Aelian and Fire by Countermarch


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A scene from the film "The Godfather" with a man in a sweater and necktie clenching his fists and saying "just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in"

Taking a break from academic blogging is not as simple as it seems (meme from The Godfather, Part III courtesy of

In November 2016 I expressed a desire to read Fernando González de León’s article “Spanish Military Power and the Military Revolution.” As I found the citation in a forum post from 2011, it occurred to me that I might as well order the book instead of spending another five years wishing and hoping. González challenges Maurice of Nassau’s claim that after reading Aelian’s tactical manual he invented a drill where soldiers fired one rank at a time and then countermarched to get out of the way while they reloaded their cumbersome weapons. (The original letter in which Maurice makes this claim survives, and photos of his sketch of the new tactic have been reprinted in, if I remember correctly, Parker’s Military Revolution). González thinks this was already practiced in Hapsburg armies. I wrote this post back in 2017, and decided to post it after listening to the Ancient Warfare Podcast on Ancient Military Manuals in June 2018.

This drill was developed to meet the needs of a particular time and place. In the 16th and 17th centuries, soldiers loaded their matchlock muskets and arquebuses with loose powder and balls and defended themselves with swords and daggers. Manipulating all of this equipment and a lit match without setting oneself on fire or shooting a neighbour was a slow process, and there was a danger that infantry who fired all at once would be over-run by enemies before they could reload. Clubbed muskets or cheap swords were no match for pikes or lances, and when more than two or three ranks of soldiers tried to fire at once, they tended to shoot, deafen, or ignite each other. Ordering the front rank to fire and then countermarch (march to the rear between their file and its neighbour) was a convenient way to get them out of the way while they reloaded. Famously, soldiers in Europe and Japan took to this drill, while soldiers in India and most of the Moslem world rejected it. By the 18th century, infantry were armed with bayonets and issued with pre-made paper cartridges and muskets which made their own fire, and other drills were developed to suit new conditions. Having defined what we are looking for, let see how González’ argument holds up:

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Monarchy and Power in Ancient Macedonia


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The speakers at the conference on the Courts of Philip II and Alexander the Great, Edmonton AB, 2-4 May 2018. I am fourth from the left next to the woman in the yellow dress.

At the beginning of May I attended the conference on the courts of Philip and Alexander at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. I arrived late due to some travel problems, so I can’t talk about Graham Wrightson’s sarissa project down in South Dakota. Most of the intended guests were there, although unfortunately Pat Wheatley from Otago New Zealand had to cancel. (Aside from the Otagonians, there were two of us from Austria, two from Germany, two from Poland, one from South Africa, and the rest from Canadian, American, and British universities).

Quite a few scholars have taken a postmodern approach to Alexander, emphasizing that the vast majority of sources date from Roman times or questioning whether after 200 years of learned scholarship there are any more facts to tease out (Mary Beard’s “Alexander: How Great?” in the New York Review of Books is a good example, even though it contains one or two howlers … if she has ever written up similar ideas in a more careful way, please let me know!)* The papers on Thursday took the opposite view, showing that for a figure in ancient or medieval history, we are quite well informed about Alexander.

Sabine Müller had a very amusing paper about Macedonia in Athenian comedy, with its stereotypes of hard-drinking, fish-eating, rough and tough northerners. Several speakers looked at the Attic orators, and all the gossip about upper-class men in southern Greece which survives. These texts are as blissfully self-centred as the opinion section of a national news magazine, but they have all kinds of stories about who was marrying or bedding whom, who fumbled their speech at a particular embassy or accepted a gift of golden cups, and the different policies which people adopted as Macedonian power grew. Dina Guth looked at stories about the origins of Macedonia, and how in different tellings Macedonia either came into existence at a specific place and expanded by conquest, or was the result of fusing different lands and peoples into something new. This was an important question if you were an Argead king trying to justify your rule and find a modus vivendi with other powerful families. Jeanne Reames used onomastics to try and track down Hephaistion’s family background. In Argead times, names invoking Hephaistus are much more common in Aeolis, Boeoetia, Attica and the Crimea than in northern Greece and Macedonia, which raises the possibility that his family were immigrants. Fred Naiden looked at references to Alexander discussing military problems with his advisors, and said that on a quick look, he could not find a similar list for any general before modern times. While it is hard to pick out fact from slander or apology in stories about Parmenio warning Alexander not to take a risk, or Darius offering to trade peace for half his kingdom, we at least have a great many opportunities to study how Alexander and his companions made decisions. For most kings, we have no sources instead of unreliable sources.
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Cross-Post: New Tobias Capwell Book on Jousting


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Tobias Capwell, the armour scholar who jousts, has a book out on his favourite sport. I wish there were people with a similar combination of skills writing about ancient armour!

Tobias Capwell, Arms and Armour of the Joust. Arms and Armour Series. Royal Armouries, Leeds, 2018. 96 pages, ISBN-13 978-0948092831. You can find a copy on Bookfinder (it is too new to be on Biblio).

Edit 2018-06-23: Fixed broken link.

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