other Animals
  34. Bibliography

Getting Started

If someone is just starting out studying archaic warfare, they should go read Josho Brouwers’ Henchmen of Ares, Hans van Wees’ Myths and Realities, the Iliad and Xenophon’s Anabasis. But if you are on a site like this you know all those books and want something with information specifically on the things they carried and how they lived in the field.

For the shameless Ionian pirates and rebels, there are books like:

  • Casson, Lionel. Travel in the Ancient World (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore MD, 1994) {soldiers are travellers too}
  • Davidson, James M. Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens {lots of information on meals based on bread, wine, oil, and a side-dish (opson) such as fish}
  • Rainer C.S. Felsch (ed.), Kalapodi II: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen im Heiligtum der Artemis und des Apollon von Hyampolis in der antiken Phokis. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, 2007. ISBN 978-3-8053-3771-7
  • Karunanithy, David (2013) The Macedonian War Machine: Neglected Aspects of the Armies of Philip, Alexander, and his Successors (Pen and Sword Military: Barnsley, Yorkshire) {check out pages 176-178 for descriptions of soldiers’ baggage in New Comedy}
  • Lee, John W. I. (2008) A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon’s Anabasis (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) {by an ancient historian but goes through all the things they carried and cites where to find more information}
  • Oleson, John P. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Latsis Foundation museum catalogues (if you can make the online version work)

For the King’s men there are broad books like:

  • Bertman, Stephen. Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Facts on File, 2003 and Oxford University Press, 2005. {a bit chattery and sententious, so could be a good choice if you get bored of academic prose}
  • Jill L. Baker, Technology of the Ancient Near East: From the Neolithic to the Early Roman Empire (Routledge 2018) {I have not seen this but its modestly priced and illustrated}
  • Bottéro, J. et al. Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • Curtis, John (2013) An Examination of Late Assyrian Metalwork with Special Reference to Nimrud. Oxbow Books: Oxford. {written 1979 but contains a catalogue of different kinds of objects with clear line drawings and instructions on where to find other objects of the same kind}
  • Elspeth R.M. Dusinberre, Empire, Authority and Autonomy in Achaemenid Anatolia (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2013)
  • Encyclopedia Iranica {a comprehensive academic encyclopedia, in English, and free to use}
  • P.R.S. Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industry: The Archaeological Evidence
  • Karen Nemet-Nejat, Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Daily Life through History. Greenwood Press: Westport, Conn., 1998. {check out chapter 7 for short overviews of household furnishings, clothing, and cooking}
  • Nicholson, P.T. and Shaw, I. (eds.) Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • Jack M. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. 4 volumes. New York: Scribner’s, 1995 {an encyclopedia which many libraries carry, articles are designed to ‘stand alone’}
  • Real-Lexikon der Assyriologie {the starting point for serious research into the ancient Near East, articles are in German or English}
  • Chapter 5 of my PhD thesis {a guide to finds of arms and armour from the Achaemenid empire}
  • A. Lucas and J.R. Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries. 4th edition (Edward Arnold Publishers: London, 1962) {may be more available in smaller libraries than the volume by Nicholson and Shaw}

There are four websites for living historians:

  • Dan D’Silva’s The Royal Road {for followers of the King!}
  • Matthew Amt’s Greek Hoplite Page {for shameless Ionian pirates and rebels}
  • John Conyard, Comitatus: The Greek and Hellenistic Periods {by an avid rider, but no source is given for most facts}
  • Immortals: Re-enacting Achaemenid Persia {in progress as of November 2020, check in soon!}

These three sites are strong on arms and armour (‘hard kit’) so I am focusing my attention on all the other things you have to do to get into a position to use that kit. A naked soldier with food poisoning and blisters won’t be very effective! (If you are interested in Achaemenid women, check out Orientalism in the Age of Steam with posts on reconstructing a high-status woman’s clothing, food, dying, etc. If you want to learn how reenactors and living historians search through archaeological literature, try the Kelticos forum

The archives of Roman Army Talk and the Online Agora: Taxis Plataion contain some good references, some practical tips, and a lot of blather. Most living history people seem to have moved to Facebook, but it is hard to find old posts and the people who know the most tend to go quiet after being faced with an endless crowd of demanding strangers. If you live within travelling distance of a good reenactment group interested in this period, I strongly recommend meeting them and having a chat in a pub about what you should be reading and who is researching and making what!

The Plataians in Toronto have a web journal: Hoplologia: Resources for Experimental Archaeology and Living History

… web resources with art and artefacts …
CVA Online
British Museum
Ur Online
Oriental Insitute, Chicago
‘Sardis excavation’ report

site reports

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In the last few years a group of philologists and archaeologists have started to put the evidence for Greek textiles in order:

  • Cecilie Brøns, Gods and Garments: Textiles in Greek Sanctuaries {modest price}
  • Liza Cleland, The Brauron Clothing Catalogues {modest price, free review}
  • Margarita Gleba {various free-to-read articles on archaeology}
  • Mary Harlow and Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.), Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress: An Interdisciplinary Anthology. Ancient Textiles Series, Volume 19 (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014)

Marie-Louise Nosch and Hero Granger-Taylor are two other names to look up. The Hippeis in Toronto have been doing a lot of research on textiles from the Aegean.

Chehrabad, Hasanlu, and Arǧān/Arjan are the most important sites with Iranian textiles (there are unpublished Iron Age textiles at Shahr-i Qumis in Damghan, northern Iran).

