- Postblogging Technology, October, I: Forest for the Trees
- The Bishop's Sea, III: The Real Presence
- Gathering the Bones, 18: Hew Down the Bridge!
- Postblogging Technology, April 1944, I: Ancestral Voices
- Postblogging Technology, November, 1943: Caesar's New Clothes
- Postblogging Technology, March 1944, I: Pulling In the Horns
- Old Europe: Always Falling
- Gather the Bones, 17: To Our Mother of the Lakes
- From Now On, No Defeats: Alamein, III: "Look for me at dawn on the third day."
- Postblogging Technology, September, 1945 II: Praying for a Good Victory
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
So I put it elsewhere.
Besides, this is tricky demographics. As I keep saying, one way of assessing the catastrophe of 5/40 is that the Commonwealth did not have enough men at the front. Yet there were plenty of men who were not at the front. So it must be that there were not enough men qualified to be there. I find it implausible that countries that could draw on limitless supplies of (admittedly aging) veterans, a significantly larger population in the case of the Canadian junior partner; and a cohort subject to conscription beginning three months before the outbreak of the war 8 months ago could field fewer fusiliers than in 03/15. So we are talking about men with a set of qualifications that could not be produced in eightish months.
That's a deduction a priori, or, to put it another way, I pulled it out of my ass. So let's look at evidence. It ought to be more fun than proctology!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Blogs come and go. Whether they're worth the effort in the abstract or not, you can't argue with a blogger who decides that it is no longer worth it for them. It happens, and I'll leave the sic gloria transit mundi of it all to someone who actually knows Latin.
Except this: I'm a hopelessly optimistic person, but the hiatising of a great University of California blog is still a depressing sign that the demographic trends first spotted by David Foot are not magically going to release our grip on us any time soon. And by "us," I mean the professionally over-educated. (But mainly you guys, who, all my pessimism aside, have a far better chance of getting gainful academic employment than I do.) We're just doomed, something I shall now dilate upon.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Of all the things that Wickham stresses in these books, I am singling out the terminological problem because it suggests two visual aids to me, which I will inflict on you if you like on the way to making this tenuous connection between the first of the Five Good Emperors, and the great prophet of catastrophe.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Needless to say, it's not common to learn something in math class and then see it applied in history! I mean, given that some historians use pretty extensive databases, there is a place for statistics, but beyond that? The one example I can think of is the day we were introduced to some old dude name Thomas Malthus, who told us that "population expands exponentially, food supply expands arithmetically." This was something we did, indeed, learn in math class, where we plotted x2=y and x=y and watched the rising curve of the exponential function ascend, intercept the straight diagonal of the linear function, and head for infinity. Math and social studies came together to tell us of of the three ages of Man: the age of abundance, represented by the corner below the interception point, the imminent point of catastrophe, and beyond that the post-apocalyptic age of horror. Though how it could be horrible with V-8 Interceptors and mutants and zombies everywhere I do not know. But that's beside the point, because at the interception point, we'd all be living in cars in the street and eating Soylent Green, and that's terrible.
It's also debatable in many, many ways. But when you get to the core point, you start with P. J. O'Rourke's take: "Way Too Many of Them, Way Too Few of Us." There's any number of things you can take away from O'Rourke's comparison of the hellish overpopulation of Bangladesh with the spacious elegance of life in a California county with the exact same population density, including some pretty effective criticisms, and also the updating observation that the rate of population increase in Bangladesh has fallen from 2.02%/year to 1.55%/year in the last three years alone. Certainly there's no getting around the fact that he shows the whole thing to be a little undertheorised. Which is putting it mildly. Historians and mathematicians have a heck of a lot to say about this.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Here's Archatlas. Have fun and come back soon! http://www.archatlas.dept.shef.ac.uk/Home.php.
Here's Ken Pomeranz dissecting Clark at length (probably limited access): http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/pomeranz/AHRreviewofFarewelltoAlms/ahr.pdf
If you haven't had enough Pomeranz bashing, check out Jan Luiten van Zanden, “Simply a Better Class of People? The ClarkThesis Assessed,” Agricultural History Review 57, 1 (2009), 124—29, pimping a book that's probably better.
The mere microhistorical world of the clock on the wall is remarkably unsympathetic to my need for more time before work to extend this post. As a result, this will be all for now, although I do promise a selection of monographs for a "round table"-type seminar Real Soon Now.
PS: Who is the real Malthus? Check out James Bonar, Malthus and His Works, conveniently reissued by F. Cass's "Library of Economic Classics" in 1966. Remember: overpopulation isn't human nature. It's something that Hindus, Catholics, High Church Anglicans, and other barbarians do.
Friday, December 3, 2010
(Check out the divisional cavalry moving through the outskirts of Bruxelles at the end of the clip.)
Sure, you say. It's not for nothing that we talk about Neville Chamberlain and the Guilty Men.
Let's understand the absolute, rock bottom point here. British (and Canadian) governments had been supporting enough infantry, cavalry and support services to equip more troops than were in France on that date. In particular, two armoured divisions, one entire infantry corps, and 6 armoured regiments (1 Army, 5 divisional) existed, had existed, had been paid and quartered and fed year in and year out for 70 years, and were in France at the equivalent date after mobilisation in 1915. These units existed in 1940. Some, notably the first armoured division and the infantry corps were to come over within the next two months. So the gap in mobilisation is very, very small. And the reason for that is ....money?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
This isn't a review. If I finish a book these days, it's either because I think it's awesome on its merits, or because I'm reviewing it, so if I think that a book is awesome, I'm not reviewing it. Unless "awesome" counts as a review. So I'm two for two on the Penguin History of Britain series. Fleming is great, and David Mattingly's An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire is great. I am very much reminded how the Oxford History of the United States is now going one for three for me right now. (Yes to this, BTW.) Pick up your socks, Oxford! As the reading suggests, the end of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon Britain bulk (disproportionately) large in my world history project.
Why? Because of that old story about how invading Anglo-Saxons turned Britain into England. I don't believe it, and don't think that you should, either. Much more importantly, I don't think that you should believe the story that is being told with it.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
So let's go see what a hardware shop looks like.
This is the Vulcan Foundry, founded in 1832 and builder of many, many locomotives by 1937. In a rearmament boom-led recovery, you would think that that would be a good place to be. After all, the army needs self-propelled heavy metal, right? And locomotives were an old, old business for British industry. In the clover, right?
Wrong. The locomotive business had a severe overcapacity problem, and, in general, the companies that could be expected to give way were the international exporters. Locomotives are big, and big things can't really be made by "mass production." They're basically built up of parts made in essentially the same way that replacements are made and damaged parts repaired. This has the implicit consequence that they can be profitably built in any major railway work shop. Well, steam engines can. Modern electrics and diesel-electrics are a more complicated matter, because the manufacturer comes to be more about the engine than the heavy metal.
I throw this out because the interwar was a sad era for British locomotive builders. In some visions of how an industrial strategy might work, the British government had no business propping up these kinds of firms with sweet inside deals. Admittedly, Vulcan Foundry actually survived the interwar and the end of steam, but it is hard to say whether that might not be because they won a contract to build a tank for the army in 1937. On the other hand, Vulcan won large private sector contracts right up until the beginning of the global slump, and delivered more than 100 locomotives in 1933.
