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


  1. wanda said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 2:15 am

    Could the stances be similar because they serve the same purpose, not because one culture learned from another?

  2. Chris Button said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 6:04 am

    The suggestion in Laufer’s Sino-Iranica that 贙 is a transcription of Ancient Greek “huaina” (hyena) is a nice one.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 7:56 am


    You have to take the multiplicity of similarities into account.

  4. wanda said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 10:07 am

    @Victor Mair: I guess I'm confused about what the claim is. The bronze looks like a Greek dude in a Greek battle outfit in a certain stance. The terracotta warriors look like Chinese people in Chinese battle outfits in that same stance. The stance is said to be effective in a certain context of fighting. Being able to fight effectively is very important, so there would have been intense pressure to find a good stance. If the stance really is the best, or one of the best, ways to solve a certain problem, it would not surprise me in the slightest if these two intelligent, innovative civilizations figured that out independently. I am surprised that a bronze of a Greek warrior appeared that far East, and that's cool. But the post seems to be implying that the Greeks influenced the Chinese battle stance, and I'm not convinced by the evidence in the post.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 12:22 pm

    "Achilles is the father of Pyrrhos who created the dance" — is it known what the basis is for Lucas' claim that it was Pyrrhos who created the dance ?

  6. Victor Mair said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 1:19 pm


    "I am surprised that a bronze of a Greek warrior appeared that far East, and that's cool."

    Other than that it's "cool", how do you account for it, and the fact that another similar "dude" was found nearby? You need to carefully read the whole post (including the very first sentence) and all the references in it. This is not an isolated instance to be casually ("dude", "cool") dismissed. It occurs in the context of dozens of posts and other publications all pointing to the same conclusion: Greek influences reached to Central Asia and East Asia.

  7. wanda said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 3:22 pm

    @Victor Mair: OK, that's why I asked about your claim. I'm definitely fine with the claim that "Greek influences reached to Central Asia and East Asia." I am not convinced that the specific low-war stance is definitely one of those influences, although it could be. I looked through the refs cursorily and didn't see much about the low-war stance, although admittedly I might have missed something. My gut sense is that similarities in arbitrary details, like how words sound, are more convincing in showing "influence" than similarities in functional details like a war stance. This is not a perfect analogy, but it's sort of like bats and birds having wings is not evidence for shared ancestry, because they both fly and wings are pretty much necessary for flying, but the fact that penguins have wings does point to shared ancestry with birds because there are many ways to swim and dive that don't involve wings.

  8. Elizabeth J W Barber said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 6:18 pm

    The warrior-training dance moves certainly persisted in Greek and other Balkan dances. But it's more than the moves– part of it is signaling in subtle, even sillent, ways to your compatriots what you (or you-all) are about to do. Much of that info is moving through the hands on the shoulders. (People who "crash" a Slow Hassapiko line don't understand that the signal for what's next can't get through more than 5 or 6 people, nor do they know how to transmit it Then they wonder why the dance falls apart down the line!)

  9. Chris Button said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 9:29 pm

    I also like the possible association of 絲 (糸) *səːɣ "silk" with Greek sḗr (from whence Latin Sēres "Chinese/China").

  10. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    July 20, 2022 @ 11:36 pm

    @ Philip Taylor
    The dance was either (it is a mythologic/legendary dance) made by Achilles dancing around the Pyr of Patroklos or by his son Pyrrhos after he killed Euryplos (please check yourself the history on the net, you would get faster answers in there). It is the way the legend was perceived, transmitted, expressed in war-dances and represented through the ages in different forms.

    @ Wanda
    It would require some studies on these fields before you comment. Arts history, sports History, dance history, sinology, military history, Hellenism in the East etc.

    @ Chris Button
    There is much more than few word associations

    @Elizabeth J W Barber
    Merci Elisabeth, observation très jolie et sentie.

  11. Chris Button said,

    July 21, 2022 @ 5:16 am

    @ Lucas Christopoulos

    In terms of possible old loanwords from ancient Greek into Chinese, which have you come across whose characters reflect that loanword sense as their meaning rather than just being used for transcriptional purposes outside of their actual meaning?

  12. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    July 21, 2022 @ 5:51 am

    @ Chris Button

    There is one very eloquent that you will discover in the forthcoming SPP.

  13. Chris Button said,

    July 21, 2022 @ 10:17 pm

    Now you’re keeping me in suspense …

    Care to share it here, or how long must we wait for the next SPP installment?

  14. Victor Mair said,

    July 22, 2022 @ 7:15 am

    The next SPP will come out within 2 weeks to a month or so.

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