  • Javier Álvarez-Mon, “The Introduction of Cotton into The Near East: A View from Elam.” International Journal of the Society of Iranian Archaeologists, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Summer-Autumn 2015) pp. 41-52
  • Bellinger, Louisa (1957) “Charred Textiles from the Treasury.” In Schmitt 1957 p. 137 {just two fragments of woollen cloth, a weft-faced tabby with twisted wefts and one in ‘cloth weave’ (tabby?)}
  • Grömer, Karina …
  • Javier Álvarez-Mon, The Arjan Tomb: At the Crossroads of the Elamite and the Persian Empires (Peeters Press, 2010) {this is very expensive, I will see if I can find an article specifically on the embroidered textiles and 98 gold-sheet appliques from this tomb}
  • Hadian, M. / Good, I. / Pollard, A.M. / Zhang, X. / Laursen, R. (2012) “Textiles from Douzlakh Salt Mine at Chehr Abad, Iran: A Technical and Contextual Study of Late pre-Islamic Iranian Textiles.” International Journal of the Humanities Vol. 19 No. 3 pp. 152-173
  • Love, N. 2011. “The analysis and conservation of the Hasanlu-period IVB textiles,” in Maude de Schauensee (ed.) People and crafts in period IVB at Hasanlu, Iran (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) pp. 43–56
  • Kawami, Trudy S. “Archaeological evidence for textiles in pre‐Islamic Iran.” Iranian Studies, Vol. 25 Nr. 1-2 (1992) pp. 7-18

We have vast numbers of documents and a few grave finds for Mesopotamian textiles, including very detailed descriptions of the garments made for images of the gods:

  • Granger-Taylor, H. “The textile fragments from PG16,” in J. Curtis, Late Assyrian Bronze coffins. Anatolian Studies 33 (1983) pp. 94–95.
  • James, M.A., N. Reifarth, A.J. Mukherjee, M.P. Crump, P.J. Gates, P. Sandor, F. Robertson, P. Pfälzner and R.P. Evershed. “High prestige royal purple dyed textiles from the Bronze Age royal tomb at Qatna, Syria.” Antiquity 83 (2009) pp. 1109–1118.
  • Malatacca, Luigi (2017) “Ordinary People’s Garments in Neo- and Late Babylonian Sources.” In Salvatore Gaspa, Cecile Michel, and Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.), Textile Terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD, Lincoln, Nebraska (2017). Zea E-Books 56. pp. 107-121
  • Shiyanthi Thavapalan, “Purple Fabrics and Garments in Akkadian Documents,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History 3.2 (2016) pp. 163-190 {focused on the Bronze Age but has a useful discussion of colour terms in Akkadian and an Amarna text EA 101 with lapis-lazuli-coloured linen (GADA ZA.GIN3}
  • Stefan Zadawski, Garments of the Gods, two volumes (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2006 and 2013) {on garments made for images of the Sun at Sippar, his bed, throne, chariot, etc.}

The Cambridge History of Western Textiles is very expensive and our library does not have it. I understand that the ancient chapters were written 40 years ago when archaeological textiles research had just begun.

In general, think wool, linen, and maybe hemp cloth, think plain weaves (including warp-faced tabbies), and think very fine, densely packed threads. Some extant textiles have 100 threads per cm. Twills dating to this period have been found in northern Italy, the Alps, and Pazyryk (and slightly earlier at Chärchän in the Tarim Basin), but not Greece or the western parts of the Persian empire.

Herodotus 2.105 seems to say that linen was only grown in Colchis and Egypt, but it is common in graves in Greece and “nothing suggests that linen textiles were rare, or associated only with female burials or those of foreigners” (Nosch, “Linen Textiles and Flax”). Linen was successfully cultivated in Greece in recent times, and there was very extensive trade between the Aegean, the flax fields of Egypt, and the hemp fields of southern Russia which supplied the Athenian navy. Linen shows up in graves and lists from Babylonia: poor soldiers were often issued with a linen karballatu (= Greek kyrbasia “Skythian hood”), and the “foot-long linen chiton” which Herodotus’ Babylonian men wear under their woollen chiton and their white chamlidion (1.195.1) probably corresponds to the linen undergarments in graves and the TUG3.GADA “linen garment” in Babylonian texts.

There is some written and archaeological evidence for cotton reaching as far as Mesopotamia (trade between the Chaldean swamps and the Indus started and stopped every few centuries since the third millennium BCE). See Cotton from Dilmun; Margarita Gleba tells me that she is not so sure about the find from the Kerameikos which I described in Linen-Cotton Blends in the Greek and Roman World

So far, there does not seem to be evidence that Chinese, domesticated, de-gummed silk travelled west of the Oxus before the First Emperor (d. 210 BCE). Don’t just assume that of course Scythians/Saka/Gimmeraya wear Chinese silk because Turks and Mongols did! Other kinds of silk are native to India and the Mediterranean, but they look different.