Now, about this contract, Postan, Hay and Scott suggest that this reflects inadequate British industrial capacity or something, and Correlli Barnett, as expected, takes the ball and runs with it. There are no tank builders in Britain, so the government has to give the contract to inexperienced locomotive builders who stumble about trying to make ultra-modern war machines in their Dickensian plants!
Put it another way: Vickers-associated historians complain about arms contracts not going to Vickers. So what's going on at the Vickers plant? After Vickers had the specification of the A10 changed right out from under them into a "cruiser tank," they had nothing much to offer. Accordingly, the Vickers Drawing Office rushed into action, designing an "infantry tank" that only weighed 16 tons, so that it could run on the same automotive plant as the A10. It's hard to know what to make of this. The Valentine has a reputation for being a cramped and compact vehicle. And there is a reason for this. The problem with building a tank is that the more armour you put on a box, the heavier it is, so that the smaller the box, the lighter will be the tank, and conversely, the larger the box, the much-more-heavy-than-otherwise will be the resulting tank. And the smaller the box. So if if the Valentine was going to be heavily armoured, yet light, it was not going to have much room inside the box for much of anything, whether that be guns, crew, or engine. What's more, the smaller the box, the harder it is to give it low ground pressure and good fording depth, leading to a distinct lack of operational manoevrability.
And yet the Russians,who knew their tanks, loved the Valentine. Thinking about this, the most obvious reason I can think of for this is that with that kind of weight, and the modest speed, it must have been a pretty sweet drive. That's a virtue that doesn't get a great deal of play, but it is real enough, and the fact that Vickers was an experienced tank builder suggests that it was intentional. Leading to the suspicion that the Valentine was to be pitched on the strength of that virtue, perhaps for "colonial" operations on bad Northwest Frontier roads?
The extent of the production contracts suggest the raw productive capacity of the Vulcan Foundry. And there was certainly nothing else to distract them. The economic slump of 1938 refuted the idea that the armaments boom of 1936--7 was going to drive up inflation and cut exports by taking up engineering industry capacity. On the contrary, 1938 was a year of rising unemployment, stagnant wages, falling steel consumption and outright misery in the north. That said, armament procurement was not trivial. Engineering industry armaments production had risen from 43.8 million in 1936—7 to 76.7m in 1937—8 and 109.5 in 1938—9, compared with a total sector-wided value output of 473.6 million output in 1935. Armaments took up much of what would have otherwise been a severe drop in engineering sector productive capacity, and the editorial board of Engineering turned to worry about post-rearmament excess capacity. Which is all very well, but with war coming, perhaps not the most urgent of issues.
So, returning to the question of picking the wrong companies. Would everything have been fine if the British government had just given the Matilda II contract to Vickers, instead of sending a bag of money off to Third World Liverpool in hopes of staving off cannibalism? Well, no. The Valentine was approved for production in April 1939, and, as was often done in the last years before the war, was sent directly to production. An advanced batch was available for testing in May 1949, and the first regular production models appeared in the summer. That's pretty impressive compared with, say, the T-34, which was field-tested in a preliminary test vehicle in 1939, had a prototype in January 1940, and only appeared in a production type in September 1940, or, for that matter, the history of the Matilda II, which had its design finalised perhaps at the "end of 1937" and was still only available in limited numbers in May 1940.
The thing is, though, that British industry delivered 67 infantry tanks prewar, 63 in the first quarter of the war, 46 in the second, and 121 in the third. So given that only 140 Matilda Is were ordered, divided into 60 vehicles in the first (enough for one regiment. Hmm....) and, presumably, another 80 in the next, simple math tells us that virtually the first Vulcan order for only 65 Matilda IIs,and some of the subsequent increase to 140 vehicles had been completed by June of 1940. Production and delivery to the front are distinct events, so the 21 that fought in France might have been the only ones that were really ready, but the country was able to spare two regiments worth by August, sending them off to the Middle East to become the "Queen of the Desert."
True, people carp. And well they should. The nickname is awfully self-congratulatory, and the Matilda had its problems even before 1943, when it was functionally obsolete. There were odd design choices. It had two engines, for example, developed from an AEC bus power plant. Why? Could "Britain" not build sufficiently powerful diesels? On the contrary, British maritime diesel engine makers would have been perfectly happy to build one, as evidenced by Thorneycroft and Paxman sniffing around the business. The thing was that the Matilda was a 27 ton, heavily armoured monster. That the monsters would get even bigger was not obvious. The divided power plant was considered necessary to make it work at all, by giving separate power to each track. Given that, 190hp made it go quite adequately fast, and the Paxman 600hp diesel called, on first inspection, for some monstrous land-hulk. That Dr. Merritt had adequately solved the transmission problem was not obviously apparent to Walter Wilson's backers even in 1946, with the successful experience of the Cromwell and Churchill behind them, so it is no wonder that they were not thinking about a 30 ton tank tearing about the countryside at high speed. (To their credit, the Russians were.)
So I'm not seeing an issue around the engine. People also complain that the castings on the Matilda were too big and difficult to mass produce. Again, given that entire turrets were cast, I'm not sure I see the argument. If there is one thing that you go to locomotive builders for, it is experience in making big pieces of steel capable of taking heavy stresses! Anyway, "difficult" is not the same as "impossible," as a production total of 3000 machines tends to suggest.
What I am seeing an issue around is this: an order for 65 tanks? In 1938? And why weren't they all in France on 10/05/40? Frankly, talking about how Vulcan Foundry might not have been the right contractor seems to me to duck these more important issues.
Friday, November 12, 2010
"Britain was slow to move from the old industries of the first Industrial Revolution into modern sectors like electrical engineering, which impeded the adoption of mass-production methods. It also failed to adopt precision machinery that depended on electricity, which prevented it from producing machined components for use in assembling typewriters, cash registers, and motor vehicles. The same story can be told about other new industries like synthetic chemicals, dyestuffs, and telephony, in all of which Britain failed to establish a foothold."
(Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley, from here. Thanks to Brad Delong for bringing this to my attention. Hey! That's me boiling dry down in the comments!) It's hard to know what to make of this. The criticisms themselves float in a timeless space that may refer to the 1880s or the 1930s. It's only when Eichengreen goes on to discuss their causes that we nail down the chronology:
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
It's telling the difference between the two that's the problem. Many military historians actually eschew too-close engagement with military technology, after one too many encounters with "rivet counters." I don't think that's a very helpful attitude, myself. If you're going to make an analytic point stand on the differing ways that the Germans and British used their heavy AA guns, then you need to know that the difference between the 3.7" (94mm) and 88mm AA guns. At the same time, when you read someone arguing that you need to understand a particular partial differential equation in order to "get" British tank transmissions in World War II, then you have an excuse. I can only think of one historian off the top of my head who has attempted to understand (a set of) PDEs in a historical way. It's a fascinating exercise, but it's far from clear who the audience for such an undertaking is supposed to be.
So when we talk about the history of the British tank, we're put in a schizophrenic place. How can you not talk about hardware? When the British official history tackled this problem, the editors made the very creditable decision to put the same medieval economic historian who wrote the history of British war production in charge of Design and Development of Weapons. Throw in two industrial historians (D. Hay and J. D. Scott), and you've got a team that can do justice to the questions that historians bring to the project as well as engineers.
