From the Encyclopedia of ancient Greece by Nigel Wilson:
Cotton, hemp, and silk appeared by the 5th century BC, attesting to the extensive trade networks developed by the Greeks.  Cotton originated on the Indian subcontinent, hemp in northern Europe, and silk in China.  Several purple and white textiles found in a late 5th century BC tomb in Athens raise questions about when silk arrived in Greece.
Hemp is straightforward.  Herodotus talks of the Scythians to the north using hemp seeds in their baths.

Alexander the Great hit India a hundred years later, at the end of the 4th century, and clearly by then India was well known to the Persians.  Cotton appearing in Greece in the 5th century via trade routes is very reasonable.  Though there probably wasn't much of it.  Most clothing was made of wool.

It's very unlikely--I'd go as far to say impossible to believe--that the silk road was open in the 5th century BC, but it's apparent that China was trading with Persia, Persia with Greece (when they weren't slaughtering each other), and therefore credible that some silk managed to make it to Greece.  

IP addresses: the fingerprints of the internet

You may have noticed a sensational real-life case recently in which an 18 year old girl in Sydney had a bomb hung around her neck.  The bomb proved to be an extortion hoax, but they didn't know that for the first 10 hours while they worked out how to get the thing off her, in fear of an anti-tamper trigger.  Which means the girl had to sit still for 10 hours, not knowing if she was going to die at any moment.  (I presume the policewoman who volunteered to sit with her is due a huge medal.)  A man's been arrested for it,  in, of all places, Kentucky.  Since Kentucky is somewhat outside Australian police jurisdiction, the FBI did the honours on their behalf.

I want to talk about the trail that led to the arrest, because it's an interesting example of detection in an internet world.  

The extortion note said to contact a certain email address: I guess the extortionist is a James Clavell fan.  It's nice to know even heartless extortionists can be readers.

So, now we start detecting...

Keep in mind that the extortionist had to access that gmail account to see if his victims had replied.

Every machine connected to the internet has assigned a unique number called its IP address.  If you think of it as being like a telephone number, you'd not be far wrong.

The IP numbers have to be unique, because these things are what the internet uses to send messages to the right place.  Imagine if two people had exactly the same phone number; it's the same logic.  The machine you're using to read this blog has a unique IP address.

IP addresses are always broken into four parts, written as A.B.C.D, purely to make them easier to manage.  Each of A, B, C and D is a number from 0 to 255.  So, for example, the site, has an IP address of

It should come as no surprise that Google logs the IP address of everyone who uses its email accounts.

So the Australian police called Google and asked, who had accessed that email account.  Google replied with three IP addresses, and the dates and times of access.

The first IP address had been assigned to an internet kiosk at O'Hare airport in Chicago.  The email account had been set up from that kiosk, before the crime occurred.  Of course they didn't know who had used the kiosk, but they knew for sure the extortionist had been at O'Hare at that date and time.

The second IP address had been assigned to a computer at a public library at Kincumber, on the central coast of New South Wales.  Incidentally, this is close to where my mother lives, but I don't suspect her.

The third IP address had been assigned to an internet kiosk at a video store not far from the library.

The second and third access had been to see if there was any mail.  And they were accessed after the crime.

Clearly the extortionist had flown from Chicago to Sydney, committed the crime, and then gone north to Kincumber, and the police knew dates, times and places of where he'd been.  This, plus travel records and some video camera footage from the locations was enough to find their suspect.

How did they know where to find the computers with those IP addresses?  Since every number must be unique, a central authority called ICANN allocates them.  ICANN, through third parties, allocates them in blocks.  A small ISP might ask for a block of IP addresses for its customers to use, and be allocated for example every address that begins 10.20.30.  That's called a class C block because the A, B and C parts of the addresses are all the same, and only the D part varies.  (Remember I said IP addresses are always written in four parts?  This is why.)  The ISP in this example has available to allocate every number from to

ISPs, in turn, keep a record of which of their customers have been assigned which numbers.

When the police got the three IP addresses from Google, they could immediately look up which ISPs owned the blocks in which those numbers sat.  They then had to get from the ISPs which computers had those numbers assigned at that particular time.

So in summary, the web site owner can tell the police the IP address of the criminal.  ICANN tells the police which ISP controls that address, and the ISP tells the police precisely which computer was using the address at the moment of the crime.

