War and History
THE GEOSTRATEGY OF WAR
Can we characterize the strategies that defined war on the Eurasian continent from the steppes of North Asia to the Mediterranean in the south over the long period from the fifth century B.C.E. to the fifteenth century C.E.?
From the fourth century B.C.E. until the eighteenth century C.E., China was always coveted by the nomads on its northern border. Chinese civilization, which developed around the Yellow River during the third millennium B.C.E., was already the object of northern nomadic attacks even before Chinese unification (221 B.C.E.). Under the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. to 219 C.E.), the focus of Chinese culture was north-central China, with the Yangtze Valley as its southern border. Progressively, China extended south under the Tang dynasty (618-906), but it was only under the Song dynasty (960-1279) that the Yangtze Valley came to dominate China both demographically and economically. China's southern frontier region was one of expansion, where Chinese colonizers found fertile lands, inhabited by sedentary populations less advanced than themselves. In the north, however, although the steppe could be farmed, nomadic warriors stood ready to attack. As a result, China's northern frontier was generally a line of defense, as illustrated by the beginning of the Great Wall shortly after unification, which was not completed until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Before the nomad Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Chinese territorial expansion to the north and northwest occurred under the Han and the Tang dynasties. Their goal was to control the northwestern oases of the Silk Road and establish a buffer zone between China and the northern nomads.
Until the Tang period, soldiers retained high prestige in Chinese society. Subsequently, however, the Confucian scholar became the favored role model, particularly after the tenth century, when mandarin competitions were instituted to select bureaucrats according to merit. Soon thereafter, the mandarins, rather than battle-hardened generals, were in control of Chinese military strategy.
From the fourth century on, northern China was constantly harassed and often occupied by nomads. Indeed, the occupation of northern China by nomadic peoples is a recurrent feature of Chinese history. All of China was, in fact, occupied twice by nomad dynasties, both coming from the north: the Mongol Yuan (1279-1368) and the Manchu Qing (1644-1911). The nomad invasions involved relatively small armies, however, which became sinicized within a few generations and were demographically diluted by the immense Chinese population-culture and demography have been China's great assets throughout its history. Nonetheless, the sinicization of the occupiers did not change the geostrategy of the Chinese Empire or diminish its vulnerability in the north.
In order to rule northern China, the nomads needed to control the Ordos Desert, encircled by the rectangular bend of the Yellow River, which flows for more than four hundred miles into the Mongolian steppe. When well led and facing weak Chinese dynasties, nomads effectively dominated the Ordos for fifteen hundred of the two and a half thousand years of Chinese imperial history. Often the nomads would raid settled regions, and occasionally they would conquer northern China and capture its capital cities, Xian, Chang An, or Lo-Yang. However, whenever a great dynasty arose in China, it would take the offensive again with the goal of controlling the oases in the north and west along the Silk Road as far as the Tien Chan Mountains and Dzungaria (northern Xinjiang). This happened under the Han (202 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.), the Tang (618-902), and at the beginning the Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. The Chinese attacked in early spring, when the nomads' horses were still poorly nourished.
The Ming Empire underwent two distinct periods. The first, offensive, aimed at restoring Chinese imperial greatness. During this period, the Chinese imperial fleet reached as far as East Africa, at a time when the Portuguese had barely reached the southern coast of Morocco. However, beginning in the latter half of the Ming era, in the late fifteenth century, the empire isolated itself behind the Great Wall, and China's coasts were abandoned to Japanese pirates.
After its conquest by the nomad Manchus in 1644, China returned to an expansionist policy. Under the sinicized Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722), the Manchus expanded to the north, crushing the troublesome nomads of Dzungaria. By the end of the eighteenth century the nomad peril had vanished. However, in the nineteenth century, the advance of Russia and the rise of European imperialism would present a far more serious threat to China.
Persia was another favorite target of the Central Asian nomads. In that respect, Persia and China faced similar challenges. The nomadic populations of Central Asia were concentrated around the northern part of the Oxus River-known today as the Amu Dar'ya, which flows fifteen hundred miles northwest from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to the Aral Sea. The first nomads to occupy this area were the Scythians. Herodotus relates that in the fifth century B.C.E., the Persian Great King Darius organized a campaign against them, which failed: the Scythians' scorched-earth tactics weakened the army of the Achaemenid Empire, forcing Darius to retreat.