One hopes. In reality, you've got bias built in. Just picking a medieval economic historian in 1950s Britain pretty much guaranteed that you'd get a quasi-Marxist ready and able to beat back the then-active school of technical journalists arguing that "British free enterprise won World War II, so what the heck's all this nationalisation about?") As for Hay and Scott, we've oh-so-cleverly picked the official historians of the Vickers group of companies. (IIRC, Google failing me right now). Again, there is wisdom to this, in that the Vickers group have designed and built a disproportionate number of British weapons over the years. The problem is that along the way, Vickers has fought off any number of outsiders intent on invading their turf.
I'm not going to argue against the company's expertise and insight into tank-building problems, Between 1927 and 36, between 22,500 and 93,750 pounds were spent annually on new tank development, and Vickers was the only firm involved. In the process, the government-funded research complex that we customarily denote as Woolwich Arsenal developed a process for welding hardened steel plate and a nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel suitable for welding. This was to armour Vickers tanks, to be sure, but the spin-off implications are not small, and the crumbs were well-positioned to fall Vickers' way. At the same time, while Dr. Merritt might be working on a tank transmission, he was not a Crown employee, but rather David Brown's top boffin. The article linked to above notwithstanding, I do not believe that we have a full understanding of what was going on here. As far as I can see, the Merritt-Brown transmission could not work without carbonitrided gears, and the potential of this technology ran far beyond tanks to everything from mine elevators to ship engines to the heavy-duty machine tools used for making armour. (I like these recursive formulations a lot, you can tell.)
So did Vickers get an inside look at these technologies and an opportunity to exploit them? I think so, although I've no intention of trying to prove it now. Then, in October 1936, the War Office published three specifications, for a light tank, cruiser, medium, and infantry tank, stipulating 14mm armour on light tanks, 30mm on cruisers and 60mm for infantry. The light tank was also required to have a gun and regenerative steering, and this put Vickers' existing 5.25t, 32mph Mk VI out of the running, even though, since the replacement was not needed urgently, due to a conceptual shift to a "scout car," it in practice became the last major British light tank of the war.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Japan? Oh, sorry. Got 1987 confused with 2010 again. Seems Paul Kennedy got himself a job at Yale on the strength of a pretty solid early writing career, notably dilating on the "rise and fall of British naval mastery" (thesis: "you kids stop mucking around and get out of that there Mediterranean afore you get an infection!") . Then he hit the sweetspot with a book about the imminence of American decline. That's what we expect of a man using up one of the precious few chairs at Yale. Unfortunately, he then returned to the library and produced the monstrous Preparing for the Twenty-First Century. My copy of same was free, because someone moving out of a basement apartment up the street left his copy lying on the grass behind him. Which seems like a pretty generous review to me --my own first diagnosis was incipient cerebral shutdown, but Professor Kennedy has gone on to write seriously and appropriately in the last decade, and Preparing is no doubt just the product of a book tour, which would drive anyone batty.
The interesting point here is that Kennedy is a Briton, born in Northumberland, saddest and most autumnal of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (where now the glory of Bamburgh, the holiness of Lindisfarne? In whom survives the blood of Ida?) and the progression from writing about the Royal Navy to the decline of empires is naturally British. There being more money in Yale than at the University of East Anglia in the 1980s, it is perhaps not surprising that he exported his act across the Atlantic, at just the right time for Americans to receive it with open arms. With American declinism in the news right now, all I'm really saying is that these things are cyclic. Like empires, y'know? First you have your principal declinists, then a golden age of philosophical declinism followed by an influx of severe military officers, then a crisis in the literature, followed by the emergence of the dominant names.
And somewhere in there, at least one declinist names his horse a consul. In his 1986 book, Collapse of British Power: The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Power, a sometime journalist turned amateur historian named Correlli Barnett made an impressively detailed argument that pretty much everything that happened in 1939--1945 proved that Britain was in "decline." As far back as the immediate wake of the industrial revolution, Britain had turned its back on engineering, business, science, realistic foreign policy, military staff planning, and practically everything that is rational. Then it blithely skipped through the 20th Century until it ran into the ruthless, warlike rationalism of Prussian militarism filtered through the state-planned dynamism of National Socialism and....
Oops. Won the war. But the point is, it shouldn't have. Or it should have won the war even more. Or it was all down to American assistance. Or, mostly, all of the above. It is clause 2 that fascinated me as a boy, and in some ways fascinates me still because it is so apparently, obviously true. Imagine replacing the arsenal of British power as it existed in 1939 with the one that existed in 1959. Don't even throw nuclear bombs in there. With Victors and Centurions and Hunters, the British armed forces would have kicked Nazi butt! And wasn't Britain 20 years ahead of the rest of the world industrially in 1820?* So, really, the dispiriting events of 1939--45, where Britain had to play second fiddle to those darn Americans was down to someone, or many someones, who screwed up in 1820--1939.
Audit of War is only loosely about that, however. It faces the rather difficult problem that what with Spitfires and radar and all, World War II certainly looks like a war fought by an industrially superior power, and the book is Barnett's extended demonstration that it really isn't so. So that is why Barnett talks about monocoque fuselages, Ebbw Vale, four wheel drive, and vacuum tubes at great length. It leaves the historian a little ill at ease. Barnett seems to know a lot about these subjects, and it is hard to know just where to start with unpicking the tapestry he weaves. In my graduate student days, discussions of Audit (which I really, really wanted to discuss) tended to be turned away with waves in the direction of Martin Wiener, whose attempt to discover the identity of Barnett's villains seemed at least open to critique.
Now, Wiener's attempt at cultural history is just plain weak. (One word, Dr. Wiener: prosopography.) And Audit of War is a pretty hard book to attack. I've spent much of the last two decades preparing to write a substantive reply, and I still get pretty important technico-industrial details wrong in public. I mean, there's aluminum and electrical cable and steelmaking and organic chemistry and aerodynamics and mine engineering I really have no idea how Barnett achieved the level of mastery required to make such confident claims ...No. Wait. I do. And you don't need Audit to see it, too. Before Audit, Barnett rehearsed his argument with a brief section of his book The Swordbearers that "proved" that the British Grand Fleet at Jutland was technically inferior to the German High Seas Fleet, and this happens to be a subject on which you can find an easily predigested summary of the technical issues. Battleships soaked up a lot of government money in the years before 1914, and there was a lot of journalism on this subject. Shipyards that got contracts (and the officers who directed the contracts to them) leaked one line to journalists ("our battleships are awesome"), and shipyards that didn't get the contracts (and opposition politicians) fed another line to different journalists ("our battleships suck.")
In the final analysis, it is pretty hard to sort out these claims to the last detail, but you can go to a high level review of the arguments (I think you'll find a good one, Brassey's Naval Annuals, in with all the other detail here.) A point by point review of the things that Barnett apparently thinks are true about the Grand Fleet in 1916 demonstrates that he just swallows every criticism, no matter how inaccurate, and rejects every defence, even when such things are easily tested in the more recent technical literature that Audit of War implies that he has mastered. This is not research. It is indictment.
Which we already get from Wiener's critique, anyway. And, actually, even further back, from Lord Snow's "two cultures" argument. "The politicians just don't respect us engineers and scientists. They're all flouncing about quoting Latin, and they just pat us and say, 'there's a good boy,' when we say we should build something totally awesome!") Wiener and Barnett are pretty clear on what's to blame for all of this: labour unions, public schools, Nonconformism, Gladstone.... I'm surprised that they don't mention Home Rule. Or maybe they do. The important point is that Britain had a chance to embrace Prussian-style technocracy, and went all wet.
