Episode 48. Amanda Podany: A New History of the Ancient Near East: transcript

0:13  JT

Hello, and welcome to the Thin End of the Wedge, the podcast where experts from around the world share new and interesting stories about life in the ancient Middle East. My name is Jon. Each episode I talk to friends and colleagues, and get them to explain their work in a way we can all understand.

0:32  JT

The early historical periods of ancient Iraq and Syria–as traditionally studied together–stretch over 3,000 years. Many different cultures are subsumed within that range. There are countless important events to cover, and so many sources that no-one could ever hope to read them all. We sometimes need to synthesise all this into a short survey. How is that possible?

1:02  JT

Usually we turn to a rolling sequence of great kings establishing their power over territories of a greater or lesser extent, until the next kingdom rises, and wrestles power from them. We might contextualise that with exploration of themes that we think characterise the period.

1:24  JT

Our guest is a historian with experience of writing for all sorts of readers. She has just published a new historical survey of ancient Iraq and Syria that takes a very different form. How has she shaped her historical survey, and why did she make those choices?

1:46  JT

So get yourself a cup of tea, make yourself comfortable, and let’s meet today’s guest.

2:01  JT

Hello, and welcome to Thin End of the Wedge. Thank you for joining us.

2:05  AP


2:06  JT

Could you tell us please: who are you, and what do you do?

2:10  AP

My name is Amanda Podany. I’m a professor of history at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. And I’m a historian of the second millennium BCE in the ancient Middle East. And I focus especially in my research on chronology, and on social history and legal history. But I have also written a number of survey books about the ancient Middle East.

2:35  JT

And it’s one of those that prompts our chat today. So you have a new survey book that’s just appeared. Could you briefly introduce us to it please? What is this book? And who is it for?

2:49  AP

Yes, the book is called Weavers, Scribes and Kings: a New History of the Ancient Near East. And it’s the history of 3,000 years of the ancient Middle East all the way from 3500 to 323 BCE. But it’s looked at through the lives of real people. Some of them obviously, kings, queens, powerful people, but many of them people who are not powerful. Looking at people in all kinds of walks of life and different professions, so that their lives become the starting points for understanding the areas in which they lived. And it’s written for anyone who has an interest in this field. Anyone who’s interested in the past, they don’t have to have a background in an understanding of the ancient Middle East.

3:36  JT

Why did you take this approach of micro-histories?

3:40  AP

Well, I should explain first, that micro-history is a way of looking at the past through the life of someone, but not looking at their entire life. So you’re not looking at them from birth to death. You’re looking at a particular part of someone’s life that is reflected in documents that survived. And that often it’s much scantier documentation than you would need for a biography. But it also reflects something very important about the culture in which they lived. And it could be something that is about religion, or it could be something about their economy, it could be any type of aspect of the culture that is particularly well reflected in these documents. And the person is often not famous. So a micro-history doesn’t have to be of someone important, someone who people think of as someone who was a mover and shaker of the time, it could be just someone like a brewer or an innkeeper, or weaver. But what that person experienced in their life tells us something about that era. And cuneiform documents are particularly suited for doing this type of approach. Because we tend to have these very limited archives that cover just a short period of time.

4:49  AP

I’m always struck by the fact that the textbooks that my students have in world history tend to dispense with the entire ancient Middle East in a few pages. And so I actually think there’s a powerplay to try and see, you know, what do they cover? What is the perception that people have of our field? So I took seven very popular world civilisation textbooks, and just looked at what they wrote about. And I found that every single one of them had Sargon, Hammurabi, Gilgamesh, Cyrus the Great, and Darius the First. Those were in everybody’s textbook. But beyond that, there wasn’t much honestly that was shared in common. So one has the sense that it’s the big military leaders who are getting all the press. And I felt that there is just so much that we know about everybody else, about other people, about all kinds of stuff besides military victories and empires. But I wanted to very consciously put those people in the foreground, to centre on them. Not neglecting the big leaders, because this is a general history. So one can’t leave out those big names, but to take the big names and look at them in a different way, sometimes. Or just to take them as the secondary person in the era, where you start out with a normal person. And you sort of expand from that person’s life into understanding the era in which they lived. And that era in which they lived includes that king, perhaps.

