The Big Sleep


“[Scythopolis] had first been settled by Scythians when they invaded Persian Palestine in the 7th century…”

This line is from the book I’m reading, Derks & Roymans, Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity (2009). It contains thirteen essays, including several very good ones, like the one on Ionians in the Archaic Period by Crielaard, and the one on the Frisians, about which I’ve blogged before. I’ve now read eight essays and expect more delights. But the line above came as a shock. As a double shock, to be precise.

First shock: the author of these words, whose name we will discreetly veil over, ought to have known that Scythopolis was not founded by the Scythians. The Asheri/Lloyd/Corcella Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV even calls this idea “absurd” (page 154), and although it is possible that a professional scholar has not read the very latest on Herodotus, this same professional ought to have realized that if your entire evidence amounts to one remark by the Halicarnassian sage, you have no evidence at all (testis unus, testis nullus).

Second shock: Persians in seventh-century Palestine? Someone has been sleeping. And not just someone – a team of two doctores and eleven professores. Even when a book by modern scholars turns out to be acceptable, perhaps even good, there will inevitably be a point where it reminds you of the fact that today’s archaeologists, classicists, and historians are just not up to their task.

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