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Six Late Bronze Age (LBA) kingdoms were dominant in the western Mediterranean and in
Mesopotamia between 1600 and 1200 B.C.: Mycenae, Hatti, Assyria, Babylon, Mitanni, and Egypt. The
civilization they exemplified was an international, cross-fertilized one²with common trade,
technological transfer, functional norms of diplomacy, a fair amount of immigration between nations,
spheres of power based on suzerain/vassal covenants, peer-to-peer international agreements based on
dynastic marriage, and war.1 Warfare carried out by these six great kingdoms was fought in accordance
with two distinct paradigms: trial-by-battle and armed conflict. This essay will discuss each paradigm, the
forces used in support of their execution; and the battlefield tactics exemplifying each paradigm.
The best documented paradigm of LBA warfare consisted of ritualized, glorified trials-by-battle, described as occurring between various gods and fought by their representatives, the kings. These royal demigods, assisted by their ³knights´ or ³companions´, and organized into dedicated chariot divisions, fought these ³duels´ in response to perceived slights, insults, or international diplomatic failures, calling upon divine favor in their prosecution.
It is important to understand that religion in this time and place consisted in large measure of the
worship of various territorial gods, each being deemed the principal divine force for a particular locale.
These gods were, in a real sense, tied to the land and mortals worshipped the gods of the land in which
they resided. The ruler over the land was deemed blessed or sanctified by the local deities and, as their
direct representative, spoke in their name²as long as the blessing of the gods rested upon him. The king,
in his divine role was personally responsible for acting as commander-in-chief and champion in the field
and as chief priest at home. Threats to the integrity of the land or insults directed against the person of the
king were therefore an offense against deity, possibly attributable to the opposing king, and by association
the opposing deity. Such offenses demanded satisfaction and trial-by-battle was ³a divine drama of law
enforcement´2 in which the king and his champions, aided by their god, could punish the offenders and
while expanding the dominion of their gods and enlarging the prosperity of their people.3
As mentioned, trial-by-battle was the express domain of the king and his choice companions. The
men in these elite forces were drawn from prominent, possibly ennobled family groups and were mounted
on chariots for battle. These forces, organized into divisions, were capable of generating shock and
concentrated combat power, much like modern armor.4 These chariots had a four-person crew, deployed
as a single battlefield weapon system. Two members, mounting the chariot in battle were a spear- or bow-
equipped weaponeer/mission commander and a nominally-armed driver. The remaining crewmembers
were lightly encumbered runners, armed with round shields, javelins and edged weapons. While they may
have ridden on the rear of the chariot in transiting to and from the battlespace, they apparently entered
battles on foot, in direct support of the chariot.5
Once the location and conditions of a trial-by-battle were agreed, the kings and their chariot
divisions would deploy in one or more ranks, facing each other across the battlefield. Being a ritualized
battle, both forces probably moved towards each other with deliberation, across the battlefield. As the
forces closed, they probably did not exceed a horse trot, so as to allow the runners to easily keep pace and
to provide the chariot with the smallest possible turning radius, and therefore greatest options for
maneuver, until combat was engaged.
Because of the emphasis on personal glory, it is doubtful that chariots on the same side fought in
coordinated teams, even though there is evidence of 4-chariot and fifty-chariot administrative units. From
the king down to his companions, the emphasis seemed upon encouraging multiple battles between
individual champions, all vying for battle honors and there was likely little honor to be had in uneven
contests. As chariots on opposing sides approached, the weaponeers/mission commanders probably
visually selected their opponents. It is possible that foes would come to a mutual agreement to engage
through gestures or other signal and then, with a signaled charge, the ranks would engage and the many
individual duals for battle honors would begin.
Considering individual tactics, it seems likely that each pair of foes would approach the other
nearly head-on, in action reminiscent of later jousting. As the opponents would close, the runners would
probably be dispatched ahead and to the sides of their chariot. (Figure 1)
Given the sense of honor involved, the runners might be charged with targeting their opposite
numbers and would not diminish the champion¶s honor by taking a direct role in the battle between
chariots. (Figure 2) If however, one of the combatants demonstrated cowardice, declining combat by
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