Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-vmftn Total loading time: 1.091 Render date: 2023-01-30T02:45:07.865Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Part II - Prehistoric and Ancient Warfare

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Garrett G. Fagan
Pennsylvania State University
Linda Fibiger
University of Edinburgh
Mark Hudson
Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte, Germany
Matthew Trundle
University of Auckland
Get access


Image of the first page of this content. For PDF version, please use the ‘Save PDF’ preceeding this image.'
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bibliographic Essay

For warfare and hunting see the following: Hendrickx, Stan, ‘L’iconographie de la chasse dans le contexte social prédynastique’, Archéo-Nil 20 (2010), 106–33; Hendrickx, Stan et al., ‘Late Predynastic/Early Dynastic Rock Art Scenes of Barbary Sheep Hunting from Egypt’s Western Desert. From Capturing Wild Animals to the “Women of the Acacia House”’, in Riemer, H. et al. (eds), Desert Animals in the Eastern Sahara: Status, Economic Significance and Cultural Reflection in Antiquity, Colloquium Africanum 4 (Cologne: Heinrich Barth Institut, 2010), pp. 189244; Decker, Wolfgang and Herb, Michael, Bildatlas zum Sport im alten Ägypten. Corpus der bildlichen Quellen zu Leibesübungen, Spiel, Jagd, Tanz und verwandten Themen, Handbuch der Orientalistik XIV 12 (Leiden: Brill, 1994).

Overall studies of warfare and military imagery are as follows: Garcia, Juan Carlos Moreno, ‘War in Old Kingdom Egypt (2686–2125 BCE)’, in Vidal, J. (ed.), Studies on War in the Ancient Near East: Collected Essays on Military History, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 372 (Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2010), pp. 541; Spalinger, Anthony J., War in Ancient Egypt: The New Kingdom (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005); Gundlach, Rolf and Vogel, Carola (eds.), Militärgeschichte des pharaonischen Ägyptens: Altägypten und seine Nachbarkulutren im Spiegel aktueller, Forschung, Krieg in der Geschichte 34 (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2009); Heinz, Susanna, Die Feldzugsdarstellungen des Neuen Reiches: Eine Bildanalyse (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2001).

Discussions of ritualised violence are Schulman, Alan R., Ceremonial Execution and Public Rewards: Some Historical Scenes on New Kingdom Private Stelae, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 75 (Leuven: Peeters, 1988), and Muhlestein, Kerry, Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt, BAR International Series 2299 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2011). For Magic and military violence see Ritner, Robert Kriech, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 54 (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1993).

For weapons see Wolf, Walter, Die Bewaffnung des altägyptischen Heeres (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1926); Yadin, Yigael, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands in the Light of Archaeological Study (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963); Shaw, Ian, Egyptian Warfare and Weapons (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications, 1999); and Gilbert, Gregory Phillip, Weapons, Warriors and Warfare in Early Egypt, BAR International Series 1208 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2004). For the physical impacts of some of those weapons, see Filer, J. M., ‘Ancient Egypt and Nubia as a Source of Information for Cranial Injuries’, in Carman, John (ed.), Material Harm, Archaeological Studies of War and Violence (Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 1997). On the chariot see Littauer, Mary A. and Crouwel, Joost H, Selected Writings on Chariots and other Early Vehicles, Riding and Harness, Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 6 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), and Veldmeijer, André J. and Ikram, Salima (eds.), Chasing Chariots: Proceedings of the First International Chariot Conference (Cairo, 2012) (Leiden: Sidestone Press, 2013). On nautical aspects of the Egyptian military see Wachsmann, Shelley, Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant (College Station and London: Texas A&M University Press and Chatham Publishing, 2008), and Fabre, David (ed.), Le Destin maritime de l’Égypte ancienne (London: Periplus Publishing, 2004).

Examinations of Egyptian military texts include the following: Spalinger, Anthony J., Aspects of the Military Documents of the Ancient Egyptians (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1982); Manassa, Colleen, The Great Karnak Inscription of Merenptah: Grand Strategy in the 13th Century BC, Yale Egyptological Studies 5 (New Haven, CT: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 2003); Lundh, Patrik, Actor and Event: Military Activity in Ancient Egyptian Narrative Texts from Tuthmosis II to Merenptah, Uppsala Studies in Egyptology 2 (Uppsala: Akademitryck AB, 2002); Felber, Heinz (ed.), Feinde und Aufrührer: Konzepte von Gegnerschaft in ägyptischen Texten besonders des Mittleren Reiches, Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, phil.-hist. Klasse 78/5 (Leipzig: Verlag der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, 2005). For diplomatic aspects of Bronze Age warfare see Cohen, Raymond and Westbrook, Raymond (eds.), Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International Relations (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Bibliographic Essay

The most comprehensive reviews of the archaeology of ancient Maya warfare are provided by Webster, David L.: ‘The Not So Peaceful Civilization: A Review of Maya War’, Journal of World Prehistory 14.1 (2000), 65119; Ancient Maya Warfare’, in Raaflaub, K. and Rosenstein, N (eds.), War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 333–60; and The Study of Maya Warfare: What It Tells Us about the Maya and What It Tells Us about Maya Archaeology’, in Sabloff, J. and Henderson, J. (eds.), Lowland Maya Civilization in the Eighth Century AD (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1993), pp. 415–44.

