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Lost in the desert for 2,500 years.
November 9, 2009 12:25 PM   Subscribe

It appears that the Lost Army of Cambyses has been found.

Cambyses II expanded the Persian empire into Egypt. Most accounts depict him as a lousy, drunken tyrant. According to Herodotus, he sent his army, 50,000 strong, into Egypt where the encountered a sand storm near the Siwa Oasis and were buried alive.

The tomb of Cambyses himself was discovered in 2006.
posted by Lutoslawski (74 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries

I don’t know why, but news like this depresses me just as much as it fascinates me
posted by Think_Long at 12:30 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I want to say something smart ass, but I'm floored enough by the actual discovery only to be able to summon up astonished noises.

Wow.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:37 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Human history is crazy. What a way to go. Makes me wonder what else we haven't found, say maybe on the ocean floor.
posted by Go Banana at 12:44 PM on November 9, 2009


That's amazing. Ancient history is often based on so little physical and written evidence, it's interesting that a story that sounds like it was just made up may have been real (if perhaps exaggerated numerically?).
posted by graymouser at 12:49 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


And yet again Herodotus is proven right. I just booked a ticket to India so I can capture one of those giant gold-hoarding ants!
posted by Bromius at 12:50 PM on November 9, 2009 [24 favorites]


So THAT'S where they were. They told me to watch their stuff for them.

(not afraid to say something smartass... What are they gonna do? Bury me in the sand?)
posted by Balisong at 12:51 PM on November 9, 2009


(not afraid to say something smartass... What are they gonna do? Bury me in the sand?)

You have never watched a horror movie in your life, right?
posted by The Whelk at 12:54 PM on November 9, 2009 [10 favorites]


“Give me a cup of sack, to make mine eyes look red: for I must speak in passion, and I will do it in King Cambyses' vein.” —Shakespeare: I Henry IV., ii. 4.
posted by Phanx at 12:55 PM on November 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


Herodotus also refers to a major battle between the Persians and Egyptians and claims to have visited the battlefield where one could still see the bones of the fallen soldiers... along with his rather unlikely commentary that the egyptian skulls were thick and unbreakable because they shaved their heads and left them exposed to the sun while the Persian skulls were weak and brittle because their covered their heads with skullcaps. That was more than 100 years later, and it seemed fascinating, if unlikely, that you could still find the remains of an army lying out in the air.

Finding this other lost army more than 2500 years later is simply stunning: it's a frozen moment in time.

And yet again Herodotus is proven right. I just booked a ticket to India so I can capture one of those giant gold-hoarding ants!

He was right about that, too:
Research by the French ethnologist Michel Peissel makes a claim that the story of 'Gold-digging ants' reported by the Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the 5th century BC, was founded on the golden Himalayan marmot of the Deosai plateau and the habit of local tribes such as the Minaro to collect the gold dust excavated from their burrows.
posted by deanc at 12:56 PM on November 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


This is a pretty cool post.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 PM on November 9, 2009


Get me Dr. Jones. Tell him it's urgent.
posted by boo_radley at 1:03 PM on November 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


That made me thirsty.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:03 PM on November 9, 2009


That's amazing.
posted by brundlefly at 1:04 PM on November 9, 2009


It is absolutely amazing that Herodotus is right yet again. For those that don't know, Herodotus was a Greek that lived in the 5th century BC. In his time, he went around the world, capturing information about flora and fauna, civilizations, and history. From this, he wrote a collection of books called The Histories that survived, and is commonly regarded as the first history book every writen. It's truely amazing that so many of the things that he wrote about that people once dismissed has been proven true over time.

Bromius, while Herodotus has been mocked for writing about giant gold-hoarding ants in India, some research is starting to indicate that he might have been on to something.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 1:05 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


As no trace of the hapless warriors has ever be found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.

It's a strange feeling to see something consigned to myth re-emerge as fact. Wow.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:05 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


o.0
posted by strixus at 1:09 PM on November 9, 2009


I know that the dry air of the desert has remarkable preservative properties, but could those skeletons really have survived outdoors for 2,500 years? And still look so perfect? The local carrion-eaters must be a pretty pathetic bunch.
posted by Faze at 1:11 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Get me Dr. Jones. Tell him it's urgent.

