The Mesopotamia military is famous for its inventions and warfare tactics. The ancient civilizations were at constant war with each other. The reason for this is probably the lack of education and tolerance. Nevertheless, these civilizations gave us the basis of the most advanced forms of weapons that we use today.

Read on about the intuitive war tactics and interesting war weapons of the Mesopotamian people.

Mesopotamia Warfare

The Mesopotamians were very inventive people. Ancient Mesopotamia warfare was extraordinary because of its use of tactics, new weapons, and the discipline of the militia. Each predecessor took the task of defense more seriously than the previous one because wars were very common.

– The Location of Mesopotamia

The word Mesopotamia is derived from ancient Greek words: “meso”, meaning in between, and “potamos”, meaning river. The location of Mesopotamia was at a critical point. The region was situated between the fertile lands and rivers of Tigris and Euphrates. These lands and direct access to open waters resulted in constant disputes.

– The People of Mesopotamia

People belonged to specific classes in Mesopotamia. The classes were:

  • The King and the Nobility
  • The Priests and Priestesses
  • The Upper Class
  • The Lower Class
  • The Slaves

In every war that took place, the lower class was affected the most. The Mesopotamians were agricultural people. Wars destroyed their lands and the hard work of so many months.

Mesopotamian Military

In ancient Mesopotamia, war was a seasonal event. In non-agricultural periods, men did not need to stay back home and could fight for their King. The Mesopotamian military was divided into large contingents of troops, headed by members of the royal family.

Each empire that came fought wars differently. One aspect was always common: the discipline of Mesopotamia soldiers.

– Mesopotamian Soldiers

Most Mesopotamian soldiers were recruited from the lower class of people. In some instances, slaves used to join the military to free themselves from their masters. Every Mesopotamian soldier got meals for the day and a military uniform. Unfortunately, there was no compensation for their families in case of the soldier’s death.

There were four types of soldiers back then:

  • Foot Soldiers
  • Archers
  • Charioteers
  • Sailors

Let’s look at their training and duties of some of these specializations more in detail.

Foot Soldiers

Foot soldiers were the most common type of military men. Apart from being the front men in any war, they had the duty of the king’s guard. The king and the royalties always had foot soldiers with them and never left the palace without security. They also relied on archers, who stood their ground and attacked from afar.

Charioteers

Charioteers were the soldiers who rode the chariot and fought standing inside them. This type of warfare was invented by the Mesopotamians and can be seen throughout history later on. The horses that pulled the chariots were highly trained racehorses. There were three men on the chariot: a driver, a bowman, and a shield-bearer.

Like everything has a good and a bad side, charioteers were at a loss too. When soldiers were on chariots, one of them had to control and drive the chariot. Consequently, he could not take an active part in the fight. This led to a somewhat decreased number of actively participating soldiers.

Sailors

As Mesopotamia was the land between two rivers, there were constant attacks from the riversides. This is why sailor soldiers were a necessity.

– Mesopotamian Weapons

The Mesopotamians were most famous for their state-of-the-art weapons. Each empire brought something new and improved to the state’s weaponry deposits. Here we discuss some of the most noticeable contributions of Mesopotamians in the weapons category and ancient Mesopotamia weapons.

Composite Bows

Since the beginning of conflicts and warfare, humans have used javelins for fight and defense. Then came a shorter version of the javelins, the arrows.

Mesopotamians came up with the design and structure of a composite bow that let them throw the arrow to a much greater distance, with greater accuracy and speed.

These bows were made with pliable wood and soft but steady tendons of animals, like cows and horses. After this basic model, people got creative and brought about so many styles to the composite bows. The royalty and the high-ranking military officers were gifted stylish bows made from the finest wood and animal tendons.

Copper and Bronze Age Weapons

The Mesopotamians were experts in metal works. Their expertise revolutionized weapons. They used copper, iron, and tin to make weapons. They learned how to efficiently melt different metals and cool them to add strength and durability to their weapons. They fashioned full-body metal armors with metal headgear, axes, adzes, and maze heads.