6:12  AP

And as far as micro-history goes, I’ve been fascinated with the approach of micro-history, because it’s a way of looking at a person who is not necessarily famous. For whom one does not necessarily have an enormous amount of archival material, but whose life provides a beginning to an understanding of an era or a particular aspect of culture. So a biography tends to start with birth and go to death, you know, that covers everything about someone. And that’s possible for you know, Hammurabi, there’s biographies of Hammurabi, and a few other people in our field. But most people are known just from an archive that happens to have survived, that maybe covers 10 or 15 years. And there’s no way to get beyond those years and that person’s life, we just have that. And that really lends itself very well to micro-history. Because the archives tend to focus on some aspects of that person’s life. And so you can understand a little bit about that person, you can have a sense of where they were, and what they cared about, and when they lived, and then use that to look at some aspects of culture, whether it’s the legal system, or slavery, or religion, all of these different things that can be drawn out of that person.

7:24  AP

And interestingly, there are professions very often right at the foreground of those archives as well. And I found that that was another way to kind of structure the book–was to look at various professions through the eyes of the people who were actually involved in them. You know, for me, I think it works particularly well, given the types of sources that we have. I think micro-history is a really interesting perspective to take.

7:46  JT

Right. As you say, history does usually get told through the lives and deeds of elite men: Sargon, Hammurabi, or whoever. How hard was it to find the stories of non-elites, and women and children; the people who often don’t appear as much in history books?

8:05  AP

There’s two answers to that. One is about the women and the other one is about the non-elites, because some of the women in my book are elite women. And they are surprisingly easy to find information about. There’s been Baranamtara of Lagash. She has an enormous archive. And she’s fabulous. I mean, she was the wife of King Lugalanda. And we know much more about her than we do about him. And about her temple estate and the workers she had from all these massive numbers of administrative texts that were found in her palace. And so in her case, and in some of the cases of other queens and priestesses, it’s not that the material wasn’t there. It’s for whatever reason, it hasn’t been made more accessible to more people. And I think one of the points that I really wanted to get across in the book is that there were so many women in so many positions of autonomy and power. It’s not that they haven’t been written about, we’ve been writing about them. We’ve always been writing about them. But they somehow haven’t made it into the consciousness of the wider public. And so for them, it was pretty easy to find the information about them. They’re right there. But they just hadn’t been made familiar to other people.

9:16  AP

For some of the individuals that are in the book, though, is much more of a challenge. Because I wanted to write about weavers. I wanted to write about brewers and innkeepers. And I had a list of professions I wanted to look at. And in many cases, there isn’t an archive of an individual person. And so what I did in many of those cases was look at the secondary literature and see what people have written about. Because so much of this book is built on wonderful research that scholars have been doing in the field, that has been written in scholarly journals. But hasn’t been put into a book for a general reader. And so I would look at what they had done. And so, for example, work on textiles. I was looking at Rosemary Prentice. And Fumi Karahashi and Agnès Garcia-Ventura. They’ve done all this wonderful work on weavers. And so I didn’t have to go back to that vast amount of primary source material that they had gone through, in order to come up with people to look at.

9:16  AP

For example, one of the women that they had mentioned in their articles, a woman named Zum, who was a textile supervisor in a workshop in the Early Dynastic Period. I could use their research in order to go and find the documents that they had looked at, look at those documents, and then try to understand the bigger world in which Zum was working. And so that was terrifically helpful–was work that other people have already done. In other cases, I would go to a … for example, a court case. And look at that court case, and this is perhaps the one instance this person is ever mentioned. But you can see from that court case, that there’s all kinds of interesting things that you can look at from their experiences. And you get the name from the court case of an actual person. Geme-Suen, for example, who lent silver to another woman, and they ended up in court. And so I was able to look a lot at, Ur III legal structures, the judicial system. Through this one court case, which, although we don’t know anything else about these women, they give us an avenue through which to look at how a court case was conducted. And the roles of witnesses and oaths and all of these sorts of things. So it really varied depending on how much material was available for a particular individual. How much has already been written about them. And what one can do with that as a sort of starting point for a micro-history that extends beyond that person’s experiences.