He was there long ago and reported his discovery to the U.S. Government. Top men have been handling it ever since. Top men.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:15 PM on November 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


I am glad they didn't find it by looking at Google Maps. I was afraid that Google would get all pompous, claiming to be Oracle 2.0
posted by filthy light thief at 1:15 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was afraid that Google would get all pompous, claiming to be Oracle 2.0

cough cough self-link cough
posted by The Whelk at 1:19 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


SeanOfTheHillPeople, I'm currently at the tail end of a seminar on Herodotus, so I've had all this on my mind for some time.

It's quite the contentious question whether Herodotus actually went around collecting information or not; while he almost certainly visited sites in the Greek world, his account of the sites in Egypt is quite inaccurate and can't be easily squared with what would have been around in the 5th century. Although I think it goes a little too far, Detlev Fehling's Herodotus and his 'Sources': Citation, Invention and Narrative Art alleges he pretty much made the whole thing up.

I'm always amused by statements like that in the article you linked: the existence of these marmots doesn't vindicate Herodotus at all. It only means he relayed the same legends people have been repeating for ages.
posted by Bromius at 1:19 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey, you start calling a guy The Father of Lies at your own peril.
posted by Copronymus at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2009


Father of Lies is too harsh. Can we compromise on Uncle?
posted by Bromius at 1:27 PM on November 9, 2009


I've always loved the line in the Book of Common Prayer for burials at sea. Specifically the image of the day "when the sea shall give up her dead." I've always pictured the waters of the earth rolling back somehow and countless dead standing up again.

I wish all the covered over things on earth would be revealed like this. It is very stirring, indeed.
posted by jefficator at 1:27 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now I just need to do a similar feat and figure out which of the 12 javascript sources I need to enable in order to view the slideshow.
posted by srboisvert at 1:29 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always amused by statements like that in the article you linked: the existence of these marmots doesn't vindicate Herodotus at all. It only means he relayed the same legends people have been repeating for ages.
The point is that even the most way-out-there ridiculous thing that Herodotus reports was not made up out of whole cloth but was rather based on things that had actually happened. And in any case he never claimed to have personally been to India. I'm not sure what you mean when you claim he "made the whole thing up." If you mean that he made up the story of having personally visited Egypt, that is certainly possible. However, the point of the Histories, which I'm sure your seminar pointed out, was that Herodotus's concern was finding out what actually happened. Whatever matrix he used to relay historical stories and opinions of events that he had heard was obviously a surprisingly reliable one.

I guess there are two ways of looking at it when things like the gold-ants -- a byword for Herodotian fantasy -- turn out to be based in fact: either he relayed every single crazy story he heard, and obviously the odds are that some of them will turn out to be based in fact, or he had some kind of standard by which he chose which stories to relay in his book, and when something like the gold-ants story turns out to be fact-based, it is because that story for whatever reason met with his standard for inclusion, making it more likely to be real, and other stories he heard did not merit inclusion because they were less likely to be true.
posted by deanc at 1:33 PM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think it is pretty clear the H man at least made it to several Egyptian cities. Since I spent my academic career hearing all the slagging and doubts about the man and his methodolgy, I was shocked when I finally read it: engrossing, well written, and surprisingly sophisticated. I mean, he openly posits that the Egyptian delta was created over tens of thousands of years of aluvial deposits while there are still people around today who think the world is no older than 6k or so.

