Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Peoples of the empire: Alarodians and Armenians

Herein, I'll try to go more-or-less alphabetically through the various ethnic groups listed by Herodotus (VII.63-80) as having taken part in the Graeco-Persian wars.  We start with the Alarodians, which is (according to Jona Lendering) a translation of Urartians.  The Alarodians are thus historically linked to the development of Armenia.  This entry, like others, will of course focus on these lands in Achaemenid times and the Graeco-Persian wars.

Urartu is first recorded in Assyrian sources as a geographical region called Uruatri in the 13th century BC.  The kingdom of Urartu was founded about 1000 BC and ruled an area centering around Lake Van and Sevan in the Armenian Highlands of eastern Anatolia and extending as far south as Lake Urmia.  During the 9th century, it became a major rival of Assyria, but in the late 7th century suffered from attacks by the same Medo-Scythian alliance that toppled Assyria.

The exact circumstances of the fall of Urartu and its transition to Armenia are unclear, but it is believed that either the Medes outright destroyed Urartu and the Armenian Orontid dynasty arose in the aftermath, or that the Medes merely helped the Orontids overthrow the Urartian dynasty, thus maintaining a more-or-less continuous state which was later renamed Armenia.  However, it would appear that at least in early Achaemenid times, the Urartians remained a distinct ethnic group.

(Armenia's native name, Hayastan or Hayk, harkens back to a late Bronze Age kingdom called Hayasa, suggesting that the Armenian presence in the region goes back quite a long way.  Alternately, the so-called Armeno-Phrygians migrated to the region later, bringing their language which evolved into Armenian, but retaining the region's native name.)

It's therefore unclear whether Armenia was independent from Media or tributary to it, and thus whether it became part of the Achaemenid empire by default or separate conquest.  What is known is that it was considered a satrapy by the time of Darius the Great, whose generals Dâdarši and Vaumisa put down an Armenian rebellion in late 522 to early 521.  That year, another Armenian, named Arakha, posed as the son of Nabonidus (the last king of Babylon before Cyrus the Great conquered it) and led a Babylonian revolt that was suppressed by Intaphrenes.

Herodotus claimed that during Xerxes I's invasion of Greece, the Armenian contingent was led, together with the Phrygians (of whom he considered the Armenians to be a branch), by Artochmes, Xerxes' brother-in-law, while the Urartians, together with the Saspires, were commanded by the famous Masistius.  However, we do not know what role, if any, these contingents played in the major battles.

The last Persian satrap of Armenia, Artašata, was also the last Achaemenid king, placed on the throne under the regnal name Darius III by the murderous vizier Bagoas, whom Darius then killed by forcing him to drink the poison he'd intend to slip to Darius.

After the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty, Armenia became an independent kingdom again.  In the ensuing millennia, it would remain a distinct region, sometimes independent and sometimes tributary to other empires; its current government gained independence with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990.  Interestingly, Armenia today has a pretty stable relationship with Iran.

Ancient Armenian society was tribal and relied heavily on pastoralism, mostly of cattle, sheep and horses; Strabo mentions that they paid taxes to the empire in horses, while Herodotus states that they paid in silver.  Xenophon claims that the Armenians of his day built their houses underground, with entrances that looked like wells, underground produce storerooms and even animal stables.  They also brewed beer, which was drunk unclarified with reed straws.

Ancient Armenian religion was polytheistic and often influenced by Iranian religion.  While it is difficult to say what Armenian religion looked like in Achaemenid times, by the early centuries AD their principle god was Aramazd, a combination of Ahura Mazda with features of the native hero Ara the Handsome.  The next most important deities were Anahit and Vahagn, adaptations of Anahita and Verethragna; the rest of the pantheon consisted of native gods and a few other imported Iranian and Assyrian ones.  The hero Hayk is given as the eponymous founder of Hayk/Hayastan.

The Urartians spoke an extinct, non-Indo-European language related to Hurrian and possibly more distantly to the Caucasian languages; Urartian was written in an adapted form of Assyrian cuneiform.  Their native name was Biainili, from which the name of Van (the lake and the city overlooking it) derives.  The Armenians (Hayer, Greek Armenioi, Old Persian Arminiya, of uncertain etymology) speak an Indo-European language of its own branch.  It is only recorded from the 5th century AD onward, so its development is unknown, though it contains a number of probable Urartian loanwords.  If Herodotus' theory is correct, proto-Armenian may have been similar to Phrygian.

Clothing and arms
Armenians on the Apadana of Persepolis are shown in clothing nearly identical to that of the Medo-Persian cavalry costume, complete with ankle shoes and knotted belts.  They wear tiaras with flopped-over peaks and the earflaps knotted behind the head, similar to the Cappadocians.

