The Cyrus Dossier


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Back view of a small black songbird sitting on a lawn with several species of uneven grass

I am too tired to find some appropriate ancient picture, so how about this bird?

One of my articles is out in Ancient History Bulletin 32.1-2, “A Prosopography of the Followers of Cyrus the Younger.” This one is about the forgotten Cyreans: the ones whom Xenophon classed as part of ‘the barbarian army’ like Procles, Ariaeus, and Artapates. Where ancient historians have written quite a bit about men like Clearchus, and a famous article from 1963 studies men in ‘the Greek army,’ this is the first article to look at these men as a group (I hope to write another article on women like Aspasia the Phocaean and the Milesian woman, but that won’t be this decade).

This is a prosopography, so it takes a group of people each of whom we know a little about and spends a lot of energy tracking down their families, social backgrounds, careers, inter-relationships, and descendents. But it also cites cuneiform texts, Iranian philology, and suggests that the distinction between ‘the Greek army’ and ‘the barbarian army’ of Cyrus the Younger might not be what you think.

If you want a copy, please tell me so in the comments and I will email you one. Ancient History Bulletin also sells subscriptions and individual articles for a very reasonable rate. In two years, I will put it up on my site.

Sale at Oxbow Books


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Oxbow Books, fine publisher and bookseller, has a book sale on. I flipped through their leaflet and picked out some things which my readers might be interested in.

Anastasius Antonaras, Fire and Sand (Yale University Press, 2013) {509 glass objects from Preislamic times in an American collection}
Beltrame (ed.), Sveti Pavao Shipwreck: a 16th Century Venetian Merchantman from Mijet, Croatia. GBP 8 {shipwreck with bronze artillery and ceramics}
Paul R. Sealey, EAA 118: A Late Iron Age Warrior Burial from Kelvedon, Essex. GBP 5 {rich grave roughly contemporary with Caesar’s landing in Britain}

There are many other East-Anglian Archaeology volume, but mostly medieval and not so exciting sounding.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, The Dancing Godess: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origin of European Dance (W.W. Norton, 2014)
John Peter Wild, Textiles in Archaeology.
Glen Foard, The Archaeology of British Battlefields. Council for British Archaeology, 2012.
Melanie Giles, A Forged Glamour: Landscape, Identity, and Material Culture in the Iron Age.
Suzane Moeller-Wiering, War and Worship; Textiles from 4th to 3rd century AD Weapon Deposits in Denmark and Northern Germany. Oxbow, 2011 {Thorsberg, Nydam, Vimose, Illerup Adal)
Andre J. Veldmeijer, Tutankhamun’s Footwear. Sidestone, 2012. GPB 15. {walk like a pharaoh!}
R.A. Hall, Egyptian Textiles, GBP 3. {booklet on ancient textiles from Egypt}
Edward Bleiberg, The Official Gift in Ancient Egypt. Oklahoma University Press, 1996. GPB 9. {gold of valour!}
Maria C. Shaw and Anne P. Chopin (eds.), Woven Threads. Oxbow Books, 2015. {On Mycenean and Minoan patterned textiles}
Mary Harlow and Marie-Louis Nosch (eds.), Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress {on fragments}
James Romm, Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great. Random House, 2012.
John Boardman, Greek Gems and Finger Rings. Thames and Hudson, 2000.
Boris Rankov (ed.), Trireme Olympias: Final Report. Oxbow Books, 2012. GBP 17.
Howe/Garvin/Wrightson (eds.), Greece, Macedonia, and Persia. Oxbow 2015. {edited collection on warfare}
Waldemar Heckel, The Conquests of Alexander the Great. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Simon James, Rome and the Sword. Thames & Hudson, 2011. GPB 8.
Alan Wilkins, Roman Artillery. {twang-thunk!}
Ellen Swift, Roman Dress Accesssories. Shire Publications, 2003. {booklet on ordinary people’s accessories} GBP 3
Sim and Kaminisky, Roman Imperial Armour {not great but worth reading once}