The ancients never cease to amaze. Love seeing stuff like this, thanks!
posted by absalom at 1:39 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Herodotus didn't exactly skimp on the crazy stories - and as I recall there are several where he basically seems to be telling the story because he likes it, and then adds, "but of course that can't be true."
posted by nickmark at 1:48 PM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Go Banana: Human history is crazy. What a way to go. Makes me wonder what else we haven't found, say maybe on the ocean floor.
Do not call up what you cannot put down.
posted by bastionofsanity at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Take that, Herodotus-haters.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:56 PM on November 9, 2009


Faze: just guessing, but it is more than likely the skeletons were deeply buried under dry sand for much of the intervening time, only periodically being exposed at all (there is much more sand in North Africa than previously, due to de-vegetation and aridification, so the trend is things are getting buried, not the opposite. Even the Sphinx had to be dug out by Napoleon's troops). Burial under dry sand is one of the more optimal skeleton preservation contexts out there so yeah, these could easily have survived a few thousand years and, indeed, much longer.
posted by Rumple at 2:01 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Deanc: First off, I don't think he made the whole thing up. I should have been clearer; Fehling, quite controversially, argues that Herodotus mentally simulated what "an ideal inquirer" would have to do in order to write such a history, but didn't actually do any of the legwork or research. He catalogs an exhaustive list of contradictions and (perceived) implausibilities in the Histories. The book caused a big splash when it was translated into English about 20 years ago, though most scholars, I think, find it goes too far in many respects, and the general stream of Herodotean scholarship is now trying to move beyond the issue.

I myself think the work as a whole is a problematic mixture of fact and fantasy. Obviously, it describes events that really happened but it also describes events that did not happen or that Herodotus could not have known about in the detailed fashion he presents them. I'm comfortable in taking a middle position: that Herodotus reports generally truthfully about events, people and places geographically and chronologically closer to him, but the farther away his narrative moves the less generally reliable he becomes. A good example is the description of the Babylonian fortifications at the end of Book 1: no archaeological evidence for anything so tremendously massive has been found.

You're quite right that Herodotus does not claim to have been to India. As regards the marmot comment, there are, I think, some contextual issues with the India subsection: The whole point of the section on India is that a) it's very far away and b) the Persians don't rule it, but receive gold dust as a gift from the Indians. Herodotus might thus be inclined to include some exotic tale involving gold dust, for which the ant story fits the bill. My point is simply that "vindicates" is a very strong word.

All that said, I don't want to minimize the impact of this discovery, if it all pans out. It is truly astounding.
posted by Bromius at 2:14 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


as I recall there are several where he basically seems to be telling the story because he likes it, and then adds, "but of course that can't be true."

Yes. One of those was the "tin islands" in a sea north of Europe so-named for being the source of the metal imported into Greece. hogwash, I say!

That was an instance where he point blank said that he was unable to confirm their existence and outright exhibited a certain amount of skepticism about the entire story. It does make you wonder what threshold he required for claiming that the evidence of something he heard was solid vs. what he considered unconfirmed vs. what he felt was completely implausible.
posted by deanc at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2009


Um, OK. You fellas have your little discussion about Herodotus, mmmkay? I'll be over here figuring out a way of summoning the restless shades of this lost army to do my bidding.

For one thing, this comics collection ain't gonna sort itself, you know.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


nickmark: Absolutely! My favorite part of The Histories, I think, is when Herodotus is describing the embalming process in Book II (From _The Landmark Herodotus_):

But when wives of prominent men or very beautiful or noteworthy women die, they do not deliver their bodies to be embalmed at once. They give them over only on the second or third day after their death so that the embalmers do not have intercourse with the dead woman's body, for they say that one was once caught in the act of having intercourse with a woman's fresh corpse.

Oh, wait, no, that's not it. That's may favorite part that I could FIND, I'll have to summarize by favorite part*. He giving a sort of very straight travelogue/description of his time in some Egyptian city or another, and at the end of it - completely out of nowhere - he writes sometihng like "And once I saw a woman there have intercourse with a mule. It was quite scandalous." No lie.

Of course, I knew I was in for a ride early on. In the opening parts of Book I, not even 100 pages in, he describes the mythological and historical origins of the Persians, and admires them somewhat as great borrowers:

Of all men, the Persians especially tend to adopt foreign customs. For example, they wear the fashions of the Medes in the belief that the Medes' clothing is more beautiful than their own, and they wear Egyptian breastplates when they go to war. They inquire into the enjoyments of pleasure seekers in every nation and in particular have learned pederasty from the Hellenes. (Hellenes = Greeks.)

