Iron Age

The New “Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies”

Three paper copies a journal scattered across an oriental rug
JRMES 17, with its griffin guardians, has arrived in Rhaetia

The new issue of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies has arrived in Tirol. The two volumes published last year contained articles such as:

  • A study of the impact marks from catapult balls and sling bullets on the walls of Pompeii, presumably dating back to the Roman siege of the town during the Social War.
  • A project on Roman locking scale from Carlisle by David Sim and J. Kaminski which started with billets of specially-made wrought iron and ended in having a good bash at the armour with replicas of Roman weapons. This particular armour was sophisticated and effective, and the authors have many interesting insights into metallurgy and manufacturing process, including a time that their wish to ‘tidy up’ more than the original armourers did created a problem. I was left wishing that they had addressed some other issues, but I will put those below the fold.
  • A pair of articles on the reconstruction of Roman boots and their use on a march across the Brenner Pass. I enjoyed the contrasting perspectives of the shoe-wearers and the shoemaker-cum-archaeologist who made the shoes.

The latest volume includes things like:

  • Two examples of Roman lorica hamata squamataque preserved as a whole (rather than as loose scales or small clusters of scales), one of which was preserved with its linen liner. To my knowledge, this is the first archaeological evidence for mail with a lining in the Roman world.
  • A copper-alloy crescent (lunula) similar to those mounted on Roman battle standards from a layer dating to the first century BCE at Gurzufskoe Sedlo in the Crimea. Both the date and the location are worth noticing.
  • A set of silvered bronze saddle plates which ended up buried with a cow in the Meroitic kingdom of Kush.
  • An article by Jon Coulston on Roman archery which makes use of comparative evidence from outside the Roman world.

If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to read or support, copies are available here.

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more

The Great Hall is Ablaze with Bronze

A “Chalcidian” helmet in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. From Nymphaion necropolis, tomb 16, acquired by the Hermitage in 1876. Attributed to the early fifth century BCE. When we look at ancient bronze in museums, we usually see dark, corroded surfaces. Modern sculptors and costumers often deliberately imitate this look, leaving surfaces rough or coating the... Continue reading: The Great Hall is Ablaze with Bronze

The Man from Arados

A relief map of the eastern Mediterranean showing Rhodes off the southwest coast of Turkey (ancient Caria) and Arados off the coast of Syria opposite Cyprus
Modified from a map by the Ancient World Mapping Center http://awmc.unc.edu/wordpress/free-maps/mediterranean-physical/ Version 1 date 22 November 2004

In the time of Antigonos the One-Eyed, an ingenious character named Kallias of Arados came to Rhodes and impressed the city fathers with his knowledge of all the latest engines for defending a city, and some which were so new that nobody had yet turned his sketches and models into a full-sized prototype. Kallias did such a good job of impressing them that they gave him an office in place of a Rhodian and funds to turn his ideas into reality. When Demetrius the Sacker of Cities arrived outside of the walls, Kallias executed his office until the Rhodians found out that his favourite machine, a crane for lifting siege towers as they approached the wall, would never work in full-size as well as it did on a model.

There are a lot of things which could be taken from this story, and a lot of details which could be imagined in turning this fable about the square-cube law back into the story about human beings which lies behind it. The detail which I want to point out is that Arados is an island off the Phoenician coast, whereas Rhodes is an island off Caria.
Read more


Snark or Piety on an Assyrian Muster Roll

Carving of two bare-headed scribes, one beardless with a scroll and one bearded with a writing boardin several leaves, in a grove of date palms.
Scribes take notes as an officer rewards a soldier for taking enemy heads. An Assyrian relief from Nineveh, late 7th century BCE. British Museum, Number 124955. Image courtesy of the British Museum here.

