The Bronze Age: Armor, Weapons & Warfare

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

The Bronze Age brought the first professional armies to the world. Find out how Bronze Age technology developed new tools for warfare and changed the way battles were fought forever.

How Bronze Changed War

If you are fascinated with history, you've likely watched movies and documentaries about war, such as the American Civil War, WWII, or the Vietnam War. While a great deal of the technology used in those conflicts is relatively new, military tactics and tools are rooted in the earliest days of military battles. More than the skirmishes of local tribes of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age brought us professional armies, battle tactics, and new tools for combat. Let's look at some of these developments.

Some examples of Bronze Age weapons
Bronze weapons

The Sword

Prior to the Bronze Age, swords were not practical in combat and only a few flint swords appear among archaeological records. This is because weapons had to account for the brittle nature of stone. The longer the blade, the more likely it would shatter during a hard strike. Shorter knives served in combat and as daily tools. Bronze knives, however, could be made longer than stone knives, eventually growing so long that they became the first swords.

Several styles of Bronze Age swords

Early bronze swords had a blade riveted to the handle, but later weapons were cast as a solid piece, reducing the risk of breakage. The shape of swords varied by region and time period. Remember, the Bronze Age lasted several centuries to over a thousand years depending on location. One sword type was the Carp's Tongue, originating in Western Europe and most likely, specifically, in Northern France. The blade was wide and tapered down to an elongated, narrow-tipped end. This made it perfect for slashing with the sides yet also stabbing with the tip.

One of the most famous sword types of the Bronze Age, and possibly one of the first swords designed, was the Sickle Sword, so named for the curved blade which gave it the appearance of being a cross between a sword and a grain harvesting tool. This appeared around 2500 BCE and commonly appears in Sumerian artwork from Mesopotamia. While Sumerian armies still used spears and bows more frequently in battle, the sickle sword seems to have been associated with power as the artwork frequently shows this type of weapon held by kings and gods.

Battle Ax

The bronze ax served both a functional and a military role. In daily life, the ax allowed people to clear more land to farm and gather timbers for construction. In war, it served as a heavy club and a blade. However, the first bronze axes were highly impractical, breaking off from the wooden handles due to the pressure of impact. Soon, metalsmiths fashioned an ax that did not need to be strapped to the handle. Instead, they cast the head with a hole through the middle. The new handle fit through the hole and craftsman riveted the two pieces together, making a strong and durable tool and weapon. An example can be seen in the image of Scandinavian helmets in the next section.

Armor and Helmets

The use of bronze armor and helmets varied from culture to culture. While the Greeks wore helmets and flexible armor made of overlapping plates called a panoply, Egyptians avoided using it for common soldiers. This decision was likely related to extreme heat in the region ass metal covering the body could lead to extreme heat exhaustion and death. Pharaohs, however, were often depicted wearing scale armor and helmets. Their participation in actual battles is questionable, however.

Greek panoply armor
Greek armor

In Northern Europe and Scandinavia, the Bronze Age inspired the use of elaborate metal helmets adorned with long, menacing horns.

Bronze Age helmets and axes from Scandinavia
Scandinavian helmets

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