The ancient Indians considered it necessary to build forts in border regions as they were key to the kingdom's security and could stop invaders from reaching the capital. The Buddhist text Digha Nikaya mentions a border city defended by strong ramparts and towers and provided with a single gate. Book II of the Arthashastra mentions that forts should be constructed in the extremities of the kingdom, manned by boundary-guards (antapala). All the four quarters of a kingdom should be provided with defensive fortifications, as described here:
This classification of forts was employed throughout the ancient period in India and many such forts, including hillforts and water-forts, were built by different dynasties at different points in time. In 543 CE, King Pulakeshin I (543 CE – 566 CE) made Vatapi (present-day Badami, Karnataka state) the capital of the Chalukya kingdom and built a fort on what is now known as the North Hill. This hillfort was fortified above and below. The Aihole Inscription of the Vatapi Chalukya king Pulakeshin II (609 CE – 642 CE) mentions the island fort of Revati and the land fort at Vanavasi.
The Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya specifies seven requisites of a fortress, including a moat, and four kinds of supplies necessary for its maintenance. The Jataka tales also mention fortified cities complete with walls, ramparts, buttresses, watchtowers and massive gates. The Arthashastra in its Book II also contains detailed descriptions of the construction of a fort, which include:
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- moats containing crocodiles
- ramparts, parapets, towers, turrets, and positions for archers (indrakosha)
- a passage for flight (pradhavitikam) and exit door (nishkuradvaram)
- twelve gates, with a secret land way and waterway
- the number and amount of resources necessary for withstanding long sieges, such as food and weaponry.
That such forts were actually constructed, whether in sum or part, can be seen from the early reliefs at Sanchi, Bharhut, Mathura, Amaravati, and Nagarjunikonda. They show the outer view of the city walls, preceded by a moat. The city walls have gatehouses and defensive towers. The walls themselves were made of brick or wood and often had re-entrant angles of which the salient corners had projecting bastions. The top of the walls ends in copings or battlements. The gatehouse is flanked by two lofty towers, each rising to several storeys. During the reign of Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 BCE), Pataliputra came to have an external wall with 570 towers and 64 gates. The ditch or moat was c. 182 m (600 feet) wide and c. 15 m deep.
The accounts of Chinese and early Muslim travellers show that over time, not much change was witnessed in fort construction which continued to follow the pattern mentioned above. The only discernible change was an increase in the size of the outer walls and in the dimensions of the moats in order to increase security. Cities throughout India continued to be fortified, which in South India, besides Vatapi, included the Pandya capital Madura or Madurai (present-day Madurai, Tamil Nadu state) and the Pallava capital Kanchipuram (present-day Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu state) among others. Towns with thriving ports such as Vizhinjam (present-day Vizhinjam, Kerala state), were also heavily fortified. Being flourishing centres of commerce, they were often targeted by invaders as in the case of Vizhinjam which was routinely targeted by the Pandya and Chola kings from the 7th to 10th centuries CE.
Siege warfare & troops
The forts had permanently stationed garrisons with a proper division of their functions. The Buddhist Pali sources give a list of such officers and troops, which include:
- billeting officers (chalaka)
- soldiers of the supply corps (pindadayika)
- stormtroopers (pakkhandino)
- warriors in (leather) cuirasses (cammayodhino)
- dovarika or gatekeeper.
Members of the royal family including princes were expected to participate in the defence of forts as well as in the assault of enemy forts. The Anguttara Nikaya expressly mentions “the king's sons” as part of the garrison. That kings also participated in defence can be evidenced from the fact that Pulakeshin II died defending his capital Vatapi against the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (630 CE – 655 CE) in 642 CE.
During the Mauryan period, the durgapala, or officer in charge of a fort, was held in high esteem. The senapati, or commander-in-chief, was expected to know how to assail a fort. The nagaraka, or officer in charge of a city, was to inspect on a daily basis the hidden passage for going out of the city as well as the forts, fort walls, and other defensive works.
Elephants were specifically taught to batter fort walls, and in the Arthashastra this training is called as nagarayanam. Troops of the Western Ganga kingdom (350 CE – 1024 CE), were specifically trained in assaulting hillforts. Whenever required, the garrison could be supported by the local people who would join in defending the fort. The attacking army, however, had to rely on its own strength. The best course was to bring in huge numbers to make the assault, as the Vatapi Chalukya kings often did.
Assault & defence
Since forts were constructed considering the geographical advantages provided by the site and the addition of protective features like walls, ramparts, etc., any strategy to reduce such strongholds had to keep all this in mind. The defenders would also take full advantage of the natural features as in the case of hillforts. The Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600 CE – 630 CE) forced Pulakeshin II to retreat before the walls of Kanchipuram, behind which he had hidden in face of the advancing Chalukya army.
Thus, owing to the challenge the forts presented, their capture was regarded as quite a feat. The Eastern Chalukya king Vishnuvardhana I (624 CE - 641 CE) was believed to have acquired the title Vishamasiddhi (Sanskrit: “one has attained success in difficult enterprises”) because of his great success (siddhi) in capturing all kinds of impregnable (vishama) fortresses on land and sea (sthala-jaladi-durga).
Regarding siege equipment, possibly, battering rams were used, but not much evidence is available here. However, the infantry while scaling the walls would have used ladders or ropes. When it came to assaulting city or fort walls, elephants were given a much more significant role. They are referred to as purabhettarah (town-breakers) in the Mahabharata. Book XIII of the Arthashastra covers in detail the means to capture a fort. It recommends sowing dissension among enemy ranks and the use of spies in weakening the enemy. Siege operations would begin when the enemy king was in a weakened state and low in supplies. The moats would be countered through various means. Many parts of the fort and houses within could be set on fire. This was suggested as a last resort by Kautilya as the fort and all the resources within should ideally be captured intact. However, captured forts were destroyed or burnt by the invaders.
Siege engines do not seem to be used often. The stress was on a general assault, made through by breaking open the gates after crossing the moat, or by inducing the enemy to come out for a sally. An assault was considered best at a time when the enemy was tired after fighting either on the walls or in an open battle and had thus lost many of its men, while the general public inside the fort would be generally distracted by celebrating festivals or religious rituals or engaging in drunken brawls or simply asleep. Weather conditions also determined the day of an assault. A cloudy day, or a day when there was a thick fog or snow, was seen as ideal.
Archers seem to have played a major role in both defence and assault. Defenders offered a good fight in many cases. One relief at the Sanchi stupa shows the Mallas defending their city of Kushinagara against a besieging army. This is a graphic description of how siege warfare was conducted in the pre-Mauryan and Mauryan times. This siege likely took place sometime in 5th century BCE. It shows the attackers amassing outside the city walls with all kinds of troops – elephants, chariots, infantry and cavalry – and appear to be surrounding the city. The multi-storeyed buildings of the city can be seen beyond the city walls, which are depicted as being tall and strong. Citizens, including women, are peering down at the attackers from their balconies. Defenders are actively engaging the enemy by throwing stones and shooting arrows, and some of them are ready with their clubs and swords to push down the besiegers climbing the walls. No siege equipment is shown, and the assault is being made by the infantry attacking the besieged. Some soldiers are shooting arrows, and others are climbing up the walls (the means used for climbing are not shown).
The emphasis on fort building and siege warfare continued well into the medieval and early modern periods. Many of the ancient forts, if not destroyed by attackers, were developed further or revamped by medieval and later dynasties, especially the Rajputs, according to the needs of the times. Forts of different kinds, like hillforts, continued to be built. The nature of siege warfare eventually changed with the advent of gunpowder and artillery, and the techniques of defence and assault also changed. But even then, many of the forts held strong. They could withstand protracted sieges and on many occasions, gave a hard time to the attackers, which included troops of colonial European powers like the East India Company. Many of these forts are still standing today as a testament of the importance of forts and siege warfare in India, a process that had begun in the ancient times and provided the basis to later periods.
Ancient India Government
In the beginning of the Vedic age people did not have a settled life and were nomads but with development in agriculture people started to settle down in groups. The organization was mainly tribal and the head of the tribe was supposed to be the raja or the King, though the concept of King had yet not developed. With the passage of time large kingdoms started to grow and by the 6th century BC there were 16 Mahajanapadas (Kingdoms).
