Ancient warfare

Ancient warfare

Ancient warfare is war as conducted from the beginnings of recorded history to the end of the ancient period. In Europe and the Near East, the end of antiquity is often equated with the fall of Rome in 476. In China, it can also be seen as ending in the 5th century, with the growing role of mounted warriors needed to counter the ever-growing threat from the north. In India, the ancient period ends with the decline of the Gupta Empire (6th century) and the beginning Islamic conquests from the 8th century. In Japan, the ancient period can be taken to end with the rise of feudalism in the Heian period.

The difference between prehistoric and ancient warfare is less one of technology than of organization. The development of first city-states, and then empires, allowed warfare to change dramatically. Beginning in Mesopotamia, states produced sufficient agricultural surplus so that full-time ruling elites and military commanders could emerge. While the bulk of military forces were still farmers, the society could support having them campaigning rather than working the land for a portion of each year. Thus, organized armies developed for the first time.

These new armies could help states grow in size and became increasingly centralized, and the first empire, that of the Sumerians, formed in Mesopotamia. Early ancient armies continued to primarily use bows and spears, the same weapons that had been developed in prehistoric times for hunting. Early armies in Egypt and China followed a similar pattern of using massed infantry armed with bows and spears.

No clear line can be drawn between ancient and medieval warfare. The characteristic properties of medieval warfare, notably heavy cavalry and siege engines such as the trebuchet were first introduced in Late Antiquity. The main division within the ancient period is rather at the beginning Iron Age with the introduction of cavalry (resulting in the decline of chariot warfare), of naval warfare (Sea Peoples), and of course the development of an industry based on ferrous metallurgy which allowed for the mass production of metal weapons and thus the equipment of large standing armies.The first military power to profit from these innovations was the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which achieved a hitherto unseen extent of centralized control, the first "world power" to extend over the entire Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia, the Levant and Egypt).


As states grew in size, speed of movement became crucial because central power could not hold if rebellions could not be suppressed rapidly. The first solution to this was the chariot which became used in the Middle East from around 1800 BC. First pulled by oxen and donkeys, they allowed rapid traversing of the relatively flat lands of the Middle East. The chariots were light enough that they could easily be floated across rivers. Improvements in the ability to train horses soon allowed them to be used to pull chariots, possibly as early as 2100 BC, [Kuznetsov, P.F., 2006, “The emergence of Bronze Age chariots in eastern Europe,” "Antiquity" 80:638-645] and their greater speed and power made chariots even more efficient. The major drawback of the use of chariots is similar to one of its advantages, the fact that it is light. The lack of armor causes it to be extremely vulnerable to spears, pikes, etc.

The power of the chariot as a device both of transportation and of battle became the central weapon of the peoples of the Ancient Near East in the 2nd millennium BC. The typical chariot was worked by two men: one would be a bowman and fire at the enemy forces, while the other would control the vehicle. Over time, chariots carrying up to five warriors were developed. The effectiveness of these vehicles is still somewhat in doubt. In China, chariots became the central weapon of the Shang dynasty, allowing them to unify a great area.

Although chariots have been compared to modern-day tanks in the role they played on the battlefield, i.e., shock attacks, the chief advantage of the chariot was the tactical mobility they provided to bowmen. Because tightly packed infantry were the formation of choice, in order for ancient generals to maintain command and control during the battle as well as for mutual protection, a force of chariots could stand off at long range and rain arrows down on the infantrymen's heads. Because of their speed, any attempts to charge the chariots could be easily evaded. If, on the other hand, an infantry unit spread out to minimize the damage from arrows, they would lose the benefit of mutual protection and the charioteers could easily overrun them.

From a tactical standpoint this put any force facing chariots on the horns of dilemma, making chariots indispensable to armies of the day. Chariots, however, were complicated pieces of hardware that required specialized craftsman to maintain them. Such services, therefore, made chariots expensive to own. When chariots were owned by individuals within a society, it tended to give rise to a warrior class of specialists and a feudal system (an example of which can be seen in Homer's The Iliad). Where chariots were publicly owned, they helped in the maintenance and establishment of a strong central government, e.g., the New Egyptian Kingdom. Chariot usage peaked in the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, which was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000 chariots.


Chariots were also all but useless on the rugged terrain of much of the northern coast of the Mediterranean, in Armenia, Anatolia, Greece, and Italy. The Greeks thus were forced to rely on infantry tactics. Unlike isolated Egypt, Greece was frequently menaced by external forces, leading to constant local conflicts between city-states. In this high-pressure environment, infantry arms and tactics developed rapidly. The phalanx form was created, in which a solid wall of men could be far more damaging in unison than as individuals. The Greeks fought mainly as heavy infantry, and thus in the Persian Wars the Greeks emerged victorious despite far smaller numbers. The Persian army depended on archery, mobility, and cavalry, and while these tactics were effective on the vast plains of the east, in confined areas they could be defeated easily. Philip II of Macedon started equipping his phalanx with spears up to 20 feet in length, and his son Alexander the Great used this force, with heavy cavalry, to conquer the Persian Empire. However, when the Romans confronted the Macedonians the tactical flexibility of the Roman Legionaries allowed the outflanking and defeat of the traditional Phalanx formation. The Phalanx had dominated Greek warfare but was ultimately too inflexible to defeat a more mobile opponent. In the Middle East, which was then dominated by the Persian Empire, chariots had faded from importance. The breeding and evolution of the horse had continued and they were now strong enough to easily carry a fully armed man. Thus the chariot archers were replaced with horse-mounted archers and spearmen.