Herodotus said that the Armenians and Phrygians were equipped in the same way, very similarly to the Paphlagonians, to whom he attributes "woven helmets...  small shields and short spears, and also javelins and daggers."  Given the history of Median and Scythian incursions in Urartu, and the similarity of Armenian and Medo-Persian clothing, it's tempting to speculate that their arms were also similar to the Iranians', i.e. crescent stick-and-leather shields and akinakes-type daggers.  The Alarodians he says were armed like the Colchians, "wooden helmets and small shields of raw oxhide and short spears, and also swords" (tr. A.D. Godley).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Medes

Herodotus writes that the Medes (Gk. Medoi) were originally called (as rendered in Greek) Arioi, which is almost assuredly related to Old Persian self-designation Ariya, "Aryans."  The Median language is scarcely attested, but appears to have been in the Northwestern Iranian branch and possibly ancestral to Old Azeri.

The historian also says they consisted of six tribes, called (in Latin translation) the Busae (Gk. Busai), Parataceni (Paratakenoi), Struchates (Strukhatai), Arizanti (Arizantoi), Budii (Budioi) and Magi (Magoi).  Magi (sing. magus, Gk. mágos) elsewhere in Greek histories refers to the priests of Media and Persia, and some historians believe that they are one and the same; in other words, that the Median tribe traditionally acted as the Iranians' priests, as the tribe of Levi did among the Israelites.

There is no certainty that the Biblical Magi were Medes, or any sort of Iranians:  By the late Hellenistic period, the term had become generic for priests and scholars from Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau and the Indian subcontinent.  Its association with occult knowledge, by extension, gave rise to the words "magic" and "mage."  For all that, early portrayals of the Biblical Magi do show them in Iranian (specifically Parthian) clothing, though this may simply be meant to indicate that they came from the same general part of the world.

Media (O.P. Māda) was the first nation the Persians conquered.  It was located in the central Zagros north of Persia.  According to Greek histories, the Medes formed a centralized monarchy centered at Ecbatana (O.P. Hamgmatana, modern Hamadan) between the 7th century BC and 549, when Cyrus overthrew them.  There is as yet no clear archaeological record of such a state.  It likely was more of a tribal confederation, lacking the Achaemenids' political centralization.

The Medes and Persians were at least nominally subject to the Assyrians and often suffered raids or had to pay tribute to them, but between 616 and 605 the Medes allied with the Babylonians and Scythians in overthrowing the Neo-Assyrian empire.  The defeat left the Median confederation and the Babylonian empire as the two great spheres of influence in West Asia, Babylon in most of the Middle East, and Media from the Halys River (modern Kızılırmak) in Turkey to perhaps as far east as Bactria in northern Afghanistan and south as far as Persia.

According to Herodotus, Cyrus was the son of a Median princess and Persian tributary king, thus leading to the famous Delphian quip that Lydia (Cyrus' next conquest) would fall "when a mule sits on the throne of Media."  Medes remained an important part of the early Achaemenid government and military, providing officers such as Mazares and Harpagus, who conquered Asia Minor under Cyrus, and Datis, who (together with Artaphernes) led the first Persian invasion of Greece.

After Alexander conquered the empire, he divided Media into northern and southern satrapies, eventually reinstating the native satrap Atropates (Âtarepâta or Aturpat), who went on to found the kingdom of Atropatene (Aturpatakan), which lent its name to both the Iranian province and the state of Azerbaijan.  The Medes themselves are often held to be ancestral to the Kurds.

Dress, arms and fighting methods
We've already, for all practical purposes, covered Median clothing and arms, which were very similar to those of the Persians, but lacking the elements borrowed from the Elamites, such as the court robe.  Like the Persians, they relied heavily on cavalry and wore the cavalry costume, both in combat and at the royal court.  The Medes in Achaemenid art are attested as carrying the gorytus and akinakes, and are usually identified by their large domed hats.  However, you can also elect to wear a tiara or kidaris, which is the usual headwear for "Persians" in Greek art of the time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Elamites

So far, this blog has focused on the history, society, clothing and arms of the Persians.  However, it was rare for any Achaemenid army to lack a significant number of troops from other nations.  This week, I'll begin a series of brief overviews on other national contingents found in the imperial armies during the Graeco-Persian wars.

We'll start with the Elamites.  I'd like to point out that because of certain difficulties with the uniquely Elamite costume, I don't recommend attempting it at this time.

Elam (Hebrew, derived from Elamite Haltamti) emerged as a civilization around 6,000 years ago and developed unique writing systems around 3000 BC, though only those documents written in cuneiform (2200 onward) have yet been decipered.  They thus predate the arrival of Indo-Europeans like the Iranians by many centuries.  Their language was either an isolate or possibly a sort of aunt to the Dravidian family, now represented mainly in South India and Sri Lanka.  They were polytheists, though I assume that over time, as Iranic culture became dominant in the area, their descendants took up early forms of Zoroastrianism and related faiths.

