The Iron of Khorsabad

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A gate tower six modern stories high with the gate passing through the ground floor

One of the western gates of the city of Bologna, September 2018. Note the put-log holes in the brickwork. Photo by Sean Manning.

Around 1853, gangs of workers under French supervision were excavating Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad, the ancient Dūr-Šarrukin (Fort Sargon). One of the great courts had some long storerooms along one side, and in one which they numbered 86 (or 84), they found marvelous things: “un vèritable mur métallique, occupant tout un côte de la chamber.” The orderly piles of ironware filled a space 5.80 metres wide, 2.60 metres deep and 1.40 metres high: hammers, pick-axes, grappling irons, chains, ploughshares, and fish-shaped iron ingots with a hole through them. The hoard must have weighed more than a hundred tons,* and was so plentiful that it was handed over to local blacksmiths to make sickles, wagon fittings, and other necessary objects. One of them remarked that aside from the famous Persian iron (wootz?) he had never yet worked better metal. Other objects like ploughshares were put back into use by the local farmers and served their purpose. This was all for the best, since most of the artefacts from Khorsabad were sunk by brigands near the Shatt al Arab at Kurnah in 1855 as they were being shipped to Europe. This was the period when the excavators at Susa built themselves a castle to protect themselves and their goods from robbers.

Finds like that were not uncommon in the early days of Assyrian archaeology. At Nimrud, the north end of chamber SW7 contained a mass of rusted scale armour piled 35 cm thick in spots. Groups of rusted-together scales can still be found in museums. Later the graves of three queens rich in ivory, gold, crystal and silver were uncovered at that site: probably Yaba, Banitu, and Atalia who lived in the eighth century BCE and were laid to rest with appropriately gruesome curses upon anyone who violated their chambers. These finds give us another perspective on early iron after looking at the lancehead from Deve Hüyük and the akinakes from the dealer in Iran. By the seventh century BCE, the Assyrians were incredibly rich in iron, and this presupposes a massive industry of charcoal burners and miners and smelters and forgers. So far, the only trace of this is the objects they produced.
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2018 Year-Ender

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A snowz foggy mountain range with green woods below and streetlights turning on

Nordkette, Christmas Eve, 2018

There is snow in the Nordkette, but it is the warmest year in Austria since measurements began in 1767. This winter I am spending Christmas and New Year in Innsbruck rather than burn a lot of oil and money to visit my family. I have some new books to read, friends to drink a coffee or a Glühwein with, and jobs to apply to.

This year I became Dr. Manning, saw my first journal article printed, went hiking with friends, and discovered that Assyriologists are surprisingly interested in talks about swords. Visits to this site increased about 10% despite my slower posting. The most visited pages were Learning Sumerian is Hard, How Heavy Were Doublets and Pourpoints?, my description of how the historical fencers drifted away from me, Fashion in the Age of Datini, and From Aleph Bet to Alphabet.

This fall produced the usual crop of people wondering if keeping a personal website is anachronistic. I don’t see anything wrong with being anachronistic, and as I look at the political economy of the Internet this decade, I see some things which maybe they have not considered.
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Cross-Post: Plataea 2021 Pre-Registration, 28 June to 5 July 2021

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A group of men and women in hoplite kit on a sandy beach

An Ethiopian hoplite on the beach at Marathon circa 2011 or 2015. Photo courtesy of Hoplologia Toronto, photographer unknown https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53442cfae4b011260e4040da/t/5bafce47b208fc046cb97e2b/1538249515737/11232033_982241378481876_1738786449720157603_o.jpg?format=1000w

Word of the king: the naked Yaunaya who live in the middle of the sea are plotting an uprising at the city of Plataea. Because they have no king, they expect that it will take three years to organize their wicked plot, saying:

This is initial registration while we recruit and sort out new people and equipment creation. Expect to pay $1000 round trip airfare to Athens and approx. another $750 for a week in Greece which will include side trips to Thermopylae, Artemesium, Delphi and of course Athens. There will be martial arts instruction and some tours included free. We will try to find bus transportation and local hotel or B+B lodging so you have the cheapest fee and so we’re all together. IMPORTANT: We only care that you have a passion for history and/or martial arts. We are race and gender neutral/friendly. We are LGBTQ friendly and have LGBTQ members. If you do not like the idea of women or people of colour in your phalanx, or LGBTQ folks, you should stop right here and do something else in 2021.

