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More on the Rhomphaia
RECENTLY I CAME ACROSS a collection of papers, bound in two volumes, entitled Ancient Bulgaria. These papers cover a variety of historical and prehistorical subjects related to the Balkan region, some of which will undoubtedly be of interest to society members. Most of the papers are written in English, although some are in French, while one article in German dealing with doubleheaded axes looks rather interesting (German translators to the fore!). Sir Steven Runcinian's paper will definitely interest students of the early Bulgars.
It was, however, an article by Nick Sekunda that was most interesting. In it the author considers the evidence regarding the rhomphaia and presents his idea of that weapon which is different from that accepted in the Ancient wargaming circles.
He regards the rhomphaia as the Thracian version of a weapon the Greeks called dorudrepanon or spear-sickle. Sekunda agrees with A.J. Reinach's identification in Dictionnaire des Antiquities. He quotes Reinach in French, and as my French is practically non-existent, I obtained the following English translation: Reinach thought the weapon was 'a pike at least two metres in length, of which half consisted of a heavy, double-edge blade. This strong and sharp iron (weapon), which Livy and Isidorus seemed to identify as the framea, must have been a large cutlass, the harpe or the sica of the Thracians, modified by the addition of it solid shaft'. Further, Sekunda claims to add evidence not used by Reinach to identify the weapon as a dorudrepanon. Nearly all the literary evidence Sekunda puts forward has been discussed in past Slingshots. It is not my intention to repeat them here, except to say that the dorudrepanon identification seems consistent with that evidence.
Sekunda's archaeological evidence is most interesting. Four pieces are mentioned of which two are pictured in the list of plates. One plate shows dorudrepana being used by Amazons, but the other of a vase (Stamnos, by the Midas Painter, British Museum E.447) gives the Thracian connection. Part of its scene shows a bearded guard wearing various elements of non-Greek dress. The guard, wearing the distinctively Thracian cloak, the zeira, is holding in his right hand a dorudrepanon which is about his own height in length.
The illustration below will give the readers a rough idea of Sekunda's doudrepanon/rhomphaia.
Anyone wishing to view Sekunda's evidence at first hand will find it in Part 1 of Ancient Bulgaria. edited by A.G. Poulter, available from the Secretary, Department of Classical Archaeological Studies (Archaeology Section), University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD. At £24.00 it is rather expensive and of full value only to those who have a general interest in the Balkan area. However, it should be obtainable through inter-library loan.
Further Note on an Ancient Weapon
I would refer to Mr. Duncan Head's most interesting article in the May issue - "The Rhomphaia Lives!". He has carried out a very thorough research into the classical authors' references and the surviving illustrations of the corresponding period, on which he is to be congratulated. If I may be permitted, though, I should like to extend this history some way into "the dark backward and abyss of time"!
Mr. Head (p.8) refers to the fact that Greek vase-paintings depicting Thracians show no evidence of the "falx", and suggests that the Greek painters of the 5th Century BC did not live to see it, the earliest reference to the rhomphaia dating to 200 BC and the earliest archaeological find being a blade found at Olynthus, probably dating to 348 BC. From this he suggests that the absence of the rhomphaia on Greek vases is that it had not yet been invented.
But whatever its name, this scythe or sickle blade mounted on a short shaft is actually of great antiquity. Two miles from the remains of Boghazkoy in Anatolia in a natural rock-recess known as Yazilikaya is a series of rock-carvings depicting marching figures heading towards figures of gods, and among the former is a file of which one man is depicted herewith. It will be seen that the costume, with the conical head-dress, tunic, and turned-up shoes, is that of the typical Hittite infantryman, and that he carries the above-described weapon. So do all the file, and various other figures.
The carvings are attributed to the reign of Tudhaliyas W (1265-35 BC).
There is no direct proof, of course, that one derives from the other, and certainly such agricultural implements as scythes and sickles mounted on staffs have been employed by peasant levies in many places and ages, so that the possibility of independent invention cannot be ruled out. However, since the Hittite empire was overthrown about 1200 BC by the Phrygians and the Mushki, coming by way of Thrace, there must have been links across the straits, with a strong likelihood that the Hittite weapon descended to the later Thracians.
« Phrygian warrior with dorudrepanon from a mid-fifth century Attic vase by the Midas Painter. Left: Figure 40b From Duncan Head's "The Achaemenid Persian Army". Right: author's photograph. This is the picture referred to by Roman Szwaba as Stamnos, by the Midas Painter, British Museum E.447
Above: apparently, the Hittites had a rhomphaia-like weapon, though obviously with 1,000 or more years separating them from the Hellenistic Thracians, this must have been an independant invention! This relief is from Yazilikaya in central Turkey, close to the Hittite capital at Boghazköy. It comes from C W Ceram's Gods, Graves, and Scholars, Folio Society, London, 1999.
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This page last updated on Tuesday, 28 August 2001 by Christopher Webber firstname.lastname@example.org
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