And this brings me back to my last few posts, where I've talked about Brabazon and Lord Weir and the National Grid scheme and even Messrs. Balfour and Atlee. Because it looks to me like Britain between the wars was bloody well as technocratic as all get out. This leads me to the unsurprising conclusion that we worry most about what we care most about. In short, it is likely to be a technocracy that worries that science is not getting enough respect from policy makers, and a world-bestriding empire that worries that it is about to go the way of Nineveh and Tyre.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go check out one of my own links and read some more about fire control at Jutland. Cool stuff!
*Well, no. But that's another story.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Our idea of the Nineteenth Century is the Gaslit Age, so it is amazing in retrospect that the gaslight was only fully tamed for indoor use with the development of mantles in the 1880s. By the time that Welsbach's first white light mantle was in production, Thomas Swan had been installing his lightbulbs around the U.K. for more than a decade.
By 1890, electrical lighting was making specialised inroads against gas. And by specialised, Hannah Leslie, the great historian of the industry means "indoor lighting." The typical British electrical power station had 8 machines of about 0.1 MW (134hp), all reciprocating steam engines running local DC supply grids. That's a whole lot of obsolete technology all wrapped up together, but these little plants burning slack coal on the canal side were still enough to light as many as 26,000 Swan lamps (ie. "lightbulbs") each. Let's put our expectations in the ol' time machine and send them back to 1890. That's what a big deal in electricity looks like in 1890. For those of our expectations with some engineering background, I'll note that this was at 10lbs/coal per kWh.
with AC distribution, turbines instead of pistons, and better cables, there was almost unlimited room for expansion. Overall sales rose from 40 Gwh in 1895 to 1400 in 1910, the year that industrial power demand overtook illumination. In the course of WWI, the existing generating plant was put to new uses, run at overload and without maintenance, and been a boon to war production generally. What didn't happen was significant investment in new generating plant, something that greatly concerned the business-background technocrats that Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George brought into government to wage the war. Which is why Eric Geddes proposed a technocratic, top-down solution to the problems of the electrical supply industry problems in 1919, which got run out of Parliament.
Why? Because "socialism" versus "free enterprise." And also because David Lloyd George was a bit of a dick. (Geddes, by all accounts, was a lot of a dick, but not in a bad way when you need to get things done, whereas Lloyd George's dickishness tended to get in the way of his schemes in the long run.) Anyway, this set up the new Labour Government to take a new look at the problem in 1925. "Socialism? We're all over that!" Interestingly enough, the young Labour MP most involved actually had abackground in the electrical supply business --one Clement Atlee. More big names: as already noted, the guy they put in charge of thew new look investigation was another of Lloyd George's "men of push and go," but of an even higher calibre than Geddes, William Weir.
And here the story out to end, you'd think, because the first Labour Ministry was shortlived, and Weir reported to a huge new Conservative majority in March of 1926. Weir himself was an industrialist. The MP that pushed himself forward as the Conservative spokesmen on matters electrical-supply related, George Balfour, was building his own private grid in the north of Scotland to power an aluminum plant, and was convinced that socialistic central planning would just hobble the industry. It's not as though the ultimate outcome of the Weir scheme, a national supply grid, was visualised at the outset. The Weir idea was, in fact, just to link up 140 main "flagship" generating plants with a system of high-voltage main lines to allow interregional, coordinated, electricity markets for a standardised product (50Hz AC). The fact that all the regions of the UK (except northern Scotland) were to be integrated meant, in effect, that this would be the infrastructure of a national grid, but a lot of engineering problems would have to be solved first. A government that wouldn't even let the Royal Airship Factory build a zeppelin without commissioning a private-sector rival was not going to go for something so Bolshevik ...was it?
And then Clement Atlee received a visit from a similarly junior MP opposite. And not just any MP, because while the future Baron Brabazon was a man of the technocratic future, no-one could call him wet, as his favoured political party of the 1930s would suggest. And yet here he was going behind Balfour's back to push the Weir scheme through Parliament.
The substantive consequences are clear enough. The scheme was completed, on time and on budget, by the end of 1930. A perhaps over-optimistic estimate was that building the grid created 120,000 jobs directly and indirectly, more than all the other government make-work schemes of the 1920s put together. The National Grid came into operation late in 1938. Meanwhile, on the generation side, the development of those 140 flagship generating plants galvanised a great deal of the 750 million pound investment into the British electrical engineering industry in the interwar decades that made it the leading sector of Britain's leading industry [Hannah, 148]. There was the development of the larger part of Scotland's hydroelectric potential.
And the failure to develop adequate new generating capacity to cope with runaway demand during rearmament and World War II underlined the timeliness of it all. Why not build these things when aggregate demand is slack? In retrospect, the biggest mistake was the failure to invest in several new generating schemes, including coal-burning plants in Ebbw Vale, a tidal project in the Severn estuary, and more dams in Scotland. More generating plant, built when private sector investment was at a low ebb, would have paid off in spades during World War II. (So would have the new port on the Severn that was part of the tidal power scheme.) The timing was not completely perfect. In retrospect, building ought to have peaked during the 1931 crisis instead of the year before, but that would have taken a neat bit of prophesy back in the spring of 1926.
And speaking of prophesy, I have not answered the reason "why." What was the meaning of this amazing outbreak of bipartisanship, with Conservatives implementing electrical supply "socialism?" The instrumental answer is that by the summer of 1926, the Weir scheme was hugely popular. The Daily Mail, the 1920s' version of Fox News, supported it! What's going on here? It would seem that the key motivator was --fears of British decline. The year was replete with warnings, complete with bogus statistics, that various countries ranging from America to Germany to Shanghai and Belgium were all more electrified than Britain, which was clearly declining in all directions everywhere. "On dune and headland sink the pyres," and all that.
I'm not usually much of a friend to declinism. I find it a frightening example of the way that metaphor becomes argument. But this time it seems to have been a powerful motivator for a valuable public initiative in infrastructural development. Or maybe we can put it all down to Tutmania. It turns that electrical pylons are named after Egyptian temple architectural elements, because that was the cool thing that the kids were down with in the late '20s. (Hannah, 118.)
I did not know that.
Edit: who's got time to edit blog posts? Thing is, though, I kind of buried the lede here.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
[Yes! I will consider the possibility that lithium might be right for me!] Which is that historical linguistics might be radically wrong about what Proto-Indo-European (PIE!) looks like, essentially because we've put Sanskrit in the wrong place in its development. There's actually much more substantive critiques of older reconstructions of PIE, and competing new ones, not that you'd know it from the sorts of places where most people learn about ancient Aryans, which is still trapped in the tar pits with Georges Dumezil. Hating on certain people is reason enough to make my point as starkly as possible.
Sanskrit was invented out of "Prakrit" by a guy named Panini, who probably wrote after 100AD.
Hey, look! I just got a billion Indians, a hundred historical linguists, and 10 very old PIEists mad at me!
But, dudes, seriously. The first dated Sanskrit texts are the Buddhist modified Sanskrit literature produced in Kashmir about 100AD. This is called "Buddhist modified" because it doesn't follow Panini's grammar. So, the first "modified" Sanskrit comes prior to the first "orthodox" Sanskrit, an inscription commemorating the building of a dam in about 150AD. BMS looks a great deal like the variety of "Prakrits," i.e., dialects, that are documented prior to 150AD. The Prakrits are all, of course, derived from Sanskrit. And we know this because.... well, because!
