Friday, April 27, 2012

I'll show you where you can stick your bow

Update 12/10/13:  This post contains information that is probably incorrect.  Please see here.

While bows could be simply carried around the shoulder, a practical method of carrying them had evolved on the Steppe consisting of a large holster with a quiver on the side.  This bowcase is referred to in Greek sources as a gorytos (pl. gorytoi, Lat. gorytus).  It lasted for hundreds of years before being replaced with the separate bowcase and quiver of Turkish and Mongol horse archers.

The Achaemenid gorytos consisted of a rectangular, presumably leather pocket worn diagonally, bottom-forward, at the left hip.  Its forward corner was rounded off.  It was probably one piece of leather, folded and stitched along the upper edge with what looks in some illustrations to be a Holbein stitch, though in others a separate creased strip runs along the top edge which I am not sure how to interpret.  The strung bow rested in the case staff-down, and the curved corner follows the curve of the bow's tip.  This left the bottom corner of the gorytos empty.  A good overview may be seen here (second from the bottom on the left).

Another image of the gorytos showing (what I believe to be) a Holbein stitch.

It was attached to the belt by a thong that was held down with rivets to the sides.  If that sounds hard to understand, it's because it is.  Below I'll discuss a possible method.  The belt attachment is shown to have been more than halfway down from the tip of the bow.  I've found that it should be less than halfway down for the case to hang at the correct angle - the fact that art shows otherwise is again probably due to the artistic convention of showing the bow as smaller than it was.  For the same reason, the cover (below) was shown as making up more than half the case's visible length when the case was assembled; it actually makes up less than half.

The arrow pocket was presumably on the side of the case facing the wearer and thus invisible in most processionary art.  When the bow had been removed for combat, the case could be rotated so the fletched ends of the arrows pointed forward and were within reach of the right hand.
A simple plan for the main section.

Stitching is never visible on the cover, but I am working on the assumption that its construction was the same as the case itself.

Making your own
The gorytos is one piece of equipment you will have to make yourself (or have custom-made).  There are simply no readymade replicas available on the market that I've ever seen.

Constructing one is tedious but straightforward.  Use heavy (around eight-ounce/3mm) leather.  Cut the main piece about 2/3 the length and six inches (15cm) more than twice the width of your bow.  Cut the cover quite a bit wider - say, four inches - in the areas where it will slide over the case.  I seamed the cover of mine on the bottom edge - the opposite side from the case's seam - since the cover is more-or-less straight on the top edge.  Now cut out and position a third piece to form the arrow pocket.  It should be more than half the length of your arrows and must be several inches from the cover when the cover is in place so you aren't forced to jam the cover down over the arrows.

Lightly moisten a line down the middle of the case and cover pieces, on the flesh side.  Fold them, smooth side out, and place weight on top so they'll dry in the right shape.

Make stitch holes with an awl, leather punch or small drill bit as the thickness and hardness of your leather requires.  Using heavy sinew or string (about four times the length of the seam), first stitch on the arrow pocket and then close the bowcase and cover seams.

Belt attachment
My own solution to this problem was to rivet down a piece of leather through which a leather lace is threaded.

The forward side of the lace attachment.

The holes for the lace are punched into the intermediary leather piece first.  Then the bottom three rivets  - solid ones with washers - attach the intermediary to the unstitched case below the line of stitch holes, being hammered down on the inside of the case, and the lace is threaded through the intermediary.  After the case is sewn, the upper two rivets are installed; these are longer rivets that go all the way through the case above the stitching.

On the back.

It doesn't look good, but with larger, domed rivets covering most of the intermediary piece, it would probably look something like the originals.

It won't fit there
If you bowcase or cover are too tight for the bow, you can expand them by dampening and filling them with various objects, such as wooden boards and dowels, wherever they need to loosen so the bow can be removed easily when you go to shoot.  Don't use loose matter (the way you would expand a leather water bottle with grain or sand); you don't want the case to bloat like a balloon, but simply to expand in the necessary places while maintaining its shape.  I recommend doing this especially for the top end of the cover, where the curved tip of the bow fits rather snugly.

It's also essential for the arrow pocket to hold the arrows loosely (including large blunt safety arrows) so you can draw them fast.  Put a board (a large book works okay if you're careful not to make the arrow pocket too wet) into the bowcase to hold it taught, then fill the pocket with dowels, wiffle bats, just about anything to give it a full shape, filling in as evenly as possible to prevent lumps.  Let the leather dry completely before removing the objects.

