Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Babylonians

What name alone can summon such images of long-faded glory, wealth and decadence as that of Babylon?  Romanticism aside, Babylon in Achaemenid days was very much a living city.  The swift and total destruction at the hands of the Medes prophesied by Isaiah never came to pass; instead, it would slowly wither, under the heavy taxes imposed by the Achaemenids, rebellions, and many more centuries of war  But at the time of the Graeco-Persian wars, Babylon remained a prosperous and important land.

The city, which straddled the Euphrates in central Iraq, was first inhabited in the late 3rd millennium BC.  The so-called Weidner Chronicle of several centuries later states that Babylon was founded by Sargon himself, though the Akkadian name Bābili, "Gate of the Gods, is actually an adaptation of an earlier name, Babilla or Babillu, of unknown language and meaning.  This implies that Babylon was originally built by...

(cue creepy music)

...  someone else.

Babylon first became prominent under the Amorite dynasty in the 19th century BC.  Hammurabi ('Ammurāpi) expanded Babylonian rule in response to Elamite invasions, soon coming to include all of Mesopotamia.  It was up and down from then on, much like Assyria and other major powers of the area.  The expanding Akkadian populations of Babylonia and Assyria absorbed the Sumerians and led to the disappearance of ancient Sumer.  For four centuries in the later 2nd millennium a dynasty of Kassite origin seized power in Babylon.

The period from the Amorite dynasty onward is known as the Old Babylonian period, and ended with Neo-Assyrian domination in the 10th century.  At the same time, a people called the Chaldeans migrated to central Babylonia from the south.  In the late 8th century they allied with Elam and led Babylon in a failed revolt against Assyria, which ended in 689 with the demolition of the city's walls, temples and palaces at the hands of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.  This was considered a sacrilege, and his successor Essarhaddon rebuilt Babylon and made a seasonal home there.

After Essarhaddon's death, his younger son Aššurbanipal became king of Assyria, while his elder, Šamaš-šuma-ukin, became prince of Babylonia.  Did somebody say civil war?  Šamaš-šuma-ukin's revolt (652-648) again ended in failure, and the prince allowed himself to burn with his palace as the city fell.

But Assyria itself did not last much longer; the aforementioned triple alliance of the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians finished what internecine struggles following Aššurbanipal's death had started, and left Babylon the uncontested ruler of Mesopotamia and the Levant.  The Chaldean monarch Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabû-kudurri-uṣur, r. 605-562) repudiated the Scythian alliance and drove them out of Mesopotamia.  He also conquered the Levant, famously taking Judah in 587,destroying Solomon's Temple and taking the Judahite nobility captive.

The Chaldean dynasty too was brief.  The last king, Labashi-Marduk, was deposed in 556, the same year of his ascent, by an Assyrian, Nabonidus (Nabû-na'id), who nonetheless is regarded as a Babylonian ruler.

Then came Cyrus.  In 539, after a long period of empire-building and most recently having added Susa to his domain, he turned toward Babylon.  Two versions of his conquest of the city exist.  According to the Babylonian Nabonidus Chronicle, Nabonidus was aware of the Persians' movements and a large battle was fought near Opis north of Babylon.  Few details exist, but it is clear that the Babylonians lost badly and retreated to the capital.  The Cyrus Cylinder does not mention a battle, but claims that Cyrus entered the city peacefully.  According to later Greek accounts, he circumvented the city's massive walls by rerouting the Euphrates and entering through the river gates.  The actual occupation seems to have been peaceful at least in Cyrus' time.

As one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the empire, Babylon became capital of the satrapy of Babylonia (Bābiru in Persian) and Assyria.  The Persians were aware of Babylon's cultural importance in Mesopotamia.  Cyrus tried to present himself as the legitimate ruler, favored by its patron god, Marduk, in contrast to Nabonidus, who was not of royal lineage and whom the Cyrus Cylinder portrays as impious.

