My First Book is Out

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Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects. Oriens et Occidens Band 32 (Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart, 2021) 437 pp., 8 b/w ill., 4 b/w tables. ISBN 978-3-515-12775-2 EUR 74,– (softcover) (publisher’s website)

My first book is coming out from Franz Steiner Verlag this month. Its the first book on Achaemenid armies since 1992, and the first written by someone who can read any ancient Near Eastern language. I show that most of what we think we know about Achaemenid armies and warfare goes back to classical writers and to 19th and 20th century stereotypes about the east. So many books sound the same because they are repeating the ideas of early authorities in new language. By focusing on indigenous, contemporary sources and placing the Achaemenids in their Near Eastern context- the standard methods in Roman Army Studies and Achaemenid Studies since the 1980s- we can tell a different story.

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Incurious Black Magic

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a keep and church atop a hill with cloudy sky in the background

Burg Freundsburg over Schwaz, Tirol.

This fall, I have been thinking about why some communities did not feel right for me. I enjoy learning from different types of experts, from craft workers to retired thugs to academics, but the kind of journalists who write opinion pieces and columns always gave me a bad feeling. I have trouble talking about feelings, but I think I can articulate two reasons why I feel this way.

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Some Comments on Turner on Old World Iron

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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?

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Remembrance Day 2020

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a view from a hilltop across treed suburbs in cloudy weather

Mt. Douglas as seen from Mt. Tolmie, November 2020

Today is Remembrance Day. I am not as mobile as I would be in an ordinary November, and neither of the ways people often talk about Remembrance Day feels right to me. Some people turn it into a festival of peace and forget the third verse of John McCrae’s poem, others (mostly in other countries) a festival of aggressive nationalism. But I am in Canada, and today I will remember something.

Once about 35 years ago, a boy was born in Canada to Canadian citizens. As a child, he was brought across the sea to a hard place to stay with some of his parents’ friends who were not very nice people. And then fire fell and killed his parents and their friends and faceless soldiers came and a grenade blasted. He was fifteen.

Those soldiers took him to a place beyond the law and kept him there for questioning. And while they did not have any basis for this and a wounded child did not have much to tell them, his parents and their friends were dead or escaped, and they wanted someone to punish. So they paid witnesses their thirty pieces of silver, and invented a new charge that had never before existed in law, and announced that he was some kind of enemy combatant or terrorist who had laid mines and thrown a grenade. Sometimes, people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time and get used as props in a political stage play.

And to their shame, four Canadian prime ministers from two different parties went along with this, just as they sent Canadians to fight and kill and die alongside those faceless soldiers. For many years he was in that place beyond the law in front of a kangaroo court, although he was a Canadian citizen born in Canada and an alleged child soldier. And so as people before kangaroo courts do, he eventually confessed and was sent to Canada, and Canada is not beyond the law so a little while later he was free. And one of those Canadian governments kept fighting him in court, until the government’s lawyers went into a conference room with their bosses and shut the doors and the bosses walked out sweating and announced a ten million dollar settlement. The last I heard he was studying nursing.

Some people with different passports were even unluckier: the same people who ran the kangaroo courts and the hiring of witnesses and place beyond the law had an organized program to murder or kidnap and torture people who got in their way. As I write this, some of those tape-shredders and book-burners are in offices with title and pension and the power of life and death. On the 21st of January 2021, some of them will be carrying their effects out the door in a cardboard box. And that is not justice, but it is a start.

I do not know how many people remember Omar Khadr. But I remember.

Insights from Experience, Excavation, and Reconstruction

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In September and October, I came across several projects in archaeology which help us understand early warfare. This week’s post will take us from China to Germany, Italy, and England and from the Bronze Age to the 18th century CE.

