In July an online talk by Philip Blood (probably this guy) and a pass through Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy made me think of the old debate about the effectiveness of the American, British, and Commonwealth armies in the Second World War. I had not known that Six Armies in Normandy was just Keegan’s second book from 1982, and that my 1994 Penguin edition was a reprint (A.J.P. Taylor wrote a blurb!)
Keegan’s book shows his strengths and weaknesses as a historian: it is beautifully written, expresses his unique view of the world, but rarely acknowledges doubt or explains where his facts and interpretations come from. Keegan gives himself authority by dropping in French and German phrases and alluding to prestigious novelists and playwrights, but not by showing that he understands a mass of evidence and arguments and can argue why his interpretation is best. The maps are inadequate, the photos numerous but ornamental. Because Six Armies in Normandy rarely cites sources, and because I’m not a specialist in WW II, I will not try to review it. But I will use some quotes to show places where I might have been wrong or where I don’t know how to balance two ways of thinking.
In May a well-known ancient historian told the Internet that the style of shield from Kasr el Harit in the Fayum in Egypt weighed 10 kg. He probably got this from Mike Bishop and John Coulston’s classic handbook Roman Military Equipment (second edition p. 62) which cites reconstructions by Peter Connolly and Marcus Junkelmann. He was writing a general lecture so could not spend too much time questioning his sources. But I think this estimate is too high for four reasons.
Martin Rundkvist has told me that Russell Gray is writing about Proto-Indo-European using phylogenetics again (basically, trying to figure out when languages diverged from one another by seeing how many words they have in common). The last paper in Science on this topic using these methods was so poor from a linguistic point of view that a whole monograph from Cambridge University Press was needed to explain the problems. Like the last paper, this one is in Science, which is a good journal for some things but not competent to review papers on linguistics. I’m a philologist but not a linguist or a specialist in PIE. Can any of my gentle readers point me to where linguists are discussing it? I am sending out the <*bhat> signal.
The current system of academic training, recruitment and promotion is not well equipped to recognize work that is routinely collaborative, may result in electronic outputs rather than traditional deliverables, and is not overtly focused on the monograph as the basic coin of the realm. All that makes it hard to reconcile with norms and expectations that are deeply entrenched in the academic humanities, most notably in the United States where institutionalized individualism and fetishization of the little-read book rule supreme. Academic incentive structures will need to be tweaked in favor of collaborative and non-traditional work to give simulation studies a chance to flourish.
Some of my gentle readers may not know that in ancient world studies we have a situation where to make a bibliography count for academic promotion, we have to print a few hundred copies and sell them to libraries where they collect dust while researchers check the website with PDFs or a searchable database. Rachel Mairs’ Hellenistic Far East Bibliography faces this barrier, so does the ETCSL. And peer-reviewed publications in ancient history and philology are still expected to be written by one or two authors, whereas in natural science there are often a dozen or more authors who contribute different specialized skills (perhaps one performs a chemical test, another writes the software, a third does most of the writing, and a fourth manages the project). But I see a big problem with pushing to focus on understanding the ancient world through mathematical models.
Richard Taylor, The Greek Hoplite Phalanx: The Iconic Heavy Infantry of Classical Greece (Pen & Sword History, 2021) Available on Biblio and Amazon
The Greek Hoplite Phalanx is a survey of warfare on land in Athenian literature. That is both more and less than the title promises. Readers who sit down with it over long winter nights or lazy summer days will find thoughtful comments on many old questions. Readers who want something broad or concise may be less satisfied. In many ways it resembles John Kinloch Anderson’s Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon from 1970.
