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Mesopotamian Warfare: Akkadians

Severe drought probably played a part in the fall of the Akkadian Empire, which suggests that this happened around the same time as the collapse into anarchy of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, also a time of drought and famine. In the more technical sections that follow, I have delved into all kinds of primary sources and academic articles to gather enough information to hypothesise what an archetypal Sumerian or Akkadian army was like and how it operated in battle.

I expect that in reality every army was subtly unique, especially given the time span and geographical extent we are exploring. Some details that we might think were typical might have been specific to one conquering city rather than its defeated foes. The tactics and organisation of armies could have been as varied among the Sumerian city states as it was among the Archaic Greek or Italian Renaissance city states, within the possibilities of the age.

Sumerian and Akkadian terms are both given in italics, and I have chosen not to put the Sumerian into capitals as is the convention in academic articles. The scribes who wrote about these armies used both languages. View Full Range. Black Powder Bolt Action What is Bolt Action? Beyond the Gates of Antares. What is Antares? How were battles fought in Ancient Sumer and Akkad? Sources of Information There are three sources of information for reconstructing how battles were fought in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian times and how the armies were organised and equipped.

These are: Artefacts. Finds of weaponry and equipment from archaeological excavations in the Middle East, and especially in Mesopotamia. Most of this region now lies within the modern countries of Syria and Iraq. Agriculture and civilisation developed here several thousand years BC, leading to the rise of numerous cities. Many such tells are now archaeological sites. Excavation frequently reveals artefacts including weapons of war. The actual armaments can be compared to pictorial representations on monuments, which often depict them in what is to us a distorted perspective, helping to clarify such things as the design of a battle-cart.

Pottery and bronze models of battle-carts are particularly useful. One wonders whether they were intended for a ritual game of soldiers! Incidentally, a board game was found in the royal tombs of Ur. Carvings, inscriptions and depictions of warfare on monuments have also been discovered in excavations. This type of evidence tells us what the troops actually looked like.

A victory stela was an inscribed slab of stone erected to record and commemorate a victorious military campaign. It would be set up in the temple precincts in gratitude to the patron god of the city, and as a reminder to future generations to uphold the rights of the city against foes and rivals.

Statues of rulers with inscriptions recording their campaigns served a similar purpose. Many such monuments survive as fragments, having sometimes been smashed by enemies when they managed to overthrow the city. Others were carried off to far away places, such as Susa in Elam, as booty by later conquerors.

Written records in the form of clay tablets inscribed in the cuneiform script. Excavations have unearthed archives of thousands of these tablets.

A History of Sumer and Akkad by L. W. King

Many still await translation. These included the bureaucratic and diplomatic records of the city-state, ritual texts, literature and historical records such as king lists. The scribes of ancient Mesopotamia and surrounding regions used clay as a writing material, unlike the Egyptians of the same period who wrote on papyrus. The soft clay was impressed with a wedge-shaped stylus and baked to create a permanent record, which can survive for millennia. The first languages to be written in this way were Sumerian, Akkadian and Old Elamite, as well as the dialect of Ebla.

These scripts reflect the languages spoken at this time in Mesopotamia and surrounding lands. Apart from recording the details of battles and campaigns, such documents provide first-hand contemporary evidence for how armies were organised and equipped, as well as preserving the messages sent by rulers to each other and to their generals concerning the reasons behind and conduct of their wars. A huge amount of information can be discovered in these texts. Texts supplement inscriptions, as for example in the case of the long border war between the city of Lagash and her great rival Umma, which now can be reconstructed from many sources, each revealing new details and anecdotes.

The Rise and Fall of Sumer and Akkad

Since texts already found are still being translated and studied, we can expect continuous new information from cuneiform scholars about the military history of Sumer and Akkad. The Evolution of Armies The evidence spans a period of at least a thousand years, from as far back as BC to the end of the Sumerian era around BC. Within this timespan we can distinguish four main phases of military development: The Uruk period before circa BC.

During this time Uruk was the pre-eminent city and Sumerian civilisation spread outwards over a wide area of the ancient Middle East resulting in the widespread rise of cities. The core region was Sumer, which is Southern Mesopotamia. Writing was a fairly new idea and records are sparse and mainly comprise economic texts.


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The earliest cities were ruled by priest-governors on behalf of the patron god. The rapid expansion of agriculture and consequent rise in population resulted in a crisis towards the end of this phase, leading to the beginnings of warfare between rival cities. Irrigation canals were dug across Sumer demarcating the territories of different cities. A crucial region was the land of Akkad, located to the north of Sumer where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed close together.

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