The king’s troops from all lands shall go to the city of Plataea and smite the Yaunaya!
. . .

For further information and the signup form see boarstooth.net

The Biggest Assyriological Film Festival in History

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A crowd at an academic conference in a lobby with a stone floor, concrete walls, and several tables of books, snacks, and registration papers

The crowd at the 64th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale cum 12th Melammu-Seminar, 16-20 July 2018 in Innsbruck

Back in July the International Assyriological Association held its annual Rencontre in Innsbruck. I could talk about some of the papers I heard and posters I saw, or the curious characters I meet at these, but I am very tired, so I will just talk about one aspect: the largest festival of films in ancient Near Eastern languages in history.

“But Sean,” you must be saying, “it was only two films as part of a five-day conference. Does that really constitute a film festival?” Hear me out! Two films makes a plural, according to the best cuneiform tradition, and it was indisputably a festive occasion. If a celebration where films are showed before their release into theatres and/or streaming is not a film festival, what is? And while I admit that being the largest festival of films in Ancient Near Eastern languages is a bit like being the world’s most prominent armour historian-ichthyologist, if someone wants to beat our record, they are free to organize a showing of three films in ancient Near Eastern languages, say at the 14th Melammu-Symposium in Los Angeles ({ki}AN.TÚR.HI.A).

Both films are adaptations of famous literary texts. Edubba A- The Film is one of the stories about life in the tablet-house preserved in Sumerian on tablets from the age of Hammurabi. Assyriologists debate whether these reflect life at the time of the oldest surviving copies, or are more like J.K. Rowling telling a public-school story based on other public-school stories … it seems that in the age of Hammurabi there was a rush to record Sumerian texts which had previously been memorized on clay. You can find Edubba A- The Film on the Berner Altorientalisches Forum.

The Poor Man of Nippur is a Babylonian tale of poverty, injustice, and one young citizen’s revenge. The original tablet was copied for Qurdi-Nergal at Huzirina (modern Sultantepe, Turkey) sometime between 701 and 619 BCE. This story uses many of the patterns and tropes seen in the folktales collected in the last few hundred years, such as the “History of the First Larrikin” in a medieval Arabic manuscript, so again trying to work out its exact age is difficult. In the interest of equal representation, I can report that this film acknowledges not one but two goats and an archaeological park in the credits. You can find The Poor Man of Nippur with subtitles in your choice of languages on YouTube and a link to a translation of the Akkadian on the CDLI:wiki.

Enjoy! I will embed the videos below the fold.

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Textile Cultures of Archaic Italy and Greece

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Colour photos of a section of woolen textiles preserved as copper salts or ashes

A sample of weft-faced wool tabbies from Greece, 800 BCE-500 BCE. Note the 1 mm long red lines for scale. Photos by Margarita Gleba and Joanne Cutler published as Figure 10 in Margarita Gleba, “Tracing textile cultures of Italy and Greece in the early first millennium BC,” Antiquity 91 (2017) pp. 1205-1222 https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2017.144

This week I had a chance to talk with Margarita Gleba about her work on Iron Age (1000-400 BCE) textiles from Spain, Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria. Thousands of fragments are known, often preserved in the corrosion products on bronze grave goods such as vessels or broaches, but understanding them requires rare knowledge and expensive equipment for taking high-magnification photos, and the details are often scattered in publications which are hard to find and use different language to describe the same thing. A Cambridge History of Western Textiles had a brief section on this material which I would like to read, but publication was delayed for almost 20 years while the archaeology moved on, and until this week I did not know of any other overviews.

