In October I got to attend the conference on technical military writing at the University of Winnipeg. Aside from giving me a chance to have some A&W and Timbits (somehow Wienerschnitzel and Quarkbällchen are not the same) and catch up on academic gossip, I got to hear a great set of papers.
The presentations focused on Greek texts from Aeneas Tacticus and Xenophon in the early 4th century BCE to emperor Leo VI around 900 CE, with one group of three papers on Vegetius. Three others focused on Xenophon, leaving six on miscellaneous topics and authors, and one on methodology. Only two of the thirteen focused on tactical writing in any language.
CFP: EXPERIENCING WARFARE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
CLASSICS GRADUUATE PROGRAM ─ BROCK UNIVERSITY
FEBRUARY 6, 2016
From Stephanie Culp
The Classics Graduate Program at Brock University is pleased to announce an interdisciplinary conference exploring the experience of warfare in the ancient world. How were the ancients affected by warfare? What can the literature and material remains they left behind tell us of the changes that war brought to these civilizations? Topics on the subject can include but are not limited to:
─ Weapons and Technology
─ Warfare in Literature
─ Women in Warfare
─ Representing Warfare in Archaeology
─ Creating Military Monuments in the Ancient World
─ Social Organization of Military Systems
─ Military and the Political Sphere
This year’s keynote speaker is Peter Meineck, a Clinical Professor of Classics at NYU. Dr. Meineck is the founder and former artistic director of the Aquila Theatre and recently co-edited a collection entitled Combat Trauma and the Ancient Greeks.
Scholars from the fields of Classics, Archeology, Near Eastern Studies, History, Anthropology, English, Contemporary Film Studies, Art History, Philosophy and Psychology are welcome to submit abstracts for consideration as well as any other academic disciplines that touch on this subject. Proposals for 15–20 minute paper presentations should include the presenter’s name, e-mail address, tentative title, a 200-word abstract, a short (150-word) bio, as well as an indication of whether any computing or electronic equipment (e.g., laptop, projector) will be needed. Please submit proposals by December 15, 2015 to
I can’t afford to attend, but this is certainly a promising development.
GREEK AND ROMAN MILITARY MANUALS: GENRE, THEORY, INFLUENCE
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA
21 & 22 OCTOBER 2016
While scholars acknowledge the ubiquity of military manuals in antiquity, systematic study of this genre has yet to be undertaken To be sure, military manuals are enigmatic and at the same time intrinsically fascinating texts. This workshop seeks to provide a forum for scholars to reflect upon ancient Greek and Roman military manuals as a genre, with a view to exploring and demonstrating their utility in ancient historical research. Moreover, military manuals ought to be seen not as existing entirely as a separate genre, as has been largely the case heretofore, but rather as texts deliberately constructed to engage with other genres in which warfare plays a central role (for example, epic poetry and historical narrative).
Abstracts for papers of approximately 30 minutes (to be followed by 15 minutes of discussion) are invited. Possible topics of discussion include:
— the ethical context(s) of military manuals;
— the utility of military manuals as historical sources;
— the role of the reader in the genre;
— the relationship(s) between military manuals and other literary genres;
— narrative and structure of military manuals;
— the political context(s) of military manuals;
— the influence of ancient military manuals in the post-Classical world.
Papers may focus on a particular author or text, or may offer a genre-wide analysis. Proposals for papers on Byzantine and Medieval military manuals are also welcome.
Interested participants are invited to contact the workshop organisers: James T. Chlup (email@example.com) and Conor Whately (firstname.lastname@example.org). The organisers ask that proposals be submitted no later than 31 January 2016.
I am not sure that I can spare the carbon or the money to attend, but ancient military manuals are important yet rarely used sources, and ones which could be placed in a much broader context than the narrowly Greek one which is often assumed. I am always puzzled to read discussions of sources for Greek military history which accuse the tactical writers of being academic and pedantic and removed from practical experience before continuing with their own abstract and intricate writings about things which they have never seen or done. (How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child …)
Further Reading: Murray Dahm wrote his PhD thesis on Greek and Roman military writing, and turned it into a series of articles for Ancient Warfare Magazine. There are recent volumes from Pen and Sword books and a forthcoming volume edited by Philip Rance and Nicholas Sekunda on the three surviving Hellenistic tacticians.
