Make your own free website on

Warfare in the Third Millenium BC


At the beginning of the third millennium BC, the success of intensive, irrigated agriculture on the plains of Egypt and the Near East changed the culture of organized war-making, which had previously consisted of small skirmishes between rival groups of nomadic tribesmen.


Hydraulic projects, improved agronomic techniques, and planned economies at Sumer, Ur, Babylon, Assur, Nimrud, and Egypt created the necessary capital to support armies, logistics, and fortifications.


Far more important, sophisticated agriculture instilled an overriding territorial impulse: growing but stationary populations sought ever more effective ways to defend and to acquire productive farmland. Furthermore, the Near East provided the ideal arena for large, mobile armies: warm weather during a long growing season, coupled with extensive plains, broken by accessible rivers.


Rugged mountains, swamps, snow, ice, and sudden rain - the banes of large-scale and decisive military operations - were all but absent.


The agricultural surpluses of the Sumerians, Hittites, and Egyptians freed a sizeable minority of those peoples from the daily burden of producing food; they could instead fabricate metals for weapons and raise horses to draw war chariots.


Yet complex warfare was not merely the consequence of new bronze metals, edged weapons, or increases in the numbers of ponies, dramatic as these new developments were. Just as important was a novel social and economic complexity centring around the 'palace', an institution that created underlords with specialized military, political, and religious responsibilities - precisely those disciplines prerequisite for war on any large scale.


The Hittites, Egyptians, and Assyrians for the first time possessed the capability to muster enormous armies. They were able and willing to extinguish thousands of combatants in a single battle, obliterating entire cultures through the directives and sanction of powerful religious and political palace officials. Thus the early Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser (c. 1100 BC) in near epic terms bragged of his destruction of Hunusa:


Their fighting men I cast down in the midst of the hills, like a gust of wind. I cut off their heads like lambs; their blood I caused to flow in the valleys and on the high places of the mountains...That city I captured; their gods I carried away; I brought out their goods and their possessions, and I burned the city with fire.


The three great walls of their city which were strongly built of burnt brick, and the whole of the city I laid waste, I destroyed, I turned into heaps and ruins and I sowed crops thereon.