But Babylon was a rebellious country early in the Achaemenid period.  Among the empire-wide insurrections that followed Darius the Great's ascension, Nidintu-Bêl set himself up as King Nebuchadnezzar III in October of 522; after Darius crushed this rising in December, an Armenian named Arakha proclaimed himself Nebuchadnezzar IV from August to November of 521 before being defeated and captured by Intaphrenes.  Two more rebel leaders, Bêl-šimânni and Šamaš-eriba, arose some time during the reign of Xerxes, probably in 484.  Perhaps for this reason, Babylonians are not mentioned as taking part in the invasion of Greece.  The sequence of events in this rebellion is unclear, but Jona Lendering suggests that the partition of the satrapy of Babylon followed the end of the rebellion in October.  Herodotus states that Xerxes thereafter confiscated an idol from the temple of Babylon.  The mysterious "Daiva Inscription" of Xerxes, wherein he crushes a rebellion in an unnamed country and destroys the temple of daiva-worshippers, may refer to this incident.

There are hints that yet another rebellion occurred in 479; this would help explain the sudden departure of Xerxes from Greece in that year.  If so, it would have immense import for the course of the Graeco-Persian wars.

As an economic center with a huge population, Babylon was particularly heavily taxed - in Herodotus' time, the city paid a thousand silver talents yearly along with supporting the royal court and army for a third of a year.  The city began to economically decline over the course of the Achaemenid dynasty, but it remained relatively very wealthy even to the last years.

The Battle of Gaugamela, the last major battle of Darius III and Alexander the Great, took place near Babylon, but the Persian officials surrendered Babylon without a fight when Alexander arrived late in October of 331.  When his closest friend Hephaestion died in 324, his funeral was held here, and Alexander himself died the next year in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.

Most Greeks left Babylon in 275 for the new capital of the Seleucid empire, Seleucia, though the natives remained.  A new wave of Greek colonists arrived at the behest of Antiochus Epiphanes in the early 2nd century, but by the Parthian period the city's population was in decline.  The new year festival was still observed for many years and there is evidence that some of the city's facilities such as the Greek theater were still being kept up into the early centuries AD.  It is difficult to pin down when Babylon became entirely abandoned or when the Babylonians ceased to identify as such, but the process was certainly complete after the post-Islamic Arabization of Mesopotamia if not before.

As a dominant city in the 2nd millennium, Babylon became an important center of Mesopotamian religion.  Its patron god was Marduk, who in the Babylonian creation myth Enûma Eliš, replaces the earlier Sumerian god Enlil as supreme god and slayer of the primordial dragon Tiamat.  This elevation corroborated with Babylon's rise to prominence in the 18th century BC.  When ancient writers spoke of Bêl ("the Lord") in connection with Babylon, they refer to Marduk.  In art he was pictured in human form alongside a four-legged dragonlike creature called the muš-huššu .  Babylonian astronomers also associated him with the planet Jupiter.

Other major Akkadian gods were Anu, god of the heavens and father of the gods, Ea, god of water, Nabû, god of writing, and Ištar, goddess of fertility, from whom the Iranian yazata Anahita would acquire the aspects of war and association with Venus during the Achaemenid period.  The association of gods with stars/planets, and the resulting importance of astrology in Babylonian religion, compelled careful star observations that amounted to genuine astronomy.  In Greek, the term "Chaldean" came to refer to Asian priests who specialized in study of the stars and their portents.

Due to the dominance of Babylon in Mesopotamian politics and culture, it became a religious center as well.  In the middle of the city was the Ésagila, the main temple complex, wherein was the golden statue of Marduk and other deities.  On the new year holiday, Akitu, the statue of Nabû was transported from Borsippa to Babylon to commune with his father Marduk, and the Enûma Eliš was recited.  The king was supposed to receive his scepter in the temple of Nabû (part of the Nabonidus Chronicle seems to imply that Cambyses as Cyrus' regent of Babylon was refused this honor because of his Elamite robe).  The next day, the king would lay down his royal insignia and humble himself before the statue of Marduk.  Festivities lasted an entire week; the divine statues were taken to a series of stations, hymns were sung and good tidings proclaimed for the new year.

Of the Babylonian language, much the same can be said as of the Assyrian:  The native tongue was a dialect of Akkadian, but in the Achaemenid period it began to give way to Aramaic just as had happened in Assyria.

Clothing and arms
The usual two sources, Persepolis and Naqš-e Rostam, provide us with looks at Babylonian clothing around 500 BC.  They wear tunics coming down past the knee, which are probably similar to Neo-Assyrian ones, and an un-fringed shawl with one end visible hanging down the right front of the torso and gathered into a single large tassel.  Their hats are short, broad cones that are apparently soft and have long straps hanging down from their tops.