One of the most frustrating things about Charles Oman is that he ignores when his medieval sources were alluding to famous ancient texts. At the battle of Benevento in 1266, the army of Charles of Anjou crossed the Apennines in February only to find themselves trapped between the mountains and the swollen River Calore with Manfred of Sicily and his army on the other side. Charles’ men were already reduced to eating fallen pack animals, and it was hard to see how they could go forward or back. But then fortune intervened:
Ricordano Malaspina wonders why Manfred crossed the River Calore at all since if he had waited a day or two, King Charles and his people would have been killed without a blow of a sword through lack of vittles (columns 1002, 1003). Oman wonders whether Manfred was worried about treachery or desertion, and asks whether “perhaps in the spirit of the mediaeval knight, he preferred to beat his adversary by the sword rather than hunger.” But any attentive reader in the 13th century would have seen that beating the enemy with hunger rather than the sword is a strategic principle from the third book of Vegetius on military matters. He mentions it three times: 3.3.1, 3.9.8., 3.26.32. It seems to me that Malaspina was just as unimpressed with Manfred’s strategic decisions as Oman was.
snippet cut from a forthcoming piece in Medieval World (Karwansaray Bv)
Simon James is not the most prolific researcher, but his words are always worth carefully considering. A few years ago he had this to say:
In discourse on the European Iron Age, the terms ‘war’ and ‘warrior’ are rarely examined or defined. ‘War’ (except ‘civil war’) is commonly understood to connote organized collective armed violence between polities. Yet in many historically attested societies, possessing, displaying and using lethal weaponry are/were not about war, primarily and sometimes hardly at all. Rather weapons may articulate social dynamics, mutual fear and conflict within a polity – as exemplified by the contemporary United States.
Simon James (in press) “Ch. 30: Arms, the armed, and armed violence.” In Colin C. Haselgrove, Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, and Peter S. Wells (eds.), Oxford Handbook of the European Iron Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Most archaeologists focus on metal, stone, and ceramic objects which are common and easy to conserve, but this has problems! Back in 1962 John Coles studied European Bronze Age shields by beginning with complete bronze shields (or shield covers) from Cyprus, the Aegean, southern Germany, Czechia, Denmark, and the British Isles. Because the oldest finds in the Aegean could be dated to around 850 BCE, Coles created an elaborate theory that the surviving wooden and hide shields and shield moulds from Ireland were copies of Southwest Spanish copies of the shields from the Aegean and Cyprus. Because the shields from Ireland were found loose in bogs, there was no way to date them by the other objects they were found with. Then in 1991 specialists started to collect radiocarbon dates from the Irish shields and shield-moulds, and consistently got dates before 1000 BCE! Since most parts of Europe don’t have as many peat bogs as Ireland, and ancient wood and hide rarely survive outside of bogs, this sparked some rethinking!
Unskilled labour is one of those terms which people often absorb from pundits or books without thinking. Its worth saying out loud that unskilled labour is labour which is common, or labour which employers can easily replace. It does not mean ignorant, or uneducated, or that anyone from a different society could do it.
Taylor, Michael j. (2022) “Decimatio: Myth, Discipline, and Death in the Roman Republic.” Antichthon, pp. 1–16 doi:10.1017/ann.2022.9
Around 150 BCE, Polybius wrote that Roman military law contained the fearsome punishment of decimatio:
If the same thing (i.e., acts of cowardice) ever happens to large bodies, and if entire maniples desert their posts when exceedingly hard pressed, the officers refrain from inflicting the fustuarium or the death penalty on all, but find a solution of the difficulty which is both salutary and terror-striking. The tribune assembles the legion, and brings up those guilty of leaving the ranks, reproaches them sharply, and finally chooses by lots sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of the offenders, so adjusting the number thus chosen that they form as near as possible the tenth part of those guilty of cowardice. Those on whom the lot falls are clubbed mercilessly in the manner above described; the rest receive rations of barley instead of wheat and are ordered to encamp outside the camp on an unprotected spot. As therefore the danger and dread of drawing the fatal lot affects all equally, as it is uncertain on whom it will fall; and as the public disgrace of receiving barley rations falls on all alike, this practice is that best calculated both to inspire fear and to correct the mischief.
But historian Michael Taylor noticed that the Romans had only two or three examples of this punishment being carried out before the time of Crassus and Pompey, both of which belonged to the misty times before 300 BCE.