There were many small republics also in ancient India. These republics had some elements of democracy in their administration. The king (raja) was the supreme head of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. He was assisted in administration by a number of officials. The members of the council of minister could give advice to the king, but final decisions were left to the king. The ministers and other officials were directly appointed by the king.
During the Mauryan period there existed both civil and military officials. They were paid a salary in cash. The highest official was paid the salary of 48000 panas (Unit of money) per year. The soldiers were paid 500 panas per year. There were officials who maintained the records of population, income and expenditure of government. We find reference to officials and clerks who collected income tax and custom duties. Spy system was an important feature of Mauryan administration.
The royal agents and the spies could contact the king at any time and they reported to the king about various developments in his kingdom. The empire was divided into many provinces and each one of these provinces was governed by a governor and council of ministers. In the provinces there were local officials called rajukas, who became more powerful during the reign of Ashoka. There were certain departments which decided certain important matters of administration. There existed a standing army which was again controlled by certain committees.
Administration structure during the Gupta period was exceptionally good in spite of large empire. During the Gupta period also the administration was more or less like the Mauryas. The most important difference between the Gupta and Mauryan administration was centralization and decentralization of administration. In the Gupta administration, the governors of the provinces were more independent as compared to the Mauryans, where the administration was highly centralized.
The Military of Ancient India
Dawn of Civiliation in Ancient India
Throughout its history India and its diverse geographic regions were divided into many kingdoms, often at war and sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Warfare in ancient India took on a wide variety of exotic forms, but all of with a uniquely Indian flavor. As the military of ancient India developed so did its iconic features, including elephants, bamboo long bows and massive shirtless infantry armies. Each region of the subcontinent added its own unique elements to ancient Indian warfare. The deserts of the northwest were ruled by the Rajputs, skilled mounted warriors. The Nepalese ruled the mountainous to the North, one of their tough kingdoms eventually producing a world changing man called the Buddha. The monsoon soaked East was ruled by independent minded kingdoms such as Bengal and Assam. Over the centuries various tribes, ethnicities and dynasties battled for supremacy, but they where unconquerable by repeated invasions from the West. The ancestors of the Indo-European Aryan invaders established kingdoms in central India (earning the indo part of the Indo-European family). In the Southern jungles were the Dravidian kingdoms, these indigenous people of India had created the Indus Valley Civilization and formed India’s oldest kingdoms. The North and South of India are divided by the Deccan Plateau, home of many small kingdoms, defended by some of the fiercest warriors in India.
India was Earth’s third civilization to use writing and an early trade partner of the Sumerians. However, after the Aryan invasion the secrets to their language were lost. Little is known about warfare during the Indus River Valley Civilization warfare even if their writing could be deciphered it would probably tell us very little, most of the surviving text is on seals. Some of the weapons found in the archeological record would have been just as likely used for hunting as warfare, but others are clearly for military use. We do know they used axes, spears and maces. Their maces were similar to stone maces used in Egypt and Summer. They had a wood handle and head of alabaster, limestone or softer but easily shaped sandstone. They also used long, leaf shaped daggers and knifes. The blades were made out of copper or bronze and either one or two edged. For range weapons the ancient Indian warriors employed slings and bows. Their arrowheads were of a uniquely Indian variety, featuring thin heads with long barbs.
Vendic Period of Ancient Indian War (1700 BC – 500 BC)
Around 1700 BC a massive invasion of Aryans swept into India from the Northwest. The Aryans had a pastoral, nomadic and warrior culture. Their basic political unit was a grama (wagon train), a tribe was made up of various gramas and lead by a king or chieftain. These early Vedic Aryans had come from a group that had invented the Chariot and spread out in one of history’s great invasions (and migrations). From the steppes North of the Caspian Sea they spread from the Levant to the borders of China. A warrior class operated their Chariots, the expensive wonder weapon of its day. The mobile chariot was a leap beyond its horse and donkey cart forerunners and provided the Aryan warrior class with a distinct military advantage. The invaders also brought iron weapons with them and used it one their chariots. Iron is lighter and stronger than bronze and copper, giving another significant advantage to the invading warriors. Settled populations and their civilization were destroyed by the Aryan invasion and its ripple effect, as their techniques and weapons spread out across the old world causing what has been called the Bronze Age Collapse. In India there is no widely accepted archaeological or linguistic evidence of direct cultural continuity from the Indus Valley civilization. One of earth’s first great civilizations perished.
As the Arians merged with the Indians they formed a new society. In its earliest phase the nomadic tribes were still on the move creating a complex political structure. The Aryans formed a semi-nomadic society, still based on herding, and a strict class system was imposed. The Vedic Aryans formed many competing kingdoms, each skirmishing, warring and shifting alliances in attempts to dominate the people and territory of their neighbors. The battlefields were ruled by massive chariots that were nothing like the sleek, fast two wheeled chariots of Egypt. Indian chariots were large four wheeled firing platforms requiring four to six horses to pull them. They weren’t used for out flanking enemies, but charged straight into the enemy ranks crushing anyone in its path. Two to six men manned the chariots, using the six foot height advantage a large chariot offered to rain arrows down on the enemies, while spear armed warriors made sure no enemies could climb aboard. Later (c. 470 BC), the Indians invented scythed chariots. These featured curved blades that were attached to the wheels, causing death and dismemberment to anyone unlucky enough to be in their path.
The bow was the dominate weapon of the military of ancient India, but Vendic era warriors also employed slings and javelins as ranged weapons. Sword, axes and spears were used in close combat. However as the many warring kingdoms struggled for greater control a vast array of weapons and tactics developed, including the world’s first use of war elephants. (India was also the last nation to use war elephants in the 1800’s AD)
Around 1000 – 500 BC, two ancient Indian epics were written, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Both epics are center around the wars and conflicts between the small kingdoms and various tribes. They refer to a wide variety of military formations, theories and esoteric weaponry. Tactically warfare moved away from focusing on individual warriors in battle towards formations. The weapons used ranged from the familiar such as axes, swords, javelins, and maces to the very exotic and even unimaginable. The Mahabharata mentions the use of the Pasa, a triangular noose weapon made of rope and lron balls for weight that was used for strangling opponents. Another example is the sudarshana chakra, a spinning disc like weapon with very sharp edge that is hurled at the enemy. Many of these weapons were linked to Hindu religion, for example the Chakra is an attribute of the Hindu God Vishnu and was made by the architect of gods, Vishvakarma. Other examples include hammers on the end of long five foot poles and an eight sided iron club.
A wide variety of battle formations were used by ancient Indian armies. Examples of these intricate and possibly overly complex formations include the Wheel, Needle and Fish to name just a few. In one particular formation know as the lotus, archers where placed in the center and the infantry and cavalry formed “petals” around them for protection. The Eagle formation, which was commonly used, is another interesting example. A wedge formation of the toughest troops formed the beak and led the army into battle. The 'head’, just behind the beak would follow the beak into battle and where also of high quality. Often, war elephants would be placed in the beak and head. Two broad 'wings' would sweep out from behind the head, with the swiftest troops, the chariots and finally the cavalry at the outside. Reserves would then be positioned between the wings and the head to form the body.
As the Aryan Kingdoms The Aryan kingdoms moved increasingly towards agriculture and away from their traditional pastoral organization they also put in place the rigid caste system. This system, still in effect today, formalized their dominance and strictly organized people’s places in society. Their armies developed into their classic four part organization, infantry, elephants, chariots and archers. However, all of this would soon be upended by a fearless conqueror from a distant, unknown land.
War with Alexander the Great
Alexander had inherited both masterful tactics from his father, Phillip of Macedonia, and the world’s best military force. He also inherited rule over the martially powerful Greeks and Macedonians. After Alexander consolidated his kingdom and defeated some warlike Thracian tribes on his Northern border he began to conquer the “known world”. Alexander defeated the world’s largest empire of the time, the Persians in two pitched battles. He then defeated the defiant Phoenician cities on the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt before returning to finish off the Persians in yet another massive pitched battle. After that he marched East, fighting the tough tribes of modern Afghanistan, there he lost more men in battle then in his war with the vast Persian Empire! Once he had established control of Afghanistan through brutal, genocidal war he aimed his army at the indo-gangetic plains where the hundreds of small kingdoms that had stretched across it had consolidated into sixteen different kingdoms.
