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Archaeology, reconstructions and descriptions,
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This review is from: Early Aegean Warrior 5000-1450 BC (Paperback)
This Osprey publication may seem a bit unusual, because it largely lacks the historical context that can be found in most other volumes of the series. A fairer assessment would be to recognize the choice that the authors have deliberately made to concentrate on archaeological findings, to describe these and to use them as the basis for their reconstructions. To a large extent, their alternatives were limited simply because there were no primary written sources that they could make use of.
This is not to say that there is no discussion of the origins of the various waves of "Indo-Europeans", or the Cretans, for instance. Only that it is kept to a minimum with the authors, for instance, also clearly making the point that the existence of the "Minoan sea power" is nothing more than a theory dating back to Evans, even if it is a plausible and logical one, as they also show. Also interesting is the explanation given for the collapse of Minoan power. Again, this is a theory, to the extent that we do not know "know" for sure in the absence of written sources, but it is a rather plausible one. One last important point is that by the time of the "Trojan War" (assuming, again, that it really took place as indicated by Homer), Crete was divided into Achaean principalities with the Achaeans having conquered the island and ruling it for a couple of centuries
The main (and high!) value of this book lies in its descriptions centred on the various findings of pieces of arms and armour, on one hand, and the rather gorgeous reconstructions through the plates. At times, the descriptions of assorted arms and armour may read as some museum catalogue but with the added advantage that they are a selection from findings all over Greece and the Aegean. They are also superbly illustrated by sets of pictures and drawings.
Then there are the colour plates themselves which, when superb as they are here, are one of the main attractions of every Osprey volume. I was particularly impressed by the one of page 57 titled "the Achaean conquest of Knossos, 1430 BC" with the characters "feeling" so real that I had the impression that they were about to leap of the page! More generally, there is a rather good interaction between the plates, the pictures and drawings and the main text.
I also had two relatively minor points to raise - I cannot call them "issues". One was about the bibliography, where the authors referenced multiple and rather specialized titles but did not seem to recommend any book that could provide more context about the period. For instance, I was surprised not to find a reference to Oliver Dickinson's "The Aegean Bronze Age", although another of his works is cited. Maybe space constraints obliged the authors to make some hard choices and leave that one (and a few others perhaps) out. Another little quibble is a tendency to write about the various periods and using the rather specialised and hermetic acronyms (such as LH, LM etc...) without always providing the corresponding dates. The non-specialist reader is then obliged to "jump back and forth" at times to see what period is being covered exactly.
Anyway, these were quibbles more and the title was worth a solid four stars for me.
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Initial post: 24 Sep 2013 12:48:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Sep 2013 12:49:25 BDT
It is gratifying to have one's work referred to, as JPS has done also in a review of Bronze Age Greek Warrior, but anyone who does consult The Aegean Bronze Age (or even my contribution to Polemos, where in the discussion I comment that I do not believe in the Trojan War) will almost certainly wind up very confused. Virtually no references to invasions, Indo-European or otherwise, Greek legends ignored as sources of information, nothing as simple as a Mycenaean conquest of Crete, no equation of Homer's Achaeans with "the Mycenaeans", and dates that are confusingly different from those given (derived from Evans? Constantly wrong, anyway) for a whole variety of Bronze Age weapons and armour in the captions of Early Aegean Warrior. I have just acquired a copy, also of Bronze Age Greek Warrior, for their relevance to a paper I am writing (questioning the 'warlike' character so often attributed to "the Mycenaeans"), and find the combination of up-to-the-minute illustrative material and gorgeous if sometimes fanciful or misguided reconstructions with an *extraordinarily* antiquated view of Aegean prehistory rather dispiriting.
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2013 13:48:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Sep 2013 15:44:43 BDT
Thank you for making the point more bluntly that I dared to do. My comment about the "gaps" in the bibliography were not entirely innocent: Essentially, the authors of this volume (and of Bronze Age Greek Warrior) have presented (implicitely) one thesis (whether "antiquated" or not) and one set of dating, without discussing any others, or even mentioning them.
In doing so, they have been rather consistent, even if you believe them to have been misguided. I am not implying that they are necessarily "wrong", however, only that they have told ONE possible version of what may (or may not) have happened. The version they chose is perhaps the most conventional, or even the most traditional and YES, it looks like quite a bit of stuff comes from Evans.
If I was to criticize, but then I did not simply because I do not know enough of the topic, I would probably focus on the authors having been very "selective" in their choices of secondary sources and interpretations, and perhaps somewhat misleading in presenting just "one side of the coin". They, in turn, would probably reply by stating that they had to make some hard choices, given the very limited space they had to work with. The point being that they could not afford to go through extensive discussions of the pros and cons of each interpretation - and you know better than I how many of them they are! Besides, this is not the purpose of these Osprey volumes. Having mentioned this, I was (and still am) rather uncomfortable when only one possible interpretation gets presented with the others being not even mentioned and simply ignored...
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2013 14:21:57 BDT
Just to say: what might at one time have been called traditional in Early Aegean Warrior has now been almost entirely discarded by serious Aegean specialists, although there are some who still place some faith in Greek legends, and there is still a widespread belief in some form of "Minoan thalassocracy", in the warlikeness of the Mycenaeans, and in a Trojan War in some form.
I find their apparent failure to perceive the clash between the basic assumptions of modern sources that they have used, like papers in Polemos, and their view of Aegean prehistory rather curious. And I am sure that Paola Cassola Guida, who taught at least one of them, would not have given them grounds for believing in invasions by separate branches of Greeks from central Europe!
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2013 15:49:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Sep 2013 15:56:17 BDT
Just like there is a widespread belief in someone called "King Arthur"... People "believe" because they want to. Whether it is "true" or not is another story and, especially in the absence of written sources (or at least sources that we can understand in some cases), it is that much easier to come up with a "sensational" story.
Having said this, and having gone through a similar experience with the same authors but on the Byzantines, I think I understand - however slightly - just how much this might have annoyed you...
Anyway, as far as I am concerned, and whether "antiquated" and "wrong" or not, these two Osprey titles have made me look for (much) more. So, however partial, problematic and incomplete, the titles were certainly not useless from my perspective...
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2013 16:59:18 BDT
Absolutely - when it comes to the Trojan War, there is a "will to believe" that the story is founded in truth, and even the personalities of the Iliad may have been real people. But I am not annoyed - rather depressed that they have somehow maintained such 'prehistoric' views, when there are plenty of books (e.g. Warren's The Aegean Civilisations) to teach them better. But if they have inspired you to find out more, that is to their credit.
I can't help wondering where they went wrong on the Byzantines! If you want to continue this correspondence, we should move from the pages of Amazon; my email address is email@example.com.
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2013 17:33:51 BDT
Take a look at another little volume in the Osprey collections called "Byzantine Guardsmen". If you want to see the exchange of emails with one of the authors and his rather interesting responses, try accessing the title on the US site, rather than this one...
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