The gorytos is a very convenient system for carrying and using your bow and arrows, as yours truly demonstrates.
1st row, L-R:  From walking position, swing the gorytos around, pull off the cover with your arrow hand and lift the bow out with your bow hand.
2nd row:  Remove the arrows with your arrow hand and notch.
Photos taken by Ashley Holt of the Hoplite Association.

Next up:  The Persian army.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If you're in the Philly area on May 16, John Trikeriotis will be presenting a lecture, "300 Revisited: Fact and fiction in Hollywood’s depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae" at Drexel.  Members of The Hellenic Warriors will be there.

A drink before we decide

We have neither recipes nor detailed descriptions of the foods eaten in Achaemenid Persia, but we do know a lot about the ingredients available and something of what was made from them.  Common foods distributed according to the Persepolis tablets include barley, wheat, beer, sheep and goats.  Wheat flour was made into bread, doubtless similar to modern flatbreads (nan), and the Greeks speak of Persian cakes or pastries.  Fruits and nuts native to the area include figs, dates, pistachios and walnuts.  According to Herotodus, meals were generally light and followed with many desserts.

He also notes that at birthday parties, it was customary to serve whole roasted beasts:  oxen, horses, camels or donkeys if one could afford it, or otherwise small cattle.  Royalty and nobles enjoyed hunting, both in the wilderness and in royal paradises (parks), by which they also trained for war.  Pierre Briant notes that Persians seem to have eaten more meat than Greeks.

The ancient Mediterranean was wine country, and Persia was no exception.  Wine remained important in Persian culture even after Islamification, right up until the IRI banned it.  Herodotus claims that Persians would deliberate on important issues while drunk, then reconsider the decision while sober; if they were sober when they first considered the problem, they reconsidered it while drunk.  (Jona Lendering suggests that this is in fact a misinterpretation of the haoma ceremony.)  While the Middle East is best-known for grape wine, 2nd-century military author Polyaenus in Strategems wrote that half the wine consumed at the king's table in Babylon and Susa was palm wine.  Wine and beer were considered important sources of nutrition; kurtaš women who had just given birth were given extra rations of one or the other.

No one may vomit or urinate in another's presence: this is prohibited among them.
- Herodotus, I.133

The royalty ate very richly, as attested both by the brief entries of the Persepolis tablets, where large amounts of animals, flour, oil and wine are sent wherever a member of the family travels, and the lavish descriptions of Greek writers like Polyaenus, who provides several vertigo-inducing pages of livestock, game, waterfowl, veggies, fruit and nuts, oils, herbs and dairy products described as "the Great King's lunch and dinner."

Food at reenactment camps takes quite a bit of work simply because of the numbers of people being fed.  At the Marathon 2011 camp dinners, grills were set up on the beach well away from the treeline.  Arrangements for keeping meat cold (or allowing the time to buy it right before cooking) and having enough water for washing and drinking have to be made ahead well ahead of time.  In order to be served fresh, vegetables were trimmed by hand shortly before.  The upshot of this is that most of the food has to be kept pretty simple.

Next up:  The case for bows.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Book of the Bow

Two basic types of bows are attested.  Both are short and have recurved tips (the tips bend away from the archer), but one is otherwise a simple curve while the other dips back toward the string in the middle, giving it a shape like a B.  I think the first type is West Asian in derivation, since it looks like bows carried by earlier Assyrians.  The latter type is a Great Steppe style, essentially the same as those of the Scythians. It's the more common one overall in art from our period.

In essence, a recurve bow is already partly bent (drawn) just by being strung.  The added tension on the string means a recurve can hurl an arrow with greater force than a non-recurve bow of the same length and stiffness.  It's a logical choice for horseback archery like the Persians and Central Asians used, where a longbow would be more awkward.  Because tree limbs don't grow in the right shape for recurves, ancient ones were just about always composites of various materials (traditionally wood, animal horn and sinew) laminated with glue.  Recurves of traditional materials are still available for the right price.  Most budget-priced ones are made of fiberglass sheathed in leather, which works fine.

In period art, bows are shown as being extremely short, perhaps 30 inches (~76cm) when strung.  I believe this is due to artistic convention; archaeological finds show that they were at least half again longer than that.