Harlow and Nosch (eds.), Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress. {edited collection on textile fragments as evidence}
David Karunanithy, Macedonian War Machine (Pen and Sword, 2013) {a good book … I would say that even if it did not cite me}

Mark Claire, Medieval Painters and Their Techniques: The Montpellier ‘liber diversarum arcium’ (Archetype, 2011) GBP 20 {translation of the liber diversarum artium, a book similar to Cennino Cennini‘s but probably older and from north of the Alps}
Painton Cowen, English Stained Glass {1100-1530, photos of 100 windows, they have another which is just 12th century glass from Canterbury Cathedral} GPB 8.
Nathaniel E. Dubin (tr.) The Fabliaux: A New Verse Translation GPB 8 hardcover {naughty Old French poems}
Laura F. Hodges, Chaucer and Array. GPB 13.
Maria Hayward, The 1542 Inventory of Whitehall {palace inventory}
Robert Douglas Smith and Kelly DeVries, Artillery of the Dukes of Burgundy. GBP 13. {BOOM – CRASH!}
Dirk Meier, Seafarers, Merchants and Pirates in the Middle Ages. GBP 8 {arr!}
Jeff Sypeck, Becoming Charlemagne (Harper Collins, 2006). GBP 5.

There are also several books in castle studies, although I do not know if they are the meaty everyday-life-and-warfare kind or the philosophical kind which spends a lot of words to say “sometimes people just want to feel like they live in a fortress.” If that lists sounds like you could put together an order with cheap shipping, check them out!

Some Good Armouring Books


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A display of 16th century arms and armour on wooden manekins and wall hooks

The first Rustkammer at Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck. Photo by Sean Manning, May 2018.

In an earlier post, I talked about videos on making armour. But what if you prefer books? Whereas 20 years ago very little was available, today there are quite a few things to read and look at.

There is one textbook on making European plate armour: Brian R. Price, Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction: The 14th Century (Paladin Press: Boulder Colorado, 2000). The book is a reasonable introduction by a mid-level armourer with a troubling history. Brian R. Price (now an Associate Professor at Hawai’i Pacific University) once ran a small press (Chivalry Bookshelf) until it emerged that he had not been paying the agreed royalties, had not obtained rights to all the illustrations, and had not registered their works with the appropriate authorities. Many of his other business (Revival Enterprises) and martial-arts (Schola Saint George) associates had similar stories, and in the end a coalition of authors sued him and regained control of their works in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement.* While Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction was published by Paladin Press, an independent business, many people are uncomfortable with supporting the author. (Also, this book is specifically on late medieval European armour … if you are interested in ancient kinds or kinds outside of Catholic Europe you will need other resources).
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Meditations on a Homespun Blanket

An undyed woolen blanket and a plate of vegetable matter and plastic which was removed from it

A homespun wool blanket from

I have some camping planned for later this summer, so I bought a woolen blanket from Adam Henzl at It was probably woven in the Achaemenid empire, and the price was similar to a 100% wool blanket from sellers of Heimtextilien in Innsbruck. The wool is soft and well-woven with strong selvages. When I spread it over my lap and worked it, I found it very educational.

As you can see, the wool still contained a significant amount of burrs, grasses, wood chips and windblown debris. Much of this was not easily visible but appeared under my hands and my tweezers.

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Cross-Post: Reddit Breaks Without Javascript


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Seems functional at first, but none of the links work and that big sidebar at the left won’t go away! reddit in late April 2018 without scripts.

Sometime in mid-April 2018, Reddit joined the crowd of sites which don’t work without Javascript. Its pages do not appear blank, but none of the links work, and the start of each line in the main part of the page is covered by an almost completely empty column at the left which cannot be removed.

A number of blog hosts have joined this trend recently. Here is Confessions of a Community College Dean at

Confessions of a Community College Dean without scripts, Note how the body text overlaps the sidebar rather than wrapping at the end of the column. Long paragraphs extend outside the browser window entirely so that only the first 100 or so characters are visible.

