Author Topic: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots  (Read 290 times)

rodge

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 284
  • Country: wales
Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« on: June 12, 2019, 09:44:44 PM »
I've been reading some papers on Academia with reference to late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian chariots.
This is a new period for me so I'd welcome more learned views on my questions:

1. Had chariots in this period (7th and 6thC) developed into the heavy chariots i.e. 4 horses, larger fighting compartment, 4 man armoured crew? If so were these missile platforms or line breakers?

2. Just reading a paper that support the idea that chariots as battlefield weapons disappeared from the Assyrian army and were replaced by cavalry c. 705-609 (reigns of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal etc). What is the current view on this?
https://www.academia.edu/28998599/ASSYRIAN_CHARIOTRY_AND_CA_V_ALRY

3. Did the Neo-Babylonians stick with the larger chariot and migrate to heavy cavalry at a slower pace?
  • Rodger Williams

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6794
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2019, 06:08:55 PM »
I can give you my 'take' on this, at least to an extent.

1) Neo-Assyrian chariots were indeed 4-horse, 4 crew heavies, as appear on reliefs.  Sargon's account of his Eighth Campaign suggests they were formation-breakers; at least, this is how he uses his own chariot when he meets the Urartu army and ploughs straight into it, more or less off the march.  The two shieldsmen make sense in this context, because the vulnerable part of a chariot is always the rear, and this matters most if you are plunging into an enemy formation, so having two shieldsmen at the back closes the 'back door' and eliminates this key vulnerability, which is entirely consistent with a formation-breaker role.

2) I am not familiar enough with the current state of play to answer this.

3) My impression is that they relied heavily on massed chariotry, with cavalry in a secondary role.

Others should have something to add.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6794
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2019, 08:40:13 PM »
Just to add: Xenophon's Cyropaedia appears to confirm the Neo-Babylonians used four-horse chariots themselves; their Syrian and Anatolian allies may have used lighter, two-horse models with two or three crew. 

Xenophon's ideas about Neo-Babylonian chariot tactics are hard to explain (he has them dismount their archers to shoot at oncoming foes) but this may have been an addition to the usual chariot repertoire and solely for use when foes were in ground difficult of access for chariots.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

aligern

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2360
  • Country: gb
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2019, 11:01:25 PM »
Or quite plausibly he might have been making a lot if things up. It is quite believable that Xenophon sought to explain how scythed chariots came to be used by the Persians by pointing out real ir imagined deficiencies in the previous use of chariots . So, if the scythed variety were designed to rupture and disorganise an enemy front then we it is  sensible that previous chariots had done that but improvements by their opponents rendered them ineffective, so scythes were adopted. That pises a question as to why the crew was reduced to one who may have bailed before impact. Perhaps the scythed chariot was actually a new answer to a new threat, Greek and Carian infantry who were firmed in a disciplined line that resisted Oersian archer tactics and so had to be disrupted to alliw Persianbarmoured cavalry to break into them. Xenophon wrote of the Persian infantry being separated out into different types so spears and bows were separate, yet Herodotus has them carrying both soears and bows. The alleged Persian formation of mixed spear and missile might accord better with Herodotus, but then Xenophon’s point is that he is is describing Cyrus as a military reformer and rational organiser and tgat is more important than historical accuracy because he is not  writing history.
Roy
  • Roy Boss

rodge

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 284
  • Country: wales
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2019, 05:22:10 AM »
On the possible use of Scythed Chariots:
 
Persian Chariots and Babylonian Economic Records: A brief speculative essay

Therefore, scythed chariots may represent an attempt to update chariot technology so as to make it relevant in the wake of swift and manoeuvrable cavalry which otherwise dominated the battlefield. Chariot formations tend to be much looser than bodies of cavalry.
Cavalry attempting to charge scythed chariots would find themselves driving between the gaps between each chariot. Horses’ legs would be extremely vulnerable to the scythes. When necessary, charioteers veer their vehicle in a different direction, tightening or loosening the formation as necessary. Cavalry still have superior maneuverability, but this can be negated in part by scythes, as closing in would leave the horses’ legs exposed to spinning blades.

Scythed chariots may rather be an answer to Scythians using armoured horses, perhaps some kind of early cataphract, rather than to Greek Hoplites, as spinning blades might make it more difficult to attack chariots in close combat.


https://www.academia.edu/22759637/Persian_Chariots_and_Babylonian_Economic_Records_A_brief_speculative_essay
  • Rodger Williams

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6794
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2019, 08:57:16 AM »
We do of course lack any reference whatsoever to scythed chariots being used against Scythian armoured horses, and the only instances of scythed chariot use in classical literature - with three exceptions - are as infantry formation-breakers.

Xenophon's early scythed chariots appear to have full combat crews - the one-man version recorded as being at Gaugamela was a later development.

Or quite plausibly he might have been making a lot if things up. It is quite believable that Xenophon sought to explain how scythed chariots came to be used by the Persians by pointing out real ir imagined deficiencies in the previous use of chariots . So, if the scythed variety were designed to rupture and disorganise an enemy front then we it is  sensible that previous chariots had done that but improvements by their opponents rendered them ineffective, so scythes were adopted.

