Orban: The Man Who Brought Down the Walls of Constantinople – Part 2

 

For 53 days, the forces of the Ottoman Empire shook what was left of the Eastern Roman Empire (known as Byzantium, or the Byzantine Empire) until they were able to breach the massive walls of Constantinople, conquering the last standing remnants of the once mighty Roman Empire.

Sultan Mehmed II was so pleased with Orban’s massive, destructive cannon that he wanted another twice its size! Orban headed back to his foundry in Edirne (Adrianople) acquiring more timber and bronze, and in three months he produced a twenty-seven-foot-long monster that had a diameter of 2.5 to three feet (76.2 to 91.44 cm) and could fire a stone projectile weighing between 1440-1500 lbs (653 – 680 kg).

[Read Part 1]

Moreover, to make sure this weapon fire properly without exploding, the barrel was walled with eight inches (20 cm) of solid bronze to absorb the force of the blast. This massive weapon was finished in January 1453.

Citizens were warned in the surrounding area not to panic if they heard a loud boom:

“In January [the Sultan] decided to test the cannon which the Hungarian had made. It was carefully set in position before the main gateway leading into the palace [at Adrianople] which he had built that year, the ball was fitted into it, and its ration of powder weighed out. It was planned to fire it the next morning, and public announcements were made throughout Adrianople, to advising everyone of the loud and thunderous noise which it would make so that no one would be struck dumb by hearing the noise unexpectedly or any pregnant women miscarry. In the morning the gunpowder was lit, there was a great rush of hot air, and the shot was driven forth, leaving the cannon with a loud explosion which filled the air with clouds of smoke. The sound was heard a hundred stadia away, and the shot travelled a thousand paces from the point of firing, making a hole six feet deep at the point where it landed.”

Seeing potential in this new weapon, Mehmed ordered the production of more, but in smaller caliber. Once finished, the number of cannons produced was 14 large and 56 small; all of which would be used to batter the walls of Constantinople.

On the Move, Setting Up and Firing!

After the cannons had been tested and they were deemed ready for service, the Sultan Mehmed sent out the order to his officers to muster the forces and meet at the Ottoman capital of Edirne. The size of the Ottoman force that was to lay siege to Constantinople is uncertain. Some suggest the Ottoman army was 50,000–80,000 or 80,000-100,000 troops. Others say 120,000 and some go as high as 300,000 with 120,000 non-combatants in attendance.

Map of Constantinople (1422) by Florentine cartographer Cristoforo Buondelmonti is the oldest surviving map of the city, and the only one that predates the Turkish conquest of the city in 1453 (Public Domain)

Once the army arrived outside the walls of Constantinople, much of the smaller artillery likely accompanied the main force. As for the heavier cannon pieces, particularly the famous Basilica, or the Ottoman Cannon, it took 70 oxen and 10,000 men even though other sources suggest only 1,000 men. The move from Edirne to Constantinople was a distance of 140 miles (225 kilometers).

Bronze cast Ottoman bombard, Cast in the 15th–16th century,  Fired shots of 1,000 lbs. (453 kg) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Long Haul

Moving the large cannon, as one can image, was a laborious task. To move this gargantuan weapon of war, the tube had to be lifted and placed on a number of attached wagons, which as mentioned, were pulled by many oxen. Scouts went ahead to report back of the terrain that lied ahead, while the men with the cannon had to help guide, push, and pull the wagons and beasts over the rolling Thracian countryside. Those workers ahead were tasked with leveling out the road as best as they could and building wooden bridges over the rivers and gullies. The total distance this juggernaut made was two-and-a-half-miles a day, (about four kilometers).

By the time Orban’s Basilica cannon arrived the Ottoman troops were already in position, Sappers had already been making a clear path for fire by cutting down the orchards and vineyards, while others dug ditches the length of the walls of Theodosius and 250 yards (228 meters) from them. It is safe to say that many of the smaller cannons had been set in place since Mehmed grouped the cannons into 14 or 15 batteries pointed at the walls’ vulnerable points.

The restored walls of Constantinople (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Exploiting Weakness

According to the Venetian physician and eyewitness Nicolo Barbaro, “These cannon were planted in four places: first of all, three cannon were placed near the palace of the Most Serene Emperor, and three other cannons were placed near the Pigi gate, and two at the Cressu gate, and another four at the gate of San Romano, the weakest part of the whole city.” The larger cannons would receive support by smaller ones in each battery. As for Basilica, it was placed in front of Mehmed’s tent so that he could watch and praise his new toy. Basilica had to be lifted from the wagons and lowered into position using a block-and-tackle system onto a sloping wooden platform. To protect the cannon from enemy fire, the men built a wooden palisade with hinged doors that would be opened when it was time to fire. Greek politician, scholar, and historian Michael Critobulus (1410-1470) mentions this as well and states:

After this, having pointed the cannon toward whatever it was intended to hit, and having leveled it by certain technical means and calculations toward the target, they brought up great beams of wood and laid them underneath and fitted them carefully. On these they placed immense stones, weighting it down and making it secure above and below and behind and everywhere, lest by the force of the velocity and by the shock of the movement of its own emplacement, it should be displaced and shoot wide of its mark.

Furthermore, the Ottomans still relied on tradition siege machines such as the trebuchet to batter the walls.

Counterweight trebuchet by the German engineer Konrad Kyeser (c. 1405) (Public Domain)

Barbaro also mentions Basilica: “One of these four cannon which were at the gate of San Romano threw a ball weighing about twelve hundred pounds, more or less, and thirteen quarte in circumference, which will show the terrible damage it inflicted where it landed.”

Critobulus describes the firing of the cannon stating: “And the stone, borne with enormous force and velocity, hit the wall, which it immediately shook and knocked down, and was itself broken into many fragments and scattered, hurling the pieces everywhere and killing those who happened to be nearby.”

Giant Ammunition

If the size and weight of the cannon was not enough, the ammunition was also another weightier matter. To bring forth such ammunition, it had to be hewed from the rock and shaped. The stone balls used were made on the north coast of the Black Sea. Besides the stone balls was the large need for saltpeter (potassium nitrate). Not only did the crews man, load, fire, and reposition after each shot, they also repaired what they could. This went for all the cannon batteries.

Critobulus mentions that when the cannon was fired the result from the impact was that “Sometimes it demolished a whole section, and sometimes a half-section, and sometimes a larger or smaller section of a tower or turret or battlement. And there was no part of the wall strong enough or resistant enough or thick enough to be able to withstand it, or to wholly resist such force and such a blow of the stone cannonball.”

Shots fired from Basilica sometimes did not hit their target but instead flew over the wall and traveled up to a mile into the city. As the ball came down it would mow through humans and property before settling into the ground causing a quake felt for two miles.

Assaulting under Fire and the Final Explosion

The 70 cannons of various sizes hurled stone projectiles continuously at the walls for 53 days. One can only imagine the psychological impact the cannons had on the citizens and defenders alike: the sound of loud sounds of stone balls flying right over your head and smashing into buildings, with the added knowledge that death was a matter of chance, and nearly a certainty.

Sultan Mehmed II – Mehmed the Conqueror (Public Domain)

Sultan Mehmed launched assault after assault during which his cannons were able to punch holes through walls or did enough damage that debris that fell down and created a ramp from which his armies could reach the breach in the wall. However, defenders on the walls were able to push and keep the invaders back.

The Fall of Constantinople, illustration from ‘Hutchinson’s History of the Nations’, 1915 (Public Domain)

While the Byzantine army did not have the sufficient manpower to defeat the Ottoman army in a head-on battle, the walls of Constantinople provided much safety and support. Understand that the Ottoman cannons took time to fire, which in turn allowed the defenders on the walls to repair the breaches made. In futility, Mehmed continued launching assaults that failed each time.

Mehmed’s strategy, as Roger Crowley states “was attritional—and impatient,” or what I like to call, attrition through impatience. Mehmed knew that as long as his cannons shot holes through the walls and he launched assault after assault, the citizens and defenders would soon to give up. According to the Greek scholar Melissenos, who was not there but collected articles that described the action a century later, mentions that the “assault continued night and day with no relief from the clashes and explosions, crashing of stones and cannon-balls on the walls, for the Sultan hoped in this way to take the city easily, since we were few against many, by pounding us to death and exhaustion, and so he allowed us no rest from attack.” While wave after wave of Ottoman attacks continued along with the constant bombardment, Basilica began to break.

Holding a Tiger by the Tail

While Basilica was an awesome sight and sound to those firing the cannon and a terror to those receiving its wrath, truth be told, the weapon was more of a burden than a blessing. Loading and re-aiming the cannon took much time and it could only fire seven times a day. Another major issue with the cannon was that the production of such a weapon, on such a large scale, and under a deadline worried Orban—and rightfully so.

Using the colossal canon was like grabbing a tiger by the tail. It was in effect employing something powerful and dangerous that could hurt the wielder as much as any target.

An expert iron founder and engineer, Orban started to notice that hairline fractures began to appear on the cannon. After each shot, the crews had to quickly pour oil onto the barrel to prevent cold air from enlarging the fissures. Even when they tried to fit iron hoops around the barrel, it did little to support it. However, pouring warm oil was not enough and the cannon eventually “cracked as it was being fired and split into many pieces, killing and wounding many nearby.” Those killed in the blast supposedly included Orban. However, that is what Christian chroniclers wish happened.

Taking the City: The Fall of Constantinople and the Rise of Artillery

The entry of Sultan Mehmed II into Constantinople, painting by Fausto Zonaro (1854-1929) (Public Domain)

On 29 May 1453, the Ottoman forces of Mehmed finally made their way into the city. They defeated the remaining defenders, killing the last Roman Emperor Constantine XI in the streets which ended an Empire that lasted from 27 BC – 1453 CE.

Mosaic of Emperor Constantine I with a representation of the city of Constantinople (Public Domain)

While Mehmed made Constantinople the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, the cannon made by Orban also had an impact. The impact of Orban’s cannon had made little damage, but much noise. In other words, Orban’s attempt to produce a cannon of such magnitude showed the potential that could be harnessed if trial and error could be applied with sufficient time and testing. This would happen much later in Western Europe during the renaissance and beyond. The cannon produced by Orban was nothing more than a colossal weapon that produced lots of smoke, loud noise, and on occasion, landed on its target. Overall, the weakening and destruction of the walls of Constantinople were not due to just Basilica, but the combination of all the firepower at the Ottoman’s disposal—even the trebuchets.

The Tsar Cannon (caliber 890 mm), cast in 1586 in Moscow. It is the largest extant bombard in the world. (CC BY 3.0)

Basilica only made a name for itself due to its sheer size overshadowing the other cannons in their arsenal at the siege of Constantinople of 1453.

The final siege of Constantinople, contemporary 15th-century French miniature, 1455 (Public Domain)

Top Image: Detail; The entry of Sultan Mehmed II into Constantinople, painting by Fausto Zonaro (1854-1929) (Pubic Domain)

By Cam Rea

References

Franz Babinger, Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time

Gábor Ágoston, Guns for the Sultan: Military Power and the Weapons Industry in the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization)

Lars Brownworth, Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Marios Philippides, Walter K. Hanak, The Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies

Michael Kritovoulos, The Siege of Constantinople in 1453, according to Kritovoulos, [Online] Available at: http://deremilitari.org/2016/08/the-siege-of-constantinople-in-1453-according-to-kritovoulos/

Nicolo Barbaro, The Siege of Constantinople in 1453, [Online] Available at: http://deremilitari.org/2016/08/the-siege-of-constantinople-in-1453-according-to-nicolo-barbaro/

Roger Crowley, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West.

