The Usage of Iron for Assyrian Weaponry

The powerful Assyrian Army was known for their ruthless conquering styles | Courtesy of realmofhistory.com

During the first millennium BCE, warfare with neighboring civilizations was a constant possibility. The only way a society would be safe would be by having an advantage over its attackers. The Assyrians found that advantage in the new technology of iron weapons. The Assyrian empire reached its height between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C.E., and although it would be in constant war with their various rivals, which included the Babylonians, Egyptians, and the Hittites, their military was much better equipped.1

By 800 B.C.E., the Assyrian army was ruthlessly conquering other territories with their use of iron weaponry, which was superior to the brittle bronze weapons that were still being used at the time. They adopted the Hittite’s technique of smelting iron and were the first to incorporate it in their variety of weapons. The process used involved extracting oxygen from metal ore using charcoal, leaving just the metal alone.2 Most of the iron produced at that time was used for making weapons for both short and long range, as well as armor for protection.

The short ranged weapons included iron swords, daggers, javelins, and spears.3 Iron swords were used for close combat and they gave the Assyrians a great advantage. Unlike their bronze sword counterparts, iron swords suffered less damage, and if bent, they were able to return to their original shape. The daggers were also sturdier and were used commonly on enemies. They were carefully crafted and modeled like combat knives, which were highly valued.4 The next two weapons are considered mid-ranged since they could be thrown if need be. Both spears and javelins were long pointed sticks. The spear was usually a wooden shaft with an iron spearhead and usually measured around five feet. They were used on opponents themselves, while the javelins were used to break their opponents’ shields or puncture their armor.

The Assyrian army was known for their usage of advanced iron weaponry which included the bow and arrow. | Courtesy of realmofhistory.com
King Ashurbanipal, who was a powerful Assyrian King, is pictured on  his horse with a strong iron bow and arrow, which helped the Assyrians defeat many rival armies | Courtesy of realmofhistory.com

Other forms of weaponry included those that were long ranged. One of the two main long ranged weapons included the sling. A strong army included specialist slingers who could aim a sling bullet to fire up to 1300 feet.5 It was very practical due to its cheap production cost and lightweight structure. Many soldiers were stationed at a hill fort, and with these iron slings they were able to aim their slings better. The other weapon was the bow, which either used iron tipped arrows or flaming arrows, and they had a range of up to 700 yards.6

Finally, the Assyrian army used three main iron shields, all of which were superior to previous models that had been made of either bronze or wood. The most common shield was the round shield, which could sometimes contain embedded spikes. Another shield was the convex shield, which was similar to a rectangle in shape and could also include spikes to be used as a weapon if need be. Lastly, the conical shield, like its name, was cone-like in shape. 7

Due largely to the fact that the Assyrians were the first to incorporate iron into their daily lives, they were able to build a powerful army. Assyria is remembered for its strong military, improvements in weaponry, and numerous conquests, all of which would not have been made possible without the cheap yet efficient use of iron.

  1. John Marriott and Karen Radner, “Sustaining the Assyrian Army Among Friends and Enemies in 714 BCE,” Journal Of Cuneiform Studies 67 (2015): 129.
  2. A. J. Arkell, “The Iron Age in the Sudan,” Current Anthropology 7, no. 4 (1966): 451-52.
  3. Mark Healy and Angus McBride, The Ancient Assyrians (London: Osprey, 1991), 12.
  4.  Vagn Fabritius Buchwald, Iron and Steel in Ancient Times (Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2005), 63-65.
  5.  Salem Press Encyclopedia,  January 2016, s.v. “Clubs, maces, and slings.” by Scott M. Rusch.
  6. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2015, s.v. “War and Weapons in the Ancient World,” by Wilton Eckley.
  7. A. J. Arkell, “The Iron Age in the Sudan,” Current Anthropology 7, no. 4 (1966): 451-52.
Tags from the story
,
More from Diana Moreno-Gutierrez

The Emergence of The Great Pyramid of Giza

The construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza has been a great...
Read More

30 Comments

  • Learning about the Assyrians in class, I also made me learn how lucky they were to have such a resource to fight with and make structures with. The use of iron was such an advanced thing to have back then which is why they were such a powerful force in the ancient world and were able to be so dominant on the battlefield.

  • Finding new ways to make stronger weapons gave armies a huge advantage back in the day and when the assyrians discovered iron weapons they quickly used them to conquer other kingdoms. It is interesting to learn about how iron swords differed from bronze and all they different ways they used iron to make their weapons, and how they also improved their shields with iron.

  • This article shows that technology is constantly changing how we live our lives. It also shows how technological improvement often comes from a desire to do better in war. There are many improvements that we have gotten through warfare such as radar and satellites. This is just one example of how war had advanced technology.

  • History and this amazing article make it quite clear that advancements in technology are necessary in order to gain an edge over others. So, having read this article, I understand the significance and impact of technological advances. Though, instead of me considering the next advancements of our time, I am thinking about how we can incorporate the technology of the past into our world now. I think its important to incorporate things and ideas from our past so we can achieve balance, because balance gives us the hindsight that we easily lose in the excitement of new technologies.

  • Great article! I really enjoyed that it keep me engaged and didn’t have me wondering when it was going to end. It was very informative and interesting to read about how the Assyrian army created their weapons and the development of the variety of weapons used in the wars. Also I myself would love to do more research into the Assyrian army to see not only more weapons but maybe tactics in war that were used. I remember talking about stuff like this in class, so it was a good read.

  • Technological advancements have been and always will a key difference maker in a nation’s military. We, in America, are as technologically advanced as possible right now, and that gives us the edge in most or all military encounters. This also allows you to not require as many numbers in soldiers, as you can allow the new technology to take over and counter the other country’s numbers. This was well written in this article, as the Assyrians came into nearly every battle with a decided advantage. I can’t imagine the difference an iron tool makes over a bronze or any other alloy of tool, but it must have been a major upgrade.

  • It is crazy to think that an advancement in weaponry can benefit a civilization so much. How much of an upper hand it can give a society. Look at the US with the atomic bomb. That new weaponry ended World War II. Maybe this just goes to show that advancements in weaponry and technology are what lead to a society or civilization establishing and remaining in power. The Assyrians used their advancements to clearly take control, and I believe it is the same with many other civilizations and societies that have since followed.

  • Great article! I really enjoyed that it keep me engaged and didn’t have me wondering when it was going to end. It was very informative and interesting to read about how the Assyrian army created their weapons and the development of the variety of weapons used in the wars. Also I myself would love to do more research into the Assyrian army to see not only more weapons but maybe tactics in war that were used.

  • I found this article really helpful! I am actually learning about the Assyrians in class and this really helped me. I think this topic is very interesting because they innovated weaponry and changed wars and conflicts at that time. I would recommend this article to anyone who is learning about them in class! It presents the most important facts and it is very structured.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.