Their footwear appears to be low-quarter slip-on shoes with closed toes.  The tops of these shoes are low on the sides but rise in front and around the heel.  They resemble a style of slipper made from two pieces, a vamp and heel counter, along with the sole.

Babylonians do not seem to have served the Persian empire as soldiers very much.  They are not mentioned by Herodotus among Xerxes' invasion forces, though he pays much attention to the city itself; Achaemenid art doesn't show them with weapons - in fact, the Babylonian at Naqš-e Rostam is the only individual in the entire relief who is not armed.  Of course, they did have access to weapons; the fact that they were able to rebel repeatedly makes that a necessity.  From what little I can gather about the Neo-Babylonian military, it was modeled on the Assyrian one.  It also seems likely (though this is just a guess, and useless as far as showing anything unique) that Babylonians would also pick up some Medo-Persian weaponry, especially in the later uprisings.

UPDATE (May 1, 2013):  I seem to have been wrong about the above:   There were Babylonians in the Persian army, although I have yet to find out much about them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Arachosians

Arachosia (O.P. Harauvatiyâ) was located just to the south of Aria and Bactria, around the Arghandab River and straddling modern Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The name is cognate to Sanskrit Sarasvati and refers to bodies of water (rivers or ponds).

Arachosia enters history with the Behistun inscription, wherein it is already a Persian satrapy under a Vivâna, who successfully put down the rebellion in that area in 522-521 BC in the midst of the chaos that followed Darius' killing of Gaumâta.  The leader of the rebellion, Vahyazdâta, was (so said Darius) a Persian who claimed to be the deceased Bardiya/Smerdis and sent his army into Arachosia.  Thus there is no reason to suppose that Arachosia itself was a rebellious satrapy.  After being defeated, Vahyazdâta was brought back to Persia and crucified.  Vivâna's successor was Bakabaduš.

Herodotus does not mention Arachosians among the participants in the invasion of Greece.  However, Rüdiger Schmitt suggests that the people of Arachosia were known to Herodotus as the Thamanaei, while the later writer Ptolemy refers to several tribes, the Parsyetae, Sydri, Rhoplutae and Eoritae.

Currently an editor at Wikipedia is saying that the Arachosians were Pactyes (who are probably the same as the Pashtuns), this sounds plausible, especially as Persian sources do not mention Pactyes and they clearly come from around the same area.  But I'm not willing to assume that this is the case, since neither Iranica nor Livius.org give it any mention.  The quote from Isidore of Charax's Parthian Stations, "And the Parthians call this Pakhtara...", is very suspect indeed since the vast majority of translations have him say, "And the Parthians call this White India..."  I can't track down a copy of the original Greek online, but for the record, if the usual translation is correct, the original should read Indike Leuke.  For the time being, I am treating the Arachosians and Pactyes as different peoples.

At Persepolis, the Arachosian delegation appears bearing ornate pottery and leading a Bactrian camel adorned with a bell.

Little or nothing is known of the history of the region from the time of Vivâna and Vahyazdâta until Alexander's invasion, when in March of 329 he visited the satrapy, then ruled by someone named Barsaëntes, who joined Bessus in opposing Alexander.  According to Jona Lendering, Alexander renamed the satrapal capital Kapisakaniš as Alexandria in Arachosia.

(Some historians believe that this city is identical to modern Kandahar, and its name derives from a mutation of "Alexandria"; others believe the name comes from the nearby land of Gandhara, while others think connect it to the Persian and Pashto word for "candy" because the area is known for producing fruit.)

Like many regions, Arachosia was fought over by a series of kingdoms from the Seleucids onward.  The Indo-Scythians settled in Arachosia and Drangiana in the 2nd century BC, giving the region the alternative name of Sakastan ("land of the Saka"), which was later contracted to Sistan.  Like Aria, the rule of Sistan was contested in recent centuries by Iran and Afghanistan.  This time, the dispute was arbitrated by the British (who were heavily involved in the region at the time) and the region divided into modern Sistan and Baluchestan Province in Iran and Nimruz, Kandahar and Zabul provinces in Afghanistan.

