The most recent issue of Ancient Warfare magazine (X.6) contains an article on the battle of Chang-Ping in the Warring States period where allegedly several hundred thousand conscripts lost their lives. In western Eurasia, the first reliable evidence that anyone brought a hundred thousand or more combatants to a battle appears around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. (I could talk about what counts as reliable evidence, but suffice it to say that this is an empirical question and that numbers in stories about armies long ago and far away do not count). Occasionally one hears higher figures from India or China. Does any of my gentle readers know if those sizes are based on any real evidence, or just the usual choice between the various numbers given in stories about the battle?
Back in 2014 I began a project to address a problem which I noticed. Amateur students of armour seemed to have trouble finding written sources, and historians specialized in one period sometimes seemed not to notice things which I saw again and again in the world history of armour. For example, my reading in the world history of prices in general, and armour prices specifically, makes me read the statement that Athenian settlers needed to bring arms worth 30 drachmas differently than some other ancient historians do (for a list of sources, see Van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, p. 52, plus the Salamis Decree from the Acropolis at Athens). From watching the traffic on my blog, I noticed that if you give people a link to sources, many of them will follow it. In my view, making sources available is the single most important thing which historians can do: interpretations change and are a product of our culture, but sources are foreign and reading enough of them makes it hard to have any simple interpretation of history, or believe that people in other cultures and other times think just like we do. But often sources on armour are published in out-of-print books in a handful of libraries, or available in old translations by people who were not especially interested in material culture.
Unfortunately, I have had to put this project aside for two years now, so I think it is time to make sure that my gentle readers know about Armour in Texts.
A few weeks ago the Scholarly Skater asked “What beautiful old places are there where you live? Send me some pictures so I can enjoy them, too!” I took some photos in January which sort of qualify.
Dog people know how dogs start to pant when they get too hot. Dragon people know that some species start to drool when they get too cold. While the days when the Tirolers spent all winter huddled in the parlor* or the kitchen are long gone, there is usually snow on the ground in the valley bottoms for a few weeks per year. The dragons sometimes get tetchy as they warm up, and have been known to spit ice at passersby. A former room-mate was injured by one of these spitting dragons. The City of Innsbruck has the street-cleaners keep careful watch on buildings where dragons are nesting, and leans colourful wooden poles against buildings to warn pedestrians not to approach until the cold weather is over.
* German Stube “a heated room for sitting” … semantically equivalent to English parlour (a Weinstube in Tirol today is more or less a beer parlour in Farley Mowat’s Saskatchewan) but etymologically related to the word which came into English as stove because that was what made it fit for sitting in in winter) ⇧
I encourage you to click on the photo above and see it at full size. This is not a source for how real 16th century armour was made (and an expert tells me that its not a very good replica), but how Daniel Tachaux made a replica during the First World War.
From Dimicator, the alter ego of Roland Warzecha.
You are welcome to participate in the Historical Sword & Shield Classes 2017 in period costume in the most beautiful venue of the History Park Bärnau in the south-east of Germany [in Bavaria, on the Czech border- ed.] All seminars focus on single combat with shields and hand weapons, but duelling with spears will be covered, too, as a means to convey essential tactical and mechanical concepts. See photos of past classes in these albums here and here.
An info brochure is attached as PDF to this post. This should answer most questions, but do not hesitate to send an email if you need any further information. Registration is open.
These are the weekend seminars offered in 2017:
Viking shield: 17/18 June
Kite and medieval triangle shields: 24/25 June
Small and medium sized triangle shields and bucklers: 22/23 July
Advanced buckler: 29/30 July (requires a medium skill level with historical sword and buckler fencing)
Feel free to ask any questions you might have via email.
See you in the History Park Bärnau in summer 2017!
While I am not completely confident in what Roland is doing from an academic point of view, I can say that he is a very good fencer and a safe teacher. So if you are interested in how later martial arts can be extrapolated backwards to find effective ways of fighting with earlier weapons, these workshops would be as good a place as any.
In December I re-watched Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. A younger self would have used this post to have a good rant about all of the aspects of Jackson’s battles and sieges which just would not work. Tolkien was vague about many things, but he was a combat veteran who knew his classics, and both showed. However, I now realize that if someone with hundreds of millions of dollars at their command can’t be bothered to read a handful of Ospreys, let alone Aeneas Tacticus and Philon of Byzantium and the Old Norse King’s Mirror, or hire an underemployed doctor of ancient history and listen to what they say, there is no point in lecturing to them. Some people just don’t care how they really did it or want to engage with sources (although Jackson did let people who understood material culture and fight direction do their stuff). But watching these films reminds me of one thing which might be right.
The forces of madness have been on an around-the-world tour, but when they got back and slept off the tasty kebabs, weak beer, and very sweet sweets they discovered that their agent in the Alps had over-reached himself. This particular style of clothing was meant to fit very closely in some areas while standing away from the body in others, and in an excess of enthusiasm, their humble servant cut too much away from the opening of the lower sleeve to finish its edges by rolling or folding and stitching down. Fortunately, there are solutions.
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.
A few years ago, an article on the locomotor costs of moving in armour was published which made many steel-clad heads meet desks. Most of those heads belong to people who would be happy to explain what was wrong with the article in person, but are not used to writing up what they know with academic phrasing and careful footnotes, while the authors did not seem inclined to seek out more experts in making and wearing armour and humbly ask what they were missing, so it looked like article and response would continue to exist in two different worlds. But then a French scholar published his own article and shot his own video on the topic. And while the video does not mention its nemesis, the film has the kind of elegant beauty of a volta which sends an iron-shod spear-butt into an unprotected face.
I don’t have the strength in me to do that much when something is wrong in the library, unless writing the article has some hope of leading to a career. So praise him with great praise!
Further Reading: The peer-reviewed article which was the basis of this video is available at DOI: 10.1080/01615440.2015.1112753 The one to which it responds is doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0816