Tamerlane’s Invasion of India Part II

Timur, historically known as Tamerlane (1336 – 1405), was a Turco-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia. After having conquered much of the Near East, Timur decided to on a massive invasion of India. As he pushed across the lands, conquering, he declared:

“The people of Samana and Kaithal and Aspandi are all heretics, idolaters, infidels, and misbelievers. They had now set fire to their houses and had fled with their children and property toward Delhi, so that the whole country was deserted.”

In late December 1398, Timur left from the fort of Aspandi. After marching twenty miles, he arrived at the village of Taghlak-pur, which is opposite the fort of that same name. When the people of the fort heard of the approach of Timur’s army, they abandoned it and scattered throughout the country. Timur would learn that the people who fled were called Sanawi [that is, fire-worshippers, Zoroastrians, or Ghebers]. Timur saw these people as misbelievers and ordered that their houses be burned and their fort and buildings to be razed to the ground.

The next day, Timur marched to Panipat, where he encamped. There he found that, “in obedience to orders received from the ruler of Delhi, all the inhabitants had deserted their dwellings and had taken flight.” After his soldiers entered the fort, they reported to Timur that “they had found a large store of wheat, which I ordered to be weighed, to ascertain the real weight, and then to be distributed among the soldiers.”

Timur receives envoys during an attack on Balkh (Afghanistan) in 1370. Representational image.

Timur receives envoys during an attack on Balkh (Afghanistan) in 1370. Representational image. (Public Domain)

To Plunder and Destroy and Kill

From that day on, Timur and his forces continued to make their way through India where they pillaged, raped, and plundered, or in the words of Timur: “Their orders were to plunder and destroy, and to kill everyone they met.” The next day, his forces proceeded to the palace of Jahan-puma, which is five miles (eight kilometers) from Delhi. As they progressed “They plundered every village and place they came to, killed the men, and carried off all the valuables and cattle, securing much booty; after which they returned, bringing with them a number of Hindu prisoners, both male and female.”

After much fighting and bloodshed, Timur held a court and summoned the princes, amirs, and officers to his tent. Timur likely informed his men after all the information had been gathered and considered as to what their next move was. He praised his men for their obedience and bravery. Besides praising his men, he also cautioned them, stating:

“I therefore gave them instructions as to the mode of carrying on war; on making and meeting attacks; on arraying their men; on giving support to each other; and on all the precautions to be observed in warring with an enemy. I ordered the amirs of the right wing, the left wing, the van, and the center to take their proper positions, and cautioned them not to be too forward or too backward, but to act with the utmost prudence and caution in their operations.” 

Afterwards, his men gave many blessings as they proceed from the tent. Timur knew that his men needed to hear some uplifting and cautionary words. It gave the officers confidence which could be distributed on down to the lower ranks and they were going to need it since Timur was very cautious.

The Problem of Prisoners

Before proceeding further, Timur had to make a decision on the one hundred thousand prisoners under his control. Timur feared that once he engaged the main enemy force, he would have to leave the prisoners in the rear with the gear. This was too dangerous, for the prisoners could revolt, find arms, and attack Timur from the rear during the battle. Therefore, Timur “immediately directed the commanders to proclaim throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners was to put them to death, and that whoever neglected to do so, should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the champions of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolaters, were slain on that day.”

Timur's army attacks the survivors of the town of Nerges, in Georgia, in the spring of 1396. Representational image

Timur’s army attacks the survivors of the town of Nerges, in Georgia, in the spring of 1396. Representational image. (Public Domain)

On 17 December 1398, Timur prepared his army for battle. His grandson, Prince Pir Mohammed was placed in charge of the right wing. Prince Sultan Hussein and Khalil Sultan, were placed in command of the left wing. The rear was placed on Prince Rusam, while Timur held the center. The Delhi Sultanate ruler Mahmud Tughluk (Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq) commanded the opposing army, which consisted of 10,000 horsemen, 40,000 infantry, and 125 elephants covered with armor, “most of them carrying howdahs in which were men to hurl grenades, fireworks, and rockets.”

Elephant with howdah of the Golconda Sultanate, Qutb Shahi dynasty.

Elephant with howdah of the Golconda Sultanate, Qutb Shahi dynasty. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Two Powerful Armies Clash

The two armies confronted each other, the drums beating; shouts and cries were raised on both sides and the ground trembled. Part of the enemy force separated from the vanguard, “and when they perceived that Sultan Mahmud’s forces were approaching, they moved off to the right, and getting secretly behind the enemy’s advance-guard as it came on unsuspecting, they rushed from their ambush, and falling upon the foe in the rear, sword in hand, they scattered them as hungry lions scatter a flock of sheep, and killed six hundred of them in this single charge.”

Prince Pir Mohammad, who commanded the right wing, moved his forces forward, and with Amir Sulaiman Shah and his regiments, attacked the left wing of the enemy, which was commanded by Taghi Khan, and showered arrows upon them, which compelled them to take refuge in flight.

The left wing under Prince Sultan Husain, Amir Jahan Shah, Amir Ghiyas-ad-din, and other amirs, attacked the enemy’s right wing, which was commanded by Malik Mu’in-ad-din and Malik Hadi. They pressed with the “trenchant sword and piercing arrows that they compelled the enemy to break and fly. Jahan Shah pursued them, and attacked them again and again until they reached the gates of the city of Delhi.”

Simultaneously, Sultan Mahmud’s army at the center was more numerous and with its strong war elephants, made an attack upon Timur’s center, “where Prince Rustam, Amir Shaikh Nur-ad-din, Gateway of the mosque of Ala-ad-din at Delhi and their colleagues met it with a brave and resolute resistance. While they were thus engaged, Daulat Timur Tawachi, Mangali Khwaja, and other amirs came up with their respective forces and assailed the enemy.”

Timur then gave the order to a party of “brave fellows who were in attendance upon me, and they cut their way to the sides of the amirs, who were fighting in the forefront of the battle. They brought the elephant drivers to the ground with their arrows and killed them, after which they attacked and wounded the elephants with their swords. The soldiers of Sultan Mahmud and Mallu Khan showed courage in the fight, but could not withstand the onslaughts of Timur’s army. Seeing that the situation is bleak their “their courage fell and they took to flight.” Mahmud Tughluk army was defeated; “part was slain, and part had found refuge in the fort, toward which I marched, exalted with victory.” With the main threat vanquished, Timur made his way to Delhi.

The Devastating and Bloody Sack of Delhi

After this victory, Timur soon entered Delhi. At first, everything was going fine; many officials came forward to offer Timur gifts. While the regal ceremony and the state of affairs were taking place within the court, problems in the city were about to erupt. Below is the devastating recorded account of what happened to citizens of Delhi in 1398:

“On the sixteenth of the month (Dec. 26), certain incidents occurred which led to the sack of the city of Delhi and to the slaughter of many of the infidel inhabitants. One was this.

A party of fierce Turkish soldiers had assembled at one of the gates of the city to look about them and enjoy themselves, and some of them had laid riotous hands upon the goods of the inhabitants. When I heard of this violence, I sent some amirs, who were present in Delhi, to restrain the Turks, and a party of soldiers accompanied these officers into the city. Another reason was that some of the ladies of my harem expressed a wish to go into the city and see the Palace of a Thousand Columns which Malik Jauna had built in the fort called Jahanpanah.”

Ruins of East gate entry in to Begumpur Masjid

Ruins of East gate entry in to Begumpur Masjid (CC BY 2.0), Jahanpanah. The grand palace with its audience hall of beautifully painted wooden canopy and columns is vividly described but it does no longer exists.

“I granted this request, and I sent a party of soldiers to escort the litters of the ladies. Another reason was that Jalal Islam and other officials had entered Delhi with a party of soldiers to collect the contribution laid upon the city. Another reason was that some thousand troopers with orders for grain, oil, sugar, and flour had gone into the city to collect these supplies. Another reason was that it had come to my knowledge that great numbers of Hindus and infidels had come into the city from all the country round with their wives and children, and goods and valuables, and consequently I had sent some amirs with their regiments into Delhi and directed them to pay no attention to the remonstrances of the inhabitants, but to seize these fugitives and bring them out.”

“For these various reasons a great number of fierce Turkish troops were in the city. When the soldiers proceeded to apprehend the Hindus and infidels who had fled to Delhi, many of them drew their swords and offered resistance. The flames of strife thus lighted spread through the entire city from Jahan-panah and Siri to Old Delhi, consuming all they reached. The savage Turks fell to killing and plundering, while the Hindus set fire to their houses with their own hands, burned their wives and children in them, and rushed into the fight and were killed. The Hindus and infidels of the city showed much alacrity and boldness in fighting. The amirs who were in charge of the gates prevented any more soldiers from entering Delhi, but the flames of war had risen too high for this precaution to be of any avail in extinguishing them.”

View of Tohfe Wala Masjid in Siri Fort area near Shahpur Jat village

View of Tohfe Wala Masjid in Siri Fort area near Shahpur Jat village (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“All day Thursday and throughout the night, nearly fifteen thousand Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering, and destroying.”

Timur defeats the Sultan of Delhi. (Public Domain)

Stripping Wealth and Life from the Land

“When Friday morning dawned, my entire army, no longer under control, went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering, and making prisoners. The sack was general during the whole day, and continued throughout the following day, Saturday, the eventeenth (Dec. 27), the spoil being so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children, while no soldier took less than twenty. There was likewise an immense booty in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems; jewels of gold and silver; gold and silver money of the celebrated Alai coinage; vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Excepting the quarter of the Sayyids, the scholars, and the other Mussulmans, the whole city was sacked.

The pen of fate had written down this destiny for the people of this city, and although I was desirous of sparing them, I could not succeed, for it was the will of God that this calamity should befall the city.”

Top Image: Bust of Timur ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ), and Timur defeats the Sultan of Delhi (Pubic Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Jackson, A. V. Williams, History of India: The Mohammedan Period as Described by its Own Historians Volume V. London: The Grolier Society, 1906.

Manz, Beatrice Forbes (2002). “Tamerlane’s Career and Its Uses”. Journal of World History. 13: 3.

Manz, Beatrice Forbes, The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Marozzi, Justin. Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006.

Meri, Josef W. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Rose, Dennis M. The Campaigns of Tamerlane. Hayden, ID: Createspace, 2014.

Publishing, DK. Commanders. London: DK Pub, 2010

Tamerlane’s Invasion of India—Part I

Timur, historically known as Tamerlane (1336 – 1405), was a Turco-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia. Timur rose through the ranks by gaining the respect of local chieftains due to his personal valor in combat and his brigandage. His actions, whether raiding or in combat, caused many to flock to him. It was during a battle that arrows struck his right arm and leg which left him partially paralyzed. Because of this, Europeans referred to him as ‘Tamerlane’ or ‘Timur the Lame.’

Timur was born in Transoxania a member of Barlas tribe. He rose to power among the Ulus Chaghatay. The Ulus Chaghatay was nomadic tribal confederation that formed the central region of Mongolian Chaghadaid khanate. Timur’s story is similar to Genghis Khan; How true these stories are is up for debate.

Portrait of Timur, 15th century. (Public Domain)

Portrait of Timur, 15th century. (Public Domain)

Timur, not being related to Genghis Khan, could not bear the title Khan. Since he could not use the title, he decided to use politics to his advantage. While in the city of Balkh, (now northern Afghanistan), Timur quickly gained allies from among the merchants, peoples, and clergy due to sharing his loot with the locals, while the ruler, Husayn, who also happened to be Timur’s brother-in-law, was not viewed in with such praise. It may be that Husayn was a fine ruler; it is just that Timur had the capital to profit from his ambition.

The Chagatai Khanate and its neighbors in the late 13th century. (CC BY 3.0)

The Chagatai Khanate and its neighbors in the late 13th century. (CC BY 3.0)

Timur challenged and defeated Husayn in 1370 and took his other wife, Saray Mulk Khanum, who was a direct descendent of Genghis Khan. This allowed him to become the indirect imperial ruler of the Chaghatay tribe. To strengthen his position further, he collected a number of princes from the various branches of the Genghisid branches.

Timur also used Islam to legitimize his position by praising and patronizing the Sufi sheikhs and ulama. He built religious monuments to both please the religious faith and at the same time show that he was favored by the supernatural due to his connection to Genghis Khan. Timur understood the power of charisma as well as using the fear of the divine to solidify his position.

Emir Timur feasts in the gardens of Samarkand. (Public Domain)

Emir Timur feasts in the gardens of Samarkand. (Public Domain)

Facing India: Soldiers, Elephants, Destroyers of Men!

By the time Timur had considered invading India 1398, he had already conquered most of the Near East. However, his appetite for conquest had not been quenched. He wanted more, and he desired India.

Timur had focused most of his military career on the west. With the west secured there was no remaining kingdom in that region that could really put a dent into his empire. Therefore, he looked east as he always had a desire to conquer China and bring it back under the fold of the Mongol Empire. However, India was closer; this multi-kingdom subcontinent bordered his empire. The grand prize in all this was the powerful kingdom of the Delhi Sultanate. Timur knew that the Kingdom of Delhi was no pushover, but given that it was weakened due to being in a state of civil war, made Delhi ripe for the sacking.

Asia in 1335, showing including Turco-Mongol culture nations such as the Golden Horde and the Chagatai Khanate. (Public Domain)

Timur’s desired to take Delhi as he felt not only would he secure his southern border, but also he would acquire the kingdom’s extraordinary amounts of wealth. That being said, selling the war was not so easy.

Timur ordered the princes and amirs to meet with him to see what they thought about making a military expedition into India. Most opposed the idea due to the prospective kingdom being of the same faith; others also feared that invading India was too ambitious of a task. Many were bewildered by this and stated “The rivers! And the mountains and deserts! And the soldiers clad in armor! And the elephants, destroyers of men!”