In 326 BC Alexander the Great began his invasion of the India. He moved East intent on conquering all the lands to the “Great Out Sea”, which he believed to be on the other side of India. Alexander and his forces crossed the Indus river but where halted at the Hydapes River by a large army on the other side. Porus, ruler of the Punjab Region, had positioned a large army on the other bank complete with war elephants, archers, infantry and chariots. The infantry were armed with bamboo cane framed hide shields and bamboo spears with iron heads. The Indian archers employed an effective 6 ft long bow also made out of bamboo that shot long cane arrows. However the most frightening aspect of the Indian army was the war elephants. These massive beasts were something the Greeks and Macedonians hadn’t faced and they would soon wreak havoc on the battle field.
Alexander out maneuvered Porus and was able to cross up river with an elite part of his army. The Indian chariots that Porus sent to counter the crossing became stuck in the mud, and Porus’ son who was leading the counter attack was killed. As Porus turned his army to face Alexander the remaining part of Alexanders forces crossed the river forcing a confrontation on two fronts. Porus lined up his army to counter Alexander and sent his infantry and elephants against him. Alexander’s forces, formed into to formidable Macedonian phalanx, advanced in an echelon. A tactic Alexander had learned from his father, Phillip, who had in turn learned it from the great Greek general and strategist, Epaminondas.
As the two armies approached each other they must have both been intimidated by the sight of their exotic opponents. Confronting the tightly packed and well armored Macedonian phalanx was a terrifying sight that had sent Persian armies fleeing before even engaging them. While the Indian war elephants with their bronze reinforced trunks terrified the Macedonians and panicked their horses. As the armies collided the elephants killed many Macedonians but the lightly armored Indian infantry was unable to compete with the Greek and Macedonian phalanxes who where the world’s best heavy infantry at the time. The Indian infantry huddled near the elephants for protection, however the great beasts having suffered many wounds, became enraged trampling anyone around them. Alexander’s cavalry then slammed into the back of the Indian army, delivering the deathblow.
Porus was outclassed by Alexander’s refined combined arms tactics and the professionalism of his force, the panicle of hundreds of years of evolution in the Greek style of war. However, Porus himself fought on with such bravery and tenacity that he gained the respect and admiration of Alexander. Alexander made him a satrap, a regional governor but in practice he would be a subordinate king in his own right. Alexander would need the support of the local nobility to administer his far flung empire when he returned to the West.
Interestingly, Alexander also encountered poisoned projectiles during his invasion of India, probably dipped in the venom of the Russell's viper.
After the Battle of Hydapes Alexander’s army, home sick and tired after over a decade of campaigning mutinied, refusing to march further to the East fearing even greater Indian armies that were said to have thousands of war elephants. Alexander reluctantly agreed and returned to Persia where he died in 323 BC while planning an invasion of Arabia. At age 32 he had conquered most of the know world creating the greatest empire it had ever seen, but it would not survive his death.
Maurya Empire and Military
The Maurya Empire, ruled by the Mauryan dynasty, was the first empire that was able to unite all of India. The Empire was founded in 322 BC by Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta was a general who overthrew the ruling Dynasty of the Nanda kingdom, a state to the East of the straps created by Alexander. The Maurya Empire expanded rapidly westwards across central and western India in the wake of the withdrawing armies of Alexander’s quarrelling successors. Chandragupta’s successors continued his policies of expansion through war, creating the world’s largest empire at that time. The Greeks that remained merged cultures with the Indians over the following centuries creating an Indo-Greek identity.
The Mauryan military reqruited people from all over the subcontinent and from all Castes creating a diverse army.
The core of the army was composed of warriors from Uttarapathian in central and western India. Uttarapatha had many warlike peoples, including the Kambojas, Yavanas, and Sakas. Other groups that provided levy troops in times of war were the Maghadas, Assamese, and Cheras. While the Tamil (Dravidian) kingdoms in the Southern tip only paid tribute. One interesting group that was requrited into the Mauryan armies was the Nagas, which translate to ‘serpents’, a mystical people from Eastern India that worshiped cobras.
Like the Vendic armies, Muaryan armies were formed out of four parts, the Chariot, Elephant, Infantry and Archers, the largest part of the force. At its height the Maurya Empire had 750,000 soldiers and made advances in the weapons and armor of their military. War elephants were even armored and fitted with sword like attachments on their trunks. Small forts were also put on their backs where soldiers would attack from with javelins and bows or long spears, tridents or other polearms at close range. The Mauryan military was reported to have over 9000 war elephants.
After several week rulers the Muaryan Dynasty collapsed in 185 BC. The fall of the Mauryas left the Khyber Pass between Bactria and India unguarded, and a wave of foreign invasion followed. The Greco-Bactrian king, Demetrius, capitalized on the situation and invaded with his Greek army conquering the North East of the subcontinent around 180 BC. While the Greeks formed the Indo-Greek Kingdom the Muarya Empire broke up into smaller kingdoms, which then broke up into smaller Kingdoms again.
Status Quo in Ancient Indian Warfare
The Indo-Greeks were then conquered by an invading force of Scythians around 70 BC. The Scythians were a nomadic Indo-European people who then established the Indo-Scythian Empire in Northwest India. They fought as mounted horse archers, using the powerful composite bow. They were followed by the Yuezhi, Tocharian tribes who also invaded from the great Asian landmass and displaced the Scythians. The Yuezhi were then followed by yet another Indo-European group (this time from the Iranian branch) of nomadic horse archers, the Parthians. The Parthians then from Indo-Parthian kingdoms in Northwest of India while the Indo-Scythians had been pushed into central India. The Indo-Parthians in turn where concuered by the Kushans, another tribal confederation of Tocharian origins. The Tocharians were the most Easterly branch of the Indo-Europeans and had been being pushed out of central Asia. The Kushan Empire originally formed in the 1st century CE in and would eventually fall into decline and collapse under pressure from the Sassanid empire to the West and the emerging Gupta Empire to the East.
While these events unfolded in Northwest, West and at times the central portions of the subcontinent other Indian Kingdoms formed in Eastern and Southern India. Examples include Pandyan, Cholas, and Chera. The
Satavahana empire formed in the Southeast and later the kingdoms of Kalabhras, Kadamba and the Tamil Kingdom of Pallava formed in the South of India.
The kingdoms that dominated the Northwest could never conquer the Southern and Eastern Kingdoms due to military factors. First of all their horses would succumb to the tropical climate of Southern and central India, even if they could operate effectively in the forested or mountainous regions. Furthermore the powerful, but expensive (they could take ten years to construct) compound bow was susceptible to warping in the humid climate unlike the bamboo longbow. Inversely, when the empires of the South and East advanced into the planes of Western or Northwestern India they would be out maneuvered and out shot by the mobile horse archers.
The Military of the Gupta Empire
The stalemate was eventually broken by the Gupta Empire, although they never were able to take over the central Duncan Plateau, Southwest or Southern regions. Forming in the Northeast of India, the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 CE) is considered a golden age of Indian and Hindu history. This was a time when Indian culture flourished in all areas but like all empires it was made possible by a powerful military.
The military of the Gupta Empire remained based on the traditional four part armies of the past however the chariot had been replaced by mounted cavalry by this time. They modeled the dress (trousers) and armor of their cavalry after the well clad and equipped Kushans. However, despite the use of horse archers by their enemies such as the Scythian, Parthian, and Hepthalite (White Huns or Huna) they never developed their own. The Gupta favored armored cavalry forces that attacked with lances or swords.
The Gupta military continued to rely heavily on infantry archers, which was an effective counter to mounted archers. One advancement the Gupta military made they made in archery was creating the steel bow this weapon could match the power of the composite bow while not being subject to the problem of warping do to humidity. This incredibly powerful bow was capable of excellent range and could penetrate thick armor. However, steel bows would have only been used by elite or noble class warriors while common archers continued to use the highly regarded bamboo longbow. Iron shafts were substituted for the long bamboo cane arrows when armor penetration was needed, particularly against armored elephants and cavalry. Fire arrows also were employed by the Gupta, their long bamboo cane arrows being particularly well suited for use in these operations.