This development proved a severe disadvantage for the people of the settled lowlands. In a pure infantry conflict, the greater manpower of the agricultural regions would prevail. The infrastructure and training for chariot warfare was also only available in the cities. Lone mounted warriors were far more at home in the steppe region than the agricultural ones. Once the new stronger horses, and technologies such as the saddle became widespread, they were quickly adopted by the nomads living in areas where farming was impossible but a good living could be made by nomadic raising of livestock. These nomads would spend much of their lives on horseback and were thus far more effective at using the animals in warfare. For many centuries, the states in Europe, the Middle East, China, and South Asia were threatened by riders from the Eurasian steppes.


Although horseback-mounted warriors and raiding parties appear to have predated the chariot, [Gimbutas, Marija, 1991, "The Civilization of the Goddess" San Francisco: Harper.] the creation of effective cavalry units was a later development. In the 4th century BC, the Macedonians under Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great successfully integrated horse-borne warriors and the traditional Greek infantry, creating a military force of unmatched power. After conquering Southern Greece, Alexander turned his attention to the mighty Persian Empire.

At this point the Persians had largely abandoned the chariot, although they were present at the battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC against Alexander. Though it remained the emperor's ceremonial vehicle, their army was a mix of infantry and cavalry, as well as more exotic forces such as war elephants. However, Alexander proved able to consistently outflank his opponent, and the Persian army was routed in a series of three battles.

In China, the valley empires were being increasingly menaced by the northern peoples from Mongolia, Manchuria, and Central Asia. To safeguard their kingdoms, the Chinese rulers made extensive use of their superiority in organization and manpower, most notably in the massive task of erecting the Great Wall of China, specifically designed to block cavalry forces. The wall was not enough, however, and the Chinese rulers were forced to integrate cavalry units into their armies, mostly recruited from the same northern barbarians they were trying to guard against.

Although in most of Eurasia the mixture of cavalry and infantry became the norm, in Europe and North Africa a very different method of warfare was developing. The Mediterranean region is ringed by mountains, which make even horses difficult to use. Moreover, infantry is always far easier to transport onward by ship, so any society that could develop infantry capable of matching a cavalry force could dominate the region.

This was developed in the city of Rome, which soon began an unprecedented expansion throughout the Mediterranean world. Roman armies had little in the way of technology that was new; rather, they were successful through intensive organization and training. The Roman armies became a professional force of men who were committed for life and who, through their discipline, skill, fortifications, and sheer numbers, could defeat any other force in the region. To solve the problem of infantry's slow speed, they linked their empire by a network of high quality and well-maintained roads that allowed for rapid movement of considerable forces. Cavalry were only used as scouts or auxiliaries.

However, the Romans' success depended on an extensive organization and structure of their empire. Once this began to fray, the army also soon began to collapse. The horse peoples of the steppe had not ceased advancing, either, as horses became stronger, bows became more deadly, and riding equipment more effective. By the 4th century onwards cavalry rapidly began to take over from heavy infantry as the mainstay in the Roman army, the long transition from infantry to cavalry was by then well underway, to the point were it was the infantry that was supporting the cavalry not the cavalry supporting the infantry as it had been for centuries.

Naval warfare

The first dateable recorded sea battle occurred about 1210 BC: Suppiluliuma II, king of the Hittites, defeated a fleet from Cyprus, and burned their ships at sea.

The Persian Wars were the first to feature large-scale naval operations: not just sophisticated fleet engagements with dozens of triremes on each side, but combined land–sea operations. Ships in the ancient world could operate only on the relatively quiet waters of seas and rivers; the oceans were off limits. Navies were almost always used as auxiliaries to land forces, often essential to bringing them supplies. They would rarely strike out on their own. With only limited-range weapons, naval galleys would often attempt to ram their opponents with their reinforced bow to cause damage or sink the enemy warships which often caused the two ships to become joined together, and initiated a boarding battle. Only occasionally was a decisive naval battle fought, such as the Battle of Salamis in which a numerically inferior Greek navy destroyed the larger Persian force, after which most of the Persian forces evacuated Greece. The Punic Wars led to innovation on the high seas. Rome previously had hardly touched naval warfare, being only concerned with the Italian peninsula, while Carthage was a trading civilization, and so had developed a large fleet. Only by examining the ruins of Carthaginian ships did the Romans come to build an effective navy. Moreover, they developed an implement called the corvus which was a way of dropping a gangplank onto an enemy ship, this gave the Romans an enormous advantage as their superiority in close-quarters combat could come into play as legionnaires boarded the Carthaginian ships and slaughtered the crews with ease.