Elephant in Battle, Kota, Rajasthan, India. (

Elephant in Battle, Kota, Rajasthan, India. (Public Domain)

Prince Mohammad Sultan scolded the men and shamed them for such talk. Afterwards, he made a plea to their greed to uplift their spirits by stating:

“The whole country of India is full of gold and jewels, and in it there are seventeen mines of gold and silver, diamonds and rubies, emeralds and tin, iron and steel, copper and quicksilver, and many metals more; and among the plants which grow there are those fit for making wearing-apparel, and aromatic shrubs, and the sugar-cane; and it is a country which is always green and verdant, and the whole aspect of the land is pleasant and delightful. Now, since the inhabitants are chiefly polytheists and infidels and idolaters and worshippers of the sun, it is meet, according to the mandate of God and of His Prophet, for us to conquer them.”

Timur’s son, Shahrukh Mirza also made a statement, reminding the officers that “India is an extensive country. Whichever Sultan conquers it becomes supreme over the four corners of the globe. If under the conduct of our amir, we conquer India, we shall become rulers over the seven climes.”

The World Trembles, but the Khan Does Not

After much debate, Timur decided to go ahead and prepare for a massive invasion. While he readied his forces, he sent Prince Pir Mohammed Jahangir ahead to place the holy city of Multan (located in present-day Pakistan) under siege.

Multan is famous for its large number of Sufi shrines, including the unique rectangular tomb of Shah Gardez that dates from the 1150s and is covered in blue enameled tiles typical of Multan.

Multan is famous for its large number of Sufi shrines, including the unique rectangular tomb of Shah Gardez that dates from the 1150s and is covered in blue enameled tiles typical of Multan. (Junaidahmadj/CC BY-SA 3.0)

While this was ongoing, Timur ordered for the assembly of ninety thousand troops. To make sure everyone was on board, Timur called for a qurultay, which is a meeting with all the princes, chiefs, and other officials to inform them what his intentions were.

Timur stated:

Although the true faith is observed in many places in India, the greater part of the Kingdom is inhabited by idolaters. The Sultans of Delhi have been slack in their defense of the Faith. The Muslim rulers are content with the collection of tribute from these infidels. The Koran says that the highest dignity a man can achieve is to make war on the enemies of our Religion. Mohammed the Prophet counselled like wise. A Muslim warrior thus killed acquires a merit which translates him at once into Paradise.

Timur also made it clear that they should fear him and his army for “most of Asia are under our domination, and the world trembles at the least movement we make.” Timur also saw destiny on his side and believed he had been blessed with favorable opportunities. Because of this, his armies rode “south, not east. India through her disorders has opened her doors to us.”

Timur sent a letter addressed to Sarang Khan of Dipalpur with a possible deal:

If the rulers of Hindustan come before me with tribute, I will not interfere with their lives, property, or kingdoms; but if they are negligent in proffering obedience and submission, I will put forth my strength for the conquest of the realms of India. At all events, if they set any value upon their lives, property, and reputation, they will pay me a yearly tribute; and if not, they shall hear of my arrival with my powerful armies. Farewell.

Sarang Khan replied:

It is difficult to take an empire to your bosom, like a bride, without trouble and difficulty and the clashing of swords. The desire of your prince is to take this kingdom with its rich revenue. Well, let him wrest it from us by force of arms if he be able. I have numerous armies and formidable elephants, and am quite prepared for war.

Preparing for War

The armies of Timur were unlike those of the 14th-century Muslim states and closer to that of Genghis Khan and his successors. Timur’s military leadership may have started with an arban at the bottom of the chain. The next part is pure speculation. One can assume, without certainty, that every Timurid warrior belonged to an arban. An arban consisted of 10 men with one being the commander. Ten arbans equals one jagun (plural jaghut) consisting of 100 men. Ten jagunt consist of 1,000 men and form a minqan (plural minqat). Ten minqat form one tumen (plural tumet) consisting of 10,000 men.

10 men = 1 arban

100 men = 1 jagun

1,000 men = 1 minqan

10,000 men = 1 tumen

100,000 men = 1 tuc

A Mongol melee in the 13th century.

A Mongol melee in the 13th century. (Public Domain)

While Timur decidedly used the old Mongol system, it is uncertain as to whether or not he used the same traditional names. As for the size of Timur’s army marching into India, this remains debatable. Some say the army prepping for invasion into India was roughly between 90,000-100,000 or 40,000-45,000 troops. It might be safe to say that the army that sacked Delhi was roughly 60,000 strong.

If Timur’s army was purely cavalry based (and no infantry as some sources suggest), one can speculate that the number of horses each warrior had; perhaps five mounts at his disposal. If so, an army of 40,000 to 45,000 would have required 200,000 to 225,000 mounts, while an army of 90,000 to 100,000 would have needed 450,000 to 500,000 mounts. Two hundred thousand mounts would many square miles of grass per day on the plains. Hydration was also crucial, and the horses would require millions of gallons of water a day. To ensure that the horses had food and water, Timurid scouts, far ahead of the main army, searched for suitable grazing ground that supplied ample food and water. Timur’s best option to feed his army in areas less suitable was to raid nearby villages in enemy territory.

Timur’s army battles Egyptian forces.

Timur’s army battles Egyptian forces.  (Public Domain)

Heretics, Idolaters, Infidels, and Misbelievers

Once Timur and his forces pushed out in March 1398, his advanced guard and right wing were under the command of his grandson, Pir Mohammed. Pir Mohammed moved his forces into a less confined area as he pushed into Punjab. Once in Punjab, his mission was to capture Multan. With Pir Mohammed was busy in Punjab, Timur’s other grandson Mohammed Sultan, marched by way of Lahore. Timur, took a more difficult route, with a much smaller force into the Hindu Kush before making his way south to join his main force east of the Indus by September.

Once December arrived, Timur declared:

For my intended attack on Delhi in this same year 800 A.H. (1398 AD), I arranged my forces so that the army extended over a distance of twenty leagues. Being satisfied with my disposition of the troops, I began my march on Delhi. On the twenty-second of Rabi’-al-awwal (Dec. 2) I arrived and encamped at the fort of the village of Aspandi, where I found, in answer to my inquiries, that Samana was seven leagues distant.

The people of Samana and Kaithal and Aspandi are all heretics, idolaters, infidels, and misbelievers. They had now set fire to their houses and had fled with their children and property toward Delhi, so that the whole country was deserted.

Top Image: Bust of Timur ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ), and Timur standing with cane (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Jackson, A. V. Williams, History of India: The Mohammedan Period as Described by its Own Historians Volume V. London: The Grolier Society, 1906.

Manz, Beatrice Forbes (2002). “Tamerlane’s Career and Its Uses”. Journal of World History. 13: 3.

Manz, Beatrice Forbes, The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Marozzi, Justin. Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006.

Meri, Josef W. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Rose, Dennis M. The Campaigns of Tamerlane. Hayden, ID: Createspace, 2014.

Publishing, DK. Commanders. London: DK Pub, 2010

The Mongols: Battlefield Medicine and Gruesome Cures—Part III

Much is known about the ancient Mongol military and their incredible victories on the battlefield, but little is ever discussed about their arms, armor, horses, and logistics. What gear did they use? How did they deal with their wounded? How did they partner with horses to become masters of the steppe?

During the early reign of Genghis Khan, each warrior brought his own equipment. In doing so, each warrior could provide for the arban. While there is no doubt that the Mongols did acquire new equipment in the same way as bandits—from the dead scattered about the field of battle—Genghis Khan still made sure his men were equipped properly.

Illustration of Mongol mounted warriors

Illustration of Mongol mounted warriors (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Arms Manufacturing and Supply: Bandits and Artisans

As the Khan’s territory expanded, the ability to manufacture arms and to supply his men moved into full production. This allowed the armies to procure from the quartermasters. However, there is no doubt that many Mongols still repaired or produced much of their own equipment.

In order to produce large quantities of arms and armor, Genghis Khan made sure that not only did the areas under his control have the ability to manufacture the weapons of war, but also served as depots from which his armies could procure armaments. Genghis Khan would also relocate many of these artisans to be near his encampment to produce the weapons of war and to educate his men. After his death, Mongol rulers would continue to bring in artisans from the conquered regions like Central Asia, Persia, and China. The artisan camps were at Chinqai Balasghun near the Mongol of Karakorum, Besh Baliq in Uighurstan on the northern slopes of Tien Shan, Xinmalin or Simali, north of Beijing and in Hongzhou, 180 km (111.8 miles) west of Beijing. Of the many artisans working for the Mongols, most came from the former Khwarazmian Empire and were assigned to work alongside their Chinese counterparts.

Mongol Horses and Warriors – Successful Partners

The impressive Mongol war machine would have been all for naught had it not been for the horse that transported them to and from the field of battle. The Mongol horse, unlike European and Middle Eastern horses, was smaller in stature but stronger and surpassed all others in endurance. The horse greatly enhanced the ability of the army to reach its objective quickly; speed on the battlefield was crucial in establishing battlefield dominance.

When on campaign, a Mongol warrior would bring with him several remounts. The need for remounts was necessary, for after some time the horse would become tired due to traveling long distances and in battle, the Mongols would execute the caracole tactic (a charging and turning maneuver), thus tiring the horse and requiring the rider to change mounts, allowing the other to rest. Understand that the Mongol army during the time of Genghis Khan could roughly travel 60 miles (96 km) a day, unlike the later Mongol army under the leadership of Hulegu, whose vast army on their way to Baghdad in 1258, appeared more like a traveling city that could only move a few kilometers a day due to its sheer size. Therefore, the need for many horses was crucial to their military endeavors.

A modern Mongolian horse ledger

A modern Mongolian horse ledger (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Maintaining horses on a grand scale was critical to the needs of the Mongols, whether that be for warfare or not since the horse was an integral part of their society. During the time of Genghis Khan the horse became even more crucial to military matters. The entire Mongol population and their property came under the authority of the Great Khan and were subject to all things martial due to many military campaigns the Mongols went on. Because of this, the number of horses needed to supply each warrior is said to have been between five and seven mounts and as high as 30 horses, according to one scholar.

The Mongol horse is roughly fourteen hands high 127cm (50 in) or 4 feet, 8 inches. The type of horse preferred was geldings, a castrated male horse. The Mongols would castrate the male around four years of age, producing a gentler horse for war. Mares were also ridden due to the same benefits that the geldings provided, but mares offered the Mongols another resource on their long trek and that was milk.  Moreover, mares are easier to control than stallions, especially when the mare is in heat. Stallions can be easily distracted when a mare is in heat or simply just present. Using mares then gave the Mongols, among other steppe nomads, a tactical advantage on the battlefield. Therefore, riders of the stallions had to be extra vigilant to restrain their mounts from chasing the mares.

Mongolian horses (CC BY 2.0)

To feed all these animals would have been extraordinary when considering the amount of horses each man took with him on a military campaign. A Mongol army of 60,000 would have been traveling with 300,000 horses. This suggests that each man would have had roughly five mounts at his disposal. Each horse would need 9.33 lbs. of grass (dry weight) per day. Three hundred thousand mounts would need eight square miles to graze. The total amount of food required to feed this army of horses comes to 2.8 million lbs. (dry weight) of grass per day.

Hydration was also crucial, as each Mongol horse would roughly consume five gallons of water a day. Sixty thousand horses would need roughly 1.5 million gallons of water a day, three hundred thousand mounts would need 7.5 million gallons of water a day. Perhaps half of the water needed would have come from the grass they fed on. To ensure that the horses had food, Mongol scouts, far ahead of the main army, searching for suitable grazing grounds that supplied ample food and water, but success depended on the season and climate.

Grass Determined Military Outcomes

The fertile steppe provided the Mongol horses with an abundance of food. This was of strategic importance when it comes to military campaigns. The cornucopia of grass allowed the Mongols to move with ease towards their targets. Once the region in question was conquered, the areas suitable for grazing would be utilized and this provided the Mongols with another base from which to launch future operations against neighboring kingdoms. However, not all regions are favorable for horse grazing, like Syria. Syria did have few areas from which horses could graze, but not enough to support the usual number of horses the Mongols brought with them on campaign. The number of horses the semi-arid Syrian landscape could support was roughly 80,000. Of course, arid regions could not support the massive Mongol army’s four-legged transportation.

Horses on Mongolian grasslands, circled by black kites. (BerndThaller/CC BY 2.0)

While semi-arid provided little, and arid regions provided nothing, areas suitable to supply large numbers of horses also had their problems. The Mongols needed islands of grazing lands to jump from point A to point B. However, getting from point A to B proved difficult at times. When the Mongols invaded Eastern Europe, they were able to confiscate large swaths of land from the Rus until they reached the areas of Poland, Hungary, and Croatia. The Mongol forces defeated the armies of Christendom thrown at them with ease. However, even they understood the difficulty that before them. Conquest of Eastern Europe provided them with spotty grazing lands. Most of Eastern Europe going west was primarily forest, except for one major steppe exclave located mostly in Hungary. The forest, like the jungles of Southeast Asia, refused passage to Mongol forces.

Medicines and Treatment of the Wounded

Besides the shamans brought in to deal with illness, the Mongols also had a rudimentary medical knowledge that was crucial on the steppe. Due to their conquests of China, the Near East, the Steppe, and much of Eastern Europe, they were able to draw medical knowledge from the four corners of their Empire. There is no record of the Mongols having a medical corps, however, it would have been unreasonable to think that the Mongols did not have doctors on hand. There is no doubt that doctors, surgeons, healers, and shamans did travel with this vast juggernaut. But what did these various cultures bring?

Mongol Shaman with drum, Central Asia (Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0)

The nations of Islam provided the Mongols with knowledge of practices going back to the prominent Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher Galen, who lived in the Roman Empire. Practices the Islamic doctors brought to the Mongol camp dealt with injuries such as broken bones, burns, and combat wounds. The Chinese doctors also brought methods as well, including dietary medicine and Tibetan Ayurevdic medical techniques. Like all armies on the move, issues arose such as dysentery, bubonic plague, and lesser illnesses. Herbal treatments could only do so much. When it came to physical pain, Muslim doctors used cauterization and surgery. Once again, there is no evidence that is conclusive to tell how the Mongols felt about medical care.