Indo-European nomads occupied the northern part of the Oxus from the seventh century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. and spread as far as the Ukrainian steppe. By the sixth century, the Central Asian steppes fell under the domination of Turkic tribes. By the tenth century, in Book of Kings (Shahnameh), the Persian poet Firdawsī identifies the Touran, that is to say, the turcophones, as Persia's greatest enemies. Meanwhile, in the west, after the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty (550 to 330 B.C.E.), Persia successively confronted the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Finally, the Arabs put an end to the Persian Sassanid dynasty in 642 C.E.
Afghanistan to the east was never powerful enough really to dominate Persia. It was from the north that Persia was most vulnerable to invasions. The most serious threat came from the Turks beginning in the tenth century. Like the Chinese, the Persians had a civilizing influence on the turcophone nomads. From the eleventh to the end of the twelfth century, Persia was ruled by the Seljuk Turks, whose great vizier Nizam Al-Mulk (1018-92) was, however, a Persian.
Although Persia never had a population as huge as China's, it also culturally assimilated its conquerors. For example, the Arab Abbasid dynasty, which arose in Baghdad after the decline of the Arab Umayyad dynasty centered in Damascus, was gradually influenced by Persian culture. Shiism, which was adopted by the Safavid dynasty at the beginning of the sixteenth century, led Persia further to differentiate itself from the Sunni Arabs and Ottoman Turks.
The French historian René Grousset called Persia the "real middle kingdom". Every powerful dynasty that ruled Persia-Achaemenids, Sassanids (224-642 C.E.), Abbasids (750-945), and Safavids (1502-1722)-dominated Central Asia from Samarkand to the Indus. For almost a thousand years before the nineteenth century, Persian was thus the lingua franca of an area extending from Samarkand and Bukhara to Delhi and Agra. Persian influences are also seen in Central Asian architecture, with its emphasis on elegant gardens, and in cooking techniques that are widely shared from Central Asia to the Punjab.
The Indian subcontinent is geographically protected by oceans on two sides and by the Himalayas. Until the early modern European incursions, India was always invaded from the northwest. The history of the Indus Valley's Harappan civilization goes back to the third millennium B.C.E., as witnessed by the remains of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, in today's Pakistan. The Aryan invasion (1800-1500 B.C.E.) marked the beginning of a long succession of invasions, including that of the Hephthalite (or White) Huns in the fourth century B.C.E. This was followed by the great indigenous Indian dynasty of the Maurya (325 to 180 B.C.E.), which produced the remarkable emperor Aśoka the Great (273 to 232 B.C.E.). In his youth, Aśoka was a brilliant military commander, but he later became a devout Buddhist and promulgated laws banning hunting and ending forced labor. The Maurya Empire reached its greatest extent during this period, covering the entire Indian subcontinent and extending to the eastern part of present-day Afghanistan. Later, India would be ruled by another great indigenous state, the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 C.E.).
However, India prior to the modern era knew only one period when it was ruled from a single capital city, that of the Maurya Empire under Aśoka. Throughout its history, Indian unity has been less political than cultural. During most of its history, India was divided in multiple kingdoms, except when it fell under a foreign domination, as during the rule of Sultan Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316), the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb (1659-1717), and finally under the British.
As early as the tenth century, northern India and, progressively, all of India except the Tamil extreme south fell under Muslim domination. In 1526, Babur, a turcophone fleeing Samarkand following an attack by Uzbeks, set out to conquer India using his artillery. After crossing the northwestern mountains and deserts, he waged battle on the plain of Delhi like the conquerors before him and won because he had cannons. He was victorious at Panipat despite his smaller army. It is interesting to note that the Delhi plain played the same historical role in India as Adrianople in the history of the Byzantine Empire: it was a place where geography and history met.
Unlike that of China, the political influence of India never extended much beyond its borders. However, the cultural influences of both China and India were widespread. East Asia became sinicized, reflecting the Chinese occupation of Korea until the fourth century, and of Vietnam until the tenth century, as well as the indirect influence of China on Japan through Korea, from the fourth century until the fall of the Tang dynasty (907). Similarly, Buddhism, born in India but gradually expelled by it, exerted a considerable influence on Southeast and East Asia beginning in the second century. Thus, India influenced Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Indonesia, which would later become Muslim, thanks to the peaceful proselytizing of Muslim merchants.
The Buddhist influence also reached Afghanistan (Gandhara), China, Korea, and Japan, and, in the seventh century, Tibet. The Mongol Yuan dynasty (1260-1370) converted to Buddhism, and Buddhism spread to Mongolia in the fourteenth century. Indian influences are also reflected in the magnificent temple architecture of Pagan in Burma, Borobudur in Java, and Angkor in Cambodia. India was twice subjugated by Muslims and then by Europeans. However, rural India entrenched itself in traditional Hinduism. The Islamic influence was felt most strongly in the north-in eastern Bengal and the northwest.
