As part of a recent project, I had to compare my list and a co-author’s list of works cited in a chapter. Since we started five and a half years ago, one co-author dropped out and versions of the files got confused between different people in the project, some forthcoming publications had appeared or changed venues, and the first entries were written long before we had a style guide. It was very important to make sure that every work cited appeared in the bibliography, and to reduce the length of the chapter as much as possible by removing references to works which are not cited. Since the lists of works cited contained 150 and 180 entries, many of which fill several lines in print, comparing the two lists was going to be a tedious task. And so I turned to the powerful arts of a dead tongue which I had not invoked since I learned it from German and Indian adepts in a distant land: the language of shell scripting and regular expressions.
Dario Wielec of Dariusz caballeros and Stefanos Skarmintzos want me to talk about the felt stockings with soles which have been found in some graves in eastern Central Asia. They were often worn in combination with a pair of short trousers that covered the thighs and crotch. You can find a full set of colour photographs and drawings on pp. 92-97 of the Russian book I cited in my original post. They are fascinating and beautiful objects (just think about having brightly coloured feltwork more than 2000 years old!) but I am not sure that they help us understand Chehrabad Saltman 4’s trousers for four reasons:
- they are not what Saltman 4 is wearing (they are felt, his are woven cloth; they are two separate legs, he wears joined trousers; they have seams up the back of the legs, his have seams at the side of the legs; the felt boots are close-fitting, his trousers are “baggy”)
- in artwork like the Darius Mosaic, Red Figure vase paintings, and the sculptures of the Aphaia temple on Aigina, the leggings of trousered warriors seem to go all the way up to crotch level without sagging. The felt stockings tend to be shorter (although I don’t have a full set of measurements) and in the middle ages when stockings (‘hose’) extended that high, they needed to be hung from a belt to stop them from falling down.
- trousers in early Achaemenid art often have a zigzag, diamond, or spotted pattern. That strikes me as something which would be easy to weave in tapestry weave like a kilim. Clothing in this period often had gold leaf, felt, or leather appliques, and its possible that the zig-zag was applied to felt. But we have a fragment of a textile with a rhombus pattern from the Achaemenid period at Chehrabad.
- I am not sure which genders wore these felt stockings, I seem to remember that the famous pair with shiny beads on the soles were from a female burial but I only have access to what has been translated into German or English and what I can obtain from my library or interlibrary loan.
Since none of the Chehrābād salt mummies are wearing these felt boots, and none of the artwork from the Achaemenid Empire or the Aegean clearly shows them, they don’t belong in a post on Saltman 4’s clothing. But if you scroll down, Herr Doktor Manning will give you his whole lecture on the trouser outfit across Eurasia.
In the past year I succumbed to the allure of two of Leo “Tod” Todeschini’s products: a table knife and a baselard. In the late middle ages baselards were big knives with H-shaped hilt hung from the belt between the legs (in barbarous northern countries) or at the right hip (by polite and civilized Italians who had other ways to show they had something long and hard between their legs). He offers two standard models, one which was popular in the Alps and another which was more common in northern Italy and England.
Tod is a brilliant cutler. He captures the essence of knives as objects of lust which you buy and carry against your better judgement. (People in the fourteenth and fifteenth century were not idiots, their coroner’s reports and city statutes show that they knew that when young men start carrying big knives some of them will stab each other with them- and Chaucer always tells you what kinds of knives people are wearing, and whether they are mounted with silver or brass). Tod includes scabbards and suspensions which let you understand knives as accessories not just as something to hang on your wall or leave in your kitchen or your travel chest. The scabbards are painted in a single colour like many originals and lightly tooled like finds from the Thames and the Low Countries. The brass chape is brazed so well that it is hard to see the join (whereas most of the originals Mark Shier has handled are just overlapped or stapled closed). The baselard is beautifully finished, with the nails evenly peened and the wood smoothly set onto the iron core, and has a pleasant substance in the hand thanks to the thick, heavy forte of the blade. The 44 cm length of this baselard is pretty typical (there were a few smaller examples, and many the size of a sword). (Parenthically, his working, table, and kitchen knives would make excellent gifts for a chef or camper in your life). But there is one thing about this knife which is not ideal for me.
A few people have recommended Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium (second edition 2018, available on Bookfinder) but I don’t understand the author’s ideas as they are presented on his blog and in interviews. Granted that he writes his blog in a poetic style, where key concepts are never defined because you are supposed to roll them around and absorb the general meaning in terms that make sense to you. I suspect that some times he says something he knows is not quite right because it will provoke readers or catch their attention. I would like to see how his book defines elite and why (to me, it seems like the period since 1990 has been hard for journalists and experts in bureaucracies, but great for the rich and academics). In 2017 he paraphrased José Ortega y Gasset that “The quality that sets elites apart – that imparts authority to their actions and expressions – isn’t power, or wealth, or education, or even persuasiveness. It’s integrity in life and work” but he also said that elites are those who “run the great institutions of the industrial age,” and I can’t reach from one definition to the other with a barge-pole made up of recycled Margaret Wente columns, Theranos stock certificates, and prospectuses for investors in Dalian, China.
