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Sean Manning: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire. Past Approaches, Future Prospects (= Oriens et Occidens. Studien zu antiken Kulturkontakten und ihrem Nachleben; Bd. 32), Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2020, 437 S., 8 s/w-Abb., 4 Tbl., ISBN 978-3-515-12775-2, EUR 74,00
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Rezension von:
Nicholas Sekunda
University of Gdańsk
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Matthias Haake
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Nicholas Sekunda: Rezension von: Sean Manning: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire. Past Approaches, Future Prospects, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2020, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 12 [15.12.2022], URL:

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Sean Manning: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire

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Sean Manning is a Canadian, justly proud of Canada's contribution to the history of warfare (hence the frequent references to Lord Strathcona's Horse in the book). He received his MA in Calgary studying Greek and Roman Studies, then his PhD in Ancient History and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Innsbruck in 2018. With such an academic background, trained equally well to deal with historical materials derived from classical and Near Eastern sources, it would be hard to find anyone more qualified to write this book. He prefaces his work (8-14) with a brief guide to bibliographic and philological abbreviations and transliteration conventions governing cuneiform sources, aimed at readers whose background has been exclusively in classical studies.

The first chapter of the book traces the history of research on the Achaemenid army, placed within the wider contexts of the development of Achaemenid Studies as a whole, and the study of Greek Warfare. In this section he displays a remarkably wide knowledge of both areas, plus a feeling for what is possible from a point of view of inherent military practicability, rather from an abstract, theoretical one. An example of the latter is his criticism of Bittner's doubts over the possibility of Darius III being able to retrain his infantry to use new weapons over the two years between Issus and Gaugamela, comparing (43) this feat with 'the British army which fought at the Somme [which] had been crowds of eager volunteers over a two-year period'. He stresses the role of the Achaemenid History Workshops in changing our way of thinking about the Persian Empire. Elsewhere, Manning (220) concludes that it was one result of these Workshops that the unpleasant aspects of the Empire were also given full weight, a thought that had not occurred to me. He sees the late 1980s and early 1990s as a particularly formative period, witnessing the appearance of the three monographs of Bittner in 1985 and 1987 (Tracht und Bewaffnung des Persischen Heeres zur Zeit der Achaimeniden), of Duncan Head (The Achaemenid Persian Army) and myself (The Persian Army 560-330 BC) both in 1992.

The other chapters are more thematic in their approach: Chapter 2: The Ancestors of Achaemenid Army, Chapter 3: Kings at War: The Perspective of the Royal Inscriptions, Chapter 4: Commoners at War: The Perspective of Letters and Documents, Chapter 5: Material Remains: The Perspective of Archaeology, Chapter 6: Greek Literature, and the Army in Action. The final chapter 7 is entitled 'Conclusions and Future Research'. As the sub-titles of these chapters are sufficiently self-descriptive to require no further elaboration. I personally gained most from Chapter 4.

A key document in any study of armed forces of the Achaemenid Period is the contract between Gadal-Jâma and Rimūt-Ninurta from the Murašû archive from Nippur, dated to 8 January 421 BC, or the second regnal year of Darius II. From page 159 onwards, Manning studies the context which gave rise to this document, and while he states that 'this is not the place for a full commentary' the list of equipment he supplies on 163 is of extreme value.

Gadal-Jâma agrees to represent the 'horse-estate' of Rahim-ilē (the father of Gadal-Jâma) at Uruk, in which Rimūt-Ninurta had a part share, if Rimūt-Ninurta supplies him with the equipment listed in the tablet. Stolper connected this document with the struggle for the throne which took place at the beginning of Darius' reign (165).

