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....Sumerian Phalanx?

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Aster Thrax Eupator View Drop Down
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: ....Sumerian Phalanx?
    Posted: 23-Jul-2007 at 15:34
When looking at a Steele about the early Sumerian battle at Umma, I was suprised to see what appeared to be a phalanx - interlocking shields, pikes, proper formation - yes it was all there! ...Am I mad?
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  Quote edgewaters Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Jul-2007 at 17:43
No, you're not mad. Phalanx are very ancient having appeared early in Mesopotamian history. They gradually disappeared in the Middle East due to heavy use of chariot warfare and the intensification of warfare (phalanxes are only really good when used in battles on pre-agreed grounds which are nice and flat).

Greeks were unusual in having retained the phalanx so long and, in Alexander's case, refining it to be no longer obsolete.

Edited by edgewaters - 23-Jul-2007 at 17:45
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  Quote Sharrukin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Jul-2007 at 22:21
No, you're not mad. Phalanx are very ancient having appeared early in Mesopotamian history. They gradually disappeared in the Middle East due to heavy use of chariot warfare and the intensification of warfare (phalanxes are only really good when used in battles on pre-agreed grounds which are nice and flat).
 
What did it in to the Sumerian phalanx, was the emphasis on numbers of archers with composite bows by the Akkadians.  The "chariot" did not make an appearance in Mesopotamia until about 1800 BC, (i.e. after the time of the Sumerians).   Prior to this, the Sumerians were using the "battle wagon", moved by either onagers or donkeys.  They were not very effective on the battlefield being slow and not having the ability to make turns, but were mainly used to simply charge into the enemy while the occupant threw spears at them.  At this time the only thing that they could do was to increase in speed or slow down (and make wide turns). 
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  Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Jul-2007 at 23:08
Not sure you'de call the Sumerian formation a phalanx. It was more a line of spears, I think phalanx implies a deep formation.

Edited by Paul - 23-Jul-2007 at 23:09
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Jul-2007 at 02:48
It was a phalanx. Such a formation is fairly standard for small city states. As empires grow they become more of a combined arms teams and thus the phalanx becomes obsolete. Incidentally, I never understood why the Phalanx was given so much attention in histories of Alexander's conquests, since it was the cavalry which won him most of his battles.
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  Quote edgewaters Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Jul-2007 at 05:12
Originally posted by Sharrukin

Prior to this, the Sumerians were using the "battle wagon", moved by either onagers or donkeys. They were not very effective on the battlefield being slow andnot having the ability to make turns, but were mainly used to simply charge into the enemy while the occupant threw spears at them.


Sure but they could still flank a phalanx very easily. Flanking was doom for phalanxes.
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  Quote Sharrukin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Jul-2007 at 12:42
Not sure you'de call the Sumerian formation a phalanx. It was more a line of spears, I think phalanx implies a deep formation.
 
We have the examples of the Standard of Ur and the Stele of the Vultures which show a formation of 10 to 11 men per row and 6 rows deep.  Since their spears were relatively short they could turn in either direction making their formations 6 per row and 11 men deep.  Another interesting thing to note is that they held their spears with both hands with the shield slung on one of their arms......just like the Macedonians.
 
Sure but they could still flank a phalanx very easily. Flanking was doom for phalanxes.
 
Again, they were not very manueverable and relatively slow.  They were used for crashing into the enemy's formation, not for flank attacks.  Even if they could be used in such a way, the Sumerian phalanx was flexible enough in whole or in part to face that attack.  By the way, the earliest descriptions of battles involving true war chariots seem to be describing massed attacks, not flank attacks.
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Jul-2007 at 18:44
Prior to this, the Sumerians were using the "battle wagon", moved by either onagers or donkeys. 
 
I've seen such things on Assyrian imperial stelles - a large, tiered construction built for siege warfare with a ram and various areas for missile troops - it seems to have been used equally for open field combat than it was for siege warfare.
 
Incidentally, I never understood why the Phalanx was given so much attention in histories of Alexander's conquests, since it was the cavalry which won him most of his battles.
 
Yes- basically, the Phalanx is meant to hold the enemy's line in place whilst the light troops and heavy cavalry attack them from the flank and sides - the Phalanx doesn't deliver the killing blow.
 
Another interesting thing to note is that they held their spears with both hands with the shield slung on one of their arms......just like the Macedonians.
 
Quite, but the shields are firstly, much larger than the standard Macedonian/Ancient Greek type, and secondly, the spears are hardly the vast, counter-balanced constructions that you would expect a hoplite to be using.
 
Not sure you'de call the Sumerian formation a phalanx. It was more a line of spears, I think phalanx implies a deep formation.
 