I can find virtually nothing about the religion or language of Arachosia in Achaemenid times, though it is plausible that Eastern Iranian languages were dominant.  From the Islamic conquest of Iran until the 11th century, Arab writers said that the Sistanis worshipped a god named Zun, of whom was made a golden statue with ruby eyes.

Clothing and arms
Arachosians and Drangians, who are portrayed identically at Persepolis and Naqš-e Rostam (the tomb of Darius) wear close-fronted tunics like the Medes and Persians, combined with baggy trousers seen more among Eastern Iranians.  Like the Arians, their trousers are tucked into pull-on boots with pointed, upturned toes, similar to heel-less cowboy boots.  The ones at Persepolis come up to just over the ankle, those at Naqš-e Rostam are knee-high.  Some of the Persepolis boots have little cords hanging over the front of the boot tops, possibly a forerunner of blousing bands.

Persepolis also provides some excellent illustrations of Arachosian accessories.  Instead of hats, they wear headbands with square ends, tied in the back, and the hanging ends pulled up and tucked in.  They also wear distinct earrings consisting of a ring from which hang two beads and then a long inverted-teardrop pendant.

Almost nothing is shown of their weapons other than the one at Naqš-e Rostam who wears an akinakes.  Spears and B-style bows carried in gorytoi are plausible but I can neither confirm nor deny at this time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Assyrians

The Assyrians are one of the oldest surviving nations in the world.  If the traditional identification of Aššur with the Sumerian name Subartu is correct, the city is at least four and a half millennia old, even predating the Old Akkadian period.

For possible ancestors of Yossarian the Assyrian, please see a different entry.

The eponymous capital was settled on the banks of the Tigris in northern Iraq around the 26th century BC and went through many phases (which I'm not going to go into) of ascendancy and decline, native rule interspersed with rule by Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians and others before the creation of the Neo-Assyrian empire (912-608 BC).  It was in this last period that Assyria gained its warlike reputation and status as Babylon's greatest rival and eventual conqueror.  The Neo-Assyrian empire's power stretched from Egypt to Persia and Urartu, and for a while it was the largest empire that had yet existed on Earth.  Although Aššur remained the religious center of the empire, its administrative capital was later moved to Nineveh (704), where it would remain until the empire's final few years.

Aššurbanipal (r. 668-627) was the last strong king of the empire.  His conquest of the Elamite empire (657), then centered at Susa, weakened that country, possibly allowing for the Persians to seize power in the faraway highlands of Anshan.  After his death, a succession crisis and civil war broke out, then Babylon under the Chaldean dynasty rebelled and formed an alliance with the Scythians and Medes.  In 612, the alliance sacked Aššur and Nineveh.  The Assyrian king Aššur-uballit II retreated to Harran, which passed between the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance and the Babylonian-Median one for four years; its final fall in 608 marked the end of the Assyrian state.  Assyrian forces then moved to Carchemish, but were defeated again in 605 by the famous Nebuchadnezzar II (Akkadian Nabû-kudurri-usur)

The lands of Assyria passed partly to the Medes, but largely to the Neo-Babylonian empire, whose last king, Nabonidus, is believed to have been an Assyrian from Harran who overthrew the young Chaldean monarch Labashi-Marduk.  With Cyrus' conquest of the Medes and Babylonians, Assyria became an Achaemenid possession called Athura.

Achaemenid Assyria comprised northern Mesopotamia and modern Syria, whose name is probably a Greek abbreviation of Assyria.  It was a rebellious country during the late 6th century, but also furnished troops for the imperial armies.  The Assyrians during Xerxes' invasion of Greece were commanded by an "Otaspes son of Artachaees" (Herodotus VII.63).

Nineveh remained barely inhabited in the days of Xenophon, but the rural countryside was heavily populated with many villages, and the region was agriculturally very productive.  Xenophon mentioned that bread, cheese and wine were still produced at Aššur.

After the death of Alexander, Assyria wound up in the hands of the Seleucid empire, then the Parthians.  The Assyrians rebuilt Aššur during this period, and it became the administrative center of Arsacid (Parthian) rule.  Assyrians founded the kingdom of Adiabene in the area (AD 15-117) before being briefly conquered by the Romans and then the Parthians again.  The Sassanids, who succeeded the Arsacids, referred to Assyria as the province of Asōrestān.  After the Islamic conquest and the spread of the Arabic language, Assyria as a region ceased to be recognized, but the Assyrian ethnic group held on, albeit as a minority.  Today, the largest population of Assyrians still lives in Iraq, with significant populations in Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Europe and the Untied States.

