One of the joys of the modern age is that doctoral dissertations are usually published online. While it is still sometimes necessary to travel to the correct university and make a copy of an older dissertation by hand (or order it and wait months for the librarians and the appropriate university to send their copy), this makes the process of finding and obtaining research much less expensive and laborious. This week I thought I would take some time to mention some dissertations which my readers might be interested in. All of them are clearly written and provide enough background information that most readers of a blog like this should be able to understand their subjects, namely ancient horses, ancient Greek and Macedonian tactics, and the skeletons found in the tombs of the Macedonian kings.
Carolyn Willekes wrote on the horse in the ancient world. She had the advantages of being a rider, horse-trainer, and riding teacher who never had enough money to be seduced by the modern culture of show horses with intricate bloodlines. Her central idea is that the ancients mainly tried to perfect the type of horse which was suited to the local climate, terrain, and social system rather than trying to change those local types into something else. The very different physical and social conditions across the ancient world produced very different horses which had to be used in very different ways. Her dissertation From the Steppe to the Stable: Horses and Horsemanship in the Ancient World is available here.
Graham Wrightson wrote about the development of combined-arms tactics on the western shores of the Aegean in the fourth century BCE. He was especially interested in the reform of the Macedonian army under Philip the Great. His dissertation is closer to my area of expertise, and I may have some longer comments later. His thesis Greek and Near Eastern Warfare 3000 to 301: The Development and Perfection of Combined Arms is available here.
There is a lot of commotion right now about the excavation of a tomb which could date to Alexander’s age at Amphipolis in Macedonia. Jolene McLeod wrote her Master’s thesis on an earlier excavation from a nearby site (the Macedonian royal cemetery at Vergina) which was not handled as scientifically as many scholars would wish. Since reliable archaeology takes time, those who are waiting for word from Amphipolis (or want to know why many scholars are not sure that the tombs at Vergina have been correctly identified) can read her work Understanding the Bones: The Human Skeletal Remains from Tombs I, II and III at Vergina here.
I decided to illustrate this post with a gravestone because these dissertations also mark the end of something important. In the early 2000s, half a dozen students gathered in Calgary to write on military affairs at the same time that Waldemar Heckel decided that he should learn more about the military aspects of Alexander’s career after a very successful career writing about the political aspects. Several of them dabbled in reconstruction and experimental archaeology, and given room they might have come into contact with the people scattered around the world with deep knowledge in that area. That room was not given to them, and as people retired or graduated or fell into various personal difficulties the group broke up.
To my knowledge, there is now nobody teaching at a civilian university in Canada at a department which teaches graduate students who regularly publishes research into any aspect of warfare before the seventeenth century. These were probably the last doctoral dissertations on early military history to be written in Canada for many years to come, and certainly the last to be written alongside other people with a serious scholarly interest in it. I think that this is a shame, because war was just as basic a part of ancient life as gender or agriculture or rhetoric or seafaring. A department without someone with a working knowledge of warfare is just as incomplete as one with nobody who can explain the jokes in Plautus or explain what can be learned about social structure from a cemetery. So if any of these dissertations brought you joy, you might want to pour a libation in memory of the juncture of people and circumstances which allowed them to be written.
If any of my readers are as nerdy about higher education today as I am about the ancient Persians, I would happily back up that last paragraph with data from 2012 and discuss some of the people who are hard to classify.