Specialists in the Achaemenid Empire don’t like to talk about Stefan Bittner. His Doktorarbeit is the only monograph on the Achaemenid army which has ever been published, but it takes exactly the approach which was inspiring another group of scholars to organize conferences and rethink the field: it relies almost completely on Greek literature and artwork, and treats these sources as a precious collection of facts to be worked into a coherent whole. In the decades which followed, those other scholars knocked so many holes in this approach that it is hard for them work with a book like his, so they tend to cite his thesis and say nothing more. I don’t think that this is really fair, since nobody can predict how academic fashion will shift or what new evidence will become available. People who try too hard to ride the crest sometimes find themselves flailing in midair as the wave below them crashes down. There is a sad joke that farming is a simple job where you just have to predict the weather, fuel costs, and food prices a year in advance; PhD students have to predict the job market 3 to 10 years in advance. And in the early 1980s, it was not so easy to hear about conferences and intellectual movements in other countries as it is today. So this week, I would like to mention one of his good ideas which seems to have been ignored.
As I write a section of the chapter of my dissertation on Greek literature, I have been thinking about how that literature drives ideas about the Achaemenids along certain channels. Achaemenid historians trained as classicists have trouble forgetting a long list of tropes, stereotypes, and traditions which began in the Achaemenid period but were even more vividly expressed in Roman times. A good example is the most famous Persian weapon, the scythed chariot.
Although many translations and summaries of the contract between Gadal-iama and Rimut-Ninurta have been printed, most of the English ones are based on earlier translations into French or German rather than on the difficult original text. As part of my dissertation I have read this text, and I thought that I should provide a translation too. The following text and translation is based on my poster at Melammu Symposium 10, Societies at War, presented on 27 September 2016 with one or two typos and careless choices of word corrected. I hope that I have not inserted any more mistakes in converting from PDF to HTML.
I am sick again this week and have not been able to finish a craft project which I wanted to talk about, so I thought I would post half a thought about armour instead. The vase painting above is one of the most famous. Pottery geeks try to assign it to a group of paintings from the same workshop, students of mythology appreciate that Akhilles and Patroklos are labeled, and students of material culture enjoy the details of military equipment. The view of the shoulder-piece springing upwards as soon as it is untied, and of the skirt of ‘feathers’ stopping above the genitals, have shaped many modern ideas about Greek armour. Long ago Peter Connolly repainted it for his Greek Armies.
Sometime in the sixteenth year of Xerxes great king (circa 468/7 BCE in our calendar), someone at Persepolis turned a tablet with Elamite writing on end and rolled his seal along it. A conversation with Josho Brouwers of Karwansaray BV recalled it to memory. Because this seems to show the style of body armour with a tall neck-guard and flaps over the shoulders which is often understood as distinctively Greek and said to have been invented about a hundred years before Xerxes based on its appearance in Greek vase paintings. But there is no hint of the Aegean in this scene, and this armour is missing the skirt of pteryges around the waist which usually appear in depictions of armour with this cut from the Aegean.
Despite some health difficulties, I have been slowly making sense of the Gadal-iama contract and updating my transcription and further reading in an earlier post. Perhaps “making sense” is not the right expression. Because while historians happily quote translations of this text into fluid English or French, the original Babylonian is full of rare words, technical phrases whose meaning is not fully understood, and intricately nested sub-clauses. After the book by Guillaume Cardascia in 1951 and the article by E. Ebeling in 1952, both of which discuss the difficult points of this tablet and argue how to resolve some of them, translators have chosen to hide the uncertainties. Debate continues, but in philological venues where squeamish historians don’t always look. I am having trouble reconciling many of the details in the translations which I have read with the Babylonian original. So this is not the sort of text which you can read in translation with a light heart.
I find it comforting that when I look up difficult words in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (the sort in 25 volumes which fills an entire bookshelf) I almost always find a short entry which cites this contract and perhaps one or two others. The specialists in cuneiform have trouble with this text too. And the three people who have transcribed the tablet almost completely agree about which signs are written on it. But I wonder how many other optimistic translations of ancient texts I am innocently relying on.
[number lost] minas 4 shekels of silver, loin-girdling for the horse troops who are going to the encampment of the king [for] three years: 1 donkey which was bought for 50 shekels of silver in the hands of Ina-Esagil-Liša; 1/2 mina 6 shekels of silver, donkey-fodder; 12 mountain garments; 12 coats; twelve caps; 12 leather bags; 24 leather shoes; 1 PI oil; 2 PI salt; 1 PI cress, travel provisions for three years from the month Nisannu 9th year which are given to … [one name lost], Rīmūt-Bēl, Itti-Šamaš-balaṭu, and Akkadaia who are going to the encampment / Month Abu 10th day 9th year of Darius King of Babylon King of Lands.
