Semitic Words in Greek

The tube stop just outside the tower of London, June 2019. I don’t entirely understand the topography, but anything higher than the walls is out of bowshot of the moat (currently drained and replaced with a dry ditch, and the water gate is only accessible through a long tunnel).

Back in 2013, Jerker Blomqvist took the time to compare three books on Semitic words in ancient Greek texts. Scholars often disagree about which arguments are “certain,” “probable,” or to be “rejected.” Out of about 400 words which have been seen as loans, he found about 25 which are accepted by all three authorities:

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The Siege on the Amathus Bowl

See blog post for description
The Amathus bowl, British Museum catalogue number ANE 123053 © Trustees of the British Museum

In 1875, an old tomb on Cyprus was cleaned out in search of antiquities. One chamber contained a copper cauldron, and in that cauldron were shield fragments, an iron dagger, and about half of a corroded metal bowl 16 cm in diameter. The looters had cast it aside as they broke the sarcophagi open and ransacked the tomb for salable goods. This was a mistake, because the bowl was of wrought and engraved silver and contained a beautiful series of reliefs in concentric bands. Shortly after it was discovered, the bowl was sketched by a careful artist and published in a volume on the archaeology of Cyprus so that it would be available to scientists. Thanks to the generosity of the Gallica project in France, this volume is now available to the world.

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From Aleph Bet to Alphabet

Table with the Hebrew Samaritan Syriac Phoenician Greek etc.  scripts side by side
An old chart of ancient abjads and alphabets, from a class handout

The Greek alphabet is adapted from the consonantal writing systems of the Levant, and I used to have a vague idea that Greek got its vowel signs by adapting signs for Semitic consonants not present in Greek. Greek has no aspirated “s”, for example, so Greeks using the Northwest Semitic abjad to write Greek found that they did not need the sign shin ש for transcribing Greek consonants and could use it for something else. As I learn a bit of Aramaic I realize that the process was much more straightforward.
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The Bronze Battle Scene from Pergamon

In 1913 Alexander Conze published some of the antiquities found at Pergamon. One of these was a remarkable relief from the second century BCE showing a battle on land. While Greek artists usually portrayed battle as a fight between scattered individuals, this relief shows different types of soldiers crowded together and even a Macedonian phalanx with its battle standard. The University of Heidelberg has generously digitized their copy of Conze’s book as part of the Heidelberger historische Bestände- Digitaler:

A line drawing of a bronze plate with reliefs of infantry fighting and cavalry dashing back and forth
1. Beschlagstück, mit Eisen gesüttert, darüber in Bronzeblech getriebenes Relief, 0,24 m lang. Im Haputfelde Kampf von Reitern und Fußgängern ganz links scheint ein Feldzeichen zu stehen. Das Dreiecksfeld der einen seitlichen Spitz mit einem Ägismuster und Medusenhaupte geföüllt. Abbilding beistehend. (Caption from Alexander Conze, “Altertümer von Pergamon,” Bd. 1 Text 2 p. 250

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Manti on Greek Helmets

A new doctoral thesis by Dr. Panagiota Manti on the construction of Greek bronze helmets is now available online (here). Manti had an unusual theory, namely that some Greek helmets were cast in something close to their final form then reshaped by hammering. This idea goes against a lot of comparative evidence for armour being... Continue reading: Manti on Greek Helmets

Three Ancient Traditions of Tactical Writing

A forthcoming conference has me thinking about writings on tactics in the ancient world. While the English word tactics indicate a clever way of fighting, the Greek adjective τάκτικη means “having been put into a formation for battle.” In other words, in the ancient world tactics were what we call organization and drill. Ancient and modern critics have complained that tactics in the Greek sense are insufficient education for a soldier, but experienced soldiers tended to recognize that they were necessary.
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The Stone Throwers of Onomarchus

Classicists and Assyriologists spend a great deal of time and energy editing ancient texts, debating which version to use, and carefully noting which they have chosen. A debate about the use of catapults in fourth-century BCE Greece has reminded me why this matters.
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The obscurity of a learned language

The book supposes a readership who knows ancient Greek (he translates μύλλω as ‘βινέω’, for example). Recent review of an academic book Note: While some ancient Greek words are untranslatable, βινέω and μύλλω are crudities of the sort with which every language is well-furnished. These days most translators chose to translate rude words with rude... Continue reading: The obscurity of a learned language