Skip main navigation

Military Technology

Chariots
5.7
I’m Ian Shaw. I’m professor of archaeology at the University of Chester, and I specialise primarily in the study of ancient Egyptian material culture, including particularly things like technological developments and cultural innovation. The chariot arrived in Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period in Egyptian tombs. So round about kind of end of the Middle Bronze Age in Syria Palestine. One of the biggest advantages of the chariot in the way that the Egyptians were using it was that it allowed people using a new type of bow to be deployed more effectively across the battlefield. So at almost exactly the same time that the chariot appears in Egypt, they also began to use the so-called composite bow.
64.1
And so whereas previous bows were made out of a single piece of wood, the composite bow was a mixture of wood and layers of horn and sinew that produced a bow that was both more accurate and also much smaller and lighter. And this is what ties in so well with the chariot. The chariot and the composite bow of course didn’t really exist in a vacuum. They were part of the whole nature of Egyptian warfare in the Late Bronze Age.
100.4
So we can see also that other types of items begin to appear in the artistic record and in the archaeological record such as the use of a specific type of arm guard that would only really have needed to be used in the situation in the chariot where you’re using a composite bow. So that automatically develops alongside these two other types of technology. There’s a particular type of quiver for carrying the arrows, which again is different. Because if you’re in a chariot and you need to kind of pull the arrows out in a kind of very efficient and rapid way, then you need a differently shaped quiver.
147.2
And so this type of quiver then becomes so prevalent that you even see foot soldiers who made never have actually been in a chariot using that same type of quiver. So you’ve got all of these kind of technological impacts of the greater use of the chariot and the composite bow by the Egyptians. But the other thing you have to bear in mind is that the technology exists within a distinct social context.
176.8
So in the case of Egypt, one of the things that seems to have been quite important was the adoption of a more militarised hierarchy, and particularly of an elite within Egypt who were sometimes referred to by this Syro-Palestinian term maryannu, who become sufficiently important within the Egyptian army and within Egyptian society as a whole. They, as the chariotry side of the Egyptian army really kind of became an essential component of the Late Bronze Age Egyptian approach to warfare. And so without the development of this social class of the maryannu, it’s hard to imagine the chariot having become as important is it did in purely kind of practical military terms.
235.1
You needed that process of social change to take place in order for the adoption of the widespread level of the chariot to really kind of come into place.

Ian Shaw looks at cutting edge military technology of the last bronze age in the ancient Near East. The two main technological drivers during this period were the chariot and the composite bow.

Introduction of these two items triggered an ‘arms race’ in which new technology was created to compliment these two inventions and also to counter the effectiveness of the new vehicle and weapon.

In the upcoming step you will have the opportunity to compare modern technological advances with those of the ancient Near East.

This article is from the free online

Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education