All nomadic invasions of India, like those of the White Huns and those led by sons of the steppe like the Ghaznavids and Babur, had to cross the same northwestern mountain passes, including the Khyber, and the deserts of Baluchistan before reaching the edge of the Indo-Gangetic plain. It is no surprise that the most warlike populations of the subcontinent, Sikhs, Punjabis, Marathis, and Rajasthanis, are concentrated in the northwest of the country, where conquerors came in droves. Bengal, on the other hand, which was better protected geographically, is known as a province of artists and poets. It was conquered from the sea by the British in the second part of theeighteenth century.
Asia Minor and Egypt
The border between Anatolia and Iran has changed little throughout two millennia, except when a single empire dominated the whole of Asia Minor from Central Asia to northern India. The border that separated the Roman Empire and the Parthians, the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanids, and the Ottomans and the Safavids resembles the border that today separates Turkey and Iran. Armenia has long been a buffer state that hangs in the balance between rival powers seeking alliance or allegiance. Because the power that controlled Anatolia was blocked in the east by the Persians, geostrategic logic forced it to advance toward the Balkans. The strategic key to this expansion is Edirne, previously called Adrianople. The other possible area for expansion is the Syrian-Palestinian corridor to the south. If the circumstances were favorable and the Anatolian empire was powerful, it would dominate the totality of these eastern Mediterranean territories, as in the case of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
Egypt, "the gift of the Nile," needs to maintain control of the Upper Nile until the fourth cataract. During the colonial period, the British had wisely linked the fate of Sudan to that of Egypt, and accepting their separation after decolonization was an error on the part of the "free officers" Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1953, in his manifesto Falsafat al-thawra (Philosophy of the Revolution), Nasser sketched a very ambitious plan of pan-Arab geopolitics. In practice, his short-lived alliances with Syria and Yemen were poorly conceived, and in the case of Yemen led to a disastrous conflict. It would have been better to have merged with Sudan and underpopulated Libya, whose oil reserves would have been very useful to Egypt.
Egypt is bordered in the west, east, and south by deserts. Thus, during the Old Kingdom and most of the Middle Kingdom-a period of some fifteen hundred years-Egypt was protected by its geography and the absence of powerful neighbors. The threat came from the northwest, where the Sinai Desert serves as a buffer, but was not sufficient to stop the Hyksos invasion. When possible, Egypt has always tried to secure control of the Syrian-Palestinian corridor, ideally as far as the Euphrates. The battles of Megiddo and Kadesh, the most ancient documented battles in history, were fought to control this corridor. Kadesh, fought between the Hittites and the Egyptians, led to a compromise. As for the small states in the Fertile Crescent, they were safe only when a strong power did not rule Asia Minor or Egypt.
The emergence of superior European armament and technology upset the traditional Eurasian balance of power during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Great Britain, an insular power, repeatedly opposed whatever continental power was dominant in Europe (Spain, France twice, and then Germany) by allying itself with other states concerned about the threat of hegemony. Today, the United States, protected by two oceans, faces no serious rivals. However, it was made brutally aware of its vulnerability on September 11, 2001.
WAR AND WEAPONRY IN HISTORY
Sedentarism, the transition from nomadic life to the first urban centers, began some four millennia B.C.E. in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China in the vicinity of the Yellow River. Very early on, Mesopotamia and Egypt became centers of civilization. We know little about the wars of high antiquity, aside from the vestigial archaeological artifacts. The first documented battle in history is that of Megiddo, which occurred in Palestine in 1469 B.C.E.
The weapons of Mesopotamian and Egyptian antiquity were made of bronze. It was only in the second millennium B.C.E. that iron weapons were introduced, with their increased efficiency and durability. Shields and armor made of leather or metal offered little protection. The pike, of variable length, was the classic weapon of antiquity. Swords of varying length were also used, the shortest being the Roman glaive.
The dominant projectile weapon, from China to Europe and throughout Eurasia, was the bow and arrow, though slings and spear-throwers were also used. Nomadic societies developed advanced laminated bows made of multiple woods, with a double curve that provided greater range and more power. The nomads generally used two bows: a short one when mounted, and a long one when on the ground.