The country lay in the southwestern Iranian Plateau and its foothills.  Its most important cities were Susa (modern Shush) in Khuzestan Province and Anshan in Fars, the latter close to where Pasargadae and Persepolis were later built, and their kings frequently styled themselves "King of Anshan and Susa."  The name of Khuzestan derives from Susa via Old Persian "Huza" due to the Iranic tendency to transform initial S into H (cf. Sanskrit Sapta Sindhu, "[land of] seven rivers" = Avestan Hapta Hendu*); it later hardened into KH.

Elam was a powerful state that competed with Babylonia and Assyria for much of the 2nd and early 1st millennium BC.  However, a few centuries in, war had weakened and disunited the kingdoms.  At this time some Persians appear to have peacefully immigrated and settled alongside the Elamites, while others remained as nomadic tribes.  As Cyrus the Great in his famous Babylonian cylinder described himself as King of Anshan, it appears the Persians had at some point seized power in the ancient capital.  If Achaemenes existed, he may have been the first Persian king of Anshan.

The early Achaemenids would use Elamite as one of the languages in their inscriptions and administrative tablets.  In these records appear people identified as Elamites but bearing Iranian names.  It is likely that as time went on, the Elamites were absorbed by the Persians.

The robe
At Naqš-i Rustam, the tomb of Darius the Great, a table of nations is carved representing the Great King under Ahura Mazda supported by the many peoples of the empire, each identified by nationality.  The first three are a Persian, a Mede and an Elamite.  The Elamite wears a long, pleated robe identical to that of the Persian, while the Mede and all other Iranic peoples other than the Persian wear some sort of cavalry costume (tunic or jacket and trousers).  However, in most art not produced for the Great King, the Persians are seen wearing the cavalry costume, which Herodotus attributes to the Medes.  The simplest explanation is that rather than being specifically Median, the cavalry costume is actually the common dress of all Iranic peoples including the Persians, who adopted the robe when they came into contact with the Elamites.  Because it's seen in art produced for the royal court and the king's use, it's believed the Persians wore it as formalwear and so is also called the court robe or court dress.

The associated strapped/buttoned shoes are probably Elamite as well.  The best image I have found of these shoes is the fifth photo on this page.  I don't know how they were constructed.

The robe falls to just above the ankles and rises slightly where it is pleated in one or two long gathers down the front.  The gathering is held in place by a narrow, square-knotted sash probably made of fabric.  A good three-dimensional representation can be seen on the Egyptian statue of Darius the Great.  The upper appears to have been covered by a sort of poncho.  A frontwise view of this poncho (if such it is) may be seen in the fourth photo here.

Cavalry costume
In any case, Elamites on campaign in the Graeco-Persian wars probably wore Medo-Persian dress (tunic and trousers).  I have never seen any images of the Elamite robe in Greek art.  According to Herodotus, "The Cissians [people of Susa] in the army were equipped like the Persians, but they wore turbans instead of caps" (7.62, tr. A.D. Godley).  The translation "turban" may be misleading; it probably refers to the twisted headbands seen on many soldiers who wear the robe in imperial art, whereas "cap" is probably the earflapped tiara.

Arms and fighting methods
Elam was not a heavily equestrian culture, so they probably fought in a manner similar to Persian infantry.  The tradition of large pavises and archery is also seen in Mesopotamian warfare.

The bow
Their bows were the D-shaped ones with recurved tips also associated with Elamite dress in Achaemenid art, which are again similar to Mesopotamian models.  It was popular for the tips to be highly recurved and carved into birds' heads, but unfortunately no one I know of sells anything like this off the shelf.  The best option is probably an Assyrian bow.  Grozer Archery sometimes has some available, and you can find more with a simple Internet search, although be sure to ask around for recommendations (arms sites such as RAT and myArmoury are a good place to start).

The strung bow was carried around the left shoulder rather than in a case.  Arrows were kept in a large quiver behind the right shoulder.

Some soldiers in robes can be seen wearing gorytoi, which presumably contained the Scythian or B-shaped bows.

The dagger
The Elamites, and Persians dressing like them, also wore a dagger with a very wide, offset throat, tucked into their sashes diagonally across the belly.  The aforementioned Egyptian statue also provides a good closeup of this weapon.  I know of no archaeological findings, nor what they looked like when drawn from their scabbards, but based on the shape of the hilt, I surmise that they had tapered blades and were similar to earlier West Asian bronze swords with flanged slab tangs.  The large iron sword from Persepolis may be a related type.

* The same shift occurs in Greek, as in hepta ("seven," modern efta) versus Latin septem.