… dyes …
Rubia tinctorum (madder) and indigotin (probably from dyer’s woad) were used to dye textiles on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age ( ). Rubia tinctorum (madder), an indigotin (probably dyer’s woad/Isatis tinctoria), a yellow flavenol dye from tamarisk, and a yellow flavenol dye from an unknown plant were found on textiles from Chehrabad (Mouri et al., “Analysis of dyes in textiles from the Chehrabad salt mine in Iran”). One of the Pazyryk kurgans contains a pair of trousers of madder dyed woollen twill (Natalia V. Polosmak, “A Different Archaeology”). Late Bronze Age and Iron Age graves from the Tarim Basin contain textiles dyed with madder (or another rubia species), indigo, and “yellow dyes of the luteolin-type,” a flavenoid found in weld and several vegetables and herbs (Kramell et al., “Dyes from Yanghai”)
… Tyrian purple … walnut browns, iron blacks …

… cut of clothing …

Most Greek clothing was probably made from 1 or 2 rectangles or semicircles which were woven to shape not cut, so you can experiment in draping it with some scrap fabric and safety pins.
Strabo Geography 15.3.18
Chehrabad Mummies
Pazyryk (Rudenko)

… decorative techniques: kilim, applied tablet-woven bands, embroidery, bezants …

  • Spantidaki, Stella (2014) “Embellishment Techniques of Classical Greek Textiles.” In Mary Harlow and Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.), Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress: An Interdisciplinary Anthology. Ancient Textiles Series, Volume 19 (Oxford: Oxbow Books) pp. 34-45 ISBN 9781782977155

Needles and bodkins: Curtis, Late Assyrian Metalwork, pp. 35, 155 (Iron, copper, and bronze)

… near eastern …

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Most belts and girdles in this period seem to have been made of rope or textile and knotted not buckled. When Xenophon Cyropaedia 6.2.32 speaks of the need for straps (ἱμάντες) he is talking about load-bearing equipment not what holds in your tunic. Curtius Rufus, a Roman from a buckle-wearing culture, read a description of the Persians knotting their belts and declared that this was effeminate (Historia Alexandri Magni 3.3.18: Roman men in his day sexualized the sash like 20th century Americans sexualized the bra).

The sculptures at Persepolis have great depictions of knotted Persian belts!

Adult male burial IB 134 at Nippur: “cloth shroud, cloth sash at waist, traces of leather perhaps indicating shoes, breeches, short and cap … traces of leather shoes, pants, and head covering …””: McCown et al., Nippur I, pp. 128, 146, pl. 160a; Potts, “Disposal of the Dead” p. 269

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Hats and Caps

… the broad, shallow-crowned Greek and Macedonian petasos sun-hats with a double drawstring, pilos bullet-shaped felt caps …

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Hide Products

There is not a lot of archaeological evidence for hide products in the Aegean, and the finds from tombs in Thrace have not yet been analyzed by leather experts. We know much more about leather from central Europe (Halstatt), Iran (Chehrabad), and Egypt (Elephantine). Today we think of vegetable tanned leather as the ‘old kind’ but in the Bronze and Iron Ages technologies such as rawhide and fat/oil/smoke curing seem to have more popular. In northern Europe, tanned leather tends to appear when the Romans conquer a region, and disappears when Roman rule collapsed. Vegetable-tanned leather is also absent from Egypt before the Iron Age, while rawhide and oil-tanned leather appear in excavations, paintings, and texts.

  • van Driel-Murray, Carol (2008) “Tanning and Leather.” In John Oleson (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World (New York: Oxford University Press) pp. 483-495
  • Mag. Dr. Gabriela Ruß-Popa Eisenzeitliche Leder- und Felltechnologien (PhD thesis, Universität Wien, 2015)
  • Gabriela Ruß-Popa, “Leather, fur and skin technology in the Iron Age salt mines at Dürrnberg near Hallein / Austria and Chehrābād / Iran (a PhD-project),” Archaeological Textiles Review 57 (2015) pp. 114–118
  • Gabriela Ruß-Popa, “Leather and Fur Samples from the Prehistoric Salt Mine of Chehrābād, Iran: An Initial Overview,” Metalla: Forschungsberichte des Deutschen Bergbau-Museums 21.1–2/2014, 2015, pp. 77–83
  • Veldmeijer, André J. (2016) Leatherwork from Elephantine (Aswan, Egypt): Analysis and Catalogue of the Ancient Egyptian & Persian Leather Finds. Sidestone Press: Leiden.

The Archaeological Leather Group lead by Carol van Driel-Murray are the leading experts in early hide processing in Europe and Egypt. Dan D’Silva has some posts about the problems of finding modern leathers similar to ancient oil-cured leathers at

Oil curing seems to have been very popular throughout the ancient world, with sources from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean. The oldest clear evidence for vegetable tanning is the writings of Theophrastus at the end of the 4th century BCE, and Carol van Driel-Murray suggests that there is no reason to believe it was practiced in Greece before the second half of the 5th century. One of the Persian Period shoe soles from Elephantine (el-016) appears to be vagetable tanned in a preliminary test. The existence of alum tawing is hard to prove, because this kind of leather does not survive well in the ground and because alum can also be used as a mordant to fix madder dye to skins. Carol van Driel-Murray is skeptical, others speculate that it could have been used to make the white armours with shoulder flaps on vases. But oil-cured leather without any alum can be bright white too.

At Chehrābād “The optical examination of the tested samples suggests that an original treatment of the skins with vegetable tannins can rather be excluded. As a general rule, vegetable-tanned leathers exhibit a darker to lighter brownish colouration, depending on the tanning substance. Here almost all the samples exhibit a whitish light beige colour. … Taking into account the appearance of the sample material, one might consider a treatment of skins with either fat or alum. Spot-testing with alum (alizarin test) also revealed negative results.” (Aali and Stöllner eds., The Archaeology of the Salt Miners, pp. 82, 83) When the grain was preserved, cut stumps of hair were visible, suggesting that the hair had been cut off rather than removed by soaking in lye. The grain was not always removed for greater softness, as in some modern brain-tanned and oil-tanned leather.

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Sacks, Pouches, and Purses

In Mesopotamia all leather products were made by the leatherworker ({lu2}AŠGAB/aškāpu) who also dyed skins.

