Ever wonder what warfare was like 3000, 4000, maybe even 5000 years ago? It was bloody, to be sure. And ingenious.
Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History by William J. Hamblin. Sounds like something you might fall asleep over, huh? But I found it surprisingly interesting. Mr. Hamblin has taken information from different sources and put it together into an easily readable format.
He focuses on the areas known as Mesopotamia, Syria, Lebanon, Canaan, Anatolia, and Egypt from Neolithic times and the possible origins of warfare to the rather sophisticated warfare waged in these areas to 1600 BC. Obviously, he has little but archaelogical artifacts to rely on for the prehistorical times and so this is a short chapter. But once he gets into periods where there are written records and artwork as well as archaelogical evidence, it gets more detailed. He includes pictures, drawings, and maps to illustrate his points, but I would have liked even more.
The major civilizations of the ancient Near East were Egypt and Mesopotamia and so most of the book is devoted to these two great river valley cultures. These are split into chapters (for instance, Early Dynastic Mesop., Akkadian Empire, Neo-Sumerian period, etc.) with an overview of the different time periods, focusing on each leader or king during that time and the significant military campaigns during his reign, noting weapon and armor styles and tactics and how these change and a description of the military ideology of the time. Where possible, there are lists of ranks and duties within the armies and navies. There are sections devoted to the sickle sword, war-carts and chariots, battle divination, scouting and spies, diplomacy, fortifications, siegecraft, treatment of prisoners, triumphal processions, etc.
The regions outside of Egypt and Mesopotamia – Syria, Lebanon, Canaan (modern Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), and Anatolia (modern Turkey) had their own cultures but were tied to those two civilizations. However, sources of information for the Early and Middle Bronze Ages are limited and those sections of the book are smaller.
This book covers a tremendous amount of ground and I found plenty of information for my needs. I have an idea now of what types of weapons and armor I want for my fictional military and the descriptions of battles and tactics are giving me plot ideas. Lots to consider.
Many would say that, for obvious reasons, warcraft in ancient times was a completely different animal from modern warfare. In most ways, I agree. But after reading Warfare in the Ancient Near East, I see at least one similarity. Human beings have been going to war for the same general religious, political, and economic reasons for millennia. As a lesson in human nature, this is a depressing fact. But as a writer, I can see infinite possibilities.