*"Egypt/Embalming Rituals" is in the index. "Egypt/Woman Fucking Donkey" is not. Sorry.
posted by absalom at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


The article notes that the discovering archaeologists posited that the army was misled by a map showing their objective in the wrong location, and instead found themselves 62 miles south of Siwa.

While I do not for second think that they are promulgating a location-accurate locale in this initial news story, have at it, I say.
posted by mwhybark at 2:44 PM on November 9, 2009


That was more than 100 years later, and it seemed fascinating, if unlikely, that you could still find the remains of an army lying out in the air.

Supposedly there are places outside of Stalingrad which are rich with the bones of Germans who died in the battle there. If true, that's more than 60 years ago.
posted by Atreides at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2009


P.s. Neat post. I love to see the ancient world discovered. The amount of history lost to us today is unimaginable and it rocks when we manage to uncover a little bit more of it.
posted by Atreides at 2:47 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK so this is where I get to be an archaeologist:

Things that are bad for bone preservation (a number of these are correlated): exposure to sunlight, exposure to air, exposure to bacteria, to plant material, freeze-thaw cycles, acidic soil or groundwater, access by scavengers.

Things that are good for bone preservation: dryness, darkness, anaerobic conditions, freezing without thawing, alkaline soil or groundwater.

Your bones are about 50% organic and 50% mineral. Critters love them. Acid etches them. Sunlight degrades them. Vigorous surrounding life of almost any kind will end up destroying them one way or another. Without the organic component, they become very brittle and turn to dust. The posited preservational environment of being buried by dry sand is about as good a preservational context as you'll find on earth.
posted by Rumple at 2:54 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Another great archaeological discovery that was "just a story": Troy.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2009


Absolutely! My favorite part of The Histories, I think, is when Herodotus is describing the embalming process in Book II (From _The Landmark Herodotus_)

What about the tale of Hippoclides, the dinner guest who gets drunk and tries to tea-bag his future father-in-law?
posted by Partario at 3:13 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bromius : Father of Lies is too harsh. Can we compromise on Uncle?

A girl once remarked to me "You're not the Devil. But you might be his brother..." I took it as a non-sequitur compliment and started referring to myself the Uncle of Lies.

I should resurrect that as a title on a business card.

/offtopic

posted by quin at 3:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


My mind boggles at the number: 50,000 warriors. Think of how hard you would have to recruit to get that number. Would they all be speaking the same language? I'm guessing not. And the communication problems would not stop at languages. How much area do 50,000 troops take up-- how spread out would they have been? Would it be possible for one man to address them all or is a case of relaying the message down the chain of command.

Then there is the whole foraging difficulty. Food and drink for 50,000 would not be a walk in the park-- certainly it would devastate the food supply of the unfortunate people along the army's route. The army would have wiped out whole herds and eaten entire grain harvests and drunk every vat of beer they could find.

Once you have dealt with the number as live warriors, then go back and think of how enormous that number is of dead warriors. Not just the impact on the families they left behind, but I mean the physical mass of decaying flesh. How is it possible that so many were killed at once? Could any have survived? Was there anyone to bury the bodies or were they all suffocated?

Questions. I have questions.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always have questions when it comes to casualty figures from Antiquity. According to Livy, close to 50.000 Roman soldiers died at the Battle of Cannae - a figure that many historians accept. I just don't get how that happened. The bloodies battles (Waterloo, Gettysburg, Bulge) in recent history just barely surpass those figures and those armies were fighting with far more devastating weapons. I'd like to know how the clean-up was handled.
posted by Partario at 3:45 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know how the clean-up was handled.

My guess is that it wasn't.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2009


I'd like to know how the clean-up was handled.