I am confused by his prescription in ‘Has Government Failed?’ because that sounds like the response of the officeholding class, bureaucracy, and old-media commentators to critics in Canada: “you ask us to stop doing some evil thing, and we understand your idealism but that is just not practical for reasons which we can’t quite explain. Yes, we told you we would do it if you elected us, and its a matter of a few thousand words of legislation or a few phone calls to officials and police departments, but its much too difficult, maybe if you re-elect us we can make time for it then?” Contrarians in the United States often present climate change as a sinister plot to engineer society by distant intellectuals, and Gurri places such a scheme in the mouth of his ‘elite’, but in Canada it is grasasroots environmental organizations, small parties, and First Nations who push action and large business owners, the Liberal and Conservative party machines, and Old Media commentators who try to diffuse and delay.
People representing Median, Persian, or Saka soldiers at Plataea in 2021 will need trousers. Not everyone needs them: the King rules many lands full of all kinds of men, many of whom have not adopted the Median dress. But reenactors representing men (and possibly women?) from those nations will need them.
One kind of evidence to use is artwork. Aside from the reliefs from Persepolis, the goldsmith’s work from Scythian tombs and the Oxus Treasure, and the mosaic from Pompeii which everyone knows, you will want to have a close look at some of the glazed terracottas of servants from Susa in Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia or on achemenet and of course at the tomb paintings from Tatarlı, Turkey.
By far the most important archaeological find are the trousers of saltman No. 4 from Chehrābād, Iran, radiocarbon dated to around 405-380 BCE. The saltman is still wearing trousers tucked into his shoes and covered by the skirt of his coat, and all of the textiles are so delicate and salt-encrusted that they cannot be removed, spread flat, and examined. What we know can be summarized in the following few sentences:
- The trousers are woollen, tabby weave, 8 z-spun weft threads per cm, 11 s-spun warp threads per cm.
- There are lateral seams in the trouser legs to ankle, and a vertical slit in the lateral thigh at hip level with the skin of the deceased exposed underneath. (Whether the seams are at the medial leg (inner thigh) or lateral leg (outer thigh) is not clear to me)
- A red woollen thread is sewn along the side seams hiding them except at the slit.
- Overall, they strike the excavators as loose and baggy.
There is no published information about stitches, thread, or dye of saltman 4’s trousers (the cloth looks natural white to me). Edit: Dr. Grömer describes the trousers and tunic as “made of a sturdy, plain natural white woollen cloth” (aus robustem einfarbig naturhellem Wollstoff bestehend).
Brian Hughes and Fergus Robson (eds.) Unconventional Warfare from Antiquity to the Present Day (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) circa 80 Euros on Bookfinder
I borrowed this volume in hopes that it would have more clues as to the oldest source for Good King Robert’s Testament (it did not, although Alastair John MacDonald very kindly helped me with modern editions of the Scotichronicon). But I ended up reading about half of it (skipping the chapters on 20th century warfare such as Julia Welland on NATO’s unlucky intervention in Afghanistan and Raphäelle Branche on French Algeria).
The book is in reverse chronological order, but lets begin with Tim Piceu describing an outbreak of small war in Flanders as the Dutch Republic and Hapsburgs wrestled for control (p. 160, 164)
Freebooter raids generally started in a tavern in one of the above-mentioned frontier towns or in a town in the island of Walcheren (Zeeland). There a group of around a dozen men- no women are known to have been freebooters- discussed a tip received by a local informant who knew of booty. Although frebooter bands acted under the guidance of an experienced marauder, the conducteur, and some friends raided together, there seemed to be no regular composition of the crew. Everybody who had the courage could join in. If the value of the booty outweighed the risks, the group would decided to leave for enemy territory. They packed their weapons and victuals for some days, dressed themselves like peasants, and slipped past enemy posts to a hiding-place in enemy territory. The sources mention freebooters carrying a vaulting-pole to move across the many Flemish creeks, ditches, and tidal inlets. Travelling happened mostly at night and the band avoided major roads. … Most freebooters probably used their takings for living expenses, paying off debt or, to quote a Dutch civil servant, ‘to indulge for a little time in a bad and godforsaken life of drunkenness and whoring.’
You all meet in a tavern, forsooth! And every gamer agrees with that Dutch civil servant about the proper way to spend the spoils of an adventure, even if they have not read sources from the Wars of the Low Countries or the Yukon Gold Rush.