The Guns of Constantinoplehttp://www.historynet.com/the-guns-of-constantinople.htm

Stephen Turnbull, The Walls of Constantinople AD 324-1453 (Fortress).

Suraiya Faroqhi, The Ottoman Empire and the World around It.

Bernard S. Bachrach, Kelly DeVries, and Clifford J. Rogers, The Journal of Medieval Military History, Vol II.

Orban: The Man Who Brought Down the Walls of Constantinople – Part I

For 53 days, starting on Friday, 6 April, the forces of the Ottoman Empire shook what was left of the Eastern Roman Empire (known as Byzantium, or the Byzantine Empire) until they were able to breach the massive walls of Constantinople on Tuesday 29 May 1453, conquering the last standing remnants of the once mighty Roman Empire. The conquest of Constantinople could have been drastically different were it not for a man by the name of Orban and his massive cannon.

The Dardanelles Gun, cast in 1464 and based on the Orban bombard that was used for the Ottoman besiegers of Constantinople in 1453

The Dardanelles Gun, cast in 1464 and based on the Orban bombard that was used for the Ottoman besiegers of Constantinople in 1453 (Public Domain)

Who Was Orban?

Orban, (also known as Urban) was a cannon caster of possible Hungarian origin (but this is disputed). A Byzantine Greek historian from Athens by the name of Laonikos Khalkokondyles (c.1430 – c. 1470) mentions something different:

There was an artilleryman of the king [sultan] called Orbanos. He was a Dacian by birth and earlier he had spent time with the Greeks. Because he needed a better salary for himself, he left the Greeks and came to the Porte of the king [sultan].

Khalkokondyles mentions that Orban was not Hungarian but “Dacian.” To clarify, the term Dacian he used shows his love of antiquity while the term would not have been familiar to the uneducated. Most people during that time would have no idea what or where Dacia was. The name Dacia comes from ancient Rome and within its territory were the states of Wallachia and Transylvania. It is possible that Orban was Hungarian and made his way south seeking those who could use his services. Some have even suggested the Orban may have been German. But the biggest giveaway to show that Orban was indeed an Eastern European from either Hungary, Wallachia, or Transylvania, was his method of casting cannons.

Earliest picture of a European cannon, Walter de Milemete, 1326

Earliest picture of a European cannon, Walter de Milemete, 1326 (Public Domain)

Orban was promoting his services in the casting of bronze bombards. The bronze casting of cannons or bombards had been abandoned in Western Europe by the 1440’s. The reason for this was that western cannon casters found that the manufacturing of smaller pieces made from iron were easier to deal with. Therefore, Orban’s methods in casting cannon suggest that his origins were probably Eastern European.

Pumhart von Steyr, a medieval supergun, Austria.

Pumhart von Steyr, a medieval supergun, Austria.  (Public Domain)

Looking for a Deal

Orban visited the court of Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos (8 February 1405 – 29 May 1453), soon to be the last Byzantine emperor, to pitch his cannons.

Constantine XI Palaiologos

Constantine XI Palaiologos (Tilemahos Efthimiadis /CC BY 2.0)

Orban entered the capital of Constantinople and offered his services to the emperor. The emperor was delighted in meeting with him, for he had an interest in using this new technology to his advantage after seeing it first-hand at the Hexamilion, which is a defensive wall constructed across the Isthmus of Corinth and seeing the power this new device of war, as it smashed through rock.

Excavation of the Hexamilion wall

Excavation of the Hexamilion wall (CC BY-SA 3.0)

However, Constantine had not the resources such as timber for the foundry fires or even the money to offer Orban to build the desired weapons. Constantine also did not want the man to leave his capital and sought to keep him as long as he could. In order to do this, he provided a stipend from scraps to keep the man. This only lasted for so long and after the money ran dry, Orban left the city seeking a new customer. He made his way to the court of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (30 March 1432 – 3 May 1481), best known as Mehmed the Conqueror, (the very man who would soon lay waste to Constantinople).

Mehmed II in Edirne (Public Domain)

Orban made his way to either the Ottoman capital located at west of Constantinople at Edirne, historically known as Adrianople, in the northwestern Turkish province of Edirne, or Rumelihisarı (also known as Rumelian Castle, which means the “Strait-Cutter Castle”) which was Mehmed’s fortress located in the Sarıyer district near Constantinople on a hill at the European side of the Bosphorus.

Rumelihisarı as seen from the Bosphorus strait, Istanbul, Turkey, built by Sultan Mehmed II between 1451 and 1452, before the Fall of Constantinople (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Once Orban arrived, he requested an audience with Mehmed to sell him his services. After Mehmed was informed of Orban’s engineering skills, he was happy to welcome this traveler and to show him that his skills would be appreciated, and showered him with gifts. Mehmed promised Orban that he would give him the highest wage besides the many gifts. Afterwards, Mehmed asked Orban if were possible to build a powerful enough cannon that could breach the walls of Constantinople. Orban said, “I can cast a cannon of bronze with the capacity of the stone you want. I have examined the walls of the city in great detail. I can shatter to dust not only these walls with the stones from my gun, but the very walls of Babylon itself.”

The only thing Orban could not promise to Mehmed and which he made clear, was that he could not determine the range. Mehmed overlooked this handicap and bade him to start work on the cannon immediately.

The restored walls of Constantinople

The restored walls of Constantinople (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Dangerous Task of Constructing the Cannon in the Fires of Hell

Orban had a large and dangerous task ahead of him. Besides the difficulty in constructing cannons on such a scale, he had to design and create a furnace big enough for the job. Orban constructed two brick-lined furnaces faced with fired clay inside and out, and reinforced with large stones. The reason for this was that the furnace needed to be able to withstand high temperatures— beyond 1,000 degrees centigrade. Not only that, it had to be enclosed on the outside by heaps of charcoal that were described as being “so deep that it hid the furnace, apart from their mouths.” Cannon making, like any new technology, was hazardous. An Ottoman traveler during the medieval period by the name of Evliya Chelebi visited a gun factory and made note of the dangers of such work that took place:

On the day when cannon are to be cast, the masters, foremen and founders, together with the Grand Master of the Artillery, the Chief Overseer, Imam, Muezzin and timekeeper, all assemble and to the cries of “Allah! Allah!,” the wood is thrown into the furnace. After these have been heated doe twenty-four hours, the founders and stokers strip naked, wearing nothing but their slippers, an odd kind of cap which leaves nothing but their eyes visible, and thick sleeves to protect his arms; for, after the fire has been alight in the furnaces twenty-four hours, no person can approach on account of the heat, save he be attired in the above manner. Whoever wishes to see a good picture of the fires of hell should witness this sight. 

Given that Orban did not have a thermometer on hand, the foundry workers had to judge the right temperature based on sight. Once they felt comfortable, the workers started to throw in copper along with scraps of tin in order to make bronze. Acquiring copper was easy for the Ottomans for their copper source was in Anatolia (Turkey) while tin came from outside sources. However, given the circumstances, the Ottomans likely acquired bronze bells from Christian churches to be melted and remolded into cannons.

Molten Metals and Evil Eyes

The process as mentioned was dangerous and required a keen sense of understanding the molten metals. In other words, Orban and the foundry workers understood that each piece of metal must be examined before being tossed into the cauldron. As for the dross that floated on the surface, it had to be carefully skimmed off using metal ladles. This doesn’t even mention the noxious fumes tin gives off, and on top of that, if the scrap metal lying around was wet, once thrown into the furnace it would cause the water to vaporize, rupture the furnace, and cause an explosion that would kill or maim everyone close.

But of the metals being added into the cauldron, tin was held with some superstition when it was time to throw it in. According to Evliya:

[…]the Vezirs, the Mufti and Sheiks are summoned; only forty persons, besides the personnel of the foundry, are admitted all told. The rest of the attendants are shut out, because the metal, when infusion, will not suffer to be looked at by evil eyes. The masters then desire the Vezirs and sheiks who are seated on sofas at a great distance to repeat unceasingly the words “There is no power and strength save in Allah!” Thereupon the master-workmen with wooden shovels throw several hundredweight of tin into the sea of molten brass, and the head-founder says to the Grand Vizier, Vezirs and Sheiks: “Throw some gold and silver coins into the brazen sea as alms, in the name of the True Faith!” Poles as long as the yard of ships are used for mixing the gold and silver with the metal and are replaced as fast as consumed.

Birth of a Terrible Monster

Before the cannon that would bring the walls of Constantinople tumbling down, Orban built a prototype that was mounted to the walls Rumelihisarı. Doukas, (c. 1400 – after 1462) a Byzantine historian under Constantine XI, spoke of this cannon, stating, “They began amassing bronze and the technician [sc. Orban] created the form of the cannon; and in three months a terrible and unprecedented monster was constructed and cast.”

Illustration of a 15th-century trade galley from a manuscript by Michael of Rhodes (1401–1445) (Public Domain)

The cannon in question was made of bronze and was capable of firing a stone ball weighing roughly 600 lbs. (272 kg). Mehmed wanted to make it clear that any ship wishing to pass through the Bosphorus Strait must pay a toll or else face repercussions. Not long after a Venetian merchant ship was about to pass through the Bosporus Strait until it was ordered to stop and pay the tax. The Venetians were perplexed and refused to obey. They decided to make a run for it and paid the price.

“In those days a big ship of the Venetians was sailing down the narrows [the Bosphorus] by the town of Baskesen [“Head Cutter,” that is, Rumeli Hisar], commanded by Antonio Rizzo…they fired a very large stone from the castle and it struck the ship.” After their ship was blasted out of the water, the shocked Venetians who made it to shore were executed along with their captain. As well, the body of the captain was impaled on the banks as a public warning. After seeing what the massive cannon could do, Mehmed wanted something bigger.

Bigger and Better

Mehmed was so pleased with the cannon that he wanted another twice its size! Orban headed back to his foundry in Edirne (Adrianople) acquiring more timber and bronze, and in three months he produced a twenty-seven-foot-long monster that had a diameter of 2.5 to three feet (76.2 to 91.44 cm) and could fire a stone projectile weighing between 1440-1500 lbs (653 – 680 kg).

Muzzle view of the Great Turkish Bombard Cannon

Muzzle view of the Great Turkish Bombard Cannon (Simon Cope/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Moreover, to make sure this weapon fire properly without exploding, the barrel was walled with eight inches (20 cm) of solid bronze to absorb the force of the blast. This massive weapon was finished in January 1453. Citizens were warned in the surrounding area not to panic if they heard a loud boom:

In January [the Sultan] decided to test the cannon which the Hungarian had made…

Top Image: Modern painting of Mehmed and the Ottoman Army approaching Constantinople with a giant bombard, by Fausto Zonaro (Public Domain)

By Cam Rea

References

Franz Babinger, Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time

Gábor Ágoston, Guns for the Sultan: Military Power and the Weapons Industry in the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization)

Lars Brownworth, Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Marios Philippides, Walter K. Hanak, The Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies

Michael Kritovoulos, The Siege of Constantinople in 1453, according to Kritovoulos, [Online] Available at: http://deremilitari.org/2016/08/the-siege-of-constantinople-in-1453-according-to-kritovoulos/

Nicolo Barbaro, The Siege of Constantinople in 1453, [Online] Available at: http://deremilitari.org/2016/08/the-siege-of-constantinople-in-1453-according-to-nicolo-barbaro/

Roger Crowley, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West.

The Guns of Constantinoplehttp://www.historynet.com/the-guns-of-constantinople.htm

Stephen Turnbull, The Walls of Constantinople AD 324-1453 (Fortress).

