In the first two weeks of August there was a great kerfuffle about a BBC educational cartoon which showed a couple in Roman Britain who would be called multiracial in Late Capitalist Britain. Angry essays were typed, tweets flew with the wrath of the Stymphalian Birds, and many people hurried to let the Internet know which faction they aligned with. Neville Morley did a good job of summarizing how most ancient historians think about the problem in his blog post Diversitas et Multicultaralismus (no, a dark-skinned official and his light-skinned wife would not have been unheard of at Bath or Hadrian’s Wall; genetic data is exciting but just one of many kinds of evidence which historians draw upon to understand the past; genes are only loosely connected to identity). The Romans could be horrible snobs and bigots, but most of their stereotypes and slurs were directed at people from other parts of Europe and the Mediterranean … they do not seem to have been very interested in whether people had dark skin and kinky hair. In this post, I would like to talk about one of the methodological questions I have after reading the Wellcome Trust paper from 2015 by Leslie et al. which some people have been citing as evidence that negligible numbers of people from Africa had children in Britain before the 20th century (doi:10.1038/nature14230).
One of the treasures housed in the Castelvecchio of Verona is an extraordinary silver plate. It dates a bit later than the Sasanid silverwork which I have blogged about before, to the age which gave us Maurice’s Strategikon when East Romans, Goths, and Lombards were struggling for control in Italy and destroying what was left of the wealth and learning built up in the centuries when Rome ruled the world.
Inside Urim there is death, outside it there is death. Inside it we are to be finished off by famine. Outside it we are to be finished off by Elamite weapons. In Urim the enemy oppresses us, oh, we are finished.
– The Lament for Sumer and Urim, lines 389-402 (ETCSL 2.2.3)
More than 140 civilians have been killed in less than a week while trying to flee western Mosul, according to military sources [among the besiegers], as the Iraqi army seeks to close in on fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the armed group’s last stronghold in Iraq.
According to the [besieging] military on Thursday, most of the fatalities were women and children.
– “Mosul battle: At least 142 civilians killed in six days” http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/mosul-battle-120-civilians-killed-days-170601113018034.html
Blindfolded, tied up men with dislocated shoulders dangling painfully from ceilings. Teenage boys, hands tied behind their backs screaming for mercy, only for a soldier to execute them in cold blood. Ashen-faced women clutching onto their terrified children after they had just been raped. These are just some of the scenes taking place in Iraq.
Ali Arkady, the Kurdish photojournalist who documented the abuses of Iraqi government troops, said he had originally set out to cover the soldiers’ heroism in the fight against ISIL. But after witnessing their crimes, his conclusion was that these men were “not heroes, but monsters”.
Arkady said he witnessed Iraqi soldiers – not Shia militias – perpetrating a wide array of abuses including abductions, torture, and rape. Not only did Shia soldiers rape one of their Sunni allied tribal fighters, but in one particularly horrifying instance, interior ministry fighters were gloating about raping a particularly beautiful girl. Their comrades, apparently jealous, vowed to pay the already violated and scarred girl a visit themselves.
– “Iraq Deserves Heroes, but Has Only Monsters,” http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/06/iraq-deserves-heroes-monsters-170601083337240.html
But those who were blockaded at Alesia , the day being past, on which they had expected auxiliaries from their countrymen, and all their corn being consumed …, convened an assembly and deliberated on the exigency of their situation. … When different opinions were expressed, they determined that those who, owing to age or ill health, were unserviceable for war, should depart from the town … The Mandubii, who had admitted them into the town, are compelled to go forth with their wives and children. When these came to the Roman fortifications, weeping, they begged of the soldiers by every entreaty to receive them as slaves and relieve them with food. But Caesar, placing guards on the rampart, forbade them to be admitted.
I believe that Richard the Lion Heart responded the same way to this gambit, but my books on medieval history are still in the old country.
Further Reading: Steve Muhlberger, “The Toronto Morality Play”
Today all kinds of skilful artisans are describing their work on YouTube, and some documentaries and demonstrations are available there. This makes it possible to learn about armouring on your laptop in the same way that 20 years ago you could learn about cooking or home repair on TV. Unfortunately, a simple keyword search will turn up both videos on historical armour and rants about video games, the New Zealand Army’s video on a trade, a British soldier grumbling about a change in pay scales, and other things not very helpful to someone interested in ancient and medieval armour. So this week I thought I would suggest some channels by good craftsmen who know what they are talking about. All of these links are videos hosted on a site owned by an American company which makes its money by tracking you [Google], so let the privacy-conscious or low-bandwidth clicker beware.
One of the big problems facing anyone studying ancient economies is that it’s very difficult to tell how much things cost at any given time. Records of market prices are sparse at the best of times and often nonexistent, and even where such records exist, they’re usually exceptional or represent only a single transaction. But sometimes historians get lucky …
– Matthew Riggsby, GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road p. 34 http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-hot-spots-the-silk-road
Gamers and novelists often want to know something which historians are not eager to answer: how much did practical things cost in the past? Historians of older periods tend to be very aware of the limits of a source which just says “five pounds of iron nails worth thus-and-such,” and admire the work of specialists in recent times who construct methodical serieses and statistics and turn them into charts with lines and inflection points. But characters in a short story or an adventure game are much more likely to buy a drink or a sword than ten bushels of barley. The writers of roleplaying games almost never have time to do the research, unless the game is set in very recent times and they can mine their collection of old Sears Catalogues and Baedekers. (Also, their customers tend to become just as attached to “a longsword costs 15 gold pieces” as they are to “magic missile always hits,” and in our decadent and decimalized age they sometimes revolt against something as simple as pounds/shillings/pence). So this week, I thought I would honour the release of Matthew Riggsby’s GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road with a list of some resources which I have found.
While I can’t pull the lid off Ninkasi’s vat to announce some projects which are still fermenting, today I would like to remind my gentle readers about two other new publications.
First, I have a short article on Marduk and Tiamat in issue 9 of Ancient History magazine. The focus of that issue is on Athens in the fourth century BCE, but there are also articles on Sicilian and Egyptian topics. If you like Peter Connolly’s The Ancient City you will like this issue. Check it out!
Second, I have obtained permission to release a pre-print of my paper on the mnemonic techniques employed in the writings of Fiore dei Liberi, a fencing master from Friuli who died some time after February 1410 CE. It was scheduled for a conference proceedings which was intended to appear in 2014 but which has been delayed. I hope it has something useful for fencers who want to learn more about medieval studies, and medievalists who want to learn more about physical culture. You can download the PDF from my website. (It is not beautifully formatted, because I made it from a PDF of the proofs which I had to convert to LibreOffice to edit then back to PDF to post; I am sorry, but going through the file and correcting the formatting would be very time consuming, and I can’t afford to take that many hours away from my other writing projects).
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.