Pottery, Horses, and Bows: Technologies Critical to Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Warfare David G.

Terrell April 22, 2009

Over the course of centuries, land warfare in the Near Eastern and Mediterranean Ancient world progressed through four dominant paradigms. The earliest form of warfare was manifestly chaotic and characterized by groups of combatants fighting each other in fierce melee. Later, realizing there was safety in numbers, the massing of trained, disciplined warriors, exemplified by the Mycenaean and Macedonian phalanx, allowed the precise application of intense brute force in a bloody shoving match along a single axis, overcoming any undisciplined mob to stand against it. Eventually; the phalanx was overcome by nimble legionary forces capable of executing enveloping or flanking movements using attached cavalry to apply a mobile mass at a decisive point. Finally, the legions were defeated by swarming forces of fast, rapid-fire units conducting pulsed attacks from many directions. 1 Each successive paradigm (chaotic melee, brute force massing, nimble maneuver, and swarming attack) supplemented rather than displaced the previous paradigm. 2 Each transition was facilitated by a technological advance that made possible a significant improvement in one or more of the main characteristics of military capability: lethality, mobility, survivability, sustainability and C3I (command, control communications and intelligence).3 This essay will identify three principle technologies that allowed the paradigm shifts and briefly discuss the capabilities, synergy and advantages each brought to the battlefield. Pottery. I suspect that the initial response to the threat of melee attack in the pre-Bronze Age era was mobilizing your own military aged males (MAMs) to repel the threat. Unless a group was dedicated to surviving through nomadic raiding, the diversion of MAMs from the procurement of food was a likely
1

John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, Swarming and the Future of Conflict, (Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2000), 7-23. 2 Arquilla, 7. 3 Manfred Engelhardt, "Transforming the German Bundeswehr-The Way Ahead." Chap. 5 in Transatlantic Transformations: Equipping NATO for the 21st Century, by Center for Transatlantic Relations, edited by Daniel S Hamilton, 91-113, (Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins University, 2004), 110

2 Terrell, David G. drain on the group. This dilemma was solved by the development of pottery. The creation of durable, airtight, non-porous containers allowed the long term preservation and storage of food. This technology provided a group with two critical capabilities. First, pottery provided a means to create a food surplus, thus allowing for a higher overall quantity of food, encouraging population growth and also freeing personnel from food-related tasks for longer periods, allowing extended military activity. Second, it gave groups a means of transporting this preserved food supply, thus extending the deployable range and mission duration of the group’s military forces beyond the immediate environs of the homeland. Pottery, therefore, directly and positively affected the lethality (through increased opportunity for training), mobility and sustainability of the military forces of the time, allowing the phalanx to form and fight.4 Domesticated Horses. Over time, military thinkers came to realize that deployed phalanx forces were very formidable on suitable ground but were vulnerable to flanking attacks and being confronted on broken ground. Countering the phalanx depended on the ability to rapidly place forces on its flanks before it could effectively wheel to face the threat. The domestication of equines, particularly horses, allowed the creation of forces having much improved mobility over foot infantry. This cavalry, equipped with bows, was very useful but the relative newness of the horseman and traditional military roles worked against the independent use of horse archers as a separate arm. Nevertheless, these forces, positioned at the flanks of a conventional phalanx or more flexible manipular legion, could rapidly move forward and around an enemy to attack from unexpected directions or provide intelligence about enemy movements to a battlefield commander. Horses also improved the speed and carrying capacity of logistic processes and military communications.5 The increase in mobility and sustainability provided by the domestication of horses eventually allowed maneuverable forces to overcome the power of massed brute force. 6

4

William J Hamblin, Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 18, 148, 271. 5 Hamblin, 131. 6 Hamblin, 131-132

3 Terrell, David G. Composite Bow. Though the composite bow was initially developed at an early date, for centuries, its labor intensive manufacture limited its use to elite troops.7 Eventually, improvements in the production of great numbers of high-quality composite bows and arrows provided light cavalry in late antiquity with a long-ranged weapon having a higher rate of fire and more rounds per warrior than infantry were afforded by their weapons. The composite bow, coupled with a large horse population resulting from continued improvements in horse breeding and domestication, provided enough weapons and mounts to allow the creation of very large cavalry forces. Additionally, the evolution of draft horse breeds facilitated the continued development of faster, higher-capacity transport through better draft animals made possible the fast and high-capacity resupply needed to support large cavalry forces in the field.8 These large cavalry forces, using these combined technologies to improve their lethality and mobility, were able to resort to swarming attacks (the “convergent attack of several semi-autonomous units on a target”9) as a battlefield paradigm, as between the Scythians and Macedonians (329-327 BC) and between the Parthians and Romans at Carrhae (53 BC).10 These three technologies, Pottery, Horse Domestication and the Composite Bow drove the technological changes that allowed the civilizations of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean to improve their ways of warfare. Pottery allowed for the feeding of large military forces that could rout an armed mob. The addition of domesticated horse allowed large forces to move father and faster than could their enemies afoot and the simple massed formations fell. The composite bow, once readily available in numbers, synergistically combined with the horse and logistics support gave forces so equipped the elusiveness and longer range with which to strike less fluid forces with impunity.

7 8

Hamblin, 86, 95, 423. Jon Coulston, "Central Asia from the Scythians to the Huns." Chap. 13 in The Ancient World at War: A Global History, by Philip De Souza, 217-227, (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2008), 217. Hamblin, 264. Philip A G Sabin, Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby, The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare: Rome from the late Republic to the late Empire, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 64, 288, 355, 411. 9 Sean J A Edwards, Military History of Swarming. Military Briefing, (Charlottesville: National Ground Intelligence Center, 2003), 3. 10 Edwards, 6.

4 Terrell, David G. David G. Terrell Herndon, VA

Works Cited
Arquilla, John, and David Ronfeldt. Swarming and the Future of Conflict. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2000. Coulston, Jon. "Central Asia from the Scythians to the Huns." Chap. 13 in The Ancient World at War: A Global History, by Philip De Souza, 217-227. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2008. Edwards, Sean J A. Military History of Swarming. Military Briefing, Charlottesville: National Ground Intelligence Center, 2003, 37. Engelhardt, Manfred. "Transforming the German Bundeswehr-The Way Ahead." Chap. 5 in Transatlantic Transformations: Equipping NATO for the 21st Century, by Center for Transatlantic Relations, edited by Daniel S Hamilton, 91-113. Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins University, 2004. Hamblin, William J. Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History. New York: Routledge, 2006. Sabin, Philip A G, Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby. The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare: Rome from the late Republic to the late Empire. Vol. II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

© David G. Terrell, 2009-2010, except where otherwise noted, content is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. For permission to reprint under terms outside the license, contact davidterrell80@hotmail.com.

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