Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Bronze Age Collapse, VI: Sea of Flowers

EDIT: I can't spell.

With wild surmise, from a hill at Kerkenes Dag, a discovery:

This looks down on a sea of flowers in the spring

The Argument

This is a "Blog Comment Follow Up," so it's primarily a response to Graydon talking about thalassocracy. I have opinions! More importantly, Michael Munn does. Make what you will of this fabric of speculation, but Munn deserves respect. As I'm going to take a while to get to his argument, the shorter summary is that "thalassocracy" is an Athenian ideological conception meant to distinguish the Persian Empire-in-Europe as hubristic, in that it passes the "natural" boundary between Europe and Asia, while Athens' Delian League, which can be understood as an Athenian (European) empire in Asia is pious and godly, because it is a "thalassocracy." 

Incidentally, and on my own hook, I'll throw in some observations about the likely realities of Ancient naval warfare, these are in part aimed at the claims of the Trireme Trust but could just as easily go to the Nineteenth Century argument about the steam ram. 

To make things more complicated, I've also had a nice email from Lameen alerting me to a post at the Mountain reviewing Brown, Wichmann and Beck establishing that Chitimacha, a Louisanan language previously thought to be an isolate, is actually genetically  Totozoquean. That is, a Mesoamerican language transmitted by a prehistoric Mesoamerican colonisation of the Gulf Coast, perhaps at the beginning of archaeologically-attested corn farming there. The origins of the idea of "thalassocracy" are, it seems to me, linked to changing ideas about the religious foundations of natural sovereignity that are easily lost when we insist on immmanent national-religious identities that distinguish Asian (Phrygian, Lydian, Persian, Median, Cimmerian) identities --and languages-- from "European" (Greek, Scythian, Thracian). This becomes even more pressing when we consider the evidence that the boundary between "Europe" and "not-Europe" was moved from the Halys, which practically runs under Kerkenes Dag, to the Hellespont, thus moving the Phyrgians and Lydians from Europe to Asia. I continue to believe that the language changes with which the early Iron Age was so fertile would have been impossible were it not so hard to express Big Ideas without fancy new jargon with its own implict, prescriptive grammar. That is, that spread of ideas, and not migration of nations, should be the preferred model of language change for the Iron Age and the much-discussed Spread of Indo-European. This is why Kerkenes is important here. I might have lost this thread a bit, but Kerkenes is an archaeological anomaly which makes no sense in our understood scheme of the spread of Indo-European, so, naturally, I'm demanding that an alternative paradigm rather than an alternate reading of the archaeology and/or specific language history. 

This post is also an exercise in talking about books and scholars that I've read that deserve wider exposure, and it deserves a bibliographic section. I would put one in, were it not that it is already 4PM in the freaking afternoon as I write.

The Digressive Prologue, To Get it Out of My System, Hopefully

As readers of this blog may be aware, insofar as I understand the historical linguistics stuff, and my music tastes should sufficiently demonstrate the tin ears that handicap me here, I tend to prefer accounts of language change that privilege technological change, broadly understood, over migration narratives. New techne are brought by people, to be sure, but they can only teach with the vocabulary they have, and that vocabulary carries its own prescriptive rules that enter the local discourse and modify it, perhaps --perhaps!-- creating a language different enough from the original that we can then proclaim a genetic relationship with the prestige-tongue that brought the new techniques in the first place.

This particular change is particularly heavily loaded. We are talking about the formation of Eastern Woodland civilisation: turkey at Thanksgiving, college football, sundowner towns. Important stuff. The horizon our linguistic scientists have discovered, c. 850AD, is pretty clearly not the first moment of diffusion of corn farming into North America, much less of Mesoamerican crops, since tobacco precedes corn by perhaps a thousand years. What it is, is a cultural horizon 
What happened to you if you texted during lecture in the old days

that makes corn farming visible. It's a cultural horizon that is associated with the rise in North America of a civic architecture of mound-pyramids erected over levelled plazas on which sacred games are played, and with which are associated earth lodges in which the members of fraternal societies gather to drink the heavily caffeinated "black drink." I am not being entirely whimsical in associating all of this with the modern college campus, or in suggesting that if scholars as insightful as Tim Pawtucket can go on record suggesting that this doesn't reflect the propagation of Mesoamerican cultural influences through the Eastern Woodlands hinterland, then the denial is almost more interesting, than the archaeology itself. 