Suraiya Faroqhi, The Ottoman Empire and the World around It.

Bernard S. Bachrach, Kelly DeVries, and Clifford J. Rogers, The Journal of Medieval Military History, Vol II.

The Battle of Ankara – Part II

 

What happens when two great conquerors of the ancient world and their mighty forces go head to head? A successful but unpredictable Ottoman Sultan was matched against a charismatic Mongol leader of an empire – leading to the Battle of Ankara, fought on 20 July 1402.  The Ottomans were led by Bayezid I, who brought his troops against the Turkic Mongols (Timurids), led by Timur, also known as Tamerlane. Two great empires, two powerful leaders, with only one outcome…

Bust of Timur [left] (CC BY-SA 3.0), and a portrait of Bayezid I [right]. (Public Domain)

Troubles on the Eve of Battle

After Timur had rampaged throughout Russia and the Caucasus, he struck deeply into Anatolia by sacking and destroying the city of Sivas before pushing further south. One would think that Bayezid would have countered this loss for Sivas but he did nothing. Bayezid could have attempted to placate Timur, but given his nature, would he accept it? Bayezid could have taken his large army and counter-attacked Timur’s forces as they headed south. However, none of the above happened. Instead, Bayezid waited for Timur to enter his domain before reacting.

[Read Part I here]

In the summer of 1402, Timur moved his armies west to Sivas. This caused Bayezid to stir. Bayezid called off the siege against Constantinople and headed southeast to the fortress of Angora, in central Anatolia.

Timur is said to have prayed all night. When morning arrived, he ordered the drums to sound. The sound of the drums in the early morning would have had a psychological effect on the Ottomans nearby. No matter how battle hardened a soldier becomes, new unknowns bring about unease.

The army Timur had with him is said to have numbered between 140,000 and 200,000 troops. His army consisted primarily of cavalry but he had 32 war elephants at his disposal.

The troop size of Bayezid’s army consisted of 85,000 men. Bayezid’s forces were mostly infantry, including the elite Janissaries, with archers and cavalry (including Serbian knights). However, a quarter of his men were Tatars who were recently conquered, and thus their loyalty was in question.

Tatar soldiers at the vanguard of a battle (1620) (Public Domain)

Matters only got worse for Bayezid as discontent spread throughout the Ottoman ranks. For starters, they were tired after the long march and their pay was overdue. Compounding that, Bayezid’s scouts reported back to Bayezid that Timur had circled in behind the Ottomans and was now approaching from the rear. Yet more problems arose when Bayezid’s men needed access to water. Timur had built a reservoir and, on the day of the battle, diverted the principal water source for the area, Cubuk Creek, denying its use to the Ottoman army, which was now advancing from the east.

The Day of Battle

The terrain of the battlefield consisted of a large plain cornered by mountains on two sides. This is perfect for cavalry attacks. Moreover, it allows both armies to maneuver with fluidity.

The Prince Shah Rukh and Khalil Sultan led Timur’s left wing. Miran Shah led the right wing, with Amir Sheikh Nur ad-Din as his lieutenant general. The main body consisted of the greatest lords of Asia and Timur’s son, Prince Muhammad Sultan led them. Timur led the reserves that consisted of forty companies. In front of Timur’s army was the war elephants armed with towers on their backs with archers and throwers of flame.

Manuscript showing war elephants with archers and soldiers on their backs. The Battle of Avarayr, Sharaknots, 1482 (Public Domain)

Sultan Bayezid arranged his troops in battle order with Pesir, a European Serbian, leading the right wing. The left wing was under the command of Suleiman Chelebi, son of Bayezid. Bayezid led the main body. Muhammad Chelebi commanded the Ottoman reserves.

After Timur had met with his military counsel, he mounted his horse and gave the order to attack. Around 10 a.m. on the morning of 28 July 1402, Miran, commander of the right wing, began the battle by discharging a volley of arrows on the Ottoman left wing.

The Surprising Turns of Battle

It was during the initial stages of the battle that Bayezid made his first error. He placed his newly conquered Tatar cavalry on the front line to take the brunt of the initial attack. Once the battle commenced, they deserted to Timur, and cavalry from the recently subjugated emirates followed suit. This changing of sides reduced the Ottoman army by a quarter and, for all practical purposes, decided the battle.

Battle of Ankara. Mughal painting.

Battle of Ankara. Mughal painting. (Public Domain)

Bayezid ordered his left wing to attack, covering it by an attack of his Anatolian cavalry. However, it was all for nothing; even though the cavalry fought bravely, they encountered hailstorms of arrows as well as Greek fire (a form of naphtha) and were driven back in confusion, losing some 15,000 men.

Timur then pressed on the attack by pushing at the Ottoman left wing and defeating the cavalry. While the Ottoman cavalry were in disarray, the Serbian kings on the right wing fought heroically.

Timur’s attack was well executed— just as Bayezid’s defenses were well planned. The only difference is that Bayezid lost a substantial amount of his forces due to placing newly conquered men on the front line to take the brunt of the attack. This was a big mistake. The Tartar’s fleeing from the Ottomans to join Timur did not help the psyche of the Ottoman troops. Because of this, the morale of Timur’s troops greatly increased, and so did their numbers. According to what the primary sources suggest, Timur commenced the attack by sending in one wing before sending in the next wing, and in doing so he was able to perform a “pincer movement or double envelopment.”

While Timur’s left and right wings placed tremendous pressure on the Ottoman wings, this opened up the center. The Ottoman center would be at times required to provide aid to the wings in trouble. In doing so, the center deteriorated substantially. Seeing this, Timur committed the remainder of his forces to attacking the center. By placing pressure on the center, it took pressure off his left and right cavalry wings. Moreover, it allowed his central forces to split once they had pushed aside the Ottoman forces, allowing them to converge on the rear of the left and right wings. In doing so, not only did they perform a well-executed pincer movement in the initial stages, they were able to perform with perfection two more to neutralize the Ottoman wings to achieve total victory.

Map by SAİT71 (CC BY-SA 4.0) giving a glimpse into the positions and commanders at the Battle of Ankara (Battle of Angora). Timur performed a pincer movement, flanking the enemy and finally overwhelming them.

Seeing his Serbian cavalry fighting with great fervor yet beginning to succumb to the overwhelming numbers, he sent the remaining Janissaries to support them. The Ottoman forces eventually fled to a small hilltop and continued the fight. The battle raged well into the evening as they beat back several Mongol attacks until nightfall, with Bayezid in the thick of the fight. Late into the night, Bayezid looked to the remainder of his forces and together they attempted to break free, but he was overtaken, unhorsed, and captured.

Bayezid I held captive by Timur (Public Domain)

Aftermath

Once the dust cleared and most of the moans from men and beasts subsided, the Ottomans were seen to have lost between 40,000 and 50,000 troops while the Turko-Mongols had lost 40,000.  Besides the great cost of life and supplies lost on the field of battle, came more issues. The Ottoman defeat at Ankara pushed the Ottoman state into a crisis from which the Empire fractured and nearly collapsed when Bayezid’s sons fought for the throne. This Ottoman civil war lasted for 11 years (1402 – 1413). Furthermore, the capture of Bayezid was a first in Ottoman history.

So, what happened to Bayezid?

Some say he was captured and placed in a birdcage. This is false. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II, r. 1458-64), Asiae Europaeque elegantissima descriptio, written between 1450-1460 and published in Paris in 1509. According to Marcus Milwright and Evanthia Baboula, they state:

“This piece (Asiae Europaeque elegantissima description) brought together the key elements that were to remain fundamental to the European narrative for some two centuries: first, the sultan (often known in European writings as Bajazet) was placed in an iron cage; second, he was forced, like a dog, to eat scraps from under the table of Temur; and, third, Bayezid was employed as the ‘Scythian’ ruler’s mounting block when the latter got onto his horse.”

“Timur the Great’s imprisonment of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid”: The Sultan tied by his waist with a golden rope to Timur’s table, top, and the Sultan bound and on all fours, being used as a mounting-block by Timur, and similarly bound in his gilded cage, bottom. (Public Domain)

The truth of the matter is that Timur treated Bayezid with great respect according to Timur’s court historians. Timur is even said to have mourned the death of Bayezid that occurred on 8 March 1403; He was either 48 or 49.

As for Timur, news of his victory spread far throughout Europe. When the Genoese heard of the victory, they raised flags of Timur at Pera over the city. Interestingly enough, there were plans for a European fleet to help in the fight against the Ottomans. Furthermore, the battle and victory brought relief to the city of Constantinople. However, 51 years later the city would fall to the same besiegers.

Strange Bedfellows

Three days after Bayezid had been captured; Timur’s son Miran Shah sent many letters to the monarchs of Europe, offering trade and friendship.

A miniature of Miran Shah (Public Domain)

Surprisingly (and yet not so surprisingly), Charles VI of France and Henry IV of England responded with great joy to Timur. Another interesting aspect is that British playwright Christopher Marlowe wrote Tamburlaine in 1587, which portrays Timur humiliating Bayezid and burning the Quran. Timur was made into what a model king should be throughout Europe However, all this would end by the eighteenth century when the anti-Timur literature and works began to change his image.

Timur (Tamerlane, Tamburlaine). (Wellcome Image/CC BY 4.0)

As for the man himself, Timur would not live much longer. As he was leading his massive army to conquer Ming China, he grew ill and died on 19 February 1405 (aged 68) at Otrar, Farab, near Shymkent, Syr Darya (now in Kazakhstan). With Timur’s death, his empire did not last much longer as it fractured and finally collapsed by 1507. However, his future seed would carry on his legacy with the establishment of the Mughal Empire founded by Babur. The Timurid Empire did not last, and the Ottoman Empire nearly fell apart. However, once the Ottoman civil war was over, Bayezid’s conquests in Anatolia that had been lost to Timur were brought back under the Ottoman fold.

As for the campaign leading up to battle itself, it displayed how strong and unrelenting Timur’s forces were as he marched from one end of his empire to another to defend and go on the offensive to reclaim rebellious lands, or push far north into the lands of the Golden Horde. His ability to defend and expand his lands was tremendous. The battle itself pitted two great leaders but Timur was the smarter of the two. He was able to take advantage of the Ottoman forces by diverting a river and making good use of the defecting Tartar army that came to his side at the initial stages of the battle.

Overall, the Battle of Ankara in 1402 brought an empire to its knees, temporarily freed an ancient empire now reduced to the size of a city after many centuries of defeat, and Europe praised a man who in many ways was no different from the Ottoman Turks they faced. However, the Ottomans would recover and pick up right where they left off in conquering portions of southeast Europe, and the Timurid Empire would fade away only to reestablish themselves further to the east in India.