From the time they entered written history, Assyrians spoke a dialect of Akkadian, an East Semitic language that became the lingua franca of much of Mesopotamia during the Old Akkadian period.  The conquest of Aram (Syria) during the Neo-Assyrian empire led to Aramaic, a northwest Semitic language more closely related to Hebrew and Phoenician, gaining importance; the Assyrians are largely responsible for the spread of Aramaic throughout the Near East during Classical Antiquity.  By the Hellenistic period, Akkadian was mostly reduced to liturgical and scholarly use, and went extinct around the 3rd century AD (with Akkadian cuneiform falling out of use around the turn of the 1st century).  Modern eastern membrs of the so-called Neo-Aramaic languages, being used mainly by Assyrians, contains some Akkadian loanwords.

I am unsure of whether an Assyrian of the Achaemenid period should more likely be speaking Akkadian or Imperial Aramaic, although either would be acceptable.

Akkadian was usually written in Akkadian cuneiform, while Aramaic used the Aramaic (or Syriac) script, derived from the Phoenician.  The Aramaic script was ancestral and pretty similar to the Hebrew alphabet of today.  The Nabatean alphabet, Pahlavi (Parthian) scripts of the Parthian and Sassanid empires and modern Arabic script are also derived from the Aramaic.

Assyrians in the Persian empire continued the native religious traditions of Mesopotamia.  Aššur was named for its patron god, and indeed the proper name of Assyria was actually mât Aššur, "country of Aššur."  Upon the conquest of Babylon in the Neo-Assyrian period, his name was conflated with Anšar, the god of the sky, and a new version of the Enûma Eliš was promulgated in which Anšar replaces Marduk as slayer of Tiamat and creator of the human world.  The Cyrus Cylinder speaks of repatriating stolen idols to the eponymous city, and the city's temples of Aššur and Ishtar were in continuous use during the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods.  During the 1st century AD, Christianity, Judaism and Mandeanism began to spread, though the native religion held on for a few centuries more.  Assyrians today mostly belong to a variety of Eastern Christian denominations.

Clothing and arms
On the tomb of Darius the Great, the Assyrian is dressed simply in a tunic falling to just above the knee, bare-legged, belted and with a headband rather than a hat of any kind.  The details are a little difficult to make out in the photos I've seen but I also have a line drawing showing the tunic with long fitted sleeves and a round neckline.  At Persepolis, Syrians (who, if not identical with the Assyrians, probably dressed similarly) wear mid-calf tunics with short sleeves, and headbands and belts divided into four distinct rows, perhaps pleats.  They also wear boots that rise to just above the ankle and are laced in a curious manner with the laces from all four eyelets gathered and tied up in the middle.  See bottom photo on the left at the Nirupars gallery.

Assyrian men and women of the Neo-Assyrian period wore more complex garments which appear to consist of an ankle-length undertunic with a wide embroidered hem, and a wraparound shawl with a long fringe.  Such fancy clothing is unlikely to be worn by soldiers on campaign, but may be considered for civilian impressions.  Fashion-Era has instructions on wrapping the shawls properly as well as making an Egyptian-style short-sleeved tunic which is apparently similar to the Assyrian undertunic.

While the Neo-Assyrians are known to have used cavalry, Herodotus lists them among the infantry in Xerxes' army.  He says that the Assyrians in the army wore bronze helmets (which he helpfully explains were "made in an outlandish fashion not easy to describe") and linen corslets, and "carried shields and spears and daggers of Egyptian fashion, and also wooden clubs studded with iron."  With regards to Egyptian arms, he says their shields were "hollow" with "broad rims" and that their swords were long.

I have found very little archaeological evidence relating to the Achaemenid period or to Assyrian arms in general.  Equipment is well-represented in reliefs from the Neo-Assyrian period, but obviously things may have changed significantly by the early 5th century.

