Portal:Ancient warfare

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The Ancient Warfare Portal

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).

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The Southern Peloponessus
The War against Nabis or Laconian War of 195 BC was fought between the Greek city-state of Sparta and a coalition composed of Rome, the Achean League, Pergamum, Rhodes, and Macedon. During the Second Macedonian War (200–196 BC), Macedon had given Sparta control over Argos, an important city on the Aegean coast of Peloponnese. Sparta's continued occupation of Argos at the end of war was used as a pretext for Rome and its allies to declare war. The anti-Spartan coalition laid siege to Argos, captured the Spartan naval base at Gythium, and soon invested and besieged Sparta itself. Eventually, negotiations led to peace on Rome's terms, under which Argos and the coastal towns of Laconia were freed from Spartan rule and the Spartans were compelled to pay a war indemnity to Rome over the next eight years. Argos joined the Achaean League, and the Laconian towns were placed under Achaean protection. As a result of the war, Sparta lost its position as a major power in Greece. All consequent Spartan attempts to recover the losses failed and Nabis, the last sovereign ruler, was eventually murdered. Soon after, Sparta was forcibly made a member of its former rival, the Achaean League, ending several centuries of fierce political independence.After the death of the Spartan regent Machanidas in 207 BC in battle against the Achaean League, Nabis overthrew the reigning king Pelops with the backing of a mercenary army and placed himself on the throne, claiming descent from the Eurypontid king Demaratus.


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Wooden figures of Egyptian soldiers, from the tomb of Mesehti, 11th Dynasty
Credit: User:Udimu

The ancient Egyptian military was responsible for defending Egypt against foreign invasion, and for maintaining Egypt's domination in the ancient Near East. The military protected mining expeditions to the Sinai during the Old Kingdom and fought civil wars during the First and Second Intermediate Periods. The military was responsible for maintaining fortifications along important trade routes, such as those found at the city of Buhen on the way to Nubia. Forts also were constructed to serve as military bases, such as the fortress at Sile, which was a base of operations for expeditions to the Levant.

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