Top Image: Sultan Bayezid is defeated by Timur at Ankara (Public Domain)

By Cam Rea

References

Alexander Mikaberidze, Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1

Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire

Dennis M. Rose, The Campaigns of Tamerlane

Hamad Subani, The Secret History of Iran

J.B. Bury; edited by H.M. Gwatkin, The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol IV

Marcus Milwright and Evanthia Baboula, Bayezid’s Cage: A Re-examination of a venerable academic controversy, [Online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/10323469/Bayezids_Cage_A_Re-examination_of_a_venerable_academic_controversy

Sharaf al-Dīn ‘Alī Yazd, The History of Timur-Bec: Known by the Name of Tamerlain the Great, https://archive.org/details/TheHistoryOfTimurBec_201409

Spencer Tucker, Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict

Timothy E. Gregory, A History of Byzantium

The Battle of Ankara – Part 1

 

Battle of Ankara.jpg

What happens when two great conquerors of the ancient world and their mighty forces go head to head? A successful but unpredictable Ottoman Sultan was matched against a charismatic Mongol leader of an empire – leading to the Battle of Ankara, fought on 20 July 1402.  The Ottomans were led by Bayezid I, who brought his troops against the Turkic Mongols (Timurids), led by Timur, also known as Tamerlane. Two great empires, two powerful leaders, with only one outcome…

Thunder and Lightning

On 15 June 1389, the Ottoman Sultan Murad I was assassinated on the battlefield at Kosovo. His son, Bayezid, also known by his nickname Yıldırım “The Thunderbolt,” was crowned the new Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. It is true that he could impulsively and unpredictable as a statesman. What often gets overlooked is that he was a capable military commander. Bayezid was a natural born leader. However, his leadership was best on the field of battle. This is how he got the nickname “Thunderbolt”; due to his swift maneuvering and attacking in battle.

Portrait of Bayezid I.

Portrait of Bayezid I. (Public Domain)

Bayezid’s lightning-strike military campaigns began with the conquests of the beyliks (beylik was territory under the jurisdiction of a Bey; Bey is Turkish for chieftain) Aydin, Saruhan, Menteşe, and Sivas. The new Sultan continued his rampage throughout Anatolia (modern Turkey) during the fall and winter of 1390, as he confiscated Hamid, Teke, and Germiyan—as well as taking the cities of Akşehir and Niğde, and their capital Konya from the Karaman.

In 1391, the Karaman sued for peace and Bayezid accepted. Soon after, Bayezid moved north against Kastamonu and conquered both that city as well as Sinop.

Riding and Conquering, the Unstoppable Force

With much of Anatolia under Ottoman control, Bayezid turned his attention towards Southeast Europe. First on the list was Bulgaria. Having conquered them, he turned his forces on northern Greece and gobbled up their territory as well. It seemed as though nothing could stop him.

In 1394, Bayezid crossed the Danube River to attack Wallachia. However, the Wallachians proved troublesome against the much larger Ottoman army and were able to defeat them superior in number, but on 17 May 1395, they were defeated at the battle of Rovine, which prevented Bayezid’s army from advancing beyond the Danube.

Battle of Rovine, 1395 (Public Domain)

While Bayezid was confiscating the lands in Southeast Europe, he laid siege to Constantinople in 1394, capitalizing on the city’s political instability. As Bayezid laid siege, the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus sent messengers, as well did King Sigismund of Hungary, to Venice and Paris to lobby for a new crusade that would dislodge the Ottoman Turks from Southeast Europe.  The new Crusade was agreed to and many western European nations responded by sending troops. The king of Hungary (future Holy Roman Emperor) led this large crusading army. Both armies met and fought in what is known as the Battle of Nicopolis, 25 September 1396. The result was a decisive Ottoman victory.

The Battle of Nicopolis, as depicted by Turkish miniaturist in 1588. (Public Domain)

The Battle of Nicopolis, as depicted by Turkish miniaturist in 1588. (Public Domain)

While Constantinople remained under siege, Bayezid decided to push east and conquer new lands. From 1397-1398, Bayezid confiscated new territory throughout Anatolia, including the Djanik emirate and Kadi Burhan al-Din. This would prove to be a big mistake, for taking these lands violated a treaty he had with Timur (Tamerlane). The reason why Bayezid would violate such a treaty was due to his belief that the Ottomans were the heirs of the former Seljuk state in Anatolia. Understand that the violation was more than just territorial interest—Kadi Burhan al-Din represented the Ilkhanid inheritors of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan.

Timur, Powerful Conqueror and Ruler of an Empire

Timur facial reconstruction from skull by M.Gerasimov. 1941 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Timur facial reconstruction from skull by M.Gerasimov. 1941 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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 was born in Transoxania and was a member of Barlas tribe. He rose to power among the Ulus Chaghatay—a nomadic tribal confederation that formed the central region of Mongolian Chaghadaid khanate.

Timur’s story is similar to Genghis Khan’s. How true those stories are is up for debate. 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 also during a battle that arrows struck his right arm and leg that left him partially paralyzed. Because of this, Europeans referred to him as “Tamerlane.”

Portrait of Timur. 15th century

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.

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. However, Timur used the title of amir meaning general, instead. In order to legitimize his claim, Timur married the Genghisid princesses Saray Mulk Khanum and took the title Kuregen (Mongolian; “son-in-law”). Afterwards, he appointed a puppet of Genghisid line by the name of Suyurghatmish, as the ruler of Balkh while he pretended to act as a “protector of the member of a Chinggisid line, that of Genghis Khan’s eldest son, Jochi.”

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.

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

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

Timur on the Move

By 1381, Timur ruled over much of eastern Persia. However, he wanted more and campaigned against Kartid dynasty and when the capital of Herat refused to surrender he massacred the citizens and leveled the city. It was during this campaign that Timur sent his general to capture the rebellious Kandahar. 1385–1386 from Russia led by Khan Toktamish who was once his friend and ally. By 1389, much of Persia was under his control. He decided to head westward and conquered Persian Kurdistan. While this was going on, Timur invaded Russia in 1390 and crushed Toktamish but a revolt broke out in Persia that he crushed in 1392.

Timur besieges the historic city of Urganj. (Public Domain)

Land Grabs and Retaliations

Timur then went on to reconquer Armenia, (where it is said he took thousands of Christians from Sivas and buried them alive in moats), Azerbaijan, Fars, and he took Georgia in 1395. Toktamish in 1395 decided to invade once again but was defeated. In retaliation, Timur invaded and ravaged most of southern Russia and Ukraine, reaching Moscow in 1396.

Tode Mongke Khan and the Golden Horde (Public Domain)

Tode Mongke Khan and the Golden Horde (Public Domain)

As the war with the Golden Horde was ending, Timur prepared for another military campaign to the east. The aim of this campaign was to bring northern India under the Timurid fold, which he did with the sack and massacre of Delhi in 1398. With northern India now under his control, Timur turned westward to deal with his new enemy, the Ottomans. Before Timur entered Ottoman lands, he made stops at Aleppo and Damascus and sacked them both. After sacking and massacring 20,000 citizens of Baghdad, Timur let his troops rest for the winter before marching into Anatolia in 1401.

After the Usual Compliments…PERISH IN THE SEA OF PUNISHMENT

A missive from Timur “To the Emperor of Rum, Bayezid the Thunder”:

“After the usual compliments, we let you know, that by the infinite grace of God, the greatest part of Asia is in subjection to our officers, which we conquered by our strength, and the terror of our arms.

Know likewise that the most powerful sultans of the earth are obedient to our commands; that we govern our dominions by ourselves, and have even constrained fortune to take care of our empire; that our armies are extended from one sea to the other, and our guard consists of sovereign kings, who form a hedge before our gate.

Where is the monarch who dares resist us? Where is the potentate who does not glory in being of the number of our courtiers? But for thee, whose true origin terminates in a Turkoman sailor, as everyone knows, it would be well, since the ship of thy unfathomable ambition has suffered shipwreck in the abyss of self-love, if thou wouldst lower the sails of thy rashness, and cast the anchor of repentance in the port of sincerity, which is the port of safety; lest by the tempest of our vengeance you should perish in the sea of the punishment which you merit.

But as we have learned, that in obedience to the precept of the Koran, which orders us to wage war with the enemies of the Mussulman laws, you have undertaken a vigorous war with the Europeans; this consideration hath hindered us from making any insults in the lands which are subject to you: and the reflection that your country is the bulwark of the Mussulmans, hath obliged us to leave it in a flourishing condition; for fear the passage of our armies into it should raise a division among the inhabitants, and cause the Mussulmans to be disquieted, and the infidels rejoice.

Then take care of yourself, and endeavor by your good conduct to preserve the dominions of your ancestors, not suffering for the future your ambitions foot to wander out of the limits of your power, which is but small…. You may remember the precept of Muhammad, to let the Turks remain in peace, while they are quiet: don’t seek to wage war with us; which no one ever dared to do, and prospered….

Though you have been in some considerable battles in the woods of Anatolia, and have gained advantages upon the Europeans; it was only through the prayers of the prophet and the blessings of the Muhammadan religion of which you make professions: don’t be proud at these advantages, nor attribute them to your own valor. Believe me, you are but a pismire: don’t seek to fight against the elephants; for they’ll crush you under their feet…. If you don’t follow our counsels, you will repent it.

These are the advices we have to give you: do behave yourself as you think fit.”

Bayezid’s Reply to Timur:

“It is a long time,… since we have been desirous of carrying on a war with you. God be thanked, our desire has had its effects, and we have taken up a resolution to march against you at the head of a formidable army. If you don’t advance against us, we will come to seek you; and pursue you as far as Tauris and Sultaniah.”

Top Image: Battle of Ankara (Mughal painting) public domain 

By Cam Rea

References

Alexander Mikaberidze, Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1

Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire

Dennis M. Rose, The Campaigns of Tamerlane

Hamad Subani, The Secret History of Iran

J.B. Bury; edited by H.M. Gwatkin, The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol IV

Marcus Milwright and Evanthia Baboula, Bayezid’s Cage: A Re-examination of a venerable academic controversy, [Online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/10323469/Bayezids_Cage_A_Re-examination_of_a_venerable_academic_controversy

Sharaf al-Dīn ‘Alī Yazd, The History of Timur-Bec: Known by the Name of Tamerlain the Great, https://archive.org/details/TheHistoryOfTimurBec_201409

Spencer Tucker, Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict

Timothy E. Gregory, A History of Byzantium

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.

Naval Battle of Salamis (480 BCE) ‘The Harder the Salami the Better!’

 

Kaulbach, Wilhelm von - Die Seeschlacht bei Salamis - 1868.JPG

On 29 September 480 BCE, the Battle of Salamis was fought between the Greek city-states – who were seeking an empire of their own – and the already established undisputed heavyweight champion of the known world – who needs no introduction – the Persian Empire! Better known as the Achaemenid Empire in the academic world in case you were wondering and I think you are?

According to that guy named Herodotus, who is still being debated about before the undergraduate academic committee, mentions that 371–378 Greek and 900-1207 Persian ships took part in this mass royal rumble. Themistocles, that political populist over achiever, was an Athenian admiral of the navy. He decided to bamboozle the Persians into thinking they were best buds and the Persians were hooked. Afterwards, he ordered his slave to go to the Persians and tell them that the Greek allies had abandoned their position with their tail between their legs. The Persians were giddy and entered the straits between Salamis and the mainland.

On the morning of 29 September, the Persians crept across the narrow strait. Xerxes, being the great leader he was, watched from afar, like a guy in the back of a Grindhouse theater on 42nd Street in New York City. Understand that naval warfare before this shindig took place consisted of boats ramming into each other at high speeds like a bumper boat competition at the local fair that came around once a year or at the established rundown Fun Parks. It was nothing more than an ancient version of demolition derby that goes bound the barnyard rules of rural America. Once a boat had been successfully penetrated, the process of drowning took place, of course, some likely knew how to swim but that’s another matter for another story. Once nightfall arrived, the Persians lost a third of their bumper boats during the competition and called it quits. Persia’s strategic position had not improved, causing Xerxes to pullout and recall his army, which had reached the Isthmus.
While not a major defeat, it was a setback, one that caused Xerxes many countless nights contemplating and boasting of the should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve scenarios. It was another victory for the Greeks in their march to be more like Persia.