As always, check your group's regulations when selecting a bow.  My own is a Grozer Old Scythian, a popular model among reenactors.  Judging by their photos, Grozer's higher-end biocomposite Scythian may be a more historically-accurate shape.  I've also heard positive reviews of Saluki Bow.

A few tips on use
I won't try to explain how to string a bow in words; any old video clip will be infinitely clearer.

Never snap a bowstring without an arrow notched ("dry firing").  The arrow is needed to absorb the energy of the string being released; without it, that energy will reverberate through the bow itself and possibly damage it.  Even if cracks aren't visible, small internal cracks can cause the bow to break when drawn - and a bow breaking at draw can be a violent thing.

We don't wear bracers or gloves in costume, and replica bows won't have arrow rests.  So adjust your grip so your forearm isn't hit by the string and the arrow's fletching only strikes your thumb and not the web (the skin between your thumb and index finger); strikes to the web are much more painful and can cause bleeding.

There's a discussion going on at Amphictyonia at this very moment on how to keep stage combat archery safe.

Next up:  I'm hungry.

Monday, April 16, 2012

XMFM is now on Facebook.

On slavery

I can think of few subjects more touchy or more widely misunderstood than that of slavery in the Persian empire.  On the one hand is the Classical belief that all the Great King's subjects were basically slaves.  On the other is the widespread myth that slavery simply didn't exist either in Persia or any of its subject lands.

The first idea stems from Greek writers, and is likely a rhetorical device.  The Greeks, particularly democrats like the Athenians, were ill-disposed toward absolute monarchies, where the Great King had the power to put to death even high nobles on the mere suspicion of disloyalty (as befell Intaphrenes).  Furthermore, in the Greek national discourse, the weak and submissive nature of the barbarians contrasted with the manly and free-spirited Greeks.  Pierre Briant has also suggested that Greek translators rendered bandaka (approximately "bonded"; in fact it shares the same PIE root) as doulos, "slave," when the word could just as easily mean "servant" or "subject" (it is used in the Behistun inscription to refer both to Darius' generals and to imperial territories).  Thus, in Greek discourse, the imperial subjects were like slaves in status and may have been (mis)understood to actually be slaves in name.

The second myth has much more recent roots; in fact, much of the responsibility for it rests on the last king of Iran, Mohammad Rezā Pahlavī (1919-1980).  Mohammad Rezā envisioned a secular, socially reformist Iran and saw the empire of Cyrus the Great as an historical precursor to his own.  It was his government that referred to the Cyrus Cylinder as a "declaration of human rights."  A false translation was published and remains widely circulated which has the Great King proclaim, among other things, emancipation for all slaves and religious freedom for all subjects.  In truth the Cylinder makes no such sweeping statements, though it does speak of ending a corvée that Nabonidus supposedly placed on Babylon's citizens.

Babylonian commercial tablets from the early Achaemenid period confirm that slaves were still owned and traded, including by the king.  Indeed, a sales tax on them was instituted during Darius' reign.  Babylonian slave deeds also record a legal stricture against the selling of free citizens.  There are indications that some peasants were bound to their villages and protected against being sold; in other words, serfs, neither slaves (moveable property) nor really free, since a body of workers was essential to the value of the land.  Muhammad A. Dandamayev (Encyclopaedia Iranica) sums up the extent of slavery thusly:

On the whole, there was only a small number of slaves in relation to the number of free persons...  .  The basis of agriculture was the labor of free farmers and tenants and in handicrafts the labor of free artisans, whose occupation was usually inherited within the family, likewise predominated.

The other institution which may fall under slavery (by modern standards) was a class of workers known in Elamite as kurtaš, possibly from an Old Persian root *gṛda, believed to mean "household slave" (Iranica).  They originated from all over the empire and worked in large numbers constructing Persepolis, assembling armor and other skilled crafts, herding royal livestock, and serving on private estates.  They were mostly compensated in rations, but sometimes in silver (which Briant theorizes wasn't literally silver, but credit to be used in a truck system) or even land rentals.  They could (at least sometimes) own property.  Unfortunately, none of these facts clearly define the kurtaš's legal status.

It's likely many kurtaš were prisoners of war, the populations we read of in Greek histories (the Eretrians being one of many examples) who were taken from their homes and resettled elsewhere in the empire.  In the case of involuntary movements of kurtaš groups, as Briant puts it, "this was a situation much closer to slavery than the 'helot' type of rural dependency..."  Dandamayev, however, concludes that the kurtaš also comprised "a few free people who worked voluntarily for wages, and some individuals who were temporarily working off their labor service."