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Horse Troops and Troops of the Bow


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A dome of baked bricks with arches below

The architecture of holy places in the Middle East has changed a bit since the glory days of the Ebabbar, but how about this photo of a mosque in Isfahan?

A tablet from Sippar with the forgettable names BM 57222 and CT 57, 82 contains the following lines:

“(6) 1/2 mina 8 shekels silver to Šamaš-iddin (7) and the horse troops (8) who returned from the city of Egypt (9) 1 mina 50 shekels silver for mountain garments (10) and širannū for troop[s] (11) of the bow …”

Even though it is damaged, it tells us important things. The Ebabbar, the house of Šamaš at Sippar, was sending troops to Egypt in the fourth year of some king. Since the archive ends suddenly early in the second year of of Xexes, and since Cambyses had not yet conquered Egypt in his fourth year, this is probably the fourth year of Darius. It is usually thought that Darius visited Egypt a few years after his Putsch, although I don’t understand the arguments that his visit was in a specific Gregorian year. But in any case, it shows that conscripts could be sent all the way to Egypt, wearing the same clothing they were issued in other texts which do not specify what they were doing. Conscripts sometimes spent their time in service dredging out canals in Elam or improving roads near Nippur, but sometimes they went much farther.

Cross-Post: Science for the People Needs Patrons

A treestump on a riverbank with the marks of an adze or teeth below a chainsaw cut

Skillful axeman or a plucky castor fiber? Whoever or whatever felled this tree on the Inn near Hall in Tirol, I think it counts as Canadian content!

Science for the People, the great Canadian radio show and podcast on science, is looking for more patrons to help pay for their costs. Making an episode requires hours of skilled work and expensive equipment or software even if the interviewers volunteer their time. Starting in May:

Once a year, for Patreon supporters donating $5 per month or higher, we’ll send you a card celebrating an important – but lesser known – scientist on their birthday. This lovely birthday card will include custom commissioned artwork and a delightful poem about the scientist’s life and achievements.

Every year we’ll pick a different scientist whose birthday we’re celebrating: this year, if you want to be guaranteed to receive your own scientist birthday card, you’ll need to sign up to donate $5/month on Patreon by no later than May 15.

$10/month patreons will also get a Science Birthday magnet in addition to the birthday card, so they can be reminded of a brilliant scientist every time they open their fridge.

$25/month patreons will also get a sweet, stylish, Science for the People logo tote bag to carry their Science Birthday magnet and card around in to show off to their friends.

And for those heroic listeners who want to expand their science coffee mug collection, we’ll also be sending $50/month patreons a coffee mug with the Science Birthday artwork, in addition to the magnet, the birthday card, and the tote. Take it to work, and anytime someone asks who’s on your mug, edu-tain your coworkers by reading them a poem about a scientist we guarantee they’ve never heard of!

Now, Science for the People is not about the kind of science which I do, so you will find episodes on contraception, forest fires, and the psychology of habit but not old languages or swords. But they do good work. You can find their website, with links for your favourite podcast feed, at and their Patreon at

Bonus Content: Trecento Sources for Concealed Armour


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Are scale caps and aventails just a fantasy of the artist who painted these ruffians looting a house? Check out Medieval Warfare VIII-1 and find out! Photo courtesy of the British Library.

Another of my writing projects brings us to the 14th century AD, and the burning question “what kind of concealed armour could you buy in the Avignon of the Babylonian Captivity?” If you think that concealed armour is just for Assassin’s Creed and 16th century bravos, you might want to check out Medieval Warfare VIII-1!

