Archaic Greek in a modern world, part 3

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As the art historians Richard Barnhart (Yale) and Lukas Nickel (Vienna) have shown, Greek elements, images, and techniques reached into the mausoleum of the First Emperor of the Qin (259-210 BC) and the massive terracotta army entombed there.  See “Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstructions” (12/16/18) and the many references thereto.  The continuing research of Lucas Christopolous has cemented the presence of things Greek in East Asia even more securely.  Here we present just one significant finding documented by Lucas’ investigations, namely, the crouching position of warriors in the First Emperor’s army and in my favorite artifact from Eastern Central Asia, a kneeling bronze statue from the south bank of the Künäs River, Xinyuan (Künäs) County, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection, exhibited in the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 2011.  See object 44 on p. 155 of Victor H. Mair, ed., Secrets of the Silk Road (Santa Ana, CA:  Bowers Museum, 2010).  See also p. 47 here and p. 163 of Mallory and Mair, The Tarim Mummies (London:  Thames and Hudson, 2000).

Notice that the bronze warrior is bare-chested, has a long nose and round eyes, is wearing a pleated kilt and helmet in a Trojan or other Greek style, and has additional Greek attributes.  Since another similar figure was found nearby, this is not a one-off fluke.  He is often said to be from the 5th c. BC, but see below for Lucas’ slightly later dating.

One of the terra cotta warriors:

The Künäs River bronze warrior:

Lucas calls this the “low war-stance” and notes that the postures of the Qin and Greco-Bactrian (as he styles the Künäs River figure) are similar.  For infantry, this would make them a smaller target while facing projectilles such as arrows and spears.

Lucas observes:

For the Pontic Greeks from the Black Sea, they also seem to have kept the practice of that posture in their traditional Pyrrhic dance (Pyrrichion, or Serra), a descendant of the one that I describe in the dance chapter of my forthcoming article in Sino-Platonic Papers and similar to the ancient Pochen wu of the Xianbei dancers.  [VHM:  pòchénwǔ 破陳舞 (“breaking through the battle array”), though Lucas suggests that this is actually a transcription of the ultimately Greek word for the dance.]  They lost the acrobatic moves, the weapons, and the shields, but some of the footsteps would have kept the ancient war-moves, positions, and footwork of the past. One main move is to get down in that “one knee on the ground posture” then to stand up  again (video 5:04).

It could be a general practice of that particular position for the infantry in various armies of classical and medieval times, but it seemed to be used as a special war-trained stance for both the Greco-Bactrians and the Qin as represented in military sculptural art.

Further description of the Greco-Bactrian warrior by Lucas:

He is standing with his bust straight, waiting for the attack. I guess that he must be holding a shield and a long spear (the date should be around 300-200 BC, earlier I doubt). The Qin warrior (built on the same “technical” model), has his bust turned on the side, with one shoulder in front maybe ready to take out his straight sword (or perhaps a bow, unlikely), demonstrating high skills and professionalism in warfare techniques.  Both show war discipline and an Institutionalization of warfare practice designed for the infantry from a well organized and “civilized-cities” army system. Thus unlikely to be coming from the horseman warriors of the steppes in these two cases.

For the references on Greco-Bactrian and Xianbei war-dances, they are in the latest forthcoming article in SPP (Golden Zeus, part A “The Pochen War dance”).

The heroic paintings of Achilles of the 6th century BC seem to represent him squatting. Achilles is the father of Pyrrhos who created the dance. Then it is a possible reference to him in this war-stance.

Kneeling warrior with an unsheathed sword: Achilles waiting for Troilus?

Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix, ca. 560 BCE


Hoplite Warfare Depicted on a 6th Century BCE Greek Vase

Attic Black-figure Amphora attributed to the Tyrrhenian Group, ca. 560-550 BCE


Selected readings

July 19, 2022 @ 12:25 am
· Filed by Victor Mair under Language and archeology, Language and art, Language and history, Language and the military


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Victor Mair