… RlA s.v. Leder(industrie), Chehrābād sack, Elephantine bag, leather purse full of silver in a grave from Uruk (the {kuš}hindu in BM 41663 + 41698 + 41905 lines 16′, 28’/Holtz, Trial Records p. 139? CAD H pages 192, 193 under <himtu> provided to Aramean troops in SAA 19.17) …

{kuš}LU.UB2 (luppu: CAD L page 252, CTMMA IV No. 100:10: can hold gold or a GUR (180 L) of produce)

mē nādi “water from a skin” (Old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh)

Cloth bag of beads fron Nippur V (Neo-Assyrian period: McCown, Nippur I, p. 98)

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The gorytus is the Greek name for the quiver-bowcase worn at the hip.

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Fibulae and Pins

Various sizes of fibulae (aka. broaches or safety pins) were popular from the Aegean to Media. Large straight pins were also used. Most reenactment metalworkers can make you some for a price in the low tens of dollars/Euros if you give them some measurements, photos, and drawings out of books, catalogues, and articles like:

  • C. Blinkenberg, Lindiaka 5: Fibules grecques et orientales, Historisk-filologiske meddelelser 13.1 (Copenhagen, 1926) {not available in Innsbruck but supposed to be the foundational study of Greek and Near Eastern fibulae}
  • David Stronach, “The Development of the Fibula in the Near East,” Iraq, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Autumn, 1959), pp. 180-206
  • Muscarella
  • Friedhelm Pedde, Vorderasiatische Fibeln von der Levante bis Iran. Abhandlungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 24. Saarbrücken: Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag, 2000. {more illustrations than Stronach’s article, but covers a wider period and one reviewer thinks the author needed to try casting and forging some bronze}
  • … Kalapodi report …
  • Cecile Brons article in ‘Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress’

Men and women from the Levant to Persis were often buried with ‘elbow’ fibulae but we don’t know what they fastened them to

… elbow fibula article …

Cloak Weights

Jewelry and Seals

… stamp seals
… roll seals
… bracelets
… anklets
… necklaces
… torcs
… finger rings
… earrings

Load-Bearing Equipment

A terracotta figurine from Myrina-in-Aeolis, showing a soldier with pack. From Bieber, Margarete. (1920) Die Denkmäler zum Theaterwesen im Altertum (Berlin and Leipzig) pp. 133, 134, Taf. lxxii.3 The figurine is said to be now in Berlin.

Xen. An. 6.4.23 on things brought to rob some villages …
Xen. Cyr. 6.2.32 always have plenty of straps (the Greek word is ὁ ἱμάς and seems to imply leather: reins, a boxer’s hand-bindings, the floor of a chariot, the flayed skin of Sisamnes the unjust judge …)
Aristophanes on where to keep your coins …
Petronius on where to hide coins …

Studying how people carried things is difficult. Ordinary small objects are usually hidden in art unless the artist needs them to communicate who a character is and what they are doing. The big containers used by shoppers, porters, and peddlers and the temporary containers that held a snack from a street vendor or a cut of meat rarely appear at all. Documents and literature can be more helpful: by the 18th century, a key source is records of trials of thieves and pickpockets which record exactly what was taken from where! Christian Cameron has an inspiring post on the problem Writing Fantasy: Baskets and Broadswords (2018).

Deportees in Neo-Assyrian art often carry a sack over their shoulder or in their hands in front of them. With some rope, you can rig a simple sack to be carried with your hands free.

Men in Assyrian or Elamite clothing often have necessary objects thrust through their sash: three knives, a big knife, or a stylus.

Small objects such as seals and whetstones are often pierced with a hole and sometimes a ring. This would allow them to be worn around the neck or from a belt on a thong.

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The vast Persian empire contained a wide range of useful trees, and the Persian peace encouraged trade and long-distance travel. The excavations at Hasanlu revealed objects of white poplar (not the New World tree often sold as poplar today!), ash, elm, boxwood, maple, juniper, prunus (almond or peach), and other woods. The bronze mace with a boxwood handle and the possible spear socket on an elmwood shaft might be of interest to people reenacting soldiers. On the other hand, the arrows from Persepolis were mostly mounted on reed shafts via wooden foreshafts (Schmitt, Persepolis II p. 99, Hulit’s PhD thesis has diagrams of how such arrows are assembled). If a wood is appropriate to the task and native to Eurasia, it was probably used for that task somewhere in the Persian empire.

Mary Virginia Harris, “Glimpses of an Iron Age Landscape: Plants at Hasanlu,” Expedition Magazine Vol. 31 Issues 2, 3 (1989) pp. 15-18

… persepolis II …
Nicole Boenke, “The Achaeobotanical Record,” Metalla: Forschungsberichte des Deutschen Bergbau-Museums 21.1–2/2014, 2015, pp. 60-74

Ancient woodworking based on wedges, adzes, and chisels followed a very different logic than modern woodworking which starts from homogeneous planed boards. Books on ancient shipbuilding, architecture, and furniture will get you started. On the other hand, lathes were used for working wood and bone (chariot axles and spokes, throne legs at Persepolis, a knife handle at Chehrābād), and those crafts may have been more similar to their modern counterparts.

