Responding to an Allegation



Although I wanted to post something short and light, today I feel it necessary to answer an allegation.

Obwohl ich lieber etwas leicht schreiben würde, fühle ich mich heute verpflichtet, einen Vorwurf zu antworten.

A photo of the bare stone keep of a cliff-top castle overlooking a small town

Burg Fragenstein over the town of Zirl in the Inntal, Austria. For more information see Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.

As you know, I am in the habit of travelling Tirol and taking photos, notes, and sketches of military installations, like this strategic point overlooking the local tennis court.

Als Sie wissen, ist es für mich üblich, um Tirol zu reisen und Bilder, Zetteln, und Skizzen von militarischen Installierungen zu machen.

A cannon with a barrel made of an iron core inserted into a long and wrapped with iron bands

A cannon with a wood-and-iron barrel made for the Tirolean revolt circa 1810 and captured by the Bavarians after its betrayal. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, object W622.

I also have a professional interest in Austrian military hardware, whether the Landeszeughaus in Graz or this wooden cannon captured by the Bavarians during their temporary rule over Tirol.

Ich habe auch eine Berufsinteresse in den österreichischen Kriegsgeräten, entweder das Landeszeughaus in Graz mit seinem Plattenharnisch aus dem 17. Jahrhundert oder diese Holzkanone, die von der Bayern als Kriegsbeute um 1810 nach München gebracht war.

A meeting in the Hermitage Theatre, St. Petersburg. The reactionary activities of a certain California grape farmer were not on the program, and nobody got tipped into a canal.

And of course I travel on short notice to exciting cities like Isfahan, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Venice, and Glasglow and send cryptically labelled money transfers to publishers and artisans across Europe. Such is the life of an orientalist.

Und natürlich reise ich auch kurtzfristig nach spannenden Städten wie Isfahan, St. Petersburg, Wien, Venedig, Glasgow, und schicke kryprische getitelte Geldüberweisungen nach Herausgeber und HandwerkerInnen in ganzen Europa. Solche ist das Leben eines Altorientalistes.

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PSA: Terrorism 101


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a nightmare attack … a country where 500 counterterrorism investigations are underway at any one time … the resilience that comes with living for years with a severe threat of attack … the attack on democracy was met with defiance … Parliament Buildings all over the democratic world are under threat from those who want to destroy democracy and freedom … “(residents of the city) will never be cowed by terrorism.”

– Some journalistic cliches by someone who should really really know better

As I watch the media cycle repeat itself after the latest assassination, bombing, or mass shooting, I feel compelled to imitate Gwynne Dyer. The modern kind of terrorism did not exist in the ancient world, and I don’t even own a leather jacket. But studying organized violence is my profession, and there are plenty of textbooks for terrorists and counter-terrorists around, as well as books which explain them for beginners. (General Sir Rupert Smith, a retired British general, has published one book for a general audience on the topic and recorded a podcast which summarizes how professionals think about terrorism and insurgency). And I am very concerned that fifteen almost sixteen (!) years after a local tragedy in New York and Pennsylvania, we are still responding in a way which makes further attacks more likely, and still talking about this problem in a way which is not much more sophisticated than it was then.

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The Largest Armies in World History


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A reproduction of a battle between Persians and Macedonians painted on glazed tiles

This battle scene is crowded, but just how many men are supposed to be involved? A detail of the reproduction of the Darius Mosaic from Pompeii in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.

The most recent issue of Ancient Warfare magazine (X.6) contains an article on the battle of Chang-Ping in the Warring States period where allegedly several hundred thousand conscripts lost their lives. In western Eurasia, the first reliable evidence that anyone brought a hundred thousand or more combatants to a battle appears around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. (I could talk about what counts as reliable evidence, but suffice it to say that this is an empirical question and that numbers in stories about armies long ago and far away do not count). Occasionally one hears higher figures from India or China. Does any of my gentle readers know if those sizes are based on any real evidence, or just the usual choice between the various numbers given in stories about the battle?

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Announcing Armour in Texts


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An 18th century coloured print of a man in armour from neck to foot wearing a long straight sword and a carbine on a sling

The armour which Maurice de Saxe had made sometime before 1757, from the French edition of Mes Rêveries.