Let’s take a look at those Lecture Hall Totals:

We have 371-378 Greek Allied ships (shame on you Herodotus, you need to work on your arithmetic skills) 900-1207 Persian ships according to the ancients who tend to exaggerate a bit. Modern egghead estimates are still being hammered away day in night and tend to suggest only 300-600 ships took place in the beating.
We have 40 Greeks ships totaled.
We have 200-300 Persians ships totaled.
Body count unknown.
Unknown amounts of blood.
Unknowable amounts of severed limbs.
Chick commanding five Persian vessels (Give a round of applause to Artemisia I of Caria).
No breasts.
No beasts.
Heads roll.
Arms roll.
All action.
Ship slamming fu.
Boarding party fu.
Bodies floating (Thinking of you, Ariabignes) fu.
Swords, daggers, arrows, and splintered pieces of wood to the torso fu.

Two and a half beers!
Cam Rea says check it out.

For more on the story, check out these sources:
Herodotus and the Persian Wars
Ephorus, Universal History
Lazenby, JF. The Defence of Greece 490–479 BC.
Green, Peter. The Year of Salamis, 480–479 B.C.
Burn, A.R., “Persia and the Greeks” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 2: The Median and Achaemenid Periods, Ilya Gershevitch, ed.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
300: Rise of an Empire 9film) in case you didn’t already know!

By Cam Rea

Eannatum: The First Conqueror? Part II

 

The city of Lagash was located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of the city Uruk. Lagash was a fertile area, with irrigation canals feeding its crops via the Shatt al-Gharraf channel that filtered in water from the rivers. Lagash grew bountiful crops due to fertile land and its location made it a prime economic powerhouse when it came to commerce, all due to the waterways. Commercial competition with other city-states was healthy. However, like all city-states, there comes a time when hostility rises and the need to settle disputes requires war.

Fragment of Eannatum's Stele of the Vultures

Fragment of Eannatum’s Stele of the Vultures (Sting/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Eannatum’s tour of Elam, Urua, and Umma paid off. He controlled provinces and regions rich with resources. He had metal to produce weapons and fertile fields to grow food—both of which were used to feed and arm his forces. Eannatum was far from finished. With an increase in resource-rich lands came an increase in manpower to replenish and increase the size of his ranks. Eannatum was drunk with power and looked west to quench his thirst.

With Eannatum’s eastern flank secured, the west was ripe for the taking.

Goddess Nisaba with an inscription of Entemena, ruler of Lagash (2430 BC)

Goddess Nisaba with an inscription of Entemena, ruler of Lagash (2430 BC) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Grabbing up Valuable Resources

The king led his forces to the city-state of Uruk. Uruk was important for a number of reasons – the first of which is that it sat along the Euphrates River and not far from the Persian Gulf, making it a valuable trading city by both land and sea. Second, Uruk’s population was rather large and prosperous, and surrounded by fertile fields, making it desirable in terms of supplying the army with food and swelling the ranks with additional troops.

With Uruk conquered, Ur came next and its armies were put to the sword. Ur was also a valuable trading center and offered a strategic location near the mouth of the Euphrates River that led into the Persian Gulf. Unlike the lands of Elam, the only thing put to the sword in both Uruk and Ur was the military forces sent out to oppose the armies of Lagash. Uruk and Ur were valuable, providing much for an army on the march.

Lugal-kisal-si, king of Uruk

Lugal-kisal-si, king of Uruk (Public Domain)

Uruk and Ur were also important for their strategic positions. To the east were the other various city-states like the one that just conquered them—Lagash; to the north were more city-states of various sizes, and to the south was the Persian Gulf which was used for importing and exporting resources. Imports that came up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and exports that flowed down the rivers and out to the sea made their way to far distant lands. To the west lay a great desert that in and of itself was a natural barrier against any unwanted intruders. Three natural barriers, the Zagros Mountains to the east, the desert to the west, and the Persian Gulf to the south, surrounded Eannatum’s empire. Eannatum’s only true threat came from the north.

The ancient cities of Sumer.

The ancient cities of Sumer. (CC BY 3.0)

Pushing into the North – Zuzu Fights Back

After the southern portion of Sumer was conquered, Eannatum began his march north. His campaign towards the north involved Elam again, as the city-state of Mishime was conquered. It is possible that the city of Mishime was conquered during his first campaign, and the reason may be due to rebellion, in hopes other Elamite city-states would join in the fight to break free from Lagash control. After Elam, Eannatum made his way north, eyeing a prize-worthy, religious target known as Kish.

However, before he could make his way to Kish, Zuzu, the king of Akshak, had had enough of Eannatum’s war-making and went out to confront the man who wished to own the world. Zuzu and his forces made their way towards Lagash, where Eannatum’s forces routed them. Zuzu was killed in combat and Akshak taken and incorporated into Eannatum’s ever increasing empire. With Akshak conquered, Eannatum marched into Kish with ease. Eannatum, confident in his power, decided to take the title “King of Kish.” The title King of Kish means much more than being the overlord of Kish, rather the title implies that whoever has the title is also King of Sumer.

Copper spearhead from lance, engraved with the image of a lion and inscribed ‘Lugal… King of Kish’. Between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

Copper spearhead from lance, engraved with the image of a lion and inscribed ‘Lugal… King of Kish’. Between 2800 and 2600 BCE. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

King of Kish, King of Sumer, King of the World

You would think that Eannatum would have been happy with his conquests since he was the king of Sumer. However, it is said war is the health of the state and it rang true for Eannatum. Soon after Eannatum had taken over and centralized all of Sumer under his sole authority, city-states outside the sphere of Sumer were looking rather pleasing for the taking, like Mari. Mari was located on the western bank of the Euphrates in what is today the country of Syria. However, Mari during the time of Eannatum was not entirely Sumerian, but a mix of Sumerians and Amorites. What made Mari pleasing to Eannatum’s eyes was the strategically important fact that Mari laid at the divide between the Sumerian cities of lower Mesopotamia and the northern cities of Syria. Remember, Sumer had not the abundance of building materials such as timber and stone as northern Syria did. Therefore, Mari could quench Sumer’s thirst for such materials, thus making it a prime target to be conquered and its positions confiscated—which Eannatum did soon after unifying Sumer.

The Standard of Ur mosaic is made of red limestone, bitumen, lapis lazuli, and shell, depicts peacetime, from the royal tombs of Ur. (Public Domain)

What is Seen and What is Unseen: The Illusory Economy

Eannatum’s rise to power was anything but peaceful. One could say it all started with Lagash’s neighbor Umma over a property dispute dealing with the Shatt al-Gharraf waterway and the fertile fields of Guedena long before Eannatum’s rise to power. What turned out deadly was decided peacefully. Of course, there was a bit of religious bias as whom the gods favored the most between the belligerent cities. Even though a god-inspired deal did stop the war and promote peace for the time being, it also allowed the Umma to rest and eventually take up the sword again.

When Eannatum came to power, Umma was on his mind and evidently much more. He must have known for a fact through military intelligence that Umma and Elam were weak. With such information, he quickly assembled and likely increased the rank and file of his forces. Eannatum thrust his forces into a series of bloody conflicts. With each battle came conquest and confiscation of the various city-states. Money, resources, and people poured into Eannatum’s coffers, ever increasing with further conquests. War was good business for Eannatum, for war engulfed his economy. His war economy, you could argue, was “military Keynesianism” in which Lagash used military spending to increase economic growth. In other words, every city conquered and the property confiscated allowed Eannatum to increase military spending, thus giving the impression that his empire was economically strong due to the amount of resources he controlled.

Many of the resources needed during the time of war were likely allocated from private use to military use, which caused a chain reaction of ills, such as higher taxes to pay for the bloated war deficits, which in turn increased conscription and affected many lives. Also, consider the destruction of property via conscription. In other words, many of the young and middle-aged men conscripted would have to leave their property. The loss of labor was a loss in products and revenue. With both losses came the possibility of losing the property by way of state confiscation. In addition, consider the trade restriction throughout the war. City-states that enjoyed a healthy trade relationship with other city-states were severed from gaining or delivering the resources needed or desired between the two.

Eannatum: The Father of the War economy and Globalization?

Another aspect to consider is that when Eannatum was on his “conquest of the known world tour” he may have started what we term today as “globalization.” The economic dimension he created by way of war took various city-state economies, which were different to various degrees, and centralized them under his rule. How much of a negative impact it had after his grand adventure is unknown, but prosperity likely increased after a while.

The political dimension under Eannatum’s rule seems to have somewhat stayed the same among the city-states except for one aspect, Sumer was now united for the first time, and under a king. The cultural dimension was unaffected for the most part, unless you were from Elam I would suppose, since Elam was hated by Sumer. The Elamites may have been frowned upon while they lived under Sumerian/Lagash rule, but their resources were loved.

Battle formations on a fragment of the Stele of the Vultures

Battle formations on a fragment of the Stele of the Vultures (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This leads us to the ideological dimension. What was once normal, (as in being a collection of free city-states who worked together in a loose confederation) was now under a ‘new normal’ of unification through force under a single ruler. From a military perspective, Eannatum’s conquest likely had an impact on the future of warfare. Consider that with each conquest, Eannatum and his officers and men learned new methods of warfare given city-states sacked and those, like the Elamites they conquered. With each new city-state or foreign nation placed under their thumb, new military resources were acquired like additional weapons and information pertaining to those even farther away.

Furthermore, by acquiring tin to go along with the rich copper mines, weapons could be produced on a greater scale, especially the number of artisans, such as blacksmiths who could produce such weapons of war, which were not always easy to come by, since blacksmithing was not exactly widespread profession on a massive scale. By controlling the Mesopotamian region and Elam, Eannatum could draw on the professions of the many craftsmen throughout his empire to produce arms and armor and to improve upon technology. However, Eannatum’s effect on Mesopotamia did have a drawback; when Eannatum’s empire fell apart a new one would arise. Those who held power, like Sargon of Akkad much later, saw the possibility of controlling Mesopotamia and took it upon themselves to proclaim the region as theirs.

Therefore, what is seen is a man who conquered and united Sumer into a single powerhouse—but what is unseen is the amount the war cost in lives and property, not to mention that Eannatum’s actions also changed the military and political landscape along with the future of authority to come. While it is tempting to suggest that Eannatum was indeed the father of the war economy and globalization, he is not. Rather, he was just the first to unite the two using force on a grand scale. Yes, many leaders before him who held considerably less power also used the economy to support wars. But Eannatum introduced and took advantage of this demon by centralizing his power on all fronts to ensure victory through forceful servitude.

Top Image: ‘Mask of Warka’, marble head from Uruk, ancient city of Sumer  (Public Domain) and battle formations on a fragment of the Stele of the Vultures (CC BY-SA 3.0);Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Quincy Wright, A Study of War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965)

Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963)

Richard A. Gabriel, The Culture of War: Invention and Early Development (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990)

Jane McIntosh, Ancient Mesopotamia: New Perspectives (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2005)

Martin Sicker, The Pre-Islamic Middle East (Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2000)

Jack M. Sasson, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2006)

Amnon Altman, Tracing the Earliest Recorded Concepts of International Law: The Ancient Near East 2500-330 BCE (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012)

Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995)

S. H. Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology (New York: Penguin Books, 1963)

Jeremy A. Black, The literature of ancient Sumer (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2004)

Sing C. Chew, World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization, and Deforestation 3000 B.C. – 2000 A.D. (Walnut Greek: AltaMira Press, 2001)

Lloyd Weeks, “Metallurgy,” in A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, ed.

