In 1875, an old tomb on Cyprus was cleaned out in search of antiquities. One chamber contained a copper cauldron, and in that cauldron were shield fragments, an iron dagger, and about half of a corroded metal bowl 16 cm in diameter. The looters had cast it aside as they broke the sarcophagi open and ransacked the tomb for salable goods. This was a mistake, because the bowl was of wrought and engraved silver and contained a beautiful series of reliefs in concentric bands. Shortly after it was discovered, the bowl was sketched by a careful artist and published in a volume on the archaeology of Cyprus so that it would be available to scientists. Thanks to the generosity of the Gallica project in France, this volume is now available to the world.
The Greek alphabet is adapted from the consonantal writing systems of the Levant, and I used to have a vague idea that Greek got its vowel signs by adapting signs for Semitic consonants not present in Greek. Greek has no aspirated “s”, for example, so Greeks using the Northwest Semitic abjad to write Greek found that they did not need the sign shin ש for transcribing Greek consonants and could use it for something else. As I learn a bit of Aramaic I realize that the process was much more straightforward.
In 1913 Alexander Conze published some of the antiquities found at Pergamon. One of these was a remarkable relief from the second century BCE showing a battle on land. While Greek artists usually portrayed battle as a fight between scattered individuals, this relief shows different types of soldiers crowded together and even a Macedonian phalanx with its battle standard. The University of Heidelberg has generously digitized their copy of Conze’s book as part of the Heidelberger historische Bestände- Digitaler:
The horrors of these domestic feuds [amongst the Eusofzyes, Kipling’s “Yusufzaies”] are sometimes aggravated by a war with another Oolooss [roughly a “tribe,” p. 211]. Many causes occasion these wars, but the commonest are the seduction of a woman of one Oolooss by a man of another, or a man’s eloping with a girl of his own Oolooss, and seeking protection from another. This protection is never refused, and it sometimes produces long and bloody wars. I shall show their nature, as usual, by the example of the Naikpeekhail.
Not abstract art, but a technical drawing from an ancient treatise on siege machines by Biton. The catalogue says that this manuscript was copied in 1545, almost 1800 years after Biton wrote. Technical drawings have always been a problem in books on engineering, and they were even more so when the drawings had to be copied by hand by artists who had never seen what they were depicting. Some illustrations were copied from earlier ones, and others were reconstructions based on the text; I don’t know what category this picture falls into, but it is certainly striking. I suspect that it is supposed to depict a siege tower. You can find the catalogue and a drawing of a catapult from the same manuscript here.
A new doctoral thesis by Dr. Panagiota Manti on the construction of Greek bronze helmets is now available online (here). Manti had an unusual theory, namely that some Greek helmets were cast in something close to their final form then reshaped by hammering. This idea goes against a lot of comparative evidence for armour being hammered from sheets and bars, and casting something as large, thin, and complex as a Corinthian helmet would be difficult. Rather than simply speculate, or try to cast a helmet, Manti took the trouble to find tests which were capable of distinguishing between her theory and the leading alternative, carried out these tests, and published the results. This approach is more difficult, but it can also provide much stronger evidence for a theory. Manti believes that she has found evidence that yes, many Corinthian helmets were cast roughly to shape then hammered for strength and delicate forming. She also believes that only one helmet in her sample was tinned, a style of decoration known from Roman and medieval copper-alloy objects.
While I do not have time to read Manti’s whole thesis, and lack the training in metallurgy to assess its argument, I hope that some of my readers will find it helpful.
Aelian, ancient, Arrian, Asclepiodotus, drill, Greek, Hittite, Hittite Instruction for the Royal Bodyguard, Hittite Instructions for the Commander of the Border Guards, Jewish, Josephus, Qumran War Scroll, tactics, Xenophon
A forthcoming conference has me thinking about writings on tactics in the ancient world. While the English word tactics indicate a clever way of fighting, the Greek adjective τάκτικη means “having been put into a formation for battle.” In other words, in the ancient world tactics were what we call organization and drill. Ancient and modern critics have complained that tactics in the Greek sense are insufficient education for a soldier, but experienced soldiers tended to recognize that they were necessary.
Classicists and Assyriologists spend a great deal of time and energy editing ancient texts, debating which version to use, and carefully noting which they have chosen. A debate about the use of catapults in fourth-century BCE Greece has reminded me why this matters.
The book supposes a readership who knows ancient Greek (he translates μύλλω as ‘βινέω’, for example).
Recent review of an academic book
Note: While some ancient Greek words are untranslatable, βινέω and μύλλω are crudities of the sort with which every language is well-furnished. These days most translators chose to translate rude words with rude words, but cloaking the author’s meaning in the obscurity of a learned language has a long tradition too.
Herodotus, Histories 7.44-46, tr. George Rawlinson:
Having arrived here at Abydos, Xerxes wished to look upon all his host; so as there was a throne of white marble upon a hill near the city, which they of Abydos had prepared beforehand, by the king’s bidding, for his especial use, Xerxes took his seat on it, and, gazing thence upon the shore below, beheld at one view all his land forces and all his ships. While thus employed, he felt a desire to behold a sailing-match among his ships, which accordingly took place, and was won by the Phoenicians of Sidon, much to the joy of Xerxes, who was delighted alike with the race and with his army.
And now, as he looked and saw the whole Hellespont covered with the vessels of his fleet, and all the shore and every plain about Abydos as full as possible of men, Xerxes congratulated himself on his good fortune; but after a little while he wept.
Then Artabanus, the king’s uncle (the same who at the first so freely spake his mind to the king, and advised him not to lead his army against Greece), when he heard that Xerxes was in tears, went to him, and said:-
“How different, sire, is what thou art now doing, from what thou didst a little while ago! Then thou didst congratulate thyself; and now, behold! thou weepest.”
“There came upon me,” replied he, “a sudden pity, when I thought of the shortness of man’s life, and considered that of all this host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.”
Suzanne Steele, www.warpoet.ca
five years ago—was it really five, it feels like five thousand—I shared Xmas dinner with the men in the big hangar. I was a stranger in a strange land seated there between the cooks and the snipers, wide-eyed at a LAV decorated with Xmas fairy lights, and at being served turkey dinner by a WO. I looked around at all those young spirits in uniform, young ones I’d watched muster at Shilo, some for the first time in the field, and wondered to myself, “is it you? is it you? or maybe, me, who will be dead this time next year?” (the latter not probable, but possible, as one of the roads I was supposed to take on a journey while over there, cancelled at the last minute, proved fatal for five a month later). it was, as I looked around me, as if I saw their ghosts. ghosts, while they were still alive.