As maligned as it is, war has always been a part of human existence. In fact, it is impossible to delve into the annals of history without mentioning war or conflict. These days, most battles are settled with missiles sent from the skies. However, in times past, conflict was resolved on the ground, with thousands of men, lots of bravadoes, and bloodshed.
Despite the propensity of historical battles to witness wanton bloodshed and destruction, the cream still rises to the top. Several civilizations and tribes have been able to distinguish themselves on the battlefield. For these tribes and cultures, warfare became an intrinsic aspect of their daily lives. We take a look at five of the greatest ancient warrior armies that have dominated overtime.
The Akkadian Army
Circa 2334 BC, Akkadian warriors were responsible for carving up the first all-Mesopotamian ruling empire. This impressive feat was responsible for uniting people from the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, even if it was for a short while. As uniting cultures through war victories go, the Akkadian warriors were great at it. They successfully created a culturally diverse community that included several ethnicities and factions. This was primarily responsible for Akkadian being the officially recognized language in Mesopotamia for ages to come.
However, beyond uniting cultures, the Akkadian warriors did so much more in terms of warfare. For starters, they were never shy about borrowing military doctrines and strategies from other Mesopotamian cultures. For example, the Akkadians often went to battle, adopting a phalanx formation. This tactic was borrowed from Sumerian soldiers long before the Greeks used it.
It may seem like all they did was borrow military tactics and strategies. However, to do that, they needed to be highly trained and disciplined. And that’s what the Akkadian army was — a professional, highly-trained unit. This is in stark contrast to other armies that were in existence at the time.
Training and “borrowing” military strategies are a part of the recipe for a great army. However, the Akkadians had more. They used innovations to support their strength and tactics. For illustration, the Akkadians used armored cloaks where other armies had none. These cloaks were made of leather and reinforced using metal discs. Helmets were also fashioned to ensure that Akkadian warriors had the edge in hand-to-hand combat.
To cap off the superiority of the Akkadian warriors, their military generals were able to incorporate the wheel into the development of chariots. Furthermore, Sargon of Akkad, a brutal dictator, was one of the first in Mesopotamia to use composite bows in war. The range and strength of these bows were often enough to give the Akkadians the edge over other armies that relied on javelins.
The Spartan Army
From the 9th century BC up until 192 BC, the Spartan warriors proved themselves fierce, relentless fighters. Of the armies on this list, they are perhaps the most lauded in mainstream media today. Although most of their feats are exaggerated in movies and other facets of pop culture, there’s no doubt that the Spartan army was a symbol of dominance.
The greatness of the Spartan army is due to the rigors of their military training. In fact, at a point, the Spartans were the only Greek culture with a full-time army. Every aspect of their community was geared toward creating the fiercest soldiers. The agoge is an age-old facet of Spartan culture that points to this.
The agoge was a strict training that combined the education and combat training of young boys. Mandated for all boys from the age of seven, each male child had to leave home and move into the barracks. There, they would teach the children everything there was to know about military warfare, weapons, melee combat, and more. A young Spartan boy would be taught the pyrriche, a dance that was designed to make him nimble. He would also be taught war songs, as well as how to read and write. This way, each boy would not only grow up to become a great warrior, but an educated Spartan. This training would go on until the young Spartan turns eighteen. At that point, he would be considered an adult and a fully fledged Spartan soldier. Despite this, Spartan soldiers were prohibited from talking in the markets until they were 30. This was put in place to ensure full discipline and prevent any forms of distractions.
This training was strict. Spartans in military training had to cut their hair short. Also, they were subjected to endurance training every day. Their beds were made from reed and could only be slept on in winter. Sometimes, they would be intentionally starved to encourage them to fend for themselves. In a way, the only time Spartans were not training for war was during the war itself.
With crimson red robes and bronze shields mandated by lawmaker Lycurgus, the Spartans went from battlefield to battlefield, leaving bodies behind in a trail of victory!
The Assyrian Warriors
The Assyrian warriors of the Neo-Assyrian Empire that existed between 900BC-612BC are another great historical army. For most historians and students, the appeal is in the contraptions and weapons used by Assyrian soldiers. The great Assyrians warriors of old were among the first to use siege towers and weapons to significant effect in battle.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire was the largest world empire up until its dissolution. As a result, many history students believe Assyria to be the first superpower in ancient history. Of course, this is true. But the circumstances behind this position was one of weakness.
Assyria’s military strength was borne out of the vulnerability of its geographical position. Enemies bordered it on all sides. To protect themselves, the Assyrian warriors had to rise to the occasion, so to speak. The result was a well-drilled army that could cope with constant aggression, raids, and conflicts.
After that, the Assyrian warriors adopted the belief that attack is the best form of defense. They began to formulate efficient military strategies that would become the foundation for victory after victory. Additionally, the Assyrians absorbed ideas from other foreign powers. Their desire for evolution gave birth to incredible combat skills, the use of archers and chariots, siege tactics, flexibility, and immense discipline.
The Celtic Armies
The Celtics represented different populations that lived in different parts of Europe after the Bronze Age. Despite the diversity of their tribes, the Celtics spoke the same language while exhibiting definitive military styles and strategies. From the 6th century BC to the mid-1st millennium AD, the Celtic armies owned the battlefields.
For one, the average Celtic warrior had a reputation for ferocity and fearlessness. These two qualities made the Celtic warriors particularly effective and dangerous in close-combat situations. More importantly, they took advantage of these qualities. For instance, in 390 BC, led by King Bran, they sacked and plundered the ancient city of Rome. Similarly, the Celtics conquered the sacred Delphi in Ancient Greece.
Most of the time, the Celtic warriors fought with as little body armor as possible. However, they were able to adapt when the occasion called for it. An account from Julius Caesar describes how the Celtic warriors used light chariots, impressive formations, and maneuvering techniques during a battle.
The Roman Army
The Roman army is another that has seen much coverage in mainstream media. This is a credit to the Roman army that belonged to the ancient Roman Empire (509 BC-395 AD). At their most magnificent, the Romans controlled the biggest empire in the world. This empire stretched from Spain to Caucasus, Syria, Egypt, and even the northern cities of Britain. Considering the fact that Rome started as a mediocre backwater region, the conquests of the Roman army is impressive.
The Roman army was fuelled by the ancient culture of discipline and organizational depth. Additionally, they were educated. Therefore, they were able to learn and adapt from other militia. For instance, the ancient Roman army used hoplites that were adapted from the Greeks. Other times, they used maniples influenced by the Italic people. In time, they were able to finetune their military organization to legionaries led by distinguished soldiers.
Discipline and organization are crucial to building a great army. However, the greatest attribute of the Roman Empire was their “never-say-die” attitude on the battlefield. No matter how bleak the battles looked, they never gave up. A considerable percentage of their victories came from positions of great weakness. For example, in the Battle of Cannae, the Romans lost about 80 percent of their armies in a single day. However, by the end of the 2nd Punic War, they emerged victoriously. An astonishing accomplishment, to say the least.