Figure 7 from Hermann et al. 2020 (see below). Left is a replica sword which has delivered a strike to the socket of a bronze spearhead, right is an original bronze sword

I will start with the Bronze Age (best age!) then move on to ages of other metals. A German-UK-Chinese team published the latest project trying to understand how Bronze Age swords were used. They examined damage to the edges of originals and then compared it to damage on replica swords by Neil Burridge after performing Andre Lignitzer’s six sword-and-buckler plays. I’d like to see more studies like this borrowing ideas from other martial arts like Shastar Vidiya to see which seem to work best with Bronze Age weapons from Europe. Fifteenth-century German fencing such as Andre Lignitzer’s plays has a lot of blade-on-blade contact and twisty actions while the blades are crossed, whereas other martial arts rely on the shield to defend or prefer simpler weapon-on-weapon actions. But I think that the evidence that swords from some periods often have marks characteristic of controlled parrying, whereas in other periods the edge damage is more random, is valuable. I am also glad that they experimented with common matchups like sword against spear, and not just the rare occasions when a sword was used against another warrior with a sword who was ready for the attack.

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Ascham on Teaching

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This year I have been thinking about teaching and parenting and the wisdom in books. I had not planned to post this week and I do not have many words in me but this quote touches on all three topics.

And one example, whether loue or feare doth worke more in a child, for vertue and learning, I will gladlie report: which maie be hard with some pleasure, and folowed with more profit. Before I went into Germanie, I came to Brodegate in Lecetershire, to take my leaue of that noble Ladie Iane Grey, to whom I was exceding moch beholdinge. Hir parentes, the Duke and Duches, with all the houshould, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, were huntinge in the Parke: I founde her, in her Chamber, readinge Phaedon Platonis in Greeke, and that with as moch delite, as som ientleman wold read a merie tale in Bocase. After salutation, and dewtie done, with som other taulke, I asked hir, whie she wold leese soch pastime in the Parke? smiling she answered me: I wisse, all their sporte in the Parke is but a shadoe to that pleasure, that I find in Plato: Alas good folke, they neuer felt, what trewe pleasure ment. And howe came you Madame, quoth I, to this deepe knowledge of pleasure, and what did chieflie allure you vnto it: seinge, not many women, but verie fewe men haue atteined thereunto. I will tell you, quoth she, and tell you a troth, which perchance ye will meruell at. One of the greatest benefites, that euer God gaue me, is, that he sent me so sharpe and seuere Parentes, and so ientle a scholemaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speake, kepe silence, sit, stand, or go, eate, drinke, be merie, or sad, be sowyng, plaiyng, dauncing, or doing anie thing els, I must do it, as it were, in soch weight, mesure, and number, euen so perfitelie, as God made the world, or else I am so sharplie taunted, so cruellie threatened, yea presentlie some tymes, with pinches, nippes, and bobbes, and other waies, which I will not name, for the honor I beare them, so without measure misordered, that I thinke my selfe in hell, till tyme cum, that I must go to M. Elmer, who teacheth me so ientlie, so pleasantlie, with soch faire allurementes to learning, that I thinke all the tyme nothing, whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because, what soeuer I do els, but learning, is ful of grief, trouble, feare, and whole misliking vnto me: And thus my booke, hath bene so moch my pleasure, & bringeth dayly to me more pleasure & more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deede, be but trifles and troubles vnto me. I remember this talke gladly, both bicause it is so worthy of memorie, & bicause also, it was the last talke that euer I had, and the last tyme, that euer I saw that noble and worthie Ladie.

From Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (1570) pp. 11v, 12r (Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership) as quoted by Erik of Sententiae Antiquae

Choosing Plato’s Phaedo over Boccaccio’s Decameron is a little nerdy even for me (although Boccaccio is a bit too relevant this year). Ascham does not say outloud that a short time after that meeting the adults in Lady Grey’s life had her married to the Duke of Suffolk’s son and proclaimed queen ahead of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor (she was very Protestant, Mary was Catholic); a few months later she was beheaded for high treason at the age of 16 or 17.

