Achaemenid Empire

Elbow Brooches

a brooch consisting of a bronze piece like a bent arm and hand.  A steel spring is inserted into the 'shoulder' end of the bronze and pokes towards the hand end which catches it
A Stronach type iii.7 fibula by Mark Shier of http://medievalwares.com/index.php? 4 cm long, price as of 2022 is USD 23.95

Folks preparing for Plataea 2022 know that there are no commercially available fibulae (safety pins) suitable for the Aegean in 479 BCE. Mark Shier of medievalwares.com in Canada now offers a copy of a type which was very common from Egypt to Western Iran during, before, and after the Achaemenid period. These elbow fibulae are often found in graves from Babylonia through Syria to Judea. If you want to learn more, check out these websites and articles:

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Achaemenid Clothing in Greek Eyes

a Greek vase painting of Darius on his throne as a man in Greek dress approaches to give advice
This painting is contemporary with Darius III, but the material culture does not convince me! Note the nice long kopis cleaver and the knobby walking stick. The Darius Krater in the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, Naples (from Apulia, c. 340-320 BCE), c/o Wikimedia Commons

Greek and Roman literature is certainly an important collection of evidence for clothing in the Achaemenid empire. Most of these passages describe the clothing of the king and satraps, or simply say that such-and-such is the Persian equivalent of a Greek garment. Herodotus and Strabo provide information about the garments of other people. Herodotus says that Babylonian men dress as follows:

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Some Thoughts on Kaplan’s “Imperial Grunts”

Yeehaw! Kaplan wants readers to think about paintings like “Coming and Going of the Pony Express” by Frederick Remington (1900) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Remington_Coming_and_Going_of_the_Pony_Express.jpg

Robert D. Kaplan, Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond. Random House: New York, 2005 (Reprinted Vintage Books, 2006)

One night while cleaning an old Lee-Enfield rifle on a Bukhara carpet, Custer provided me his theory on the problem with the War on Terror as it was currently being waged in Afghanistan. … It wasn’t really his theory so much as everybody’s- that is, when people were being honest with each other.

Imperial Grunts p. 225

I wanted something silly to read in December, and Imperial Grunts delivered. This book is like a glimpse into an alternate universe, a world where steely-eyed, Protestant soldiers wander the world bringing order not chaos, where US military inventions are hindered only by journalists, metropolitan intellectuals, and the backwardness of the people they operate among, a world where Apple is a has-been and Microsoft is an important company (pp. 262, 263) It is based on the author’s travels as a reporter embedded in various US military units around the world from late 2002 to early 2004 (Yemen, Columbia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Iraq). But a considerable part comes from the author’s library and neo-conservative ideology. As I read it, I noticed a way of thinking which I have also seen in writings about the Achaemenids.

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Iranian Tunics for Plataea

A horseman on an Achaemenid Period silver rhyton from Erebuni, Armenia. Note the bands around the upper arms and wrists of the tunic, along the shoulders, and from throat to hem. To learn more about this hoard see Mikhail Yu. Treister, “A Hoard of Silver Rhyta of the Achaemenid Circle from Erebuni,” Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia Vol. 21 (2015) pp. 23-119 (thanks Christopher Tuplin for the citation). Photo by Jona Lendering https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erebuni_achaemenid_rhyton_2_mus.jpg

If you want to go to the reenactment event at Plataia (currently scheduled for 26-31 July 2022), the most important things are shoes, clothing, and something to sleep on and eat from. And the most important site for those things is the sale mine at Chehrābād, Zanjan province, Iran. This mine was worked from 700-400 BCE, then from 300 to 600 CE, then from the 17th century to the 20th century. North-West Iran suffers from earthquakes, and bad earthquakes buried some of the miners and their possessions. As of 2016, six salt mummies had been found from the Achaemenid and Sasanid periods. Just like the salt mines at Halstatt, Austria, the salt at Chehrabad preserves things which rot in air and wet. Since the 2010s, the objects from this site have been examined by a joint European-Iranian team with resources to do things like scan the mummies with a CT machine. So far, 600 pieces of textiles have been catalogued. The following post is based on a lecture in German by Dr. Karina Grömer of the Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien, at the University of Innsbruck on 18 January 2016. I delayed posting it partially because I was too sick and busy to make the illustrations, and partially because I was ashamed that I made a mistake in my article on the trousers from Chehrabad. I will continue to edit this post as I have time to make, scan, and clean up illustrations.