I do not think so: looking at Xenophon's account of Thymbra, he has the scythed chariots operate against outflanking Lydian wings, being launched initially and primarily against the opposing cavalry and chariotry, which makes tactical sense and accords with some of our rather fragmentary details of general chariot use.  Then the scythed chariots plough through opposing infantry - and in the case of the Egyptians in their very deep formation, into it but not out of it.  This is all consistent with the pattern of standard Biblical period chariot use, as far as I can establish, which suggests that scythes were added to give chariotry a 'cutting edge' as opposed to creating a new role or reintroducing chariotry as a shock weapon.  At Thymbra, the opposing (Lydian) chariots seemed to have no concerns about driving into battle despite lack of scythes.

What I see as important for Rodger's initial questions is the continuity of the large heavy four-horse chariot, the addition of scythes arguably if not necessarily giving it a new lease of life, and it subsequently developing into a specific - and apparently exclusive - new weapon type by the late Achaemenid period.

This brings us to the scythed chariot as specific infantry formation-breaker, and two further examples of it not doing this.  While we mostly meet the scythed chariot in an anti-infantry role, e.g. at Gaugamela, Orchomenus and Zela, we should note that in the latter two instances the scythed chariot user had considerable cavalry superiority and in the former Mazaeus used his scythed chariots against Parmenio's cavalry.

Specific use of scythed chariots to break cavalry also occurs in Mithridates' war against the Bithynians; his outnumbered vanguard uses its scythed chariots to disrupt the Bithynian cavalry, which is then broken by the Pontic cavalry.  The Bithynian infantry get trampled in the rush.

I think we can safely conclude that the scythed chariot was neither specifically an infantry formation-breaker nor specifically a cavalry formation-breaker, but - as traditionally with chariotry - a generic formation-breaker.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Duncan Head

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3555
  • Country: england
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2019, 09:10:47 AM »
3. Did the Neo-Babylonians stick with the larger chariot and migrate to heavy cavalry at a slower pace?
Babylonian administrative tablets suggest the continued use of four-horse chariots well into the early Achaemenid period. I'm not sure if there is any evidence for four crew, though; usually it's commander, driver, and "third man" who are mentioned.
  • Duncan Head

aligern

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2360
  • Country: gb
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2019, 06:19:31 PM »
And do we have any idea f the numbers of chariots the Babylonians are deploying?
Roy
  • Roy Boss

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6794
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2019, 06:35:07 PM »
And do we have any idea of the numbers of chariots the Babylonians are deploying?

Duncan might; I do not.  All I would say is that it was a big empire and thus I would expect it to have been able to maintain  thousands rather than hundreds of chariots.  Whether it actually did is another matter; the Assyrians seem to have cut their chariot ratio considerably when they moved to the four-horse version.  This may have been for command and control or tactical deployment reasons as much as resources.

At a rough guess, I would suggest that the Babylonians (Chaldeans) would have fielded hundreds of heavies and could count on allies bringing along many more.  A major battle against a major power like Carchemish could see a few thousand chariots (of all sorts) deployed.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Duncan Head

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3555
  • Country: england
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2019, 07:16:40 PM »
And do we have any idea f the numbers of chariots the Babylonians are deploying?

Not really. MacGinnis (here and see also here) speculates that the Ebabbara temple of Sippar may have provided one chariot to fifty infantry archers and a dozen or so cavalry, but that is based on records that may be incomplete, may not be typical of all temples, and doesn't consider non-temple sources of manpower.
  • Duncan Head

stevenneate

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 256
  • Country: au
  • A former Editor of Slingshot
Re: Late Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Chariots
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2019, 01:05:00 AM »
To partially answer Rodger’s 2nd question, a number of threads need to be provided:
1. Primarily, the old maxim that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” comes into play. Chariots were an important part at the start of Sennacharib’s reign so why not after?
2. Big chariots are big expense, to build, to maintain, to train, equip etc. They are also damn impressive! Many surviving reliefs of this 7th century BC period do not show open battles. I often think of the big late Assyrian chariots similar to the Byzantine 10thcentury cataphracts of Nikephorus Phocas - small numbers, big expense, potential match winners, potentially one shot weapons, too useful and expensive to throw away unnecessarily. 7th century Assyrian kings seem to direct from the back and were largely competent leaders so I trust in their judgement not to recklessly throw their prestige weapon away just for the sake of a cool wall relief! Visiting dignatories  would get one look at the size and parade of the Royal stables and go “yikes!”.
3. Cavalry are becoming better and more important during this period. Well equipped, well trained, more versatile (battle, skirmish, relief), great for manoeuvre and pursuit, but also cheaper all round. And very impressive in large numbers to show off your power. A good combo all round.
4. From the end of Esarhaddon, things start going pear-shaped for the Empire, and with it the loss of resources. As with the 10th century Byzantines and their cataphracts, when the resources dwindle the most expensive get cut first. As the Empire crumbles rapid movement is required coupled with loss of resource and time to build/replace/train/breed etc.

So if I was building a 7th century BC Assyrian army of Sennacherib or Esarhaddon (I mean again - I already have at least 3 Assyrian armies of this period) I would definitely include at least one unit of 4-horse chariots. Prior to this period Sargon  II could field big numbers of chariots so I doubt they werea all reassigned (I think I may have published an article on this from Nigel Tallis back in my time as Editor?). Horses for courses perhaps?
  • Steven Neate