Gupta archers were protected by infantry units equipped with shields, javelins, and swords. They had no particular uniforms and dressed in accordance to their indigenous customs. Some warriors wore a type of tunic spotted with black aloe wood paste, which could be a type of tie-dye (or bandhni) that may have functioned as an early type of camouflage. Indian Gupta era infantry rarely wore pants, instead going into battle with bare legs. Skullcaps (more common) or thickly wrapped turbans were worn around the head to give some protection. Shields were generally curved or rectangular and featured intricate designs, sometimes decorated with a dragon’s head. The swords could be long swords, curved swords or daggers.
Elite troops and nobles would have had access to armor, such as chainmail, although the hot Indian climate can make heavy armor unbearable. Use of a breast plate and simple helmet would have been more common. They had access to better steel weapons as well, such as broadswords, axes and the Khanda, a uniquely Indian sword with a broad double blade and blunt point. The Khanda was a slashing weapon and considered very prestigious. Steal was developed in the Tamil region of Southern India between 300 BC and the start of the common era. Steal weapons were highly prized and traded throughout the Near east and ancient Europe. Indian steal was legendary for its tensile strength and knowledge of it fueled a quest for improved metallurgy across the Near east and Europe. By the time of the Gupta’s steel weapons would have been more come common in Indian warfare, but still only used by elite warriors.
War elephants continued to be used and pacaderm armor was advanced throughout this a period. Elephants remained a component of the combined arms tactics employed by Gupta generals. The use of war elephants coordinated with armored cavalry and infantry supported foot archers is likely the reason for the Gupta Empires success in war against both Hindu kingdoms and foreign armies invading from the Northwest. Another reason may have been a higher level of discipline compared to their tribal rivals. At its height the Gupta Empire had ¾ million soldiers.
The Gupta empire also maintained a navy to control water ways and their coasts. They also had a high level of understanding of siege warfare, employing catapults and other sophisticated war machines.
The Gupta Empire eventually collapsed in the face of a Hepthalite (Huna or White Huns) onslaught. This was another of the Asiatic hordes and was probably a confederation of nomadic tribes. Their origins are obscure, although their language is likely of East Iranian origin. They may have gone by the name of White Huns in order to associate themselves with the feared Huns of Turkic origins. The Hepthalite were initially defeated by Skandagupta which has been seen to mean that militarily the Indian armies could defeat them and that the fall of the Gupta Empire was due to internal dissolution. However, the collapse of the Roman and Chinese empires at the same time and to branches of the same invaders seems to point to something more.
Return to the Status Quo
Warfare in India had returned to what it was before the rise of the Gupta Empire, with a wide variety of kingdoms that could never achieve dominance over the others. This state continued throughout the ancient period of India and into the medieval and even modern times. The military of India continued to be a potent force, able to halt an Islamic invasion from the West, something the Persians, Egyptians and many other Nations where unable to do. The subcontinent was not united again until the arrival of the British Empire and its powerful military. However, their hold on power in the subcontinent crumbled and India was once again divided, a situation that remains to this day.
Siege Warfare in Ancient India - History
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Ancient Rome Links Page If you can't find it here. it's probably not out there :) A comprehensive list of links about ancient Rome.
Relying on Tacitus, Beowulf, and the Finnesburh Fragment, this Angelcynn (living history society) site describes the Anglo-Saxons fyrdsman.
Armour & Weapons (Later Roman Period - Middle Ages) Over 200 Articles: swords, blades, scabbards, suits of armors, daggers, small amours, letter openers, articles for decoration, military sabers, helmets, metal gloves, scabbards made with leather.
The Archaeological Museum at Olympia
Images of breastplate, helmet of Miltiades, and bronze battering ram.
Beginner's guide to Roman military equipment. Includes FAQ. Find out what the well dressed 1st Century Roman legionnaire wore.
Athenian trireme diagram - The most important naval vessel in the Greek world. It was about 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and needed 170 oarsman. This cross-sectioned diagram is reproduced from Arthur Ferrill's book, The Origins of War: From the Stone Age to Alexander the Great. (North Park University)
Battle of Syme
Article by Caroline L. Falkner, from Ancient History Bulletin evaluating the importance of Spartan victory at the Ionian island of Syme as described by Thucydides.
Battles of the Roman Republic
Summaries of the following battles: Cannae, Zama, Cynoscephalae, Pharsalus, & Actium written as the result of a class project. Includes images of Hannibal and the elephants, busts of Caesar, Augustus, and Scipio.
Catapults in Greek and Roman Antiquity - Catapults were invented about 400 BC in Greece.
Catapaults of the Roman Empire
Romans developed the cheiroballista and the onager. Site discusses the Siege of Maiden Castle, nomenclature, and methods of procurement of siege engines.
The Celts in Battle
Polybius and Livy on the subject.
Coins of Arados - OHG 3 - One side of a bronze coin issued by the citizen body of Arados (162/1 BC) has an image of a warship's three-pronged battering ram. (Oliver D. Hoover, The Hoover Collection of Seleucid Coins)
Coventry Boat builders Restorations and Replicas - These specialists in the restoration of vintage boats built an early test section of the Olympias for the Trireme Trust to demonstrate the feasibility of ancient Greek construction methods. The right-hand column of this web page also displays photos and commentary on their work on a one third replica of the 4th century B.C. Kyrenia ship for the Manchester Museum. (Coventry Boat builders & Chandlery)
Cronologia De La Epoca De Las Guerras Punicas
Almost yearly timeline of events leading up to and through the Second Punic War. In Spanish.
Greek Bireme - Just one of several pages on this new "Encyclopedia of Ships" site, this contains an overview of the ancient Greek bireme. Refer to the links on the left of the page for descriptions and images of many more ancient ships.
Greek Cargo Ship - Suspended from the ceiling of Manchester Museum's Aegean Gallery is the replica of the Kyrenia ship built by Coventry Boat builders. (Manchester Museum)
The Greek Navy - Two budding triearchs from British Columbia have posted their drawings of a trireme and a bireme along with a summary of what they've learned about shipbuilding and tactics. (Jeff N. and Jeff B., Brooke Elementary School)
Hellas:Net - Warfare - topics include the Greek army, the Persian army, mercenaries, the era of the diadochs and more.
Introduction to Ancient Siege Warfare
Explains the purposes of siege engines before describing specific sieges at Miletus, Thebes, Halicarnassus, Tyre, and Perinthus.
The Landings of Caesar in Britain, 55 and 54 BC
After Caesar finally established a camp in Britain, he had to leave. Maps of his troops' paths between Gaul and Britain.
Las Guerras De Roma Entre 264 Y 133
Roman War timeline from 264 to 133 BC. Includes Punic, Macedonian and wars in Spain. In Spanish.
Laws of War in the Roman Empire 350 to 380 AD
Laws of hospitality protected envoys. Military movements ceased during negotiations. Dediticii, those who had surrendered, were employed within the army were assigned to distant parts of the empire.
Map of the Roman Empre. -Taken from Longs Classical Atlas(New York, 1864), plate 4.
Maritime Greece - Though concentrating on modern Greek shipping, the site contains a stunning head-on photo of the Olympias reconstruction under sail (click on the photo icon on the left side of the page). A side view of the Olympias is displayed on the "Ships Gallery" page, and an explanation of "why a ship is a she" is thrown in for good measure (Greek sailors were probably telling this same joke in the 6th century B.C.). (Paiva)
Military History of the Roman State
Bibliography relevant to Regnal Rome, Pyrrhus, punic Wars, Jugurthine War, Caesar in Gaul, Civil Wars, Jewish Revolt, Huns, Vandals, and many other campaigns.
Models of the Roman Legion
By Gary Brueggeman. If you've ever wondered how the Roman legions were arranged, you'll appreciate the graphics on this site. Excellent bibliography.
Naval Warfare in Ancient India
Article by Prithwis Chandra Chakravarti, from 1930 Indian Historical Quarterly includes literary evidence and conquests of Ceylon.
Neolithic Warfare, by Arther Ferrill
Fascinating, long article discounting popular misconceptions about early warfare, including the idea that slings require a good deal of space and that populations were too small for warfare on a modern scale.
Article with accompanying maps of alliances of and schematics of the Peloponnesian Wars which began with Sparta and her allies laid seige to Periclean Athens in 431 BC.
The Persian Wars
Kent Factora's site, containing Persian War topical definitions, maps, timeline, and a seven item bibliography.