Eannatum: The First Conqueror? Part I

 

Between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, lies a land known as Mesopotamia. It was here that men found suitable land, which they pierced, ripped, and seeded. Once the seeds took root, civilization was born. Lagash, like other city-states of its time, shared control over resources and social actives between the palace and temple. The temple controlled a great amount of land and exerted a powerful influence over the people. The palace authority controlled as much if not more land than the temple. This was fine until later on, when the palace was able to wield an even greater influence over the people.

Map showing Lagash located near the shoreline of the gulf

Map showing Lagash located near the shoreline of the gulf. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

In doing so, the king was able to amalgamate the palace with the temple, in which the king saw himself as god’s own representative on earth. If god chose the king, then the temple must obey. This placed the temple in a predicament. However, this does not mean there would never be strife again between the palace and temple authorities. So long as they existed side by side, the desire to control and hold a monopoly over the other’s institution was desirable, especially if one wished to control the masses.

Relief of Ur-Nanshe, King of Lagash and grandfather of Eannatum. Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BC). (Public Domain)

The First Conqueror?

Enter Eannatum, King of Lagash (c. 2455-2425 BCE), who established the first Mesopotamian empire in history through constant warring. But how did Eannatum achieve this, how did he create the first verifiable empire in history?

Eannatum, son of King Akurgal of Lagash ascended the throne due to his father getting into a bit of a squabble with his northwestern neighbors the city-state of Umma. Eannatum’s spat with the city-state of Umma led him on a quest for dominance in the region, which would ultimately ruin his empire.

The city of Lagash was located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of the city Uruk. Lagash was a fertile area, with irrigation canals feeding its crops via the Shatt al-Gharraf channel that filtered in water from the rivers. Lagash grew bountiful crops due to fertile land and its location made it a prime economic powerhouse when it came to commerce, all due to the waterways. Commercial competition with other city-states was healthy. However, like all city-states, there comes a time when hostility rises and the need to settle disputes requires war.

A War For Water

Eannatum, upon receiving his power, understood that Lagash security relied on its water supply from the Shatt al-Gharraf. However, his neighbor, the city-state of Umma, also bordered this very channel on the western bank. The chief cause of hostility is unknown, according to some historians. However, it seems obvious that the conflict was over water.

Water is a precious resource and was especially so in Mesopotamia. Water could make or break kingdoms and alliances. Umma held this one strategic advantage over Lagash. Cutting the water supply to the city would hinder crop growth in their region thus causing domestic food shortages and trade issues via waterway, effectively crippling the commerce in Lagash and sending prices upward on all commodities. This, in turn, would cause the locals to either fight or pack-up and seek greener pastures.

Conflict between Lagash and Umma was common. Enmetena, son of Eannatum II and nephew of the famed conqueror Eannatum I, records the history of this conflict on a cone known as the “Enmetena Cone.” The first war between the two powers was over the fertile fields of the Guedena. Enlil, king of all the lands, father of all the gods, by his righteous command, for Ningirsu and Shara, demarcated the (border) ground. Mesalim, king of Kish, by the command of Ishtaran, laid the measuring line upon it, and on that place, he erected a stele.

One of the oldest diplomatic documents known, on a clay nail, by King Entemena, c 2400 BC.

One of the oldest diplomatic documents known, on a clay nail, by King Entemena, c 2400 BC. (Public Domain)

Kings and Gods of War

The inscription is an entanglement of religion and the state. Enlil was the main Sumerian god. Therefore, Enlil is the judge, jury, and executioner. Enlil is the god who fixes the boundaries and terrestrial estates of the lesser gods. His will cannot be changed and his decisions final, regardless of divine assembly. However, each city-state has a patron god. The god Ningirsu represented the city of Lagash. The god Shara represented the city of Umma.

Lagash made the argument that the borders were already set in place and Enlil was in favor of them retaining control over Guedena. Umma saw it differently. Therefore, a mediator was needed to settle the dispute. That mediator was Mesalim, king of Kish. The title “King of Kish” means “King of the world or King of Kings.” Mesalim was the supreme overseer of the Sumerian lands, which was the civilized world to these people. Mesalim’s decision was final regardless of the moral argument.

Inscription: "Ur-Namma, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, the one who built the temple of Enlil”. Foundation figure, c. 2075 BCE

Inscription: “Ur-Namma, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, the one who built the temple of Enlil”. Foundation figure, c. 2075 BCE (CC BY 2.0) “ The figure depicts the king carrying a basket containing the mud to make the temple’s bricks. The first brick was modeled by the king himself, who is represented in the occupation considered the lowliest in Mesopotamia–‘carrying the basket’–for in the presence of the gods the king was a humble servant.”

Mesalim’s final decision was to build a trench along with a levee on either side to separate the two territories. Finally, a stele was erected at the border indicating his decision. However, the decision made by Mesalim favored Lagash more so than Umma over the water rights and the fertile fields of the Guedena. The reason for this decision is unknown. However, could it be possible that Lagash was more powerful than Umma?

According to Mesalim, Enlil favored the stronger of the two. However, all gods aside, Mesalim likely chose Lagash because Lagash had a much stronger economy; this would provide the means to afford a strong military and could provide more to the loosely knit confederation of the Sumerian city-states in a time of crisis than Umma could. Therefore, in essence, the King of Kish picked the winners and losers of Sumer.

Victory Granted – But to Whom?

This was not the end of the border dispute between the two city-states. Later, Ush, ruler of Umma, marched to the border, smashed Mesalim’s stele, and advanced into Lagash territory. Ush proceeded with his forces to seize the fertile fields of Guedena. Ush would be defeated from any further advance by an unknown Lagash king.

The Sumerian inscriptions state that “Ningirsu, the hero of Enlil, by his just command, made war upon Umma. At the command of Enlil, his great net ensnared them. He erected their burial mound on the plain in that place.” The victory was granted to the patron god of the city of Lagash. The reason there is no mention of the Lagash king of the time is that Enmetena, son of Eannatum and the great-grandson of Ur-Nanshe, wrote the story.

Ur-Nashe was the founder of the dynasty from which Enmetena came from. The man who defeated Ush had to be none other than Lugal-sha-engur, the predecessor of King Ur-Nanshe. So why would Enmetena not mention Lugal-sha-engur’s victory over Ush? Simple, Enmetena was not interested in giving thanks or glory to a dynasty that was not his own.

Vase dedicated by Entemena, king of Lagash, to Ningirsu. Silver and copper, ca. 2400 BC. Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu.

Vase dedicated by Entemena, king of Lagash, to Ningirsu. Silver and copper, ca. 2400 BC. Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu. (Public Domain)

Eannatum the Conqueror

One would think that Eannatum’s military campaign early in his reign would have begun by attacking Umma. However, the “Boulder Inscription” suggests otherwise. Instead of going straight for Umma, he turned his attentions to the troublesome Elamites, and he “conquered Elam” and ripped up their “burial mounds.” After subjugating Elam, he turned his forces towards the city-state of Urua, which he quickly conquered—and of course, ripped apart their burial mounds. The city-state of Umma, his archenemy, was next on his hit list, and they too suffered the same fate. After Umma, he defeated the city-states of Uruk, Ur, and Kiutu. Iriaz was destroyed and its ruler put to the sword. Mishime suffered destruction and Arua was obliterated. After some time, Zuzu, the king of Akshak, rose up, challenged Eannatum, and he was obliterated. However, Eannatum was not finished, as he turned his attentions towards the city-states of Kish, Akshak, and Mari, which were all defeated. However, a question remains, why did Eannatum conquer the city-states mentioned and what were his motives?

Eannatum’s Hit List

Why did Eannatum’s tour start with Elam? The Elamites were a troublesome hill people. In many ways, they were still partly nomadic at the time. In other words, they had moved past being hunter-gatherers and had established a civilization like those living in Mesopotamia. However, they still clung to nomadic methods of warfare such as raiding. An example is the destruction of Ur, which came much later. The actions of this event are found in The Lament of Ur, which states, “Enlil brought down the Elamites, the enemy, from the highlands … Fire approached Ninmarki in the shrine of Gu-aba. Large boats were carrying off its silver and lapis lazuli.” This type of pillage-and-run tactic likely became monotonous to those living nearest to them.

One would think that Eannatum would have dealt with Umma first. They were, after all, the archenemy of Lagash, and due to their weakness, they would have made a prime target. However, Eannatum saw an economic opportunity. He was confident that his military forces could protect Lagash while the main body was sent to conquer and confiscate the lands of Elam. Elam was a much bigger prize than Umma. Eannatum’s conquest of Elam gave him the resources needed to provide an army on the march. The lands of Elam were rich in timber, precious metals, and stone. Of these resources, one sticks out as the major factor in Eannatum’s conquest of Elam: tin. Elam had tin mines that dotted the Zagros Mountains. Moreover, there were valuable trade routes that ran through Elam from the east. Not only did Elam produce its own tin, (although how much they produced is uncertain), but also the mining and transportation of tin went beyond the Iranian plateau. Tin was rarer than copper during these times and rarely used as a pure metal. Without tin to accompany the copper, the manufacturing of bronze weapons was impossible.

The city-state of Urua was next. The location of Urua was located in the northwestern Iranian province of Khuzistan, which means Urua was within the vicinity of Elam. The importance of conquering Urua was due to its strategic location. Urua is located on the Susiana plain, which controls the passage that leads into what would be later the southern portion of Babylonia.

Umma was next on Eannatum hit list. As mentioned, Umma held a strategic advantage over Lagash due to Shatt al-Gharraf waterway, which bordered Umma. By conquering Umma, Lagash would have sole control over the waterway that filtered in water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Furthermore, Lagash would safely and securely control the fertile fields of Guedena.

Eannatum’s tour of Elam, Urua, and Umma paid off. Eannatum controlled provinces and regions rich with resources. He had metal to produce weapons and fertile fields to grow food—both of which were used to feed and arm his forces. Eannatum was far from finished. With an increase in resource-rich lands came an increase in manpower to replenish and increase the size of his ranks. Eannatum was drunk with power and looked west to quench his thirst.

With Eannatum’s eastern flank secured, the west was ripe for the taking.

Top Image: Statue of Gudea, prince of Lagash (long after King Eannatum) neo-Sumerian period, 2120 BC (Public Domain) and a fragment of the Stele of the Vultures (CC BY-SA 3.0);Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Quincy Wright, A Study of War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965)

Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963)

Richard A. Gabriel, The Culture of War: Invention and Early Development (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990)

Jane McIntosh, Ancient Mesopotamia: New Perspectives (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2005)

Martin Sicker, The Pre-Islamic Middle East (Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2000)

Jack M. Sasson, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2006)

Amnon Altman, Tracing the Earliest Recorded Concepts of International Law: The Ancient Near East 2500-330 BCE (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012)

Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995)

S. H. Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology (New York: Penguin Books, 1963)

Jeremy A. Black, The literature of ancient Sumer (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2004)

Sing C. Chew, World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization, and Deforestation 3000 B.C. – 2000 A.D. (Walnut Greek: AltaMira Press, 2001)

Lloyd Weeks, “Metallurgy,” in A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, ed.

The Battle of Megiddo—Part II

 

Pharaoh Thutmose III pushed his 12,000-strong army towards the banks of the Orontes River. His scribe, Tjaneni, kept a daily journal in order to have the Pharaoh’s military exploits inscribed by his artisans on the walls of Amun-Re’s temple at Karnak. The men lay siege to the coalition of Canaanites led by the King of Kadesh. What lay in store for the citizens of Megiddo?

Thutmose decided to take the direct route that the King of Kadesh would not expect—the main road. While Canaanite scouts waited to report back after seeing the Egyptian army, Thutmose knew that if he did not take these routes, the advisors of the King of Kadesh would think that he had gone on another road “because he is afraid of us?’ So they will say.”

