How the Greeks Got Battering Rams

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The hollow bronze head of a battering ram with a toothed striking surface and decorative rams' heads on the sides near the open back

This may have been part of the first battering ram deployed in Greece. It was made sometime in the 5th century BCE, around the time when later Greeks remembered battering rams were first deployed, and dedicated to Zeus at Olympia. Archaeological Museum, Olympia, object B2360 c/o https://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/208439

People who see the ancient Greeks as an especially progressive and technically advanced people have a lot to boast about, but they have to admit that their heroes were a bit backwards at siege engineering. We have pictures of battering rams from Egypt and Upper Mesopotamia dating back to the third millennium BCE, and Early Bronze Age texts which mention them from Ebla in Syria, and in the 18th century BCE petty kings like Zimri-Lim of Mari took them for granted and students in scribal colleges dutifully memorized the proper Sumerian names for all the parts, but they are absent from early Greek vase painting, absent from the Homeric epics, and absent from Greek traditions of their wars until the time of Pericles. That is about 2000 years later than the first evidence for battering rams from Syria and Egypt.

Greek stories about their early wars, and the archaeology of Iron Age Greece, make it clear that Greek soldiers were very eager to take and destroy walled cities, but apparently they were too impatient to sit outside a town for a few months while they built something the size and complexity of a small boat and pushed it through enemy fire against a wall or gate. People who admire the Greeks usually say a few words about the Assyrians as masters of siegecraft then slip into telling a triumphant story of Greek progress from humble beginnings.

Later Greeks and Romans did not know about the Mari letters or Old Kingdom tomb paintings, but they saw that their ancestors lacked the siege engines which were used in their own times, and they told two types of stories about How the Greeks Got Siege Engines.
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The Decade Still Has a Year Left

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Friends! Netizens! Countrymen! The Dionysian era and the Common Era have no year 0 (because 0 did not exist in Europe when the Venerable Bede popularized numbering years by “the year of our lord”) so in those systems a decade runs from year 1 to year 10 and a century runs from year 1 to year 100. The 20th century runs from 1 January 1901 to 31 December 2000, and the 2010s run from 1 January 2011 to 31 December.

Unless you are an astronomer working in Julian days with a year 0 (= 1 BCE in the Common Era) the decade still has a year and a day left. If it were the other way round, then the first decade would only have 9 years (1 CE to 9 CE) and the first century would only have 99 years (1 CE to 99 CE) and all the others would have 10 or 100.

{this is a message from your local tablet scribe- if its really important, ask an expert in the scribal art}

{computer scientists- warning you against off-by-one errors since ENIAC}

2019 Year-Ender

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A crowd gathered in a rainy street in the medieval centre of Innsbruck

A rainy Christmas Eve concert in Innsbruck, 2019

Books are precious things, and Doctor Manning finally has time to read them for fun again (and to really read them, not just skim them looking for facts or quotes). At the end of this year and the start of another, as I sit in rainy Innsbruck, I would like to tell my gentle readers about some of the ones I read in 2019.

I read Victoria Corva’s very relatable young adult fantasy Books and Bone (self-published, 2019) about a town cartographer trying to follow a vocation which she can’t prove is more than a myth.
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Herodotus Didn’t Say That, Eduard Meyer Did

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A view of a still lake and a cool sky from a stone breakwater

When I walked along the breakwater at Bregenz, I did not meet any old drunks willing to tell me the town’s terrible secrets for a tot of Schnapps, but that is a different winter story.

It has been too long since my last cheerful winter story, so on this Winter Solistice I will tell another.

Like the protagonist of a H.P. Lovecraft story, I came to Innsbruck to look for answers. The scholarship on Achaemenid armies in English was repetitive and fell apart at the first gentle question, but was there something more trustworthy in German? Duncan Head and Nicholas Sekunda cited all kinds of people who nobody else I was reading talked about. So I visited the wood-panelled Law Library reading room on the banks of a river named in a dead tongue, and borrowed an old copy of Eduard Meyer’s Geschichte des Altertums from a librarian who seemed surprised to have visitors. The first edition of Meyer’s Geschichte was completed in 1902, the last revision was in 1965 a generation after his death. Meyer tried to integrate the history of early Greece into the history of Egypt and Mesopotamia. And when I came to the following passage, I realized that the horrors were deeper and older than I had thought:
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Dis Manibus Steven Johansson (20 September 2019)