Most of the peoples from Britain to Afghanistan grew flax and tended sheep and used drop spindles, warp-weighted looms, and tablets to turn linen and wool into cloth, but they made different kinds of textiles in different regions. Textile technology was hard to change, because in recent cultures, girls started to learn to spin and weave as toddlers and spend much of their childhood mastering the skills (Susan M. Strawn, “Hand Spinning and Cotton in the Aztec Empire, as Revealed by the Codex Mendoza,” http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/420). It is very difficult to change a skill practised for so many years, or persuade adults to take lessons in a skill which children are supposed to master. Moreover, it was bound up with the local crops, climate, and taboos: the sheep in different areas produced wool which was good for different things, and there was a divide between cultures which wove textiles to shape and wrapped and pinned them into garments, and cultures which wove long rectangular pieces, cut them up, and sewed them into garments.
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Cross-Post: Doug Strong’s Armour Book in Preorder

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The cover of a book with the title, a frontal photo of a bascinet with Klappvisier, and a side sketch of the same bascinet

Douglas W. Strong, Surviving Examples of Early Plate Armour (1300 – 1430) Volume I: Bascinets (Freelance Academy Press, 2018) 332 pages, hardcover with B&W illustrations ISBN-13 978-1-937439-12-5 (available from the publisher)

Doug “Talbot” Strong, the author of An Analysis of 1300 Effigies Dated Between 1300 and 1450 has finally been able to publish his book on surviving medieval European plate armour. This will be a four-volume set costing about 150 USD a volume but there is a discount for earlier orders. Each volume contains written descriptions, line drawings, and some colour photos of all surviving examples he could find in more than a decade of searching and making friends with collectors and curators.

The first volume, on bascinets, is now available for preorder and should hopefully arrive in time for Christmas.

Full Disclosure: I know the author and the publishers

Two Kingdoms, Both Alike in Dignity

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A collection of Roman potsherds in front of a painting of a kitchen at Pompeii by Peter Connolly

Rimini is another part of the ancient world whose history may be more complicated than the stories about Greek colonies and Roman cities in the historians, but that is a story for another day. The City Museum, Rimini, October 2018.

We do not talk about the Red Sea much, except for news stories about the Saudi intervention in Yemen or conscripts in Eritrea forced to spend 20 years teaching school for a token wage. But every thousand years or so it becomes one of the key chokepoints for world trade. The sea is shallow, dotted with reefs and islands and prone to dangerous storms, but still a cheaper way to move goods from the Indian Ocean to the Nile than camel trains or railway cars. One of these periods of trade began at the end of the second century BCE when the secret of the monsoons escaped the Arabs and reached Egypt, where the Ptolemies were looking for new sources of revenue and exotic goods to balance the decline of their empire overseas and the wonderful things which were filtering into Syria over the Silk Road around the Tarim Basin. Rather than dredge out Darius’ old canal, they built harbours at Myos Hormos and Berenike and Arsinoe and set up guard posts along the sun-baked paths from the Nile to the Red Sea like Hatshepshut. But the straits at the mouth of the Red Sea are dangerous, and the best ship for following the monsoons back and forth across the Indian Ocean is not the best for navigating the narrows and small harbours from the Gulf of Suez to the Gulf of Aden. So two kingdoms emerged to control the havens at the narrows, Ḥimyar on the Arabian shore and Axum on the African.
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The 9th and the 11th

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The plaque in memory of the Canadian Corps outside the Malatesta wall and the Roman gate of Rimini, October 2018

A few weeks ago I came to Rimini from the north fresh from the silversmith’s church in Ravenna. Caesar came that way a long time ago as the first strike in his civil war, but seventy years ago the Canadian Corps was marching the other way round along the beaches and through the wheat fields and gardens. They took it on 21 September, and as the sad song says “debouched onto the Po.” And that was a very hard thing to do, because by September 1944 the German army was very good at defending static positions with Teller mines and machine-guns and Panther turrets atop concrete bunkers, and it was very important, because the Nazis were determined to keep the murder-machine running until the last camp was overrun. Canadians know something about what happened, because Farley Mowat was able to write about that campaign twice: once in the safe jargon of The Regiment, and again more personally in And No Birds Sang after the scar tissue had thickened and he could not assume that his readers were up on the technical details. It took the Romans two hundred years to conquer Italy, and it took the allies less than two to liberate it, but those two years were time enough to bleed.

A series of posters of personal effects with names and short biographies printed on them

Maria Nanmova, Tadeusz Markowski, Ernö Gottlieb, Rudz de Wijs, Nathan van Dam, Iwan Krzwiak, Mayimiery Biel, Helga Thörl … most died in Neuengamme concentration camp in 1944 or 1945 of hunger, overwork, epidemic disease or misplaced allied bombs. The #stolenmemory: Returning Memories Stolen from Nazi Victims exhibition in Innsbruck.