Yes, the function of simple "spearmen" and Phalanxes (I wonder what the correct Ancient Greek plural is?) is completely different.
 
They gradually disappeared in the Middle East due to heavy use of chariot warfare and the intensification of warfare
 
Yes, like when the Assyrians trundled along with their three men terrors...
 
It really suprised me when I saw this, for before I had always seen and read about the Sumerians using light troops with simple swords, axes, maces and other such things- were these made obselete by this proto-phalanx?
 
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  Quote andrew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Jul-2007 at 19:58

I thought a lot of Middle East units used phalanxes also. They used a spear wall did they not? I recall the Egyptians having that kind of unit and would be surprised if the Assyrians didn't adopt this practice.

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  Quote Sharrukin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Jul-2007 at 04:31

Prior to this, the Sumerians were using the "battle wagon", moved by either onagers or donkeys. 

 
I've seen such things on Assyrian imperial stelles - a large, tiered construction built for siege warfare with a ram and various areas for missile troops - it seems to have been used equally for open field combat than it was for siege warfare.
 
No that's not it.  The battle wagon was a four-wheeled box cart with non-spoked heavy wheels, pulled by beasts of burden.  The box cart held the driver and a soldier (usually a nobleman with a spear or javelin).
 
Another interesting thing to note is that they held their spears with both hands with the shield slung on one of their arms......just like the Macedonians.
 
Quite, but the shields are firstly, much larger than the standard Macedonian/Ancient Greek type, and secondly, the spears are hardly the vast, counter-balanced constructions that you would expect a hoplite to be using.
 
True, the Sumerian shields were larger.  As for "counter-balance", the Sumerian spear seemed to have had a large heavy spear-tip.  The Sumerian infantryman held the spear with both of their hands near the back end of the spear. 
 
They gradually disappeared in the Middle East due to heavy use of chariot warfare and the intensification of warfare
 
Yes, like when the Assyrians trundled along with their three men terrors...
 
The Hittites were using those "three-man terrors" before the Assyrians were using them.  On the other hand, the Egyptians were using the two-man chariot quite effectively.
 
It really suprised me when I saw this, for before I had always seen and read about the Sumerians using light troops with simple swords, axes, maces and other such things- were these made obselete by this proto-phalanx?
 
Our earliest depictions of the Sumerian soldier show that they were already using the phalanx by about 2500 BC.
 
I thought a lot of Middle East units used phalanxes also. They used a spear wall did they not? I recall the Egyptians having that kind of unit and would be surprised if the Assyrians didn't adopt this practice.
 
We know that the Egyptians used a phalanx formation.  The Assyrians on the other hand are problematic.  Most of the depictions of their military mainly show chariots, archers, and slingers.  The sparse depictions of their infantry don't show them in phalanx formation.  It may be that that the Assyrians used their chariots as the main shock weapon followed by a mass of spearmen and very large corps of archers.  This may have been the case since Akkadian times when the superiority of archers spelled the demise of the Sumerian phalanx. 
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  Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2007 at 04:44
I've always heard that the Assyrian kings enjoyed hunting lions - from horseback with bows. Didn't they have similar military units?
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2007 at 07:33
The Assyrian lion hunt was a display of their royal power granted to them by Assur. It was usually staged and the king was usually protected from the lions by some troops. The Assyrian chariot which they used in lion hunts was a brilliant military unit, and because of the re-location of the wheels to the center of gravity rather than the back, three rather than the usual two men could be put onboard for war and hunting. They enjoyed lion hunting so much that between them, they, the Romans and the Sassanids pretty much made the entire native mesopotamian lion species extinct.
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  Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2007 at 13:36
I said that I had always heard they hunted the lions from horseback, meaning as riders.
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2007 at 15:55
That as well, but most of the "imperial" hunt scenes that I've seen (these are the most famous ones, which are the ones that I thought you would have been alluding to...) were mainly from three man chariot. Sometimes there are horsemen following and aiding, and sometimes the king himself is for horseback, but this is usually for a lion cub, one small lion or some other smaller beast.
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  Quote Sharrukin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Aug-2007 at 23:19
As for the military units, yes, the Assyrians did have a cavalry.  They probably gained one after they were subject to the Mitanni, famous for their horse training.  However, early cavalry units operated in pairs in which one rider would shoot arrows while another rider held the reigns of the shooters horse as well as his own.  By the seventh century BC, the Assyrian cavalryman was completely independent and heavily armored, with enough of a secure mount to shoot arrows while at full gallop.  Nevertheless the bulk of the Assyrian army was infantry, and the bulk of the infantry were the archers.
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