IP addresses are, therefore, very much like fingerprints on the internet.

Book giveaway

Over at the Secret Archives of the Alliterati, our very own L.T. Host is giving away books in a simple contest.  The prizes were written by Cindy Pon, Gail Carriger, Karsten Knight and yours truly.  So that's YA, steampunk, and historical mysteries.

Narcissism (n). An author reading reviews of his own book.

There's something incredibly narcissistic about reading reviews of my own book, particularly when the reviewer talks about my abilities as an author.  Which won't stop me from doing it; I merely point out one of my numerous personality defects.

On the plus side, there's nothing like writing a book for discovering like-minded people.  The whole process is worth it just for that alone.

So here forthwith is a review of The Pericles Commission at Marilyn's Mystery Reads.

An interesting passage

I'm going to quote a passage from The Commodore, by Patrick O'Brian.  O'Brian wrote sea adventure stories set in Napoleonic times, his heroes being Captain Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Dr Stephen Maturin.  To give you some context, two ships, named Surprise and Berenice, are traveling home in convoy.  Surprise had previously been in a spot of bother from which they were saved by Berenice.

There's something remarkable about this passage.  Here it is:
Though unconscionably long, it was a most companionable voyage, particularly as the Surprise was able to do away with much of the invidious difference between deliverer and delivered by providing the sickly and under-manned Berenice with a surgeon, her own having been lost, together with his only mate, when their boat overturned not ten yards from the ship—neither could swim, and each seized the other with fatal energy—so that her people, sadly reduced by Sydney pox and Cape Horn scurvy, were left to the care of an illiterate but fearless loblolly-boy; and to provide her not merely with an ordinary naval surgeon, equipped with little more than a certificate from the Sick and Hurt Board, but with a full-blown physician in the person of Stephen Maturin, the author of a standard work on the diseases of seamen, a Fellow of the Royal Society with doctorates from Dublin and Paris, a gentleman fluent in both Latin and Greek (such a comfort to his patients), a particular friend of Captain Aubrey's and, though this was known to very few, one of the Admiralty's—indeed of the Ministry's—most valued advisors on Spanish and Spanish-American affairs: in short an intelligence-agent, though on a wholly independent and voluntary basis.
How many sentences in that passage?  How many different types of punctuation?

I find that just incredible.  207 words, and I bet most people wouldn't even spot it if they were reading the book.  He gets away with it because his rhythm is absolutely perfect.

O'Brian would be the greatest living writer of the English language, if he weren't dead.

IXEA: like IKEA, but for Roman furniture

IXEA is open for business.  It's like IKEA, only at IXEA they sell exact replicas of ancient Roman furniture.  

Want to live like an emperor?  Lie back on a plush red dining couch while you check out the latest issue of Acta Diurna?  Now's your big chance.  

IXEA is run by Limburg Museum in the Netherlands.  Thanks to Irene Hahn for pointing this out. 

The catalogue is at  Hurry now while stocks last.

Vampires and zombies

Ancient Greece was depressingly short on vampires, zombies and ninjas, though they were well stocked for pirates.

Ninjas of course are just totally the wrong culture.

Zombies don't work out because once you're in Hades, there's no coming back, so living dead isn't a concept; they did however manage to have quite a few psyches wandering the earth.

Vampires again are the wrong culture.  Though if vampires are your thing, I note that regular reader of this blog Carrie Clevenger has a vampire novel appearing next year, which she announced via an interview with her main character.

On the plus side, they did have titans, ladies with stony expressions and snakes for hair, various demigods, three-headed dogs, cyclops, minotaurs  etc.  Also the odd god and goddess.  My favourite movie of ancient, mythological Greece isn't the recent stuff about Alexander and Troy.  My fave is definitely the original Jason and the Argonauts, complete with special effects that were incredible for their time, and for my money, remain more dramatic than the smoother but less interesting computer generated effects.  Here's the famous fight with the skeletons (yes, I know they're not Greek).  Keep in mind, this entire scene was done with stop-motion cinematography.

A classical Greek doll

Here's a child's doll from classical Greece.  Very few children's toys survived, so this thing is precious.  It's made of terracotta and dated 500BC to 400BC, exactly the period I'm writing in.  This is the sort of doll Diotima would have played with when she was a little girl.

