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Warfare in the Ancient World

Updated on December 23, 2012

During the long period of ancient times warfare and weaponry changed incredibly from the first rudimentary spear, club or rock to be used to the more complex sword, shield, and many siege weapons. As the human population grew and became more organized during this period settlements and eventually cities were built. With cities came the need to defend these cities and for some peoples the want to expand territory and take what others had built. Walls became a necessity for cities to defend themselves, over time large armies and navies were also built. This article examines the changes warfare went through during ancient times.

Once civilization began to take shape kingdoms and empires moved beyond simply modifying tools used to hunt game into weapons and concentrated on developing more complex designs.

Metal blades were created, this became one of the most popular weapons to be used in hand to hand combat. Swords, daggers and many others were made in all shapes and sizes. Shields were made to protect the combatant and could also be altered to be used in offense with bladed, spiked edges or other alterations. Other handheld weapons came in to prevalence as well such as varying designs of axes. Some with long staffed handles to be used from a distance, some with rounded blades, some with one part of the blade jutting down like a spike. The mace, in some cases it was a simple variation of a scepter in other cases round bulbs or even spikes on the end. Combatants also began using horses and chariots as well as many types of armor.

Catapult | Source
Battering Ram
Battering Ram | Source

Sea battle also began it's debut. Previous to organized civilization ships were not built well enough to journey away from sight of land. Travelling along shorelines and through rivers and lakes was the extent of technology. But as empires grew so did the ability to create ships capable of sea warfare. During the Greek / Persian wars sea warfare changed from ships that could simply ram one another and grasp the other ship, allowing soldiers to cross to the others deck for battle, to ships that were capable of making independent attacks from a distance. At the time the Persian empire sought to expand it's territory and conquer Greece but over a few decades this had the effect of uniting Greece to face a common enemy. A century later Alexander the Great would lead soldiers to conquer the entire Persian empire.

As far back as 3000 BC siege weapons were also used in times of war and were primarily developed to attack fortified locations, cities with walls, etc. Throughout the development of Greek and then Roman times these devices were streamlined and became more complex. By Roman times several devices were standard:

The Testudo is a vehicle with wheels that had an armored roof, soldiers would fill the structure and push it up to the structure they were attacking. It shielded them from attack from above.

The Onager was like a huge slingshot for hurling boulders a great distance.

The Ballista was like a huge crossbow for shooting very large arrows.

The Siege Tower was a tower on wheels that was pushed up to the walls of a fortification to allow soldiers to ascend a ladder within and climb unto the walls of the structure being attacked.

The catapult was another weapon used to hurl boulders at the enemy.

The Battering Ram was a large device used to ram the entrance to a structure being attacked to break the door down and gain entry.



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