Okay, no. The "proof" is that the Vedic literature that forms one of the bases of the Hindu religion dates to 1500BC. Well, how do we know that? The earliest copy of the Vedas is in a manuscript written in 1450, and the first Vedic text dates to the mid-1100s. So we need to find a way to push this back another 2500 years. The claim is that the Vedas were handed down by an oral tradition. Anyone who has ever played "Telephone" will find that hard to swallow, but the advocates say that the Vedas were sacred, and the super-important-importantness of religion trumps all human frailty. (Wendy Doniger's excelllent recent book has a less-than-excelllent shaggy dog story about how Vedic ritual practitioners needed to keep every word of it secret from the impure --who, what, weren't allow to eavesdrop on the rituals?-- and so didn't write it down, or only wrote it in code, or something. Until they just stopped doing it.) Note that this theory also needs to explain the textless propagation of a massive commentary on the original Vedas. What, apart from not wanting to offend people (a noble objective, but one that can only be carried so far) obligates us to believe this, centuries after we abandoned the idea that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses?
And it is wrong at another level. There is language change in the Rigveda. The (European) author who compiled it says that the different manuscripts before him rarely had variant readings, but then we are looking at manuscripts coming out of a four-century written tradition by this point. And, reluctant as they are to face the issue, modern scholars acknowledge that extended portions of the Rigveda are incomprehensible gibberish. It may not necessarily "Telephone" gibberish, but that's the way to bet. Here's a brief (and old) summary of some arguments about reading the Rigveda.
But back up here to the whole "1500BC" thing. Where do we get this date? Wikipedia maintains the pure pull-it-out-of-your-assness of the actual date. I've already mentioned that it is a backdating from the Trojan War. Which we don't even think happened any more! And the backdating happened like this: the great Nineteenth Century Indologist Max Mueller was asked whether this dating made sense in the light of his work. Mueller replied that the last possible date for the composition of the last of the Vedic literature (the Upanishads) was the date of the Buddha, who was clearly reacting to them. Buddha lived about 550BC. And there were 5 or so major generational stages to be detected in the Vedic literature, and 200 years was a perfectly reasonable length of time for the changes in each stage, so 1500BC was A-OK in his book!
Dudes: you don't even have a date. You have a guy who says that the date isn't inconsistent with the numbers. Except he's wrong. The modern accepted account puts the Buddha ahead 150 years from Mueller. And yet that's only because they're choosing to use something. We could easily go later, although that provokes continuing scholarly resistance, even though archaeology suggests 400BC as an earliest limit. And then there's the uncomfortable fact that if we put the Buddha after the date of the Persian, never mind Macedonian invasions, we change the cultural context completely.
Moving on, it is observed that the Rigveda reads a great deal like Zoroaster's Gathas, the authentic original core of the Zoroastrian holy texts, the Avestas. I'd be less impressed if it weren't for that bit about the Bible. But more than that, the Book of Mormon reads just like the King James Bible. So clearly the Book of Mormon dates to 1000BC! Well, no. The KJV is a recent translation, the Book of Mormon a deliberate imitation. Is this a valid comparison? Well, the Avestas as we have them come from manuscripts collected in Bombay in the late 1700s. They can be physically dated to about 11ooAD, and the tradition, is that they were compiled by a commission set up by Ardashir I (226--241). The language here is a little complicated. We usually refer to the eastern Indo-European languages as forming two larger families of Indo-Iranian (spoken in Iran-like places), and Indo-Aryan, spoken in India. The fact that Urdu-speaking Pakistani truck drivers can make themselves understood in Teheran and Delhi suggests that the border distinguishes these languages less than nationalism (see further: talking to Croatian linguists about "Serbo-Croatian"). So I am going to go with the eminently scholarly Indo-Whatsit to describe a grab-bag of languages and dialects, of which Sanskrit is attested in 150AD, Avestan about the same time. And when we go earlier, we learn surprising things.
Now, there is every reason to be suspicious of Ardashir's motives. He was the founder of a new, Sassanian state, and needed to formulate an appropriate ideology for it. In doing so, he had to sideswipe the Arsacid (Parthian) dynasty/regime that had ruled in Iran for over 400 years by his time, because they were still around, his rivals, and Roman allies. That gave him a motive for skipping back to the Achaemenians as a model, and notwithstandinghis traditional prominence in the story, a Sassanian state religion of Zoroastrianism only comes into clear focus along side the Arsacid official state church in 301AD. If Zoroastrianism had not existed, the Sassanids would have had to invent it. Only, both can be true.
That is, the Achaemenians were a natural alternative source of legitimacy, and even if the Sassanians knew nothing else of them (or knew things that did not work for them), they would have had the same Greek literature that we have. So they would have the names, some stories, and the figure of Zoroaster. That's not saying that these are the only sources. It's just saying that these are the sources that we know they had. What we do not have is any doxology, nor the slightest evidence that the Parthians had any doxology. Zoroaster is mentioned by Plato. So is Pythagoras. Does Zoroastrianism have anything more to do with Zoroaster than neo-Pythagoreanism to Pythagoras?
So what is the actual earliest-evidence of --well, let's not call it "Sanskrit," or "the Vedas," but something more neutral, such as "Indo-Iranian context?" The answer goes back to the Hittites, again. In about 1380BC, Suppililiuma III signed a treaty with King Shattiwaza of the neighbouring Mitanni state. Treaties were a big deal, so you called on as many gods to witness them as you could:
"[T]he Storm-god, Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Moon-god and the Sun-god, the Moon-god of Harran, heaven and earth, the Storm-god, Lord of the kurinnu of Kahat, the Deity of Herds of Kurta, the Storm-god, Lord of Uhušuman, Ea-šarri, Lord of Wisdom, Anu, Antu, Enlil, Ninlil, the Mitra-gods, the Varuna-gods, Indra, the Nasatya-gods, Lord of Waššukanni, the Storm-god, Lord of the Temple Platform (?) of Irrite, Partahi of Šuta, Nabarbi, Šuruhi, Ištar, Evening Star, Šala, Belet-ekalli, Damkina, Išhara, the mountains and rivers, the deities of heaven and the deities of earth."
Varuna, Indra, and the Mitra and Nasatya-gods appear in the Rig-Veda! We also have Indo-Whatsit names for both Mittani and Kassite (the guys in charge at Babylon in these days) kings, and some Indo-Whatsit vocabulary is used in the horse-training manual of Kikkuli the Mittanian, a Hittite-era bestseller preserved in multiple copies in Bogazkoy archives. Clearly, then, the Mittani had been conquered by an Indo-Whatsit speaking tribe of expert charioteers! The Indo-Whatsit vocabulary in Mittani is a superstrate. Curiously, the Hittite gods mentioned immediately previously are all "Hattic." The Hittites used this unique language in some religious texts, adopted their gods, and even gave Hattic names to their kings. This, of course, proves that invading Indo-European Hittites conquered the Hattic people, and their language is presumably a substrate74.