Comprehensive reviews of Postclassic period warfare are not presently available, though useful starting points are Masson, Marilyn A. and Lope, Carlos Peraza, Kukulcan’s Realm: Urban Life at Ancient Mayapán (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2014), and Rice, Prudence M. and Rice, Don S. (eds.), The Kowoj: Identity, Migration, and Geopolitics in Late Postclassic Petén, Guatemala (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2009).

For detailed treatments of colonial period war, see the following: Restall, Matthew, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Restall, Matthew and Asselbergs, Florine, Invading Guatemala: Spanish, Nahua, and Maya Accounts of the Conquest Wars (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007); Jones, Grant D., The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); Chuchiak IV, John F., ‘The Burning and the Burnt: The Transformative Power of Fire, Smoke, and Flames in Conquest and Colonial Maya Ritual, Warfare, and Diplomacy’, in Tiesler, V. and Scherer, A. K (eds.), Smoke, Flames, and the Human Body in Mesoamerican Ritual Practice (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2018).

Edited volumes with a significant focus on Maya war are Scherer, Andrew K. and Verano, John W. (eds.), Embattled Places, Embattled Bodies: War in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2014), and Kathryn Brown, M. and Stanton, Travis W. (eds.), Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2003).

For edited volumes dealing with sacrifice and violence more broadly, see Luján, Leonardo López and Olivier, Guilhem (eds.), El Sacrificio humano en la tradición religiosa Mesoamericana (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia/Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2010); Orr, Heather and Koontz, Rex (eds.), Blood and Beauty: Organized Violence in the Art and Archaeology of Mesoamerica and Central America (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2009); Tiesler, Vera and Cucina, Andrea (eds.), New Perspectives on Human Sacrifice and Ritual Body Treatments in Ancient Maya Society (New York: Springer, 2007); and Boone, Elizabeth H., Ritual Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1984).

Diverse theories have been proposed to explain patterns of Maya warfare. Webster’s materialist model emphasises population pressure and status rivalry (‘Warfare and Status Rivalry: Lowland Maya and Polynesian Comparisons’, in Feinman, G. and Marcus, J. (eds.), Archaic States (Santa Fe, CA: School of American Research, 1998), pp. 311–52) as driving war, which in turn played an important role in socio-political evolution (‘Warfare and the Origin of the State’, American Antiquity 40.4 (1975), 464–71). The earlier view that Maya warfare was largely limited to participation by elites (e.g. Freidel, David A., ‘Maya Warfare: An Example of Peer-Polity Interaction’, in Renfrew, C and Cherry, J. (eds.), Peer-Polity Interaction and Sociopolitical Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 93108) is increasingly being supplanted as archaeological evidence of large-scale consequences accumulates (e.g. Chase, Diane Z. and Chase, Arlen F., ‘Caracol, Belize and Changing Perceptions of Ancient Maya Society’, Journal of Archaeological Research 25.1 (2017), 185249). Golden, Charles and Scherer, Andrew K. (‘Territory, Trust, Growth, and Collapse in Classic Period Maya Kingdoms’, Current Anthropology 54.4 (2013), 397435) argue that direct interaction with rulers through public rituals such as sacrifice, and participation in communal activities such as warfare, helped to strengthen the polity by building trust, and that when growth in population and territorial extent made widespread participation in such trust-building activities no longer feasible, the polity began to splinter.

Bibliographic Essay

The most recent wide-ranging treatment of the topic is Hamblin’s, William J. Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History (London: Routledge, 2006). This work is comprehensive but the approach to the political history and development in Mesopotamia is somewhat dated. More critically informed are Zainab, Bahrani’s Rituals of War: The Body and Violence in Mesopotamia (New York: Zone Books, 2008) and Richardson’s, Seth F. C.Mesopotamia and the “New” Military History’, in Brice, L. L. and Roberts, J. T. (eds.), Recent Directions in the Military History of the Ancient World, PAAH 10 (Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2011), pp. 11–51.

