Ancient Warfare: 8 of the Greatest Warrior Cultures of Ancient Times

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10,000 years ago, a group of rival hunter-gatherers fought on the shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The event was the first known warlike encounter in human history. Since then, humanity has found increasingly innovative ways to solve disputes over territory and resources settle grudges or satisfy a need for power and pure greed. Between the fourth millennium BC and the fourth century AD, many cultures relied upon their military prowess. Their tactics and innovations in the ways of war built their empires and their reputation as fearsome warrior cultures. Here are just eight of them.

The Akkadians. Google Images

The Akkadians

 Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization. So it is no surprise that it was also the birthplace of organized warfare. The ancient Sumerians pioneered war and conquest, in the same way as they did city building, religion, and commerce. But it took a successive civilization to perfect it. In the third millennium BC, the Akkadians developed the first professional army, the first military dictatorship, and the world’s first real empire. It was an empire that lasted two centuries and stretched across the Middle East.

The Akkadian Empire began in the Mesopotamian region of Akkad, north of the established Sumerian city-states. The people of Akkad were Semitic, an emerging culture that was subservient to the culturally dominant Sumerians. However, one man was about to change this. His name was Sargon, the Semitic cupbearer of Ur Zababa, King of Kish, one of Sumeria’s pre-eminent cities. Sargon had achieved his position through merit. But he knew as a Semite he could not hope for further promotion. So he decided to help himself.

Sargon began by overthrowing his master and becoming King in his place. But he knew if he was to hold onto his power, he had to remove any potential opposition. So Sargon decided to move against the Sumerian’s first. He attacked successive Sumerian city-states, putting their leaders to death until he had united the whole of Mesopotamia under the rule of Akkad, his capital city. By the end of his 50-year reign, Sargon had fought 34 wars, adopted the epithet ‘the great’ and able to bequeath an empire to five generations of his family. So how did he achieve this feat?

The first step was a professional, standing army, something the Sumerian’s did not have. They only called citizens to arm at need. Sargon organized a core of 5400 men who formed his trusted forces. But he also implemented a clever recruitment technique. Each conquered city was required to contribute a certain number of soldiers to the Akkadian army. The men swelled the ranks of the military while ensuring the loyalty of the subdued states.

Rather than organize his forces by regions as the Sumerians did, Sargon mixed them up. He dispensed with single line combat and ordered each phalanx to fight six men deep. Chariots, which were drawn by donkeys, cumbersome and vulnerable to attack were relegated to transport only. But it was Sargon’s grandson Naram Sin who implemented a weapon that gave the Akkadian’s an added edge: the composite bow. The bow was constructed of wood, horn and animal sinew melded together for extra strength, the composite bow could fire arrows twice the distance of an ordinary bow- and pierce leather armor.

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  • Beverley Davis

    The Spartan men moved home at 30. Damn now what else have you gotten wrong? Sheesh.

    • Natasha Sheldon

      Please read the article again. No where do i say that. At 7, spartan males moved OUT of home. They moved into more advanced training at 12 and at 20 (if they survived) they became full warriors who lived in barracks even when married. Not really sure where you got ‘Spartan men moved home at 30.

      • JKrazy

        lol what about the hittites winning kadesh?

  • Dev Narayan

    *Sumerians

  • Dev Narayan

    There it is again. Hittites, not Hittite’s. To make something plural you add an s. Not an apostrophe s. You’re a writer, for God’s sake.

  • Tre Murray

    but you dont make any mention of the japanese or aztecs? trash article.

    • Cliff9013

      The samurai didn’t emerge until around the 11th century, and the Aztecs only emerged in the 14th century. The time period in this article predates both warrior cultures

      • Natasha Sheldon

        Thanks Cliff9013. Tre Murray- if you read the introductory passage, it clearly states the time period I am looking at. It also states that this is not an exhaustive list of ancient warrior societies- it is a selection.

        • Cliff9013

          Natasha you still need to explain how the Hittites suddenly won the Battle of Kadesh

  • Cliff9013

    What source did you use for the Hittites? Everything I’ve ever read says Rameses and the Egyptians won the Battle of Kadesh, unless I’m wrong about that then you’ve clearly just changed things around to fit your narrative. You even switched the numbers for the armies around.

  • Natasha Sheldon

    Thanks for your question Cliff9013. I looked at a variety of sources and i can assure you I haven’t changed things round to suit my narrative. One source was The British Museum’s ‘Dictionary of the Ancient Near East, ” which states that Kadesh was in Hittite control after the battle. Rameses may have claimed a victory- but after the Battle, Kadesh remained in Hittite hands and Rameses hot footed it to Damascus with what remained of his troops. The hittites, meanwhile, still had 1000 chariots in tact. So suppose it depends on what you class as a victory. Did the Hittites completely defeat the Egyptian forces? No as clearly Rameses was free to retreat, his power intact. But did the Hittites hold Kadesh, the prize both sides fought for and still have an impressive force? And the Hittites did have the smaller force.

  • Natasha Sheldon

    Each segment is kept brief by design- which obviously means I’m giving an overview of the culture, not a full account of individual battles. But Kadesh is an interesting battle ( and resulted in the first peace treaty) so maybe your question has raised an idea for another article.

  • Natasha Sheldon

    Why I say the hittites won at kadesh: they took the city and never lost it. Ramases fled to Damascus after he cleared Hittite troops into the Orontes river. But the Hittite king still had reserves he could have sent. Egyptian records of the battle are now recognised as propoganda by archaeologists and ancient historians. I will deal with this fully another time.