Earlier in November I attended the eighth Melammu Symposium in Kiel (with an excursion to Lübeck on the day after). This year was smaller than last, with about 30 attendees after some people who had agreed to give posters dropped out. Participants specialized in a wide range of places, times, and methodologies, from Christian Sogdian book culture about the year 1,000 to women in Elam in the third millennium BCE. As often happens, talks and the formal responses to groups of talks ran long. This week, I think I will write about some of the posters and talks related to the Achaemenid empire or military history.
Fabian Winklbauer presented a poster on the government of the Achaemenid empire. This is a proverbially difficult subject, since the documents are not self-explanatory, while the Greek and Latin literary tradition does not worry about such details. On the other hand, we do have a great many documents in many languages, and the Aramaic documents from Bactria suggest that the situation in one region from which few documents survived resembled that in regions where more are preserved. I hope to see more of his work in future years.
I just returned from a most excellent conference, the seventh Melammu symposium. Unlike many academic conferences, which exist to either bring scholars in different cities together or to address a specific problem, the Melammu symposia have a broad general mission: to better understand and better publicize the influence of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations on other cultures.
This mission is an important one. If history is the story of the human past as documented in writing, half of history is in Egypt and Mesopotamia. But ancient historians are divided into many specialities, and specialists in the Greco-Roman world and in the ancient Near East do not communicate with each other as often as they might. To some extent this simply reflects the difficulty of learning the necessary languages, and that the cuneiform sources become scarce shortly before the Greek sources appear. Relatively few individuals or events appear in both the cuneiform sources and the Greco-Latin sources, so few researchers need to learn both groups of languages. Each field has its own journals, jargon, and conventions and most scholars have enough work keeping up with their own specialty. Yet it is sometimes necessary to cross this divide, both to understand the ancient world as a whole, and to fully understand specific sources and customs. In particular, many scholars are eager to talk about what made Greek culture special, but it is obviously dangerous to do this without first acquiring a solid background in the neighbouring cultures.
Papers discussed all the expected topics: whether there was democracy in the Mesopotamian world, to what extent early Greek literature and religion borrowed from the Near East, the relationship between the Old Testament and other Near Eastern religious texts, the details of specific archaeological sites, and Greek knowledge or ignorance of the Near East. About eighty people delivered talks or presented posters at this conference, and I will not attempt to summarize all of their ideas (a program is available here). Instead, I will mention a few which I remember in particular.
Winfred Held presented a paper on a stone building of the Achaemenid period at Meydancikkale, Turkey. This site is completely missing from the Greek sources, and in a region which the literary sources suggest the Achaemenid empire barely controlled, yet it contains a palace decorated with reliefs of spearmen like those found on royal palaces further east. No such reliefs were previously known outside of royal palaces.
Agnieszka Wojciechowska presented a strong case that the final Persian reconquest of Egypt was in 340/339 BCE not 343/2 BCE as is commonly reported. This is significant for our understanding of the Achaemenid empire just before Alexander invaded it. I hope to read her full argument when it appears as a book or article.
André Heller discussed why the Greeks knew less about Near Eastern history than they could have. There were many Greeks in the near east from at least 730 BCE onwards, yet Greek knowledge of Mesopotamia before Cyrus the Great extended little beyond the names and deeds of some mostly-legendary kings and queens of Babylon. In contrast, educated Greeks knew that Egyptian history extended for thousands of years, and that Greeks and Carians had been present in Egypt for centuries before the Persians conquered the country. Heller had some tentative suggestions but seemed perplexed; an audience member had the interesting suggestion that Egyptian stone monuments inspired more curiosity in foreign visitors than Mesopotamian mud-brick rubble did.
Louisa Thomas put up a poster on Greek stories about plots to assassinate Persian kings. Greek writers enjoyed telling stories about the murder of kings, but the truth was difficult to come by and many of these stories follow a common narrative pattern. The cuneiform sources are less helpful than one might hope. The trick is deciding to what extent this pattern is a literary convention (as in Assyrian literature where the king is always brave and stern and his enemies always wicked and cowardly) and to what extent it reflects the structure of the Achaemenid court (as in Macedonian courts, where close relatives often struggled for power and murdered each other). Until new sources are found, it will remain difficult to know how many Achaemenid kings died.
The Melammu Project has a website with scholarly resources including a list of translated sources and an annotated bibliography.