Items of value retrieved by survivors or local peasants. Depending on how close the battle is to habitation or an ongoing campaign (Troy had its funeral pyres), clean-up is presumably left to the elements. As here. Mass graves if otherwise - God will sort them out.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:09 PM on November 9, 2009


I was initially excited about this, but am now not so sure. Digging around produced this. It seems a bit convenient that the Bedouin who knew the 'secrets of the desert ' vanished so tidily. He wont be around to vouch for the story then

Then I suddenly remembered where I saw the name Aly/Ali Barakat before - he's the geologist and self-styled pyramid expert who initially made nutty claims about the Bosnian 'pyramid' but then backpedalled on them and then there's this forum post which suggests the story has done the rounds before.

18-May-2006, 09:47 AM

Fram
Established Member

...
The more I look at it, the less I trust the judgment of Dr. Ali Barakat. It turns out that he has also already "found" the lost army of Cambyses in Egypt, so it looks to me that he is more interested in spectacle than in science. Apparently, a show about this has been made by ABC from Australia.
The only publications I can find are a few geological ones (about impact craters in Libya), so I doubt many people would consider him the leading Egyptian pyramid expert...


Unfortunately the link within the post to the 'lost army' goes to a 404.
I'll keep digging, but I'm starting to get a faint whiff of fish.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:13 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Lost Army of Cambyses -Redux
Disputed discoveries

In the last decade there have been some slightly confused reports about discoveries in the Western Desert that sound almost too good to be true. According to Professor Mosalam Shaltout, chairman of the Space Research Center at the Desert Environment Research Institute of Egypt’s Minufiya University, an Italian-led expedition in December 1996 which was surveying for meteorites stumbled across archaeological remains in the El Bahrein Oasis area of the Western Desert. Aly Barakat, a geologist with the team, found a dagger blade and hilt, pottery shards, apparently human bone fragments, burial mounds, arrowheads and a silver bracelet, which, on the basis of a photograph, was identified as ‘most likely belonging to the Achaemenid period’ (ie ancient Persian).

Meanwhile, in 2000 there were widespread reports that a team of oil-prospecting geologists, said to be from Helwan University, in Cairo, had stumbled across similar finds in the same area, spotting scattered arrow heads and human bones.

In 2003 geologist Tom Bown led an expedition to the area, accompanied by archaeologist Gail MacKinnon and a film crew, to follow up Aly Barakat’s discoveries, which they, controversially, said had been suppressed by the Egyptian authorities. Bown claimed to have found remains at the same site, near the El Bahrein Oasis, at a place later named Wadi Mastour, the Hidden Valley. In fact he reportedly went as far as describing seeing thousands of bones littering the desert.

Yet another follow-up expedition in 2005, however, cast serious doubt on the claims of both Barakat and Bown. A team from the University of Toledo, in Ohio, together with British and Egyptian associates, travelled to the site near El Bahrein. They located a broken pot found by both Barakat and Bown, although they identified it as Roman, but they failed to find any other suggestive remains beyond a few burial sites, which they claim are common in the desert. Instead of fields of scattered human bones they found large numbers of fragments of fossilised sand dollars (sea urchin-like creatures that leave distinctive round calcite cases), which are apparently easy to mistake for human bones and could explain the previous claims.

posted by Flitcraft at 4:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alas, it looks like a pile of old poo, reheated for a movie.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:27 PM on November 9, 2009


Then there is the whole foraging difficulty. Food and drink for 50,000 would not be a walk in the park-- certainly it would devastate the food supply of the unfortunate people along the army's route. The army would have wiped out whole herds and eaten entire grain harvests and drunk every vat of beer they could find.

Logistics. The Romans were excellent at it, and it was the break down of this system that helped contribute to its later problems of being unable to field as large as armies as it had. In Gaul, I believe, the Romans relied upon built up stores, but also the assistance of loyal Gallic tribes. But there were definitely problems with fielding a large army for extended periods of time.

We don't give the ancient folks enough credit on their ability to perform any number of technical or organizational tasks.

If you want a good reference to what 50,000 people gathered in one place would look something like, just go attend a college or professional sporting event in a stadium. Just Saturday, I was within a mass of around 65k people.
posted by Atreides at 5:05 PM on November 9, 2009


Herodotus didn't exactly skimp on the crazy stories - and as I recall there are several where he basically seems to be telling the story because he likes it, and then adds, "but of course that can't be true."

