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.
At the battle of Cunaxa, two claimants to the Persian throne lined up their armies. One of them had a large force of Greek infantry, and both kings had men in their armies who went on to become famous writers. One of those aristocratic camp followers, Xenophon, tells a story which has puzzled many readers (Anabasis 1.8.19 from the Loeb). When the armies were about 600 or 800 yards apart, the Greek mercenaries ran forward:
And before an arrow reached them, the barbarians broke and fled. Thereupon the Greeks pursued with all their might, but shouted meanwhile to one another not to run at a headlong pace, but to keep their ranks in the pursuit.
It was very common in the 5th century BCE for one side to run away as the enemy approached, or after a few moments of fighting hand-to-hand. Combat is terrifying, and most soldiers of the day did not have a lot of practice working as a group. But it is very unusual for an army to run away before the enemy was within bowshot. What happened?
Matthew Amt’s Greek Hoplite Page is pretty well known among people interested in ancient warfare. It might not be as well known that he has been updating it, expanding the bibliography to include some of the new publications on Greek clothing, arms, and armour and addressing the great shoulder-flap-cuirass controversy. As I revise this post, his old glued linen armour is sitting in a bath, being cleansed of its sticky contamination so that the linen can be salvaged and remade into a quilted armour. He has also added a typology of Classical Greek swords based on several archaeological publications after deciding that his old swords and sources did not match the originals, and is working with Deepeka in India to help them make replicas which are closer to the originals (a Labour of Herakles in itself!)
One thing that I admire about his approach is its humanity. One of the problems with reconstructing historical artefacts is that any one depends on a whole system of crafts and industries which are usually missing today. It is very difficult to obtain wide sheets of copper-tin bronze, so would-be bronzesmiths are reduced to salvaging decorative panels on doors and cracked cymbals. Ancient woollens were often woven to shape so that they did not need to be cut, and could have had a density and thinness which we associate with cottons; having something appropriate specially woven and dyed is a long and expensive process. There is not much demand for split or coppiced ash poles today, so modern spear-shafts have to be cut out of sawn logs, with the result that they are probably more fragile and worse balanced than the originals. Rather than give up, or exhaust oneself in the search for the perfect, Matthew suggests choosing “good enough” and making continual small improvements as your skill or knowledge increases. I think that his site succeeds in its goal of giving readers the information to make a “good enough” kit, and enough pointers to sources that they can start digging deeper if they want to.
Egyptian scribes liked to tell the story of Sinuhe, who would have lived around 2000 BCE but is only known through this tale, which is translated by Jenny Carrington and J.J. Herst. Even though it may be a work of fiction, it is one of very few texts in which an Egyptian warrior speaks about his work.
There came a hero of Syria
who challenged me in my tent
He was an unrivalled champion,
Who had prevailed over the entire region
He said he would fight me,
He intended to smite me,
He planned to carry off my cattle before the council of his clan
I went to rest, tied my bow, sharpened my arrows,
Whetted the blade of my dagger, arrayed my weapons
At dawn Syria came, it roused its people,
It assembled the hill-lands on either side,
For it knew of this fight
He came toward me as I stood
And I placed myself next to him
Every heart was burning for me
Women and men pounding
Every mind was willing me on,
‘is there any hero that can fight against him?’
And then his shield, his dagger, his armour, his holder of spears fell,
As I approached his weapons
I made my face dodge
And his weapons were wasted as nothing
Each piled on the next
Then he made his charge against me
He imagined he would strike my arm
As he moved over me, I shot him,
My arrow lodged in his neck,
He cried out, and fell on his nose,
I felled him with his dagger
I uttered my war-cry on his back,
Every Asiatic lowing
I gave praise to Montu
As his servants mourned for him
This ruler Amunenshi took me into his embrace,
Then I brought away his goods, I carried off his cattle,
What he had planned to do to me, I did to him,
I seized what was in his camp, and uncovered his tent
There I was in greatness, I was broad in my standing,
I enjoyed wealth in cattle
More than a thousand years later, someone in Babylonia was reading a chronicle and stopped for a moment to copy a few entries onto a clay tablet. That copy has survived while the longer work it was part of has been lost.
Chronicle of Artaxerxes III, transcription Grayson (in Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles), translation Manning
The fourteenth year of Umasu, who is called by the name Artaxerxes, 7th month: The captives, who the king captured [in the land of Si]don, [came] to Babylon and Susa.