Opposite conclusions from identical datum suggest that the conclusion is dictating the explanation. In this case, the Indo-Europeans as invaders. Now, there is precious little reason for this a priori. Besides the Hittites and the Indo-Whatsit rulers of the Mittani and perhaps Kassites, we have more Indo-European languages attested in this part of the world. West and south of the Hittites, various independent states speak the near-Hittite Luwian language. Across the cozy Aegean Sea, in Greece and down to Crete, we have an early dialect of Greek recorded in the famous Linear B tablets. Looking up the Euphrates and Tigris as they break into the mountains through one tributary valley and satellite mountain spur after another, we find unexcavated city states everywhere receiving strings of horses raised on the mountains on either flank, some carrying tin carried down by road. Somewhere in here, there is no reason that PIE could not have been first spoken, somewhere near where the Hurrian-speaking kingdom of Urartu/Armenia emerged.
But that's not what we argue. The invasion happened. And re-happened. For example, the Hittites must have invaded and overthrew the Hattians about 2200BC. and some Anatolian cities were burnt at about this time! What other possibly explanation is there than a migrant horde? Trevor Bryce supports my snark, but allows for another invasion, about 1800BC. And about 1500BC, the Linear A writing people of Knossos in Crete were supplanted by those afore-mentioned early Greek writers, the "Mycenaeans." Clearly they invaded from the north, and would soon get civilised enough to appear in Hittite records as a recognisable form of Homer's Achaeans. More Greeks would in turn overthrow the Mycenaeans and much else about 1150BC in a "Sea Peoples" invasion. We also have a preinvasion in the east, where history used to usher the "Persians" onto the stage about 800BC, leaving the Indo-Whatsists of Mitanni to be a precocious offshoot, although people don't do that any more. (For an approach to early Iranian history I like much better, see here.) Invasion: it happened, and they came from the Black Sea.
You would think that no-one ever proposed an alternative. But there is one, the one I've already noted, the "Anatolian homeland." It is even Colin Renfrew's version. Renfrew now admits that he's wrong in imagining a scenario in which agriculture, after being invented in Iraq, crossed the mountains to Anatolia, hooked up with some PIE-speakers, and spread with them all over Europe, perhaps at the same time that neighbours speaking Ural-Altaic, Elamo-Dravidian, and Afro-Asiatic speakers were making for the territories in different directions, spreading agriculture with their language families over all the Earth. Although nearly Biblical, the dates (c. 6000BC) are too early to be plausible, and clearly at least the regions at the extremes of the language-family range came to feature these languages as a result of adoption rather than physically replacement.
This does not, however, dispose of the hippy-uncle-car-trip issue. Where better to put the PIE homeland than in the middle of the road, as opposed to the muddy, uncrossable ditch that we mean when we vaguely point to the Pontic steppes, and which has always directed traffic north and south, rather than east and west? This leads to J. P. Mallory's disproof, which is almost proof masquerading as disproof. Mallory says that Anatolia can't be the homeland, because language families can only evolve in geographic spaces large enough to avoid contamination by other language families, and the ancient Middle East was filled to the brim with lnguage families and isolates. (It's in here somewhere.) Seriously? How did Hattic, Hurrian, Kassite, Sumerian, Elamite and Afro-Asiatic come to evolve? Do we need to find vast, remote language-spaces for each of them? Of course not: Mallory's implicit claim is that Indo-European is special. And he's right.
But not the way he wants to be. The discovery of Indo-European led to a rush of other language family discoveries. that culminated with Edward Sapir (1884--1939) travelling from one reserve to the next and finding vast, sprawling Indian language families wherever he looked, and making vast claims about language and human consciousness. Many of Sapir's families now look like confirmation bias, and what followed made this blatant to the point where there's been something of a reaction, and linguists now argue that Indo-European in particular is the exception to the rule. "Language families" are not a generalisable heuristic. The majority of languages do not belong to language families. Those that do require special explanation. Colin Renfrew is right, but the fact that most "isolate" languages are identified in non-agricultural societies does not mean that agriculture is the explanation.
Now, I've already supplied an explanation for the spread of Indo-European, that is hardly original to me. That it was entangled with the spread of a prestige technology, the war chariot, and the necessary prerequisites, bronze and the domesticated horse is clear, the residual question being the nature of the entanglement. I say the language was spread by the technology, in the form of migrating specialists teaching local charioteers. The invasion thesis holds that the language was spread by the technology in the form of proto-Nazi panzer divisions, chariot-riding conquerors. This is the so-called "Kurgan hypothesis," based on Marija Gimbutas' reformulation, where the spread of Indo-European could be linked to the spread of a particular kind of burial that is much more archaeologically visible than chariots. More recently, we have this formidable iteration of these ideas.
Why do I disagree with this? I have no problem with the idea that languages "migrate." I speak English, which migrated to North America along with English speakers. Clearly, people migrate, and when they get to their new home, they have to speak some language, and the one they already speak is one option. But that assumes the homogenous movement of large numbers of speakers of the same language, and that is not the usual rule. In my own region, early migrants came speaking many languages. To bride the gap between native and imported languages, they began speaking a mixed languages, or "pidgin," called Chinook. Chinook soon gave way to English, the written language of government and education. This happens in most places, but there are a number of cases where it has not, enough that we can study creoles. What kind of a language is a creole?
The stakes here for linguistic theorists are big. Imagine two tribes, each using a different range. For one or another reason, one range has a few bad years. that group faces starvation. Meanwhile, the other tribe can exploit the resources that the failing tribe can't. So the lucky tribe invites the tribe to live with them. They camp together, the children play and intermarry, and, a generation later, the camp splits to cover the old ranges. If creoles can rapidly evolve into a new language, then a Martian ethnologist who visits at intervals of a century will suppose that the old tribes are extinct, and replaced by two new tribes (likely with new names, but quite possibly adopting older ones) who speak different dialects of an entirely new language. Now, there is no question that this process happens. We can point to the Kiowas and Seminoles and enough other cases to need a technical term: "ethnogenesis." Ethnogenesis also generates new languages by "Creolisation," and if this happened routinely, the language map will not only contain few language families, but we will be able to say much less about history on the basis of studying language families. To dispense with the argument, we will need to argue that Creolisation is a self-limiting phenomena. This is pretty clearly wrong. Creoles are just normal language that emerge through non-genetic processes.
So what makes language families? A specific technological package spread Indo-European, but other packages do not have their own language. There is just precisely no "agricultural revolution" language family. But then most of our evidence is written, and we still have not taken this seriously. The texts are not incidental. They are what we need to study.
In the Middle East, writing starts out in Egypt and lower Iraq at about the same time (3100BC) and the same context of state building. The evidence of contact-era Peru is that this cultural contexts will have possessed multiple symbolic inventories matched to their storage media. The problem lay in stabilising reference, so that any given symbol reliably meant something specific. The choice made, inevitable or not, was that at least two symbolic inventories, of cuneiform scratches on clay tablets and heiroglyphs (painted cartoons), were linked to specific spoken language by rendering some symbols as words, others as syllables. Egyptian and Sumerian have been described as the languages of Egypt and lower Iraq respectively, but I see no reason not to problematise this. All three languages fit a syllabic writing system better than many others, notably Hittite and Indo-Whatsit. The script might well have chosen the language.
Under the first imperial state of which we have written records, the Sumerian written system was formalised to write an Afro-Asiatic language called Akkadian, after the Akkadian rulers of what is now Baghdad, in about 2300BC. The rise of the Akkadian state has been plausibly linked to the "Amorites," who are either the first barbarians to trouble a civilised state, or, more likely, an economic classification. By this argument, the success of city-level organisation has led tothe rise of industrial-scale textile production, which has in turn led to large scale sheepherding on the margins of early civilisation. The new economic context generates new political forms, and Akkadian spreads up and down the rivers to other city states, but not over the mountains into Turkey. If I were pressed for a reason for this, I would suggest that the practice of writing things down on anything as cumbersom as a dry clay tablet may have seemed a little more trouble than it was worth absent a coercive managerial apparatus. (So speaks the sometimes middle manager, all-too often exhausted in his attempts to impose ill-considered top-down iniatives. Hey, consultants and clueless top-level management, quit it!)