The Mongol Empire incorporated medical knowledge from the Islamic world. Folio from an Arabic manuscript of Dioscorides, De Materica Medica, 1229 (Public Domain)

In combat, the Mongols like any other force, would remove their wounded from the field of battle to receive medical care. While most of these wounded men were leaders, there is no doubt that the common man who bled was also evacuated from the battlefield to receive medical care. Those waiting to receive the wounded warriors were primarily women, until later one when specialists were recruited. The women who were brought along were probably accustomed to dealing with broken bones and resetting them as a common injury, given that Mongol men, who went through the day-to-day rigors of riding horses, dealing with livestock and breaking in the new horses, would have suffered from a broken bone from time-to-time.

Hulagu and his army. Jami’ al-tawarikh, Rashid al-Din. 1430. (Public Domain)

One technique that seems to have been known by both the battlefield doctors and the warrior is arrow wounds. Genghis Khan early in his life received an arrow wound to the neck during a battle. He tried to patch up the wound to stop the bleeding but had no luck. Once he arrived back at his camp, Jelme, a general and good friend, saw the pain Genghis was in and the blood coming from the wound, and decided to suck the blood out of his neck and spit it out. The reason for doing this was to clear the wound of infection, like many others at the time, knew that such a wound was common and serious. An arrow in the neck could damage any of the major arteries and veins along with the esophagus and trachea.

Wounds are inevitable on the battlefield. The Mongols at war. (Public Domain)

You Thought it Smelled Bad on the Outside?

On a side note concerning Genghis Khan’s wound, it is said that if a patient went into shock, an ox or an animal similar in size, preferably livestock, was killed and the patient would be inserted into the animal. One such case did happen when Guo Baoyu, a general of Genghis Khan, was struck in the chest by an arrow, along with another by the name of Li Ting, who took two bolts from a ballista while attacking the Song city of Shayang in 1274, as well as Muhan, who was shot with three arrows while scaling the walls of Xijing in Xi Xia.  All three men were placed inside an ox after it had been found, killed, and the intestines removed. The patient would be stripped naked and placed inside the carcass for an unknown period. Understand that the person placed into the large animal was arranged in the fetal position. In all three cases, each man recovered from this procedure. Interestingly, Genghis Khan is said to have performed two of these procedures for both Muhan and Guo Baoyu.

Long-haired domestic Yak found throughout central Asia. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Gruesome Animal Cure

The reason for such treatment is that, depending on the size of the wound or where it is located, that determined the size of the animal needed to help repair the wound. If a man received a head wound, a sheep would suffice. Understand that not all cases required a man’s head be inserted into a sheep just as all wounds do not always require an ox.

Mongolian Sheep (RichardGHawley/CC BY-ND 2.0)

In other cases, the Mongol doctors would use the skin of a freshly killed animal to place over the wound for healing. This practice was still being used well into the twentieth century among the Kazakhs for frostbite, and even today, fish skin is still used to help heal burn wounds as reported in December of last year.

To ensure that patients got the most out of such treatment depended on the way the animal was killed. Typically the doctor or the warrior, well versed in steppe medical procedures, would restrain the animal, make a small slit into its skin, just wide enough to fit their hand in the chest to stop the heart by squeezing it or ripping the aorta. Stopping the heart by squeezing was the preferred method to ensure that the blood stayed in the vessels. This was preferred, for once the patient was placed into the body, the blood of the animal would help in coagulating the wounds. Moreover, pressure from the body of the larger animals aided in staunching the wound and preventing the patient from going into shock by forcing blood flow.

Innovation and New Technology through Empire

Overall, the Mongol military from a military viewpoint looks no different from your average steppe nomad during the time. However, what set them apart was the fact that they were willing to adopt new ideas and innovate. Over time, it became easier as their empire expanded and they were able to draw in more peoples with complex technologies. Because of this, the Mongols were able to carve out large swaths of territory due to the technological and logistical innovations they learned from those they conquered.

The siege of Zhongdu (modern Beijing) in 1213–14 (Public Domain)

Many nations who conquer another take their time looking into what made that nation great (if ever taking the time do so at all). Nations like Assyria and Rome come to mind when it came to adopting and innovating new military methods to combat those who were a thorn in their side, much like the Mongols. However, the difference with the Mongols was that they were quick learners and quick conquerors, but in the end, they did not seek ways to effectively govern their large empire efficiently and therefore quickly fell apart.

Top Image: Reenactment of Mongol battle (Public Domain);Deriv

By Cam Rea

References

Thomas J. Craughwell, The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History: How Genghis Khan’s Mongols Almost Conquered the World (Beverly, Mass: Fair Winds Press, 2010).

Timothy May, The Mongol Conquests in World History (London: Reaktion Books, 2012).

Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System (Yardley, Penn: Westholme, 2007).

Richard D. McCreight, Mongol Warrior Epic: Masters of Thirteenth Century Maneuver Warfare (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College 1983).

Marco Polo, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian: Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East. Volume 2 edited and translated by Henry Yule. 3rdedition (London: J. Murray, 1929).

Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1961).

George Vernadsky, A History of Russia, Vol 3 (New Haven and London: Yale University press, 1953).

Tracy, Larissa. Wounds and Wound Repair in Medieval Culture. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

The Mongols: Armed to the Teeth with Weapons and Poison—Part II

Much is known about the ancient Mongol military and their incredible victories on the battlefield, but little is ever discussed about their arms, armor, horses, and logistics. What gear did they use? How did they deal with their wounded? How did they partner with horses to become masters of the steppe?

The Mongolian soldier’s bows and arrows are perhaps their best-known weapons – their famous riding and archery skills were a sight to behold, as long as they weren’t targeted at you.

A Deadly Rain of Arrows, Piercing and Slicing

Enemies of the Mongolian armies feared a deadly rain of arrows. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The arrows the Mongolian military used varied in size, weight, and function. When it came to length, the arrows were roughly over two feet (0.6 meters) in length. The wood used to make the shafts was usually willow, birch, and juniper. The shaft of the arrow thinned out towards the notch of the tip. To make an arrow, the Mongol archer would take an iron tanged arrowhead and carefully hammer the point of the tang into the shaft without splitting it. If the top of the shaft split due to the tang, it would be bound with cord. To further strengthen a damaged shaft, the surface was layered with birch bark.

The Gear and Guts of the Mongol Military—Part I

When it came to feathering the arrow, the Mongols used a variety of bird feathers. Eagle feathers were the most commonly used but the Mongols also used the feathers of geese, kites, blackcocks and woodpeckers. On an interesting note, when using feathers, if a feather taken from the right wing was used, the arrow would spin to the right during flight, if taken from left wing, it would spin to the left.

Kazakh-Mongolian Hunter and his Eagle.

Kazakh-Mongolian Hunter and his Eagle. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Traveler Marco Polo placed arrowheads in two classes: light ones with small sharp points for long-range shooting and pursuit, and heavy ones with large, broad heads used in close quarters. Carpini states that the arrowheads cut two ways, and were hardened by dipping them while red-hot into brine, after which they were so rigid they could pierce armor. A general by the name of Meng-Hung, who served the Sung Dynasty and who put up a strong resistance to the Mongols in the 1230s mentions three type of arrows: the sounding arrow, the camel-bone arrow, and the armor-piercing arrow.

The type of arrowheads used consisted of bone, steel, horn, and iron. Bone arrowheads could do next to nothing against armored opponents but still do considerable damage against other lightly or non-armored adversaries. Iron or steel arrowhead points were designed to punch through armor, such as the tapered, spiked arrowheads or those that were tempered and chiseled. Other arrowheads were broad and flat with a horizontal blade. Based upon its design, the Mongol cavalrymen would select this type of arrowhead to fire indirectly at the enemy troop intervals. This would inflict tremendous damage to both man and animal, as the arrowhead would slice its way through the ranks. In other words, “death by a thousand cuts” as the ancient Chinese phrase goes.

A modern Mongolian archer. “An absolute essential part of a Naadam (Festival) is archery. Mongolians use their thumb to draw the bow. Also, see how he controls his breathing at the last picture.”

A modern Mongolian archer. “An absolute essential part of a Naadam (Festival) is archery. Mongolians use their thumb to draw the bow. Also, see how he controls his breathing at the last picture.” (A. Omer Karamollaoglu/CC BY 2.0)

Flying Poison and Death on the Wind

Besides arrows designed to slice flesh and punch through armor came those that whistled and delivered poison. Many Mongol arrows had a hollow bone container. The container was placed beneath the arrowhead, had two oval-shaped holes, and produced a whistle upon being fired. The size of the barrel or biconical container was between 2.8 and 7.5 cm (one inch to three inches). The length of the container was directly related to the size of the arrowhead. The function of this arrow is disputed. Some think it was to frighten or was just a luxury or novelty item among the Mongols. When looking at its function from a military viewpoint, it could be proposed that the whistling arrow had a dual purpose: one, to have a psychological impact upon the enemy army and for scaring their horses, and two, for signaling nearby Mongol units to maneuver and attack.

Another projectile used by the Mongols was the poison arrow. The poison used on the arrow was called khoron. One type of poison was plant-based. Mongols smeared their arrows with what may have been the aconite (Aconitum napellus, or monks-hood). Aconite is a toxic plant of “perennial herbs of the genus Aconitum, having tuberous roots, palmately lobed leaves, blue or white flowers with large hoodlike upper sepals, and an aggregate of follicles.” The Mongols may have used the Aconitum ferox found in Tibet or of a related species. To make a lethal dose, the Mongols would have used three to six grams of the dried Aconitum and mixed it with ganja.

This c. 1280 painting depicts an archer shooting a traditional Mongol bow from horseback [left]

This c. 1280 painting depicts an archer shooting a traditional Mongol bow from horseback [left] (Public Domain)

The other type of poison used was called mogain khoran, and was extracted from the steppe viper or adder. The Mongols, like their nomadic ancestors, inhabited a land that was home to a number of snakes from which they drew venom. Such snakes inhabiting the area included the steppe viper, Caucasus viper, European adder, and the long-nose/sand viper. The Mongols had a vast arsenal of snake venoms at their disposal. To get an idea how the Mongols went about producing this poison, one must look to the ancient Scythians and those who wrote about them.

Vipera ursinii, venomous viper and a very widespread species from France to China.

Vipera ursinii, venomous viper and a very widespread species from France to China.  (Public Domain)

According to the book titled, “On Marvelous Things Heard,” by Pseudo-Aristotle, which was a work written by his followers if not written in part by Aristotle himself, mentions the Scythian handling of snakes and how to extract their poison:

They say that the Scythian poison, in which that people dips its arrows, is procured from the viper. The Scythians, it would appear, watch those that are just bringing forth young, and take them, and allow them to putrefy for some days.

After several days passed, the Scythian shaman would then take the venom and mix it with other ingredients. One of these concoctions required human blood:

But when the whole mass appears to them to have become sufficiently rotten, they pour human blood into a little pot, and, after covering it with a lid, bury it in a dung-hill. And when this likewise has putrefied, they mix that which settles on the top, which is of a watery nature, with the corrupted blood of the viper, and thus make it a deadly poison.

The Roman author Aelian also mentions this process, saying, “The Scythians are even said to mix serum from the human body with the poison that they smear upon their arrows.” Both accounts show the Scythians were able to excite the blood in order to separate it from the yellow, watery plasma. Once the mixture of blood and dung had putrefied, the shaman would take the serum and excrement and mix it in with the next ingredient, venom, along with the decomposed viper. Once the process was complete, the Scythians would place their arrowheads into this deadly mixture ready for use. The historian Strabo mentions a second use of this deadly poison:

The Soanes use poison of an extraordinary kind for the points of their weapons; even the odor of this poison is a cause of suffering to those who are wounded by arrows thus prepared.

Overall, it would not be farfetched to imagine the Mongols were going about the same procedures when it came to the manufacturing of poison using snake venom.

Quivers Full of Arrows, and Shields to Protect

Quivers housing the arrows were made of birch bark and leather, had an oval opening at the top and broadened from the top towards the base. Manufacturing the quiver required long strips of birch bark slightly overlapped. The material used to make the base is unknown but suspected to have been made of leather or felt. To keep the quiver together, he would stitch it with strong thread.

While archaeological excavations have turned up many quivers, unfortunately, none has survived and that is understandable given their makeup. On campaign, the Mongol warrior would take two three quivers, each consisting of between 30-60 arrows. When placed in the quivers, the arrowheads were placed downwards. The quiver was located to the left of the rider and was attached to his belt by iron hooks.

“Mongolian bows were as powerful as the English longbow, used at Crecy or Agincourt, and helped Genghis Khan build an empire from Beijing to Hungary and Austria.” Quiver, horn, and arrows. (Adam Singer/CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Mongol utilization of shields appears nearly absent in the sources. Carpini mentions that the shields “were of osiers or wicker but we do not believe they carry them except in camp while guarding the emperor or the princes and even then only at night.” Marco Polo says nothing about the type of shield but that they used them. However, Meng-Hung records the use of four types of shields consisting of a “large skin or willow-wood shields—probably for sentry duty only-smaller shields carried by front rank troops to ward off arrows when on foot, a visor worn over the face, and large tortoise shields for assaulting towns.”

Armed to the Teeth

Other weapons the Mongol used were the lasso, which was used to pull enemy horsemen out of their saddle, a dagger for close combat, a lance used to pierce through the enemy ranks during a fierce charge (but which also had a secondary purpose due to the hook below the head used to pull enemy riders from their saddles by catching the opponents clothes or equipment). This would have been especially easy against steppe riders who used shorter stirrups because they were less secure in the saddle. Mongols also used the mace, as it was a close combat weapon like the dagger. The mace was roughly 15 inches (40 cm) in length and weighed a little over 2 lb (1.17kg). Spears functioned much like the lance; they had a hook below the head, but were much shorter.

A model of a Mongolian mounted soldier, with bow, quiver of arrows and a shield. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Logistics: An Army Marches on its Stomach

Logistics are crucial to any army on the move and the Mongols were no exception. Even though the Mongols acquired food through hunting or raiding and brought their herds and flocks with them, they still needed to secure their supply lines. While acquiring and protecting food was not an issue, other items of value such as military materials, like siege equipment, arms and armor, horses and other miscellaneous objects were more difficult to maintain.