The same month, 13th day: The few troops [… out of] their middle entered Babylon.
16th day: The weak/noble women, captives of the land of Sidon which the king had sent to Babylon, on this day they entered the palace of the king.
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.
At the beginning of October I had the pleasure of visiting the Frau Professor Hillprecht Collection in Jena to handle and sketch tablets. Doing so made clear to me some of the issues with reading and publishing cuneiform tablets. In this post, I will try to explain what those issues are.
While some of my publications are stuck at stages between “handing in the manuscript” and “opening the package with my author’s copy,” my latest article for Ancient Warfare is now available.
It has ostraca! Bored clerks! Desperate bandits! Bedouin! A map of the Levant which actually tells you where the fresh water is! Rebel Pharaohs! The Third Diadoch War! If any of that sounds interesting, you can buy Ancient Warfare X.4 from Karwansarai Publishers.
The new issue of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies has arrived in Tirol. The two volumes published last year contained articles such as:
- A study of the impact marks from catapult balls and sling bullets on the walls of Pompeii, presumably dating back to the Roman siege of the town during the Social War.
- A project on Roman locking scale from Carlisle by David Sim and J. Kaminski which started with billets of specially-made wrought iron and ended in having a good bash at the armour with replicas of Roman weapons. This particular armour was sophisticated and effective, and the authors have many interesting insights into metallurgy and manufacturing process, including a time that their wish to ‘tidy up’ more than the original armourers did created a problem. I was left wishing that they had addressed some other issues, but I will put those below the fold.
- A pair of articles on the reconstruction of Roman boots and their use on a march across the Brenner Pass. I enjoyed the contrasting perspectives of the shoe-wearers and the shoemaker-cum-archaeologist who made the shoes.
The latest volume includes things like:
- Two examples of Roman lorica hamata squamataque preserved as a whole (rather than as loose scales or small clusters of scales), one of which was preserved with its linen liner. To my knowledge, this is the first archaeological evidence for mail with a lining in the Roman world.
- A copper-alloy crescent (lunula) similar to those mounted on Roman battle standards from a layer dating to the first century BCE at Gurzufskoe Sedlo in the Crimea. Both the date and the location are worth noticing.
- A set of silvered bronze saddle plates which ended up buried with a cow in the Meroitic kingdom of Kush.
- An article by Jon Coulston on Roman archery which makes use of comparative evidence from outside the Roman world.
If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to read or support, copies are available here.
Ever since Darius’ inscription at Behistun was deciphered, scholars have puzzled why it is placed high on a cliff where nobody can read it and even the sculptures are difficult to see. Even the ledge on which the builders stood was chiselled away, so that visitors who wished to copy the inscription had to be lowered by ropes from above. A common answer is that he wrote it for the gods, but this does not really work. Darius specifically addresses future kings, and readers who might doubt his words, and includes the boilerplate blessing on those who preserve and proclaim his words and curse on those who alter or destroy them. He also says that after the inscription was composed copies were sent amongst the nations (paragraph 70 of the Old Persian version), and we have a copy in Aramaic from Elephantine on the Nile and a retelling by Herodotus which clearly draws on the official version of the story. Babylonian scholars often had copies of foundation inscriptions and other texts which were buried for posterity in their collections. While the copy at Behistun was placed where nobody could read it, the text which is preserved there clearly has specific mortal audiences which Darius was concerned about, and it influenced many people in the empire and beyond.
At another place in Fars there is a tongue of rock overlooking a river with a fertile plain. On this tongue there is also a large relief carved into the rock about a hundred meters above the plain below. It was there long before Darius, although it is not clear that he was familiar with it like he was with some other rock reliefs.
As my chapter on war in the ancient near east before the Achaemenid period takes shape, I am reading books like Oscar White Musarella’s study of bronze and iron artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I do so, it occurred to me that I have something to add to my earlier post about monster-headed axes.
The first axe belongs to the sad collection of artifacts known as Luristan bronzes. The ancient people there deposited many fine bronzes in their tombs, and in the 1920s the locals began to dig them up and sell them on a large scale. Once enterprising smiths began to cast their own “Luristan bronzes,” and dealers began to market objects looted from other regions under the “Luristan” label, a great deal of knowledge was lost forever. However, this axe resembles finds with inscriptions from the 12th century BCE or excavated from a temple built at at Tschogha Zanbil in the 13th (although there are others in contexts 400 years younger). Have a look at how the blade is attached to the socket.