Starting in the second millennium B.C.E., the chariot was a symbol of power and the supreme weapon of the sovereign and his nobles. It was used by the Egyptians, the Homeric Greeks, and, in the ancient Orient, by the Chinese. The chariot was often the determining factor in battle. With two wheels, pulled by two horses, it usually carried three warriors: a driver, an archer, and, in the back, the "third one" of Assyrian texts, whose role was to protect the other two with a large shield. Chariots and cavalry were primarily used to break through enemy lines. Behind the chariots came foot soldiers in greater numbers, including both heavy and light infantry. The infantry were grouped according to their weapons; warriors with bows and slings in one group, and those with pikes and swords in another. Armor usually included a helmet, breastplate, and leggings.
In spite of the terror inspired by chariots, the charioteers were vulnerable if opposing archers could maintain formation and sustain fire over the final one hundred meters of the chariot's charge. In ancient battles, the last one hundred meters were almost always decisive. Cavalry, which appeared at the end of the second millennium B.C.E., reduced the time necessary for the final charge, and became the core of Eurasian nomadic armies from Ukraine to Manchuria. The nomadic mounted archer was a constant feature of war for over two and a half millennia. Stirrups, which added balance and power, originated in Central Asia around the fifth century B.C.E. and were adopted by the Byzantine Empire long before they came into use in Europe. The Maurya Empire (325 to 180 B.C.E.) used elephants in their cavalry, as did Carthage. Elephants could be terrifying when they charged in an orderly manner, but they could also be difficult to control and cause panic in their own army.
Siegecraft, or poliorcetics, was an ancient art mastered by the Assyrians as early as the eighth century B.C.E. From antiquity to the twentieth century, the most famous sieges lasted between six and twelve months, although the siege of Masada is believed to have lasted three years. Tyre was besieged by Alexander the Great for seven months in 332 B.C.E., Sebastopol was besieged for eleven months by the British and French in 1854, and Leningrad was besieged for more than a year by the Germans in 1941-42. However, most sieges were of shorter duration.
The Phoenicians were the first to adopt galleys in warfare at sea. Battles usually involved hand-to-hand combat after the galleys had joined, although ships also attempted to sink their adversaries by ramming their hulls. Galleys were careful to stay as close as possible to the coast. Improvement in their speed and power enabled galleys to rule the Mediterranean for two and a half millennia before they were supplanted by more advanced ships.
On land, opposing forces were arranged in lines or, more often, in columns of various depths, and more rarely in square formations. Each of these formations had its advantages or disadvantages.
• The line, which was effective against envelopment, lacked depth and mobility.
• The column, beginning with the phalanx, played an important role for centuries, but was vulnerable on its flanks.
• The square formation, powerfully defensive and sometimes impregnable, was often static. However, Swiss squares had enough cohesion to be mobile, thus transforming the wall into a battering ram.
Tactical maneuvers, essential in battle, include a few common motifs. The flank attack was designed to destabilize the enemy. The encircling movement was often used by nomadic cavalry, and could include a double attack on both flanks, as well as from the rear. During the Middle Ages, Europeans favored frontal assaults, aimed at breaking through the enemy center and dividing the enemy. These attacks could be waged by foot soldiers organized into columns (phalanxes) or by cavalry. In Europe, Greek and Roman infantry dominated from the fifth century B.C.E. until 378 C.E., when the legions of the Roman emperor Valens were routed by German cavalry.
Nomadic societies had similar strategies regardless of their ethnic origin: harrying the enemy from a distance; using combined mounted archers to destabilize the adversary before attacking him with a decisive frontal assault; envelopment from the sides; and simulating retreat to disperse the enemy and draw them into an ambush. In Central Asia, mounted nomads successfully employed this style of fighting until the sixteenth century.
The role of logistics-managing the army's transportation and the maintenance and deployment of food supplies and weaponry-has always been a key one in warfare. In sum, the adequacy of logistics defines the rhythm and range of military operations. Without it, there can be no campaign. The larger the army, the greater the demand it places on logistics.
It is estimated that each Roman legionnaire carried two weeks' supply of wheat, and that the supply column added four weeks' wheat per soldier, giving the troops six weeks of autonomy. Nomadic mounted archers had greater autonomy. Their well-integrated logistics gave them a vastly larger range of deployment because of their superior operational speed. Indeed, it is uncertain whether the advance of the German panzers on the Russian Front in World War II was faster than the advance of the Mongols over the same region centuries before. Each Mongol soldier had three to four spare horses and was accustomed to living on minimal supplies since childhood. The Mongols preferred winter campaigns, when frozen rivers could be crossed easily.
