Introduction: the roots of warfare
Stages of pre-civilized warfare
Warfare in the early Bronze Age (c.3000-1700 B.C.E.)
Then sometime after 2400 B.C.E., a new siege weapon, the battering ram, was developed, which literally pulverized city walls. Now invaders could either directly occupy and tax subject cities or sack and destroy them. This made possible history’s first empires: the Akkadians (c. 2350-2250 B.C.E.) and the Third Dynasty of Ur (c.2100-2000 B.C.E.).
One factor that has affected the frequency of wars has been climate change, such as the drought, which hit Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C.E. As food and resources shrank, conflict over what was left intensified, both in terms of frequency and brutality. Warfare was also more widespread and destructive, leading to fewer resources as irrigation systems fell into disrepair, causing more wars and so on.
Around 1800 B.C.E. Indo-European nomads came down from the north with a deadly combination of two weapons: the composite bow and the horse-drawn chariot. Together these weapons gave them vastly increased mobility and firepower, as well as the initial terror inspired by horses, hitherto rarely if ever seen in the civilized world. One kingdom after another collapsed like a house of cards before the onslaught of these nomads with their terrifying beasts. People known as the Hyksos conquered Lower Egypt, while the Kassites overthrew Babylon, and the Aryans moved into the ruins of the Indus River Civilization.
The High Bronze Age (c.1700-1000 B.C.E.)
Sometime around 1200 B.C.E., everything came unraveled for these civilizations, once again because of how they, and their enemies, fought their wars. Much of the advantage chariots gave their owners in war was psychological. Thus battles were typically fought between two elite groups of charioteers while the mass of infantry stood by and watched. However, typically behind each chariot was a lightly armed runner who would rescue their downed charioteers and finish off those of the enemy. Such runners, oftentimes foreign mercenaries, came to realize the vulnerability of chariots to lightly armed infantry throwing javelins to bring down both charioteers and their horses. Armed with these tactics, these peoples either weakened or overthrew the big empires and kingdoms of the day. Although Egypt barely survived, the Hittite Empire, Mycenaeans and Kassites collapsed, allowing the victors to sack and plunder the riches of these civilizations. The Trojan War, immortalized by Homer, also took place at this time. A period of chaos prevailed for the next 200 years, when a new metal ushered in a new age in warfare and empire building.
The Early Iron Age (c.1000-500 B.C.E.)
Because it is so plentiful, iron, often called the democratic metal, probably ushered in the real age of metals for most people in the civilized world once they had mastered the techniques for smelting and shaping it into tools. Iron created and allowed the exploitation of new forms of wealth, which often led to more wars.
Iron also revolutionized warfare, since states could afford to field much larger armies. Two other factors helped in empire building. One was the phonetic alphabet, which allowed governments to keep much better records on such things as taxes, thus giving them much tighter control over their subjects. The other factor was mounted cavalry replacing the more cumbersome and fragile chariots that needed a much flatter surface on which to operate. Mounted messengers also kept rulers much better informed on news such as invasions, allowing them to defend and expand their empires by a factor of several times. Therefore, the Neo-Assyrian Empire (934-609 B.C.E.) was three times the size of any previous empire. And the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 B.C.E.) was several times larger still. Besides helping build big empires, iron equipped armies would have a radically different political effect: namely, the rise of democracy among the Greeks.