Upholding Oaths and Leading Men into Danger

Some of the Egyptian officials became concerned with this. The direct route to Megiddo was not the best plan of action and his officers and men grew so wary of the endeavor that Thutmose stated: “Your valiant lord will guide your steps on this road which becomes narrow.” For his majesty had taken an oath, saying: “I shall not let my valiant army go before me from this place!”  Afterwards, Thutmose, before his army, showed strength by leading the forces himself for every “man was informed of his order of march, horse following horse, with his majesty at the head of his army.”

Bust of Thutmosis III

Bust of Thutmosis III (Public Domain)

On day 19, the Egyptian army came out of the pass. Thutmose was still leading the way at the head of his army, which was “grouped in many battalions, without meeting a single enemy”. Their southern wing was at Taanach, and their northern wing on the north side of the Qlna valley. Then his majesty called to them: “——— they are fallen!  The wretched enemy —— Amun——–.  Give praise to him, extol the might of his majesty, for his strength is greater than ——-.” There was much concern, and rightfully so, concerning the rear (since that is where much of the supplies are located) as it was slowly making its way forward with the army. After confirming that the rear was secured, the elite vanguard came into the Qina valley and stated: “Lo, his majesty has come out with his valiant troops and they fill the valley. May our valiant lord listen to us this time. May our lord watch for us the rearguard of his army with its people. When the rearguard has come out to us in the open, then we shall fight against those foreigners; then we shall not be concerned about the rearguard of our army!” Thutmose III halted in the open.

Afterwards, the Pharaoh watched his troops march into camp until all had arrived. Thutmose and his forces sat south of Megiddo, on the shore of the Qina brook. After the camp had been prepared, Thutmose sent word to his officers to inform the troops that they should prepare. “Make your weapons ready! For one will engage in combat with that wretched foe in the morning; for one ———.” He rested in the royal camp, giving provisions to the officers, rations to the attendants. He said to the watch of the army: “Steadfast, steadfast! Vigilant, vigilant!” Finally, one came to tell his majesty: “The region is safe, and so are the troops of the south and the north.”

The Fierce Battle: ‘The fear of his majesty had entered their bodies’

On day 21, the Egyptians were celebrating by feasting during the new moon. However, the feasting would soon end as Thutmose appeared and gave instruction. “An order was given to the whole army to pass —.  His majesty set out on a chariot of fine gold, decked in his shining armor like strong-armed Horus, lord of action, like Mont of Thebes, his father Amun strengthening his arm.”

Thutmose had the southern wing of his forces on a hill south of the Qina brook, and the northern wing to the northwest of Megiddo, while Thutmose himself was in the center.

What can be made of this battle from recorded details is that at dawn the Egyptian forces pushed out with the infantry on the right to stand their ground behind the steep banks of the Kina Brook, while the rest of the army struck the center and left. By doing this, Thutmose pinned the Canaanite forces against their own camp. One could say that he cut them in half in order to effectively deal with them.

Egyptian driving chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit

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

Understand that when Thutmose attacked the center, he drove a wedge down the middle; this allowed his left wing to push that portion of the enemy’s left wing right into jaws of Thutmose’s center. This, in turn, allowed both the center and left wing to go ahead and push on into the right wing of the enemy, causing total mayhem throughout the ranks.

The Egyptians in their attack used a steady barrage of arrows as the left wing of the Egyptian infantry made their way in, being protected by archers and the devastating charge of Thutmose’s chariots. The Egyptian chariots during this battle acted as ancient tanks due to their weight, speed, and that they carried an archer who could fire arrows from a platform that gave him 360 degrees.

The enemy had stood at the most likely paths of attack, leaving their middle exposed. This led to a quick routing.

In the end, the Egyptian army did not pursue the fleeing Canaanite soldiers. Those who survived fled behind the safe walls of Megiddo. Thutmose and his forces decide that enough was enough and that it was time to celebrate on the enemy’s dime.

Diorama of Egyptian in Chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit

Diorama of Egyptian in Chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit (CC BY 2.0)

“Then his majesty overwhelmed them at the head of his army. When they saw his majesty overwhelming them, they fled headlong to Megiddo with faces of fear, abandoning their horses, their chariots of gold and silver, so as to be hoisted up into the town by pulling at their garments. For the people had shut the town behind them, and they now lowered garments to hoist them up into the town. Now if his majesty’s troops had not set their hearts to plundering the possessions of the enemies, they would have captured Megiddo at this moment, when the wretched foe of Kadesh and the wretched foe of this town were being pulled up hurriedly so as to admit them into their town. For the fear of his majesty had entered their bodies, and their arms sank as his diadem overwhelmed them.”

Egyptian chariot, accompanied by a cheetah and archer

Egyptian chariot, accompanied by a cheetah and archer (Public Domain)

“Then their horses were captured, and their chariots of gold and silver became an easy prey. Their ranks were lying stretched out on their backs like fish in the bight of a net, while his majesty’s valiant army counted their possessions. Captured was the tent of that wretched foe, which was worked with silver ——–. Then the entire army jubilated and gave praise to Amun for the victory he had given to his son on that day. They lauded his majesty and extolled his victory. Then they presented the plunder they had taken: hands, living prisoners, horses, chariots of gold and silver and of painted work.”

The Plunder of Megiddo

Aerial view of Megiddo (Tel Megiddo, Levant)

Aerial view of Megiddo (Tel Megiddo, Levant) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While Thutmose and his forces celebrated, he knew that his opportunity to crush the Canaanite coalition was not going to happen unless he besieged and took Megiddo. After the drinking and eating were over, Thutmose surrounded Megiddo. Thutmose made it clear to his officers that “the capture of Megiddo is the capture of a thousand towns! Grasp firmly, firmly!” Thutmose understood the economic and military benefits that Megiddo would award the Egyptians. Once the siege began, Thutmose made it clear to his officers that they “provide for their soldiers and to let every man know his place. They measured the town, surrounded (it) with a ditch, and walled (it) up with fresh timber from all their fruit trees.” Not a sole could escape the wall built by the Egyptians. The siege lasted for seven months before the people of Megiddo surrendered.

While the city and citizens were spared, for the most part, it was open season on possessions— the spoils of war. The defeated enemy leaders were forced to send a son to Egypt, where they were raised and educated as Egyptians. Once they were returned, they governed with Egyptian background and sympathies. The victory at Megiddo was the beginning of several battles which crushed the rebellion.

Model of Megiddo, 1457 BCE

Model of Megiddo, 1457 BCE (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Now the princes of this foreign land came on their bellies to kiss the ground to the might of his majesty, and to beg breath for their nostrils, because of the greatness of his strength and the extent of the power of Amun over all foreign lands. ——–, all the princes captured by his majesty’s might bearing their tribute of silver, gold, lapis lazuli, and turquoise, and carrying grain, wine, and large and small cattle for his majesty’s army; one group among them bore tribute on the journey south. Then his majesty appointed the rulers anew for every town ——.

Replica of Canaanite Temple at Megiddo

Replica of Canaanite Temple at Megiddo (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The amount of booty brought forth to Thutmose was staggering. The Annals list:

Living prisoners: 340

Hands: 83

Horses: 2,041

Foals: 191

Stallions: 6. Colts: —

One chariot of that foe worked in gold, with a pole of gold

One fine chariot of the prince of Megiddo, worked in gold

Chariots of the allied princes: 30

Chariots of his wretched army: 892, Total: 924

One fine bronze coat of mail belonging to that enemy

One fine bronze coat of mail belonging to the prince of Megiddo

Leather-coats of mail belonging to his wretched army: 200

Bows: 502

Poles of mry-wood worked with silver from the tent of that enemy: 7

And the army of his majesty had captured cattle belonging to this town —— : 387

Cows: 1,929

Goats: 2,000

Sheep: 20,500

Victory stela of pharaoh Thutmose III, from Jebel Barkal, temple of Amen. Made of granite, from the 18th dynasty, circa 1490-1436 B.C. Erected during his 47th regnal year (roughly 1443 BC) marking his kingdom's southern boundary. 50 lines of hieroglyphs mark his campaigns in Naharin, the Battle of Megiddo, an elephant hunt, a royal speech, and more.

Victory stela of pharaoh Thutmose III, from Jebel Barkal, temple of Amen. Made of granite, from the 18th dynasty, circa 1490-1436 B.C. Erected during his 47th regnal year (roughly 1443 BC) marking his kingdom’s southern boundary. 50 lines of hieroglyphs mark his campaigns in Naharin, the Battle of Megiddo, an elephant hunt, a royal speech, and more. (CC BY 3.0)

But wait there’s more. Here’s a list of what was carried off afterward by Thutmose:

The household goods of the enemy of Yanoam, Inuges, and Herenkeru, together with the property of’the towns that had been loyal to him which were captured by the might of his majesty ——-

Maryan-warriors belonging to them: 38

Children of that enemy and of the princes with him: 84

Maryan-warriors belonging to them: 5

Male and female slaves and their children: 1,796

Pardoned persons who had come out from that enemy because of hunger: 103, Total: 2,503

As for the expensive bowls of costly stone and gold, and various vessels:

One large Jay of Syrian workmanship. Jars, bowls, plates, various drinking vessels, large kettles, knives: [x+] 17, making 1,784 deben

Gold in disks skillfully crafted, and many silver disks, making 966 deben and 1 kite

A silver statue ——. ——- with a head of gold

Walking sticks with human heads: 3

Carrying chairs of that enemy of ivory, ebony, and ssndm-wood worked with gold: 6

Footstools belonging to them: 6

Large tables of ivory and ssndm-wood: 6

One bed of ssndm-wood worked with gold and all costly stones in the manner of a krkr, belonging to that enemy, worked with gold throughout

A statue of ebony of that enemy worked with gold with a head of lapis lazuli. ——–, bronze vessels and much clothing of that enemy

Moreover, if that was not enough, many of the fields were “made into plots and assigned to royal inspectors in order to reap their harvest.”

Thutmose III’s exploits are recorded in the Annals, inscribed into stone at Karnak. Thutmose III smiting his enemies.

Thutmose III’s exploits are recorded in the Annals, inscribed into stone at Karnak. Thutmose III smiting his enemies. (Public Domain)

Overall, the Battle of Megiddo secured Egypt the right to control and dictate southern Canaan and extended its frontier to the Orontes River in Syria. Furthermore, they now had a safe passage from which their troops could run up and down the land bridge that connected Asia with Africa and control the flow of trade that was both being imported and exported.

Thutmose III was indeed Egypt’s Napoleon.

Top Image: Thutmosis III statue (Public Domain) and Ancient Egyptian military in battle (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Carey, Brian Todd, Joshua B. Allfree, and John Cairns. Warfare in the Ancient World. 2013.

Gabriel, Richard A. Thutmose III: A Military Biography of Egypt’s Greatest Warrior King. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2009.

Pritchard, James B., and William Foxwell Albright. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. [Princeton]: Princeton University Press, 1958.

The Battle of Megiddo—Part I

 

With the death of the famous female Pharaoh – Hatshepsut – Thutmose III rose to power and knew there would be trouble. On the banks of the Orontes River, a revolt was brewing. Amassing a huge army and heading out on a forced march, the Egyptian king prepared for battle.