Bactrian camels in Mongolia.

Bactrian camels in Mongolia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

To move the massive amount of goods needed to supply the army, the Mongols relied on camels and, at times, on horses. The camel allowed the Mongols to move much more stuff. Take a Bactrian camel for instance; a Bactrian camel can carry 200-240 kg (440-530 lbs) and pull roughly 400-600 kg (881-1322 lbs) at a pace of 30 to 40 kilometers (or 18 to 24 miles) per day. Besides leading the horses to the pastures to graze, the Mongolians made sure that they had ample food readily available on hand. A Mongol tumen (10,000) troops, had roughly 50,000 horses on hand, would need 113.5 metric tonnes (250224.67 lbs) of hay and barley on hand. An army of six tumen 60,000 troops, traveled roughly with 300,000 horses and would require an astonishing 1,362 metric tonnes (3002696 lbs) of fodder each day. To move 1,362 metric tonnes of food each day would require 7,504 camels. Each camel would be required to carry 181.5 kg (400 lbs) of fodder each day to supply the horses! However, this does not account for the many more camels used to transport the other items as mentioned.

Besides the supplies to ensure the animals were well fed, the Mongols also brought additional food for the troops. The food, of course, was meat. The amounts are not mentioned, but when Genghis Khan invaded the Khwarazmian Empire (1219-22), each arban would take three-and-a-half dried sheep with them, along with a cauldron. While it is obvious that the amount of meat mentioned was already on hand as the Mongol horsemen were on the move, it also suggests that three-and-a-half dried sheep had already been prepared and distributed throughout each arban, and shows much more meat, along with potable drink, was slowly traversing in the rear.

Horses run through a winter storm in Mongolia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Those assigned to overlook this task is unknown. It is obvious that the upper chain of command had oversight on the supplies, but whether specialized units were assigned to distribute the goods to the troops remains silent. Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni wrote a history on the Mongols titled Tarīkh-i Jahān-gushā, or History of the World Conqueror, and mentions that each unit was responsible for all the “various arms and implements down to banners, needles, ropes, mounts and pack animals such as donkey’s and camels; and every man must provide his share according to his ten or hundred.” If any item turned up missing, “those responsible are severely punished.”

Overall, the Mongols primarily depended on their herds and flocks that traveled in rear, as well as those assigned to overlook the traveling produce. While food supplies were crucial, the Mongols, besides hunting for food, could also stop off and resupply at a nearby village, town, or city using the fear of their approach or just plain pillaging it. Before proceeding, understand that the Mongol Empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Eastern Europe, and they could draw on much more than during the time of Genghis Khan.

When the Great Khan Mongke (1209-1259) gave his blessing to his brother Hulegu to conquer much of the Middle East starting in 1253, Hulegu pulled supplies and troops from all four directions starting in Karakorum until this lumbering Mongol army made its way through central Asia and swelled into an enormous force, before coming to rest at the outskirts of Samarkand. While at Samarkand, Hulegu continued to increase the size of his forces.

Audience with Möngke Khagan. (Great Khan Mongke)

Audience with Möngke Khagan. (Great Khan Mongke) (Public Domain)

When Eastern Christian communities received news of Hulegu’s planned campaign, the vassal Kingdoms of Georgia and Armenia provided troops and were enthusiastic in recovering former Christian lands in Mesopotamia.

Further to the north, Batu Khan, Mongol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde, a division of the Mongol Empire, provided newly conscripted tumens (an army unit of 10,000 soldiers) mostly Turks and Alans, led by Balaghai, Khuli, and Tutar, Batu’s nephews. One can only image the amount of supplies, resources, herds, and craftsmen that came with each army from nearly every direction!

However, supplying troops with food was one thing; weapons were a whole other matter.

Top Image: Exhibit featuring Mongolian arrows (CC BY-SA 2.0), and Mongolian soldier model (CC BY 2.0);Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Thomas J. Craughwell, The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History: How Genghis Khan’s Mongols Almost Conquered the World (Beverly, Mass: Fair Winds Press, 2010).

Timothy May, The Mongol Conquests in World History (London: Reaktion Books, 2012).

Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System (Yardley, Penn: Westholme, 2007).

Richard D. McCreight, Mongol Warrior Epic: Masters of Thirteenth Century Maneuver Warfare (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College 1983).

Marco Polo, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian: Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East. Volume 2 edited and translated by Henry Yule. 3rdedition (London: J. Murray, 1929).

Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1961).

George Vernadsky, A History of Russia, Vol 3 (New Haven and London: Yale University press, 1953).

Tracy, Larissa. Wounds and Wound Repair in Medieval Culture. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

The Gear and Guts of the Mongol Military—Part I

Much is known about the ancient Mongol military and their incredible victories on the battlefield, but little is ever discussed about their arms, armor, horses, and logistics. What gear did they use? How did they deal with their wounded? How did they partner with horses to become masters of the steppe?

Indeed, it’s said there was no separate word for ‘soldier’ in the Middle Mongol language, meaning that the society was so adept at survival and conquering that there was little difference in preparedness between a civilian and a warrior. This may have been one of the keys to their adaptability, and ultimate success.

Here we take a detailed look into the Mongol military apparatus (Arms, Armor, Supplies, Horses, and Medicine): How did they do it?

The Lightning-Quick Light Cavalryman

The attire of the Mongol light cavalryman was no different from his everyday outfit. The Mongol warrior’s attire was practical, in the sense that its main function was to protect him from the harsh conditions of the climate he traversed. His undershirt was long with wide sleeves. His attire consisted of a heavy, double-breasted knee-length coat called deel or degel.

A Mongolian coat, or deel

A Mongolian coat, or deel (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This coat was secured with a button a few inches below the armpit and was fastened by a leather belt at the waist. Furthermore, the Mongols utilized two types of coats. One was a heavy coat for the colder seasons but they also wore a coat to keep them dry from the rains during the warmer seasons. As for material, Flemish Franciscan monk, William of Rubruck (1210-ca. 1270) said that the “poor make their outside (gowns) of dog and kid (skins).” As for pants, Rubruck mentions that they “make also breeches with furs,” and “line their clothes with cotton cloth, or with the fine wool which they are able to pick out of the coarser.”

When it comes to armor, many Mongols did not wear much, particularly lamellar. The reason was that the role of the light cavalryman was to be light, flexible, agile, and above all, fast.

This Japanese lamellar cuirass was typically too heavy for light cavalry

This Japanese lamellar cuirass was typically too heavy for light cavalry (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Other items that a light cavalryman would have used, as well did the heavy cavalryman, were “two or three bows or at least one good one, and three large quivers filled with arrows” along with a sword, which hung from his belt. He may have carried a dagger, axe, or both. His coat pocket possibly consisted of a sharpening stone for weapons and arrowheads, or perishable items, such as dried meat, dried curds, perhaps berries.

Steadfast and Indomitable Heavy Cavalrymen

William of Rubruck describes heavy cavalry as wearing the same clothing as light cavalry underneath their armor when they went on military campaigns. However, most heavy cavalrymen were wealthy and could afford, particularly later on, better clothing to wear.

The voyage of William of Rubruck in 1253–1255. Franciscan missionary and explorer, he documented details of the Mongol Empire

The voyage of William of Rubruck in 1253–1255. Franciscan missionary and explorer, he documented details of the Mongol Empire (Public Domain)

“Of their clothing and customs you must know, that from Cataia [China], and other regions of the east, and also from Persia and other regions of the south, are brought to them silken and golden stuffs and cloth of cotton, which they wear in summer. From Ruscia, Moxel, and from Greater Bulgaria [a region in the middle Volga, not to be confused with minor Bulgaria mentioned above] and Pascatir [a region between the upperl Volga and Ural R.], which is greater Hungary, and Kerkis [Kerghiz], all of which are countries to the north and full of forests, and which obey them, are brought to them costly furs of many kinds, which I never saw in our parts, and which they wear in winter. And they always make in winter at least two fur gowns, one with the fur against the body, the other with the fur outside exposed to the wind and snow; these latter are usually of the skins of wolves or foxes or papions; and while they sit in the dwelling they have another lighter one.”

Mongols cavalry outside Vladimir presumably demanding submission before its sacking

Mongols cavalry outside Vladimir presumably demanding submission before its sacking (Public Domain)

Besides clothes, John of Plano Carpini describes the type of armor the Mongol heavy cavalrymen wore:

“Some have cuirasses and protection for their horses, fashioned out of leather in the following manner: they take strips of ox-hide or the skin of another animal, a hand’s breadth wide and cover three or four together with pitch, and they fasten them with leather thongs or cord; in the upper strip they put the lace at one end, in the next they put it in the middle and so on to the end; consequently, when they bend, the lower strips come up over the upper ones and thus there is a double or triple thickness over the body.”

The cuirass they wore consisted of small scales of iron, leather, or bone known in lamellar armor. As for the description provided by Carpini, it appears that the Mongol warriors he encountered were wearing lamellar armor made of leather scales. Softening leather by boiling and afterwards coating the leather with a lacquer made from pitch made it waterproof. The cuirass weighed roughly 20 lbs (9 kg). To add further protection, the rider might have worn his heavy coat under the cuirass, and reinforced it with metal plates or perhaps leather, depending on what was available at his disposal.

Statue of an armored Mongol warrior with a cheetah

Statue of an armored Mongol warrior with a cheetah (Enerelt/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mongols who owned lamellar preferred it to mail, even though mail armor was rare. The reason for this was that lamellar armor provided better protection against arrows than mail. According to David Nicolle, “Test have shown that mail can absorb arrows shot from a reasonable distance, but it could not prevent them causing minor wounds. Lamellar armor, however, was much more effective against arrows.” To add further protection, the Mongols learned from the Chinese of the stopping power of silk. Heavy cavalrymen would wear a heavy protective silk undershirt underneath their armor. Even if the arrow penetrated the lamellar or mail armor, it might not penetrate the silk. Instead, the arrow might become twisted in the silk as it entered the body, thus cleaning the wound, or perhaps even treating it with the plant dyes (such as turmeric) used in the dyeing process of the garment. Furthermore, wearing a silk undershirt made it easier to extract the arrow from the body without doing further damage.

Drawing of a mobile Mongol soldier with bow and arrow wearing deel. The arms could be uncovered in hot weather.

Drawing of a mobile Mongol soldier with bow and arrow wearing deel. The arms could be uncovered in hot weather. (Public Domain)

As for horse armor, the Mongol heavy cavalrymen would outfit their horses in five parts:

“they put one piece along each side of the horse which protects it from the tail to the head and is tied to the saddle, behind the saddle on the back, and at the neck. Over the horse’s back they put another piece where the two parts of the harness are joined and they make a hole in this piece through which they expose the tail, while in front of the chest they place a piece that protects every-thing from the knees or the knee joints. On the forehead they put an iron plate which is tied on each side of the neck.”

Boots for Riding

Boots were also crucial to the rider. The Mongol boot was designed for standing in the stirrups, which provided the rider a platform to fire at a quick gallop. Mongol cavalrymen wore sturdy, thick inflexible soled heelless boots, with the rigid toe turned upwards, and was made from leather and felt that provided protection from the bitter cold of the steppes and their legs from chafing due to rubbing against the horses back. The source of the leather comes from horses according to Rubruck in which he states, “With the hind part of the hide of horses they make most beautiful shoes.” Even though heavy, the boots were comfortable enough for the rider to tuck his pants in before tying the laces. To absorb perspiration, the Mongols wore socks made of felt, which kept his feet warm, especially since the boot was lined with fur, making it unlikely that his feet would get cold.

Mongolian boot style, for a child and adult.

Mongolian boot style, for a child and adult. (Public Domain)

Practical Headgear

Headwear of the Mongols came in two types; The majority of horse archers donned the fur cap. The fur cap was conical in shape and made from quality material. It had reversible earflaps and brim for the summer and winter.

Portrait of Ogedei Khan with a fur cap.

Portrait of Ogedei Khan with a fur cap. (Public Domain)

Those who were heavy cavalry also wore a conical helmet made of harden leather or one of iron. According to Carpini, “The Tartar helmet has a crown made of iron or steel, but the part that extends around the neck and throat is of leather,” which had been harden and was composed of various sizes of iron and steel plates, and probably lined with fur. Unlike the fur cap, earflaps on the iron helmet were optional. The heavy cavalryman’s helmet had two slots where the flaps could be attached to better protect his ears. To add further protection, iron plated lamellar neck guard was included.

The helmet of a Mongolian soldier

The helmet of a Mongolian soldier (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While the Mongol helmet was conical in shape, it was thought to be taller and pointier than the traditional Chinese helmets. For a long time, no helmets were known to have survived Mongol China. However, Randall Sasaki in his book The Origins of the Lost Fleet of the Mongol Empire mentions that five “well-preserved iron helmets were discovered” and that the “diameter of these helmets is 22 to 23 cm, and their height is 12 to 15 cm. A few helmets appear to be thicker at one end. All of the helmets seem to have had an attachment at the top where a pointed protrusion was located.”

The Might of the Sword

When it comes to swords, the Mongols had a variety of types. In both of the modern-day nations of Russia and Mongolia, archaeologists have found swords belonging to the Mongols. The swords varied in design as some were broad and straight, like European blades, while others had a slight curve. Both types of swords were single edged, roughly one meter (three feet) in length, and were designed for cutting rather than stabbing.

The sabre [left] and the scimitar [right] were curved swords of a type as used by the Mongol military

The sabre [left] and the scimitar [right] were curved swords of a type as used by the Mongol military (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The majority of Mongol soldiers never carried swords during the early stages of the Empire. It appears that swords were reserved for the elite during that time. Much later, western writers like Carpini and Rubruck described the Mongol warrior as carrying bows, arrows, and axes. Thomas of Spalato describes the Mongols in a similar fashion but that they carried swords as well. Sibt ibn al-Jawzi mentions that the Mongols were using swords during their engagements against the Khwarazm Empire from 1219-1221. Marco Polo also describes their use of swords along with maces and shields during his time among them.