Caroline Earwood, Domestic Wooden Artefacts: in Britain and Ireland from Neolithic to Viking Times (Liverpool University Press, 1993)

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Camp Furniture

A bit of furniture can make life in camp much more comfortable, and those with wagons or pack animals to spare brought along as much as possible. Greek writers lovingly describe the furniture of Persian camps while remaining silent about how their own generals lived in the field.

x-frame chairs (Tutankhamun, Neo-Assyrian reliefs)
couches (Neo-Assyrian reliefs)
beds (Alexander had one)
coffers (Alexander had them …)
vase stands (in the Neo-Assyrian reliefs)
movable screens?
aspis stands (?Red Figure vases?)

cushions, carpets etc. …

Geoffrey Killen, Ancient Egyptian Furniture. 3 volumes, second edition (Oxbow, 2017) {ends with the 20th dynasty (Ramesses XI) but the Egyptian tomb goods are the best source}

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Glass in this period was formed around a core or cast and cut; glassblowing was a later Syrian invention. We have a series of texts with recipes for glassmaking from Nimrud. The ancients often saw glass and similar substances as imitations of precious stones like lapis-lazuli and rock crystal. Unfortunately, glass is a fragile material, and decays in wet contexts.

  • A. Leo Oppenheim, Robert H. Brill, Dan Barag, and Axel von Saldern, Glass and Glassmaking in Ancient Mesopotamia: An Edition of the Cuneiform Texts Which Contain Instructions for Glassmakers: With a Catalogue of Surviving Objects. Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass, 1970 (reprinted 1988).
  • Despina Ignatiadou, “Achaemenid and Greek Colourless Glass.” In J. Curtis and J. Simpson (eds.), The World of Achaemenid Persia, pp. 419–26. London: British Museum, 2010
  • Despina Ignatiadou, Διαφανής ύαλος για την αριστοκρατία της αρχαίας Μακεδονίας. Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού. Αρχαιολογικό Ινστιτούτο Μακεδονικών και Θρακικών Σπουδών Δημοσιεύματα, 13. Thessaloniki: Αρχαιολογικό Ινστιτούτο Μακεδονικών και Θρακικών Σπουδών, 2013
  • Katharina Schmidt, Glass and Glass Production in the Near East during the Iron Age Period: Evidence from Objects, Texts and Chemical Analysis. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2019
  • And an honourable mention to Ancient Glass: Blog of The Allaire Collection {most of their collection is later but it still gives an overall feel for ancient glass}

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Xenophon recommends that an army preparing for a hard campaign bring plenty of clothing but not too much bedding because it is more useful to carry the same weight of provisions (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.2.30). His Socrates teases a man who carried nothing but a cloak while his slave staggered along with heavy bedspreads and baggage (Xen. Mem. 3.13.6). Alcibiades’ compromise was to sleep in bands of fabric hanging from the beams of his trireme rather than on the hard deck (Plutarch, Alcibiades, 16.1).

Lee, Greek Army, p. 119 (the words στιβάς for a matress, sleeping mat, or pile of rushes/straw and στρῶμα for bedspreads come up)
Xen. Anab. 5.4.13, Aeschines 2.99 στρωματόδεσμον “a bag for holding bedding”
Plato, Theaet. 175e (where a philosopher may be ignorant of manual work like filling the stromatodesmon or preparing side dishes)
Mats in graves at Uruk …

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Greek armies don’t seem to have brought much in the way of tents with them; it was easier to cut down the local greenery, move a couple of rocks, and build temporary shelters from spare textiles or mats. The owners of event locations rarely approve of felled saplings and most people today are not as resistant to the Boeotian sun as people in the long sixth century BCE! Very few pictures or descriptions of tents and temporary shelters are known, especially before Alexander the Great.

  • Anderson, Theory and Practice, pp.61, 62
  • Karunanithy, The Macedonian War Machine, pp. 195-196 {the tents of Alexander’s infantry}
  • John Lee, A Greek Army on the March, pp. 121-123 {the tents of the Ten Thousand}
  • Spawforth, Anthony (2007) “The Court of Alexander the Great Between Europe and Asia.” In Anthony Spawforth (ed.), The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) pp. 82-120

In contrast, the Neo-Assyrians proudly displayed their tents with a central pole and a framework of branches reaching towards the walls, and Greek writers lovingly described the tents of Persian kings and generals (supposedly, the 50 × 70 meter Odeion in Athens was copied from the tent of Xerxes, Pausanias 1.20.4). Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great has tents made for each company of 100 men, which implies something quite elabourate.

Aside from the Bedouins, today’s pastoral nomads in the Near East practice a way of life learned from Turks and Mongols in the last thousand years (and communities have often moved back and forth between nomadism, village-based herding, and farming as the political economy demanded). The first solid evidence for pastoral nomads in Iran is Herodotus (Potts, Nomadism in Iran) and we do not know what kinds of tents and shelters these Iron Age nomads used. Nomads in recent times use a variety of forms, and the Assyrians show Arab tents as the same kind their own soldiers live in. Some boats also had a tent, presumably shelter for the crew on deck. Tents in cuneiform texts are made of leather, woollen cloth, or goat-hair, with ropes and wooden components (poles and rafters?) but most of these texts come from urban contexts.

Akkadian zaratu (plural zarātu): RlA L p. 541, CAD Z p. 66
Akkadian kuštāru, (h)uroatu, zaratu, maškanu
Neo-Assyrian reliefs
RlA s.v. Zelt
Andrews, Peter Alford (1997) Nomad Tent Types in the Middle-East. 2 volumes of a planned four-volume series (Wiesbaden: Ludwig Riechert)

… Scythian …
David Stronach, “On the Antiquity of the Yurt:Evidence from Arjan and Elsewhere.” The Silkroad Foundation Newsletter Vol. 21 No. 1 pp. 9-18

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Grooming and Sanitation

Even in the squalor of an army camp, people try to keep clean.