Tactics and weapons


Ancient strategy focused broadly on the twin goals of convincing the enemy that continued war was more costly than submitting, and of making the most gain from war as possible.

Forcing the enemy to submit generally consisted of defeating their army in the field. Once the enemy force was routed, the threat of siege, civilian deaths, and the like often forced the enemy to the bargaining table. However, this goal could be accomplished by other means. Burning enemy fields would force the choice of surrendering or fighting a pitched battle. Waiting an enemy out until their army had to disband due to the beginning of the harvest season or running out of payment for mercenaries presented an enemy with a similar choice. The exceptional conflicts of the ancient world were when these rules of warfare were violated. The Spartan and Athenian refusal to accept surrender after many years of war and near bankruptcy in the Peloponnesian War is one such exceptional example, as is the Roman refusal to surrender after the Battle of Cannae.

A more personal goal in war was simple profit. This profit was often monetary, as was the case with the raiding culture of the Gallic tribes. But the profit could be political, as great leaders in war were often rewarded with government office after their success. These "strategies" often contradict modern common sense as they conflict with what would be best for the states involved in the war.


Effective tactics varied greatly, depending on:
# The sizes and skill levels of both armies
# The unit types of both forces
# Terrain and positional advantages of both armies
# The weather

Often, if a general knew that he had an overwhelming strength advantage, he would attempt to attack the enemy's front with his infantry while keeping his cavalry on his sides, or flanks. This maneuver would be done after the archers and siege equipment (which were kept safely behind the infantry) had fired several volleys of arrows or boulders at the opposition. After these volleys had softened up the enemy, the infantry would then advance and charge the opposing front line. When the infantry had engaged them and their attention was focused on their infantry attackers, the cavalry would then flank in from the right and the left, decimating the enemy and leaving no room for them to rout (retreat).

In the case that the general's advantage was more slight, he might try to rout the enemy, as fleeing troops are far less organized and easier to kill than their steadfast brethren. This can be accomplished by attacking the weak troops (skirmishers) of the enemy with strong infantry, slaughtering many of them, and thus causing them to rout. Once one unit sees another unit routing, it is much more inclined to flee in the panic. An even greater achievement would be to break the will of the enemy general himself, (or kill him) causing him and his bodyguard to flee, leaving his army with little choice but to follow suit. This tactic attempts to start the domino effect, resulting in the entire opposing force fleeing the field of battle. Once the entire opposing force had been routed, it was not uncommon to use cavalry to destroy as much of the routing force as possible, weakening the enemy further.


Ancient weapons included the bow and arrow, the sling; polearms such as the spear, falx and javelin; hand-to-hand weapons such as swords, spears, clubs, maces, axes, and knives. Catapults, siege towers, and battering rams were used during sieges.


City walls and fortifications were essential for the defense of the first cities in the ancient Near East. The walls were built by mud bricks, stone, wood or a combination of these materials depending on local availability. The earliest representations of siege warfare is dated to the Protodynastic Period of Egypt, c.3000 BC, while the first siege equipment is known from Egyptian tomb reliefs of the 24th century BC showing wheeled siege ladders. Assyrian palace reliefs of the 9th to 7th centuries BC display sieges of several Near Eastern cities. Though a simple battering ram had come into use in the previous millennium, the Assyrians improved siege warfare. The most common practise of siege warfare was however to lay siege and wait for the surrender of the enemies inside. Due to the problem of logistics, long lasting sieges involving anything but a minor force could seldom be maintained.

By culture

Ancient Near East


For most parts of its long history, ancient Egypt was unified under one government. The main military concern for the nation was to keep enemies out. The arid plains and deserts surrounding Egypt were inhabited by nomadic tribes who occasionally tried to raid or settle in the fertile Nile river valley. The Egyptians built fortresses and outposts along the borders east and west of the Nile Delta, in the Eastern Desert, and in Nubia to the south. Small garrisons could prevent minor incursions, but if a large force was detected a message was sent for the main army corps. Most Egyptian cities lacked city walls and other defenses.

The first Egyptian soldiers carried a simple armament consisting of a spear with a copper spearhead and a large wooden shield covered by leather hides. A stone mace was also carried in the Archaic period, though later this weapon was probably only in ceremonial use, and was replaced with the bronze battle axe. The spearmen were supported by archers carrying a composite bow and arrows with arrowheads made of flint or copper. No armour was used during the 3rd and early 2nd Millennium BC. The major advance in weapons technology and warfare began around 1600 BC when the Egyptians fought and finally defeated the Hyksos people who had made themselves lords of Lower Egypt. It was during this period the horse and chariot were introduced into Egypt. Other new technologies included the sickle sword, body armour and improved bronze casting. In the New Kingdom, the Egyptian military changed from levy troops into a firm organization of professional soldiers. Conquests of foreign territories, like Nubia, required a permanent force to be garrisoned abroad. The Egyptians were mostly used to slowly defeating a much weaker enemy, town by town, until beaten into submission. The preferred tactic was to subdue a weaker city or kingdom one at a time resulting in surrender of each fraction until complete domination was achieved. The encounter with other powerful Near Eastern kingdoms like Mitanni, the Hittites, and later the Assyrians and Babylonians, made it necessary for the Egyptians to conduct campaigns far from home. The next leap forwards came in the Late Period (712-332 BC), when mounted troops and weapons made of iron came into use. After the conquest by Alexander the Great, Egypt was heavily Hellenized and the main military force became the infantry phalanx. The ancient Egyptians were not great innovators in weapons technology, and most weapons technology innovation came from Western Asia and the Greek world.