Overall, swords were not a weapon so desired by the Mongols like those in the rest of Eurasia. To the Mongols, the sword was a symbol of power only reserved for the elite. As time passed, people conquered, territory expanded, and the Mongols slowly adopted the sword. They were now in charge of large urban areas which effectively took them off their horse and placed them in the streets.

The Famous Bow

Of all the weapons utilized by the Mongols, the bow stood forefront in their war arsenal. But this should come to no surprise since it was steppe peoples’ weapon of choice throughout their history. The bow used by the Mongols was the composite bow.

Hulagu Khan with the older composite bow used during the time of the Mongol conquest. It is smaller in size and has no string bridges.

Hulagu Khan with the older composite bow used during the time of the Mongol conquest. It is smaller in size and has no string bridges. (Public Domain)

The composite bow consisted of horn, wood, sinew, and glue. The wood used for constructing the core of the bow was made from a variety, such as larch, birch, and elm. Of the woods considered, bamboo, (which is not a wood but a strong grass), was most desirable for its lack of grain and strength. With grain absent, bamboo reduced the risk of developing twists in the limbs and was desired due to being stronger than wood. Bamboo would have to be imported, however.

Bamboo was preferred in Mongolian bows

Bamboo was preferred in Mongolian bows (Manfred Heyde/CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Genghis Khan conquered northern China, he had direct accesses to the commodity. Once the material for the core had been selected and cured, ibex horn was used, or sometimes bone. In order to apply horn or bone to the core, it had to be softened by boiling. As for the backing, sinew was used (from an animal, possibly ibex), and the Achilles tendon was preferred. To prepare the sinew, the tendons had to be dried and crushed to a mass of loose fiber. Once this was done, the sinew was mixed with an adhesive made from boiled-down animal tendons or fish bones. The bowyer had to be careful when applying the sinew mixed with glue to the core— as to little would be weak and too much made the bow stiff. Once the sides were glued to the core, the bow was set aside to dry. As it dried, it began to harden and form. The total process from beginning to end may have taken up to a year to finish and once complete, the bow was ready to be personalized by its owner with decorations, and then stored in a leather case.

A Timurid depiction of a Mongol archer, 15th century

A Timurid depiction of a Mongol archer, 15th century (Public Domain)

With the quality makeup of the bow came its power.

The shape of the Mongol bow was a flattened and curved shape of an “M”. The general range of the Mongol bow was 300 meters (984 feet) with a tremendous range of 500 meters (1640 feet). Overall, it’s believed a Mongol horse archer could hit his target from point blank to potentially 550 yards. ‘Potentially’, because a thirteenth century report says that one of Genghis Khan’s master archers made a 428-yard shot (1284 feet). Of course, it becomes more difficult to hit the target from a great range unless that target is a moving mass of soldiers.

The size of the bow was roughly 120 centimeters (48 inches) in length. The draw weight of the bow had a tremendous pull between 100-170 pounds (45-77 kg). Of course, this depended on the strength of the archer. However, pulling the bow to its maximum potential was rare. Instead, the Mongol horse archers relied on rapid fire. He would do this by rapidly pulling the bowstring back only a short distance before release, and only did so when the hooves of the horse were off the ground. This allowed the archer to concentrate on his target.

In combat, the Mongol cavalry punished enemy forces with a constant barrage of arrows at 200 paces and penetrated armor at 100 yards (300 feet). Furthermore, the Mongol archer would carry two bows with him on campaign. One bow was used for long range and the other for short distance shots. Some suggest that the use of the bow for short distance shots was utilized when the soldier had dismounted.

To shoot the composite bow, the Mongol archer would wear a thumb ring and draw the string with his ring and forefinger, known as the Mongolian Draw. The thumb ring was developed by Steppe peoples in order to shoot faster and effectively from horseback at full gallop.

7th century Mughal thumb ring made of walrus ivory.

7th century Mughal thumb ring made of walrus ivory. (Public Domain)

The thumb ring was made from a variety of materials such as horn, bone, metal, leather, stone, and ivory. The thumb ring provided two advantages to the archers. The ring eased the pressure of the string on the thumb, which allows the archer to fire arrows faster upon release and with better accuracy since the placement of the arrow was on the same side of the shooting hand. As well, the Mongolian Draw was said to be superior to the three-finger release.

A ‘Mongolian Draw’ [left] versus a ‘Mediterranean Draw’ [right]

A ‘Mongolian Draw’ [left] versus a ‘Mediterranean Draw’ [right] (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Overall, the Mongol cavalryman and his composite bow delivered a devastating punch. Latham and Paterson in their book “Saracen Archery” mention the bow’s tremendous power and elegant design:

“Since such composites can withstand an enormous amount of bend, shortness of length could be achieved in design, and this feature made them very suitable weapons for the mounted archer.”

Mongol cavalrymen during the time of the Mongol conquest used a smaller bow suitable for horse archery.

Mongol cavalrymen during the time of the Mongol conquest used a smaller bow suitable for horse archery. (Public Domain)

“In a well-designed bow the weight should increase quickly during the first few inches of the draw, after which the rate of increase should diminish as the draw progresses. This quality was achieved in the East by fitting of a rigid end-piece (in Arabic, siyah, pl. siyat) to each end of the bow. When they bow was about half-drawn, the siyat began to act as levers so that the draw could be continued with less increase in the weight than would have been the case without them … For a given weight at full draw – this quantity depending on the archer’s strength – the composite bow stores a great amount of energy, which is then available for transfer to the arrow when the string is loosed.
When the siyat project away from the archer before the braced bow is drawn, as in the case with the Manchu and Mongolian bows … a string-bridge is fitted to prevent the string from slipping past the knee of the bow; for should this happen the latter would violently assume its unbraced shape and virtually turn itself inside out.”

Top Image: Painting depicting the Battle of Cheoin (Korea) between Goryeo and Mongol Empire forces in the Korean peninsula in 1232; Deriv. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Cam Rea

References

Thomas J. Craughwell, The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History: How Genghis Khan’s Mongols Almost Conquered the World (Beverly, Mass: Fair Winds Press, 2010).

Timothy May, The Mongol Conquests in World History (London: Reaktion Books, 2012).

Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System (Yardley, Penn: Westholme, 2007).

Richard D. McCreight, Mongol Warrior Epic: Masters of Thirteenth Century Maneuver Warfare (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College 1983).

Marco Polo, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian: Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East. Volume 2 edited and translated by Henry Yule. 3rdedition (London: J. Murray, 1929).

Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1961).

George Vernadsky, A History of Russia, Vol 3 (New Haven and London: Yale University press, 1953).

Tracy, Larissa. Wounds and Wound Repair in Medieval Culture. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

Was the Greco-Persian Wars Manufactured by the Greeks?

The Greco-Persian wars lasted for more than half a century in some respects. Some date the war as being from 499-448 BCE while others date the conflict from 492-448 BCE. Either or, the war itself was a disaster for both sides.

The Greeks, during the war with Persia, even fought amongst themselves in the First Peloponnesian War from 460-445 and then again in the Second Peloponnesian War from 432-404 BCE. For their part, the Persians lost territory during this conflict with the various Greek states and in doing so, lost a sense of supremacy in the region. On a darker note, Persia’s losses also fueled Greek supremacy, which would eventual lead to the rise of one Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander, as we know, would invade Persia and conquer it without hesitation. Nevertheless, it is not the focus of this piece to delve into the various Greek wars or Alexander’s invasion of Persia, but rather look into how and why the Greco-Persian wars started in the first place!

Who and what caused the war that we read about today or see glamorized in Hollywood films? Was the whole thing manufactured by one side?

The Warnings of the Oracle

When Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Astyages, the last king of the Median Empire in 559 BCE, he inherited a new problem. That problem was the western frontier in what is today the country of Turkey. Beforehand, in 585 BCE, the Medes and Lydian empires made an agreement that the Halys River would be the boundary between the two powers. The king of Lydia at the time was Croesus.

Croesus was famous for his wealth and power throughout Greece and the Near East. With his brother-in-law Astyages now defeated, he felt the need to avenge his defeat. In reality, he saw this as an opportunity to extend his borders. Nevertheless, before Croesus mobilized his forces he sent embassies with many gifts and they asked the oracle of Delphi questions concerning the Persians. The oracle turned to the men and said, “If Croesus attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire.” The oracle also suggested to Croesus that he should seek some allies that were powerful to assist him in his war against Persia.

Relief of Persian and Median warriors (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Croesus became overjoyed and overconfident about the news. One would think that Croesus would have understood the part about finding some allies to assist him in this war with Persia as the advice given suggests that Persia’s might was far greater.  Nevertheless, Croesus visited the oracle again and asked how long the Lydian empire would last. The oracle said to Croesus “Wait till the time shall come when a mule is monarch of Media: Then, thou delicate Lydian, away to the pebbles of Hermus: Haste, oh! Haste thee away, nor blush to behave like a coward.”

The mule, a hybrid animal of a donkey and a horse, that is mentioned symbolized none other than Cyrus, for Cyrus was part royalty due to his mother being an Umman-manda princess, while his father Cambyses was a petty vassal king or quite possibly a mere tribal chief in the eyes of Astyages. One can easily base these judgments on ethnicity, but the people we are dealing with were of semi-nomadic stock, and it seems that some had more privileges than others did due to royal status rather than ethnic diversity.

A Critical Error

In 547/46, BCE, Croesus moved his forces beyond the Halys River and entered into the province of Cappadocia. Once there, he sent envoys to Croesus’ camp with a message ordering Croesus to hand over Lydia to him. If Croesus agreed, Cyrus would allow him to stay in Lydia but would have to remove his crown as king and he’d need to accept the title Satrap of Lydia. Evidently, Croesus turned down the invitation and the two armies did battle at a place called Pteria in Cappadocia. The battle took place in the month of November and Croesus was defeated, and he retreated across the Halys River and back into Lydian territory.

Croesus then made a terrible mistake: he decided to disperse his army for the winter, thinking Cyrus would not attack until spring. Then without warning, Cyrus did the unexpected: Cyrus and his forces fell upon the Lydian camps that were in the process of demobilization. They were surprised, routed, and defeated. This was a risky move for Cyrus and his forces, due to the stories of Lydia’s army being superior, even though they did beat them at Pteria. Cyrus may have known that once the Lydian forces demobilized, they would be easier to defeat. In addition, Cyrus it would be riskier to challenge them on their home turf in spring. However, Cyrus put the theory that Lydia was far more superior to the test—and found them wanting.

Relief at Thermopylae, Greece (CC BY 2.0)

Once the routing of the Lydian forces was complete and they were no longer a substantial threat, Croesus fled to Sardis where he took refuge. Many of his supposed allies sent no troops and instead many of the provinces in Lydia seem to have defected over to Cyrus.

The Bath-Gymnasium complex at Sardis, 2nd-3rd century AD, Sardis, Turkey. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cyrus knew that there was no time to waste and pursued Croesus to Sardis, where he besieged the city and on the fourteenth day the city fell. It was during this time that Sparta sent forces to help Croesus, but once word reached the Spartan forces in Transnet concerning Sardis, they most likely turned back. The word that Sardis fell sent a shock wave throughout the Near East and is said to have been as great a shock as when the news of Nineveh fell in 612 BCE.

Map showing the Greek world during the Greco-Persian Wars (ca. 500–479 BC) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In addition, the Chronicle of Nabonidus also mentions the fall of Lydia, as it states, “In the month of Nisan, King Cyrus of Persia mustered his army and crossed the Tigris downstream from Arbela and, in the month of Iyyar, [march]ed on Ly[dia]. He put its king to death, seized its possessions, [and] set up his own garrison [there]. After that, the king and his garrison resided there.”

Crushing Rebellion

The conquest of Lydia as a whole was far from over, for there were still many Greek city-states such as the Ionians and Aeolians who were mad about the situation and wanted the same terms that Cyrus gave to Croesus before the battle of Pteria. Cyrus said no, and the revolts began as he left for Ecbatana, for he had other issues on his mind. To suppress the revolts taking place in Asia Minor, Cyrus sent a man by the name of Mazares back with some troops to squash uprisings and enslave those partaking in the rebellion. Mazares did just that for some time until he died of unknown causes.

The next person to take his place and keep the rebellions down was Harpagus. Harpagus put the final stamp on the rebellious situation and placed Persian garrisons in the areas affected to secure the peace. However, it was not easy, for it took four years before the establishment of Persian rule among the populace.

Therefore, what can be learned from this situation involving the Persians and the Greek Lydians is that Croesus was the main instigator of the conflict. Had Croesus not taken up arms over the death of Astyages, war with Persia may not have happened, but as previously mentioned the death of Astyages was an opportunity for Croesus to extend his borders on the gamble that Persia was far weaker then Media.

It Started with Aristagoras

In 499 BCE, citizens who were exiled from Naxos approached Aristagoras, the deputy governor of Miletus (an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia, near the mouth of the Maeander River in ancient Caria).

Map of Miletus and other cities within the Lydian Empire (CC BY-SA 3.0)

They came to Aristagoras seeking help. They wanted to know if he would supply them with troops to regain their homeland. Aristagoras liked this proposal. What he liked was that if he could take Naxos, he could then become the ruler. Seeing that he did not have the troop strength, he decided to approach the Artaphernes, the satrap of Lydia and brother of Darius. Artaphernes had many troops and a navy at his disposal.

The ruins of Miletus. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The only thing that was missing was the money to fund the military expedition. Aristagoras turned to the exiled men and asked for financial support. Once all had been agreed to, the troops and ships were provided and the expedition to take Naxos commenced.

However, an issue arose. As Aristagoras was approaching the island, Megabates, the naval commander of some 200 ships, got into an intense argument with Aristagoras. Some speculate that Megabates warned the people of Naxos to prepare for their arrival. However, this is not for certain as it could have been someone else.  Once the Persian forces arrived, the city was ready and the Persians were bogged down for four months and they ultimately had to turn back due to a lack of money.

