Dis Manibus David Graeber
Anthropologist and activist (not always easy to separate in the United States) David Graeber has died at the age of 59 in Venice. He is probably best known for his book Debt and his involvement in the Occupy movement. I first got to know one of my regular thoughtful correspondents while talking about one of... Continue reading: Dis Manibus David Graeber
Laudatio Ed Brayton
From Birger Johansson: Ed Brayton, humanist and scienceblogs.com founder, is dying in hospice in the United States after a long struggle with various health problems. His last post is at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2020/08/10/saying-goodbye-for-the-last-time/ I am with T. Greer: when a Snorri Stirluson comes to tell the tale of the death of the open Internet, they will spend... Continue reading: Laudatio Ed Brayton
Dis Manibus Kelly Bert Manning
My father, Kelly Bert Manning, has died at a hospice in Canada at the age of 66 from complications related to multiple myeloma. He was diagnosed in spring 2016. At that time, my passport was at a foreign embassy; at this time, travel was not practical for other reasons. I am told that the hospital... Continue reading: Dis Manibus Kelly Bert Manning
Dis Manibus Anton Powell
Anton Powell, Welsh ancient historian and publisher, died on 11 June 2020. As a researcher, organizer of conferences and editor of books and serieses, he helped launch a transformation in understandings of early Sparta away from the moralistic gossip from Roman writers like Plutarch and hoary fables about Lycurgus to focus on what contemporary texts,... Continue reading: Dis Manibus Anton Powell
Dis Manibus Arthur Keaveney
Some Terrifying Numbers
So a lot of us have spent the past month or two staring at some scary numbers and working out their implications. These numbers are based on counts, even if the authors had to make some assumptions and do some arithmetic to turn something they can count into what they want to know. I spend a lot of time staring at Greek numbers for barbarian armies, and if they were based on counts they are hard to understand:
- If we have multiple sources, they give numbers which vary widely, even if they all drew on the same earlier writers
- The smallest Greek number for a barbarian army, 100,000, is as big as the largest army we can document in western Eurasia before the Napoleonic Wars, even if we are very generous about what counts as ‘documentation’ (hard-hearted historians would say we need archives so no army strength can be known until about a thousand years ago)
- The smallest Greek number for a barbarian army is about as many as the biggest army which any Near Eastern ruler claims to have commanded.
- Either there are no numbers for individual units, or the numbers given add up to a much smaller number than the grand total
- Usually, no source for the numbers is given: we are not told whether they are an estimate by scouts or by the enemy’s clerks.
- Such vast armies could not march, camp, and fight in the usual fashion or on the described battlefield.
If we assume that these numbers are based on counts, we have to chose one of the figures in our different sources, then ‘correct’ it by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing until it fits our expectations. As a fellow named Whatley said in 1920, these theories often sound convincing until you read the next article with another ingenious theory that contradicts the first one. So assuming that these numbers are based on counts has not lead to new knowledge that people with different perspectives can agree on, it has just lead to endless arguments and speculation.
So a few years ago, I asked myself what would we expect to see if these numbers are drawn from something other than counting. And instead of looking at different writers’ figures for the same army, I looked for the same number in stories about different armies. Have a look at the
fifteen eighteen lines on this table and decide if you see what I see.
Cross-Post: Dis Manibus Paul ‘Xenophon’ McDonnell-Staff (12 March 2020)
Dis Manibus Steven Johansson (20 September 2019)
Some time in the late 1990s “Guys! The first time one of us dies, we have to give them an all-black cover on the magazine.” “I see what you are doing, you just want a promise before you step in front of a bus and get the coveted cover spot. Munchkin!... Continue reading: Dis Manibus Steven Johansson (20 September 2019)
Dis Manibus: Matthew Trundle (12 July 2019)
Garrett G. Fagan died of pancreatic cancer in March 2017. His collaborator Matthew Trundle has also died of cancer. From the Canadian Classical Bulletin: Matthew Trundle (12 October 1965–12 July 2019) obtained his PhD from the Department of History, McMaster University in 1996. He then taught at Glendon College in Toronto before being appointed as... Continue reading: Dis Manibus: Matthew Trundle (12 July 2019)