This weekend spans two anniversaries: Kristallnacht on Friday, and the end of the First World War on Sunday. They have put a roof back on the temple in Rimini and scraped the molten lead off the sculptures, but there are thinly-disguised fascists plotting murder in every country I have visited but Iran,* and Krak Des Chevaliers has fallen to its last besiegers, and I do not know what to do. So I will return to the paradox that comes up again and again in these posts.

Most wars are remarkably stupid and wasteful things (did you know that when Austro-Hungary stripped the Russian frontier bare and invaded Serbia in 1914, it was driven back out in a few days?) And yet sometimes you find yourself in 1944, and the only way to end the horror is to fight your way through. You can debate whether Canada has been wise to join the great power game and dutifully send troops to first British and then American wars, and grumble about the bureaucratic madness that left Paul Hellyer learning one set of parade-ground drill for the Air Force, then another for the Army after the Air Force decided it did not need him, and my grandfather Reginald Bull shaving his hairless cheeks every day. But the men and women who find themselves at war don’t have time and distance to appraise the situation with Olympian detachment, and they make decisions in Romulus’ dump for petty or glorious human reasons. And there are times when it is very very important to have some good men-at-arms on your side.

The war memorial on the Kalvarienberg over Hötting, March 2018.

* Iran has its own political problems and politicians who rant about Jews, but it would be hard to call their anti-semites fascists. Sadly, people with an irrational hatred of Jews find many different excuses for their obsession.

Voluntary Peer Review is Not Exploitation

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If you spend enough time in academic circles on the Internet, you find passionate statements that providing free peer review for for-profit journals is exploitation. I have heard this from a distinguished Roman Army scholar who has not been well-treated by his academic employers, and on the birdsite you can find things like this:

a screenshot of a twitter post beginning "Please retweet if you have ever conducted a manuscript review"

Nathan C. Hall: “Please RT if you have ever conducted a manuscript review for a journal while not employed in a tenure-track/permanent academic job. As many peer reviews are done by precarious academics (grad students, postdocs, adjuncts), lack of compensation is basic exploitation.” https://twitter.com/prof_nch/status/1039322066263138304

Now, in my time as a graduate student I have peer-reviewed one journal article, and reviewed half a dozen manuscripts from friends, and I have to say that the claim I am being exploited is absurd. Any wise writer sends their writing to a few trusted friends before they send it out into the world. This is such a basic feature of academic life that academia dot edu built a whole module for it, Princeton and Stanford host a series of Working Papers in Classics, and an Australian economist posts drafts of his books one chapter at a time on Google Docs with invitations for readers of his blog to comment on them. When I agree to comment on a friend’s manuscript, asking them for money would be as offensive as inviting them to my apartment for dinner and then sticking a credit-card reader in their face. Trading favours is a basic part of social relations between equals. As scholarly authors, we read other people’s work (and cite it or review it) so they will read ours. Reading yet another article on a subject is tiresome, but we do it because sometimes it will be our article on someone else’s desk when they really want to go to bed and the recycling bin is so very very close.
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Notes for a Life of Victor Davis Hanson

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A broad, sandy beach reinforced with rows of piles

The banks of the river Inn near Hall in Tirol

Victor Davis Hanson has lived at least three lives: one as a small-town grape farmer from Selma, California who discovered that it was almost impossible to make a living running a human-sized farm (1980-1984), one as a classics professor who taught large classes and published some very important but flawed work (1985-2004), and one as what Americans politely call a pundit or political commentator (beginning around 2001). At some point he retired from his position at California State University, Fresno, to focus on his third life. However, his biographies online have been scrubbed as clean as the ones which Robert A. Heinlein used to let them print in the back of his books, and they very carefully do not say when he retired. California State University Fresno has the usual gushing lists of honours, publications, and awards; Wikipedia is as useless as you would expect; and the pages announcing his talks and fellowships usually draw on them.

Back in 2004, Rone Tempest at the Los Angeles Times published a piece on him which gives the key dates. He was hired to launch the classics program in 1985 and retired with emeritus status (so he has library privileges, probably a pension, and maybe an office) in the summer of 2004 after only 20 years of teaching. That seems to be the year that he launched his weekly columns in several papers. He received an advance of $500,000 for A War Like No Other around 2003.
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