Reconstructed model of a trireme, the type of ship in use by both the Greek and Persian forces. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

After Aristagoras returned home, he had to repay Artaphernes the costs of the military expedition. But he did not have the money and because of this, alienated himself from the royal Persian court. Aristagoras knew that it would not be long before Artaphernes stripped him of his position. Therefore, Aristagoras became desperate and declared war on Persia by inciting his own subjects to revolt. After defeating the Ionians and their allies, the Persians made it clear after the land had been brought back under Persian control that they intended not to harm the economy (as in pillage and ask for war reparations) but to help it re-grow, expand, and to re-establish a relationship with the citizens. After the terms with the citizens and its leaders had been agreed to, King Darius wanted to punish those who aided the Ionians which was Athens and Eretria.

Terracotta female bust, Ionian workshop, found in a tomb, Macri Langoni T 75. 525-500 BC. (Public Domain)

War for the Ages

The significance of the Ionian Revolt was that not only did Aristagoras start a provincial rebellion, he went out of his way, and understandably, and sought outside help in this endeavor. No one was interested in giving aid to Aristagoras at first, except for Athens and Eretria. This would only fuel the fire further, once the Ionian Revolt ended 493 BCE. More important was that the Greco-Persian Wars had now officially begun. The Greco-Persian War was a war for the ages, which came and went in stages. However, its impact continued long after the last one ended in 449 BCE.

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior depicted fighting. 5th century BC (Public Domain)

Men like Alexander the Great would rise up to challenge the mighty Achaemenid Empire. He conquered with such fluidity that he, himself was overcome by its sheer size due to exhaustion and sickness. One could argue that the Greco-Persian War started with Aristagoras in 499 BCE and ended with Alexander the Great in 330 BCE.

 

Top Image: Warrior Model (CC BY-SA 2.0), and an ominous Dark Sky (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Briant, Pierre. From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2002.

Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 35000 B.C. to the Present. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993.

Dupuy, Trevor N. Johnson, Curt. Bongard, David L. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books, 1995.

Ebbott, Mary. Imagining illegitimacy in classical Greek literature. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 2003.

Glassner, Jean-Jacques and Benjamin R. Foster. Mesopotamian Chronicles. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004.

Herodotus. The Histories. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1997.

Herodotus, translated by George Rawlinson, edited by Hugh Bowden. The Histories. London: Everyman, 1997.

Who were the Ancient Danites & Danaan? Part II

 

The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy. Looking to the Bible and its description of ancient events leads to Greek myth, and the truth behind hidden identities.

Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.

For one name is Mycenaean with Semitic influence while the other is Egyptian with Semitic influence, and when we look to the New Testament Greek, we find a link between the two names. Thus, it is possible that both names are related due to the Semitic influence that both the Mycenaean and Egyptian cultures inherited.

The Song of Deborah

The question we must ask is did the tribe of Dan have a falling out with Jacob? The answer to that question is yes! However, before going further, understand that if we are to look at the story of two brothers, the story is partially false and partially true. The false part of the story is that Dan and Jacob were brothers; according to the Bible, Jacob was Dan’s father. However, and with that said, Dan and Jacob could be considered brothers. In other words, the tribes of Israel were all brothers to one another including the tribe of Dan.

Symbol of the Tribe of Dan (Serpent in the center) (Public Domain)

This is where the story of Danaus and Aegyptus are in relation to the Biblical account of Dan and Jacob/Israel. However, we must ask ourselves what story in the Bible can be related to Danaus and Aegyptus? For that answer, one must look to the book of Judges and focus on the famed “song of Deborah.”

A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible.

A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The song of Deborah states, “Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships?” Judges 5:17. The answer to this verse is due to a man named Sisera, found in the book of Judges 5:20, whom the Israelites were at war with. Dan refused to fight and remained in his ships. Dan could either care less or was being cautious as to what was going on and the same can be said for a portion of the Manassehites living in Gilead, according to the verse.

This is where we get the story of Danaus fleeing with his daughters from his brother Aegyptus and sons. As for why Dan fled, one must look to the story of Hypermnestra and her husband Lynceus to find the answer. In this story, one will notice a similar law between the Hebrews and Greeks, and that the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for places connected to the Bible.

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse.

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse. (Public Domain)

Law and Marriage

The story of how Hypermnestra allowed her husband to live may be connected to Biblical events that took place. According to Greek law, if a woman had no brothers then the next of kin was obliged to marry her so that the land her father left her stayed in the family. Aegyptus, according to Greek legend, was the brother of Danaus. Aegyptus had fifty sons, Danaus had fifty daughters. If Danaus refused to marry his daughters to his brother’s sons, the inheritance would have gone to someone else, not of the tribe. This Greek law bears great resemblance to the Hebrew law wherein if a woman had no brothers to take over the family’s lands, then she had to marry someone of her kin in order to keep the land within the family. This was also the case with Zelophehad and his five daughters found in the book of Numbers (26:33, 27:3), and in the book of Joshua (17:3).

The Daughters of Zelophehad

The Daughters of Zelophehad (Public Domain)

These five daughters were not married when Joshua presided over Israel and the land was being divided up among the chieftains. The men of Israel were concerned over this, that if these daughters did not marry, then there was a possibility that other men may take them and thus divide up the inheritance. Like the Greek story, one will notice that not only did the daughters of Danaus marry their kin, so did the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:11).

Besides the similarities in the law, the Greeks and Hebrews seemed to share their stories. We now focus on the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus. Hypermnestra, according to the story, was the daughter of Danaus. However, her name may be in relation to the name or place known as Gilead. The word “hyper” in Greek means over, above, or exceeding, which is similar to and may have originated from the Hebrew word Gilead. In Hebrew, Gilead can mean, hill, mound, or rugged, you could say. The word Gilead can also be considered “upper Manasseh”, and is the reason is that the land the tribe of Manasseh is allotted extends far north when one looks at a map as to where the twelve tribes of Israel were located.

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. (Public Domain) Tribe of Dan is top row, third from right.

 

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North.

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

One will notice that part of the tribe of Manasseh dwells on the east side of Jordan River where you will find the land of Gilead if you look north. When you compare the two names’ definitions, you see that Hyper means over, as in over a river, as in the Jordan River, and above, as in hilly or mountainous region, like the region of Gilead which means hill, mound, or rugged.

Now the name Lynceus is also interesting, for the name Lynceus in Greek may be derived from lynx or leopard in association with a lion, just as the Hebrew word Laish, which is also a city of the tribe of Dan, and is said to mean “lion,”; “for Dan is a lions whelp,” (Deuteronomy 33:22). It becomes possible that the story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus is a story not about two people, but about how the tribe of Dan refused to join his brothers Jacob/Israel in their fight against Sisera. In addition, it also shows how a part of Manasseh living in Gilead near the Danite city of Laish refused to follow Jacob/Israel and thus allowed the city of Laish to live as it may. This event may have served as the story or background for the famed story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus—that Hypermnestra and Lynceus were tribal brothers and tribal allies who shared interests in opposing Jacob/Israel against Sisera. The Greeks may have viewed the alliance as a marriage, but through tribal relations, and over time the story went from two tribes related through marriage as in terms of having the same founding father, to just two people related.

With that said, it should also be noted that the story concerning Zelophehad and his daughters may have been used as a backdrop in explaining the law when the Danites made it to Greece, and over time that story transformed into the story we have today. Whatever the case maybe, it is plausible that the events and stories that took place in Israel during the time of Judges could have been passed unto the Greeks through the tribe of Dan.

Betrayal and Murder

Let us focus on the other part of the story that many find horrendous, and that is the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdering their forty-nine husbands on the night of their wedding.

Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid.

Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain)

According to myth, on the wedding night Danaus give instructions to his fifty daughters to murder their husbands. As you have already read, one daughter spared her husband’s life. However, the question that needs addressing is, is there a connection to another story found in the Bible concerning both the forty-nine daughters murdering their forty-nine husbands? According to the book of Judges and during the same time that the tribe of Dan and a part of the tribe of Manasseh turned their backs on their kin, there lived a woman named Jael. In the book of Judges 4:17-22, Jael is not a Hebrew but a Kenite. The name Kenite comes from the Hebrew word qayin, which means smith or metalworker. The Kenites were well-known metalworkers and their craftsmanship was acknowledged from the lands as far south as Arad in Negreb and as far north as Kedesh near Elon-bezaanannim in Naphtali. The Kenites were friends with those of Sisera.

As the story goes, Sisera fled, probably from a lost battle, until he reached an area were the Kenites lived, such as Jael. It was there that she offered him a place to rest his head. Once asleep, Jael killed him with a tent peg through his temple, till it came out the other side and into the ground, as the story says.

The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael.

The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael. (Public Domain)

What is fascinating about this story is that the act parallels that of the Greek myth. The only difference between the two is that the Biblical story praises Jael for a job well done and she is showered with blessings, while the Greek story paints the women who murdered their husbands at night as villains and castaways for such an act. What else becomes evident, and something already discussed, is that Dan refused to fight when Sisera arrived, but once Jael ended Sisera’s life the war ended, and the same goes for when the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdered their husbands while they were asleep; the war between the Danaus and Aegyptus had been settled.

In conclusion, it seems fair to say that there is a possible connection to the Biblical accounts mentioned. So, let us back track briefly. Danaus=Dan, Aegyptius=Jacob, Greek law and Hebrew law on marriage and land grants are nearly the same, Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for a people and a city allowed to live, and the women who murdered their husbands are a metaphor for Jael and her actions. It is worth looking into further as there are more scraps and tidbits of information throughout the famed Greek story. However, it will require further investigation, but what has been presented should be considered and weighed – for behind ever myth is a general truth.

If interested in such proposals concerning the Greek-Hebrew connections, see the writings of John R. Salverda.

Top Image: A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0) and Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Anonymous. The Wesleyan Sunday-School Magazine [Afterw.] the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Magazine. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1873.

Cairns, Ian. Word and presence: a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Cheyne, Thomas Kelly. Black, John Sutherland. Encyclopaedia biblica : a critical dictionary of the literary political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1903.

Davidiy, Yair. Lost Israelite Identity: The Hebrew Ancestory of Celtic Races. Shiloh-Hebron-Susia-Jerusalem: Russel-Davis Publishers, 1996.

—. The Tribes. Jerusalem: Russell-Davis, 2004.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.

Hard, Robin. he Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.

Hathom, Richmond Yancey. Greek Mythology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Haubrich, William S. Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College Of Physicians, 2003.

Killebrew, Ann and Gunnar Lehmann, The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East Vol 1: An Anthology of Text and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Rose, Herbert Jennings. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge, 2005.

Salverda, John R. “The Danaans” [Online] Available at: http://ensignmessage.com/articles/the-danaans/ (accessed 3 March 2010).

Who were the Ancient Danites & Danaan? Part I

 

The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Other evidence suggests they originated somewhere along the coast of the Levant, or they were an Israelite tribe that fled with Moses during the biblical Exodus from Egypt. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy.

The warriors who sacked Egypt for its spoils, or Homer’s Troy may explain the mysterious identity and origins of these people, along with the use of Greek mythologies and the Bible itself. Let us first look at the Bible and its description of the events that took place before delving into the Greek story about Danaus and Aegyptus.

Who are the Danites?

According to the Book of Genesis, Dan was the fifth son of Jacob and was mother Bilhah’s first son. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel’s handmaid, who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Genesis 30:1-6). The tribe of Dan fled Egypt with the rest of the Israelites led by Moses during the Exodus.

The Dan tribe's serpent plate

The Dan tribe’s serpent plate (CC BY 2.0)

Afterwards, the Danites along with their Israelite brethren fought and defeated many foes, such as the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites and the most troublesome: the Philistines. Dan’s territorial allotment, recorded in Joshua 19:40-46, only gives a list of towns:

The seventh lot came out for the tribe of Dan according to its clans. The territory of their inheritance included:

Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, Elon, Timnah, Ekron, Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Joppa.

While verses 42-46 describe settlements, verses 47-48 mention that the Danites left and “went up to fight against Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father.” However, verses 40-48 were likely added later. The reason the author of Joshua did not describe borders but provided a list of settlements and a quick mention of their move to the north is that the borders of Dan were constantly changing due to the rift they had with the Philistines, which caused them to pack up and migrate north. However, Dan’s relationship with the Philistines may not have always been hostile.

When the Danites had settled between the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, a problem arose; their territory was too small. They could not expand north, south, or east, for that was their brethren’s territory. Therefore, they looked west but ran into another problem. Further expansion west was not possible due to the powerful city-states along the coast of southern Canaan. Because of this, the Danites were landlocked.

A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites

A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0)

The elders of Dan sought a means to acquire more territory. However, Joshua 19:47 suggests that they were not militarily capable on their own to push out the Canaanites along the coast. While the elders probably considered asking their kin to assist them in their endeavor to expand further, the Israelite tribes around Dan had problems of their own. Because of this, they understandably refrained from any military action that could jeopardize their holdings. This would change when the Philistines arrived.

Philistines, or Peleset, captives of the Egyptians, from a graphic wall relief at Medinet Habu. Circa 1185-52 BC, during the reign of Ramesses III.

Philistines, or Peleset, captives of the Egyptians, from a graphic wall relief at Medinet Habu. Circa 1185-52 BC, during the reign of Ramesses III. (Public Domain)

Who are the Sea Peoples?

The Philistines were of Aegean origin, possibly originating from Cyprus or Crete. They were known in Egyptian inscriptions as the Peleset, and were a part of a conjectured conglomerate of sea raiders that Egyptologist Gaston Maspero came to call Sea Peoples. They took part in a large migration/invasion towards the end of the Bronze Age.

The Danites may have joined this conglomerate. While there is no proof that they ever did, the Medinet Habu inscriptions of Ramses III, mention a group known as the Denyen who were defeated by his forces at the Battle of the Djahy (1179):

The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms: from Hatti, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alashiya on, being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the land as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: ‘Our plans will succeed!’

Whether the Denyen were, in fact, the Biblical tribe of Dan will remain disputed. However, one could argue from a military and political perspective that the Danites did aid the Philistines against the Egyptians.

Philistine Bichrome pottery, theorized to be of Sea Peoples origin.