Neo-Assyrian helmets were generally onion-shaped with small rounded extensions that are a little too short to be called cheek guards, and sometimes small crests (when these are present the helmet itself is usually shorter or even rounded, with the crest held atop a short tube).  It's hard to say what Herodotus might find "outlandish" about these and perhaps he is talking about a different style that was used in his day.

Shields were either round and deeply domed or conical, or tall pavises with flat bottoms and round or pointed tops curving back.  These latter find a vaguely similar counterpart in ancient Egypt, but whether this is what Herodotus is referring to, I cannot say.  So far as I can tell, Assyrian shields normally had central grips.

Interestingly, his point about swords and daggers seems to be backed up by the reliefs on Darius' tomb.  The Assyrian wears a short dagger tucked into his belt, and the Egyptian wears a long sword on his left hip; both have a strange two-branched pommel that is very unlike the unobtrusive little pommels on swords in Neo-Assyrian art.

The nearest I have found to a depiction of Assyrian clubs is a relief of maces from the late 8th century.

Lastly, although not mentioned by Herodotus, no discussion of ancient Assyrian martial arts would be complete without archery.  Archers are well-represented in art, wielding bows that are D-shaped or triangular with small recurved tips and wearing shoulder quivers.  Assyrian-style bows are widely available, though most have longer and less curly tips than those shown in period art.  I have found only one useful depiction of arrowheads, which are here shown as rather large and kite-shaped with a strong mid-rib, probably two-bladed.  (Note also the dagger with its mushroom-shaped pommel, ribbed grip and odd scabbard, simultaneously attached to a shoulder belt and tucked behind the waist belt.)  In this relief, the shooter uses a pinch draw.  Archers fought both from chariots and on foot, standing or kneeling behind pavises.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Arians

The inhabitants of Haraiva, the Old Persian name for the valley around a length of the Hari River (or approximately the same as Herat Province in western Afghanistan), are confusingly klept in Greek sources by the same word used for the Aryans, Arioi.  I will herein use the common English translation of Arians for the people of Haraiva with my fingers crossed that it won't cause too much confusion, although this word has also been used as a variant spelling of Aryans in older English historiography.

Aria is believed to have been sobject to the Medes before the Achaemenid dynasty.  Darius mentions it as a territory in his Behistun inscription, but not among the countries that rebelled following the death of Cambyses in 522 BC.  Graeco-Roman historians in the early Roman period named the Achaemenid capital of Aria as Artacoana (or Articaudna, etc.).

The Arian contingent at Xerxes' invasion was led by Sisamnes, son of Hydarnes (Vidarna) who commanded the Immortals on the same expedition - not, obviously, to be confused with the judge Sisamnes who was earlier executed by Cambyses for accepting bribery.

In 330, Bessus fled through Aria after murdering Darius III.  When Alexander pursued him, Satibarzanes, satrap of Aria, acknowledged Alexander as king, and thus retained his own office.  However, after Alexander left, Satibarzanes rebelled.  Alexander returned, captured Artacoana and killed or enslaved its inhabitants.  He (or his successors) re-founded the city as Alexandria Ariana.

Aria remained part of the Seleucid empire until 240, when it was taken by the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria.  Thereafter it was fought over by nearly ever new major power that arose in Central and West Asia, in recent centuries passing between the Afghans and Iranians.  The British Empire intervened in the 19th century, securing Herat as part of Afghanistan in their effort to take control of Central Asia away from the Russians.  Today, Herat is populated mainly by Pashtuns and Tajiks (Persian-speakers of Central Asia).

I can find no sources on the language or religion of the Arians, but given their position between Bactria and Media, it seems plausible that some form of Mazdaism prevailed, and the language was likely an Eastern Iranian dialect, as are the historical languages of the region (Avestan, Bactrian and Pashto among them).

Clothing and arms
On the Persepolis Apadana (central photo, second from bottom) the Arians are seen in belted tunics or riding coats with loose trousers tucked into pointy-toed boots.  The boots do not appear to secured around the ankle, in contrast to the chukka-like laced shoes of the Mede leading them.  The Persepolis images unfortunately show the Arians turned sideways to the viewer, but the one on the tomb of Darius the Great, while heavily damaged, seems to be wearing tunic like the Bactrian next to him, rather than an open-fronted coat like the Sogdian and Chorasmian further along.