11:38  JT

It’s a really interesting approach. As I read the book, I did get the feeling that I was almost walking down the street knocking on doors. I’d like us and had to dip into the book a little bit and meet some of those people. So of all the people who made it into the book, who did you most empathise with?

11:58  AP

That is such a tough question, because in terms of having a life anything like theirs–none of them. We don’t have the same experiences today. But I think it was probably the scribes who I empathised with. And especially although the first millennium is not my field … I’m a second millennium scholar. But I was really struck by the scribes in the fifth century BC, studying the old texts and copying them and keeping them alive. So I suppose if I did pick someone, although his experience was completely different from mine, it might be Rimut-Anu, who was the last of these micro-histories in the book. Because there he is, he’s not a native speaker of Akkadian, you know. He was writing in a language that people must have thought was very old-fashioned, and studying it, and yet wanting to keep it alive. He was also an exorcist. And I’m … definitely you know, that’s hard to do. We don’t have exorcists anymore in that way that they had them. But just I really sort of felt that desire to keep a long tradition from becoming extinct. But I think those of us who are in the field, we have a similar feeling, you know, that we have this subject that a lot of people look at and say, “Well, why do you do that?” You know, what a choice. And yet it is such a huge and important field. And so I think if I was empathising with anyone, it might be Rimut-Anu.

13:22  JT

Quite often people appear in documents when they aren’t having a good day. Things are not working out so well for them. Who did you really feel sorry for?

13:33  AP

Oh, goodness. Actually, that one’s easy. I felt so much empathy for this, this woman. I felt so sorry for her. This was a woman named Ku’e, who lives in Emar in the late 13th century BC. And the reason I felt so sorry for Ku’e to start with, was that she was in a situation that in terms of her children that was very much like my own daughter. My daughter had a toddler. And then two years later, she had baby twins. And I can’t tell you how much attention three small children need. She, fortunately, is fine. But I … when I was reading about Ku’e, she has the same situation in terms of her children. And when they were born. She had a daughter. And then she had twin boys. And the way we know about her, though, is that she was desperately poor. And she has a husband named Zadamma. And they were living in Emar. And they could not afford to maintain the family. And amazingly, and I have a quote here, actually, because this is one of the very, very few times where you have someone speaking in the first person who was not elite. And there’s a text from Emar. And it’s in the first person by Ku’e and she says, “My husband went away. Our children were all babies and I did not have anyone who could feed them. Therefore, I had sold my daughter by Ba’la-bia to be a daughter of Anat-ummi. And thus I could feed the other small children of mine during the year of the famine.”

15:02  AP

Just heart-breaking to imagine this woman faced with a situation where she couldn’t feed her children. When she says she sold her daughter to be the daughter of this other woman, it does seem as though at that point, this was not a baby necessarily being sold into slavery as much as being sold as a sort of paid adaption. Because she was to be the daughter of the other woman. Then that fell through. The woman didn’t pay the 30 shekels she was going to pay for the daughter. And then Ku’e had another baby. And so she’s got four tiny children. Absolutely no money. Her husband returned from wherever he was. And this incredibly touching document that survived from this are the actual clay footprints of three of the children who they did then sell into slavery. And these little footprints, they just looked like babies. And then the clay was formed around the feet. And then the witnesses names were listed and seals were rolled on these. Then they were sold. And the absolute, just heart-breaking situation there. Were they were bought in such a way that the parents would never have been able to reclaim them. And I just I can’t even imagine what that family went through. It is so, so, so sad. And absolutely, in terms of feeling sorry for someone. That one did me in.

16:21  JT

Yeah, there are some real gut punches in the book. And this is maybe one of the advantages of the micro-history approach. When you read about a tough topic, you can imagine what it must have been like. But when you hear about a specific person in that kind of situation, somehow, it makes it all feel more real, doesn’t it?

16:42  AP

Yes, yes. When you hear about the year of distress in the Emar texts, that phrase “year of distress and war”. It comes up a lot. And then you have what … this is what that looked like for this family is, yes, incredibly moving.

16:56  JT

But let’s not depress people. The whole book’s not like that. There’s all sorts in here. So the opposite of that, then: did anyone make you laugh?

