Innovation, Adaptation and Technology in Ancient Warfare

Throughout this module, the thing that impressed and surprised me the most, which was repeated in the text several times was that success in ancient warfare wasn’t based so much on technological or even societal advancements but on the ability of ancient leaders to innovate with their armies and adapt, integrating what they had seen and learned on the battle field and then including it in their own forces later on.[1]  In Chapter one, while it discusses the composition, formation and economic policies behind some of the early empire armies in detail, it is clear that the forces that were willing to adapt and integrate, learning from people they had met in battle shared the most success, although all of their empires were eventually to fall for various reasons.  The other striking characteristic of ancient warfare in the stone and bronze ages is truly how little it changed over vast stretches of time.

While there were technological advancements in this several-thousand year period like the composite bow, the introduction and integration of cavalry and the use of early siege weaponry, the cavalry in most instances did not replace the earlier chariot, but was combined with it.  Similarly, the bow was integrated with slingers and spearmen, with some soldiers carrying weapons alongside their bows for defense.

Armies throughout this period became more organized, even armies that utilized the integration of forces from conquered foes.  They began utilizing standard formations rather than a pitched melee and strategy and strategic maneuvers began to play a role in not only field combat but siege warfare as well.  Socio-economically, city states that were able to manage vast empires by setting up systems of government that answered to a single overseeing authority were generally more successful due to the lack of modern communication technologies, although early message relays were set up by several leaders to facilitate communication.  Despite likely numeric inflation, the armies also grew larger over this period from Xerxes infamous Persian army that invaded Greece to China’s forces.  Defenses became stronger as siege weaponry emerged, enabling defending forces to withstand sieges for periods of years.

With the use and integration of iron, warfare began to change at the end of this period, although chariots were still being utilized alongside more organized cavalry forces, and socio-political changes resulting from increased population and urbanization began to influence warfare, leading up to the classical age to come when a shift in warfare was practically all but inevitable.


[1] Christon I. Archer, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig and Timothy H.E. Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 9-61.

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