Their other distinctive item of clothing is a headdress which wraps around the neck and can apparently be drawn over the mouth.  It looks like a bashlyk or a larger, baggier version of the Scytho-Persian tiara, but whether it was constructed in a similar way or was rather a length of fabric wrapped similarly to (for example) a Tuareg-style turban is difficult to say.

Herodotus lists the Arians with the infantry rather than the cavalry in Xerxes' army.  He describes them as "equipped with Median bows, but in all else like the Bactrians..." (VII.66), which brings up a worrying point:  It indicates that the Medes' and Bactrians' bows were different in some significant way, but I have no evidence for how.  Otherwise it would seem presumable that all these people used the common B-shaped recurved bow.  Herodotus also leaves unclarified whether the Arians used Median-style archery accessories (gorytoi and arrows).

The tomb figure wears an akinakes.  It's in a Medo-Persian scabbard, but I'm beginning to think that's artistic convention.  I can't think of any other style of akinakes scabbard being portrayed in Achaemenid art, but we know that several styles existed with the same basic shape (1, 2).

Friday, April 5, 2013

The early Achaemenid sash and weapon belt: COMPLETE

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

This is a rough-draft recreation of the Achaemenid sash and weapon belt.
The sash

The sash is a length of plain-woven cotton belting or "web," which is not strictly accurate - it should probably be wool (as cotton had to be imported from India and was quite expensive), and the only evidence for the type of weave I have found, the Egyptian statue of Darius the Great, has a fancy pattern which I would surmise to be herringbone twill with additional strips appliqued with a holbein stitch along the entire length of the sash.  Whatever material you use, it should be flexible enough to pleat and knot easily, so not too heavyweight.

When worn with a weapon belt, the sash and belt appear to be about the same width, which looks to me somewhat more than an inch, perhaps one and a quarter to one and a half inches (3.2-3.8cm).

First, square-knot the sash around your waist and cut it to the proper length.  A good length for the hanging ends is about six to 10 inches (15-25cm).

Next, double-whiptstitch the cut ends to prevent them from unraveling.

My technique for creating the little round things on the ends may not be accurate, but it's easy enough:

Fold the end into pleats.

Draw the needle and most of the thread through the pleats.

Wind the thread tightly and heavily around the end and tie it off several times before trimming off the excess.

Interestingly, a shorter and narrower, but fundamentally similar, sash is worn by a Parthian on the Arch of Septimus Severus, seven hundred years later.

The belt
The weapon belt is made of heavyweight, vegetable-tanned leather - about 8 ounces is a good weight.  Wrap it around your waist to a comfortable snugness and mark with a pencil where it should end and where to punch the holes.  A few inches of overlap is good.  Make holes with a leather punch, awl, drill, etc. and insert the leather lace.

Nothing quite resembling the conical bronze conchos used by the Medes and Persians is currently being produced by anyone that I've found, although a jewelry-casting studio should be able to make them easily enough and I intend to look into that when I'm not so unemployed.

As a stopgap measure, here I am using a "northern-style" concho, which is widely available from Native American craft suppliers.  It's made from heavy brass sheet, domed, and usually sold with a soldered loop on the back.  Soldering isn't a rock-solid method of attachment, but don't worry; the way we're using it here doesn't require the solder to bear any weight.  The belt and concho in the above pictures are 1-1/2 inch and 1-1/4 inch, respectively.

Finally, position your bowcase and/or dagger scabbard just forward of your right and left hips, and punch holes in the belt to attach them.

 For comparison, see page 5 of Nirupars' Persepolis gallery, second row from the bottom, middle photo.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Arabians

The Classical region of Arabāya was different from modern Arabia, and included the northern part of the peninsula and part of the southern Levant.  The Arabs first appear in history living in Aram (modern Syria) thanks to that same Assyrian king who gives us earliest mention of the Persians - Šalmanasser III - when he invaded Aram and defeated a coalition of Arameans, Arabs, Israelites (sent by the fabled Ahab) and others at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC.

Arabia seems to have been at first an ally of the Achaemenids rather than a subject country.  Herodotus states that the Cambyses, while invading Egypt, concluded a treaty with an unnamed Arabian king who supplied his army with water while they were crossing the desert, either carried in water skins or (what Herodotus calls the least credible version) having a system of oxhide aqueducts running through the desert.

