A cheap steel bookcase full of academic texts and a thesis bound in linen with the title "Dissertation: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire" (Sean Manning, MA, 2018)

On a foggy Monday the 3rd of September I sent my dissertation to the printer in Salzburg. I will defend it around the start of November. I suppose I should talk about what I have been working on for five years, aside from learning all of these languages, poking around museums and archaeological sites, and publishing articles.

If you look around for research on armies, soldiers, and warfare under the Teispids and Achaemenids, you will find that there are a lot of articles but only a few short overviews, and the methods behind those overviews are not the best. Scholars have all kinds of opinions, but they generally write what they think rather than list the different interpretations and make a case for one of them, and the people working on lists of equipment from Babylonia don’t talk very often to the people trying to decide what Herodotus was doing or the people excavating mounds in Turkey.

My doctoral dissertation has 348 pages and seven chapters. More specifically, there is a chapter on the history of research and why what we read today sounds so much like what Eduard Meyer wrote under Kaiser Bill, a chapter on war in the time of the the Neo-Assyrians and Achaemenid armies in the context of an ancient Near Eastern tradition, a chapter on warfare in royal inscriptions and imperial ideology, a chapter on warfare in documents and the ordinary soldier, a chapter on archaeological evidence, a chapter on warfare in classical literature and the pitfalls of interpreting those sources, and a conclusion which looks at the problem through Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific paradigms. This is partially a thesis about the ancient Near East, and partially about the forces and ideologies in the last hundred years which shape how we talk about it.

Some things from the original plan ended up in my files-of-snippets. I did not have time or room in my head to write the chapter on the nobility at war and art as a source. There are good articles on soldiers in specific kinds of art by Christopher Tuplin, Xing Wu, and Anne Bovon. I wrote a chapter on battle standards as an example of the Achaemenid heritage in Hellenistic times, but did not have time to go over it, polish it, and secure rights to all the illustrations. The bibliography contains 1,100 items and is probably still missing a few from my footnotes: I decided it was quicker to start with my master bibliography for this project and then go through the footnotes adding things to it than to start with the bibliography, list the works cited and then write out their bibliography entries.

If you want to know where the idea of a feigned flight at Cunaxa comes from, what method Abraham Valentine Williams Jackson pioneered, or which site reports to read for Achaemenid arms and armour, this dissertation has answers.

When I sketched out this post at the end of July or beginning of August, I planned to illustrate it with the famous painting of McClintock discovering the sledges of the Franklin expedition with their brass bedsteads and romantic novels. But in a world where the last traces of the sources and societies we study are being blown up and burned, that seems a bit melodramatic. Academe has many problems, but given a few years most people with a PhD do allright financially (it is a deep shame of academe that often those who end up poorest are the ones who try hardest to find work in academe and end up in a series of short-term contracts). I can’t complain about being paid minimum wage for four years to learn dead languages, explore the pizzerie of Innsbruck with charming South Tiroleans, and try to answer a hard problem.

Now if you’ll excuse me, its time to take a real summer vacation …