Robin Reich, “Historians have too Many Learning Objectives”
(In the Anglo tradition) history as a field does not explicitly discuss our basic assumptions, methods, or theories and so what we as historians agree on we only pick up informally or through snippets and crumbs dropped by our advisers. In my undergrad curriculum at a small liberal arts college, which was exceptional in many ways, the only two required classes for history majors were a historiography colloquium to be taken Junior year, and a research seminar in preparation for writing a senior thesis. There was no introductory course that explained what history is or how it is practiced – in effect, the historiography colloquium was this introductory course, as well as an advanced seminar in field-specific methods. Other disciplines don’t do this, because they have a sense of what the basics are in their field. But historians can’t even agree on what makes us all part of the same field. So we relegate these kinds of lessons to survey courses, which are totally inappropriate to teaching these lessons because they are large and structured around taking on a lot of information at once. The result is overloaded, bloated syllabi and assignments. In large universities, this usually shakes out to one history class actually being two – there’s the survey lecture course that the professor teaches, and then there’s the intro seminar that the TA teaches in section, and they have completely different goals. How do TAs even know what to teach when we ourselves were educated in this way?
As I have said elsewhere, even the English word historiography covers far too much ground to be useful as an intellectual tool (it can mean writing about history, methods for understanding the past, or writing about how people have written about history).
I hope that since 2013, some executives at IT companies have re-read the story of the high-tech Dutch census of 1940.
In an earlier post, I talked about the guards in Persian reliefs from Susa who are 17 bricks tall and have spears 19 or 21 bricks tall. Artists often ‘improve’ human proportions according to different ideas of what the well-formed body looks like: these guards are 5 2/3 bearded faces tall (17/3), Cennino Cennini would have them 6 1/2 bearded faces tall (26/4).
When I visited the Louvre in July I had a chance to look at some of those reliefs for the first time since 2016 (a few are on display behind glass in Tehran). As you see, my hand and the hand of the sculpture are about the same size (and I am not particularly tall or short). My hand is slightly closer to the camera than the sculpture is, so it is slightly enlarged.
A new article by myself and Jack Schropp has just appeared in the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigrafik. It concerns a well-known story that as Tigranes the Great of Armenia saw the Romans advance to challenge him outside Tigranocerta in 69 BCE, he quipped “if they are come as an embassy, they are too many, if as an army, too few.” Needless to say, the Roman army proved big enough. This story is known from contemporary writers like Memnon of Heraclea, writers of the Roman imperial period like Plutarch (Life of Lucullus 27.4), Appian of Alexandria, and Cassius Dio, and even the Suda (lambada 688) in the tenth century CE, all of whom wrote in Greek.
What is less well known is that the Aramaic Papyrus Amherst 63 in the J.P. Morgan Library, New York, has another story about an arrogant king: Šamaš-šum-ukin who rebelled against his brother Assurbanipal the king of Assyria in 652 BCE. This story presents Assurbanipal as a just and moderate ruler, his sister Saritra as a peacemaker, and their brother as lead astray by bad advisors. Whenever Assurbanipal sends someone to Babylon to reason with his brother, the story contains the following lines:
The watchman climbed
The wall of Babylon.
The watchmen answered and said:
‘The force that is coming ḥyl(ˀ) d(ˀ)t(y/h)
Is too great for messengers, sg(y) mn-ṣyrn/
Too small for warriors. zgyrn mn-ˁbdy ḳrb*
In this case the words are in the mouth of an anonymous ‘watchman’ rather than the king himself, but just like in the story about Tigranes, the oncoming force proves great enough. We argue that this allusion must come from a contemporary who was both fluent in Greek literature and familiar with Near Eastern stories, whether one of Tigranes’ critics who wished to show he was a Bad King, or the king himself who made a truly unfortunate joke.
The papyrus dates to the fourth or third century BCE and comes from Egypt. Since it strongly defends Assurbanipal and criticizes his brother, it probably descends from Assyrian propaganda of the seventh century BCE.
Scholars have often postulated that between surviving Greek and Latin texts and Akkadian and Sumerian texts stood lost intermediaries in local languages in Anatolia, the Levant, and Egypt. Since most texts in these regions were written on vulnerable writing boards, skins, or papyrus not durable clay, their existence and contents were hypothetical. This is a rare case where we can compare an early text in Aramaic and the later, Greek stories which it inspired. Far from being unworthy of serious discussion, Tigranes’ joke deserves close attention.
Further Reading: Jack Schropp and Sean Manning, “’Too Many for an Embassy, too Few for an Army’: On the Origin and Scope of a Tigranic Dictum.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 212 (2019) pp. 83-88
* In this blog post, I give the normalized Aramaic text from Steiner and Nims’ article The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script: Text, Translation, and Notes https://repository.yu.edu/handle/20.500.12202/51 For the article we compared different editions of this hard-to-read text. ↑ back to top ↑
Michael Chidester of Wiktenauer is crowdfunding to make a high-quality facsimile of a famous fencing manual from the second half of the 15th century, Hans Talhoffer’s MS. Thott 290 2º. Like many of the German manuscripts, it contains other secret lore including a copy of Konrad Keyser’s engineering manual Bellifortis and a treatise on astral science (but in newfangled languages like German and Hebrew not cuneiform, so reader beware!): unlike most, it is lavishly illuminated. The price of a copy will be around 150 USD. If you want to learn more, you can check out his IndieGoGo Manuscript Facsimile Project.