I finally read the Herodotus Histories this past summer after putting it off for ages, perhaps shy about the snark from all those Herodotus-haters out there.

Herodotus is a great historian, and a great writer when given a good translation, who really makes an effort to engage the reader. He deliberately adds these funny diversions to entertain his audience, but he makes a point of qualifying and evaluating the veracity of what he quotes, and it would be a shame to harshly judge his main topic, the Persian War against the Greeks, on the basis of these little side-bars.

Now if you still really want to snark at Herodotus, I could highly recommend chapter 1 of the novel Creation by Gore Vidal, which is hilarious (if you are into this sort of thing).
posted by ovvl at 5:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Secret Life of Gravy, others. Re: Logistics.

Some time ago, the book Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army was recommended on Ask.Me as the definitive work on pre-modern logistics. I cannot recommend it enough: even though it's about Alexander, it might as well be

For starters, the idea of an army in the ancient world in the tens of thousands is not that difficult to imagine in the ancient world. The commenter upthread says, essentially, that cannot be so, as the armies of Napoleonic Europe were no larger, despite the lethality of the instruments. That's not exactly true, really, Napoleonic Battles were historically epic : hundreds of thousands of people. The Battle of Leipzig had something like 600,000 combatants. Nothing in the ancient or medieval world comes close.

But, as the Little Corporal himself said (at least according to Empire: Total War), "An army marches on its stomach." The factor limiting army size is logistics : feeding and transporting.* And the logistics of a few generations before Napoleon's time were in most ways identical to those of Alexanders, or even Cambyses : Horse and Water. I'd argue army sizes stayed relatively static in size until the advent of industry: Rail, mechanized farming, internal combustion, and all the features of modern warfare.

Some cherry-picked examples. Alexander's core army was 20-30k, and might have swelled as high as 50k as he absorbed Persian and Egyptian forces. The book I talk about above puts it at something like 65,000. That was in 320s BC. The Battle of Grunwald (1410), one of the largest engagements of the Medieval period, and despite being almost 2000 years later, was something like 30k vs 40k. So, certainly, if Alexander can muster 30k troops, then Cambyses could a mere two centuries earlier.

The secret, of course, is Sea Power. When you look at the numbers involved, it quickly becomes clear nothing else can possibly meet the needs of a large force. Tens of thousands of pounds of food per day, for *months* at a stretch. A sea lane to resupply is the *only* way to field an invasion army. Horses are useless for the task, since they're a source of diminishing returns when you consider how much grain they eat compared to how much they can carry - can't even put *carts* on the horses, because carts need wheels, and wheels are useless without roads. So, there you go.

They would almost certainly be of various cultures and regions, even if representing a single state/king/whatever. Persian horsemen came from one place, Persian archers somewhere else, generally speaking. It's not helpful to think of things in modern terms of "chain of command," though. My understanding, at least in the case of Persia, is generally they would be local kings of vassal or client states and appointed satraps at the head of large sections of the army, and the king over the whole shebang.

As to casualties, for what it's worth, I've read that the bloody part of the battle didn't come until the retreat. I'm speaking from vague memories, but I'm confident at least twice as many killed during the route as the engagement, probably much higher.

The battle itself would probably take up less space than you would think - as stated above, during sporting events, its easy to get a huge mass of people together. I'd think you couldeEasily fit the most epic ancient battle in a square mile or three.

*Interesting, too, is comparing the size of medieval armies during the warm and cool periods: The warmer periods often feature larger battles, with generals often playing a background role, while during the cooler period typically feature smaller bands where leaders are a lot more actively engaged in blood-and-guts-ery.
posted by absalom at 6:01 PM on November 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


"might as well be about Cambyses as Alexander, or anyone else."
posted by absalom at 6:03 PM on November 9, 2009


Also: Department of Redundency Department calling. My kingdom for an edit-window! Spend half and hour on a comment - PROOFREAD IT.