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Issue 269 of Knights of the Table magazine with an all-black cover except for the title and company logo

Some time in the late 1990s “Guys! The first time one of us dies, we have to give them an all-black cover on the magazine.” “I see what you are doing, you just want a promise before you step in front of a bus and get the coveted cover spot. Munchkin! Look, this Knights of the Dinner Table thing will be gone before any of us …”

Steven Konrad Johansson of Kenzer and Company, an Illinois comic book, board game, and roleplaying game company, died in his sleep on 20 September 2019. Major projects include editing, layout, and art design for Knights of the Dinner Table magazine (currently on its 269th monthly issue!), two editions of the Hackmaster RPG (especially the ten-volume Hacklopedia of Beasts), elements of the Kingdom of Kalamar RPG setting (hobgoblins, the Old Man, topography), the Western RPG Aces and Eights (also in two editions), and a career as an infantry officer in the United States Army Reserve (he retired as Major). Trying to stay in business in the RPG industry makes trying to launch an academic career look like selling water at Burning Man.

I have never met anyone in the Kenzerco family, but reading KotDT gave a younger me a glimpse of an exotic Midwestern world which made the ex-SCAdians I later met feel familiar. And I think the world needs more stories from that small-town, little-bit-of-college, some-kind-of-a-job place and about friendships between the broken, human people who live in it and the amazing things they do with their passion. You can find a full obituary at Colonial Funeral.

Comparing Lists of Works Cited with Regular Expressions

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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.

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Saka Stockings and Plataea

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Some of the felt stockings/felt boots from graves of the Pazyryk Culture in the Altai Mountains, in Polos’mak, N.V., Barkova, L.L., Костюм и текстиль пазырыкцев Алтая (IV-III вв. до н.З.) / Kostium i tekstil’ pazyryktsev Altaya (IV-III vv. do n. e.) / Pazyryk Altai Costume and Textiles (4th-3rd centuries BCE). Infolio: Novosibirsk 2005 (in Russian) pages 94-95 ISBN 5-89590-051-8 (copies occasionally appear on Bookfinder but expect to pay several hundred for a copy, this copy comes the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek by interlibrary loan)

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.

A Red Figure plate painted with an archer running right and looking left with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other

When Greek artists show the bottoms of leggings, they usually end straight at the ankles, sometimes ‘breaking’ over the top of the foot and sometimes fitting tightly. A Red Figure plate signed Epiktetos, in a style attributed to around 520-510 BCE. British Museum, Registration Number 1837,0609.59 I would cite the British Museum’s Terms of use but I can’t see them without enabling a bunch of Javascripts so just search https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx

A white woolen textile with a black pattern of trapezoids inside trapezoids woven into it

Achaemenid textile with ?woven? or ?embroidered? pattern, from Karina Grömer, Archaeological Textiles Review 60 (2018) p. 113 fig. 3 and Aali and Stöllner (eds). (2015) fig. 55 Photo: DBM/RUB/MFZ, K. Grömer


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What Reproductions Can and Can’t Teach You

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A hand gripping a dagger with a wooden hilt

The classic ‘icepick’ grip, by far the most common in late medieval paintings of assaults and fencing manuals

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.

Six chapes of folded copper-alloy sheet

Some typical late medieval or early modern knife chapes of folded copperalloy sheet in the Gaukler collection. 10487 in the upper right is most typical of the ones he has handled.

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I Don’t Understand Martin Gurri

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A park in autumn with fallen yellow leaves, trees, and a sign on a lamp post telling dog owners to clean up their pet's poop

Living together always creates some tensions, like this passive-aggressive but very Austrian message to dog owners in Innsbruck: SEI NICHT GRAUSLIG! Hundekot gehört ins Sackerl und dann in den Mistkübel! DANKE! (“DON’T BE GROSS! Dog waste belongs in a bag and then in the wastebin! THANKS!”)

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. 
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Iranian Trousers for Plataea

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A foot and shin in zigzag-patterned trousers and low shoes laced all around the ankle

A glazed brick relief of feet and shins from the palace of Darius I at Susa. Musee du Louvre, Département des Antiquités orientales, number Sb 14426 c/o Achemenet http://www.achemenet.com/fr/item/?/musee-achemenide/categories-d-objets/architecture/decor-architectural/3018977

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).
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