Walls, Roads & Bronze: Tools of Empire Creation

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  • 0:06 Walls of Jericho
  • 3:12 The Use of Waterways
  • 3:55 The Construction of Roads
  • 5:13 Bronze Age
  • 6:03 Bronze Age Warriors
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Max Pfingsten

Max has an MA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Behavioral Genetics, a Master of Education, and a BA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Evolutionary Psychology.

Learn some of the tools of the empire creation trade. In this video lesson, we'll explore the wall as a tough nut to be cracked, the strategic importance of roads and the advances made possible by bronze.

The Walls of Jericho

Welcome to Jericho. It is one of the oldest human settlements on earth. For thousands of years the natural spring and high rock formations of jericho have drawn hunter gatherers seeking refuge.With the rise of agriculture, people began to settle in earnest near Jericho, but it was not its ready waters and fertile soil that attracted farmers, it was that great fortress of a rock.

The whole point of settled agriculture is to store food. These stored resources attract raiders. This is what makes Jericho so appealing. When barbarians came on raids, the farmers could retreat to the rocks with their stores and fight off the invaders. It is no surprise that such a place was home to one of the first man made fortifications.

These people of Jericho were already familiar with the idea of taking refuge behind stone. All it took was for some clever fellow to think 'if the rock protects us what if we could extend the protection of the rock around a larger area.'? Thus the wall was invented. and so the people of Jericho built a wall around their town. And we're not talking about teeny flimsy walls, these walls were over eleven feet tall and 7 feet wide! They even built a tower so they could attack anyone attacking them.

Imagine the shock and outrage of a raiding barbarian warlord to see his target, the people, livestock and food of Jericho, tantalizingly out of reach, protected behind 7 feet of stone. He cannot simply storm the place. From their vantage atop the walls and tower, the people of Jericho can shoot arrows at the invaders, while the invader's projectiles cannot reach them. The only option remaining is a waiting game.

For a few thousand years, that is a game that the people inside the walls will win.

The people of Jericho have all their food stored safely inside the walls. They even have a fresh water spring. The barbarian raider has no food stored; that's why he went raiding. Like a siege in reverse, the people of Jericho must only wait for the barbarians to get hungry and leave to find an easier target to raid.

Such walls would prove just as frustrating to armies of civilized invaders. The technology to break down such walls would take thousands of years to develop. So unless, like Joshua, you've got a lot of trumpets and a god on your side, you're going to leave cities like Jericho alone. For now.

The main obstacle to besieging a walled city is keeping your own people fed in the process. Feeding an army on the move is hard enough; armies carry their own supplies, and can also forage and pillage along the way. Feeding an army for an extended siege requires massive amounts of resources. A sizeable army will soon consume anything edible nearby. To conduct a siege, you must be able to move troops quickly to preserve their stores, and be able to resupply them once they arrive.

The Use of Waterways

This is not a problem if your target is near a river or the sea. Humans have been traveling by sea for at least 130,000 years. All you have to do is put your soldiers on boats and send them supplies down river. This is one of the reasons why the earliest empires form along rivers.

  • Several civilizations would conquer their way down the fertile crescent, using the Tigris and Euphrates to move and supply their armies.
  • Egypt held sway along the Nile Valley from its delta at the Mediterranean to deep into the Nubian deserts.

Once the empires had been built, the rivers served as highways for defense as well as arteries for trade.

Many ancient empires were built around major rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates.
Tigris Euphrates River Map

But there are drawbacks to sea faring. Paddling across the Mediterranean in a dug out canoe is a chancy business at best. Rivers can be flooded one season and dried up the next. Still, this system works well enough if you don't mind your empire being limited to a few days march from the nearest body of water. But what if you want to expand further? To do that, you're going to need roads.

The Construction of Roads

The first roads were probably little more than game trails, followed by so many hunters over the years that they were pounded into rough pathways. Such dirt paths are unsuitable for moving goods, let alone an army. They make a poor surface for wheels and rains will turn them to mud.

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