Philistine Bichrome pottery, theorized to be of Sea Peoples origin. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As mentioned, the Danites allotted territory was too small. Their desire to expand was cut short because they had not the military means to go it alone. When the Philistines and company were making their way south, the Danites saw an opportunity. They joined this coalition of marauders, who were possibly led by the Philistines, in an attempt to expand territorially along the coast of southern Canaan around 1179 BCE. However, as this conglomerate made their way south, they attacked the Canaanite city-states subject to the Egyptians and took them. Afterwards, they continued south, where they engaged the Egyptian army at Djahy and were defeated.

One would think that the Egyptians would have executed or enslaved the defeated forces. Even though the Philistines lost the battle, they won the spoils. Instead, Ramses III decided that since he lost his garrison in southern Canaan, he would use the Philistines to regarrison the coastal fortified cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza—not only to secure the land but also to secure the trade route. The Philistines were assigned to govern and protect a stretch of land along the coast 40 miles long (64 km) and roughly 15 miles (24 km) wide.

Outer gate wall at Ashkelon. Original mud bricks of the outer gate structure of Philistine Ashkelon. The bricks are from the middle bronze age, roughly 4000 years ago.

Outer gate wall at Ashkelon. Original mud bricks of the outer gate structure of Philistine Ashkelon. The bricks are from the middle bronze age, roughly 4000 years ago. (Ian Scott/CC BY-SA 2.0)

While the Philistines won the land grab, the tribe of Dan during this ordeal was thwarted twice. Dan’s first setback was the defeat at Djahy (1179 BCE) by the Egyptians.

Sea Peoples in conflict with the Egyptians in the battle of Djahy.

Sea Peoples in conflict with the Egyptians in the battle of Djahy. (Public Domain)

Their second setback was that after the defeat, their allies, the Philistines, were given land and were now the allies of Egypt. With Egyptian backing, the Philistine occupation of southern Canaan denied the tribe of Dan and that of Judah any hopes to expand. Besides the Biblical account, we can look at the Greek account regarding another people who have a similar name.

Who are the Danaan?

According to the Greeks, the Danaan were a branch of what would become the Greek people over time. In Greek mythology, the Danaan originally dwelt next to the Nile River in Egypt. Their founder was a man by the name of Danaus, who was a descendant of Io.

Zeus and Io

Zeus and Io (Public Domain)

Danaus had fifty daughters, and his brother Aegyptus had fifty sons. Aegyptus wanted to marry off his fifty sons to the daughters of Danaus. Danaus gathered his daughters and fled by ship from the marriage proposal offered by his brother, and settled in a place called Argos where they found safety among the Argives. Aegyptus, furious that Danaus had fled, gathered his fifty sons and followed suit only to be repulsed by the Argives once they landed. It is said that eventually, the daughters of Danaus married their cousins—how this happened is unknown.

According to the tale, Danaus gave his daughters daggers at the wedding feast and instructed them to kill their husbands the night of the wedding.

The Danaides kill their husbands.

The Danaides kill their husbands. (Public Domain)

The daughters agreed to this very act— all except one. Her name was Hypermnestra, she was moved by pity, and thus let her husband Lynceus live. She was the only daughter to marry and have a child within her own family, and thus by Greek law, which will discuss shortly, their child inherited not only the spoils of Aegyptus but also the spoils of Danaus.

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while Hypermnestra tells Lynceus to flee.

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while Hypermnestra tells Lynceus to flee. (CC BY 2.0)

What is striking about this story is that it may be three stories made into one, and possibly of Hebrew origin. Let us first begin with the names Danaus and Aegyptus.

The Possible Connection

The name Danaus, which the Danaan tribes are named after, bears a striking resemblance to the Hebrew tribe of Dan, and may possibly be associated with the tribe of Dan due to name and phonetic similarities. The name Aegyptus is of great interest also.

First, one must understand that the Pharaohs of Egypt did not use the term Egypt, it was the Greeks who called them Egypt or in Greek “Aigyptos”. However, it seems that the name Aigyptos was used in reference to the Nile country from which our story first takes place between Danaus and Aegyptus and not Egypt as a whole, which opens another possibility that will be discussed shortly. In addition, many of the near eastern kingdoms and small nations never used the name “Aigyptos” when referring to Egypt, either. instead, nations like Assyria/Babylonia used the terms “Mutsri,” “Musur,” and “Misir” when referring to Egypt, while the Hebrews referred to them as “Mitsrayim” or “Mizraim.” However, the Mycenaean Linear B text mentions the name Egypt/Egyptian twice: the first name is Misirayo, while the second in the text is Aikupitiyo — two names considered by modern scholars to mean the same thing. Both names have major differences, and yet no modern scholar can tell us why Egypt is referred to by these two vastly different renderings of the name.

The first name mentioned in the Linear B text, “Misiryo” is very similar and connected to the Semitic variations of the name already mentioned. However, it is the second name, Aikupitiyo, which is in dispute, since it has no connection to Egypt. Both names seem to be personal names that point to an identity. If Misiryo means “The Egyptian” then the name Aikupitiyo is alien to the land of Egypt and does not indicate that this person is Egyptian. Another solution to this person’s identity can be demonstrated.

Remember the story of Danaus and Aegyptus, both are said to be brothers, and both dwelt by the Nile; both could escape by sea as well, as in the case of Danaus fleeing with his fifty daughters, and evidently so could Aegyptius when he pursued Danaus. With that said, it seems plausible to suspect that both Danaus and Aegyptus lived in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt. Thus, Danaus represents the Danites, and Aegyptus represents the Israelite as a whole, including the tribe of Dan, for the name Aikupitiyo could very well be a rendering of the name “Jacob”, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For further consideration, that the name Aikupitiyo is a rendering of Jacob, one must take notice that the name Jacob is “Ya’aqov” in Hebrew. In Ancient Egypt, a certain Hyksos ruler bears a very similar name, and that name is “Yakubher” also rendered as “Yak-Baal,” and “Yakeb-Baal”.  Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.

Top Image: A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0)  and Philistines (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Anonymous. The Wesleyan Sunday-School Magazine [Afterw.] the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Magazine. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1873.

Cairns, Ian. Word and presence: a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Cheyne, Thomas Kelly. Black, John Sutherland. Encyclopaedia biblica : a critical dictionary of the literary political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1903.

Davidiy, Yair. Lost Israelite Identity: The Hebrew Ancestory of Celtic Races. Shiloh-Hebron-Susia-Jerusalem: Russel-Davis Publishers, 1996.

—. The Tribes. Jerusalem: Russell-Davis, 2004.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.

Hard, Robin. he Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.

Hathom, Richmond Yancey. Greek Mythology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Haubrich, William S. Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College Of Physicians, 2003.

Killebrew, Ann and Gunnar Lehmann, The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East Vol 1: An Anthology of Text and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Rose, Herbert Jennings. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge, 2005.

Salverda, John R. “The Danaans” [Online] Available at: http://ensignmessage.com/articles/the-danaans/ (accessed 3 March 2010).

The Battle of Kadesh, a Clash of Titans (1274 BCE) – Part 2

 

The stage is set for a showdown between two giant armies – the Egyptians, with the greatest pharaoh of history, Ramses II, and the Hittites, with their impressive army and persuasive king, Muwatalli II. The bloody Battle of Kadesh would go down in history as the largest chariot battle ever fought!

The Egyptian Army and their Gods

The Egyptian army under Ramses II during the New Kingdom was a professional fighting force. The Egyptian army, like most, consisted of chariots, infantry, and archers. The Egyptians made sure that one man in ten was liable for military service. As for Egyptian units, they were named after their gods.

[Read Part I]

Each Egyptian division numbered 5,000 men subdivided into 250-man companies and 50-man platoons. The chariot, used by both the Egyptians and Hittites, was the tank of the ancient world and could not function properly upon the field of battle without infantry support. The Egyptian infantry provided the brunt of the main fighting body. The foot archers provided missile support. Chariots had a driver and an archer. Unlike a foot archer, the archer in the chariot was mobile and had a 360-degree platform to fire from, just like the Hittite chariots. A difference between the two armies was that the Egypt was much more suited for open warfare, unlike their Hittite counterparts.

Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh (relief at Abu Simbel)

Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh (relief at Abu Simbel) (Public Domain)

The size of the army Ramses led to Kadesh numbered 20,000, of which 16,000 were foot soldiers while the other 4,000 manned the chariots. There were two men to a chariot and the number of chariots the Egyptians brought to the battle was 2,000, requiring 4,000 horses, not to mention that additional horses and chariots were readily available. Unlike the Hittite chariots, which were built to taxi infantry around the battlefield, the Egyptian chariots were suited for speed and maneuverability. The Egyptians took the design of the Hyksos chariot and improved upon it by positioning the axle to the rear of the carrying platform, expanding the spokes in the wheel from four to six, and connecting the U-shaped joint to the yoke pole under the chariot was designed to slide left and right allowing the driver smooth rotation when on the move.

Hyksos chariot painting

Hyksos chariot painting (Public Domain)

The Battle of Kadesh

After many days, Ramses led his army to Usermare-Meriamon, the city of cedar. From here, he proceeded northward and arrived at the highland of Kadesh. Ramses, like his father, crossed over the channel of the Orontes, with the first division of Amon named: “Victory-of-King-Usermare-Setepnere.”

When Ramses reached the city, he states in the battle of Kadesh account:

Behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta (Hittites) had come, having gathered together all countries from the ends of the sea to the land of Kheta, which came entire: the Naharin likewise, and Arvad, Mesa, Keshkesh, Kelekesh, Luka, Kezweden, Carchemish, Ekereth, Kode, the entire land of Nuges, Mesheneth, and Kadesh. He left not a country which was not brought together with their chiefs who were with him, every man bringing his chariotry, an exceeding great multitude, without its like. They covered the mountains and the valleys; they were like grasshoppers with their multitudes. He left not silver nor gold in his land but he plundered it of all its possessions and gave to every country, in order to bring them with him to battle. Behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta, together with numerous allied countries, were stationed in battle array, concealed on the northwest of the city of Kadesh.

Statue of Ramses II at Luxor Temple

Statue of Ramses II at Luxor Temple (CC BY-SA 2.0)

While Ramses was alone with his bodyguard, the division of Amon was marching behind him. The division of Ra crossed over the river-bed on the south side of the town of Shabtuna, at the distance of an iter (assuming that 1 iter = 5,000 royal cubits = 2618 meters or 1.6 miles) from the division of Amon; the division of Ptah was on the south of the city of Aranami; and the division of Sutekh was marching upon the road.

Egyptian relief dating to Ramesses II's reign, depicting Kadesh garrisoned by Hittites and surrounded by the Orontes River.

Egyptian relief dating to Ramesses II’s reign, depicting Kadesh garrisoned by Hittites and surrounded by the Orontes River. (Public Domain)

According to the account:

Ramses had formed the first rank of all the leaders of his army, while they were on the shore in the land of the Amor. Behold, the wretched vanquished chief of Kheta (Hittites) was stationed in the midst of the infantry which was with him, and he came not out to fight, for fear of his majesty. Then he made to go the people of the chariotry, an exceedingly numerous multitude like the sand, being three people to each span. Now, they had made their combinations thus: among every three youths was one man of the vanquished of Kheta, equipped with all the weapons of battle. Lo, they had stationed them in battle array, concealed on the northwest the city of Kadesh.

The Hittite forces rushed forth from the tree line on the southern side of Kadesh, and cut right through the division of Ra, exposing the Egyptian right flank. This caused many of the Egyptian infantry and chariotry to retreat in panic and slam right into the Amon division led by Ramses, which he had halted on the north of the city of Kadesh, on the western side of the Orontes. After the Hittite chariots had punched their way through the Ra division, they swung back towards the plains of Kadesh from which they headed northeast to attack Ramses’ encampment. Even though some Hittite units were able to penetrate the camp, many were knocked off their chariots and slain by Ramses’ bodyguard. While Ramses and his men put up a valiant effort, they had to abandon the camp/fort. The Hittite soldiers had a field day looting the camp.

While the Hittites were busy looting the camp, Ramses rushed to his chariot and quickly took off without his bodyguard. It is said that when he rushed in he defeated the thousands of chariots that surrounded him:

His majesty (Ramses) halted in the rout; then he charged into the foe, the vanquished of Kheta, being alone by himself and none other with him. When his majesty went to look behind him, he found 2,500 chariotry surrounding him, in his way out, being all the youth of the wretched Kheta, together with its numerous allied countries.

Egyptian driving chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit

Egyptian driving chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit (CC BY 2.0); Deriv

While this is obviously dismissed as legend and exaggeration, there may be some truth to this. Understand that Ramses’ men panicked and fled. After seeing him take on the Hittites, his troops regained their courage and the remaining chariot reserves in the camp rallied and pressed on the attack. The Egyptian chariots left the east gate before turning northwest and nailed the Hittite flank that was busy looting. Ramses’ attack on the heavy Hittite chariots dislodged and threw many of them into confusion, because not only did the remaining Egyptian charioteer units rejoin the battle, so did the infantry.

Model of chariots at the Battle of Kadesh.

Model of chariots at the Battle of Kadesh. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Seeing Ramses and his forces pressing a counter-attack, Muwatalli took up his remaining forces, which were roughly 1,000 chariots. They forded the Orontes River north of Kadesh and swung south in an attempt to flank Ramses.

Illustration, The great Ramses II in the Battle of Khadesh

Illustration, The great Ramses II in the Battle of Khadesh (Public Domain)

However, Muwatalli had an unforeseen problem. As he was making his way towards Ramses’ forces, the reformed Egyptian forces (perhaps allied mercenary forces summoned by Ramses) and the third Egyptian division, the Sutekh, approaching from the south. If Muwatalli could not regain control of his men and the battle, he would soon face the hammer and anvil and it sure seemed that way, for Ramses decide to cease further pursuit of the fleeing Hittites and join up with the Sutekh division. Ramses had no worries about the fleeing Hittites, for they were between his forces and the river. Muwatalli saw that Ramses and his forces turned north towards his relief force. The Hittite relief force had no chance. They were cut down and destroyed. Muwatalli and his remaining forces fled the field of battle and headed south past Kadesh and crossed the Orontes. Of all the Egyptian divisions that fought, one arrived late to the battle and that was the Ptah division.