That said, Akkadian represents the first script-language problem. It, too, is a syllabic language, and the script can directly borrow the syllable-symbols of written Sumerian. But it does not do so universally. Many Sumerian words are adopted directly into Akkadian. By the time the next empire falls (Neo-Babylonians, c. 1595BC), the world is finally ripe for the idea of adapting cuneiform to new languages. Thus we get the menagerie already encountered, of written Hittite, Elamite, Hurrian, Hattic, Aramaic and Greek, while the Egyptians made limited use of cuneiform Akkadian in diplomacy.
This is interesting because it is easy to imagine a context that was nothing but Akkadian specialists writing letters for kings. The "serious" literature of medieval Europe is all in Latin, even though there were no more Latin speakers in a way in which it would have been unthinkable for the Middle-to-Late Bronze Age to use Akkadian. On the contrary, on the periphery of the great power system we find archives written in native languages in adapted scripts, such as Linear A and Linear B.
This is not the case for the Hittites, obviously. They wrote a great deal of Hittite in cuneiform, to the point where the main problem we have in understanding the language is the use of "Sumerograms," and syllable symbols where they are not quite appropriate. Thus, written Hittite contains many superfluous letters, and we lack some pretty basic words, including the numbers! (Of note here is that one of the key pieces of evidence that Kikkuli was translating out of Indo-Whatsit into Hittite was that he uses ordinal forms [i.e. "eighth"] that look Indo-Whatsit. If we lack the words for Hittite numbes, do we also lack Hittite ordinals?) Of Greek, we have even less. Fortunately, Greek developed into one of the best-attested languages on Earth. Hittitte, not so much. It vanished, buried in the archives of its abandoned cities. That, however, should not be melodramatically overinterpreted. The Hittite state did heiroglyphics, too, and it chose to use Luwian, not Hittite in them. For, like all empires before nationalism, the Hittite regime saw that to favour any of the many languages of its subject peoples was bad politics. To the extent that there was a "family" language used within the ruling family, it could be an exception. But, as far as we know, that language was Hattic for the Hittites. In any case, Luwian was related to Hittite, and had a posthumous relationship with the Hittite state. For by 7/600BC, there were "neo-Hittite" states in northern Syria and adjacent parts of Turkey that claimed the legacy of the old Hittite Empire, and they wrote in Luwian. Our first Greek historian, Herodotus may not "remember" the Hittites, but others can.
That said, historical memory is an interesting thing here. The Neo-Hittite states were gone by Herodotus' time, destroyed by the Assyrians and absorbed by the Persians. He would have known Luwian through its use in another, more present power, an empire that stretched from its capital at Sardis on the Aegean coast of Turkey deep inland --the tyranny of Asia, Lydia. The Lydian form of Luwian is distinctly its own language of "Lydian, and" closely related to Carian, a language Herodotus knew the the Lydian "tyranny" well. He was fascinated with it. All the Greeks were. It had been overthrown by the Persians sixty years before Herodotus' birth, an event that shaped all subsequent Greek history, since it brought many "Greek" city states under Persian rule. Herodotus was in no position to delve into the ancient past of Lydia, since he couldn't read heiroglyphic Luwian or get a reading of them, or at least did not bother to seek one out. Yet Herodotus was not entirely bereft of curiosity. He tells us at least one story that intimates that he was on the same path as we are right now.
This story has it that Pharaoh wishes to learn which is the first human language. It is a curious question to consider, given that he speaks the language of the gods, but on the other hand there is the interests of science to consider. Pharaoh does not order the compilation of massive vocabularies and grammars. How we wish he had! Instead, he has some children raised without any human contact, hard as that is to imagine before the invention of the Gameboy. Eventually, the children come to spontaneously demand "bekos," or bread in the language of the Phrygians of west-central Turkey. Phrygian, language of King Midas, is thus the original language of humanity. We know that this is wrong, but more importantly, we know why Herodotus says this. "Phrygian origins" are a way of getting at the idea that the political legitimacy of the state can be derived of origins and first things. (Midas was a great and ancient king who was a great lover, perhaps of his mother or sister. Thus, he "fathers" the state. Or something like that.) This has nothing to do with the actual history of the Phrygians. Which is not to say that we should not inquire.
Phrygian is an Indo-European language. We know it because the Phoenicians spread the idea of alphabetic scripts in the early 700sBC. It was an excellent way of writing Indo-European languages, and came attached to reasons for wanting to write them that gave rise to a new literature. From the Greek tradition we get the Iliad and the Odyssey. . From the Aramaics of northern Iraq, we get a large literature winnowed down in time pretty much to Biblical texts. (Aramaic-writing scribes got around.) From Phoenicians, Aramaics, Lydians, Carians and Phrygians we get a few surviving fragments. Chances are, this is an accident of preservation. The Phrygians did it earlier and were a bigger deal than the Greeks, as at the time they were a major player, and even get mentioned in the Assyrian archives. Then, they were devastated by a Cimmerian invasion about 700AD or so, and overshadowed by their Lydian neighbours, while going forward Greek-writing states would do better than either.
So who were the Phrygians? They are usually brought onto the scene as invaders from Europe during the dark years iof the early Iron Age, but this strikes a suspect narrative in its own right (it makes these teachers and relatives of the Greeks into Europeans rather than "Asiatics") and entirely unsourced, except in one of the multitude of internally contradictory migration tales the old Greek authors liked to tell. Phrygia sits on old Hittite territory, and short of their running some preliterate Einsatzgruppen, assimilated Hittite elements and so are in some sense inheritors of the Hittite state. I'm sure that historical linguists have solid reasons for not arguing that Phrygian is descended from Hittite, and perhaps one could explain. (Though if the two languages are related, that would open up a can of worms, because Greek is often said to be related to Phrygian, and possibly also Armenian and Old Persian(!))
So, about Old Persian, which is in fact the next major piece of textual interest. Sometime between 522 and 486, the Persian emperor Darius commissioned a great inscription by the side of a major road coming down from the Iranian plateau to the Iraqi plain, at a place called Bisitun. It contains a lengthy trilingual, or text in three languages: Aramaic, Elamite, and Old Persian. The former played much the same part in the Persian Empire as elsewhere in the Middle East, as a language of learned comment and administration that overshadowed lol tongues. The second is an isolate language spoken in Khuzistan, the appendage of the Iraqi plain squeezed into the escarpement of the Iranian plateau down in the southwest of modern Iran. The third is ...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves!