17:06  AP

Yes. The one I laughed about the most was a clay tablet from Ebla, where it just looks like a fist because the scribe was so frustrated that he had taken this clay tablet and just mushed it in his hand and thrown it away. And you know, just like whatever was going on, he was a scribal student, presumably, just having a bad day and scrunched up this tablet. And you can see his fingers on it where he’d smashed it. That made me laugh a lot.

17:33  AP

But another one, and this is not laughing at her but with this situation. And this is Queen Puduhepa, who I think is fabulous. She was a Hittite queen, the wife of Hattusili III. And she was writing a letter to Ramses II. And her tone of voice in this letter is just fabulous. Because this is Ramses II, right. You know, he’s king of Egypt for most of the 13th century and incredibly powerful. He’s got these massive sculptures of himself at Abu Simbel. She just absolutely takes him to task, because they were negotiating a diplomatic marriage. And these were, of course, very common all the way through the book, all of the diplomacy that took place. And … well, part of it was often the arranged marriage between the daughter of one king and the king with whom they were allied. And in this case, Puduhepa the queen took over the negotiations in her letters. And she was writing to Ramses and she was really annoyed with him for not treating her with enough respect. And she has this wonderful line in the letter where she says that Ramses II “has not accepted in his own mind my status as a sister and my dignity.” And I just thought “yes!” Sort of telling him, “you don’t treat me badly. I am the queen of Hatti. You are going to treat me well.” And I just was reading that and thinking, “I bet Ramses didn’t get that often.” You know, I don’t suppose many people went to him with that kind of “you need to take me seriously”. And then later in the letter, she just says, “You as son-in-law will take my daughter in marriage. I mean, this completely sort of direct, “you are going to do this. I’m sorry, Ramses. You may think you’re big stuff, but I’m going to tell you what to do”. That I loved.

19:13  JT

The look on the guy’s face when he got that one.

19:15  AP

I just was imagining the envoy arriving in Egypt, reading aloud to him. And sort of Ramses is like, “Wait! Wait! No!”

19:25  JT

“Are you sure you translated that one correctly, sir?”

19:31  JT

Alright. That’s brilliant. I wonder if we could move to some more general questions about the book and how you went about it?

19:38  AP

Yes, absolutely.

19:40  JT

You mentioned earlier about the sources and what does and doesn’t survive to talk about. So you’re producing a survey book, but the sources don’t cover the entire period equally. There must have been times when you had to leave someone out. You’d really love to have included but you had to leave them out because there are just too many. You had to drop somebody. On the other hand, there must have been times when you struggled to find anyone to fit your structure. Could you say something about that please your selection process.

20:14  AP

I think that what was frustrating is, there were so many professions that were over-represented. And I just couldn’t put in all the scribes, all the envoys, all the people who were really fascinating, but they just there wasn’t space. I found that I ended up having no-one from Nuzi. And I loved them at Nuzi. I in fact had written one. And I just couldn’t have, you know, I couldn’t leave it in.

20:40  AP

There’s Ur-Utu, the lamentation priest, who I would have loved to have had him in there. But it just … yes, so many people. Sometimes there were too many people from a particular era. Sometimes there were too many people from a particular profession. And so the book would have been two volumes, it could, if I included everyone that really wanted to write about. But I did have to cut. And that’s because certain eras are, as you say, really well represented. So there’s tons of people in the Old Babylonian period, tons of Neo Assyrians, tons of Ur III, Early Dynastic. Certain periods are really, really well represented. But, other eras, you know 16th century BCE? There’s nobody. I was hoping that one of my Hana People would be 16th century, but I now no longer think that they are and so I can’t fill that gap. So, yes, there were periods where it was pretty sparse, in terms of what I could include. My dream had been that you would read this book, and there would not be a single year between 3,000 and 323 where somebody in the book wasn’t alive. Some actual named person. And I wasn’t quite able to do that.

21:43  JT

Could we maybe try another aspect of this? The other issue with the sources is that they only tell you part of the story. So you have only parts of the information you need, or only certain types of information. You might get the what, but not so much the why or how someone felt about it. So how did you deal with that part of it in terms of fleshing out the story to create the bigger history?

