Papyrus, Tablet, Vellum, Sherd - random history topics!

Dropping it here in P&R just because it’s likely certain topics will have a P&R element to them.

Whatever floats your boat!

Here are some of my personal grist mill topics (yes, Jeez, what’s wrong with me). Pick one or start your own!

  1. Origins of Judaism. How this interacts with what we know of Bronze Age collapse.

  2. Justinian the bad - How Justinian (6th C. Byzantine/Roman Emperor) probably actually did screw up everything, ruining both East and West and indirectly causing not just the conditions for Islam but actually its development.

  3. Snaketown and Casa Grande - interactions and importation of technical culture of Mesoamerican architecture and beliefs (and peoples?) into the American Southwest.

  4. Swahili Coast - development and spread of culture/architecture ect of Islam and Arabian and Persian traders along the east African coast, what went wrong and right, how deep or superficial was their influence in deeper Africa (Great Zimbabwe?)

  5. Central Asia - from Tocharians to the Ferghana Valley, like the Fertile Crescent but turned upside down and pointing north instead of south.

  6. Greater Liao and the Mongols - description and precedent setting nature of the Greater Liao state and how the Mongols, arguably, slipped into an empty throne rather than burst out of nowhere into completely stable polities around them.

Go Dodgers…

Are you asking for people (experts, hopefully) to educate you about these things? Or are you boasting that you know a lot about these topics and would like to expound on them? If it’s the former, I don’t feel qualified to comment. If it’s the latter, sure, let’s take it from the top. Are you saying the Jews of antiquity were the mysterious Sea Peoples that caused (or perhaps it would be safer to say contributed to) the Bronze Age Collapse?

Experts and proper sources are more AskHistorians material, I don’t think there’s many of them here.
Which means it’s probably even a better idea than there to impose a date limit so we don’t end up talking about, say, just WW2 and the cold war.

I mean it’s really just Yes.

I have some knowledge about various topics, would like to know more. But this is general interest history based on knowledge generated by others and not “primary historians only are asked to respond”.

It was also just a random assortment of topics that might interest people. I like looking at history “in the round”, over hundreds or even thousands of years, and that interplay between culture, geography, economy, and events. It’s also interesting to look at areas that haven’t received much general popular interest (Nuragic ruins, looking at you!)

But it’s just about history nerdery, as it were. The things that make you open a book and keep reading (like, Russia’s First Civil War, a thesis about how the Time of Troubles, and then later, how it turned out almost “no bibles” survived so they had to rebuild their canon by memory, which speaks to how shallow Russian Orthodox culture was until then, ect).

This is the perfect dumping ground for my factoid that a pair of recent papers do meta analyses of the historical data surrounding Justinian’s Plague and conclude that there’s not really any broad, solid historical evidence to support the idea that this 6th century plague had a mortality rate remotely approaching the mortality rate of the 14th century Black Death.

The archaeological evidence is particularly weak: you just don’t see the spike in burials you’d expect (you do see an increase in multiple burials in the same plot - but that begins before the plague and continues after, so it’s more likely due to cultural changes than Justinian’s Plague.)

On the one hand, this is not unexpected. The 1347 Black Death is a huge outlier, by far the deadliest proven epidemic in history as a percentage of the population (20%-50% … again, of the entire population, not of the infected.) So these articles just put Justinian’s plague in context as a “normal” pre-modern epidemic.

On the other hand, this creates a mystery. DNA testing of Justinian-era skeletons in recent decades show that at least some Europeans of that era had been exposed to the same bacteria, Y. pestis, that caused the 1347 Black Death. This had led most people to conclude that Justinian’s Plague was caused by Y pestis.

But then … why was the 1347 strain of this bacteria so much more deadly than either Justinian’s Plague or the “modern” plague outbreak, which began in 1772? (And technically continues to this day.)

So being over wordy is a problem, so stop me if I ramble.

The historic origins of the Jews has long been an issue, but most scholarship on this topic was Biblical Scholarship, which assumed the data in the Bible to be more or less true, and then went hunting and pecking for correspondence in the real world. This is the kind of theorizing that says that Moses is an Egyptian name, that perhaps Akhenaten instituted the first cult of Monotheism, that the Hyksos were possible the original Jews, that (less plausibly), geological or hydraulical or aeolian phenomenon could “explain” the parting of the Red Sea. All of which assumes that the Jews came from Egypt originally.