But what if you want the original source? Medieval Warfare does not have room for sources in the original, so this week, I have pasted them from my rough draft of the article:

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Bow Estates Already Under Nebuchadnezzar


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Sometimes the tablet-gods smile on us. Over the last hundred years, scholars have worked to establish when the properties known as bow, horse, and chariot estates first appeared in Mesopotamia. Earlier writers often saw them as examples of Iranian feudalism, imposed on Babylonia by the Medes or Persians, but there were a few examples under Nabonidus. Then in 1998 Michael Jursa reread a text from Uruk from the 35th year of Nebuchadnezzar with the following lines:

(15) 1 GUR 2 PI ŠE.NUMUN E2 GIŠ.BAN ša2 {m}Dan-/e-<>\-a
ša2 {m}{d}U.GUR-da-a-nu a-na er-ru-šu-tu2
i-ir-ši maš-ka-a-nu ša2 {m}Gi-mil-lu
a-di {m}G-mil-lu ŠE.NUMUN i-šal-lim

rašû i/i “to get, acquire”
erušutu > erēşu “to seed
maškanu “security, pledge”

1 kur 2 pi of seed (ie. field which is sown with 7 bushels of barley), the bow estate of Dannēa, which Nergal-dān acquired to sow, is pledged to Gimillu, until Gimillu received the barley.

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The Ancient Story of Stephen Hawking’s Tombstone


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One of the graves of the kings of Elam at Tschoga Zanbil in Iran. If you haven’t invented any new mathematics, and are thinking of rounding up a gang of forced labourers to build a fancy tomb to give you immortal fame, keep in mind that the Assyrians may come around and dig up your bones! Photo by author, May 2016.

Stephen Hawking died on the 14th of March. I don’t have much to say about that, because there are worse lives than discovering a property of black holes, writing a best-selling book, taking a ride on the Vomit Comet, and guest starring on half a dozen nerdy TV shows before dying in your own bed at the age of 76. As Achilles said to Lycaon (Iliad 21.150) “ah, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?” This week I thought of an ancient aspect of his story which many people do not seem to have noticed.

At a workshop to celebrate his 60th birthday, Hawking heard that Ludwig Boltzmann the 19th century physicist had his eponymous formula for entropy engraved on his tombstone, and suggested that he would like the equation which describes Hawking radiation engraved on his own tomb (Dennis Overbye, New York Times, 22 January 2002 But this story goes a lot further back than königlich- und kaiserlich Vienna.

There is a story that Archimedes was buried under a tomb marked with a cylinder and a sphere and an inscription describing their relative proportions which he had discovered. For Plutarch, this is proof that even though Archimedes was a practical engineer, his true love was pure mathematics:

And although he made many excellent discoveries, he is said to have asked his kinsmen and friends to place over the grave where he should be buried a cylinder enclosing a sphere, with an inscription giving the proportion by which the containing solid exceeds the contained

Plutarch, Marcellus, 17.7*.html#17.7

Now, a Neo-Platonist aristocrat like Plutarch had reasons for insisting that Archimedes was not a grubby tradesman, but he did not invent this story. In his Tusculan Dispositions, Cicero claimed to have found this tomb overgrown with brush outside the Akragas Gate of Syracuse, so we have an independent source within 150 years of Archimedes’ death. And because he and Plutarch retold it, the story about Archimedes’ tomb has never been forgotten. I know people before Archimedes who boasted of military victories or public offices on their tombs, but I can’t think of any who boasted of scientific or technical discoveries.

The New York Times reporter implied that Hawking got the idea from Boltzman, so I don’t know whether he knew the story directly. But I am sure that Ludwig Boltzmann knew his Plutarch. You didn’t get a Doktorat at Vienna in 1866 without a heavy dose of Greek and Latin. Even today, historians of ancient mathematics and natural philosophy are often mathematicians and physicists who study history as a hobby. The ancients had to describe the relationship between a sphere and a cylinder with the same height and diameter with words, but today we have algebraic notation and formulas, which is good if the local masons charge by the line. It hasn’t been announced whether his executors will indeed have such a stone made, but I hope they continue this ancient tradition.

You can learn more about Archimedes at Dr. Chris Rorres’ site