The Aftermath – Victory For All?

The casualties and losses at the battle of Kadesh remain unknown. As for the victor, Ramses states:

His majesty being powerful, his heart stout, none could stand before him. All his territory was ablaze with fire, and he burned every foreign country with his hot breath, his eyes savage when he saw them, and his might flared up like fore against them. He took no note of millions of foreigners, he regarded them as chaff. Then His majesty entered into the host of the Hatti enemies….and His Majesty killed the entire host of the Wretched Fallen One of Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries who had come with him, their infantry and their chariotry being fallen upon their faces, one upon another, and His Majesty slaughtered and slew them in their places, they sprawling before his horse and His Majesty being along, none other with him. (Kadesh)

It is understandable that Ramses saw Kadesh as a victory. But Muwatalli also saw Kadesh as a victory. The Hittite records state, “Muwatalli took the field against the king of Egypt and the country of Amurru and…defeated the king of Egypt and the country of Amurru.”

Western outer wall: showing Qadesh battle, Temple of Ramesses II, Abydos, Egypt.

Western outer wall: showing Qadesh battle, Temple of Ramesses II, Abydos, Egypt. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

So, who won the battle? The answer is no one. Kadesh was a stalemate. But if one wants to be technical, one could argue that Egypt had a moral victory only possible due to their new military technology in charioteering. However, while the battle was a draw, Muwatalli may have been the true victor even in defeat. Muwatalli was long-term victor due to his territorial acquisition at Egypt’s expense. The reason for this is that Muwatalli was able to confiscate more land south and extend his sphere of influence further. In doing so, the Hittite sphere of influence had left Egypt only in control of Canaan.

Overall, the battle of Kadesh from a military point of view was an Egyptian victory, as they displayed for future readers Egypt’s new military technology (a new type of chariot) but one can also find the personal bravery of Ramses II. If Ramses had a “Go to Hell Plan to Survive the Next Crises”, he used it that day at Kadesh. While Muwatalli and his force were defeated, he did win in the game of “go” by using the fewest number of pieces to acquire the most amount of territory at Egypt’s expense. However one looks at it, Kadesh provided the first detailed account of a battle in recorded history. Because of this, one can learn much from this battle and compare the tactics, strategies, logistics, and international relations.

The victory at Kadesh is left to the eye of the beholder.

 

Top Image: Ramses II at his chariot falls upon the Nubians (CC BY 2.0)

By Cam Rea

References

Amanda H. Podany, Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East

Brian Todd Carey, Warfare in the Ancient World

Carolyn R. Higginbotham, Egyptianization and Elite Emulation in Ramesside Palestine

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Manassa, Tutankhamun’s Armies: Battle and Conquest During Ancient Egypt’s Late Eighteenth Dynasty

Manuel Robbins, Collapse of the Bronze Age

Richard A. Gabriel , The Great Armies of Antiquity

Thomas Harrison, The Great Empires of the Ancient World

The Battle of Kadesh, a Clash of Titans (1274 BCE) – Part I

 

Many believe Ramses II (1303-1213 BCE) is the most celebrated, powerful, and greatest pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire. It is not hard to see why. The battle of Kadesh would immortalize Ramses II in our history books.

A Patient Warrior

Ramses was born in a very successful and well trained military family. His grandfather, Ramses I and his great-grandfather, Seti, had both been commanders in the field. Ramses first taste of action began as a teenager when he accompanied his father Seti I on a military campaign against Libya.

Pharaoh Ramesses II. Statue in the Torino Museum.

Pharaoh Ramesses II. Statue in the Torino Museum. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ramses II took the throne in 1279 BCE, and just two years into his reign a sea people known as the Sherden started attacking Egyptian cargo ships. Ramses, understanding that it was useless to go after them in the open sea with his own ships, decided to lay out a trap by placing lucrative items along strategic areas along the coast. By enticing them, he hoped to lure them in before striking. When they took the bait, Ramses forces struck and decisively defeated the enemy. This battle shows Ramses used patience and stealth as his strategic and tactical weapons—both of which he would demonstrate at the battle of Kadesh.

Kadesh was a city located in the northern Levant (Syria) near or on the Orontes River. The Battle of Kadesh is regarded as the earliest battle recorded in great detail. The battle of Kadesh pitted two great empires against each other: Egypt, led by Ramses II, and the Hittite Empire, led by Muwatalli II. The reason for this soon-to-be confrontation was due to Thutmose III’s victory over Megiddo in 1457 BCE which also included the taking of Kadesh. This gave Egypt a sphere of influence that stretched far into northern Levant and Mesopotamia, giving the Egyptians access to the lucrative trade routes.

Politicking and New Kings

A century later, the Hittite King Suppiluliuma (1344-1322) continued the honor the agreement with Egypt as to where the line was drawn. But when the king of Kadesh by the name of Shuttarna (Shutatarra) decided to attack him, Suppiluliuma had no choice but to retaliate. The result was a Hittite victory. The king and the leading citizens were sent into captivity. It is interesting that the Egyptians showed little interest. Suppiluliuma placed the defeated king’s son, Aitakkama on the throne of Kadesh. Aitakkama swore his allegiance to Suppiluliuma and became a Hittite vassal.

Statue attributed as Suppiluliuma.

Statue attributed as Suppiluliuma. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

King Aitakkama probably saw the Hittites as a much greater ally, since the Egyptians did not come to the aid of his father. Aitakkama took advantage of this situation (as Egypt appeared to be weak), by making alliances with the regional kings, particularly the King Aziru of the Amurru. He did so in order to expand his own territory. It would be naive to think the Egyptians brushed it off. Rather, they felt troubled, as it threatened their trade and security.

In his teens, Pharaoh Tutankhamen saw to it to restore Egyptian supremacy in the Levant by attacking Kadesh. Once Tutankhamen had taken Kadesh, Mursili wrote to his father Suppiluliuma, “Egyptian troops and chariots came to the land of Kinza, which my father had conquered, and attacked the land of Kinza (Kadesh)”. The Hittites were facing much pressure not from just Egypt, but also from the Mittani as well, not to mention that Assyria was becoming a much stronger entity in the region. Suppiluliuma sent troops to retake Kadesh and they reported back, “they went to attack Amka (the land where Kadesh is located) and brought civilian captives, cattle and sheep back to my father.”

The Pharaoh Tutankhamen destroying his enemies

‘The Pharaoh Tutankhamen destroying his enemies’ (Public Domain)

This military intelligence report does not sound like a victory. Moreover, no victory or defeat is mentioned, which leaves one wondering. What could be said is that even though the Egyptians did retake Kadesh— at what price? In other words, even though they now controlled Kadesh how much did they really control, not only territorially but more important politically throughout the regions? Just because they controlled a crucial city did not mean they had a firm grip to ward off any contenders or catch the ears of potential allies.

The Death of Tutankhamen Spells Disaster for Empires

While the division between Egypt and the Hittites remained, the Hittite King Suppiluliuma defeated the Hurrians, and he turned to besiege Carchemish. However, as if the gods favored the Hittites, Pharoah Tutankhamen died. The boy king was now dead and his wife/half-sister Ankhesenamen (Ankhesenamun) was still alive.

Statue of an unknown Amarna-era princess. New Kingdom, Amarna period, 18th dynasty, circa 1345 BC

Statue of an unknown Amarna-era princess. New Kingdom, Amarna period, 18th dynasty, circa 1345 BC (CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to Mursili II he states, “When the people of Egypt heard of the attack on Amka, they were afraid. And since their lord Nibhururiya (Tutankhamen) had just died, the Queen of Egypt who was the king’s wife sent a messenger to my father.”

Queen Ankhesenamen’s message to Suppiluliuma stated, “My husband had died, and I have no sons, he will become my husband. I do not wish to choose a subject of mine and make him my husband…I am afraid.” Suppiluliuma was beside himself after reading such a letter: “Nothing like this has happened to me in my entire life!” This is rather strange for both parties.

On the one hand, you have Egypt that views outsiders as inferior and on the other hand, you have Suppiluliuma whose family is about to inherit the Egyptian Empire. This was hard to believe. It is understandable that Suppiluliuma was cautious—who wouldn’t be? Therefore, he decided to question the envoys who brought the letters. In doing so, he lost the keys to the Egyptian Empire, because he took far too long with the investigation. He did send a son by the name of Zannanza. However, Zannanza died en route to Egypt. Some say he was murdered. With the death of Zannanza went the unification of empires. With no deal established the tensions continued throughout the Levant.

From the time that the possible unification of empires fell through until Ramses II took the throne, Egypt did have a phase where Pharaohs Ramesses I and Seti I campaigned in Levant with success by recapturing long-lost land of the Amurru –  and to do that one must control the city of Kadesh. However, much of this was lost again during this time, perhaps under the reign of Seti I. How much was ultimately lost remains unknown. What is known is that Egypt’s sphere of influence had backtracked enough to cause an alarm during Ramses II reign.

Calm before the Storm

In year four of Ramses II’s reign, he led men up the coast of the Levant where his troops were active in Byblos and Beirut. His forces never encountered the Hittites during this expedition. Afterwards, he had a stela created to commemorate the campaign in the region.

Stela of ramose. Ramesses II smites his enemies (limestone, deir el-Medineh) Representative image.

Stela of ramose. Ramesses II smites his enemies (limestone, deir el-Medineh) Representative image. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

However, Muwatalli II, king of the Hittite Empire, did not like this. Muwatalli did not see this as an act of “saber rattling” but an act of war. Even though Ramses did not break any treaties, the fact that he was willing to make his presence known so close to the Hittite sphere of influence was a cause for alarm. There is no doubt that some of the regional mini-kingdoms walked the fence between inaction and swearing allegiance to the stronger empire. Muwatalli felt that Ramses was seeking to reestablish Egyptian authority throughout the region.

It was possible—but it’s a stretch – that perhaps when Muwatalli was informed on the size of the Egyptian force, he may have felt that the Egyptians were weak and ripe for attack. In other words, if Ramses was seeking to intimidate the Hittites with the small number of troops accompanying him, maybe he was weak.  In the end, it may have been all of the above, but the likely reason is that Ramses made his presence known. Therefore, Muwatalli mustered his massive army during the winter.

Muwatalli made it known that war was on and that Kadesh would be the battle location. Remember, whoever controlled the city would have an easier time conquering the Amurru region, as mentioned. The following year, Ramses began to assemble his forces throughout March and April at the city of Pi Ramasses.

A Capable Hittite Military with their Influential Leader

The army Muwatalli led was rather large for a traditional Hittite force, which was roughly between 17,000-20,000 men. This indicates that Muwatalli was a fine politician in that he was able to convince so many of his vassals to contribute to the war effort, along with making treaties of mutual assistance with the city-states of Syria.

Depiction of Muwatalli II on a relief at Sirkeli Höyük, Turkey. (Public Domain)

When it came to the Hittite army organization, they relied on a decimal system, like most. They utilized chariots that received support from the infantry, and the archers supported the infantry; All of which shared the same organizational structure with squads of ten, companies of ten squads, and battalions of ten companies. Infantry deployed for battle in companies 10 men wide and 10 men deep, with battalions standing with 100-man fronts, 10 men deep.

Hittite chariot, from an Egyptian relief.

Hittite chariot, from an Egyptian relief. (Public Domain)

When it came to the dominant aspect of the Hittite army it was its massive phalanx formation of spearmen, who were supported by archers and light infantry. Besides using horses to pull the chariots, they did use them to deliver messages during the imperial period. As for the light infantry, they also were armed with bows and were known as “troops of Sutu.” They were used for quick maneuvering. In other words, speed was essential to hit and run, ambush and reconnaissance.

Unlike the Egyptians, which shall be discussed shortly, the Hittite infantry was much more flexible when it came to arms and equipment and tactical deployment. Understand that the Hittite warrior traversed and fought on Anatolian terrain that was rough, mountainous, and wooded. The commanders of these men understood what was and what was not needed when it came to weapons and armor due to the terrain and the enemy they were about to engage. If something changed among the enemy ranks, the commanders were able to reequip what men he thought would not only benefit from but also be most effective with weapons when confronting the enemy in question.

Map of Syria in the second millennium BC, showing the location of Kadesh (Qadesh)

Map of Syria in the second millennium BC, showing the location of Kadesh (Qadesh). (Public Domain)

As noted, the size of the army Muwatalli led to Kadesh is suggested to have numbered roughly between 17,000-20,000 soldiers. However, some propose that Muwatalli led a much large force, numbering as great as 50,000. While this is possible, it is unlikely. Hittite chariots required three men to a chariot. If the Hittites had between 2,500-3,700 chariots at Kadesh then the number of men required to operate those chariots was 9,000-11,000 along with 5,000-7,400 horses.

Battle chariot, Carchemish, 9th century BC; Late Hittite style with Assyrian influence.

Battle chariot, Carchemish, 9th century BC; Late Hittite style with Assyrian influence. (CC BY 2.0)

If the numbers are correct, then Muwatalli had something between 9-11k foot soldiers. It seems difficult to believe, but understand that the Hittite chariots, unlike the Egyptian chariots, were not built for speed and maneuverability. Rather, they served as a battlefield taxi for mobile infantry, like a modern day armored personnel carrier. They had four spokes instead of six like the Egyptians. In addition, the axle was placed in the middle of the chariot in order to compensate for the weight of men which drastically reduced its speed.

This impressive force would be matched against he who is regarded as the greatest and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire; Ramesses II and his professional fighting force.

Top Image: Relief, Ramses II among the Gods – Abydos 1275 BC (CC BY 2.0)

By Cam Rea

References

Amanda H. Podany, Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East

Brian Todd Carey, Warfare in the Ancient World

Carolyn R. Higginbotham, Egyptianization and Elite Emulation in Ramesside Palestine

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Manassa, Tutankhamun’s Armies: Battle and Conquest During Ancient Egypt’s Late Eighteenth Dynasty

Manuel Robbins, Collapse of the Bronze Age

Richard A. Gabriel , The Great Armies of Antiquity

Thomas Harrison, The Great Empires of the Ancient World