Sunday, January 29, 2023

Can't tell the players without a scorecard

I've always had trouble remembering names of things--one of several reasons I did not become a doctor.

So when reading history, I find that the names run together and I can't tell the Dacians from the Thracians (Ok, some argue that's fine) from the Sarmations from the Mosians from the Illyrians. Even closer to home, the Chatti, Chauci, Cherusci, Frisii, Suebi--lump them all and call them germans.

If there are visuals to go with the name: the map, the technology (usually weapons and armor in the triumphant sculptures), the costumes; or some cultural distinctives; something to hang a name on--it's a lot easier.

Or to put it another way, stereotypes make it easier to keep score in history. But they mislead--the german tribes that harassed Rome in the later centuries had adopted a lot of Roman stuff, including military organization, and they traded all over the place (always had). A lot of them had bishops--Arians, but bishops. And, of course, some of their kin were on the Roman side.

It's a bit amusing to look at a book about African tribes and see the traditional costumes. They use much nicer fabrics these days: some of it Western styles and some of it new fashions of their own. I have no idea why "Unisex Clothes" is one of the tags there.

I suppose I need to keep a book of maps handy, and maybe some thumbnail art and descriptions of the tribes, when I read a book of history. But that sounds like web pages, and trying to read and use a computer at the same time is fraught with clumsiness (the book's spine on the keys) and distractions. And the images would be stereotypes--the only remaining Roman sculpture of a warrior has to represent a thousand-year-old nation...


Assistant Village Idiot said...

We make categories in order to break them. But you can't not have them.

JohnB said...

Get the Penguin Atlases of history. For your purposes, I recommend the Ancient and Medieval ones. They are small enough to keep by the keyboard.

Their format is facing pages, each pair showing the state of the Mediterranean and Middle East at a particular year. The left page has a short discussion of historical events, while the right page is a version of the base map with nations and tribes marked for that year. So you'd see Dacia or Illyria where they were when they were important.