Fifteen hundred years ago, the glamour of Azatlan spread through this land. The moccasin and canoe blade of the sacred traveller, practically invested with the task of carrying toolstone down to the alluvial flats, but protected by the sacred glamour of the shadow of Azatlan. If it is erased, it is because a few centuries later, the routes reversed, and a new story, of a land of techne across the sea, was overlaid upon the story of the Place of Reeds. Lost, confused, yet mythopoeically overwhelmed with the project of creating a country for themselves, Americans compromised by building their own Place of Reeds that looks out over "seapower" rather than back the hutted knoll of their birth (1, 2, 3; though I'm not sure that I've ever rambled on about Wyandotte and American origins here.).  

Uhm, Kerkenes! You see the connection, right? Look! A video!

Sometime, perhaps when the first Critias was archon at Athens, someone stood on what might have a Hittite holy mountain, and commanded that a city be built there, and surrounded by seven kilometers of walls, pierced by seven gates. Today, it is called Kerkenes. Geoffrey Summers and a revolving team of excavators have been uncovering this greatest of (abandoned) urban sites in central Anatolia for almost twenty years, labouring to understand why anyone would build here, and why so much effort was invested in erecting a town that was abandoned forever less than a century after it was built. And which had perhaps the most unpleasant climate of any proposed national capital, ever. (Like Ankara, if someone had said to themself, "you know what Ankara needs? A higher altitude and more exposure!") Summers has, over the years, called Kerkenes the  Pteria of the Medes and a Phrygian intrusion into the landscape of the Halys bend. This conclusion would seem to invalidate the Pteria hypothesis. But where else could Pteria possibly be?

I think that the two stories can be reconciled. So does Summers, I think, although he has not articulated his reconciliatoin. Not to be mysterious, that Phrygian and Median, and for that matter Cimmerian and Hittite identities are fluid, changing one into another over time. In short, it is one of those stories of ethnogenesis that make us all so uncomfortable.

That's Kerkenes. (And language: To make it explicit, this is the theory of a language cline joining Greek to Phrygian, Armenian and Iranian. Greek is not a "Western" Indo-European language. Greeks are not "Western!" Cultural panic time!)

Let me back up for a moment here. The title here will have some resonance for Canadians (everyone else please forgive us as we take a moment) as Henry Kelsey's  purported vision of the Prairies as a "sea of flowers" stretching west and northwards to the sea. It's Stan Rogers who links that vision to the explorer, John Franklin, who created a legend of Canadian origins and Victorian seapower by killing off his entire expedition, consisting of the incredibly appositely named Erebus and Terror,  by getting them frozen into the Arctic ice pack in the fall of 1845. The absurdity of it all is perhaps more striking today. Sailing a crew of famously superstitious matelots into the Arctic gloom on a ship named for the primordial chthonic god of formless night and terror? (Kim Carnes, everybody!)?Good luck with that! The other way of looking at it is that early Victorian sailor men were all half-paid, perenially disappointed, and suicidally eager for a chance to prove themselves, and at least this was expanding the frontiers of knowledge, and not a war. Franklin had already had a terrible baptism in the terrors of the Arctic, so he knew what he was getting into. A hidden part of that story, eventually revealed, is Midshipman Robert Hood's daughter by Greenstockings, daughter of Keshkarrah, so he knew the secret story of how thalassocracy really breeds empire. Something something perils and corruptive powers of the sea something thalassocracy.

So here are three thalassocracies contrasted, Victorian and the still-to-be-introduced Minoan, and the Delian. It is also an attempt to unsettle the analysis by analogy, by undermining confident assertions about identity, and by decentering motivation from the state that directs expansion by seapower to the young men and women who actually performed that expansion. We have the Thalassocracy of Minos.What we mean is either the idea that, in the time of Theseus, King of Athens, a ruler named Minos sat at Knossos in Crete, and from there exercised a rulership over the realm of the sea, or the idea that a commercial, maritime, seapower-based hegemony was exercised from Knossos at some point in the contested historical sequence of "Aegean Civilisation."  

The best, purest version of this has the warships of Crete drawn up on the shore when a volcanic tsunami unleashed by the catastrophic eruption of Thera destroys them. Freed of the yoke of their more civilised southern neighbours, the Indo-European-speaking Vikings Mycenaeans leap on their raiding ships, descend on Crete, and, for good measure, the rest of the Middle East until at last their ships' prows rest on the sandy beaches of Hattusa and Nippur, ending the Late Bronze Age oecumene in fire and blood.

The stratigraphy, hence history, of this picture has collapsed pretty comprehensively. Knossos ceased to be the capital of a pre-Indo-European oecumene in 1350BC, Thera erupted in 1500BC, and the Late Bronze Age Collapse occurred after 1200BC. It's also entirely reasonable to raise quesions about the incongruous idea of a mercantile-industrial hegemony in the Late Bronze Age Aegean. But it makes for a good story. We can't say it happened this way, because it didn't, but we can put all the facts together in the same paragraph and rely on continuing editions of Poul Anderson and Robert Graves  and Harry Harrison, and everyone else who has used the same raw material to tell the same, wrong story. It is the wrong story. The Thalassocracy of Minos is not, in my view, salvageable, and a nuanced account of "Minoan settlements" on the Aegean islands rolls it back stil further.

We are, at this point, stuck with the fact that the wrong story is far more useful than the right one. That is, because it justifies and legitimises Victorian thalassocracy.

I know that that's not a very kind way of putting things, but I've talked many times here about how history can be plucked at for dangling signifiers that can be used to weave new justificatory stories, and there are few story-strands woven into more regrettable fashions than the story of the Thalassocracy of Minos. In short, as J. D. Bernal tried to point out in his otherwise-regrettable Black Athena, Eurocentrism itself is at stake. We can purify "democracy" of "Oriental tyranny," distinguish Western art from Eastern, and give Greek philosophy a virgin birth, pure from the first of "mysticism."

Also, seapower. Our modern concept of the Minoan Thalassocracy was born in the Edwardian age, and making fun of the way that,Arthur J.Evans' picture of Minoan civilisation suspiciously mirrors Edwardian England is a solid sub-sector of the modern Knossos industry. I guess that I don't have to spell out the way in which a guy writing in the decade of Dreadnought is shaping his vision of ancient sea power around contemporary controversies about dreadnoughts versus conscription.  

The Primrose League's Girl's Auxiliary Performs "On Dune and Headland Sinks the Fire: A Dance Interpretation"
 I could go on. Why are the ancient Greeks above "Oriental" religion? Because Nonconformity, that's why! Getting the Anglican Church out of the public schools is why Thales is the first philosopher to reject "mythological" explanations of natural phenomena. To spare you some casting around in the Google Books preview linked above, the case here is that Knossos is a "rational" administrative centre, and not a "religious" temple, never mind a "superstitious" necropolis. The dig at Evans above is a link to popular historian Rodney Castleden, who is yet another respondent to that classic bit of crankery, Wunderlich's Secret of Crete. Wunderlich wanted to demolish the idea of Knossos as a palace and relink it to the Amenemhet III's mortuary complex at Hawara. That is, this used to be the explanation for the hypothesised labyrinth at Knossos, before Evans hypothesised a pre-Indo-European language buried in words like "Knossos" and "labyrinth," a cult of the Mother Goddess centred on the cult image of a double axe, and a pristine and "Western" birth of a prematurely feminist, rationalist, modernist, and seapowerish Cretan civilisation. Wunderlich argues that the ancient Minoans/Greeks were all about Egyptian-style mortuary cults, that is, that they were no more culturally-evolutionarily developed than their Semitic neighbours, and so thought much like them, that Hawara was hugely culturally influential, and so no wonder the Cretan oligarchs, whoever they were, built their own.

 God, I miss the days when German cranks could be anti-Nazi. Wunderlich has to be fixed in all kinds of ways, and Castleden is perfectly right to want to dial it back a notch. The way that I would prefer to do that, however, is to elide the difference between temple and mortuary complex and put Knossos back into a relationship with  Hawara. Classic writers were still in thrall to the Twelfth Dynasty. How much more so Middle Bronze Age neighbours?

So that's the basic stakes: Knossos is not the palace/administrative complex/capital of a premature Victorian empire. It may, however, still be the Acropolis of a premature Delian League. This is the crux of the matter, after all, since it is the ancient Greeks who invented the idea of thalassocracy and imposed it back on the mythical Minos while making it available to future Victorians and Edwardians.

Now we're in really difficult waters. The worst that we do with ancient Knossos is play fast and loose with chronology, romanticise a bit, and "reconstruct" structures that never existed. For ancient Athens, we repeal the laws of physics!

Look! The bottom tier of rowers are the only ones with their elbows straight, doing all the work, just like all the good rowers have been saying since forever! Never mnd. Eventually, the rules of naval architecture will bow to the superiority of ouor Classics knowledge.*

In short, if we want to understand the "Thalassocracy of Minos" as a projection back from the Thalassocracy of the Delian League, we need to get inside the mind set that makes that projection, and people are deeply invested in the idea that they thought just like us, which makes the exercise of historical empathy moot. That is, that they are as awesome as us. So the more awesome you make the ancient Greeks, the more awesome you make us!

Those people, I think are wrong. We do need to make an interpretive effort to get into the ancient Greek mindset and understand what Aristotle, Herodotus and Thucydides are tellling us.

As ancients in an ancient landscape, the two founding historians probably were in a position to know more about their past than we. That is, far more of the things built by whatever the Thalassocracy of Minos actually was, existed in 450BC than today. Unfortunately, Herodotus's handling of antiquities does not leave one with much confidence in the "Father of History." We can be grateful to him for giving us indirect testimony about just how obsessed ancient Greeks were with the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt, but we have to wince when he describes Hittite and Assuwan antiquities in Ancient Minor as Egyptian from the time of "Sesostris." Admittedly, the last Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions were cut some two centuries before Herodotus, but they were made in a still-living (more or less)language, and those inscriptions were Aramaic/Luwian bilinguals. It would have been hard for Herodotus to learn to read Luwian hieroglyphics, but far easer for him than for us. One assumes that he didn't bother because it wasn't worth his time. Like I said, that's a dubious "Father of History," right there.

To a point: the worst thing anyone has ever said about Herodotus is that he was hosted by the Athenian clan of the Alcmaeonids, of which Pericles was a member, and gave the received version of The Histories a pro-Alcmaeonid spin to please his hosts. What would we have heard Herodotus say if he gave a talk in Halicarnassus? Would it be full of Anatolian antiquities, instead? Did he omit these stories because he was flattering Greeks, and not because he was ignorant? Maybe, though probably not, and we'll never know for sure. Thucydides, on the other hand, is located at the epicentre of the "Thalassocracy of the Delian League." His scant understanding of the historical "Minoan Thalassocracy" is framed around a lifelong struggle to grasp the meaning of the Delian League. Thucydides' account of the purification of the island of Delos even suggests that we are not going to get there by seeing him as a supreme political realist.

This is the point of access to the ancient mindset, our misconception of the role of the antcient historian. The argument here is that the purification should be seen in the context of Athenian politics of 326. Delphi and Delos are opposed shrines of Apollo which manifest different ideas of this important god of plagues and archers. Purification of Delos is taking a stand on which Apollo matters more. And that, specifically, is about contests between rival collections of oracles.

Back up here. As Hugh Bowden and Peter Osborne have said recently, in their distinct ways, relgions was important to Athenian politics, and religion, as the ancient Athenians knew it, was about performing right rituals, and secondly policies, in answer to divine oracles. A city like Athens would have books and books of oracles, and interpretations, locked up in the treasuries of their temples. Different  Athenian oracle-interpreters were patronised by various different politicians. Politicians would compete to secure public assent to their interpretations, gesturing to the polysemous character of myths and images. Historians, doctors, even philosopers conducted a similar practice of forensically deriving truths about the world as we know it from this farrago of oracle and interpretation. Capizi, in his Cosmic Republic, argues against Aristotle's "doxology" of the pre-Socratic philosophers in a way that can almost be shortened down to a demand that we stop making sense.

I'll repeat. There is no sense here yet. This is a preliterate, verbal society in which the strongest argument is an aniconic image presented to sleep-addled mystery cult celebrants to produce epiphanies that heirophants than interpreted according to the Zeitgeist of the time. The "books" of Democritus and Thales in the treasuries of Athens don't make sense. They are not intended to make sense. There is no rational order in them, because that is not what books were for in the 500s. It is the effort of reading and interpreting them, practiced orally by skilled rhetors embedded in a poylsemenous environment of signs and symbols in landscape and art, reverberating with obscure epic lyrics and referring to the common experience of hypnogogic epiphany, that makes sense of it.

A few months ago, Amazon bombarded me with opportunities to buy Joan Breton Connally's Parthenon Enigma. Connally argues that the Parthenon, the central temple complex on the citadel rock of the city of Athens, was decorated by a frieze (today the Elgin Marbles, because London wanted to assume the thalassocracy of Athens) illustrating, not an anodyne procession, but the highly charged moment when the daughters of Erectheus offered themselves to Pallas Athena for victory in war over Eleusis. Connally has been rolling this rock uphill for twenty years because, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary that can be extracted from the sources, (seriously, look at this book that I am linking to now if you want to make the ancient Greeks strange to yourself), that the ancient Greeks were too modern, rational, post-mystic, etc, to celebrate anything so horrific as human sacrifice. What's more interesting to me, since I take the point already, is the argument that the Parthenon is a huge effort to nail down what I've already referred to as the polysemous character of the body of myth and story that came down to the Athenians. When we find our touchstone authors (Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle) struggling to make sense of stories of the politics of the Sxith Century, we can see how successful the Parthenon was in reframing the conversation.

The story of the establishment of Peisistratos' second tyranny is that he made an advantageous marriage with the daughter of a leading Athenian politician. Having prepared the way, he rode into town in a chariot with a tall young woman whom he passed off as Athena. The awestruck Athenians admitted him into the Acropolis, and he assumed power.A quick googling around brought me to this summary of the ancient evidence, although admittedly mainly interested in the alleged tyrannicide against Peisistratos' son. It will do, because it is mainly intended to move the story onwards to another monograph that I cite frequently around here, Munn's The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia. 

Munn, as will be recalled, focusses on two incidents of ancient Athenian history, the  ritual murder of an emissary from the Persian king in 480
Hey! Historians! We Spartans totally did it too! Before it was cool! 
and the decision to establish the cult of the Great Mother of the Gods on the Acropolis in, I think, 423BC. Munn's theory is that the emissary, "the man of Lydia," is a priest of the Great Mother, and, in the baldest possible reduction of his complex argument, the establishment was a way of making amends with the Phrygian Great Mother.

It is Munn who argues that "thalassocracy" is an ideological construct. The Persian Empire is naturally confined to "Asia" by the sacred boundary between the continents. Athens can transgress the continental boundary because its dominion is naturally over the sea, and not land. This requires us to buy into a set of ideas about geography and sovereignity, which are to be found in an extended discussion of myths about Midas, "the man of Phrygia," the earthly king who wedded the Great Mother, and who, incidentally, rode into Gordion with a tall, fair young woman on his cart, and was therefore made King of the Phrygians. Once the myths are properly unpacked, the idea of a "thalassocracy of the Delian League" becomes immanent in the nature of things.

Fine, but what about Thales and Minos? Well, if you actually haven't seen the scene above, I recommend that you preserve your memetic virginity and watch this, instead. It might be awful moviemaking at every level but it's still better than the original.

Now consider this. Get it? Thales the philosopher, looking up at the stars, one day chanced to fall into  a pit. I'm not sure how far Miller researched his scene, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the Spartans were big on sacrificing victims to the chthonic gods by throwing them into pits of death, and that this whole sacrificial death-in-a-pit thing was pretty resonant in the ancient world. Mary Beard's recent book on the Roman triumph is the one I want to gesture to, here,along with Pritchard, who has a chapter on Greek practices in putting prisoners of war to death.

The problem with Thales is that we have a pretty consistent history of the guy, but if Capizzi is right, we need to throw it over as a doxological fabrication. What we actually know is that he was an ancient sage of the Ionian city of Miletus. He accompanied Croesus of Lydia to war against the Medes, and, near Pteria, settled a war between the two antagonists by predicting a solar eclipse which happened to occur in 585BC. In a second episode in Thales' military consulting practice, he later manoeuvred a Persian army around the barrier of the Halys --which Munn interprets as a prequel to the later sacred boundary between Europe and Asia that Xerxes transgressed by bridging the Hellespont-- by diverting the river to run around his camp. Throw in the episode about Thales buying up all the oil presses to anticipate a bumper harvest, and we've got the illustrative stories that are supposed to make us understand what was such a big deal about Thales. No wonder that Aristotle, like Mencius, struggling over the Spring and Autumn, ends up spinning a yarn in order to force Thales to make sense according to the more advanced lights of the fourth century.

Fortunately, help is at hand from an unlikely source: the Bible! At least, according to Baruch Halpern of Pennsylvania State. (One Google result, although there's a lot of them.) According to Halpern, Thales is located at the end of an extended crisis of legitimacy in the Assyrian state. The traditional political justification for the Assyrian state, like all states, is that the ruler is aligned with the sky god, who, like the "hosts of heaven," each night descends from the all-seeing sky, seat of sovereignity, into the chthonian land of the dead, where the god feasts with the ancestral dead in the original seminar. Various bits of archaeological, anthropological and comparative evidence (here's the first paper to come up on Google) justifies the idea that Late Bronze Age rulers aligned with local elites in building semi-subterranean feasting halls in which they'd hold parties with the sacred remains of their dead.

In one of his papers --I doubt that it's the one I linked to above, but it could be-- Halpern notes Josiah's famous cleansing of the High Places of Judah. The story is that Josiah purged the nation of idolatry by having the priests (perhaps) and the bones of previous high priests burned at the sites. Why? Because for the previous century, Assyria had eventually given up trying to impose its rule on local elites through the traditional discourse of sovereignity that focussed on the celestial-chthonic transition. The local elites kept revolting! Even when the Assyrians took the radical step of relocating elites (transporting nations), the problem was not resolved. The new elites would just appropriate the high places of their precursors and conduct the same rites.

Look at it this way: in a preliterate landscape, the only definitive way of proving one's right to a piece of land was to claim an ancestral right to it. See that hilltop tomb, the one that catches the light of dawn in the morning? That's where my ancestors are buried; not yours. That's why you're the tenant, and I'm the landlord. The frustration experienced in Khorsabad/Nineveh/Assur/wherever the Assyrian capital was this week was the dawning realisation that it was all ideological bullshit. Swap the Israelite priestly rulers with the Elamite, and twenty years later the sons of the transported assholes would be throwing a tax revolt on the same old language.

Well, fuck that. For centuries now, the Babylonians had been doing this whole intepreting oracles shit better than anyone else. They'd put together such a library of astronomical oddities that you could start to do some serious theosophy in there. And the theo-astronomers of Babylon had made a huge discovery. The sun god of the heavens never went down to visit the dead. No, he, and the hosts of heaven, and Sin, goddess of the Moon, were always up in the sky. It's just that the planetary gods don't give off their own light, and the stars are too dim to be seen during the day. So when there are things you can't see in the sky, it's not that they're not there, it's that the sky has rotated until they're on the other side of the Earth! How is that possible? Well, maybe the Earth is a mountain floating on an ocean of water. Or maybe it's a sphere, surrounded by a larger, celestial sphere. Looking at the lunar eclipse, that actually makes a lot of sense. The Earth is still surrounded by water, though, the great river Ocean --in the sense that "the Earth" now consists of a bunch of continents spread on a spherical "planet." Or maybe not. Maybe there's also land on the other side of Ocean, an Antipodes. Maybe the Antipodes is where the shades of the Dead live. But it remains the case that the sun god is as high in their sky as he is in ours.

Speaking of eclipses, you think you're so hot, local landlords? Well, watch this, because we are going to predict solar eclipses in advance, using our data. (And a lot of other astronomical teratologies, too, but mainly eclipses.) You  might be chill with the chthonic gods, but you have exactly zero privilege with the sky gods, the gods of sovereignty. Assyria is coming to fuck you up 'till you pay your taxes and maintain the roads and maintain the Assyrian state in the style to which it has become accustomed.

The ideology of modern (well, Aristotelian) astronomy obviously did not work out so well for the Assyrians. Or Josiah, their imitator, by this argument. Egypt, which you might think was a bit invested in this whole sovereignity-derives-from-prominent-ancestral-tombs thing, did Josiah in. And then tried to maintain the Assyrians in power, because Great Powers do not have friends, but only interests. In the end, the heartland of the Assyrian state was burned and ravaged in a twenty year orgy of violence that eventually drew in the Babylonians, assorted proto-states of the Anatolian-Iranian plateau, and even the Egyptians. It has been argued that the crucial episode might have been a mutiny of the Assyrian's upland cavalry, though, and while I know it is piss-weak to wrest such an important point on a source that is probably buried in a pile of papers to my immediate right, I do have other things to do today, so that is what I'll go with.It's why the "sea of flowers" around Kerkenes matters. That's where you get cavalry from.

Now we are in a post-Assyrian age. The ideology of Assyrian rulership is available for those who want to use it, as is the actual astronomy behind it. Thales, it now seems clear, has access to that astronomy. He is also involved in a transition of power in central Anatolia, one which sees" "Lydia," "Media," and "Persia" all engaged in the historical record, cdompeting glamours for the loyalty of the cowboys of the high plains. He says on the strength of the recondite,  unfortunate archaeological fact of Pteria/Kerkenes as our accessible historical evidence.

That is, if Lydia and Persia are engaged in a death struggle that ends in the establishment of a Persian Empire abutting the Greek sphere, why is it that our evidence is of a "Phrygian city" where the record tells us that the "Median capital" is? Some people want to get rid of the Medes. Others want to get rid of the "Persians." (Seriously: the argument is that Darius creates a false narrative linking his dynasty to Cyrus. This would explain why Ancient Persian is so ideologically important to hiim, but is apparently a dead language to his administration, which writes Elamite and Aramaic, instead. Note that Briant's argument that Old Persian was dead to the Persian Empire, although obviously still spoken by someone, somewhere, is made with a much wider range of evidence in his book.)

How do we reconcile this mystery? By assuming a plasticity of ethnic identity and a fluid language system in which Greek passes over into ancient Persian by gradual steps that take us along the Royal Road from Athens to, ultimately, Susa. Kerkenes, at one point the intended capital of a great empire, is lost to us because its legacy is at odds with the needs of the states tht might have claimed it. It is marginalised, where it sought to be the centre.

Now we come to rival substructural claims to power. If Kerkenes makes sense, it is because it has the power to surveill the nomad horsemen of central Anatolia --apparently. As Geoff Summers points out, that power is strictly apparent, because in historic, and even protohistoric, times, it shifts south to Kayseri and stays there. Perhaps this is a reflection of the first major roadbuilding work on the Cilician Gates?

"Thalassocracy," Munn proposes, is above all an ideological construct. What of its substructural claims to a reality as a mode of organising military power? Does cavalry, hoplite, and rower give you three military organisations, and three modes of political organisation, as has been claimed? Probably not. In particular, we do not have to oppose seapower (ships) to landpower (cavalry). It could, but it strikes me that we far overestimate the different spheres of land andn seapower in the Aegean context. There is, in fact, very good reason to synthesise the two, as the later Turks did. Galley warships, at least after we get rid of the weirdness of the three bank trireme, are cheap. The fleets of Mediterranean warfare are huge, because they are built to absorb existing manpower --and, of course, naval stores in the form of tackle, oars, etc. Armies and navies are not distinct concepts. Rather, you need a navy to move an army. You need an army to man a navy. If you are putting crews on galleys, skilled sailors are not much of a limiting factor, because a galley requires so few of them. Rowers are barely more. The key limited asset is archers, and mounted archers are --roughly-- just as easily shipborne artillery.

Notice that I've jumped over what could be a very long and painful argument about the primacy of firepower over the ram in galley warfare. Let's just say that we've already had this argument, two centuries ago. Ramming is a goofy way to try to fight a naval battle. To the extent that our sources tell us that Ancient naval battles were won with rams, we really need to be interrogating the sources, not rewriting geometry to make it more plausible. Notice that putting "ram" bows on ships makes perfect sense for hydrodynamic reasons, and that wrapping them in bronze also makes sense when they are likely to be the only part of a beached galley riding on hard ground. And, yes, I do know that this line of rationalist thinking can get you into a lot of trouble, very easily.

Unexpectedly, and at this very moment as I compose, I find this source, discussing the Athenian archery, their presence at the Battle of Salamis, their recruitment and numbers. The quintessential Athenian archer is a barbarian, a Scythian, and, latterly, a Thracian --peoples who can be assigned a "European" homeland, however barbaric, and thus not transgressive of the sacred boundary. Athens, unlike Persia, respects the limits imposed by the gods. They are affiliated with the cavalry, associated, as Poseidon is, with horse and sea alike --and with Apollo, god of archiers, in both his Delphic and Delian identities. 

The key moment, then, is the decision to put the Great Mother into the Acropolis. I is imposed, perhaps, by something so quotidian as the need to find enough archers to man the fleet. It is now necessary to embrace a spherical Earth, hence a distinction between chthonic and celestial, and a new sacred landscape in which the great tells and mounds and cenotaphs of the ancestral dead have to be reimagined as something else. A sacred geography of continents and seas is entangled with this. Once all of this is sorted out, one can begin speaking of it, and speech acts make the language in which they are spoken fall out. From a lingua franca which can be confused with "Persian" far to the south and east, and with "Greek" this far west, a clear language, with a clear syntax and an agreed vocabulary can be formed. Certain places, once thought to be sacred, are now marginalised. It is a brave new world, and what people there are to be in it: "Westerners:"

*If you're reading this and wondering what the hell I'm on about, there has been an argument for many centuries now about ancient rowed warships, which are indicated in ancient literature to have been somehow multiply oarred. Were they rowed in ways familiar from the modern era, either by multiple men per oar sitting on a common bench, or by several oars manned by men rowing on a common bench; or by men sitting on multiple tiers of benches, each with their own oars. The latter has been consistently deprecated by rowers and naval architects, while defended by classicists. Ultimately, a trials ship, the Olympias, was built and tried. It proved unable to replicate reported performance of the "triremes" of the ancient Greek world, and was, withal, a very bad rower. You would think that this would settle the argument in favour of the actual lived experience of the massive galley navies of the sixteenth century, which argued about this very same thing. But, no, the conclusion is instead that Olympias was built, in some subtle way, to the wrong proportions, and that the rules of physics will surrender if we just find the right ratio of bench lengths to heights. Popular culture, meanwhile, declines to take the thing on board at all.

1 comment:

  1. That was a very chewy set of links. (And now I know there was an Eponymous Archon named Demotion, which leads me to wonder what the fellow did prior to gaining supreme authority...)

    Constructing-legitimacy-by-religious-ethnogenesis is especially interesting considered in a fictional context where some of the eminent persons from the first rise are still around, but have presumably no understanding of today's social norms; I can see explaining Edwardian London to the Delian league, but not to Minos. And age and power grow layers of intermediaries, too.

    Always nice when the antagonists get more complex than a profit motive. Thank you!