Darius would claim Arabia as one of the countries of which he was king, implying that the land later became an imperial territory or tributary kingdom.  Nonetheless, it seems to have remained largely peaceful during the Achaemenid period.

A contingent of Arabians took part in Xerxes' invasion of Greece.  They were grouped with the Ethiopians under the command of Arsames (Aršama), Xerxes' half-brother and satrap of Egypt, whose mother was Artystone.

After the fall of the Persian empire, Arabs would establish the kingdom of Arabia Nabataea or Petraea, the Greek name for which refers to the famous citadel of Petra, built inside a mountain in modern Jordan.  Nabataea remained an important regional power from the 4th century BC through AD 106, when it was annexed by Roman emperor Trajan.  Roman control over the area remained strong until the late 4th century.

Later, the Ghassanids of Yemen would move into the area and ally themselves with the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire against the Sassanid Persians and the Sassanids' vassals, the Lakhmids of Iraq, who were also of Yemenite origin.  Their kingdom was overthrown by early Muslims in the 7th century.  At this time, the Arabs of the peninsula began to conquer much of West Asia and North Africa, resulting in the dominance of Arabic language and (to some extent) culture from the western foothills of the Zagros to the Atlantic Ocean.

One may presume that Arabs in Achaemenid times spoke Old North Arabian, the ancestor of Classical Arabic attested in scattered inscriptions from the period, although Dandamayev states that known personal names from Arabāya "do not differ from Aramaic names" and that "[i]t is still impossible to determine what language or languages these people spoke."  Old North Arabian, like its contemporaries Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew, is a Central Semitic language.

Ancient Arabians were polytheistic, although Muslims believe that some descendants of Isma'il (Ishmael) maintained the monotheistic religion of his father, Abraham; these people are known as ḥunafā' (sing. ḥanīf).  The chief god of Arabia in late pre-Islamic times was Hubal.  Al-Lat, Al-'Uzza and Manāt are said in the 9th-century Book of Idols to have been regarded as the daughters of Allah, although the earlier Nabataeans regarded Manat as Hubal's wife.

Herodotus, by contrast, asserts that in his day the Arabians believed only in Al-Lat (whom he calls Alilat) and Orotalt.  He equates these deities with Aphrodite and Dionysus respectively, but the Nabataeans would later associate Al-Lat with Athena.  Orotalt may be another name for Dushara, son of Manat and elsewhere equated with Zeus.  Herodotus states that "[t]here are no men who respect pledges more than the Arabians," and describes an elaborate ceremony calling Dionysus and Aphrodite to witness formal agreements (III.8).

Dress and arms
Arabs at the Apadana of Persepolis are shown wearing a baggy, sleeveless garment that apparently passed or fastened over the left shoulder and could be pulled up a bit and pleated in front like an Elamite robe.  Herodotus describes their clothing as "mantles girded up."  Their shoes, as near as I can tell, consist of a heel counter with either a thin strap over the instep and another just above the toes, or perhaps a long tube covering most of the foot between the toes aind instep.  The best image I can find is here, on the left, second row from the bottom.  On the table of nations at Naqš-e Rustam, the tomb of Darius the Great, the Arabian garment is shown passing over both shoulders.

Arabs had long domesticated the dromedary camel and used it for cavalry.  Herodotus says that the Arabioi "carried at their right side long bows curving backwards."  A relief from the palace of Aššurbanipal shows two Arabs riding on one camel with a saddlecloth.  They are armed with shorter D-shaped or slightly triangular bows that lack recurved tips and look more like Egyptian styles than Assyrian, and tubular quivers worn at the hip.  I have not found out anything significant about arrowhead types, but the surrounding cultures used a mix of tanged and socketed ones mostly in bronze.

The Arab at Naqš-e Rustam wears a long sword, much larger than an akinakes, pointing backward at an angle on the left hip, which appears to have a separate mushroom-shaped pommel and a long acute point.  The only possible archaeological parallel to this that I can think of is the iron sword from Persepolis.  Although its full slab tang through the grip and pommel area would make it seem likely that the pommel components were contiguous with the grip scales, it is entirely possible to attach a mushroom pommel to a slab-tanged sword.