The “problem” of the bronze age collapse is that there’s no mention of it in the Bible. Like, at all. Aside from all the obvious mythmaking quilting going on (like with Noah) from Mesopotamian stories later, it’s a problem in that it seems like the Jews had no knowledge of the collapse of the Bronze Age. This seems to indicate their memories of that period of time (~1200 BC) to be so incomplete that there’s little to no reliable detail in their collective memory. But is there any details about anything from that period that make historic sense?

It’s very odd there’s any association with Egypt at all. If the Jews didn’t come from Egypt why mention Egypt? By the time the Jews were writing about Egypt in the 6th C. BC it was a decrepit empire well past it’s prime and increasingly dominated by its neighbors. It’s a strange addition that also makes little sense narratively - basically stuff happens in a couple of lines and now we’re all slaves to the Pharaoh. Obviously this was some kind of parable about the Babylonian Captivity (look, it happened before), but that doesn’t answer why Egypt instead of any other neighboring kingdom.

There’s also the matter of Jericho - recent archeology has shown that Jericho was a real place, but, we’re told, there’s no evidence of a conquest around the time that the Jews supposedly “invaded”.

There’s also the more complicated matter of what, exactly, these Jews believed, if anything recognizable at all. 9th Century and 8th C. Jews / Hebrews made inscriptions very much like Babylonians and the elevation of Marduk to a central deity - there’s references to Yahweh of the Plains and Yahweh of the Rivers and Yahweh of the Hills, ect. It makes you wonder if however there is some memory of being a settled people that were driven out into the desert to become nomads again, exiled as it were, but continued to carry around some cult artifacts of their deity, whatever or whoever that was, until such a time as they could reestablish a temple-city in the Mesopotamian / Semitic fashion. I could go on about the association in Mesopotamia with the fetish statue and the god, to the point where they are indistinguishable - Mesopotamian polities would knock heads and “steal” gods for a good 50 or 100 years before the offended city got the band back together and won a good scrum against some Elamites or Assyrians and “got their god back”. Not to mention the literal feeding and dressing of the gods as if they were alive, and the temple as palace, ect. Having “lost” their god statue, did the predecessors of the Jews “keep the faith” with their deity that had no temple or statue?

But very recent archaeology in Israel and Jordan has reminded us that Egypt did rule the Levant for hundreds of years, during the time of the Hittites and Kassites. It’s also clear that Egypt withdrew from the area after the titanic geopolitical events that led to the collapse of the Eastern Med palace economies. It’s also clear that the Peleset are the Philistines, and the Philistines have some Mycenean cultural elements. Also, Egypt did not manage the Levant very well, and the condition of the cities there were poor and not impressive. When the collapse hit, what you see a hundred years later is a massive increase in small settlements across the Negev and Jordan river valley (Judean hills), areas that were of marginal value to settled agriculturalists but could act as a “refuge” for people fleeing the coasts, and/or footholds from people moving in from the east. (You see both in Greece and in Crete movements away from the coasts and into the hills after the invasion of the Sea People era).

So there’s a new theory that basically the Jewish people have always been in Israel - there was no immigration, or at least nothing like a tribal confederation moving into hostile territory, and that the memory of leaving “Egypt” and being forced to “wander” the desert before “returning” is effectively a garbled memory of the Levant once being Egyptian, being driven away from the coasts during the collapse, and then moving back into the coasts hundreds of years later, encountering cultural Philistines as they did. There’s also some theories that genetically the Jewish peoples and the Philistines were far more similar than not.

Very interesting! And interesting because all the popular historians I read/listen to speak about that it being (at least until recently) “increasingly likely” that the Justinian plague was worse than generally believed. Wasn’t there a theory that the Black Plague was not fleaborne but airborne? Did that not pan out? I’m actually inclined to think that something so virulent couldn’t really be just every person in Europe getting bitten by fleas.

And also, that’s a journal I need to look into.

Feel free to post more words!

Also, while asking for a bibliography would be a bit much, if you know a particularly good source for this stuff I’d love to bookmark it.

Isn’t there a theory that says the Habiru/Apiru could be the old Hebrews?

I’m reading through the Cambridge Ancient history now and they seem to point towards that possibility without fully endorsing it (since there’s no hard evidence).

But the volume was written in the 80s, so I’m sure there’s quite newer data on that.

In light of modern events: the 1619 Project from last year.

(you do need a free account, I think, to sign in and read it).

The first essay, by Nikole Hannah-Jones, won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Just note that it isn’t clear, imo, that the little text blurbs are meant to be clicked on to bring up an essay addressed by the quote, and so this is a nested essay front end and not just a slideshow.

There’s a 1619 podcast that’s also quite good (and not too long).

That’s a cool image and I have never heard of this place. It’s like Maccu Piccu crossed with Meteora.