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 AD, the wars of the Eastern Roman Empire on its Southwestern Asian and North African borders, and the beginnings of the Muslim conquests in the 7th century. In China, it can also be seen as ending with the growing role of mounted warriors needed to counter the ever-growing threat from the north in the 5th century and the beginning of the Tang dynasty in 618. In India, the ancient period ends with the decline of the Gupta Empire (6th century) and the beginning of the Muslim conquests there from the 8th century. In Japan, the ancient period can be taken to end with the rise of feudalism in the Kamakura period in the 12–13th century.
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. Early ancient armies continued to primarily use bows and spears, the same weapons that had been developed in prehistoric times for hunting. The findings at the site of Nataruk in Turkana, Kenya, have been interpreted as evidence of inter-group conflict and warfare in antiquity, but this interpretation has been challenged. Early armies in Egypt and China followed a similar pattern of using massed infantry armed with bows and spears.
Infantry were at this time the dominant form of war, partially because the camel saddle and the stirrup were not yet invented. This infantry would be divided into ranged and shock, with shock infantry either charging to cause penetration of the enemy line or holding their own. These forces would ideally be combined, thus presenting your opponent with a dilemma: group your forces and leave them vulnerable to ranged, or spread them out and make them vulnerable to shock. This balance would eventually change as technology allowed for chariots, cavalry, and artillery to play an active role on the field.
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 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).