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My First Book is Out

the cover of "Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire" (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2021) with a background of coloured rectangles

Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects. Oriens et Occidens Band 32 (Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart, 2021) 437 pp., 8 b/w ill., 4 b/w tables. ISBN 978-3-515-12775-2 EUR 74,– (softcover) (publisher’s website)

My first book is coming out from Franz Steiner Verlag this month. It is the first book on Achaemenid armies since 1992, and the first written by someone who can read any ancient Near Eastern language. I show that most of what we think we know about Achaemenid armies and warfare goes back to classical writers and to 19th and 20th century stereotypes about the east. So many books sound the same because they are repeating the ideas of early authorities in new language. By focusing on indigenous, contemporary sources and placing the Achaemenids in their Near Eastern context- the standard methods in Roman Army Studies and Achaemenid Studies since the 1980s- we can tell a different story.

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Battles and Sieges

Eannatum of Lagaš’s Stele of the Vultures in the Louvre, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01-transparent.png

Academic histories sometimes get very narrowly focused. There are some good reasons for this, but its not so good to read a book on archaic or classical Greek warfare which barely acknowledges that Italy or the Hellenistic period existed. Did I fall into that trap in my book on Achaemenid armies and warfare?

To find out, I made a list of all the battles and sieges which I mentioned in my forthcoming book.

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Cross-Post: Persika

Prolific ancient historian and Iranologist Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones’ latest venture onto the Internet is a vlog on ancient Iran called Persika: Persian Things. Check it out!

Achaemenid Shields are a Puzzle

Figure 6-2 from my forthcoming book from Franz Steiner Verlag. Some types of gerron (wicker shield) used in the Achaemenid empire in the time of Darius I and Xerxes. Top: peltē and wooden imitation of a sticks-and-leather shield from Tuekta in the Altai (different sections of ‘sticks’ are painted red, white, and black; similar shields appear in Neo-Assyrian art). Middle: rectangular wicker shields. Bottom: violin-shaped or figure-eight shields. Note that they are worn on the arm like a peltē or an Argive shield, not held in the fist like the Tuekta shield. Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu CA, no. 83.AE.247 (digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, no. 2179/96 (photo by author); Gerhard 1847: Taf. CLXVI; western entrance of the Tachara of Darius (sketch by author), Persepolis; two reliefs on the Apadana, Persepolis (photo by author)

If you look at modern paintings and miniatures, you would think we have a good idea of the type of shield used by Achaemenid infantry in the time of Darius and Xerxes. They cite Herodotus book 7 chapter 61 and show the large rectangular kind on the middle row of the picture above. But as I argue in chapter 6.5.2 of my forthcoming book from Franz Steiner Verlag, things are more complicated. These large rectangular shields appear on the doorposts of two buildings at Persepolis and on two or three vases from Athens (out of thousands of soldiers at Persepolis and Susa and thousands of Red Figure vases). The person who published the sketch on the middle left thought it showed a battle against the Phrygian allies of the Amazons. And this type of shield does not agree with Herodotus’ words that quivers were hanging beneath the shields, unless we understand ‘beneath’ quite loosely.

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Herodotus Didn’t Say That, Eduard Meyer Did

A view of a still lake and a cool sky from a stone breakwater
When I walked along the breakwater at Bregenz, I did not meet any old drunks willing to tell me the town’s terrible secrets for a tot of Schnapps, but that is a different winter story.

It has been too long since my last cheerful winter story, so on this Winter Solistice I will tell another.

Like the protagonist of a H.P. Lovecraft story, I came to Innsbruck to look for answers. The scholarship on Achaemenid armies in English was repetitive and fell apart at the first gentle question, but was there something more trustworthy in German? Duncan Head and Nicholas Sekunda cited all kinds of people who nobody else I was reading talked about. So I visited the wood-panelled Law Library reading room on the banks of a river named in a dead tongue, and borrowed an old copy of Eduard Meyer’s Geschichte des Altertums from a librarian who seemed surprised to have visitors. The first edition of Meyer’s Geschichte was completed in 1902, the last revision was in 1965 a generation after his death. Meyer tried to integrate the history of early Greece into the history of Egypt and Mesopotamia. And when I came to the following passage, I realized that the horrors were deeper and older than I had thought:

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