… combs (not just for Spartans!) Ur Project category 33,
… earspoons/earscoops (2 bronze from Kalapodi (pp. 208, 357, Taf. 8), 2 silver from Golyamata Mogila, 1 silver from Chehrābād Saltman 1) … kohl sticks … tweezers (1 bronze from Nineveh, 17 bronze or iron from Kalapodi p. 206, 1 iron from Karaburun IV (Mellink 1972)) … toothpicks? razors? brushes?

Ur Project Category 36 Toiletry Kits “This category includes objects used in personal hygiene, with a case surrounding the instruments. The instruments include a pointed rod, possibly a khol stick, a lancet, or stiletto, a flattened spatual object, and a pair of tweezers. These are encased in a metal cone known as a reticule.” Mccowen, Nippur I, p. 108 calls them “toiletry kits.”

Mirrors (of bronze): Curtis, Late Assyrian Metalwork, pp. 123; U-15449
Washbasins and Ewers: not just for Pontius Pilate, in Neo-Assyrian letters silver washbasins were common diplomatic gifts!

Mirrors in the long sixth century were usually discs of polished bronze with a tang and a handle. The back often had decoration, ranging from concentric circles to elabourate engravings. They seem to have been very common, and they were important to women in many cultures. “Most [Etruscan bronze mirrors] were slightly concave, so that held at arm’s length much of the upper body would be in view” (Judith Swadding, Corpus of Etruscan Mirrors): medieval glass mirrors also bulge outwards for the same reason.


As starving students or devotees of Hans Rosling talks know, washing by hand is sweaty, time consuming work. Soldiers don’t always have a change of clothes, but dishes, cookpots, and underwear still need washing, and the outer garments needed brushing and de-licing now and then.

… the cuneiform text for a clothes washer
… Rosalind Hall, Egyptian Textiles pp. 48-56
… Odyssey on Odysseus and the Phaiatian princess with her maidservants

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We remember Herodotus’ description of the Laconians exercising and combing their hair before battle (7.208), but not his description of Peisistratus charging the Athenians while they were napping or dicing and routing them (Hdt. 1.63). Assyrian soldiers scratched a game board into the floor of the palace gate.

  • Cities:
  • Max Nelson, “Battling on Boards: The Ancient Greek War Games of Ship-Battle (Naumachia) and City-State (Polis).” Mouseion, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp. 3-42
  • polis and naumachia:
  • unknown game with a 7 by 10 grid from late Ur …
  • six-sided die (κύβος): Takht at Persepolis, U. 18850
  • knucklebones (astragals) in bone or other materials: van Ess and Pedde, Uruk: Kleinfunde II, pp. 187, 188; Woolley, UE 9 p. 78 grave P-160 (9 knucklebones)

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… discus javelin running swimming archery wrestling ball games …
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People in the long sixth century wrote on a variety of surfaces: clay tablets, waxed wooden tablets (“writing boards”), papyrus, skins, and scraps of limestone or pottery (ostraka).

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Anyone recieving pay or buying and selling was wise to learn arithmetic and check weights and measures rather than trust the seller. While in some places coins with a known silver content were used, there were all kinds of tricks to turn 20 drachmas into 21, so it was wise to check the weight for any important transaction. Studying ancient arithmetic can be a good way for people who are not interested in rhetoric or religion to understand how very different familiar aspects of life were in antiquity.

stones for a counting board like the Salamis tablet: acrophonic numeral, finger computation, and finger reckoning can be good keywords. There is a picture of a Persian official using a counting board on the Darius Vase from fourth-century Apulia (Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, Naples, H3253).

?weights and a balance? McCown, Nippur I, p. 102 fn. 105 “Two bronze balance pans (e.g. Pl. 153:3) were found near the hands of the skeleton in TA III burial 1B 209 (see p. 133). Above the knees were a bronze “nail” (Pl. 153:5) and a bronze sleeve (Pl. 153:4) containing traces of wood and a bronze ring (PI. 153:6). All of these items probably constituted elements of a balance. Perhaps the “nail” pierced the center of the balance arm with its hooked end pivoting on the ring. The ring could have been suspended from a horizontal peg set in the upright member of the balance, around which was the sleeve. The sleeve thus would have served no functional purpose. The partially preserved flare at its broken end may be due to malformation. This suggested reconstruction is based in part on a large balance pictured in an Assyrian relief (Bruno Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien I [Heidelberg, 1920] Fig. 209, right). Our balance, of course, would have been portable.”

  • W.F. Richardson, Numbering and Measuring in the Classical World Second Edition (Bristol: Bristol Phoenix Press, 2004)
  • Turner, J. Hilton (1951) “Roman Elementary Mathematics: The Operations,” The Classical Journal 47.2 pp. 63‑74, 106‑108*.html

In a world without universal literacy and printed labels, there must have been ways to negotiate prices across a language barrier. In Roman times there was a system of hand signs which could be used for computing: it shows up in Bede, and another one in one of the Arab archery manuals. Just how old it is is hard to say, but see the article on “Roman Elementary Mathematics” by J. Hilton Turner.

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Arms and Armour (‘hard kit’)

In the past fifty years, Greek and German archaeologists have published quite a bit of information that is not in older books by Snodgrass or Connolly. The best overview I have seen is an article by Peter Krentz which he summarizes in his book on Marathon:

  • Krentz, Peter (2010) “A Cup by Douris and the Battle of Marathon.” In Garrett Fagan and Matthew Trundle (eds.), New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare (Brill, Leiden) pp. 183-204 {summarized here}
  • Krentz, Peter (2010) The Battle of Marathon. Yale University Press: New Haven.