In an interesting sub-chapter (4.12, 203-221) Manning demonstrates how this single document has been interpreted as evidence for decline in the military effectiveness of the armed forces controlled by the Achaemenids, particularly by Robin Lane Fox and Paul Rahe. To be fair to the latter two scholars, Manning (205) himself admits that 'evidence published since 1980 allows the practices described in the contract to be interpreted in a new light'. The list itself contains many items which down to the present day remain difficult to translate or explain. Many basic items of equipment are missing, such as a sword or dagger. Arrows are listed but a bow is absent. Here Manning once again demonstrates his wide knowledge of other, though comparable military systems, in this case of 'substitute service'. He points out that the items missing from the list might have been supplied by Gadal-Jâma himself. According to the contract a horse had to be supplied by Rimūt-Ninurta, but this does not mean that Gadal-Jâma could not ride or did not own another horse. In other societies it was a normal practice to only field a 'second best' horse that was expendable, sometimes with disastrous consequences to the rider. So, these features cannot be seen as evidence for a decline in the military systems of the Empire, they are rather features constantly encountered in systems of military service entailed in grants of land.

Manning is surely correct in believing that the ready availability of iron probably explains its replacement of bronze rather than other factors (104), but I was fascinated by his hypothesis that the historical novels of the Finnish author Mika Waltari possibly lay behind the modern myth that iron is 'harder' than bronze. On the other hand, I disagree with Manning's (242, 337-8) attempts to cast doubt on the evidence given by Diodorus that the catapult was first developed in Syracuse about 399 BC when the city was threatened by a Carthaginian siege. Similar attempts have been made in the past, but all lack any substantive evidence.

The work by Bruno Jacobs (ed.), Ancient Information on Persia Re-assessed: Xenophon's Cyropaedia etc, Harassowitz 2020 came out too late to be incorporated in the book, but there, in the contribution by Jacobs himself, Manning could have found a complete swathe of arguments to support his statement (151 n. 97) that there is no evidence to connect the gift bearers in the Persepolis with the Nowruz ceremony.

Manning scrupulously adds a non vidi to works he has not been able to consult personally. The impressive bibliography amounts to 57 pages. Under current conditions in the Humanities industry, where doctoral candidates are expected to have manufactured at least one article, it is increasingly difficult to keep track of everything. Nevertheless, there are significant works that have escaped Manning's attention. A reference to Thomas Donaghy, Horse Breeds and Breeding in the Graeco-Persian World, 1st and 2nd Millenium BC, Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014, would have enriched Manning's discussion of the horse types available the Achaemenids on page 250.

Another work missing from the bibliography is Early Riders, the Beginning of Mounted Warfare in Asia and Europe, Routledge 2004, by Robert Drews, which (on pages 15-20) calls into question the evidence quoted by Manning (98) 'To judge by the archaeological evidence for herds of domesticated horses, and the teeth of horses showing wear from bits, horseback riding is at least 6,000 years old'. Also, whilst it is true that unarmed men sitting on the haunches of horses, and thus exercising no control over the animal, are attested in pictorial sources as far back as the first introduction of the chariot into Near Eastern warfare about 1700 BC, but as Drews convincingly demonstrates, these show either grooms leading horses to be harnessed to the chariot, or trick-riders performing sporting feats. There is no evidence for mounted warriors until the end of the second millennium BC.

I have very few criticisms of this work, which I consider to be an outstanding contribution to the subject, but in my view it does not 'seem useful to distinguish' (133) between the dynasties of the Teispids and the Achaemenids, as was first done by Robert Rollinger in 2014. This is reflected in the rather clumsy reference to the 'Teispid-Achaemenid Empire' in the monograph's title. Rollinger's argument builds on the work of Stronach, developing the argument that Darius was a usurper, claiming (probably false) descent from Achaemenes. Yet no one has yet proposed that Teispes and Cyrus the Great were not descended, at least mythologically, from Achaemenes, in which case we should properly call the 'Teispids' Achaemenids, whereas one should more correctly apply some other imagined label, such as 'Ariaramnids' or 'Hystaspids' to Darius and his descendants.

To me it seems unnecessary and undesirable to break with a terminology and chronological taxonomy that has become established over the last two centuries at least of academic scholarship. Our knowledge of the earlier period, while limited, does not permit us to state there was any substantive break in practice or institutions with the later period. It is above all confusing, as Manning himself demonstrates, referring on page 62, in the established manner, to 'Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions', but on page 134 to 'Teispid' inscriptions. As the practice of inscribing on rock surfaces was only adopted from the reign of Darius onwards, this term is a misnomer.

Nicholas Sekunda