*facepalm*
posted by absalom at 6:04 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]



Herodotus is a great historian, and a great writer when given a good translation,


Can you recommend one?
posted by The Whelk at 6:06 PM on November 9, 2009


Also Also: Tens of Thousands of *Pounds* per day? No. Tens of Thousands of *Tons*.

200,000 pounds of food. Per day.
posted by absalom at 6:07 PM on November 9, 2009


Regarding why Napoleon could move hundreds of thousands of troops, and keep them fed, better than anyone else at the time, courtesy of James Burke and the BBC and of course, Nicolas Appert.
posted by chambers at 6:10 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not a bleeding good lost army if it can be found, is it?
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:17 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


What about the tale of Hippoclides, the dinner guest who gets drunk and tries to tea-bag his future father-in-law?

Hippocleides doesn't care.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:32 PM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


So I googled these "top Italian archaeologists" & came up with this: Mondo Film.

I suppose this is a step up.
posted by kanewai at 8:00 PM on November 9, 2009


Oh, Lord. I first learned of The Lost Army from Hellboy!
posted by SPrintF at 8:05 PM on November 9, 2009


Herodotus kicks ass.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:04 PM on November 9, 2009


Even if this turns out to be phony, what a great thread. Thanks for posting.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:35 PM on November 9, 2009


My mind boggles at the number: 50,000 warriors. Think of how hard you would have to recruit to get that number. Would they all be speaking the same language?

In regards to the language question, most of them could probably speak Aramaic.

As for the number of troops, Ancient Chinese armies were reported as being even larger. In the warring states period the ancient sources have the number of soldiers approaching one million, though these are considered exaggerations. At the battle of Red of Red Cliffs in the three kingdoms period, the opposing general estimated Cao Cao's at 220,000 and he had no reason for exaggeration.
posted by afu at 12:45 AM on November 10, 2009


Herodotus is a great historian, and a great writer when given a good translation,

Can you recommend one?


I highly recommend the Aubrey de Selincourt translation, mostly because of the hilariously dry (and very British) commentary he gives in the footnotes on the more outlandish parts of the text. Here are a few choice examples, which I stole from this piece from The Foghorn. H=Herodotus; A=de Selincourt:

H: The ship continued her voyage to Corinth, but a dolphin picked up Arion and carried him on its back to Taenarum.
A: The story about the riding the dolphin appears to be wholly the stuff of legend.

H: In the old days the Telemessians had pronounced that Sardis would never be taken if Meles, who was king at that time, carried round the walls the lion which his concubine had borne him.
A: It is curious that Herodotus narrates something so unusual without comment: why Meles' concubine should have borne him a lion is not explained.

H: As things are at present, these people harvests with less labour than anyone else in the world, the rest of the Egyptians included ... they merely wait for the river of its own accord to flood their fields.
A: In fact, the labour involved in the irrigation and cultivation of Egypt was enormous.

Herodotus tells a long, convoluted story about pygmies, a tiny race of wizards.
A: This story is told at fifth hand, a remarkable distance even by Herodotean standards.

H: [The hippopotamus] has four legs, cloven hoofs like an ox, a snub nose, a horse's mane and tail, conspicuous tusks, a voice like a horse's neigh, and is about the size of a very large ox.
A: The description of the hippopotamus represents the nadir of Herodotean zoology. Clearly, he never saw the real thing nor even pictures of it, and his description is based purely on its Greek name, which means "river-horse."

Herodotus tells of how the Egyptians, after capturing and subduing a city at war, will erect a pillar and carve into it the figure of a woman’s genitals as a means of shaming the conquered warriors.
A: There is no evidence than any Egyptian ever did this; for a valiant attempt to explain see Lloyd [another historian].

H: He was caught trying to raise a revolt amongst the Egyptians, and as soon as his guilt was known by Cambyses, he drank bull’s blood and died on the spot.
A: Suicide by drinking bull’s blood is common enough in ancient literature, the more surprising in that the drink is not fatal, as could easily have been demonstrated (one assumes).