The Punic Wars - Polybius - Rome at the End of the Punic Wars [Ancient History Sourcebook] English translation of Book 6 of Polybius' History
Reforms of Marius
Greg Ong's answer to an exam question. Primarily concerns Marius' military reforms which created a professional military.
The Roman Army - Hosted by the Colchester Roman Society.
The Roman Army: A Bibliography
Extensive list, including sections on Campaigns, Battles & Military Areas, Officers, Centurions & Optiones, Legions, Recruitment, Finance, and the Navy.
Roman History in Cumbria
Second, sixth and twentieth Roman legions were stationed in Cumbria. Supplemental aid was found by recruiting locals into the Auxiliary forces.
Roman Legionary Forces in Sicily
Edward D. Clark's article on Livy's account of the number of legions stationed on Sicily from 214 - 210 BC (during Punic War II).
Roman Military Organisation until 104 BC
Before the military reorganization of Marius, the Roman army went through 3 phases with the legion reduced from 8400 men to 4000.
Roman Military Research Society. Legio XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix. Winner of the 1999 Military Illustrated display unit of the year award
Roman Military Sites in Britain
Glossary, bibliography, summary of military events, introduction to forts and camps built by the Roman army.
Homepage for the Society of Ancient Military Historians. Accepts members interested in promoting and sharing in the study of Ancient Military History.
Sargon's Eighth Campaign
Anthony Garia points out what we know about the Assyrian army from letters about Sargon's campaign in 714 BC.
Ships of the Ancient Greeks
An Annotated Collection of Internet Resources: Archaeology Sites, History Sites, Classics Sites, Museum Sites, Bibliographies, Syllabi, Articles, Lectures, Book Reviews, and Images.
Siege of Syracuse
Introduction, map, and relevant passages from Livy, Polybius, and Plutarch.
Sparta Pages - coverage of various aspects of ancient Sparta, including history, society, culture, warfare and more.
Sun Tzu on the Art of War
Lionel Giles' 1910 translation from the Chinese of the oldest military treatise in the world. Includes explanation of the treatise and legends about the military leader.
The Syracusan Expedition
Athens attacked the Spartan colony in Sicily in 425 and then again, under the influence of Alcibiades, in 415. Although in the first wave of battle, Athens gained the upper hand, ultimately, it lost not only the war but its political supremacy.
Tension Artllery in the Greek World
1995 article on Gastraphetes. Composite belly bow, whose research was commissioned by Dionysus I in 399 BC, made a welcome addition to seige warfare. Related section on the Sythians is unfinished.
Succinct article on the Athenian fighting ship. Includes specifications and consequences of owning a fleet of the state-of-the-art, polis financed ships.
Triremes - A summary of trireme oar arrangement controversy. (Borimir Jordan and Alec Tilley, Trireme Trust)
Vocabulaire militaire grec
Using Latin letters for Greek in the html, brief article describes the context based meaning of Greek military vocabulary.
Warfare in the Ancient World
Ancient warfare, covering the period between the Mycenaean World and the Byzantine Empire. The main focus is bibliographic, though other sections cover other aspects, e.g. other resources, course syllabi, etc.. Some sections are still under construction, especially the Byzantine material. Stored at: Florida International University.
Warfare in the Greek World
Bibliography on topics of strategy, logistics, siege warfare, mercenaries, equipment, hoplites, etc.
Historical games. Also a page of free downloadable goodies from Warhorse Simulations.
Greece - The entry for "Greece" from The Mariners' Museum Age of Exploration On-line Curriculum Guide. Though just a couple of paragraphs in length, the page is noteworthy for its coverage of two ancient Greek mariners: Scylax and Pytheas. Included is a map of the voyage of Pytheas. (The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia)
A Lost Painting by Polygnotos at Delphi, A Reconstruction Based on the Description by Pausanius - Images and commentary on ancient source material used for the reconstruction. Especially relevant is the first panel of the painting: Menelaos' Ship. (Glynnis Fawkes, Tufts University)
Warfare in Hellas - Naval Warfare - An overview of the subject including the evolution of the fighting ship, naval weapons, and sea tactics. (Martijn Moerbeek, Hellas:Net)
Warfare in Hellas - The Greek Trireme - A couple of images and some historical background on the Battle of Salamis and the famous race to rescind the Mytilene massacre provide a good single-page overview of the topic. (Martijn Moerbeek, Hellas:Net)
Trireme II - An updated version of Avalon Hill's classic now-out-of-print war game's rules and charts with Peloponnesian Wars historical background. (Chris Fawcett, Yankee Air Pirates)
Greek Trireme - Two photos of the trireme Olympias, the modern reconstruction (see below) on display next to a modern Greek warship at the port of Thessaloniki. (University of Alabama)
The Athenian Trireme Olympias - Olympias is a reconstruction of an Athenian trireme of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Historical notes, photos, images, glossary of trireme terms, and links to related sites all contribute to make this a web site worthy of its subject. [The Olympias is now on permanent display at Neon Faliron, a suburb of the port of Piraeus.] (Oxford University - Anu Dudhia for the Trireme Trust)
The Ship in the Mediterranean - An outline of an excerpt from lecture notes for the course, History and Archeology of the Ship. Professor Illsley's complete lecture notes comprise the best source of material on the subject to be found on the World- Wide Web. (C) J.S. Illsley 1995 (University of Wales, Bangor)
History and Archaeology of the Ship - This is the repository of Professor Illsley's course material on the subject and is an extremely impressive example of academic use of the World-Wide Web. The syllabi, bibliographies, and lecture notes cover the period 2600 BC to the late 16th century AD. Hint: Users with smaller monitors who cannot see the top frame's menu should first click on that frame and then decrease their browser's font size setting. (C) J.S. Illsley 1995- 97 (University of Wales, Bangor)
The Incarcerated Ship of Kyrenia - Poem by Nikos Kranidiotis on the shipwreck and reconstruction of the 4th Century B.C. sailing ship currently exhibited in the castle of Kyrenia, now under Turkish occupation. (POSEIDON: Hellas and the Sea)
The Kyrenia Ship - Overview of the survey, excavation and conservation of the shipwreck and its contents. (C) J.S. Illsley 1997 (University of Wales, Bangor)
The Trireme - Andrew Wilson tells it like it is (was): "Thanks to her fleet of triremes - paid for with money from the silver mines - Athens could run a highly successful 'protection racket', which extorted funds from smaller states under the pretext of protecting them against the Persians". (Andrew Wilson, The Classics Pages)
Ancient Galleys - A succinct, yet excellent, article on the Greek development of the war galley: the penteconter, the bireme, the trireme, the quadrireme, the quinquereme, and the liburne. (Stephan Schulz)
Original source text references to "trireme" - Over 100 hits from a search on Tufts University PERSEUS Project: Aristotle, Demosthenes, Diodorus, Herodotus, Plato, Plutarch. They all have something to say about triremes. Also try:
Over 1000 hits from a search of all texts using the key word "ship".
Over 500 hits from a search of Homer using the key word "ship".
Perseus Encyclopedia: trireme - PERSEUS Encyclopedia entry with over 20 photos from the Trireme Trust. (Tufts University)
Travelling to Delphi and Olympia - These pages explore the journeys of travellers to the Panhellenic sanctuaries at Delphi and Olympia. Chapters include: Ships and Sea Travel, Trade, Colonies and Ancient Travellers. The site seems to be "under construction" so repeat visits may turn up more material. (Maria Daniels, Tufts University)
James Joyce Speaks - Sound file (.au format) of James Joyce saying: "and our galleys, triremes and quadriremes, laden with all manner merchandise, furrow the waters of the known globe." (Tom Skipp and LibroNet S. L.) .
Battlefield Archaeologists Find Oregon Indian War Anything But Ancient History
During the decade before the U.S. Civil War, a different conflict made a big impact on the future of the Oregon Territory. It's known as the Rogue River Indian War. But unlike the Civil War battlefields in the eastern U.S. or American South that receive hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, you’ll be hard pressed to tour -- or even find -- those battlefields.
Now a series of archaeological investigations is resurrecting this Northwest history.
The Rogue River Indian War was an uprising against miners and settlers in southwest Oregon from 1855-56. There were massacres, reprisals, pitched battles and a final forced expulsion of native tribes from their homelands to distant reservations.