These soldiers were paid with a plot of land for the provision of their families. After fulfilment of their service the veterans were allowed retirement to these estates. Generals could become quite influential at the court, but unlike other feudal states the Egyptian military was completely controlled by the king. Foreign mercenaries were also recruited; first Nubians (Medjay), and later also Libyans and Sherdens in the New Kingdom. By the Persian period Greek mercenaries entered service into the armies of the rebellious pharaohs. The Jewish mercenaries at Elephantine served the Persian overlords of Egypt in the 5th century BC. Although, they might also have served the Egyptian Pharaohs of the 6th century BC.

As far as had been seen from the royal propaganda of the time, the king or the crown prince personally headed the Egyptian troops into battle. The army could number tens of thousands of soldiers, so the smaller battalions consisting of 250 men, led by an officer, may have been the key of command. The tactics involved a massive strike by archery followed by an infantry and/or chariotry attacking the broken enemy lines. The enemies could, however, try to surprise the large Egyptian force with ambushes and by blocking the road as the Egyptian campaign records informs us.

Within the Nile valley itself, ships and barges were important military elements. Ships were vital for providing supplies for the troops. The Nile river had no fords so barges had to be used for river crossings. Dominating the river often proved necessary for prosecuting sieges, like the Egyptian conquest of the Hyksos capital Avaris. Egypt had no navy to fight naval battles at sea before the Late Period. However, a battle involving ships took place at the Egyptian coast in the 12th century BC between Ramesses III and the Sea people.



Ancient Persia first emerged as a major military power under Cyrus the Great. Its form of warfare was based on massed infantry in light armor to pin the enemy force whilst cavalry dealt the killing blow. Cavalry was used in huge numbers but it is not known whether they were heavily armored or not. Most Greek sources claim the Persians wore no armor, but we do have an example from Herodotus which claims that an unhorsed cavalryman wore a gold cuirass under his red robes. Chariots were used in the early days but during the later days of the Persian Empire they were surpassed by horsemen. During the Persian Empire's height, they even possessed War elephants from North Africa and distant India. The elite of the Persian Army were the famous Persian Immortals, a 10,000 strong unit of professional soldiers armed with a spear, a sword and a bow. Archers also formed a major component of the Persian Army.

Tactics were simple: Persian commanders simply overran the enemy with massive amounts of infantry and cavalry, while from the rear they would rain arrows down upon the foes in massive volleys. It was said that a Persian arrow volley would blot out the sun. The reason for these massive numbers, were to inspire 'shock and awe'. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers would discourage an enemy and make their surrender almost guaranteed. If the enemy did not surrender, the Persian commander would send in the first wave, which was almost always enough in number to overwhelm any force. If that failed, they sent in the second wave, more troops of higher quality. If that too was unsuccessful, the final wave was sent, spearheaded by the famous Immortals. These tactics were generally successful in the Middle East, but when the Persians started to push into the west, against the Greeks, the light Persian infantry were unable to combat the heavily armored phalanxes of the Greek city-states. A major reason for this was that most Persian weapons were incapable of piercing Greek armor, as the Persians learned at the Battle of Thermopylae.


During the Vedic period (fl. 3500-1500 BC), the "Vedas" and other associated texts contain references to warfare. The earliest allusions to a specific battle are those to the Battle of the Ten Kings in Mandala 7 of the Rigveda.

The two great ancient epics of India, "Ramayana" and "Mahabharata" (c. 1000-500 BC) are centered around conflicts and refer to military formations, theories of warfare and esoteric weaponry. Valmiki's "Ramayana" describes Ayodhya's military as defensive rather than aggressive. The city, it says, was strongly fortified and was surrounded by a deep moat. "Ramayana" describes Ayodhya in the following words: "The city abounded in warriors undefeated in battle, fearless and chinskilled in the use of arms, resembling lions guarding their mountain caves". "Mahabharata" describes various military techniques, including the "Chakravyuha".

The world's first recorded military application of war elephants is in the Mahabharatha. [cite book|title=The Asian Elephant: Ecology and Management|author=R. Sukumar|publisher=Cambridge University Press|year=1993] From India, war elephants were taken to the Persian Empire where they were used in several campaigns. The Persian king Darius III employed about 50 Indian elephants in the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC) fought against Alexander the Great. In the Battle of the Hydaspes River, the Indian king Porus, who ruled in Punjab, with his smaller army of 200 war elephants, 2000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry, presented great difficulty for Alexander the Great's larger army of 4000 cavalry and 50,000 infantry, though Porus was eventually defeated. At this time, the Magadha Empire further east in northern and eastern India and Bengal had an army of 6000 war elephants, 80,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry and 8000 armed chariots. Had Alexander the Great decided to continue his campaign in India, he could have faced extremely strong opposition from such a large army.