So Darius is known to us from Gree history as the third Persian emperor, and the first not (closely) related to the empire's founder, and he has a fascinating tale to tell. He knows, we all know how the Persian Empire was founded. Even two thousand years later a full account could be dug up in old Babylon, called the Nabonidus Chronicle, while Herodotus has his own version. So we know that a man called Cyrus launched a series of campaigns in which he conquered Lydia and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. (Herodotus adds a third victim, the kingdom of the Medes. We certainly have no reason to doubt that Darius ruled the Medes. It's just that the conquest is not corroborated by the incomplete Chronicles.) Anyway, Cyrus campaigned in various directions until he died in battle. Since kings and generals die in battle far less often than one might suppose, this might cause me to suspect something, were my reserves of suspicion not needed at the next turn in the story. Cyrus was succeeded by his son, Cambyses, an equallly effective campaigner who soon added Egypt to the collection. Unfortunately, there is a well-established axis of relations between the Aegean coastal states and Egypt. From now on, revolution in Egypt will stir things up in the Greek-speaking world.
Cambyses, Darius tells us, died soon after conquering Egypt. At this point, a sinister usurper emerges and takes the throne, and General Darius overthrows him, defeats rebels in all directions, and assumes the throne of the empire, which he will rule for 36 years, creating, as in all long reigns, considerable historical inertia down a certain path. But which path? Even if we did not have Herodotus's account, which says that it was Darius who was the illegitimate usurper, the way that Darius dwells on being born a king and a son of a king would tell us something. The Bisitun inscription is not meant to be read by mortals (although of course everyone at the time would know what it said), but by gods, and gods can be awfully gullible at times. Darius was saying these things to make them so. Conclusion: the whole story that Darius belongs to the Achaemenian family of Cyrus is wrong, because Cyrus was not an Achaemenian.
So what has this to do with language? Since Darius was a Persian, it is, of course, logical that the Bisitun text was in Old Persian, a major language of his empire. Right? Wrong. The major languages of the old Persian Empire, by count of surviving documents, were Aramaic and Elamite. The Persepolis Archives have as many documents in Old Persian as they have in Phrygian (one each, so this is hardly a statistically interesting comparison.) Old Persian is used on coins, on a few royal monuments, and carved, probably after the fact, onto some images associated with Cyrus. Backing up to the Nabonidus Chronicles, we find Cyrus described as the "King of Anshan," a traditional label for Elamite players in lowland politics. If Cyrus were to fill out a Census form, I suspect that he would tick the box for "Elamite," and while Darius would tick the box for "Persian," there would not be that many of them.
Not that Cyrus would situated himself in ethnic terms, for all that the greater part of his army would have been Elamite speakers. On the contrary, he was located within great power politics. His mother was a daughter of the King of the Medes, his grandmother a sister of Croesus, last king of Lydia. These were the alliances that the ancient powers had to make to rid themselves of the shadow of Assyria and overwhelm its cities in 620--605BC. Sardis seems like a long way away from Khuzistan, to be sure, but there is a sense in which the Median Empire was in the middle of them.
But wait. Hold up for a moment. You can get out your ancient history map and see the Median Empire illustrated. What you cannot find is independent evidence that it existed. There was an anti-Assyrian confederacy of "Medes," but, such as it was, it consisted of all the highland tribes arrayed in a semi-circle around the Assyrian homeland, assembled into one great coalition of grievances after the eruption of the Cimmerians --whom the Assyria identify as an Indo-European speaking people up there in the mountains of Kurdistan. This might not be an ethnic label, any more than "Tea Partiers" represents a rebellious tribe living in Teapartia. So who were the kings of the Medes from whom Cyrus was descended? Go forward a bit into Herodotus, and we find Croesus again, making war on the Medes by besieging their great city of Pteria. Herodotus is a little vague about where Pteria was, but until recently no-one doubted that it was in central Turkey. Go back far enough and Bogazkoy used to get singled out. More recently, another very large hilltop city not too far east of Bogazkoy, but destroyed and abandoned at the right time, has been singled out: Kerkenes. The problem that has led scholars to retract their identification? Kerkenes was a Phyrgian city.
Woo. Spooky. Phyrgians, Greeks, Hittites, Medes, Persians, Lydians, Cimmerians --they're all blurring together into one composite Early Iron Age entity, exchanging influences, princesses, and presumably words and jargon. It sure was much simpler when we could derive them all from the Pontic Steppe and assume that the Greeks went west to heroic, virtuous Europe, while the Persians went east, to servile, decadent Asia!
But there are a couple of other curiosities about the Bisitun inscription. First of all, it barely mentions "India," even though "India" was a key part of the early Persian conquests according to Herodotus. Either this land of millions of square miles and vast wealth hardly even impinged on the consciousness of the king, or, more likely, he is referring to the region on the right bank of the Indus --Afghanistan, Baluchistan and parts of eastern Iran that get often get that label later. The idea of Indian would be transferred to the whole subcontinent much later. This opens up the possibility that the Greeks thought the same way, which is very interesting, because after Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenian empire, the eastern parts fell in to the hands of the Seleucid dynasty and various "satraps." In about 255BC, the remote but important province of Bactria (it's on the only practical road for bringing elephants out of India) rebelled under the leadership of a "Greek satrap" named Diodotus. Actually, ethnic labels aren't very helpful here. All we know directly is that the "Greco-Bactrian" state had Greek-style cities, used Greek on its coins. It might have been a racially-pure garrison apartheid state, or something more congenial. Anyway, Diodotus defeated Arsaces, semi-legendary founder of the Parthian state, the Seleucids, and a bunch of others who got in his way in the course of establishing this Greco-Bactrian state, which lasted for several hundred more years, and is well known from archaeology and Indian tradition, as well as to an extent in the classics.
What makes this interesting is that at the same time, and in the very places that Diodotus claimed to rule, we know of another empire: that of the man who calls himself Priyadarsi and sometimes Devadutta in a series of monumental inscriptions in Aramaic and also the "Prakrit," ie. dialect of Sanskrit, called Kharosthi. Buddhist sources of the so-called Mahayana tradition especially call this king "Ashoka," and describe him as a virtuous ruler living a hundred years after the Buddha (that is, 250BC, in this tradition.) He founded many stupas, spread the Buddhist word, and in various ways was the prototype Buddhist world emperor, or Cakravartin ("Wheel-Spinning King.") And now that we have the Kharosthi manuscripts recovered around Ghandhara in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, we know that this is not mere legend. Or, rather, it is a legend that goes back almost to 100BC. And as with Herodotus' slightly more ancient world, it is hard to believe that there were not more symbolically stored historical traditions accessible to them than there are today. Just as the Sassanian kings destroyed a huge Elamite inscription and mural in order to make their own at Nashq-i-Rustam, so history was lost as history was made.
The names are also direct Kharosthi translations of "Diodotus." Were Diodotus and Asoka the same person? Probably: it's a less interesting question than some have supposed, because having a Greek name doesn't make the Beloved of the the Gods any more a Greek than having a Kharosthi name makes him an Indian. What is interesting is that we have linked the first manifestation of Indo-Whatsit languages in the Indian subcontinent not to some unspeakably ancient oral tradition, but to the royal propaganda of a powerful and successful ruler on the edge of the Greco-Persian continuum, embedded in a tradition of using the purposeful creation and manipulation of languages and scripts in the interest of establishing historical legitimacy. Here is a language of writing, law and power, a language that can displace local tongues and creoles and, in time, become the language and literature of two great world civilisations.
Because it would be naive to think that these developments will have no effect on the further development of Greek or Latin. Indeed, it would be a mistake to think that these developments have any centre, except perhaps in the Anatolian middle. Rather, ideas, words, scripts and grammars are moving east and west, north and south along the artery roads throughout this period to create the Indo-European continuum.
Sorry about the abruptness of the ending. I've got to put this to bed --it's taken far too much of my time already.