Tel Halaf 23 = Aaron Dornauer, Das Archiv des assyrischen Statthalters Mannu-kī-Aššur von Gūzāna/Tall Ḥalaf. (Harrasowitz Verlag: Wiesbaden, 2014) no. 21 Truppen vor Hūˀa-dīdu pp. 53, 54

This little, undated tablet is a list of names with a note every dozen lines. It was written sometime around the 8th century BCE. Texts like this are rarely exciting, but if one pays attention details sometimes leap out.

Meˀīsu, his son
Hannān, his son
2 son (sic) of Zannānu
Adda-sakā, 2 sons
(5) “God as my witness, she’s really a daughter”: Sîn-iprus
Saˀīlu, 5 sons
Kuwayni, 2 sons
Manānu, his brother
Qatarā, 2 sons
(10) Nanî, Igilu
Total: 25 troops
who are before Hūˀa-dīdu

Read more


The Shoulder-Flap-Cuirass from Golyamata Mogila

A photo of an armour comprising a Chalcidian helmet with hinged cheeks, a leather gorget covered in iron scales, and a leather cuirass with a skirt of feathers and two shoulder-flaps (aka. Jarva type IV/tube-and-yoke/linothorax) completely covered with iron scales
From Daniela Agre, “The Tumulus of Golyamata Mogila near the villages of Malomirovo and Zlatinitsa” (Sofia: Avalon Publishing, 2011) p. 73

Although many scholars grumble about reviews of academic books in academic journals, those reviews can still be valuable. In a review of that valuable but frustrating book from the Midwest, Raimon Graells i Fabregat mentioned some relevant evidence which the authors did not discuss:

In chapters 3 and 4, the author’s experiment is described, with a commentary on the materials and techniques used to reconstruct linen body armor. What is surprising is the absence of an analysis of the two iron cuirasses designed in the same way as linothorakes, one from Tumulus II of Vergina and the other from Burial III of Aghios Athanasios or even the complete linothorax from the Golyamata Mogila near Malomirovo and Zlanitsa. These metal cuirasses would doubtless have provided useful support and verification for technical aspects of the reconstruction.

The third armour was excavated a few years ago in modern Bulgaria (ancient Thrace), and pictures have been floating around on the Internet for some time. Fabregat cites the book in which it has been published with parallel Bulgarian and English text. It is made of one layer of medium-weight leather covered with iron scales. The collar should remind readers of the Alexander historians of a certain passage, and the difference between the right and left shoulders should make readers of Xenophon on horsemanship 12.6 ponder. The author has posted her book on academia.edu where it is available for free download (link). Download both files with the Roman numeral III in the title, and start at page 72.
Read more


The Cult Wagon from Strettweg bei Judenburg

A bronze model of a four-wheeled wagon with several dozen naked men and women and horses standing on it and a central figure, twice as tall, holding a flat dish over her head with the help of two X-frames
The “Kult-” or “Kesselwagen.” Archaeologisches Musuem Graz, Schloss Eggenberg, no. 184. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.

This blog has been wordy of late, so this week I decided to post about one of the strangest relics I saw on my recent trip to Graz. It comes from a grave of the so-called Halstatt Culture which was discovered in 1851, and it was deposited there sometime around the end of the seventh century BCE. Since I know so little about the Iron Age in central Europe, I can’t be tempted to make a lot of wordy comments.

Read more


A Third of a Metre of Linen, Some Thread, and a Few Spare Hours

Two 7 inch by 7 inch patches of cloth on a plastic cutting board marked with a grid.  One is quilted vertically every 1 cm with white thread, and one is quilted horizontally every 1 cm with purple thread
Two test patches, eight layers of linen quilted with thick white cotton thread (left) and seven layers quilted with thin silk thread (right). Photo by Sean Manning, January 2016.

Lately I have been trying to spend less time online and more working with my hands. For another project I wanted to practice my stab stitch and see how organic thread compares to the cotton-coated synthetic which I usually use. While I was doing that, I thought I would take a few hours to learn some things about a type of armour which many people today find difficult to understand, namely layered cloth. This post has many photos; don’t forget that you can click on them to see a larger version.
Read more