Chanakya (c. 350-275 BC) was a professor of political science at Takshashila University, and later the Prime Minister of emperor Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire. Chanakya wrote the "Arthashastra", which covered various topics on ancient Indian warfare in great detail, including various techniques and strategies relating to war. These included the earliest uses of espionage and assassinations. These techniques and strategies were employed by Chandragupta Maurya, who was a student of Chanakya, and later by Ashoka the Great (304-232 BC).

Chandragupta Maurya conquered the Magadha Empire and expanded to all of northern India, establishing the Maurya Empire, which extended from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. In 305 BC, Chandragupta defeated Seleucus I Nicator, who ruled the Seleucid Empire and controlled most of the territories conquered by Alexander the Great. Seleucus eventually lost his territories in Southern Asia, including southern Afghanistan, to Chandragupta. Seleucus exchanged territory west of the Indus for 500 war elephants and offered his daughter to Chandragupta. In this matrimonial alliance the enmity turned into friendship, and Seleucus' dispatched an ambassador, Megasthenes, to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra. As a result of this treaty, the Maurya Empire was recognized as a great power by the Hellenistic World, and the kings of Egypt and Syria sent their own ambassadors to his court. According to Megasthenes, Chandragupta Maurya built an army consisting of 30,000 cavalry, 9000 war elephants, and 600,000 infantry, which was the largest army known in the ancient world. Ashoka the Great went on to expand the Maurya Empire to almost all of South Asia, along with much of Afghanistan and parts of Persia. Ashoka eventually gave up on warfare after converting to Buddhism.


Ancient China during the Shang Dynasty was a Bronze Age society based on chariot armies. Archaeological study of Shang sites at Anyang have revealed extensive examples of chariots and bronze weapons. The overthrow of the Shang by the Zhou saw the creation of a feudal social order, resting militarily on a class of aristocratic chariot warriors (士).

In the Spring and Autumn Period, warfare increased exponentially. "Zuo zhuan" describes the wars and battles among the feudal lords during the period. Warfare continued to be stylised and ceremonial even as it grew more violent and decisive. The concept of military hegemon (霸) and his "way of force" (霸道) came to dominate Chinese society.

Formations of the army can be clearly seen from the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor in the history of China to be successful in unification of different warring states. Light infantry acting as shock troops lead the army, followed by heavy infantry as the main body of the army. Wide usage of cavalry and chariots behind the heavy infantry also gave the Qin army an edge in battles against the other warring states.

Warfare became more intense, ruthless and much more decisive during the Warring States Period, in which great social and political change was accompanied by the end of the system of chariot warfare and the adoption of mass infantry armies. Cavalry was also introduced from the northern frontier, despite the cultural challenge it posed for robe-wearing Chinese men.

Iron Age Europe

Ancient Greece

The general trend of Greek military technology and tactics was dominated by reliance on citizen farmers who could only go to war when they were not needed in the fields. These soldiers organized themselves in to a phalanx, a dense body of armoured men armed with spears and protected by interlocking shields.

Infantry did almost all of the fighting in Greek battles. The Greeks did not have any notable cavalry tradition except the Thessalians. [Cavalry Operations in the Ancient Greek World by Robert E. Gaebel,ISBN-10: 0806134445,2004,Page 59,"... It is perhaps unlikely that by 500 cavalry played an important military role anywhere south of Thessaly, where cavalry traditionally dominated, but there can be little doubt that there were aristocratic cavalrymen on the battlefields in some ..."] Hoplites, Greek infantry, fought with a long spear and a large shield, the hoplon from which they get their name. Light infantry, the peltasts, served as skirmishers.

Despite the fact that most Greek cities were well fortified (with the notable exception of Sparta) and Greek technology was not up to the task of breaching these fortifications by force, most land battles were pitched ones fought on open ground. This was because of the limited period of service Greek soldiers could offer before they needed to return to their farms. To draw out a city's defenders, its fields would be threatened with destruction, threatening the defenders with starvation in the winter if they did not surrender or accept battle.

This pattern of warfare was broken during the Peloponnesian War, when Athens' command of the sea allowed the city to ignore the destruction of the Athenian crops by Sparta and her allies by shipping grain into the city from the Crimea. This led to a warfare style in which both sides were forced to engage in repeated raids over several years without reaching a settlement. It also made sea battle a vital part of warfare. Greek naval battles were fought between triremes -- long and speedy rowing ships which engaged the enemy by ramming and boarding actions.

Hellenistic Era

During the time of Philip II of Macedon & Alexander the Great, the Macedonians were regarded as the most complete well co-ordinated military force in the known world. Although they are best known for the achievements of Alexander the Great, his father Philip II of Macedon created and designed the fighting force Alexander used in his conquests.Before this time and for centuries their military prowess was nowhere near that the sarissa phalanx offered.

However prior to the improvements made by Philip II of Macedon army fought in the traditional manner of the Greeks that of the hoplite phalanx.

