Bronze Age

Bronze Age

A Bronze-Age Solution

I was recently in Prague on the way back from a visit to another city, and in their National Gallery I noticed this:

A cord-and-wax seal on a door in the National Gallery, Prague.  Photo by Sean Manning, August 2016.
A cord-and-wax seal on a door in the National Gallery, Prague. Photo by Sean Manning, August 2016.

Art galleries in big old buildings often need to keep people from going un-noticed into areas which are not on public display, without blocking the connection completely. I saw the same solution at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg:

A cord-and-wax seal in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.  Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.
A cord-and-wax seal in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.

But I knew it of old, because when I was growing up I had a book on Tutankhamun’s tomb which showed the cord-and-wax seal to the door of the shrine around his sarcophagus. The mourners who sealed Tut’s tomb added a special knot in the cord which thieves might find difficult to forge, but he was Pharaoh after all.

Photo by Harry Burton (1922) courtesy of the National Geographic Society and rarehistoricalphotos.com

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The Elamite Rock Relief at Kurangun

Ever since Darius’ inscription at Behistun was deciphered, scholars have puzzled why it is placed high on a cliff where nobody can read it and even the sculptures are difficult to see. Even the ledge on which the builders stood was chiselled away, so that visitors who wished to copy the inscription had to be lowered by ropes from above. A common answer is that he wrote it for the gods, but this does not really work. Darius specifically addresses future kings, and readers who might doubt his words, and includes the boilerplate blessing on those who preserve and proclaim his words and curse on those who alter or destroy them. He also says that after the inscription was composed copies were sent amongst the nations (paragraph 70 of the Old Persian version), and we have a copy in Aramaic from Elephantine on the Nile and a retelling by Herodotus which clearly draws on the official version of the story. Babylonian scholars often had copies of foundation inscriptions and other texts which were buried for posterity in their collections. While the copy at Behistun was placed where nobody could read it, the text which is preserved there clearly has specific mortal audiences which Darius was concerned about, and it influenced many people in the empire and beyond.

At another place in Fars there is a tongue of rock overlooking a river with a fertile plain. On this tongue there is also a large relief carved into the rock about a hundred meters above the plain below. It was there long before Darius, although it is not clear that he was familiar with it like he was with some other rock reliefs.

The Elamite rock relief and valley below at Kurangun in Iran.  Photo by Sean Manning, May 2016.
The Elamite rock relief and valley below at Kurangun in Iran. Photo by Sean Manning, May 2016.

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A Monster-Headed Luristan Axe

As the chapter of my dissertation on war in the ancient near east before the Achaemenid period takes shape, I am reading books like Oscar White Musarella’s study of bronze and iron artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I do so, it occurred to me that I have something to add to my earlier post about monster-headed axes.

The first axe belongs to the sad collection of artifacts known as Luristan bronzes. The ancient people there deposited many fine bronzes in their tombs, and in the 1920s the locals began to dig them up and sell them on a large scale. Once enterprising smiths began to cast their own “Luristan bronzes,” and dealers began to market objects looted from other regions under the “Luristan” label, a great deal of knowledge was lost forever. However, this axe resembles finds with inscriptions from the 12th century BCE or excavated from a temple built at at Tschogha Zanbil in the 13th (although there are others in contexts 400 years younger). Have a look at how the blade is attached to the socket.

An axehead with its blade emerging from the mouth of a duck attached to its socket
A bronze axehead from the Metropolitan Museum, NY, accession number 32.161.2; discussed in Muscarella, Iron and Bronze, p. 190 no. 304.



Second, take another look at the axe of an Achaemenid king as carved sometime around 500 BCE.

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Some Thoughts on “Armour Never Wearies”

Timothy Dawson, Armour Never Wearies: Scale and Lamellar Armour from the Bronze Age to the 19th Century. Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0-7524-8862-2. Cover shows a cavalryman in scale armour riding over fallen enemies with a background of armour of steel scales laced to leather bands
Timothy Dawson, Armour Never Wearies: Scale and Lamellar Armour from the Bronze Age to the 19th Century. Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0-7524-8862-2. Cover shows a cavalryman in scale armour riding over fallen enemies with a background of armour of steel scales laced to leather bands

Timothy Dawson, Armour Never Wearies: Scale and Lamellar Armour from the Bronze Age to the 19th Century. Spellmount: Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0-7524-8862-2 Biblio
128 pages, GBP 14.99

Dr. Timothy Dawson has undertaken a difficult task: to understand armours of small plates laced or wired together, often known as scale or lamellar. Although these kinds of armour were once common, they tend to fall apart as the backing or lacing rots, so understanding how they were made is hard. Even worse, he is most interested in styles from the Greek Christian world which are only preserved as vague references in texts, stylized images of saints, and a few fragments of rusted iron. Moreover, arms and armour studies are not well supported by academe, so he has to do his work at his own expense and without the discipline of needing to submit his ideas to criticism by a group of peers. The resulting book is not very useful to me, but under the circumstances I can’t complain.

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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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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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One of the Quirks of Sumerian

A stepped terrace of sand with several clay artifacts on it including a pyramid and several statuettes
My collection of photos of Mesopotamian artifacts is small, so here is another set from Palazzo Te in Mantua

One of the quirks of Sumerian is that things are often referred to twice, once as substantives and once as affixes to the verb. The following example comes from Gudea Cylinder A (column ii, line 4) courtesy of the ETCSL.

The individual signs were pronounced something like this:

ma2-gur8-ra-na ĝiri3 nam-mi-gub

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