Iron Age

From Syria to Iberia

a statue of a warrior with a helmet and a disc breastplate against a black background
One of the sculptures of warriors from Cerrillo Blanco near Porcuna, Spain. These were probably carved around 450 BCE. Photo from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guerrero_ibero_de_Porcuna.jpg see more photos at TRAS LAS HUELLAS DE HERÓDOTO. . .

One reason why I like Fernando Quesada Sanz’ Weapons, Warriors, and Battles of Ancient Iberia (publisher’s website) is that he looks east to the Punic world as well as the Greek and Roman worlds. Whereas specialists in archaic and classical Greece rarely pay much attention to any kind of barbarians, Quesada Sanz reminds readers that Iberia has been influenced by people who arrived by sea from the east since the 9th century BCE. A good example is what he has to say about the Iberian disc cuirasses.

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Too Many Maiden Castles

a ruined stone castle on a rocky hilltop silhouetted against the sky
Dokhtar castle alias Firuzabad in Iran. Photo by Hadi Karimi from Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. I miss Iran.

Fans of classic Nintento games know that sometimes the princess is in another castle. People researching sites called Maiden Castle have to figure out which of the sites called that in Farsi, Arabic, or English they mean.

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Learning About La Tène

a laminate bookshelf with an assortment of books on armour, fencing, ancient Greece and Rome, and tabletop roleplaying games
My copy of “Greece and Rome at War” gets to hang out with its friends in the spare bedroom

Most people interested in ancient warfare know about the swords, spears, shields, and wheeled vehicles from La Tène in western Switzerland. Peter Connolly painted pictures of them which were printed in a number of his books. A chat with Prof. Dr. Marc-Antoine Kaeser of the Laténium in Switzerland pointed me to some articles where I learned more about these ancient wooden objects.

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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/

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A Neo-Elamite Bitumen Relief

A bitumen relief of a woman sitting cross-leged on a stool in front of a tripod with a fish. A child in the background fans her
“The spinning woman.” Bitumen relief from Susa, c. 800-600 BCE. Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités orientales, SB 2834 – https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010176914 – https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU

We don’t have many pictures of clothed women from the middle of the first millennium BCE in the Near East. Most of the local peoples did not paint scenes of daily life on their pottery, and their stone-carvings show a man’s world or a heavenly world. The Assyrian palace reliefs show some queens and deported women, and one Achaemenid seal shows a wealthy woman seated on a throne. One other picture of a clothed woman is a Neo-Elamite bitumen relief in the Louvre. Its 9.3 cm high, so five times larger than most of the little seals.

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Some Comments on Turner on Old World Iron

an outline map of Eurasia with coloured dates marked on it, all multiples of +100 or -100 except for the year 1
Map 1 from Turner 2020. “First acceleration in the use of iron across Afro-Eurasia … When iron becomes a material used for multiple object types … iron is used on a much greater scale 100 years after the proposed date and on a much smaller scale 100 years before the proposed date.”

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

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Cross-Post: Plataea 2021 Pre-Registration, 28 June to 5 July 2021

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 Word of the king: the naked Yaunaya who live in the middle of the sea are plotting an uprising at the city of Plataea. Because they have no king, they expect that it will take... Continue reading: Cross-Post: Plataea 2021 Pre-Registration, 28 June to 5 July 2021

Textile Cultures of Archaic Italy and Greece

Colour photos of a section of woolen textiles preserved as copper salts or ashes
A sample of weft-faced wool tabbies from Greece, 800 BCE-500 BCE. Note the 1 mm long red lines for scale. Photos by Margarita Gleba and Joanne Cutler published as Figure 10 in Margarita Gleba, “Tracing textile cultures of Italy and Greece in the early first millennium BC,” Antiquity 91 (2017) pp. 1205-1222 https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2017.144

This week I had a chance to talk with Margarita Gleba about her work on Iron Age (1000-400 BCE) textiles from Spain, Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria. Thousands of fragments are known, often preserved in the corrosion products on bronze grave goods such as vessels or broaches, but understanding them requires rare knowledge and expensive equipment for taking high-magnification photos, and the details are often scattered in publications which are hard to find and use different language to describe the same thing. A Cambridge History of Western Textiles had a brief section on this material which I would like to read, but publication was delayed for almost 20 years while the archaeology moved on, and until this week I did not know of any other overviews.

Most of the peoples from Britain to Afghanistan grew flax and tended sheep and used drop spindles, warp-weighted looms, and tablets to turn linen and wool into cloth, but they made different kinds of textiles in different regions. Textile technology was hard to change, because in recent cultures, girls started to learn to spin and weave as toddlers and spend much of their childhood mastering the skills (Susan M. Strawn, “Hand Spinning and Cotton in the Aztec Empire, as Revealed by the Codex Mendoza,” http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/420). It is very difficult to change a skill practised for so many years, or persuade adults to take lessons in a skill which children are supposed to master. Moreover, it was bound up with the local crops, climate, and taboos: the sheep in different areas produced wool which was good for different things, and there was a divide between cultures which wove textiles to shape and wrapped and pinned them into garments, and cultures which wove long rectangular pieces, cut them up, and sewed them into garments.

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Sometimes Bittner Was Right

A painted relief of a warrior on horseback stabbing downwards with a spear. His body armour has two layers of short flaps at the waist, a front and back running straight up and down, wide blocky sleeves ending before the arm joint, and a tab behind the head just as tall as the head.
Closeup of the horseman from a carved and painted sarcophagus from Çan south of the Sea of Marmara. Note the hood, tall neckguard, pteryges at the waist, and short sleeves or extended shoulder flaps. Copyright Troy Excavation Project, photo found at http://odysseion.blogspot.co.at/2010/05/oft-debated-tube-and-yoke-linothorax.html

Specialists in the Achaemenid Empire don’t like to talk about Stefan Bittner. His Doktorarbeit is the only monograph on the Achaemenid army which has ever been published, but it takes exactly the approach which was inspiring another group of scholars to organize conferences and rethink the field: it relies almost completely on Greek literature and artwork, and treats these sources as a precious collection of facts to be worked into a coherent whole. In the decades which followed, those other scholars knocked so many holes in this approach that it is hard for them work with a book like his, so they tend to cite his thesis and say nothing more. I don’t think that this is really fair, since nobody can predict how academic fashion will shift or what new evidence will become available. People who try too hard to ride the crest sometimes find themselves flailing in midair as the wave below them crashes down. There is a sad joke that farming is a simple job where you just have to predict the weather, fuel costs, and food prices a year in advance; PhD students have to predict the job market 3 to 10 years in advance. And in the early 1980s, it was not so easy to hear about conferences and intellectual movements in other countries as it is today. So this week, I would like to mention one of his good ideas which seems to have been ignored.

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Rationalizing Cunaxa

At the battle of Cunaxa, two claimants to the Persian throne lined up their armies. One of them had a large force of Greek infantry, and both kings had men in their armies who went on to become famous writers. One of those aristocratic camp followers, Xenophon, tells a story which has puzzled many readers (Anabasis 1.8.19 from the Loeb). When the armies were about 600 or 800 yards apart, the Greek mercenaries ran forward:

And before an arrow reached them, the barbarians broke and fled. Thereupon the Greeks pursued with all their might, but shouted meanwhile to one another not to run at a headlong pace, but to keep their ranks in the pursuit.

It was very common in the 5th century BCE for one side to run away as the enemy approached, or after a few moments of fighting hand-to-hand. Combat is terrifying, and most soldiers of the day did not have a lot of practice working as a group. But it is very unusual for an army to run away before the enemy was within bowshot. What happened?

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