Neither is illustrated to Connolly, Osprey, or Museum of London standards, but they describe spears, swords, shields, helmets, cuirasses, and greaves all in one place, and everything they say is based on surviving objects and high-quality reconstructions.

A lot of nonsense has been written in English about Greek swords (no, they were not all 40-70 cm long; no, extremely short ones were not just for Laconians; no, the single-edged ones were not ponderous and heavy; yes, there are metallurgical studies). Matthew Amt has a section on swords on his site and he flips through sketches and photos of finds. If you read German and have access to an academic library, track down books and articles by Holger Baitinger, Imma Killian-Dirlmeier, Effi Photos, Hans-Otto Schmitt, and Marek Verčík; whether you do or you don’t, read books and sites by people experimenting with low-tech iron production like Lee Sauder and Darrell Markewitz. Ask around, and look for people who have examined swords found in Greece or read these books by German and Greek archaeologists. A Greek-style sword or cleaver from Spain or Italy is not necessarily the same as one from Greece.

Paul Bardunias’ book Hoplites at War {review} has the most accessible information on Greek shields. An article by Philip Henry Blyth and a PhD thesis written in Greek by Stamatopolou have the technical details on Argive shields (“hoplite shields”).

I have heard good things about Eo Jarva’s book on Greek helmets and body armour, but I have never been able to obtain a copy. The standard reference for helmets is Petros Dintisis’ Hellenistische Helme. The Olympische Forschung volumes Emil Kunze, Beinschienen (1992) and Heide Frielinghaus, Die Helme von Olympia (Vol. 33, 2011) are also essential. A fourth-century BCE scale armour from Golyamata Mogila in Thrace is worth studying.

I have not seen Randall Hixenbaugh’s Ancient Greek Helmets: A Complete Guide and Catalogue. Hermann Historica auction #49 (October 2005) has weights and photos from many helmets from the Axel Guttman collection. Guttman seems to have acquired most of his helmets very late in the 20th century, so most of them were probably looted within my gentle readers’ lifetime.

Helmets and armour from the Persian empire are known from Olympia (but just one! National Archaeological Museum, Athens, B 5100), Sardis, Gordion, the Palace of Apries in Egypt, Tell Dafana / Daphnae in Lower Egypt (British Museum EA 23983 c/o Joe Balmos), Deve Hüyük on the Euphrates, Pasargadae, and Persepolis. Cylinder seals and grave monuments from Anatolia are the art most likely to depict them. The Gadal-iama contract is the only text from the empire which definitely mentions iron armour and helmets. Dan D’Silva has an article Armoured Bruiser and I talk about the archaeological evidence for armour in chapter 5 of Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire (= chapter 5 of my PhD thesis).

U-17392 (iron dagger with mineralized wood on blade), U-20042 (iron sword 53 cm long with mineralized wood on grip and blade), U-20044 (iron dagger blade with x-ray) …

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Bows and Arrows

Ataelus Mad Scythian Archery

… the archaeological evidence from antiquity vs. the heavy-draw-weight enthusiasts and archery in 16th century Eurasia …
… Hulit, McEwan on Tutankhamun, and the parallels between the Akkadian bow and Late Bronze Age triangular composite bows …

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Carolyn Willekes, The Horse in the Ancient World: From Bucephalus to the Hippodrome

Other Animals

Donkeys and oxen did most of the hauling. Herodotus describes convoys of supplies carried on zeugea ‘yokes (of oxen).’ Some squads of 4 or 10 soldiers in Babylonia were issued a donkey or money to buy one (eg. Dar. 253).
… mules …
… Bactrian and Arabian camels: Hdt. 1.80, 3.103, 7.25, some Red Figure vases, absence in Xen. An., and Bulliet, The Camel and the Wheel, Columbia University Press 1990.