One thing about wisdom is that it is timeless. And Roger Ascham, archer and Cambridge scholar, didn’t need education and psychology departments to help him see some simple truths about teaching.

Dis Manibus James Randi

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Canadian by birth, American by choice James Randi died on 20 October 2020 at the age of 92. He was an escape artist, author, TV and radio personality (getting his start as a guest with Long John Nebel in New York State), and skeptical investigator who humiliated fraudsters Uri Geller and Peter Popoff and triggered a crisis in parapsychology by demonstrating that a partner had been able to fool respected laboratories with basic slight-of-hand and vaudeville mentalism. His million-dollar challenge to anyone who could demonstrate psychic or paranormal powers was less successful: the big swindlers like Peter Popoff or Sylvia Browne just made excuses while flocks of hopeful eccentrics knocked on the door of his foundation demanding to be tested then and there. In all of human history, I don’t think anyone again will ever escape from a straitjacket while dangling over Niagra Falls, have dinner at the Trap Door Spiders with de Camp and Asimov, and then battle the nonsense of polygraphs and homeopathy and dowsing rods rebranded as bomb detectors and sold for tens of thousands of dollars a unit.

His husband Deyvi Peña (aka. a.k.a. José Alvarez and Carlos) has an uncertain right to reside in the United States despite living there for about 30 years.

A short death notice is available on the website of the James Randi Educational Foundation (link). A film about his life, An Honest Liar, was released in 2014 (link).

Battles and Sieges

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Eannatum of Lagaš’s Stele of the Vultures in the Louvre, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01-transparent.png

Academic histories sometimes get very narrowly focused. There are some good reasons for this, but its not so good to read a book on archaic or classical Greek warfare which barely acknowledges that Italy or the Hellenistic period existed. Did I fall into that trap in my book on Achaemenid armies and warfare?

To find out, I made a list of all the battles and sieges which I mentioned in my forthcoming book.

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Some Addenda to the History of the Historical Fencing Movement

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The mysterious (and tracking-heavy and script-heavy) website historicaleuropeanmartialarts.com has a history of the current historical fencing movement. Although they don’t provide an email address, I would like to add a few lines to their chronicle.

1972: James Louis Jackson publishes Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals (Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints), a facsimile of the English version of di Grassi, Vincento Saviolio, and George Silver’s Brief Instructions. This book is purchased by many university libraries and becomes the starting point for many English-speaking fencers.

1979: Archaeologist William Gaugler founds a program teaching masters of classical Italian fencing at San José State University in California (Britannica). His books and students have a major influence in the historical fencing community in North America after the year 2000 and help keep this tradition alive in North America where it is threatened by versions of fencing optimized for winning bouts under the Olympic rules and electric scoring. Two articles are Tony Wolf, “The Future of Fencing is in its Past: An Interview with Maestro John Sullins.” Journal of Manly Arts, August 2003 https://www.ejmas.com/jmanly/articles/2003/jmanlyart_wolf_0803.htm and Puck Curtis, “In Search of the Rudis,” A Midsummer Night’s Blog 18 June 2014 http://www.puckandmary.com/blog_puck/2014/06/in-search-of-the-rudis/

1999: J. Christoph Amberger persuades a publisher to print an expanded version of the proceedings of his fencing-history fanzine Hammertz Forum as The Secret History of the Sword. While the main text is focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, the appendices list people and businesses to contact including Patri Pugliese.

?September? 1999: first Western Martial Arts Workshop (WMAW) in the Chicago area. At some point it sets up a bi-annual schedule at the DeKoven centre in Racine WI, with occasional smaller, off-year events without the WMAW name: they numbered the event in 2019 as their 14th and the event in 2007 as their 8th.

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New Magazine Articles

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an issue of "ancient warfare" magazine and an issue of "medieval warfare" magazine on a hardwood surface

So far this calendar year, I have published three articles for money:

In another year I would have posted the bibliographies or some bonus content, but I don’t have the words in me and I should probably be doing something better with my time.