A few half-timbered houses survived the bombing of Nürnberg, and several of them have become museums. The Fembohaus is dedicated to life in Nürnberg from the 15th to the 18th century, and one of its charming decorations is this painting of a fool driving another fool in a barrow.
It seems like I have been making a lot of long, wordy, academic posts in the past few months. This week, I would like to focus on pictures of one of the artifacts I have seen in my travels, a Japanese armour imported into Europe at the end of the 19th century. The museum estimates that it was made between 1820 and 1840.
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.
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
In the national archaeological musuem in Tehran were a cluster of a dozen or so clay bullae: hanging attachments to a skin or papyrus document which could take a seal. The name is medieval, but the technique is much older. These ones come from the Sasanid period (6th or 7th century CE), and I suspect that they turned up on the art market or in a private collection and the Iranian government was able to show that they had left the country without permission. Several of them show armed men riding armoured horses.
Unfortunately, I had very limited time to take photos of the whole museum, and I do not have a polarizing filter for my camera to reduce glare from the case. The photo above is my best, but I have include several other legible photos below the fold. All are of the same bulla, but there were one or two others with armed men on them which I was not successful in photographing.
Some of my hobbies are making me think about fabric. I used to think that fabric containing both cotton and linen was a product of the last thousand years, as cotton production spread west from India into areas with a strong tradition of weaving linen. In the second half of the middle ages, cities in Italy began importing cotton from Egypt and Turkey and Syria and weaving it themselves, and the trade slowly spread north across the Alps. The basic idea was that cotton was cheap and absorbed dye well, while linen was strong but hard to colour. Some weavers found that if they used cotton for the warp threads, they tended to snap. So a mixed cloth with a linen warp and cotton weft was both strong and colourful. In the middle ages these cloths were known by names such as English fustian, Italian fustagno (from the suburb of Fustat in Egypt) or German Barchent. Today weavers are comfortable with a cotton warp, and artificial dyes can colour pure linen any imaginable colour, but cloth with cotton running one way and linen threads the other is still used for shirts and other items. I did not think that these mixed cloths existed before the middle ages. But now read this!
The finds of archaeological linen textiles display a wide range of qualities in ancient Greece. However, they are primarily burial finds and thus no adequate source for the topic of clothing practice. Nothing, however, suggests that linen textiles were rare, or associated only with female burials or those of foreigners. Linen textiles occur much more frequently than wool textiles in the archaeological record in Greece, as Moulherat and Spantidaki have observed, but this only reflects the preservation conditions in Greece, and does not denote a choice of fibre. A linen textile of impressive size came to light in Eleusis: it measures 220 cm × 50 cm. It was found in a bronze vessel dating to the mid-5th century BC. Preserved linen textiles with 100 threads per cm are not unknown in classical Greece. From the 5th century BC such a linen textile was found in a tomb at Kerameikos; another 5th century linen fabric of similar quality comes from Kalyvia Thorikos. In another 5th century Kerameikos grave, linen textiles with remains of stitch holes from embroidery and fabrics decorated with purple were recovered. The original assumption of silk fabrics has now been proven wrong in new analyses by Christina Margariti and colleagues who demonstrated that there are four different fabrics of which two are of made of linen, while another fabric is probably made of cotton, and the last is woven of linen warp and cotton weft.
That quote comes from an article by Marie-Louise Nosch where she argues that scholars have been too hasty in following a passage in Herodotus and dismissing the use of linen in classical Greece (Hdt. 2.105 tr. A.D. Godley):
Books on ancient warfare often reproduce certain pieces of Greek art from the middle of the fifth century BCE, including a rhyton shaped like a screaming Persian, a series of vase paintings with Greeks striking down cowering barbarians, and another where a man naked except for a cloak and unarmed except for an erection charges at another wearing Scythian dress with the caption “I am Eurymedon / I stand bent over” (the Athenians and their allies won a famous victory over the Persians at the Eurymedon River in southern Anatolia, although spoilsports sometimes point out that Eurymedon seems to be the pursuer instead of the pursued). In the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, there is another Greek depiction of a foreigner which is usually left out, no doubt because the authors are not sure how to obtain the rights to reproduce it.
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.