Back in 2014 I began a project to address a problem which I noticed. Amateur students of armour seemed to have trouble finding written sources, and historians specialized in one period sometimes seemed not to notice things which I saw again and again in the world history of armour. For example, my reading in the world history of prices in general, and armour prices specifically, makes me read the statement that Athenian settlers needed to bring arms worth 30 drachmas differently than some other ancient historians do (for a list of sources, see Van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, p. 52, plus the Salamis Decree from the Acropolis at Athens). From watching the traffic on my blog, I noticed that if you give people a link to sources, many of them will follow it. In my view, making sources available is the single most important thing which historians can do: interpretations change and are a product of our culture, but sources are foreign and reading enough of them makes it hard to have any simple interpretation of history, or believe that people in other cultures and other times think just like we do. But often sources on armour are published in out-of-print books in a handful of libraries, or available in old translations by people who were not especially interested in material culture.

Unfortunately, I have had to put this project aside for two years now, so I think it is time to make sure that my gentle readers know about Armour in Texts.

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The Ice-Spitting Dragons of Innsbruck


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A copper rainspout with an icicle hanging from its mouth

The dragon-mouthed waterspout on the former church opposite the Marktplatz, Innsbruck. Photo by Sean Manning, January 2017.

A few weeks ago the Scholarly Skater asked “What beautiful old places are there where you live? Send me some pictures so I can enjoy them, too!” I took some photos in January which sort of qualify.

Dog people know how dogs start to pant when they get too hot. Dragon people know that some species start to drool when they get too cold. While the days when the Tirolers spent all winter huddled in the parlor* or the kitchen are long gone, there is usually snow on the ground in the valley bottoms for a few weeks per year. The dragons sometimes get tetchy as they warm up, and have been known to spit ice at passersby. A former room-mate was injured by one of these spitting dragons. The City of Innsbruck has the street-cleaners keep careful watch on buildings where dragons are nesting, and leans colourful wooden poles against buildings to warn pedestrians not to approach until the cold weather is over.

A copper rainspout with an icicle hanging from it

Another view of the dragon-headed rain gutter on the former church opposite the Marktplatz, Innsbruck. Photo by Sean Manning, January 2017.

* German Stube “a heated room for sitting” … semantically equivalent to English parlour (a Weinstube in Tirol today is more or less a beer parlour in Farley Mowat’s Saskatchewan) but etymologically related to the word which came into English as stove because that was what made it fit for sitting in in winter)

Some Thoughts on “Hoplites at War”


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The cover of "Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE" ISBN-13 978-1-4766-6602-0

Paul M. Bardunias and Fred Eugene Ray, Jr., Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE. McFarland and Company: Jefferson, NC, 2016. ISBN <978-1-4766-6602-0 (paperback) 978-1-4766-2636-9 (ebook). 233 pages.

In 1989 Victor Davis Hanson threw a match into some scholarly tinder by publishing a book which was both very readable and obviously flawed. Since no two scholars could agree about which parts of his book were incorrect, this has lead to thirty years of argument about just what happened on Greek battlefields. Unlike most scholarly debates, this one has fascinated people outside the university who follow the debates and try to push forward their own theories. Some of them have gone on to graduate school, others organize re-enactments and backyard tests, and a few write books. One of these amateur contributions is Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE by Paul Bardunias and Fred Eugene Ray. That is an ambitious title for a book of 233 pages, and the preface is bold too:

In this book, we make use of traditional sources, but combine those with cutting-edge (apt for a book on warfare!) science … We hope the result provides a comprehensive source on hoplite warfare that will advance key debates for modern scholars, while entertaining the general reader. … [what we present here] is an assessment of what we firmly believe to be most probable based on all evidence at hand.

While this book’s reach exceeds its grasp, I think it contains some important ideas.

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Photographs Showing How a Helmet is Made


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22 black and white photos of a helmet being worked from a simple plate of steel into a visored and polished and engraved and gilt form

Series of steps in the construction of a close helm in the Greenwich style of about 1580 by Daniel Tachaux. Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1915, as reprinted in Robert Douglas Smith ed., Make All Sure: The Conservation and Restoration of Arms and Armour (Basiliscoe Press: Leeds, 2006) p. 108 publisher’s website

I encourage you to click on the photo above and see it at full size. This is not a source for how real 16th century armour was made (and an expert tells me that its not a very good replica), but how Daniel Tachaux made a replica during the First World War.