A note:  Most of From Cyrus to Alexander may be found and searched at Google Books.

Next up:  First in the arms series, the bow.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cloaked in mystery

Persians didn't wear cloaks as we know them from Greek and other European costumes, or even those of Asian peoples subject to the Persians, such as the Cappadocians.  Instead, an adaptation of the overcoat was worn with the cavalry costume, with the sleeves loose as if it were a cloak.  This garment is consistently portrayed from Persepolis all the way down to the Alexander Sarcophagus over a century and a half later.  The Greeks referred to it as a kandys (pl. kandyes).

It had a straight hem falling almost to the ankle, and a broad border around the neck and front edges.  It must have been secured by being tied at the neck with a band or pinned to the shoulders of the tunic.  The ends of the sleeves sometimes appear to have had mitten-like hand covers, or otherwise just broad cuffs.  Xenophon claims the sleeves were only used in the presence of the king, since they were so long as to prevent the wearer from using his hands (presumably as a way of preventing assassination attempts).  However, it can likewise be presumed that the kandys evolved from a functional coat, and may have been worn as such in cold weather.  According to Margaret Miller (Athens and Persia in the 5th Century BC), it was generally made of leather and trimmed with fur.

Out of all the figures in cavalry costume at Persepolis, only a few of them wear the kandys.  Thus it was probably something of a status item, not an essential part of the ensemble, and XMFM won't require anyone to have or wear one.  I would, however, encourage anyone who has the wherewithal to try making one.

Next up:  slaves in the Persian empire.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


After examining the images at Nirupars - and keeping in mind that all my conclusions are tentative and must change come further, unforeseen evidence (but that's how it always goes) - here's what I now believe:

Medes and Persians at war at the turn of the 5th century BC wore two belts, at the same time.  One was to cinch the shirt around the waist.  It was probably fabric, and was tied in front with a square knot, leaving the ends hanging.  On top of it was worn the weapons belt, to which the bowcase and sword were attached.  It was probably heavy-grade leather because of the weight it had to support.  It was slightly looser-fitting than the first belt, and fastened in front with a round or flower-shaped button; the inability to precisely adjust the button's fit accounts for its looseness.  The button could have been metal, hardened leather or other suitable material - I think that bronze is a likely material.  Perhaps a screw back concho or even a drawer knob, if it's not too thick and heavy, could make an acceptable substitute.  This belt's ends were much shorter and didn't hang.  The two belts were the same width and could have rounded or pointed ends.

Closeups of several of Darius' guards (fourth and fifth pictures here) show them wearing headdresses which might be taken as shorter versions of the tall hats worn by the king himself and other Persians in court dress.  The short hats were open on top because the tops of the men's heads, with hair, can be seen in the middle.  If these were indeed the same as the tall hats, then those "hats" are more like crowns.  While a flat top is visible on the tall hat if viewed from above, it may not mean anything since it's unavoidable when carving such a garment in shallow relief.  This gallery also provides plenty of further examples of soldiers in court dress wearing twisted headbands instead of hats.

Consider for your reenactment large, plain hoop earrings, which were apparently very common.  Most soldiers also wear loops around their necks; these may be torcs, but if so they appear to be wearing them backward, so I won't venture a conclusion here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Administer this

Feudal systems aside, a new system of government entirely had to be devised to rule the huge, multinational empire.  To manage the territory, it was divided into provinces, which are called satrapies (Greek satrapeies).  The word is not attested in Persian, but xsaça-pa-van means "protector of the kingdom" and is presumably the root of "satrap" (provincial governor).  The satrapies are probably what the Persians called dahyava ("countries," sing. dahyu).  Each satrap was required to assess and collect taxes, settle disputes, protect the satrapy from invasion and suppress rebellion.  The term satrapy may apply to administrative divisions at several levels.

The empire preferred to make use of native governmental structures or structures that appeared to be agreeable to the natives when such structures were amenable to imperial rule.  So, in Ionia the initial approach was to back tyrants; after the Ionian Revolt, Mardonius deemed that backing democracies would win the Greeks' support.  The client state of Judah was ruled jointly by high priests and (at least initially) governors descended from the last kings of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity.  At Behistun, Darius speaks of replacing a hostile Scythian king with one of his choosing.