Looking back from 160 years later, two things stand out. Artifacts from the mostly-forgotten battles lie just beneath the surface. And the human interest in the conflict among descendants and neighbors takes minimal prodding to unearth too.
Digging at battle sites
A team organized by the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology just wrapped up a month-long excavation near Gold Beach on the Oregon Coast.
The SOU team investigated the former Geisel homestead where a family of German immigrants were slain or taken hostage by tribal warriors. Today, only a family cemetery remains for visitors to see at the forested, four acre Geisel Monument State Heritage Site.
A few miles away, the archaeologists led by Professor Mark Tveskov uncovered the foundations of a crude earthen fort. There at Miner’s Fort, native forces laid siege to more than 100 settlers and miners for a month in early 1856 until the U.S. Army arrived.
"You can see things you can't get just from the written word,” Tveskov said. “Like the desperation of the people at Miner's Fort is not captured in any pioneer memoir where they crafted a kind of heroic picture of what happened. Here we can see them cowering in a cabin being rained on by musket balls, burning their wagons and whaleboats to the last piece of hardware. That's the material record.”
The investigators say they were surprised by how many artifacts they found in what is now a privately-held pasture. Project archaeologist and co-director Chelsea Rose described one of her favorites, a broken chunk of imitation cut crystal.
"I love these because they are absolutely impractical,” Rose said. “They're heavy. They're bulky. They're breakable. They're everything you wouldn't think you'd want inside this fort."
Rose said she can relate to the unknown frontier family who in their moment of desperation chose to flee with a cherished leaded glass bowl.
"We live in an area that is (prone to wild) fire. I have had to evacuate twice for fire,” Rose said. “And what did I bring? Basically, the equivalent of this -- like photo albums, paintings. You know, nothing practical."
The Miner's Fort excavation plots produced huge numbers of musket balls, nails, a few musket parts, trade beads, bottle stoppers, pottery shards, crucibles and little pieces of lead type. Apparently, a set of moveable type from a printing press was being melted down to make bullets and lead shot.
Rose said the excavation unearthed animal bones broken into little tiny pieces, which showed the besieged colonists were desperate to extract every last bit of nutrition from the food they had.
Rose added that artifacts unearthed from the Geisel homestead showed evidence of extreme heat exposure, indicating when the pioneer home was torched, it burned long and hot. She said the researchers avoided uncovering human remains.
‘Reconciling the past with where we're at today'
While the archaeologists and summer field school students worked, they received a steady trickle of visitors bearing questions, stories or artifacts collected long ago. The cultural resources director for the Siletz Tribe visited several times. Robert Kennta said for tribal folks, the history of the Indian war "is not that old." His grandmother's father lived through it.
"That's very fresh in our family stories,” Kennta said, “how he by some miracle was able to survive the wars as an orphan boy spending that last winter in a kind of hollowed out sugar pine snag, just scraping by."
Kennta said it's difficult to be reminded "of all the suffering people went through on both sides." But he and other tribal visitors came to support the excavation.
"It's part of that reconciling of the past with where we're at today and understanding what your family has been through and your whole community has been through,” Kennta said. “In some ways, it can help you navigate toward a healthier future."
An Umpqua River valley man, Tom Richmond, journeyed to the dig to connect with his ancestors. Richmond said he can trace his lineage to combatants both inside and outside of Miner's Fort.
"Now that it is excavated, it really catalyzes the whole story and puts a whole new face on it," Richmond said. "I'm really grateful and gratified that (the dig) happened."
It's these kinds of reactions that motivate archaeologists like Tveskov and Rose.
"Everything we do as archaeologists, we're always trying to get back to the people,” Rose said. “All these artifacts are fun to look at, but really they are a means to an end. That is to tell the human story. "
"It is a community building exercise," Tveskov added.
Last month, the National Park Service awarded Southern Oregon University nearly $100,000 to survey several more Rogue River Indian War sites and then "tie it all together" with a National Register of Historic Places nomination. Tveskov hopes that eventually raises the profile of the battlefields and leads to better conservation and interpretation.
Specifically, the NPS American Battlefield Protection Grant will fund a survey of the final battlefield in this Indian war, the 1856 Battle of Big Bend in Josephine County, as well as a dig at the Harris homestead, another pioneer cabin that was attacked and burned down during the conflict near Merlin, Oregon.
Tveskov said those investigations will happen this autumn utilizing SOU staff, students and volunteers.
In 2012, the same investigators reestablished the location of the first battlefield in the war -- the Battle of Hungry Hill -- on BLM forestland near Glendale. Tveskov and collaborators previously conducted an archaeological dig at the site of the frontier Army post of Fort Lane near Central Point, Oregon.
The long-running project has also looked at a traditional native village site that goes back 5,000 years near Port Orford called Tseriadun. That was also a location of a concentration camp for displaced Native Americans prior to their removal to the Siletz Reservation.
A grant from Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department funded this summer's archaeology field school. Eleven students, four SOU staff members and four volunteers did the bulk of the work near Gold Beach.
Features of Ancient Societies: Weapons and Warfare in Ancient Assyria
The development of weaponry and methods of warfare
The Assyrian empire is known for its success and prowess with warfare and military. Assyria was one of the most successful military superpowers in the Ancient Near East until they were conquered in 612 BC by the forces of the Medes and the Babylonians. As the Assyrian military moved to invade the land of Israel, they brought into the region new forms of warfare including siege tactics, innovative engineering, cavalry and fear propaganda.
These options are two very useful archaeological sources for studying Assyrian Warfare, . Information on each can be found below. For more information on Assyrian Warfare in general, check out this useful article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Assyrian Horse and Rider Figures in the Lachish Relief
The 'Siege of Lachish' Reliefs
The best documented example of Assyrian Warfare can be found in the Lachish Reliefs in the palace of Sennacherib in Nineveh. They provide a great amount of detailed information on the military tactics of the Assyrians during their campaigns into Judea.
In 701 BCE, Sennacherib lay siege to the walls of Lachish, a Judean town in the southern Levant, as he travelled towards Jerusalem. Lachish is situated upon an important strategic pass leading to Jerusalem and therefore was an important stronghold and a fortified town. In order to conquer the formidable fortifications of the city, the Assyrians utilised their innovative tools and tactics of warfare. The Assyrian army surrounded the town and constructed a large ramp of earth leading upward unto the walls, allowing the army to climb over the fortress and into the city. Through this effort and use of innovative techniques, they were able to roll large wooden siege towers into Lachish and overwhelm the Judeans. The siege ramp of Lachish is so durable that is still standing today and can be viewed at the ancient site of Lachish in Israel.
To commemorate Sennacherib's victory, a relief illustrating the siege was carved upon the walls of the palace in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. The relief is of significant size, consisting of 13 panels continuing across all four of the walls of the room. They were placed within a central room in the palace of Nineveh. The relief is an important resource for historians, as it illustrates in remarkable detail the many features of the siege, including the unique forms of warfare utilised by the Assyrians.
For detailed images of the Assyrian Reliefs and an informative video, please view this website.
Warfare Innovations of Assyria represented in the Reliefs:
- Iron: Assyria was one of the first empires to fully utilise iron in the craft of weaponry and military materials. This granted the Assyrian army a great advantage over their surrounding cultural superpowers, who still relied upon bronze and wooden technology. Assyrian armour was often crafted from iron, protecting their armies and making their ranks difficult to penetrate. Assyrian chariots and siege weaponry was also often plated with the metal. This use of iron war-gear can be observed within many details of the Lachish relief. An example is pictured below:
The Assyrian army with iron shields, armour and spears illustrated on the Lachish Relief.
- Siege Towers: Siege towers were large wooden machines which were used to batter down walls or fortifications. The towers suspended large wooden beams that were tipped with a metal point. As well as forcefully pushing upon the walls, the metal points could also be used to loosen the brickwork by moving the beam in circular motions. The innovation of the siege tower, such as those used at Lachish represented in the relief below, was a major contributor to the success of the Assyrian army.
An Assyrian siege tower attacked by Judean firebands on the Lachish Reliefs.