The Battle of Megiddo pitted the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III on one side, against a coalition of Canaanites led by the King of Kadesh. Megiddo is a battle of firsts, such as a recorded body count and the first use of the composite bow. Moreover, Megiddo is considered the first recorded battle due to the reliable detail provided by the Egyptians. Details of the battle come from the 42 year of Thutmose’s reign, as he instructed his scribe, Tjaneni, to keep a daily journal, in order to have his military exploits, particularly the 14 campaigns that took place in the Levant (Canaan), inscribed by his artisans on the walls of Amun-Re’s temple at Karnak.

The Battle of Megiddo is regarded to have taken place 16 April 1457 BCE.

A Battle for Position and Goods

Power-shifts taking place in the strategic location— on the Great Bend of the Euphrates River north of Egypt— was the beginning of the conflict. The Asiatic kingdom that Thutmose was concerned about was the city-state of Kadesh on the Orontes River, which was under the protection of the Kingdom of Mitanni.

Main cities of Syria in the second millennium BCE. Kadesh, or Qadesh, is to the west.

Main cities of Syria in the second millennium BCE. Kadesh, or Qadesh, is to the west. (Public Domain)

This protection allowed Kadesh to expand southward into Canaan and to confiscate many of the mini-states and expand its influence as far south as the city of Megiddo. Kadesh understood the geographical strategic importance of Megiddo, for whoever controls the city effectively controlled the Esdraelon Plain in Galilee. More important was that Megiddo controlled the main trade routes that flowed east into the Trans-Jordan as well as to the north leading to the city-state of Kadesh. If Kadesh, along with their protectorate, Mitanni, controlled the trade routes leading east and north, it also would affect the trade flowing from Egypt to the south. Therefore, Egypt could not fully partake in the lucrative trade flowing from the rich lands of Mesopotamia. As 19th-century French Liberal economist Frederic Bastiat was to have said, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” It seems evident that goods did not cross or if they did, they were next to none.

Egyptian relief depicting Kadesh garrisoned by Hittites and surrounded by the Orontes River, Reign of Ramesses II, 19th dynasty.

Egyptian relief depicting Kadesh garrisoned by Hittites and surrounded by the Orontes River, Reign of Ramesses II, 19th dynasty. (Public Domain)

Pharaoh Thutmose Strikes

Understand that before Pharaoh Thutmose III was sole ruler, he shared that power with his stepmother and aunt, Hatshepsut, for twenty-two years. However, Pharaoh Hatshepsut held much of that power. During this co-rule, Hatshepsut did little to stem the powers from the north from taking the Levant both politically and physically. When Hatshepsut died, Thutmose took action. Seeing the encroachment of northern foreign powers into lands considered under the sphere of Egyptian influence, Thutmose began to build his political and military powerbase to thwart any further regression in the nearby lands of the Levant.

Seated statue of Thutmose/Thutmosis III

Seated statue of Thutmose/Thutmosis III (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Time was of the essence, for the Asian coalition to the north controlled Megiddo, and who controls Megiddo could cross the Carmel Ridge into the southern Canaanite plain. This was problematic, for Thutmose had few troops stationed in the garrisons that dotted the plain. If this northern Asiatic coalition broke through Egypt’s garrisons, there would be no natural obstacles or physical (garrisons/fortresses) to hinder the enemy forces in Egypt if they passed Gaza and Sharuhen.

In order to prevent further Asiatic expansion south, Thutmose held a meeting with his military advisors during the winter to plan his campaign to come. While Thutmose was in talks with his military advisors, he would have sent messengers to the four corners of his kingdom to muster the forces and acquire the supplies needed at Sile, which served as an important stop en route from Egypt to Canaan. Furthermore, Sile was located on the coastal road near the Nile River and ten kilometers (6.2 miles) north-northeast of modern Qantara. From this location, Thutmose could assemble his military forces behind a series of forts that controlled the roads leading to Canaan and south into the Sinai.

Thutmose’s Impressive Forces

The armies of Thutmose III were much better off under his rule than under previous pharaohs’.  Thutmose’s forces were truly professional. Military families were given land grants as long as they sent a son into the officer corps. Moreover, the army was transformed into a national force based on conscription, while the militia was allowed to exist. Not only did Thutmose transform the structure of the military into a national force, he also passed a decree that the levy of men required would be ‘one man in ten’ instead on one in a hundred. Non-commissioned and professional officers trained the men for war.

Thutmose also changed the look and tactics of his army by adopting the arms and armaments of the Hyksos, such as the chariot, composite bow, axe, and sickle sword. Furthermore, he 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.

The Hyksos of Ancient Egypt drove chariots.

The Hyksos of Ancient Egypt drove chariots. (Public Domain)

The size of Thutmose’s army at Megiddo is unknown, as the Annals are silent. Estimates suggest that his army was between 5,000-20,000 troops. The Annals do indicate that when Thutmose’s army arrived at the battlefield that its rearguard was still in camp. The distance between the campsite and the rearguard was 14.4 km (nine miles). If one considers an American infantry brigade during World War I, one might have an idea as to the size of the Egyptian army; According to Richard Gabriel, “An American infantry brigade comprised 6,310 men and 1,021 animals and occupied a road space of 8,385 yards or approximately 4.8 miles.” Therefore, the Egyptian forces would have numbered roughly 12,000 men if the army was occupying a road space of nine miles. If so, one could speculate that 10,000 of the 12,000-strong army would have comprised mostly of Infantry, while the remaining 2,000 were primarily chariot units comprised of 1,000 chariots divided in two to support each infantry corps.

The Egyptian army under Thutmose III would have been something along these lines: Pharaoh (Thutmose III) was the Commander-in-Chief, his vizier was Minister of War, his council would comprise of senior officers who would advise the pharaoh before, and once in the field. When it came to the military organization, divisions organized the Egyptian forces. Egypt would have had a corps in Upper and Lower Egypt. Each division consisted of 5,000 men of combined arms consisting of infantry and chariots. Thutmose would muster his forces from Lower Egypt forces. Of the 12,000 soldiers, most were your standard infantry while elite troops and chariot warriors reinforced other units.

A diorama of Egyptian soldiers.

A diorama of Egyptian soldiers. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Eating on the March: Supplying the Forces

To supply his forces and pack animals, Thutmose had much to draw from due to the numerous places located between Sile and Raphina. These places and the castles/fortress in between provided rest stops to the army to recuperate and to draw fresh supplies of water, food, and feed for their animals. Each soldier carried roughly 10 days’ worth of rations.

The next issue was the amount of food needed. However, the problem is there is no information one can draw from concerning Thutmose’s army but we’re not at a total loss. The typical Egyptian meal would have been emmer cereal grain, which was flat bread. The soldier would have been given eight small loaves that would last him ten days. He would place these in his backpack and bake them on the march. Once he was able to rest, he would build a three-foot cone-shaped mud dome. Once complete, he would take his moist dough and slap it on the side of the oven. He would have few to no twigs at all to use as fuel. Instead, to heat the oven he would have burned horse dung to cook his meals. Besides flatbread, the Egyptian warrior would have enjoyed such meats as smoked goose flesh, beef jerky, and smoked or salted fish. As for vegetables, he had beans, lentils, cabbage, and onions. For fruit, he had chickpeas, cucumbers, and other. To wash this fine meal down, he was provided milk sometimes, but his main drink was beer. The beer was so important to the soldiers on the move that traveling breweries sometimes accompanied them.

Wooden brewery model (Middle Kingdom. Barley beer is being brewed, with the men on the left mashing the yeast starter in a bowl for fermenting, while the ones on the right are bottling. The rightmost figure with a tablet tucked under his arm is a scribe, counting the bottles.

Wooden brewery model (Middle Kingdom. Barley beer is being brewed, with the men on the left mashing the yeast starter in a bowl for fermenting, while the ones on the right are bottling. The rightmost figure with a tablet tucked under his arm is a scribe, counting the bottles. (© BrokenSphere /Wikimedia Commons /CC BY-SA 3.0)

When comes down to the Egyptian warriors’ caloric intake, a man would be required roughly 3,400 calories due to the rigorous activity. However, this depends on the height and weight of the soldier. An ancient Egypt soldier would have stood roughly 5-foot-2-inches (157) and weighed between 100-120 lbs (45-54 kg). Because of this, his caloric intake would have been between 2544-2716 calories along with nine quarts of water in skins. Moreover, given the amount of food choices he had, there is no doubt that he was able to sustain his health. When it comes to water, as briefly mentioned, the Thutmose and his advisors would have known about the water storage sites since many of the wells along the coast were stale, foul, or salty. As for the animals, each one would roughly need eight gallons of water per day.

Once the army and their animals had reached Gaza, food and water supply became less of a problem due to the number of cisterns in the area, and since many of the towns would have granaries from which they could draw from, particularly during the months of April and May. Given the amount of water needed by the men, which was eight or nine quarts a day or roughly two gallons, an army of 12,000 men would require 24,000 gallons of water. With 2,000 horses on hand, it comes to 16,000 gallons of water each day to support these animals! This does not take into account the amount of feed brought along that would be needed due to an absence of ample pastures for the horses to graze at times. This also does not take into account the number of mules and donkeys used to pull the wagons loaded with additional supplies.

The Push towards Megiddo

Once winter ended, Thutmose moved out with his forces and into the lands of Canaan. In the first summer of the 23 year of his reign on day four, Thutmose celebrated his coronation as he arrived at the town of “Conquest-of-the-Ruler”—the Syrian name for Gaza. On day five, he departed from the location with the aim to extend the borders of Egypt.

Depiction of Tuthmoses III at Karnak holding a Hedj Club and a Sekhem Scepter standing before two obelisks he had erected there.

Depiction of Tuthmoses III at Karnak holding a Hedj Club and a Sekhem Scepter standing before two obelisks he had erected there. (Public Domain)

Eleven days later, Thutmose arrived at the town of Yehem. Afterwards, he commanded that his forces meet him so he could discuss what was about to take place, stating:

“That wretched foe of Kadesh has come and entered into Megiddo and is there at this moment. He has gathered to him the princes of all the foreign lands that had been loyal to Egypt, as well as those from as far as Nahrin, consisting of —, Khor and Kedy, their horses, their armies, their people. And he says–it is reported–‘I shall wait and fight his majesty here in Megiddo. (Now) tell me what you think.”

The soldiers responded to their pharaoh:

“How will it be to go on this road which becomes narrow, when it is reported that the enemies are waiting there beyond and they are numerous? Will not horse go behind horse and soldiers and people too? Shall our vanguard be fighting while the rearguard waits here in Aruna, unable to fight? There are two (other) roads here. One of the roads is to our east and comes out at Taanach. The other is on the north side of Djefti, so that we come out to the north of Megiddo. May our valiant lord proceed on whichever of these seems best to him. Do not make us go on that difficult road!”

Thutmose, along with his advisors, knew that the King of Kadesh was expecting them to take the easiest routes to Megiddo. Therefore, Thutmose decided to take the direct route that the King of Kadesh would not expect since it was the main road. While Canaanite scouts waited to report back after seeing the Egyptian army, Thutmose knew that if he did not take these routes, the advisors of the King of Kadesh would think that Thutmose had gone on another road “because he is afraid of us?’ So they will say.”

Top Image: Thutmosis III statue (Public Domain) and Wooden figures found in the tomb of Mesehti: Egyptian army of the 11th Dynasty (CC BY-SA 3.0); Deriv.

By: Cam Rea

References

Carey, Brian Todd, Joshua B. Allfree, and John Cairns. Warfare in the Ancient World. 2013.

Gabriel, Richard A. Thutmose III: A Military Biography of Egypt’s Greatest Warrior King. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2009.

Pritchard, James B., and William Foxwell Albright. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. [Princeton]: Princeton University Press, 1958.