Strategy deals with ways and means to impose one's will on the adversary. For military historians, it is of little interest to speculate about whether war is characteristic of all so-called primitive societies. What is clear is that since the birth of the city-state, war, both offensive and defensive, has been a constant feature of civilizations.
In antiquity, victory in war meant being able to plunder assets and acquire slaves and land. At different times, and in various societies, war could take ritual forms. For example, it might be a contest between two champions, or sets of champions, representing rival groups. For example, Herodotus (book 1.82) describes the battle between three hundred Lacedaemonian and three hundred Argive champions, which ended with only three fighters remaining alive. Among the Aztecs, who built an empire through conquest, the goal of war was less to destroy the enemy than to capture prisoners to be sacrificed to the sun god. Western feudal battles were also meant to capture knights, whose freedom would be obtained through ransom. In the Renaissance, condottieri (mercenary warlords) were often content with the capture of the adversary, who could be ransomed, and the preservation of their own troops.
Strategies also changed over time. In the fourteenth century, after cavalry had dominated warfare for millennia, it was challenged by the Swiss square infantry formation, whose efficiency depended on its cohesiveness. Each square was formed in a canton, where everyone knew and relied on everyone else, so that neighbor fought alongside neighbor. What made these squares so terrifying to their opponents was that, unlike other troops of that time, the Swiss were not interested in ransom. Not a single prisoner, whatever his rank, was spared. Later, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632) introduced another innovation: instead of a slow buildup to battle, he sought a rapid and direct assault, supported by mobile artillery, which proved highly successful.
With the French Revolution, a new way of making war appeared, based, not on mercenary troops, but on the levée en masse, or mass conscription of citizens, so that the entire society was involved. With Napoleon Bonaparte, battles aimed at the annihilation of the enemy armed forces. Armies throughout Europe were gradually nationalized in the nineteenth century, and military service became obligatory. There was considerable progress of fire power due to industrialization. With the increasing harshness of national antagonisms and the demonization of the enemy, as in the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century, the wars of the twentieth century became total wars.
The development of propaganda during World War I, brought forth by democratization, aimed at consolidating public opinion. However, success in prolonged conflicts depended more and more on industrial capacity. In the Spanish Civil War, Guernica anticipated the conflating of military and civilian targets: the civilian population became as much a target as the soldiers. War became yet more total in World War II, as exemplified by the bombing of civilians in Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Terrorizing civilian populations in order to destroy their morale in fact revived a tradition long forgotten in Europe.
Europeans emerged from World War I with a sense of disgust at the high price of victory, and painful frustration among the losers, giving rise to widespread pacifism. It is impossible to analyze war from a historical perspective based on today's political sensibilities. Executions, for instance, were public spectacles in many places in Europe before World War I and drew large crowds (as was still the case until recently under dictatorships in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mao's China). In western Europe, the military underwent significant changes during World War I: the officer caste was selected more democratically, and foot soldiers sometimes refused to accept the fate of sheep sent to slaughter. Thereafter, war ceased to be perceived as glorious: its price was too painfully heavy. Human life came to be seen as too precious to waste in combat. Elsewhere, outside Europe, poorer countries with demographically younger populations, sometimes with no experience of the two world wars, have not developed similar sensitivity. Their citizens are often dissatisfied with the status quo and have a different attitude to combat.
The concept of the "decisive" battle, according to which the collapse of the enemy forces is sought, lasted only about a century and a half, from Bonaparte to 1945. Military historians of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth cite an earlier period when supposedly decisive battles occurred. By the criterion of Anglo-American "grand strategy," only a battle whose politico-military or historical outcome is definitive should be called decisive. In this sense, the conquest of Constantinople (1453) by the Turks and the Arab victories over the Byzantines at Yarmouk (636) and over the Persians at Qadisiya (637), giving them the possession of Syria and of Iraq, were truly decisive. The same could be said of the fall of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) into the hands of the Spaniards in 1521.
With all the difficulty and complexity involved, it is important to map out different types of wars, starting with acknowledgement that the concept of war and its nature has changed throughout history. If we exclude wars in primitive societies, determined by demography and the struggle to survive, wars can be divided into several different types:
Ritualized wars. They often occur inside a given society or in neighboring societies and are not waged to the death. Generally, they are characteristic of archaic or traditional societies.
Wars with limited objectives. They usually take place in a world where the code of behavior, the values, and rules of combat are implicitly accepted by both antagonists. Dynastic quarrels, for instance, do not seek to overthrow the established order, but have much more modest aims.