- Psychological Warfare: The Assyrians used psychological warfare to arouse fear in their enemies. This included brutal methods of torturing their captives and exhibiting their bodies on poles and pikes. Parts of the Lachish reliefs even show Judean captives being publicly flayed by the Assyrian army. Depicting these warfare tactics in the Assyrian palace is itself a form of propaganda. Due to the reputation spread by Assyrian propaganda, many cities surrendered to the Assyrians during their campaigns without a battle.
- Are the Lachish reliefs a primary or secondary source?
- What elements of Assyrian warfare tactics can you see depicted in the reliefs?
- What other archaeological or written evidence can you find that relates to the siege of Lachish?
- How do the Lachish Reliefs compare to other sources available for the same event?
- What might the limitations of the Lachish Reliefs be as source of information about the siege of Lachish?
- How is the evidence provided by this source useful to an historian investigating the Late Bronze Age in the Levant?
Interrogate the evidence it provides. For example:
- Is it revealing of anything previously unknown?
- Does it help us understand the event(s) from the point of view of those involved?
'Horse and Rider' Figurines
As the Assyrian military moved to invade the land of Israel, they transported into the region a new form of warfare the mounted cavalry. Assyrian cavalrymen rode directly atop their horses rather than in a horse-drawn chariot. They were very fast and often armed with bows. The widespread emergence of terracotta 'Horse and Rider' figurines during the Iron Age in the Near East is a reflection of this new, intimidating military innovation. Horse and Rider figurines often possess characteristics of Assyrian, Persian and Phoenician cultural dress and style.
Roughly-formed figurines such as the example held in Macquarie University's Museum of Ancient Cultures, may have been crafted as toys for children (like the action figures of today) and are especially common during the time of the Assyrian invasion in Israel. The use of cavalry by Assyria is documented in the Bible (2 Kings 18:23):
Now therefore, Please give pledges to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them.
The prevalence of &lsquoHorse and Rider&rsquo figurines in Ancient Israel and throughout the wider Mediterranean represents the impact of the Assyrian military on daily life during the Iron Age, as their force continued southward conquering the settlements of Ancient Israel.
For more information on the Assyrian Cavalry, see:
D. Noble, "Assyrian Chariotry and Cavalry", State Archives of Assyria Bulletin, vol.4, no. 1 (1990), pp.61-68.
MU3185 is an example of a 'Horse and Rider' figurine from the collection at Macquarie University. You can view and manipulate a 3D model of this artefact here.
Ancient Weapons: The Game Changers
To discuss the entire arsenal of ancient weapons could, and has, filled volumes of books. For the scope of this series, we will discuss the general categories, game changers and those that are interesting and odd. While these weapons are in reality horrific and have caused untold suffering to humanity, they are still worth our attention. Advancements in ancient weapons could be the nuclear weapon of the ancient world, giving on society the edge and dictating the course of history.
Spears - Primative Weapon of Choice
Spears are one of humankind’s earliest weapons and they reigned supreme for a hundred thousand years. The material culture of our Paleolithic (500,000 BC – 8,000 BC) ancestors covers 99% of the total time that man has been making tools and weapons. This undoubtedly makes the spear mans most produced weapon. The spear has been credited with creating 450,000 years of peace on earth, as even an outnumbered man holding a spear would be deadly to attack without ranged weapons.
The spear offers its user a level of protection due to its long reach and found a place in many ancient armies. The simple spear is a cheap and effective, ancient armies often combined it with a shield when equipping the ranks of their heavy infantry units. Spears units were found in many, many ancient armies from the ancient Sumerians and Egyptian weapons, to the military of ancient India and Japan, and indeed around the world.
Spear warfare hit its pinnacle of perfection when used by the Greeks and Macedonians. Spear armed Greek warriors, called Hoplites, mastered this style of warfare as their city states battled each other over hundreds of years. The terrain of Greece is broken up by rough terrain so Greece never developed the Chariot or Cavalry warfare, but instead focused on the use of infantry. During the Bronze Age Greek warriors battled in the heroic style, each man fighting for his own glory independently. They considered the use of range weapons to be cowardly so their focus was primarily on heavy infantry. By the classical age of Greek civilization they had developed formation tactics. The Phalanx was developed, were rows of hoplites formed a shield wall, the left side of one hoplites shield protecting the man on his right. Heavily armored, spear wielding armies would form up and fight set piece battles. Casualties were generally light until one force’s formation was broken, then slaughter ensued as they fled. (See Spartan Weapons for mor detials)
The next strategic development took advantage of this when an astute Theban general, Epaminondas (ca. 410 BC – 362 BC), realized that battles between phalanxes were essentially giant shoving matches. Whichever phalanx had the strength to put enough pressure on their opponent caused them to break formation, route and loose the battle. It was correctly reasoned that if he loaded up one side of his line and had his weaker side trailing behind them in an echelon formation that by the time the week side engaged the enemy the strong side would have already broke their formation, winning the battle.
Greek hoplite tactics dominated the battlefield of their time two massive Persian invasions, the super power of their day, were defeated by the numerically inferior Greeks. However, the next major development would be made by their neighbors to the North. Phillip of Macedonia, who paid attention to Epaminondas' innovations, doubled the length the spears of his army (to over 18 feet!) and reduced the size of their shields so his soldiers could hold the long spears with both hands. This allowed the spears of the first five ranks to protrude from the formation instead of just the couple ranks like in a Greek phalanx. Enemies faced an impregnable wall of spear tips. Phillips son, Alexander the Great, then used this formation to conquer the known world (335 BC – 326 BC).
After reaching its zenith in the conquests of Alexander the Great , the phalanx began a slow decline. Phillip and Alexander understood that a phalanx was could easily be destroyed if not supported Soldiers could not defend themselves from attacks from the flanks, the ponderous phalanx lacked maneuverability and had difficulty holding formations on rough ground. Calvary, light infantry and skirmishers were deployed in combination with the phalanx. The tactics of Alexander and his father were gradually replaced by a return to the simpler assault tactics of the hoplite phalanx after his death.
The Roman military dropped the inflexible phalanx during the early Roman Republic in favor of a more flexible system after suffering major setbacks in their decade’s long war against the Samnite hill tribes. Around the year 315 BC adopted the system of the Samnites, called the maniple system, that allowed for more flexibility in the rugged hills of Samnium where the Romans were forced to fight. The maniple system has been called a phalanx with joints, each square maniple, about 120 men, could function as an independent unit. The maniples were arrayed in a checker board pattern this allowed space for skirmishers to retreat through the gaps when the heavy infantry closed on their enemies. The front two rows of maniples would then form a single line and battle the enemies. When this line tired it could then retreat through the spaces of the maniples behind it without disrupting their formations, and a fresh line of soldiers would take up the fight. Maniples could also be detached to protect flanks or any other task. The Roman heavy infantry was organized into three lines, the first two lines used short, double edged stabbing swords and the last armed with spears. The youngest men formed the first line, the hastati , after they tired they would fall back through gaps in the next line, the principes. The more experienced principes would then continue the fight, if they were having trouble they could then retreat behind the Triarii. The triarii were the final line and most experienced soldiers.
In the Pyrrhic War (280 BC) Rome proved that they were capable of competing with the armies of the Hellenistic kingdoms — the successor kingdoms of Alexander and the dominant Mediterranean powers of the time. The legions fought the Hellenistic, Macedonian style phalanxes to a bloody draw, forcing Pyrrhus of Epirus to leave Italy. Seventy five years later the Romans fought the Macedonians and their phalanx in the Second Macedonian War (200 BC). They employed a variety of tactics to break up the massive formations. They chose uneven ground to fight on, attempting to break the cohesion of the massive phalanx. Before the front lines met in battle the Romans let loose with their pila, harpoon like throwing spears that caused gaps in the enemy formation that could be exploited. They used a wedge shaped formation to attempt to break through the wall of spear points. The well armored Romans with their large, curved shields were able to exploit the gaps in the wall of spears and get to the Macedonians in order to break up their formations. Once inside the spears the longer swords and better armor of the Romans gave them a distinct advantage over the lightly armored Macedonians whose secondary weapon was a short sword was little more than a dagger.