22:08  AP

I can see this two ways. One is you’re absolutely right. And that is a big dilemma. And in comparison with, for example, doing modern history, that is our constant problem with ancient Mesopotamia or ancient Middle East. On the other hand, I look at some other fields, and I think we are so lucky, because Linear B studies, they have so few texts, and they do so much with them. You know, they take what we would see as a fairly small corpus in our field, and they look at every possible way of exploring those texts. So we actually have an abundance of riches for our fields, because there are more than what half a million cuneiform texts.

22:08  AP

So for ancient history, I think we are in an amazing place to be able to do the kind of work I want to do in a way that I think for some other fields of ancient history, it’s really hard. Even honestly, for some of the well-known ones, like recent Rome, where one has the papyri, of course, for some periods. But for some periods, much less that has actually come down other than what was copied and copied and copied. And that was just what they wanted us to have. So I think where we’re so lucky is we have the documents that nobody intended to keep. Nobody meant for this particular list of rations or a particular contract to survive. We just have them. And so that’s great. We have more, I think, than we could really hope for.

23:29  AP

But you’re absolutely right that aside from letters, which do tell us how people felt and sometimes tell us very adamantly how they felt, which are really fun, you know, when they like the oldest Assyrian letters where people get quite upset with one another, and really will speak their mind. Those are great. But for a lot of the people I wanted to write about, we don’t have that. And so you have to take what you have, and then kind of expand from it to other documents.

23:54  AP

Let me give you an example. There’s this court case of a man … an enslaved man … named Lu-Nanna from the third dynasty of Ur. And it’s just a ten line description of his court case on a tiny little tablet. But it is so fascinating because Lu-Nanna escaped, and he made it all the way to Anshan, where he was found by someone. Recognised to be an escaped slave. Brought back to Umma, which was his hometown. Then this court case took place and the man who found him was awarded 10 shekels of silver for returning the slave.

24:24  AP

Now, that’s all we know about Lu-Nanna is just that very, very short little text. But there’s so much there. Because on the one hand, you can look at well how were people enslaved in the third dynasty of Ur. And thinking about debt slavery, and in being born into slavery. But also the slave sale documents that one has from the Ur III period as well. And then can think about, well, how did he escape and there are other texts from Ur III about escaped slaves and fugitive slaves. And that there was a whole sort of profession of fugitive slave catcher. These fugitive slave catchers were sent out by the temple or by the palace, specifically looking for people who had escaped. They were provided with rations. And so there we can again see some part of this.

24:27  AP

And you can imagine Lu-Nanna escaping. We know from the laws that there was this distinctive slave hair lock, so he probably got his head shaved in order to blend in. He escaped; we can think about that route. That’s a very long way, like a five week journey to make it to Anshan. How did he get away from these fugitive slave catchers? And then when he’s recognised, and brought back, another five week journey to come back, comes back. And then there’s the whole legal process that is actually recorded on that court case, where you have presumably, he was kept in prison before his court date. And there’s a wonderful hymn to Nungal, which describes what it was like to be in prison around this time. So there’s a lot of stuff that you can draw, to kind of build out the picture of this just one tiny court case, that then tells you a lot about that person’s life, even though we actually don’t know anything else about Lu-Nanna except that was brought back.

26:11  JT

You have to survey thousands of years of history. And you have to digest this huge corpus of half a million texts. Then you have to present it in a way that’s interesting and meaningful to people who don’t already know it backwards. Could you say something about the process and the practicalities of writing a book like this?

26:33  AP

It was very daunting to start with. And that was one advantage of taking the micro-history approach … was that I realised, I don’t have to do everything. I don’t have to cover everything. If I’ve got this one person in their life, or several people in their lives, from a particular era, I can expand enough that you can get a sense of the period without feeling as though I have to touch on every possible subject. Because as you say, that would be just overwhelming, not just for me, but for the reader. I don’t want the reader to feel as though there’s this tsunami of information coming at them. I would much rather they feel as though they, as I say in the book, sat down and had a chat with someone. And for having that chat with the person felt that, okay, I can understand who they were and where they live and what the era is like that they lived in.

27:15  AP

So in practical terms, I came up with a list of people I definitely wanted in the book. People that I could identify the type of person, the profession that I wanted, and I needed to go and find who that was going to be. And I had this big Excel chart of eras, and professions, and names. And gradually, I was sort of filling in the names and the professions and the eras that I wanted to go after.