Classical wars of conquest. These have predatory objectives and seek to crush the enemy. No compromise is allowed before complete surrender. They can end with the annihilation or subjugation of the adversary.
Mass war. The French Revolution marks its beginning, and it reached its apogee in World War II. Adversaries seek the annihilation of enemy forces through battles, and the collapse of the civilian population though massive use of terror (bombardments, summary executions, mass deportations, and genocide).
Total war. Throughout history, the cruelest wars have been civil wars. The wars of religion, from the end of the sixteenth century to the first part of the seventeenth, are classic examples. Civil wars are ruthless and cause the most casualties. For example, the Thirty Years' War, the French religious wars, and the Civil War in the United States each caused more losses than the Franco-Prussian war (1870). Heavy losses were also seen during the civil war in Russia (1918-20), the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), and in the religious conflicts in India at the time of Partition (1947-48). If strategy consists of evaluating the benefits in relation to the costs, civil wars are the most irrational, since their cost generally exceeds their benefits.
Ethnic wars waged against a people considered radically foreign are another type of implacable war. In this category, we can put the conflicts between nomadic and sedentary peoples, such as the invasions of the Mongols in thirteenth-century Central Asia. Colonial conquests in America and Africa are also classical examples of this category. On the Eastern Front in World War II, Hitler's troops exterminated Jews and Gypsies.
In short, the most radical conflict is the conflict between brothers, or where the enemy is considered subhuman. There is a vast difference between wars with limited objectives and total war in the industrial age, which derives from the concept of the nation-state, and between ritualized wars and the devastating clash between radically different societies or the demented fury of religious wars. The type of soldier-mercenary, draftee, or volunteer-almost always matches the type of war.
Since the end of World War II, when nuclear weapons were first unleashed, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction has prevented conflicts between major powers. However, smaller wars persisted during the Cold War, some of them classic conflicts, such as the Indo-Pakistani war and the Israeli-Arab wars, but mostly irregular wars, guerrilla conflicts, and more recently, in a militarily modest way, terrorism.
The first attempt to extend the reach of the city-state, created by the Sumerians, was by Sargon of Akkad (2325 B.C.E.), who created an empire that extended beyond Mesopotamia, which included Syria. His grandson Naram-Sin (2250 B.C.E.) was the most important sovereign of the Akkad dynasty, which collapsed around 2200 B.C.E. Our knowledge about the military campaigns of the Akkad dynasty is limited to the little information on a few stelae.
Pharaonic Egypt, which appeared around 2900 B.C.E., did not dominate any foreign country, with the exception of Lower Nubia, during the Old Kingdom (2100 B.C.E.) or the Middle Kingdom(1650 B.C.E.). Egypt was well isolated from potential enemies by its surrounding deserts. The main objective of pharaonic power was control of the Nile River as far as the second cataract. The Nile naturally floods regularly, with fertile alluvia that are ideal for farming in the Nile Delta. In contrast, Mesopotamia needed large irrigation systems organized by the state to permit farming. And, unlike in Egypt, there were no natural boundaries to protect Mesopotamia. It derived protection from its armies. Thus, given those conditions, the populations of modern-day Egypt and Iraq differed, and they continue to be different from a military perspective.
At the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E. until around 1600 B.C.E., Babylon, particularly under Hammurabi (around 1700 B.C.E.), came to dominate the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The incursions of the Kassites from the Zagros Mountains began around 1750 B.C.E. They were preceded by the Hittite capture of Babylon (1585 B.C.E.), which put an end to the Babylonian Empire. Egypt became a military state after some fifteen hundred years of peace uninterrupted by external aggression. The invasion of the Hyksos with their chariots around 1800 B.C.E. put an end to the Middle Kingdom, but after the Egyptians expelled the occupiers, the New Kingdom was created around 1567 B.C.E. Finally, the increasing threats from the northeast led the pharaohs to create a regular army and move the capital south to Thebes, less vulnerable than Memphis to invasions from the north. The impact of war chariots was felt not only in Egypt, but also in the Indus Valley. Unlike the Hyksos, who spoke a Semitic language, the conquerors of North India were Indo-European. In distant China, where chariots may have appeared around 1200 B.C.E., the Shang dynasty invested the Yellow River Valley (1766 B.C.E.), but was overthrown by a southern dynasty, the Zhou, around 1046 B.C.E.
