Mesopotamian Warfare
How Ancient Mesopotamian Warfare Destroyed a Nation.


How it All Began…

As cities began to develop, their trade territories increased, allowing them to gain more food, water, and other essential materials. Unfortunately, the past is not all smiley faces and rainbows. As cities began to expand their trade, they began to overlap trade routes. Arguing broke out between the cities over who owned what and pretty soon people where yelling: “I DECLARE TOTAL WAR” at their neighbors. This made it extremely hard to produce the essentials that the cities needed. During these battles farmland was damaged and/or burned, and many people starved as a result. This would continue until one side surrendered or their city, or cities where captured. This caused an unstable foundation for a civilization to form, and would eventually lead to the downfall of the Akkadian people…

The First War…


691px-Stele_of_Vultures_detail_01.jpg As cities began to develop more powerful weapons, and train stronger soldiers at a faster rate, until eventually they ran out of soldiers or one of the cities was captured. It took nearly 2000 years for Sumerians to finally develop a successfully, quick, easy to use and effective types of warfare and attack formations. The first recorded war of the Sumerian cities in ancient Mesopotamia was the battle between Lagash and Umma, recorded on the "Stele of Vultures". This fragrant of the Stele shows the King of Lagash (top right and bottom right) leading his army, which consisted mostly of infantry (bottom left) carrying spears and shields made of straw, metal or wood.

Weapons and Strategy…

The illustration in the top left corner suggests that the Sumerian armies had coordinated attack plans. The position being displayed on the Stele is most likely a phalanx formation, a formation that required extreme discipline and, later, was a popular Roman formation. This formation suggests that the Sumerians had very high expectations for their soldiers. A phalanx was made by having a large group of soldiers lock their shields together in a protective circle/square, with each shield coming over the top of the shield wall or in between, advancing slowly. There was usually a group of soldiers in the middle, either shooting arrows or spears, making a shield ceiling by raising their shields to protect themselves an there comrades, or waiting for the formation to advance within the enemies formation before exiting the formation and plowing through the enemy lines. Along with spears, the soldiers also used a variety of weapons such as the battle axe, axe, short bow dagger, short sword, sword, two-handed sword (great sword), mace, club, javelin, lance, pole arm (a wooden pole with some sort of blade or spikes, or a large weight, e.g. a scythe), sling (long range slingshot), spear, or a staff. Later, crossbows, longbows and war hammers were incorporated into Mesopotamian warfare.

The Persian Invasion…

The Akkadian’s final chapter

Persian Campain of Babylon
Around 562 BCE Mesopotamia fell to the Persian Empire, led by King Cyrus the great. The campaign consisted of the capture of the City of Opis, then Sippar, and lastly, the capital – Babylon. Opis was a key to Cyrus’s success, and he and his generals realized this. Opis controlled the main bridge that crossed the Tigris river and, after that, there would was only Sippar standing between the Persian armies and the capital Babylon. Opis was not only key for a pass across the river, but it was also part of the Median wall, built around 600 BCE, for fear of this very attack. The wall was heavily fortified stretched from Opis along the Tigris River, merging with Assur, Nineveh and stretching even further north. The south end stretched down the Tigris, north of Babylon and ended at the shore of the modern day Faw, just northeast of Uruk, at the shore of the Mediterranean ocean.
If Cyrus could capture Opis, the city would come with the Median Wall, (just pay extra shipping and handling). With the wall controlled, he could lead his men into the rest of Mesopotamia and it would be all over. But how to get into Opis? The City’s walls were as thick as two trucks, mud brick, with packed earth and stone in the center, like the Median Wall. The only openings in the wall were for the Tigris River, and were grated down to a couple of feet from the river bottom. The only obvious entrance that wasn’t over-guarded and possibly breach-able was at the bottom of the Tigris, which would be suicide as the river was to deep the swim down, through the hole in the grate, and make it up again alive. So the Persians took their only option (besides retreat), try to breach the walls through siege, which was the equivalent of throwing a pebble at a brick wall. Finally, in early fall 561 BCE; Cyrus’s troops must have noticed the water level of the Tigris slowly dropping. The river that created Mesopotamia would also destroy it, as the water dropped enough to allow the Persians to swim/crawl through breach in the walls.

The Persians either had good luck, or heard that, there was a citywide feast during their attack, meaning there were virtually no guards. The capture of the walls was easy and the people located in the central of city were completely oblivious that they were to be captured and/or killed, until they actually were, too late to retaliate. Some soldiers were able to escape, along with their General, Belshazzar the son of Nabonidus was suspected of being in command at the time. It is believed that Belshazzar fled to Babylon. Meanwhile, the Persians continued on to take Sippar then Babylon, neither cities offering any resistance. Belshazzar committed suicide to avoid capture as Persian soldiers invaded Babylon. Nobanonidus fled from Sippar, on foot to Babylon, taking a longer route around Sippar. I can imagine he was expecting to find his armies preparing a defense at the walls of Bablyon. Instead he found the Persian armies, who had evidently beaten him to Babylon.
Though their leaders had surrendered, the soldiers would not bend under the rule of their new king. They, along with the help of some brave inhabitants of the city, revolted against Cyrus’s rule. The result was a complete bloodbath, virtually all of the remaining Mesopotamian soldiers slaughtered, along with what little resistance left in Mesopotamia. In the end the Akkadian Empire, was so obsessed with it’s own wars among itself, was unable to defend itself in it’s most crucial hour, and paid the price for it’s ignorance. In the end, the Persian armies bordering the North end of the Median wall were able to break through, with help from attacks from their armies gathered in the south, and would advance to conquer Northern and Western Mesopotamia, 563 BCE.
I hope you enjoy this, and that you learn as much as I did about Mesopotamian warfare.

-Ryan M. K. Hunt

Persian (Median) Empire – 500 BCE

Critical Thinking

I found connections between ancient Mesopotamian warfare and modern-day warfare in Somalia, and the terrorist groups occupying the country. The battles happening in Somalia mirror the outcome of those in Mesopotamia; an unstable government. These battles also have left, and will leave the land destroyed and unusable. Whichever side wins ends up with more people to feed, and less food to give them as the majority of farmland has been destroyed. this would cause people to become restless, and people would starve.

One major difference from these situations though, is that Al-shabaab and other terrorist organizations that occupy Somalia don’t care what happens to the people, destabilizing the government even further. Even if a proper government was established in Somalia, the food shortage wound still be there, so basically whoever was the leader would be thrown the responsibility up the last guys mess. This was the same situation in Mesopotamia. Even if a proper government was set in place, the food shortage would remain an issue, and the new ruler would probably have no idea what to do. This is why it was so easy for the Persians to conquer Mesopotamia, the nation exhausted itself and its resources to the breaking point losing soldiers fighting itself, not its enemies. This has happened all over history, a nation that cannot be united cannot survive. Maybe someday mankind will be able to bring together not just individual countries, but the entire globe, ending this bloody cycle for good.