Satrapies paid taxes to the central government, assessed based on the land's productivity.  Lands might be expected to pay in the form of precious metals, grain, livestock or other commodities.  Persia itself was not taxed, but the Persians were required to serve in the military.  During major campaigns, military levies could also be imposed on the satrapies.

Another source of income was tariffs on trade between different regions of the empire.  To encourage the growth of trade, the Achaemenids built new roads and expanded on old ones, forming a network which additionally allowed the quick movement of messengers and armies.  Starting with Darius the Great, the kings also took the initiative to mint coins, the gold daric and the silver siglos.  These coins have been found from Pakistan to independent Greece, where the Achaemenids often disbursed them to influence Greek politics, and even as far off as Italy.

While satraps and viceroys acted in the name of the king, another group of government officials were the king's informants, known in Greek as the "king's eyes."  They were to range about the empire, reporting on troubles, ensuring that taxes were collected and royal orders carried out.  Xenophon even claims they commanded armies to put down uppity satraps and shore up those who were having trouble.  Unfortunately, we have no Persian testimony as to the existence of these officials, but Jona Lendering has suggested that their title was spasaka, "overseer."  The Athenian empire had a similar institution in the 5th century, the episkopos, also meaning "overseer."

Next up:  His cloak, most deep and distinguished.

Update: Belts

Nirupars has an extensive hi-res gallery of Persepolis.  I notice on page 5 several frontwise shots of the cavalry costume belt. This clears up a lot, as the belt is in fact tied closed with a square knot just like the court costume sash and like the belt on the oft-mentioned silver statuette. The button that I thought fastened the belt actually only fastens the weapon strap, and the ends of the strap don't (appear to) hang down. This raises the possibility that the belt is fabric like the court sash, and the weapon strap is a separate belt.

More on this if/when I find out anything.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Something about a hat

Three types of hat are attested for our period.

With the court robe (noticing a pattern here?) went a cylindrical hat, worn by both the king and his soldiers.  It was usually slightly wider at the top than the bottom, with straight (that is, not concave or convex) sides, sometimes canted slightly forward (rhomboidal in profile), and usually fluted on the sides.  Judging by the scale, it was perhaps six to eight inches tall (15-20cm).

With the cavalry costume, probably indicating Medes in this period (the reign of Darius), was worn a tall domed hat.  This hat was humped slightly forward and its bottom edge slanted down in back.  It was tied around the bottom with a hatband that was knotted in back and trailed behind.

In Greek art, imperial soldiers are mostly shown wearing a peaked hat with long earflaps that could be worn loose or tied around the mouth, or, more rarely, over the top like a bomber hat, and a wider flap covering the back of the head.  It is variously referred to by historians as a tiara or kidaris, but these may designate other types of headwear, or as a kyrbasia.  Variants of this type at Persepolis may include the headdresses worn by the Armenians, Arians, Parthians, Sagartians, Soghdians, and most famously the Scythians.  In period Greek art, the style normally depicted is the Scythian style, with short earflaps worn loose and a tall peak.

Tiaras appear on Persians or Medes at least as early as the silver statuette from the reign of Artaxerxes I.  By the late period, if the Alexander Mosaic and Sarcophagus are accurate, the normal Persian infantry wore them as well.  Their style is shorter and appears softer, with the peak normally allowed to fall to one side, the hat bound by a thin cord around the crown, and the earflaps may be longer and are worn wrapped around the lower face.

A last piece of headwear is a twisted band, worn without a hat by two soldiers (possibly Immortals) at Susa.

While the tiara may have originally been made from an animal skin, Herodotus describes the usual material for Persian hats as felt.  I'm still looking into making my own hat.  The tiara looks like it should be easy to make by modifying a Phrygian (or Smurf) hat pattern and adding ear and neck flaps.  The cylindrical hat could perhaps be made from a long strip of felt for the sides and a circle for the top, possibly molding in the pleats and giving the top a sawtooth edge.

The domed hat will have to be blocked.  I think it could be done by stretching a large felt hat over a ball or something - otherwise, you may have to go to a professional hatter.  It must be at least eight and a half inches (22cm) from side to side and six inches (15cm) deep at the temple (and even deeper in the back.  Modern round-crowned hats are just too small - if you cut the brim off a bowler, it'll just look like a skullcap.  The domed hat should basically make you look like you have a lollipop on your head.