Here is what we know about the first battle ever documented in history: that of Megiddo, where the Egyptian pharaoh confronted the king of Kadesh and his Canaanite army. Using an offensive strategy and defensive tactics, the king of Kadesh marched south from the Orontes River to prevent Pharaoh Thutmose III from marching north. In the spring of 1468 B.C.E., Thutmose moved against the forces of Kadesh, which were camped near Megiddo. It was a remarkable strategic position. Nine days after his departure, Thutmose reached Gaza, having covered around fifteen miles a day. He advanced toward the city of Yehem, where he took counsel. He could choose among three different routes:
• The most direct route through the gorges of the Wadi Ara
• The road to the north leading to the north of Megiddo
• The road to the south, leading to Taanacia, south of Megiddo
Thutmose explained to his captains that information from his scouts suggested that the king of Kadesh was seeking battle at Megiddo. The captains objected to the shortest route, with its steep banks and vulnerability to ambush: if the vanguard was attacked, the rear guard could not intervene. The pharaoh nevertheless decided to take the shortest and most difficult route (calling to mind the first chapter of Edward Luttwak's book Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace). Indeed, the enemy was expecting the Egyptians to advance by the southern or northern route, but not to take the most direct and dangerous approach. The pharaoh started on the shortest road, but accepted the advice of his captains to wait for the rear guard and only to attack when all the Egyptian troops had regrouped. Thutmose accordingly set up camp south of Megiddo, on the banks of the river Qina, and attacked the next morning.
The strategic importance of Megiddo was that it commanded the exit from Wadi Ara, the narrow gorge through the Carmel Mountains that links the coastal plain of Palestine to the Jezreel Valley. This gorge was the famous Via Maris, which served as a communication passage between Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia. Whoever controlled Megiddo controlled this route, and consequently, an important part of the Fertile Crescent. There were important battles in Megiddo in 1917 and 1948 and many times before that.
At dawn, Thutmose III started the assault. The Canaanites were routed and took shelter in Megiddo. Instead of pursuing, the Egyptian army pillaged the Canaanite camp. It would take a seven-month siege to capture Megiddo.
The second battle of Megiddo, in 1295 B.C.E., in which the Egyptians fought the Hittite Empire, with its capital in central Anatolia, is rightly famous. When Ramses II become pharaoh-he ruled for thirty-seven years-there were threats on the northeastern frontier. The Hittite king Mouwatalli had formed alliances with tribes in Asia Minor and northern Syria and challenged the Egyptians on land and sea. A clash was unavoidable and both sides were prepared. Here is how Ramses II is celebrated in the long poem commemorating the battle of Kadesh on the Orontes River (in present-day Syria):
Great are his victories over foreign lands, no one knows when he will start the fight.
He is a strong wall of protection for his soldiers and their shield on battle days. He is an unequaled archer, stronger than a hundred thousand enemies. When he advances his divine visage strikes fear and inspires a multitude because his spirit is strong. Strong is his heart at the hour of battle as a flame springing to life. Strong is his courage, like a bull before a fight. He knows all things from all countries. A million men could not withstand him and hundreds of thousands faint at his sight. He is the lord of fear whose war cries carry to the ends of the earth.<B> </B>
In Year 1 of his reign, on the ninth day in the second month of the dry season (late May), Ramses began marching north with twenty thousand men. The four divisions, Amon, Re, Ptah, and Seth, each with five thousand warriors, advanced toward Kadesh. The Hittites were awaiting them northwest of the city. Two of Mouwatalli's spies, pretending to be deserters, told the Egyptians that the Hittite army was still far away in the north, near Aleppo.
Ramses, deceived, set up camp on the north bank of the Orontes, with the divisions of Amon and Re. Those of Ptah and Seth were two hours' march away. Suddenly, two Hittite prisoners who had been captured by Egyptian scouts were brought before him. Questioned, they revealed the truth. However, even before Ramses could react, the Hittites had overrun the Re division, attacked Amon, and entered Ramses's camp.
Then, says the chronicle:
His majesty arises and gallops to the center of the enemy forces from Hatti. He advances alone, no one accompanies him. Looking behind, he sees that he is surrounded by two thousand five hundred chariots. His escape is blocked by the warriors of the hateful Hatti. However, Ramses asks help from the God Amon. Can a father forget his son? Have I not always marched and halted to your orders and never disobeyed your rules? How great is the lord of Egypt: too great to allow foreigners to sully the borders of his lands.
All of Egypt gives you divine offerings and ships bring you foreign tribute. I call upon you, O my father Amon. I am surrounded by innumerable enemies. All of the foreign lands are allied against me. I am all alone and nobody hears when I call. But you, Amon, are worth more than thousands of men. I send this prayer to the ends of the earth and my voice already carries to Hermonthis.