Mesopotamians started using an alloy of copper and tin, called bronze, to make almost everything. From weapons to cookware to hairpins, everything was made of bronze. The weapons made from bronze replaced the use of stone, wood, copper, and bone. And this was an ace up their sleeves, as bronze is much stronger than copper.

Then came the advent of bronze swords, bronze armors and, most interestingly, bronze chariots. The full mechanical structure of chariots was made with bronze. This gave the rider more protection and freedom to drive the metal cart into the fight. The metallic armor weighed over 50 pounds.

– Early Defense Tactics

The ancient Mesopotamians used multiple defenses like battering rams, scaling ladders, siege towers, watchtowers, and mineshafts. The medieval castles and fortresses were built to withstand all and any attacks. Each castle was built with various hidden passageways for the nobles to escape in case all the exterior defense and army fell.

Newer empires started building walls with watchtowers around their cities to better protect the kingdom. This fortification of cities was seen to be very effective as it gave protection not only to the warring soldiers, but also to the common citizens.

Reasons for Mesopotamian Wars

Civilizations go to war with each other on various minor and major disputes. The Mesopotamians, however, had three major reasons for going to war against any other state. These reasons were:

  • Water
  • Agricultural land
  • Religious purposes

Even though the Mesopotamians were surrounded by water, many instances of water wars are present in history. The states used to fight over the channels of clean and fresh water. This fresh and nutritious water fertilized the soil, which in turn produced the best crops and yield. As the Mesopotamians were agricultural people, their wars were also based on agricultural needs and prowess.

Experts and historians consider Mesopotamians as highly religious. These people believed in many Gods and Goddesses. Each city had its deity that they believed in wholeheartedly. Whenever someone used to deny the existence and power of the other’s god, there were disputes. These disputes arose on a larger scale when the religious beliefs of different towns, states and countries collided.

Mesopotamian Spies

Ancient Mesopotamia used spies, called scouts. These scouts were deployed in various rival kingdoms to gather intelligence about foreign armies and their environmental conditions, so that the King’s army knew how best to attack the enemy.

These were highly trained, stealth spies who worked under the radar of the rival armies. In most cases, the knowledge that the scout provided was used to plan tactics and war strategies against the enemies.

Mesopotamian Prisoners of War

The Mesopotamian war brought in a lot of wealth and manpower to the winning side. The victors would keep all the weapons and alive soldiers of the enemies. The survivors of the war were taken as prisoners. Some were sold as slaves and some were sacrificed in rituals at temples.

Women and children were also taken as prisoners, but no accounts of their sacrifices have been found. Every prisoner of war was branded with a sign that showed that they were prisoners of the war and not the native citizens of that specific Mesopotamian city-state.

The Hammurabi’s Code

Hammurabi, the sixth king of Babylon in Mesopotamia, wrote a comprehensive handbook of law and justice. These laws are aimed at the betterment of society and the progression of civilization. Among laws related to administrative tasks, slaves, marriage, agriculture, and trade, these laws contained an extensive set of directions for wars.

The laws state that the prisoners of war should be treated humanely. It gave rights to the widowers and orphans of war. In the case of the agricultural lands of the dead soldiers, these lands were to be distributed among the neighbors or be given to his family.

Conclusion

After this rich overview, here are the major points to remember about the Mesopotamian military:

  • The Mesopotamian army was led by the members of the royal family
  • Mesopotamians used metallic weapons
  • Mesopotamians introduced chariots used for warfare
  • The Mesopotamian soldiers were mostly from the lower class of people or were slaves
  • The prisoners of war were marked with a stamp
  • The Mesopotamians used spies called scouts to gather knowledge from the nearby cities

Did you expect that ancient soldiers could be so advanced? We hope you were as entertained as we were in finding out the details of the Mesopotamian military!

References

  • “Mesopotamian Warfare: The Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians” History on the Net© 2000-2021, Salem Media.October 13, 2021,
  • Mark, J. J. (2018, May 02). Assyrian Warfare. World History Encyclopedia.
5/5 - (18 votes)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here