H: In the upper regions of Egypt, no rain has ever fallen.
A: It does in fact rain in upper Egypt, just not very much.

And, perhaps best of all,

H: Now that his power was felt in every corner of his dominions, his first act was to erect a stone monument with a carving of a man on horseback, and the following inscripton . . . The horse’s name was included.
A: No monument of this sort has ever been discovered, nor should we expect that it ever will be.

posted by albrecht at 8:48 AM on November 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Also: Department of Redundency Department calling. My kingdom for an edit-window! Spend half and hour on a comment - PROOFREAD IT.

O' Absalom, absalom, it seems proof reading is never enough. (sorry - had to)

Engels taught at my grad school, but alas, he retired before I had an opportunity to take one of his courses. Purportedly Oliver Stone contacted him to be an expert on the movie Alexander and he refused.
posted by Atreides at 9:59 AM on November 10, 2009


H: Now that his power was felt in every corner of his dominions, his first act was to erect a stone monument with a carving of a man on horseback, and the following inscripton . . . The horse’s name was included.
A: No monument of this sort has ever been discovered, nor should we expect that it ever will be.


Heh. Obviously, though, Herodotus is working off an nth-hand description of the Behistun Inscription.
posted by deanc at 11:21 AM on November 10, 2009


Regarding why Napoleon could move hundreds of thousands of troops...Nicolas Appert.

Up to a point (that point being 1810, which is to say, after most of NB's shenanigans went down). His armies did a whole lot of foraging among the peasantry, much to the peasantry's dismay. It was notable of Wellington that he actually paid for what his men took. (And considering what Spanish peasants were capable of, it was a prudent thing to do.)

(thank you absalom for the cite. It's on the list.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:15 PM on November 10, 2009


Re: The Whelk…
Blood and souls! Blood and souls for the horned one! the horned one!

LOL.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:34 PM on November 10, 2009


The version I read is The Landmark Herodotus, edited by R.B. Strassler, translation by Andrea Purvis.

But I also heard good things about Aubrey de Selincourt recently...
posted by ovvl at 7:32 PM on November 10, 2009


Did anyone else immediately think of the Conan novel 'The Grim Grey God' and shiver in fear?

The Acheronian army's punishment:

"For twenty-three days the wind raged relentlessly, submerging the Holy City of Nithia in a veritable sea of sand. No lofty tower or brass spire was visible.

There would the Brass City lie hidden for some three thousand years, lost beneath the desolate dunes of what would become the eastern desert of Shem...hidden, but not forgotten. For one day howling winds would lay bare the secrets in the sand, and men would once more seek the Grim Grey God."

No? OK, I'll just be over here re-reading it.
posted by HopperFan at 8:14 PM on November 10, 2009


One thing to keep in mind when reading Herodotus is that the man never met a pun he didn't like. A lot of the tales he relates which make no sense are just a kind of shaggy dog stories. The Hippocleides story mentioned above is perhaps the most famous example. Keep in mind that ancient Greek literature is rife with puns, even Thucydides (to a lesser degree than Herodotus, though). Funny little factoid: Perhaps the definitive essay on Herodotus' punmanship was written by J. Enoch Powell. Yes, that Enoch Powell.
posted by Kattullus at 1:11 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


HopperFan: "Did anyone else immediately think of the Conan novel 'The Grim Grey God' and shiver in fear?"

Robert E. Howard on Cambyses:

SKULLS AND DUST

The Persian slaughtered the Apis Bull;
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
And the brain fermented beneath his skull.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

He rode on the desert raider’s track;
(Ammon-Ra is a darksome king.)
No man of his gleaming hosts came back,
And the dust winds drifted sombre and black.
(Egypt’s curse is a deathly thing.)

...

There is more at the link above.

Aptly spotted, sir.
posted by mwhybark at 10:30 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The local carrion-eaters must be a pretty pathetic bunch.

There were 50,000 soldiers (and presumably a bunch of camp-followers, although they don't say anything about that) and "hundreds" of skulls found. That's on the order of 1% remaining.
posted by DU at 4:43 AM on November 17, 2009


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