These are my own photos, taken at the excellent Getty Villa.  If you're ever in LA, the Getty is a must-see.  Notice the articulation hinged on pins.  Needless to say, the doll would have been painted in bright, happy colours.

Puppets of ancient Greece

It's very likely that the Greeks had puppets--or more accurately marionnettes--and put on  shows.  Certainly their children had wooden dolls with articulated arms and legs that would have been suitable for the purpose with the additions of only a few strings.

The first known mention comes from Herodotus, where he says the Egyptians had a figure, certain parts of which could be moved by a string.  The word he uses for this is neurospasta, which means something like string-puller.  Next, Xenophon, in his Symposium, has Socrates present when a troupe of entertainers puts on a show that includes neurospasta.  The same word.  On the face of it, this is case closed, except by context it might also refer to the sinews of a boy contortionist who is mentioned as being present.  The third mention is Plato, who in his Laws refers to children being entertained by a thaumiston, which means something like a show of wonders.  Most people take this to mean a puppet show.  There are enough other mentions in passing that it seems a safe assumption.

Assuming they did have marionnettes, no one knows what stories they told, except that it can't have been Punch and Judy: that's a much later creation.

Meanderings and Muses: Writing For A Living...It's All In Your Head

Meanderings and Muses is a terrific author site.  It's run by Kaye Barley, a lady who loves mysteries.  Not that she writes very much on it herself.  Instead, since Kaye knows pretty much everyone who writes mysteries and thrillers, every few days a published author appears with a guest post.  Each year the contributor list looks like a Who's Who of mystery writers.

Today it's the turn of your correspondent.  Here is me, on the subject of Writing For A Living...It's All In Your Head.

Semitic languages

The Indo-European family of languages stretched from India to Europe, as is obvious from the name.  Everything from Sanskrit to Latin, Persian, Greek, German, and their descendants are all closely related.

There was one instrusion of non-Indo-European into this vast geographical expanse, and that was the Semitic family of languages.  Today the best known Semitic languages are Arabic and Hebrew.  Back in the days of Nicolaos and Diotima, by far the most important Semitic language was Phoenician.  Beginning with The Ionia Sanction, Nico will start to hear Phoenician being spoken about the place as the hangs out around sea ports.  The Phoenicians were massively successful sea traders.

The Phoenician language had an immense influence on world history, not because of anything about the language per se, but because at some point, some Phoenician genius decided it would be cool to write down his language, so he came up with this alphabet:

Aleph  alph
Beth  bet
Gimel  gaml
Daleth  delt
He  he
Waw  wau
Zayin  zai
Heth  het
Teth  tet
Yodh  yod
Kaph  kaf
Lamedh  lamd
Mem  mem
Nun  nun
Samekh  semk
Ayin  ain
Pe  pe
Sadek  sade
Qoph  qof
Res  rosh
Sin  shin
Taw  tau

Look familiar?

There's unicode support for Phoenician, believe it or not, but not even recent browsers support the extension so I was stuck and had to insert the letters as images from wikipedia.

As with all things involving the word Semitic, there's a lot of argument and politics involved, but it's apparent there must have been a Proto-Semitic language from which the others descended, just as there was a Proto-Indo-European language.  Proto-Semitic probably began in Africa, because Semitic is part of a much larger family called Afroasiatic.  The cognates (similar words) between the Afroasiatic languages are very much looser than the close connections between Indo-European languages, but still good enough to show family groups.  Semitic is the only part of the family found outside Africa.  The oldest recorded Semitic language, as far as I'm aware, is the Akkadian that was written in cuneiform on clay tablets.  The cuneiform was borrowed from Sumerian, which definitely was not Semitic (this is sort of like the LinearA/Linear B situation).  The closest living relative of Phoenician is Hebrew.  Arabic derived from a southern variant of the same family.

Cleopatra's Moon

Vicky Alvear Shecter is a regular commenter on this humble blog; also she wrote the guest post When Historical "Facts" Aren't So Historical.

Now her YA novel, Cleopatra's Moon, about the daughter of Cleopatra, has released.

And it's reviewed in the L.A. Times!

And it's reviewed in the Wall Street Journal!  (scroll down, it's third in the list)