I first encountered Geoffrey Bibby’s Four Thousand Years Ago in a “Best-of” volume of the Robert E. Howard fanzine Amra where the reviewer enthused that the second millennium BCE was a time when Conan could have lived again. For a younger self that was recommendation enough, and I tracked down a copy in the library. On a whim I decided to order a copy and have a look with more scholarly eyes. The volume which arrived in the mail has an old bookseller’s stamp from The Public Bookshop, PO Box 1, Bahrain which is very appropriate, for Bibby excavated there and believed it was the Dilmun of the Sumerians, the place through which all good things came. Like the statuette of Lakshmi from Pompeii, who can say how it made its long way to its current home?
One of the collections of texts which I have been working with is a collection of texts associated with an Assyrian governor in the first half of the eighth century BCE (about sixty years before the relief above was carved). Aaron Dornauer has published a luxurious edition with sketches, a specialized sign list with the readings used in these documents, and detailed commentaries. Many more documents were written on clay in Neo-Assyrian times than under the Achaemenids, and because of the burning and abandonment of many Assyrian cities, a higher proportion have survived. It is therefore very important to study earlier periods to see what traditions the Achaemenids inherited and compare what is known in Achaemenid times. This weekend I will discuss one of these texts which deals with one of my interests, arms and armour.
This text is No. 48 in Dornauer’s edition and comes from two fragments whose total size is 4.1 x 6.5 cm. Like many Assyriological collections it was excavated at the beginning of the twentieth century. I have written words which are written as logograms in the original with CAPITAL LETTERS.
Upper Edge: One CHARIOT
Verso: 4 HORSES
10 BLADES (patrū)
10 spears (kutahatē)
10 helmets (qurpissī)
10 quivers (azanatē)
10 shields (aritū)
10 leather belts
Bottom Edge: 10 tunics
Recto: 1 OX
One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.
This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.
Fiore’s teachings have a clear philosophy of combat and a clear structure, with longer sections which teach the core of the art and shorter sections which develop a single principle in detail, add some techniques which are useful for a particular weapon, or just demonstrate that his art can be used with whatever tools are to hand. He provides adequate instruction on unarmed combat, although enthusiasts sometimes complain that he does not address wrestling on the ground and that his stances are not very good for standing and exchanging kicks and punches. He provides very thorough instruction on fighting with a weapon in one hand and with short or long weapons in both hands. But he has very little advice on fighting with two weapons such as sword and buckler or lance and shield. Why not?
In the fifth and sixth centuries CE, the Greek-speaking Romans systematically copied the military methods of the Huns and Avars who were ravaging Europe. One effect of this was that Roman soldiers and scholars began to write treatises on archery, and when Arabs and Turks conquered their lands they also adopted the practice of writing about archery. Because a certain YouTube video by a trick shooter (to which I will only link indirectly) has been making the rounds, I thought that it would be a good idea to post a passage from the only one of these treatises which I have to hand. This is the Strategikon of the Emperor Maurice, written within a decade or so of the year 600 (I quote from page 11 of G.T. Dennis’ translation).