ancient

Cross-Post: International Ancient Warfare Conference 2022

a socketed steel spearhead on a varnished wooden table
What questions can we ask about a spear? Find out at IAWC 2022

The latest International Ancient Warfare Conference will happen online from Thursday 23 June to Saturday 25 June under the sponsorship of Prof. Graham Wrightson in South Dakota. I am speaking in session 14 from 10.45 to 12.15 Saturday. The topic I picked is “Get to the Point: What Questions Should We Ask About a Spear?”

Sessions are open to the public and will not be publicly recorded (I may share my talk afterwards). There is no website for the conference, but here are a list of panels with links. All times are US Central Time (UTC -5.00).

Read more

How Thick Were La Tène Shields?

This century, researchers such as Roland Warzecha have worked to spread awareness that most round centergrip shields from the Baltic were rather thin in the centre and even thinner at the edges. An overall thickness, including wood, skins, and any intermediate layers, of about 8 mm in the centre and 4 mm at the edge is typical from the sacrifices at Illerup Ådal around 200 CE to late Viking Era graves around 1000 CE. We do not know as much about shields in dryer, warmer parts of Europe where it was not customary to deposit arms in lakes and bogs. But we can study the surviving shields from La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. If you read the original reports, you will learn many things which Peter Connolly did not tell you.

Read more

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:

Read more

When the Spartans Turned and Fled

Monty Python shows how it is done! Image courtesy of http://www.billdamon.com/ (Internet Archive)

An article by Roel Konijnendijk and Paul Bardunias reminded me of one of the passages which made researchers rethink early Greek warfare. Plato’s dialogue Laches discusses the nature of courage and the value of education or training. Laches, a gruff soldier, has just defined courage or manhood in the way Athenians in Plato’s day usually defined it: as the ability to stay in the place assigned to you and defend yourself. Plato’s Socrates can think of some counter-examples:

Read more

What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?

two bundles of planks on a yellow plastic deck chair. One bundle is longer thin white planks, the other is shorter thicker red planks
16 linear feet of 5/16″ thick tilia Americana (left) and 9 linear feet of 2″ thick alnus rubra (right)

People often guess that particular kinds of wood were used for shields in ancient Europe, including hard, dense woods like oak and soft, brittle woods like pine. But did you know that we can just examine the objects they left behind and see what woods the ancients used? Or that ancient writers tell us which woods are best for making shields and why? This week, I will list the woods used in some surviving ancient shields and then quote those ancient writers.

Read more

Where Did the Weapons Come From?

Back in February, as the evidence grew that Putin was about to commit the great mistake, journalists were sharing stories like this:

Dmytro Skatrovsky said he had not been notified by text but had turned up anyway outside the Svyatoshynskyi recruitment centre, in western Kyiv. He spent three years in the army and took part in the 2014 battle to evict separatists from the port city of Mariupol, he said.

“I’ve bought two sniper complexes with good optics,” he added. “I’ve also ordered a drone on Amazon. It hasn’t turned up yet.” Skatrovsky said a group of friends had chipped in to get the rifles – at a cost of $10,000 (£7,370). US contacts had paid $2,300 for the drone, he said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/23/business-brisk-at-kyiv-gun-shops-as-ukrainians-rush-to-buy-arms

Over on corporate social media, I see some people who are amazed and offended to see a wide range of kit in photos from the war in Ukraine, ranging from the latest and most fashionable rifles to Maxim guns on steel carriages and – well, I have not personally seen the 1903 Springfield rifles, and the WW II vintage Panzerfaust may have been stolen from a museum. I am not sure if that is as unusual as they think: the German army which invaded the USSR in 1941 has been described as a military museum on wheels, one of the machine guns in the Citadel at Halifax was removed from the museum collection circa 1991 because the Army needed it again, and an American National Guard veteran claims that his unit invaded Iraq in 2003 with old M3 grease guns last produced in 1945. In fact, if you looked at a random army sometime in the past few thousand years, I think you would see just such a diversity of arms, some bought from private sources, others made in rough workshops, others donated, and yet others purchased by the state.

Read more

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:

Read more

Another Chance to Register for Plataia 2022

A group of men and women in hoplite kit on a sandy beach
An Ethiopian hoplite on the beach at Marathon circa 2011 or 2015. Photo courtesy of Hoplologia Toronto, photographer unknown https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53442cfae4b011260e4040da/t/5bafce47b208fc046cb97e2b/1538249515737/11232033_982241378481876_1738786449720157603_o.jpg?format=1000w

Some of you will remember that the registration for the reenactment event at Plataia, Greece, was posted in 2018. From Giannis Kadoglou, there is now a new site to re-register for the event at https://plataea2022.com/

Read more

How Many Hoplites had a Butt-Spike on their Spears?

This horseman carries two spears, one long and one medium-sized. The grave marker of Panoitios of the deme Hamaxanteia who died around 400 BCE. His longer spear is 1.62 times as long as he is tall, which would make it about 275 cm (9′) if he were an average ancient Greek man 170 cm tall. Athens Greece, National Archaeological Museum of Athens, accession number 884. Adapted from Wikimedia Commons

Because most of the participants in the old hoplite debate were English-speaking philologists not German-speaking archaeologists, English speakers have many misconceptions about the things Greek hoplites carried. Many people today believe that most Greek hoplites carried a long spear with an iron-clad or bronze-clad butt. I don’t know any basis for this in an ancient text, and in my experience much less than half of all warriors with round shields in Greek art have a spike (saurotēr) on the butt of their spear. But we can check this against archaeology. By the 6th century BCE it was not common to bury people with weapons in southern Greece, but it was common to dedicate arms and armour to the gods at sanctuaries. These were sometimes buried when there was no more room for them (as at Olympia) and sometimes buried when the site was destroyed by invaders (such as at Kalapodi in central Greece, which was probably destroyed by Xerxes’ troops in 480 BCE). Josho Brouwers summarized the weapons from these sites in his PhD thesis.

Read more

Marching Under the Lash

I feel like I am not clever or wise enough to understand what Herodotus was doing, but every so often, he reminds me that he could tell a kind of truth which was different than truth about the exact size of the Persian army or what day two armies fought.

First

What is it that you say they relate, that the soldier’s is more pleasant than the scribe’s (profession)? Come, let me tell you the condition of the soldier, that much castigated one. He is brought while a child to be confined in the camp. A /searing\ beating is given his body, an open wound inflicted on his eyebrows. His head is split open with a wound. He is laid down and he is beaten like papyrus. He is struck with torments. Come, /let me relate\ to you his journey to Khor (Syria) and his marching upon the hills. His rations and his water are upon his shoulder like the load of an ass, while his neck has been made a backbone like that of an ass. The vertebrae of his back are broken, while he drinks of foul water. He stops work (only) to keep watch.

P. Anastasi IV, 9, 4–10, 1 in William Kelly Simpson (ed.), The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Third edition (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2003) p. 441
Read more