In the end the Macedonians were repeatedly defeated on the battlefield. Their defeat is often held to have demonstrated that the Macedonian phalanx, formerly the most effective fighting unit in the ancient world, had been proven inferior to the Roman legion. Others have argued that the loss was actually due to a failure of command on the part of Perseus, the Macedonian king. They also dispute weather the Roman maniples ever succeeded in breaking the Macedonian phalanx by engaging it frontally. We will never get the opportunity to know how a Macedonian phalanx using combined arms tactics in the style of Philip or Alexander would have sized up against the Roman legions.
The Roman legions eventually standardized the sword as its main weapon, but they also carried the pila that could be used as spear in certain situations. Pila could be employed in hand to hand combat or as protection from mounted troops. The pila, like the maniple system, was adopted from powerful Semite hill tribes. The legions conquered the Mediterranean world with sword in hand, but spears remained a common weapon throughout the world. Roman auxiliaries and cavalry also continued to years throughout the period of Roman military domination. (See Roman Weapons for more details.)
From around 117 AD to the Western Roman Empires collapse around 476 AD the Roman army slowly changed. The sprawling empire was difficult to defend so the Romans became more and more dependent on barbarian troops. Additionally, a greater emphasis was placed on speed. The Romans concentrated on ranged weapons and cavalry at the expense of the heavy infantry. The infantry became more lightly armored as well and they acquired a heavy thrusting-spear which became the main close order combat weapon. Roman infantry had come full circle. During the 5th century, large portion of Western Rome's main military strength lay in barbarian mercenaries known as foederati. Between losing control of their mercenaries and hunnish invasions the Western Roman Empire collapsed.
In the years that followed, called the dark ages, spears continued to be used widely. Barbarian armies used shield wall tactics reminiscent of the Greeks as they jostled for their places in the new world order. Spears also offered an excellent defense against ascending military power of cavalry, if braced against the ground a charging enemy would impale himself. The Huns had introduced the stirrups to the roman world this allowed a spear armed man to deliver a blow with the full power of the horse, couching the weapon under their armpit instead of stabbing overhand as was done in antiquity. This was the beginning of the medieval knights, but even if a plate armored knight wanted to charge into a wall of spears, his horse might not share his sentiment. When a spear was braced against the ground a charging enemy would impale himself.
During the Viking age and medieval period spears developed into a variety of polearm weapons, such as the bill, the halberd and the lance. The long, two-handed Macedonian style spear also made a comeback during the medieval times. During renaissance and age of exploration Pikes had another heyday and were used extensively by close order infantry formations both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Pike and firearm formations worked together the pike men defending the slow loading and vulnerable gunners from enemy infantry and the deadly cavalry while the gunners provided a powerful ranged weapon. The fact that large pike formations were vulnerable to artillery and improved firearms eventually ended the era of pike formations. Although pikes and spears were still used, usually due to the lacking of quantities of more modern weapons, up through the 1800’s.
The spear had a very long history, from the dawn of man and even into the first several hundred years of the gun powder era. Today spears are manufactured and used for hunting by humans, chimpanzees and orangutans.
The ancient weapons series will continue with the other game changers, the sword, axe and bow. The final article will be about unique, strange and interesting weapons.
India from the Paleolithic Period to the decline of the Indus civilization
The earliest periods of Indian history are known only through reconstructions from archaeological evidence. Since the late 20th century, much new data has emerged, allowing a far fuller reconstruction than was formerly possible. This section will discuss five major periods: (1) the early prehistoric period (before the 8th millennium bce ), (2) the period of the prehistoric agriculturalists and pastoralists (approximately the 8th to the mid-4th millennium bce ), (3) the Early Indus, or Early Harappan, Period (so named for the excavated city of Harappa in eastern Pakistan), witnessing the emergence of the first cities in the Indus River system (c. 3500–2600 bce ), (4) the Indus, or Harappan, civilization (c. 2600–2000 bce , or perhaps ending as late as 1750 bce ), and (5) the Post-Urban Period, which follows the Indus civilization and precedes the rise of cities in northern India during the second quarter of the 1st millennium bce (c. 1750–750 bce ).
The materials available for a reconstruction of the history of India prior to the 3rd century bce are almost entirely the products of archaeological research. Traditional and textual sources, transmitted orally for many centuries, are available from the closing centuries of the 2nd millennium bce , but their use depends largely on the extent to which any passage can be dated or associated with archaeological evidence. For the rise of civilization in the Indus valley and for contemporary events in other parts of the subcontinent, the evidence of archaeology is still the principal source of information. Even when it becomes possible to read the short inscriptions of the Harappan seals, it is unlikely that they will provide much information to supplement other sources. In those circumstances it is necessary to approach the early history of India largely through the eyes of the archaeologists, and it will be wise to retain a balance between an objective assessment of archaeological data and its synthetic interpretation.
Indian army storms Golden Temple
In a bloody climax to two years of fighting between the Indian government and Sikh separatists, Indian army troops fight their way into the besieged Golden Temple compound in Amritsar–the holiest shrine of Sikhism𠄺nd kill at least 500 Sikh rebels. More than 100 Indian soldiers and scores of nonbelligerent Sikhs also perished in the ferocious gun and artillery battle, which was launched in the early morning hours of June 6. The army also attacked Sikh guerrillas besieged in three dozen other temples and religious shrines throughout the state of Punjab. Indian officials hailed the operation as a success and said it 𠇋roke the back” of the Sikh terrorist movement.
The Sikh religion, which was founded in the late 15th century by Guru Nanak, combines elements of Hinduism and Islam, the two major religions of India. The religion is centered on the Indian state of Punjab in northern India, where Sikhs comprise a majority and speak Punjabi. In the 1970s, agricultural advances made Punjab one of India’s most prosperous states, and Sikh leaders began calling for greater autonomy from the central government. This movement was largely peaceful until 1982, when the Sikh fundamentalist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers launched a separatist campaign in Punjab. Employing terrorism and assassination, Bhindranwale and his guerrillas killed scores of political opponents and Hindu civilians in the name of establishing an autonomous Sikh Khalistan, or “Land of the Pure.” Most Sikhs did not support Bhindranwale’s violent campaign, in which the extremists also assassinated several Sikhs who spoke out against the creation of Khalistan.
To appease the Sikhs, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nominated Zail Singh to be the first Sikh president of India in 1982, a significant choice because the Sikhs comprise a small percentage of India’s overall population. Most Sikhs distrusted Singh, however, because as Indian head of state he generally supported Gandhi’s policies. Meanwhile, the separatists occupied the Golden Temple and other Sikh holy sites and turned them into armed bases.
The Golden Temple, known as the Harmandir in India, was built in 1604 by Guru Arjun. It was destroyed several times by Afghan invaders and rebuilt in the early 19th century in marble and copper overlaid with gold foil. The temple occupies a small island in the center of a pool. There are a number of other important buildings in the 72-acre temple compound, including the Akal Takht, which is the repository for Sikhism’s Holy Book of scriptures and the headquarters of the religion.
To suppress the separatist revolt, which had claimed more than 400 Hindu and Sikh lives and virtually shut down Punjab, Prime Minister Gandhi ordered Indian troops to seize control of the Sikh bases by force in June 1984. On June 1, army troops surrounded the Golden Temple and exchanged gunfire with the rebels, who were heavily armed and commanded by a high-ranking army defector. The Sikhs refused to surrender, and in the early morning of June 6 army forces launched an assault on the temple compound. By daylight, the Sikhs were defeated.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the rebel leader, perished in the attack, allegedly by his own hand. The Indian government announced that 492 Sikh militants were killed, but the Sikhs put the number at more than 1,000. More than 100 army troops were killed and several hundred wounded. More than 1,500 Sikhs were arrested in the operation. The Golden Temple itself suffered only minor damage, but the Akal Takht, a scene of heavy fighting, was heavily damaged.
In the aftermath of the bloody confrontation, Sikhs rioted across India, and more people were killed. Some 1,000 Sikh soldiers in the Indian army mutinied, but these defectors were suppressed, and rebel leaders still at large were captured or killed. On October 31, in a dramatic act of retaliation, Indira Gandhi was shot to death in her garden by two Sikh members of her own bodyguard. This act only led to further violence, and thousands of Sikhs were massacred by angry Hindus in Delhi before Gandhi’s son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, called out the army to end the orgy of violence. Punjab’s political status remained a divisive issue in India, and disorder and violence persisted in the state until the early 1990s.