Philip provided his Macedonian soldiers in the phalanx with sarissa, a spear which was 4-6 meters in length. The sarissa, when held upright by the rear rows of the phalanx (there were usually eight rows), helped hide maneuvers behind the phalanx from the view of the enemy. When held horizontal by the front rows of the phalanx, enemies could be run through from far away.The hoplite type troops were not abandoned [Macedonian Warrior Alexander's elite infantryman,page 41,ISBN 9781841769509,2006] however but were not anymore the core of the army.

In 358 BC he met the Illyrians in battle with his reorganized Macedonian phalanx, and utterly defeated them. The Illyrians fled in panic, leaving the majority of their 9,000-strong army dead. The Macedonian army invaded Illyria and conquered the southern Illyrian tribes.

After the defeat of the Illyrians, Macedon's policy became increasingly aggressive. Paeonia was already forcefully integrated into Macedon under Philip's rule. In 357 BC Philip broke the treaty with Athens and attacked Amphipolis which promised to surrender to the Athenians in exchange for the fortified town of Pydna, a promise he didn't keep. The city fell back in the hands of Macedonia after an intense siege. Then he secured possession over the gold mines of nearby Mount Pangaeus, which would enable him to finance his future wars.

In 356 the Macedonian army advanced further eastward and captured the town of Crenides (near modern Drama) which was in the hands of the Thracians, and which Philip renamed after himself to Philippi. The Macedonian eastern border with Thrace was now secured at the river Nestus (Mesta).

Philip next marched against his southern enemies. In Thessaly he defeated his enemies and by 352, he was firmly in control of this region. The Macedonian army advanced as far as the pass of Thermopylae which divides Greece in two parts, but it did not attempt to take it because it was strongly guarded by a joint Greek force of Athenians, Spartans, and Achaeans.

Having secured the bordering regions of Macedon, Philip assembled a large Macedonian army and marched deep into Thrace for a long conquering campaign. By 339 after defeating the Thracians in series of battles, most of Thrace was firmly in Macedonian hands save the most eastern Greek coastal cities of Byzantium and Perinthus who successfully withstood the long and difficult sieges. But both Byzantium and Perinthus would have surely fell had it not been for the help they received from the various Greek city-states, and the Persian king himself, who now viewed the rise of Macedonia and its eastern expansion with concern. Ironically, the Greeks invited and sided with the Persians against the Macedonians, although Persia had been the nation hated the most by Greece for more than a century. The memory of the Persian invasion of Greece some 150 years ago was still alive, but the current politics for the Macedonians had put it aside.

Much later would be the conquests of his son, Alexander the Great, who would go on to create a style of cavalry warfare in which he advanced a Greek style of combat, in which he was able to muster large bodies of men for long periods of time for his campaigns against Persia. Cavalry also played an important role in Alexander's style of warfare, especially his Companions, an elite formation.

Roman Empire

The Roman army was the world's first professional army. It had its origins in the citizen army of the Republic, which was staffed by citizens serving mandatory duty for Rome. The reforms of Marius around 100 BC turned the army into a professional structure, still largely filled by citizens, but citizens who served continuously for 25 years before being discharged.

The Romans were also noted for making use of auxiliary troops, non-Romans who served with the legions and filled roles that the traditional Roman military could not fill effectively, such as light skirmish troops and heavy cavalry. Later in the Empire, these auxiliary troops, along with foreign mercenaries, became the core of the Roman military. By the late Empire, tribes such as the Visigoths were bribed to serve as mercenaries.

The Roman navy was traditionally considered less important, although it remained vital for the transportation of supplies and troops, also during the great purge of pirates from the Mediterranean sea by Pompey the Great in the 1st century BC. Most of Rome's battles occurred on land, especially when the Empire was at its height and all the land around the Mediterranean was controlled by Rome.

But there were notable exceptions. The First Punic War, a pivotal war between Rome and Carthage in the 3rd century BC, was largely a naval conflict. And the naval Battle of Actium established the Roman empire under Augustus.


The Illyrian king Bardyllis turned Illyria into a formidable local power in the 4th century BC. The main cities of the Illyrian kingdom were Lissus and Epidamnus. However their power was weakened by bitter rivalries and jealousy.The army was composed by peltasts with a variety of weapons. The Thracians fought as peltasts using javelins and crescent or round wicker shields.Missile weapons were favored but close combat weaponry was carried by the thracians as well.These close combat weapons varied from the dreaded Rhomphaia & Falxto spears and swords.Thracians shunned armor and greaves and fought as light as possible favoring mobility above all other traits.

The Dacian tribes, located on modern-day Romania and Moldova were part of the greater Thracian family of peoples. They established a highly militarized society and, during the periods when the tribes were united under one king (82-44 BC, 86-106) posed a major threat to the Roman provinces of Lower Danube. Dacia was conquered and transformed into a Roman province in 106 after a long, hard war.

The most important weapon of the Dacian arsenal was the falx. This dreaded weapon, similar to a sickle came in two variants: a shorter, one-handed falx, and a longer two-handed version. The shorter falx was called sica (sickle) in the Dacian language. The two-handed falx was a polearm. It consisted of a three-feet long wooden shaft with a long curved iron blade of nearly-equal length attached to the end. The blade was sharpened only on the inside, and was reputed to be devastatingly effective. However, it left its user vulnerable because, being a two-handed weapon, the warrior could not also make use of a shield. Alternatively, it might used as a hook, pulling away shields and cutting at vulnerable limbs.

Using the falx, the Dacian warriors were able to counter the power of the compact, massed Roman formations. During the time of the Roman conquest of Dacia (101-102, 105-106), legionaries had reinforcing iron straps applied to their helmets. The Romans also introduced the use of leg and arm protectors (greaves and manica) as further protection against the falxes.

The Dacians constructed stone strongholds, davas, in the Carpathian Mountains in order to protect their capital Sarmizegetusa. The fortifications were built on a system of circular belts. This allowed the defenders, after a stronghold was lost, to retreat to the next one using hidden escape gates.

The Dacians were adepts of surprise attacks and skilful, tactical withdrawals using the fortification system. During the wars with the Romans, fought by their last king Decebal (87-106 ), the Dacians almost crushed the Roman garrisons South of the Danube in a surprise attack launched over the frozen river ( winter of 101-102 ). Only the intervention of Emperor Trajan with the main army saved the Romans from a major defeat. But, by 106 the Dacians were surrounded in their capital Sarmizegetusa. The city was taken after the romans discovered and destroyed the capital's water supply line.

As a result, the king committed suicide and Dacia became a Roman province until 271.


Tribal warfare appears to have been a regular feature of Celtic societies. While epic literature depicts this as more of a sport focused on raids and hunting rather than organised territorial conquest, the historical record is more of tribes using warfare to exert political control and harass rivals, for economic advantage, and in some instances to conquer territory.

The Celts were described by classical writers such as Strabo, Livy, Pausanias, and Florus as fighting like "wild beasts", and as hordes. Dionysius said that their "manner of fighting, being in large measure that of wild beasts and frenzied, was an erratic procedure, quite lacking in military science. Thus, at one moment they would raise their swords aloft and smite after the manner of wild boars, throwing the whole weight of their bodies into the blow like hewers of wood or men digging with mattocks, and again they would deliver crosswise blows aimed at no target, as if they intended to cut to pieces the entire bodies of their adversaries, protective armour and all". [Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities"p259 Excerpts from Book XIV] Such descriptions have been challenged by contemporary historians. [cite book
author=Ellis, Peter Berresford
title= "The Celts: A History"
pages= pp.60-3
publisher=Caroll & Graf
date= 1998
id= ISBN 0-786-71211-2


Historical records of the Germanic tribes in Germania east of the Rhine and west of the Danube do not begin until quite late in the ancient period, so only the period after 100 BC can be examined. What is clear is that the Germanic idea of warfare was quite different from the pitched battles fought by Rome and Greece. Instead the Germanic tribes focused on raids.

The purpose of these was generally not to gain territory, but rather to capture resources and secure prestige. These raids were conducted by irregular troops, often formed along family or village lines, in groups of 10 to about 1,000. Leaders of unusual personal magnetism could gather more soldiers for longer periods, but there was no systematic method of gathering and training men, so the death of a charismatic leader could mean the destruction of an army. Armies also often consisted of more than 50 percent noncombatants, as displaced people would travel with large groups of soldiers, the elderly, women, and children.

Large bodies of troops, while figuring prominently in the history books, were the exception rather than the rule of ancient warfare. Thus a typical Germanic force might consist of 100 men with the sole goal of raiding a nearby Germanic or foreign village. According to Roman sources, when the Germanic Tribes did fight pitched battles, the infantry often adopted wedge formations, each wedge being lead by a clan head.

Though often defeated by the Romans, the Germanic tribes were remembered in Roman records as fierce combatants, whose main downfall was that they failed to unite successfully into one fighting force, under one command.Fact|date=June 2008 After the three Roman legions were ambushed and destroyed by an alliance of Germanic tribes headed by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, the Roman Empire made no further concentrated attempts at conquering Germania beyond the Rhine. Germanic tribes would eventually overwhelm and conquer the ancient world, giving rise to modern Europe and medieval warfare. For an analysis of Germanic tactics versus the Roman empire see tactical problems in facing the Gauls and the Germanic tribes


The early Yamato period had seen a continual engagement in the Korean Peninsula until Japan finally withdrew, along with the remaining forces of the Baekje Kingdom. Several battles occurred in these periods as the Emperor's succession gained importance. By the Nara period, Honshū was completely under the control of the Yamato clan. Near the end of the Heian period, samurai became a powerful political force, thus starting the feudal period.

Important ancient wars

*Greco-Persian Wars:The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Greek world and the Persian Empire that began around 500 BC and lasted until 448 BC.
*Peloponnesian War:The Peloponnesian War was begun in 431 BC between the Athenian Empire and the Peloponnesian League which included Sparta and Corinth. The war was documented by Thucydides, an Athenian general, in his work "The History of The Peloponnesian War". The war lasted 27 years, with a brief truce in the middle.
*Punic Wars:The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and the city of Carthage (a Phoenician descendant). They are known as the "Punic" Wars because Rome's name for Carthaginians was "Punici" (older "Poeni", due to their Phoenician ancestry).
#The First Punic War was primarily a naval war fought between 264 BC and 241 BC.
#The Second Punic War is famous for Hannibal's crossing of the Alps and was fought between 218 BC and 202 BC.
#The Third Punic War resulted in the destruction of Carthage and was fought between 149 BC and 146 BC.
*Roman-Persian Wars:The Roman-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Roman Empire and Persian Empire that began between the Roman Republic and Parthia in 92 BC and lasted until the Eastern Roman Empire and Sassanid Empire in 627 AD. This series of conflicts became the longest war between two entities in all of history, until it eventually came to an end with the Arab Muslim conquests of the 7th century.

Important ancient battles

*Battle of Megiddo, c. 1457 BC
*Battle of the Ten Kings, c. 1400 BC
*Battle of Kadesh, 1274 BC
*Battle of Muye, 1046 BC
*Battle of Megiddo, 609 BC
*Battle of Pteria, 547 BC
*Battle of Thymbra, 546 BC
*Battle of Marathon, 490 BC
*Battle of Salamis, 480 BC
*Battle of Thermopylae, 480 BC
*Battle of Mycale, 479 BC
*Battle of the Allia, 387 BC
*Battle of Chaeronea, 338 BC
*Battle of Issus, 333 BC
*Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC
*Battle of the Persian Gate, 330 BC
*Battle of the Hydaspes River, 326 BC
*Siege of Saguntum, 218 BC
*Battle of Ticinus, 218 BC
*Battle of the Trebia, 218 BC
*Battle of Lake Trasimene, 217 BC
*Battle of Ager Falernus, 217 BC
*Battle of Geronium, 217 BC
*Battle of Cannae, 216 BC
*Battle of the Metaurus, 207 BC
*Battle of Tao River, 204 BC
*Battle of Wei River, 204 BC
*Battle of Gaixia, 202 BC
*Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC
*Battle of Pharsalus, 48 BC
*Battle of Actium, 31 BC
*Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, AD 9
*Battle of Ikh Bayan, 89
*Battle of Red Cliffs, 208
*Battle of Edessa, 259
*Battle of Adrianople, 378
*Battle of Fei River, 383
*Battle of Chalons, 451
*Sack of Rome, 455

Unit types

** Archery
** Slingman
** Peltast
** Hoplite
** Persian Immortal
** Phalanx
*** Macedonian phalanx
** Legion
*** Legionary
** Cataphract
** Clibanarii
** Horse archer
** Chariot
** War elephant
*Artillery and siege engines
** Catapult
** Onager
** Ballista
** Scorpio
** Siege tower
** Battering ram

ee also

* Horses in warfare
* Women in warfare



#Anglim, Simon, and Phyllis G. Jestice. "Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World (3000 B.C. to 500 A.D.): Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics". Dunne Books: 2003. ISBN 0-312-30932-5.
#Bradford, Alfred S. "With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World." Praeger Publishing: 2001. ISBN 0-275-95259-2.
#Connolly, Peter. "Greece and Rome at War". Greenhill Books: 1998. ISBN 1-85367-303-X.
#Gabriel, Richard A. "The Great Armies of Antiquity". Praeger Publishing: 2002. ISBN 0-275-97809-5
#Gichon, Mordechai, and Chaim Herzog. "Battles of the Bible". Greenhill Books: 2002. ISBN 1-85367-477-X.
#Goldsworthy, Adrian. "The Complete Roman Army". Thames & Hudson: 2003. ISBN 0-500-05124-0.
#Keegan, John. "A History of Warfare". Vintage: 1993. ISBN 0-679-73082-6.
#Kern, Paul Bentley. "Ancient Siege Warfare". Indiana University Press: 1999. ISBN 0-253-33546-9.
#Leblanc, Steven A. "Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest". University of Utah Press: 1999. ISBN 0-87480-581-3.
#Mayor, Adrienne. "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World". Overlook Press: 2003. ISBN 1-58567-348-X.
#Peers, Chris J. "Ancient Chinese Armies 1500–200 BC". Osprey Publishing: 1990. ISBN 0-85045-942-7.
#Peers, Chris J., and Michael Perry. "Imperial Chinese Armies : 200 BC–589 AD". Osprey Publishing: 1995. ISBN 1-85532-514-4.
#Sabin, Philip. "Lost Battles: Reconstructing The Great Clashes of the Ancient World". Hambledon Continuum: 2007. ISBN 1-84725-187-0.
#Van Creveld, Martin. "Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present". Free Press: 1991. ISBN 0-02-933153-6.
#Warry, John Gibson, and John Warry. "Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors and Warfare in the Ancient Civilisations of Greece and Rome". University of Oklahoma Press: 1999.

External links

* [ War in Ancient India]
* [ Evolution of Sling Weapons]
* [ War in ancient Greece : a bibliography]

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