27:36  AP

And then I did a lot of reading in the secondary source material. in the journal articles and books that people have written and drew so much from our colleagues’ work. As you know, we have an enormous field that is so hidden from the public. And it was really a joy to read their work. That I just had to explain more for general reader than would have been in the original journal article. And of course, they’re all footnoted. And some of them I mentioned actually in the narrative as well, because this is a chance for me to share what we know, and the work that’s going on in the field. And, of course, some of them were my own work as well, the research. And sometimes I did have to go back to the primary sources. But with a work of this size, as you can imagine, there wasn’t much chance to do that for many topics. I couldn’t, in many cases start from, okay, here’s an archive, I’m going to translate. You know, it isn’t justified in time.

28:31  AP

So it’s a work of synthesis as well as being original. What I hope is that the book is original in the way it’s described and explained, and in the focus on the real people. But it is based on so much work by other scholars. I would not want to take credit for all that they’ve done. Once I’ve done that, and I’ve done the research, I had about two weeks to write each chapter, by the time I was actually writing. And so it was just huge amount of writing. And even at that that’s, you know, 40 weeks writing pretty straight. Had it been two weeks per chapter, but it was actually an entire year and a half that I was putting in. But yes, it was a lot of synthesis and reading and figuring out what I was going to include. And then there would be these wonderful sort of little rabbit holes I wanted to go down. And I couldn’t. There just wasn’t enough time. And I just had to stop reading at some point. Because, as you know, any topic you pick, you can read for years on that topic, and just never come out. But I didn’t have the time for that. I had to be strict with myself and move on.

29:34  JT

Yeah, it really comes out in the book, actually. You can see the work of researchers foregrounded and you can see quite well how it is that we know some things and why we don’t know other things. It’s quite direct in terms of the sources and what we get out of them.

29:50  AP

I’m glad you said that, because one of the things that I tried to avoid is the sort of voice of god, which suggests that we know everything equally. And historians don’t generally right that way, but textbooks often come out that way, especially high school textbooks: “here’s everything”. You know, I couldn’t talk about any of this. There are things we cannot write about, because we do not know. There’s whole giant gaps, entire kingdoms missing. And other times, like 13 years of Zimri Lim we know so much about; we could write for decades about that. So I tried to make that clear that it isn’t an equal amount of knowledge that we have about everything.

30:26  JT

You’ve written all sorts of things. You’ve written technical material for specialists, and you’ve written surveys for non-specialists. Given a certain block of research time, you could have chosen to write all kinds of things. Why did you write this book as opposed to any of the others you could have written? What fired you up for this in particular?

30:49  AP

Yes, well, there is a sort of practical answer to that. I had sworn I wasn’t going to write another survey. I had written one for children. I had written the very short introduction to the ancient Near East. And then I had written a survey, which ended up being a lecture course for Wondrium, which is the streaming service. I was not going to write another one. I felt I had done that. But then Oxford actually approached me. They wanted to do a big history of the ancient Near East. And they had published my very short introduction. And they asked if I would be willing to write a proposal for this book. And initially, I was very wary. I just felt, “Oh, goodness, what can I do that I haven’t done already?”

31:31  AP

And then the more I thought about it, the more I was thinking about this micro-history approach. Actually, I’d never use the word micro-history in the book. I think, it’s a term which is not necessarily understood. And it makes it sound as though it’s somehow minimal or something. But this idea of looking at biographies, looking at people, and foregrounding them. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought this doesn’t need to be a repeat of what I’ve done before. This could be really fun. It could be really exciting.

31:57  AP

And it was an opportunity. I do feel that we need to get the word out that this is the best field. I mean, it’s just so interesting. How is it possible that these 3,000 years of history are not better known? That there’s so much that is just thrilling stuff. And so I went ahead and wrote the proposal. And then Oxford accepted it. And I thought, “Oh, what am I I realised it was going to be a big chunk of my life for a few years. But honestly, I loved doing it. I felt especially during the pandemic where it was so difficult. You just woke up in the same house day after day, and you didn’t get to go out. And I felt that I went on these journeys, as I was researching and writing where I wasn’t here at all, you know. I was somewhere else. I was in the 17th century … BCE, obviously. It was really a wonderful project. In the end, I was really happy to have done it.