Amon hears me and gives me his hand. I am joyous. He says . . . "Beloved Ramses I am with you. I am your father and my hand is in your hand . . . I, master of victory, who loves courage."
I now realize that my heart is strong and my spirit joyous enough to achieve what I undertake. Suddenly, I see that the two thousand five hundred chariots are overturned before my horses. None had the strength to fight. They lost heart at the terror that I inspired. Their arms became too weak to bend a bow or lift a spear. They fell down before me, and I killed whom I wanted. None of the fallen will rise again.
They say: "It's not a man, it's Soutekh of great courage, it's Baal himself! This is no man, but Baal himself. Flee before him to save your lives and feel the wind on your skin. See: anyone who approaches him becomes weak and is struck down with paralysis. You cannot lift a bow or a spear when it comes at a gallop."
Thus does the poem celebrate Ramses II's victory at Kadesh. However, in reality, Kadesh was not taken. Although the battle went in Egypt's favor, the Hittites were far from vanquished. The victory was only a truce. Mouwatalli, blocked at Kadesh, resumed the offensive, but without conclusive results. Around 1280 B.C.E., fifteen years after the battle of Kadesh, the Egyptians and the Hittites came to terms with the fact that neither could crush the other. A truce was announced and a treaty signed. The Hittite king died in 1288 B.C.E. Ramses took advantage of Hittite dynastic quarrels and dominated the Near East as far as the Orontes River, reigning until 1233 B.C.E.
The treaty was originally written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time. Although the original has been lost, versions in Egyptian and Hittite remain. The Egyptian version is inscribed on the walls of the Great Temple of Karnak. The Hittite version was among the imperial archives excavated at Hattusa, the Hittite capital in central Anatolia, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Based on the figures cited at the time, the Egyptians were said to have fifty chariots and the Hittites two thousand five hundred. Thus, the Egyptian celebration of Ramses II's victory was attributed to the mythical powers of the pharaoh, reflecting the magical thinking and exaggeration typical of the chronicles of the wars of antiquity. The battle of Kadesh was also recorded at the Ramesseum in Thebes, as well as at Luxor and Abu-Simbel. The Hittites lured the Egyptians north and surprised them with a flank attack, which nearly proved fatal. However, the Egyptians were able to launch a desperate counterattack when the Hittites began pillaging the Egyptian camp instead of pursuing the fleeing Egyptian forces. Egyptian Canaanite reserves routed the Hittite army as they were pillaging, and the remainder of the Hittite army retreated behind the walls of Kadesh. Thus, the outcome remained indecisive, with both armies sustaining heavy causalities. Nevertheless, the battle of Kadesh represents the height of Egyptian power, which slowly declined during the eighteenth dynasty after the reign of Ramses III (1197 to 1165 B.C.E.).
The Assyrian Empire
There were two separate Assyrian imperial periods. The first Assyrian Empire (thirteenth
century B.C.E.) pushed back the Hittites and conquered the kingdom of Mittani in northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia. The more important second Assyrian Empire (ninth to seventh centuries B.C.E.) emerged as the first truly military empire in the world. From conquest to conquest, it expanded to extend from western Persia to the Caucasus and included all of Mesopotamia. The Assyrians occupied the Fertile Crescent and Egypt as far south as Thebes. Civil wars, strains on logistics, and a proliferation of enemies brought the Assyrian Empire to an end in 613 B.C.E.
The Greeks and the Romans
The Greek phalanx composed entirely of free infantrymen appeared in the sixth century B.C.E. and introduced a new style of combat. With the exception of Macedonia, most Greek terrain was unfavorable to cavalry. The phalanx was eight or ten men deep. Each soldier carried a shield (used for defense and to push the phalanx forward) and a sarissa, a pike up to seven meters in length, which enabled the men in the first four ranks to reach the enemy. The goal of the phalanx was to break through the enemy's line, and the phalanx's success depended upon its coordination and cohesion.
Greece was more geographically vulnerable than Egypt. However, Greece was not as vulnerable as Mesopotamia, whose peoples had no choice but to conquer or be conquered. The mountainous geography, fertile valleys, and long coastline made it possible for Greek shepherds and sailors to defend their homeland and for the Athenians to create a thalassocracy, or maritime empire.
It was in Sparta that Greek society became most militarized. The distinction between free warriors and slaves was strongly emphasized. Boys began to train for war at the age of seven, while girls pra