Nadali, Davide and Vidal, Jodi (eds.), The Other Face of the Battle: The Impact of War on Civilians in the Ancient Near East (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014) includes a number of contributions that assess some of the costs of warfare that are not easy to measure from the largely ‘official’ evidence that survives. The topics of resistance and rebellion are addressed in the following volumes: Richardson, Seth (ed.), Rebellions and Peripheries in the Cuneiform World, American Oriental Series 91 (New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 2010); Howe, Timothy and Brice, Lee L. (eds.), Brill’s Companion to Insurgency and Terrorism in the Ancient Mediterranean (Leiden: Brill, 2016); and Collins, John J. and Manning, J. G. (eds.), Revolt and Rebellion in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East, In the Crucible of Empire, Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 85 (Leiden: Brill, 2016)

On the campaigns of the kings of early Mesopotamia, see Foster, Benjamin, The Age of Agade, Inventing Empire in Ancient Mesopotamia (London: Routledge, 2016), and Michalowski, Piotr, The Correspondence of the Kings of Ur, An Epistolary History of an Ancient Mesopotamian Kingdom (Winona, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011). On the economic impact of early campaigns, see Garfinkle, Steven, ‘The Economy of Warfare in Southern Iraq at the End of the Third Millennium BC’, in Neumann, H. et al. (eds.), Krieg und Frieden im Alten Vorderasien, Proceedings of the 52e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014), pp. 353–62.

For topical discussions of early Mesopotamia, see Postgate, J. N., Early Mesopotamia, Society and Economy at the Dawn of History (London: Routledge, 1992), and Yoffee, Norman, Myths of the Archaic State, Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Military organisation is discussed in Postgate, Early Mesopotamia, and in Dalley, Stephanie, ‘Ancient Mesopotamian Military Organization’, in Sasson, J. M. (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 4 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1994), vol. i, pp. 413–22.

For the royal inscriptions from Mesopotamia, see the volumes in the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia series from Toronto University Press and the volumes in the Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period series from Eisenbrauns. On royal inscriptions see Liverani, Mario, ‘“Untruthful Steles”: Propaganda and Reliability in Ancient Mesopotamia’, in Melville, S. C. and Slotsky, A. L. (eds.), Opening the Tablet Box, Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Benjamin R. Foster, Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 42 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 229–44 . For an overview of the historical events referenced in this chapter see Van De Mieroop, Marc, A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000–323 BC, 3rd edn (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016).

Bibliographic Essay

For general surveys see Goldsworthy’s, Adrian The Complete Roman Army (London: Thames & Hudson, 2011) and Southern’s, Patricia The Roman Army: A History 753 BC–AD 475 (Stroud: Amberley, 2014). Specific periods are covered in Sage, Michael, The Army of the Roman Republic: From the Regal Period to the Army of Julius Caesars (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2018), Lawrence, Keppie’s The Making of the Roman Army (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998), and Le Bohec, Yann, The Roman Imperial Army (New York: Routledge, 2013). Invaluable are ‘Republican Rome’ by Nathan Rosenstein and ‘The Roman Empire’ by Campbell, Brian in Raaflaub, Kurt and Rosenstein, Nathan (eds.), War and Society in the Ancient World (New York: Routledge, 1993). For a (literally) encyclopaedic approach, see Le Bohec, Yann (ed.) Encyclopedia of the Roman Army, 3 vols. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).

Recent studies of imperialism include Baronowski, D. W., Polybius and Roman Imperialism (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 2011); Erskine, Andrew, Roman Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); and Mihajlovic, Vladimir D. and Jankovic, Marko A., Reflections on Roman Imperialism (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2018). Weaponry is covered in Bishop, M. C. and Coulston, J. C. N., Roman Military Equipment (London: Batsford, 1993). Two studies of Roman battle are Lee, A. D., ‘Morale and the Roman Experience of Battle’ and Gilliver, CatherineThe Roman Army and Morality in War’, both in Lloyd’s, Alan, Battle in Antiquity (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2009). Rosenstein’s, Nathan chapter ‘Mortality in War’ in Rome at War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), pp. 107–40, discusses casualty numbers.

Focused discussions of military violence include Dench’s, Emma chapter ‘Force and Violence’ in Empire and Political Culture in the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 105–33, as well as Ward’s, GraemeThe Roman Battlefield: Individual Exploits in the Warfare of the Roman Republic’ and Serena, Witzke’sViolence against Women in Ancient Rome: Ideology versus Reality’, both in Riess, Werner and Fagan, Garraett (eds.), The Topography of Violence in the Greco-Roman World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016).

Specific studies are Adam, Ziolkowski’sUrbs direpta, or How the Romans Sacked Cities’, in Rich, John and Shipley, Graham (eds.), War and Society in the Roman World (New York: Routledge, 1993); and for the archaeological evidence of battles, Fernández-Götz, Manuel, Conflict Archaeology: Materialities of Collective Violence from Prehistory to Late Antiquity (New York: Routledge, 2017), about half of which is on Roman battles.