Next up:  Trying to run an empire here.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On Persian society

The pre-Achaemenid history of the Persians is known only through allusions in Akkadian texts, but the Eastern Iranian setting of the Avesta may provide clues about society among the early Iranian peoples.  Here, society was divided into three castes, clergy, warriors and farmers.

The Persian xšayathiya (king), like the Indian kshatriya, was viewed as a warrior.  Thus Darius I's tomb proclaims him "a good bowman" and "a good spearman, both on foot and on horseback," and Xerxes I would copy him almost exactly in a later inscription.  Likewise, royal seals as early as Kurash the Anshanite, believed to be Cyrus I the grandfather of Cyrus the Great, show the king personally slaying enemies.  Of course, the evolution of the aristocratic class from the tribal warrior caste isn't the least bit unusual among nations in general, and is practically the rule among Indo-Europeans.  Zoroaster himself is described in one Avestan hymn as "the first priest, the first warrior, the first plougher of the ground," and some researchers find evidence that Achaemenids regarded themselves in the same way.  Among Darius' Persepolis inscriptions are prayers to Ahura Mazda to protect his country from "invaders, from famine and from the Lie," prayers on behalf of the warriors, farmers and priests.

While the king's power often seemed dictatorial, his position was precarious.  The Persians were divided into several tribes - Herodotus lists ten, with the Achaemenids as heads of the Pasargadae tribe - and the kings needed the cooperation of the major tribal leaders to be able to govern.  The ability of Gaumâta (or Bardiya as the case may have been) to raise the kingdom against Cambyses, its legitimate king, and the revolts that followed the succession of Darius showed how much power remained in the hands of the king's vassals, both the nobility of Persia and of its imperial holdings.  Pierre Briant (From Cyrus to Alexander) suggests that one pillar of the king's power was the ability to distribute land grants to noblemen from which to raise their military forces, and furthermore to confiscate these grants and redistribute them to more loyal nobles as needed; that this is what Darius speaks of when he describes restoring the lands which Gaumâta had taken away.  Xenophon in the Cyropaedia describes similar actions on the part of Cyrus the Great.

It was likewise by a conspiracy of great nobles that Darius took the throne, and in his Behistun inscriptions, he urged his successors to continue their alliance with the families of his companions.  Thereafter, if Greek historiography is anything to go by, Persian kings would try to surround themselves with the most loyal nobles, developing a court system that encouraged devotion to the monarch.  The satraps' relatives were also part of the court, in a sense hostages reinforcing the satraps' loyalty.  Xenophon states that their children were educated there, doubtless instilling a sense of respect for the hereditary monarchy.

The priesthood is a rather more opaque topic than the warrior aristocracy.  Herodotus refers to the Magoi (Magi in Latin) as a Mede tribe, but otherwise uses the word to refer to a priestly caste.  Whether this then means that the Mede tribe supplied the Persians' priests, or simply that the tribe happened to have the same (or a similar) name as the priesthood, is difficult to determine, but Greek sources rarely use it to refer to the priesthood.  Jona Lendering has supported the former sense by comparison with the Levites, an Israelite tribe who traditionally served as the Israelite's priests.  In the Histories, the Magi officiate over all sacrifices and recite hymns.  In the Persepolis tablets, they're recorded as administrators as well as conductors of religious ceremonies.

According to Herodotus, the fight between Darius' conspirators and Smerdis/Gaumâta spilled over into a purge of all the Magi from the palace where Smerdis was staying, and ever since then, on the anniversary of the fight no Magi were permitted to leave their homes.  The veracity of this part of the story is questionable, but I know of no subsequent references in Greek or Persian sources to the Magi threatening the authority of the kings, whose greatest enemies thereafter were their own relatives and ambitious officials, though the Magi were integrated into the court even to the days of Alexander.

The lowest caste, the farmers, herders and workers, rarely enter into the historical record.  The military and hunter culture described by Greek writers is the culture of the aristocracy.  Obviously a peasantry was needed to support them.  Peasants therefore probably didn't normally serve as soldiers except in unusually large expeditions, like Xerxes' invasion of Greece.  Thus the system could be recognized as feudal; large estate owners owed military service to the king, while their land was actually worked by serfs, slaves and renters.  There are anecdotes suggesting that it was possible for a commoner to earn royal favor and a place in the court, but nothing suggesting a large amount of upward social mobility.

Next up:  Something about a hat.