32:52  JT

Alright, that brings us to the final question. I was struck by the tone of the book. I felt like someone was talking to me, rather than at me. When I got to the end of it and I found the final sentence–let me read the final sentence. It just says, “Rimut-Anu put down his stylus”–I thought that was an elegant, almost poetically simple way to end the book. It’s almost like sinking back into your armchair, quietly close the book, put it on the table. And you go, “aaah”. So my question for you is, when the reader puts the book down, what thought do you hope goes through their mind?

33:37  AP

It’s funny you read that line, because that was actually the very last sentence I wrote in the first draft. Obviously, one rewrites so much. But in the first draft, it was the last sentence I wrote. And I had exactly that feeling sort of sinking back in my chair, like I have finished a book. My poor husband heard me sort of shrieking “I did it!” And then of course, I hadn’t done this at all. It was so much rewriting and adding to do. But, yes, your question is very good. Because what I do hope is that they feel that they have a sense that this was an era that was populated by real people. And that these were people who cared about things and who had passions and interests, and lives and, and I think one gets almost a cartoonish sense of ancient history.

34:26  AP

Sometimes if you’re not an ancient historian, where you go through it at such a clip. You know, in most survey classes, and even in some books that are about all of world history. It’s like, “yeah, let’s get the first 3000 years over with and let’s get to the interesting stuff”. And so I think people have the sense that we don’t know much, but actually we know so much. And one point I tried to come back to in the book is any one of these topics that I have delved into secondary sources, articles, books, and then all of the primary sources as well. And so I hope that the reader has a sense of, “Wow, this was a real time with real people. And just because they were a very long time ago, doesn’t mean that they’re not important that they’re not genuine”.

35:10  AP

The other stereotype I think that comes up a lot is this idea that it was a very violent era. There was lots of warfare. People were miserable all the time. Not true! Sure, you know, there certainly was warfare. But there was also … I think one gets the sense from the documents, there was tremendous kindness. There was civility. There were people watching out for one another. It was not a brutal time. That it’s sort of a difficult time to read about, because it was so horrible. Certainly, there were tough times and people did have difficult experiences. But that also emphasizes our shared humanity. That the people who were going through it were not bad people. You know, that it’s not as though somehow this era can be simplified into a sentence or two. Like any era of history, it’s full of real people. And I hope that’s what they get out of it.

35:56  JT

That’s a lovely thought to end on. Thank you very much.

36:00  AP

My pleasure.

36:02  JT

Amanda’s book is called Weavers, Scribes and Kings. Published by OUP. It’s out in the US now and available in the UK from December. I really enjoyed it. I think this is going to be a popular book.

36:16  JT

I’d also like to thank our patrons: Tyler Russell, Enrique Jimenez, Jana Matuszak, Nancy Highcock, Jay C, Rune Rattenborg, Woodthrush, Elisa Rossberger, Mark Weeden, Jordi Mon Companys, Thomas Bolin, Joan Porter MacIver, John MacGinnis, Andrew George, Yelena Rakic, Michael Katsevman, Mend Mariwany, Kathryn Topper, Zach Rubin, Sabina Franke, Shai Gordin, Aaron Macks, Jonathan Stökl, Maarja Seire, Jaafar Jotheri, Morgan Hite, Chikako Watanabe, Mark McElwaine, Heather Baker, Laura Battini, Jonathan Blanchard Smith, Kliment Ohr, Christina Tsouparopoulou, Andrew Senior, Melanie Gross, Adam, Claire Weir, Marc Veldman, Bruno Biermann, Faimon Roberts, Kim Benzel, Maggie Justice, Maggie, Jason Moser, as well as those who prefer to remain anonymous.

36:18  JT

I really appreciate your support. It makes a big difference. Every penny received has contributed towards translations. Thanks of course to the lovely people who have worked on the translations on a voluntary basis or for well below the market rate. For Arabic, thanks in particular to Zainab Mizyidawi, as well as Lina Meerchyad and May Al-Aseel. For Turkish, thank you to Pinar Durgun and Nesrin Akan. TEW is still young, but I want to reach a sustainable level, where translators are given proper compensation for their hard work.

38:12  JT

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