Harris, William returns to his thesis with Roman Power: A Thousand Years of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), and Eckstein, Arthur elaborates on his contrary view in Rome Enters the East: From Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Ancient Mediterranean, 230–170 BC (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Bibliographic Essay

For a stimulating discussion of a number of major themes important for this subject, set within a broad chronological and geographical context, see Shaw, Brent, ‘War and Violence’, in Bowersock, Glen, Brown, Peter and Grabar, Oleg (eds.), Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1998), pp. 130–69. A different approach is provided by Philip Rance, who has published a steady stream of valuable articles on aspects of warfare in late antiquity over the last decade and a half; for a convenient summary of his views on a number of subjects of central importance, see his chapter on ‘Battle’ in the Later Roman Empire section of Sabin, Philip, Van Wees, Hans and Whitby, Michael (eds.), The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), vol. ii, pp. 342–78. My book War in Late Antiquity: A Social History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007) includes fuller discussion of the experience of war in late antiquity and the impact of Christianity, as well as other relevant matters.

For the evolution of the Roman army across late antiquity, chapter 17 of Jones’s, A. H. M magisterial The Later Roman Empire 284–602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey (Oxford: Blackwell, 1964) remains invaluable; it can also be traced in the relevant chapters by Campbell, Brian, Doug Lee and Whitby, Michael in volumes xii, xiii and xiv of the new edition of The Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 1998 and 2000 respectively). Whitby has also written a valuable discussion of the army in the first half of late antiquity: ‘Emperors and Armies, AD 235–395’, in Swain, S. and Edwards, M. (eds.), Approaching Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 156–86. For helpful bibliographical surveys of a range of relevant topics (although not of violence in its own right), see the first volume of Sarantis, Alexander and Christie, Neil (eds.), War and Warfare in Late Antiquity: Current Perspectives (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

The best introduction to the empire’s most significant military rival in late antiquity – Sasanian Persia – is Howard-Johnston, James, ‘The Two Great Powers of Late Antiquity: A Comparison’, in Cameron, Averil (ed.), The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, vol. iii, States, Resources and Armies (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1995), pp. 157226, while there is further relevant material in the chapters by Scott McDonough and myself in Campbell, Brian and Tritle, Lawrence (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Peter Heather’s influential work on the empire’s interactions with northern barbarians is best approached through his The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History (London: Macmillan, 2005), while many of the chapters in Maas, Michael (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) provide a range of perspectives on the military impact of the Huns and the empire’s responses. Elton, Hugh, Warfare in Roman Europe, AD 350–425 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) offers sensible discussion of the military capabilities of the empire and its northern neighbours in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Bibliographic Essay

Modern researchers studying violence and warfare in early imperial China are at the mercy of fragments and summaries presented by historians and compilers who usually lacked first-hand experience of combat and reported the topics in stereotypical and schematic ways. Much of the recorded warfare might be coloured with rhetoric, and many actual wars left no details in the record. Although the field is still under-studied, certain works lay a solid foundation for future research.

The fundamental and pioneering study of different kinds of sanctioned violence in ancient China down to the first century ce is Lewis, Mark Edward, Sanctioned Violence in Early China (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989). Also useful as an overview of warfare in both the Warring States and Qin-Han periods is Yates, Robin D. S, ‘Early China’, in Raaflaub, Kurt and Rosenstein, Nathan (eds.), War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Mesoamerica (Cambridge, MA: Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University, 1999), pp. 746. For the Period of Disunion, Graff’s, David A. Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300–900 (London: Routledge, 2002) is the first comprehensive study and a must-read. The anthology Military Culture in Imperial China, edited by Di Cosmo, Nicola (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), contains several chapters related to the period under study, while the first volume of Meissner, B. et al. (eds.), The Cambridge History of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020 provides new summaries of the topic.

On the discourse over the legitimate use of violence, besides Lewis’s, Mark EdwardThe Just War in Early China’, in Brekke, Torkel (ed.), The Ethics of War in Asian Civilization – A Comparative Perspective (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 185200, a recent discussion of just war in different Chinese intellectual traditions – mainly in the pre-imperial era – can be found in Ping-Cheung, Lo and Twiss, Sumner B. (eds.), Chinese Just War Ethics: Origin, Development, and Dissent (London: Routledge, 2015). On the real fighting, we are fortunate to have certain details of siege warfare in the Period of Disunion, and Wallacker, Benjamin E. has produced a series of articles that are old but still useful: ‘Studies in Medieval Chinese Siegecraft: The Siege of Yu-pi, A.D. 546’, Journal of Asian Studies 28 (1969), 789802; Studies in Medieval Chinese Siegecraft: The Siege of Ying-ch’uan, A.D. 548–549’, Journal of Asian Studies 30.3 (1971), 611–22; and Studies in Medieval Chinese Siegecraft: The Siege of Chien-k’ang, A.D. 548–549’, Journal of Asian History 5(1971), 3554.

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats