In an interview about her new book Weavers, Scribes, and Kings on the cuneiform world, Amanda Podany talks about how the ancient Near East is still not as widely known as the Greek world or the La Tène world.
I’ve been teaching this material for a very long time, and I see what my students find fascinating and what surprises them and what questions they have. And based on that, I had a sense of what I thought would be fascinating in the book. I think it’s not as hard as you would think to translate what scholars have written into language that is just more accessible, because they’ve done a wonderful job already. I mean, I’m not suggesting that I am somehow taking something that was very obscure and making it accessible. They’ve done that work. It’s just that it’s been published in academic journals that are hard to find if you’re a general reader. They’ve been published in books that may be very expensive, that are from academic publishers. It just felt as though this is a way of kind of opening the window to this field for people where they can then go and read the works if they’re interested by the scholars who have worked on it.
The cemetery at Yanghai in Uighur territory continues to give. This week, an article about hide scale armour in a grave there has been circulating on the Internet and corporate social media. The grave had other cool things, like a wooden bedstead and a wooden fire drill, but most of the attention has focused on the authors’ claims that the armour was made within the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Unfortunately, that claim is the weakest part of a strong article.
Someone associated with the SESHAT project has taken Andre Costopoulos’ suggestion to focus on things which leave good archaeological evidence like metallurgy. They wrote a study of the spread and improvement of iron technology across the Old World. That is a topic that I am an expert on, so how does the paper hold up?
Turner, Edward A. L. (2020) “Anvil Age Economy: A Map of the Spread of Iron Metallurgy across Afro-Eurasia.” Cliodynamics 11.1 https://doi.org/10.21237/C7clio11145895
“Ktesias ‘Korrigiert’ Herodot” is an article which is widely cited, but it first appeared in a Festschrift rather than a downloadable journal, and it is written in beautiful academic German and a somewhat associative style which makes it difficult for foreigners to follow. I recently made my way through it and thought I would write down my thoughts.
Bichler is interested in how to evaluate the Persica of Ctesias of Cnidus, who was very influential and disagrees with our other sources on many points. Ctesias’ work is lost except for one scrap of papyrus containing 27 lines, but he seems to have presented himself as a serious historian, interested in seeing things himself or hearing them from witnesses, and eager to criticize earlier writers for errors. He spent 17 years in the Persian empire as a prisoner and court physician, much of that time at court in Babylonia, Media, and Persis, and his presence is explicitly acknowledged by a contemporary (whereas the only evidence for Herodotus’ travels is Herodotus’ own words, and Herodotus never claimed to have travelled east of Sidon). And the problem is that most of what he says contradicts our other major sources like Herodotus and Xenophon. Since we have few ways to check the things which he and Herodotus say, a lot depends on who we decide to believe and what we think they were trying to do.