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Matthew Amt’s Greek Hoplite Page Updates


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Screenshot of a website with a title flanked by two photos of hoplites

Matthew Amt’s Greek Hoplite Page is pretty well known among people interested in ancient warfare. It might not be as well known that he has been updating it, expanding the bibliography to include some of the new publications on Greek clothing, arms, and armour and addressing the great shoulder-flap-cuirass controversy. As I revise this post, his old glued linen armour is sitting in a bath, being cleansed of its sticky contamination so that the linen can be salvaged and remade into a quilted armour. He has also added a typology of Classical Greek swords based on several archaeological publications after deciding that his old swords and sources did not match the originals, and is working with Deepeka in India to help them make replicas which are closer to the originals (a Labour of Herakles in itself!)

One thing that I admire about his approach is its humanity. One of the problems with reconstructing historical artefacts is that any one depends on a whole system of crafts and industries which are usually missing today. It is very difficult to obtain wide sheets of copper-tin bronze, so would-be bronzesmiths are reduced to salvaging decorative panels on doors and cracked cymbals. Ancient woollens were often woven to shape so that they did not need to be cut, and could have had a density and thinness which we associate with cottons; having something appropriate specially woven and dyed is a long and expensive process. There is not much demand for split or coppiced ash poles today, so modern spear-shafts have to be cut out of sawn logs, with the result that they are probably more fragile and worse balanced than the originals. Rather than give up, or exhaust oneself in the search for the perfect, Matthew suggests choosing “good enough” and making continual small improvements as your skill or knowledge increases. I think that his site succeeds in its goal of giving readers the information to make a “good enough” kit, and enough pointers to sources that they can start digging deeper if they want to.

The Size of Achaemenid Armies


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In the chapter of my dissertation on the Greek sources, I had to talk about the size of Persian armies. One of the few details about Persian armies which most Greek writers give is that they had a specific and very large number of men, and no other kind of evidence lets us estimate the size of armies in the field (the Behistun inscription lists the number of enemies killed and taken alive in various battles, and it is possible to estimate how many bow estates or temple soldiers were available in some parts of Babylonia, but neither is a reliable guide to the size of royal armies in the field). The reason why we are so determined to give the size of Achaemenid armies is that the classical tradition tells us that we should.

I side with the skeptics, such as George Cawkwell, who feel that the numbers for barbarian armies in ancient sources are not worth much, and that as they drew on similar populations and administrative systems, Achaemenid armies were probably about as big as Hellenistic and Roman ones. In a broad survey like my thesis, I had no time to propose numbers for specific cases, even if I decided that that were possible. (My master’s thesis lays out the evidence for Cunaxa as clearly as I could, although today I would add a few sentences). While arguments against vast armies are not always perfectly formed, I am not sure that the remaining believers in countless Persian hordes are really driven by the evidence (a great article by T. Cuyler Young has some suggestions about the psychology and literary forces involved). So instead of arguing back and forth about logistics and the lengths of columns, I focus on some other perspectives.

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Cross-Post: Historical Sword and Shield Training 2017


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From Dimicator, the alter ego of Roland Warzecha.

You are welcome to participate in the Historical Sword & Shield Classes 2017 in period costume in the most beautiful venue of the History Park Bärnau in the south-east of Germany [in Bavaria, on the Czech border- ed.] All seminars focus on single combat with shields and hand weapons, but duelling with spears will be covered, too, as a means to convey essential tactical and mechanical concepts. See photos of past classes in these albums here and here.

An info brochure is attached as PDF to this post. This should answer most questions, but do not hesitate to send an email if you need any further information. Registration is open.

These are the weekend seminars offered in 2017:
Viking shield: 17/18 June
Kite and medieval triangle shields: 24/25 June
Small and medium sized triangle shields and bucklers: 22/23 July
Advanced buckler: 29/30 July (requires a medium skill level with historical sword and buckler fencing)

Feel free to ask any questions you might have via email.
See you in the History Park Bärnau in summer 2017!


From a Patreon post by Dimicator (Warning: invisible without enabling cloudflare and patreon Javascript). A brochure in PDF format can be downloaded here.

While I am not completely confident in what Roland is doing from an academic point of view, I can say that he is a very good fencer and a safe teacher. So if you are interested in how later martial arts can be extrapolated backwards to find effective ways of fighting with earlier weapons, these workshops would be as good a place as any.