Digitalizing old cuneiform texts poses some special issues which digitalizing old Teubners and Loebs does not. Working with the Gadal-iama contract has been an excellent excuse to explore them. I hope that they will have some interest for my readers who don’t read Akkadian.
Copyright is the first issue. At present I do not have time to make my own transcription of the published drawings (this has changed since October 2014- ed.). The following edition is based on that published by Henry Frederick Lutz in 1928. On the basis of Cornell University’s handy guide, I believe it to be in the public domain.
Our understanding of cuneiform writing has changed since 1928. An example which leaps out is that Lutz read the signs AN.BAR as the god Ninurta rather than the adjective parzillu “iron.” I have corrected this and noted where Ebeling’s more recent reading of other signs differs.
Conventions for transliterating cuneiform have also changed. I have tried to move Lutz’ text towards the conventions of the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus as defined in their Akkadian Stylesheet. I have replaced the most obvious logograms with the corresponding Sumerian, but not tampered with Lutz’ sign numbers and vowel lengths where they are slightly different from the conventions today (this has changed since October 2014- ed.). All capitalized Sumerograms and all material in brackets except for the line numbers are my own.
This is neither a completely modernized edition (which would take more time than I have available) nor an exact transcription of Lutz’s edition (which would be hard for many Assyriologists to use). Serious scholars with access to a good library will want the second edition by Ebeling, but I hope that this will be worthwhile regardless. I would very much appreciate it if anyone who spots an error would email me. In the future I may make my own transcription to practice the script and understand which signs lie behind the logograms in the existing transcriptions.
With the [Ionian] burning of Sardis in mind we may turn to the question of the Persian military presence in western Asia Minor. The evidence from the Greek sources is scrappy, but we know of a number of cases of fiefs being granted and of Persians having taken over good land. It is generally in rich plain land that we discover Persian landowners, in the Maeander valley, in the Colophon plain, the Hermus plain (Buruncuk), and the Caicus plain. Between these last two plains is the rough mountain country of Southern Aeolis, where we are told that the King’s writ did not run on the 460s when Themistocles went into hiding in one of the Greek cities there; and when the Persians took over the Maeander plain after the fall of Miletus (494 B.C.) the mountain country to the south was handed over to the intransigent herdsmen of the Halicarnassus peninsula. We also know that to the north, in the region of Mt. Ida, there were cities that had not been subjugated by the Persians until well on in Darius I’s reign [520-484 BCE]; and the impression that we receive is that the Persians occupied the good land without troubling themselves unduly over the control of the unproductive hill country, which was not suitable for fiefs.
J.M. Cook in Ilya Gershevitch ed. The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 2: The Median and Achaemenian Periods p. 253, 254
On the state of the empire, what emerges from Xenophon’s fine story [ie. the “Anabasis” set in 401 and 400 BCE], … is the fact that all the hill tribes, many of which appear in Herodotus’ list of contingents marching under Xerxes, were now out of control … This, and the weakness of the empire’s hordes of conscript infantry, was not lost upon the Greeks.
A.R. Burn in Cambridge History of Iran Volume 2: The Median and Achaemenian Periods p. 354
Specialists in the Achaemenid empire like to argue whether the kings and governors were losing control of the Achaemenid empire in its last century of existence, or whether the empire was always a bit ragged about the edges. Greek and Latin literature implies that the empire was falling apart, but the Greek and Latin literature which we have was written or chosen by people who ‘knew’ that the Persians had become decadent and been overthrown by Alexander. As the above quotes show, two distinguished British historians writing in the same year could interpret the same evidence in opposite ways.
Further Reading: One key term is the “Great Satraps’ Revolt”
One of the most interesting texts from Achaemenid Babylonia which has been published is a contract between Gadal-iama, son of Rahîm-ilê, and Rîmût-Ninurta, son of Murašû. Amongst other things, it contains the first description of special garments meant to be worn with armour which I have ever heard of. Because there do not seem to be any good discussions online, and because the translations in books for non-specialists are often very loose, I decided to post an Akkadian text and a translation or summary online. Before I do so, I should probably explain what this contract is.