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  • Aali, Abolfazl et al. (2012) “Ancient salt mining and salt men: the interdisciplinary Chehrabad Douzlakh project in north-western Iran”
  • Aali, Abolfazl / Stöllner, Thomas (eds). (2015) The Archaeology of the Salt Miners: Interdisciplinary Research 2010-2014. Metalla: Forschungsberichte des Deutschen Bergbau-Museums 21.1–2/2014 (Deutsches Bergbaumuseum: Bochum) {available from the Bergbaumuseum online shop}
  • Anderson, John Kinloch (1970) Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon (University of California Press, Berkeley and LA)
  • Blyth, P.H. (1982) “The Structure of a Hoplite Shield at the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco.” Bolletino dei Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontifice 3 pp. 5-21
  • Blyth, Philip Henry (1977) The Effectiveness of Greek Armour Against Arrows in the Persian War (490-479 B.C.): An Interdisciplinary Inquiry. PhD Thesis, University of Reading, January 1977.
  • Boon, George C. (1991) “Tonsor humanus: razor and toilet-knife in antiquity,” Britannia 22 pp. 21–32.
  • Černenko, E. V. (2006) Die Schutzwaffen der Skythen. Prähistorische Bronzefunde III/2 (Stuttgart: Steiner) {if you can’t read Russian but can read German, this is the bible of armour from graves in the Eurasian steppes. Many detailed line drawings and some small B&W photos}
  • Davis, Todd Alexander (2013) Archery in Archaic Greece. PhD Dissertation, Columbia University.
  • van Driel-Murray, Carol (2000) “Leatherwork and Skin Products.” In Nicholson and Shaw eds., Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (Cambridge University Press, 2000) pp. 304-306
  • van Ess, Margarete, and Pedde, Friedhelm (1992) Uruk: Kleinfunde II. Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka, Endberichte Band 7. Philipp von Zabern: Mainz am Rhein.
  • David Fleming, “Eggshell Ware pottery in Achaemenid Mesopotamia,” Iraq, vol. 51 (1989) pp. 165-185
  • Godehardt, Erhardt et al. (2007) “The Reconstruction of Scythian Bows.” In Barry Molloy (ed.), The Cutting Edge (Tempus: Stroud) pp. 112-133.
  • Greenewalt Jr., Crawford H. (1997) “Arms and Weapons at Sardis in the Mid Sixth Century B.C.” Arkeoloji ve Sanat 19.79 pp. 2-20
  • Greenewalt Jr., Crawford H. / Heywood, Ann M. (1992) “A Helmet of the Sixth Century B.C. from Sardis.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 285 pp. 1-31
  • M. Hadian, I. Good, A.M. Pollard, X. Zhang and R. Laursen, “Textiles from Douzlakh Salt Mine at Chehr Abad, Iran: A Technical and Contextual Study of Late pre-Islamic Iranian Textiles.” Intl. J. Humanities (2012) Vol. 19 No. 3 pp. 152-173
  • Hixenbaugh, Randall / Valdman, Alexander (2019) Ancient Greek Helmets: A Complete Guide and Catalog (Hixenbaugh Ancient Art Ltd: New York, NY, 2019) 738 pages (275 color pages), 8 1/2 x 11 in, ISBN 978-0-578-42371-5, USD 450 (hardcover)
  • Gabriele Körlin and Thomas Stöllner (ed.), Streifzüge durch Persien: 5500 Jahre Geschichte in Ton. Deutsches Bergbaumuseum: Bochum 2008. {an overview of pre-Sasanid pottery through a private collection, the kind of book you can give to a potter to get ‘in the spirit of’}
  • Kramell, Annemarie et al., “Dyes of late Bronze Age textile clothes and accessories from the Yanghai archaeological site, Turfan, China: Determination of the fibers, color analysis and dating.” Quaternary International 348 (2014) pp. 214-223
  • Krug-Ochmann, Julia Barbara (2014) “Achaemenid and Sassanian Trousers. A short technical description from Douzlakh Salt Mine at Chehr Abad, Iran.” Archaeological Textiles Review 56 pp. 60-64.
  • Donald Eugene McCown, Richard C. Haines, and Donald P. Hansen (1967) Nippur I. Temple of Enlil, Scribal Quarter, and Soundings. OIP 78. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. {layers TA … V to TA … I are Neo-Assyrian to Achaemenid}
  • D.E. McCown, R.C. Haines, and R.D. Biggs (1978) Nippur II. The North Temple and Sounding E: Excavations of the Joint Expedition to Nippur of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. OIP 97. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. {layers SE III and SE II are Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid}
  • Miller, Margaret C. (1997) Athens and Persians in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Moorey, Peter Roger Stuart (1975) “Iranian Troops at Deve Hüyük in Syria in the earlier 5th century B.C.” Levant 7 (1975) pp. 108-117
  • Moorey, Peter Roger Stuart (1980) Cemeteries of the First Millennium BCE at Deve Hüyük, near Carchemish, salvaged by T.E. Lawrence and C.L. Wooley in 1913. British Archaeological Reports 87 (Oxford).
  • Nosch, Marie-Louise. “Linen Textiles and Flax in Classical Greece: Provenance and Trade.” In Kerstin Droß-Krüpe (ed.) Textile Trade and Distribution in Antiquity/Textilhandel und -distribution in der Antike. (Harrasowitz-Verlag: Wiesbaden, 2014) pp. 17-42
  • Polosmak, Natalia V. (2015) “A Different Archaeology: Pazyryk culture: a snapshot, Ukok, 2015.” Science First Hand Volume 42, Number 3 (2015)
  • Potts, Daniel T. (2014) Nomadism in Iran: From Antiquity to the Modern Era (Oxford University Press: Oxford)
  • Schmidt, Erich F. / Matson, F.R. (1953) Persepolis I: Structures, Reliefs, Inscriptions. Oriental Institute Publications 68. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Schmidt, Erich F. (1957) Persepolis II. Contents of the Treasury and other Discoveries. Oriental Institute Publications 69. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.
  • Schmidt, Erich F. (1970) Persepolis III: The Royal Tombs and Other Monuments. OIP 70. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Sono, Toshihiko / Fukai, Shinji (1968) Dailaman III: The Excavations at Hassani Mahale and Ghalekuti, 1964. The Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition Report 8 (University of Tokyo, Institute for Oriental Culture: Tokyo) {for more on this series of excavations see EncIr ‘Japan v. Archaeological Missions to Persia’}
  • Steinkeller, Piotr (1980) “Matresses and Felt in Early Mesopotamia.” Oriens Antiquus 19 pp. 79-100 {idenfies the Sumerian word for felting, tug2-du8, and lists crafts in which their work was employed}
  • Stamatopolou, Basilike G. (2004) Οπλον. Η Αργολικη Ασπιδα και η Τεχηολογια της (PhD thesis, Aristotle University Thessalonike)
  • Zutterman, Christophe (2003) “The Bow in the Ancient Near East, A Re-Evaluation of Archery from the Late 2nd Millennium to the End of the Achaemenid Empire.” Iranica Antiqua 38 pp. 119-165

Donald Strong and David Brown (eds.), Roman Crafts (1976) {I have not seen this, suggsted methods for reproducing a wide range of Roman artifacts}

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