The Army of the Ancient Armenia

The Army of the Ancient ArmeniaThe history of mankind is primarily bound with wars. The armies of the world march through pages of history textbooks, fighting against each other and constantly improving their armament and combat tactics.

We know a lot about the Greek, Roman military art, but the history of the Armenian army’s past is still covered.

The archers are the oldest known Armenian combat unit. The qualitative characteristics of this tactical unit were so great that they were noted not only by Armenian but also foreign historians.

The crucial role in the legendary battle of 2492 BC belongs to an arrow accurately shot by Hayk, which the leader of the Babylonians Bel was killed with. At the same time, the first battle formation, Svinfylking, was headed by Hayk himself.

As shown by Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, the Armenian bows were wide (up to 2 meters) and the arrows three-fletched and very long, which ensured the range and accuracy of the shooting. Subsequently, the design features of the arrows were improved by making one of the fletches unstable.

The unstable fletch would make removing the arrow from the wound extremely difficult as it would break and stay in the body. These arrows were so long that if the enemies managed to get them intact, they used them as darts.

However, archers always and in all armies were only support troops. The main role was always given to the heavily armed soldiers. Ancient Armenia was not an exception – the main tactical unit of the Armenian army until the 1st millennium BC were chariots.

For the creation of chariots as well as the production of high-quality weapons, a well-developed technology of metalworking was needed. Metal was an indispensable component of effective weapons.

The Armenian Highlands can rightfully be considered the ancestral home of the metallurgy. Armenians already in the 2nd millennium BC mastered the process of obtaining iron from ore.

This is evidenced by not only the results of archaeological excavations (Metsamor Metallurgical Complex is worthy of special attention) but also the information preserved in the Hittite and Assyrian chronicles and archives.

According to the fragments of chariots found in Lchashen, Karmir-Blur, Rusahinili (Toprakkale), and other sites, their design and principles of application can be defined quite accurately. The Armenian chariots were protected by front and side metal plates with a height of 50 or more centimeters.

In the chariot itself, a quiver with arrows, a spear, and other weapons were stored. Chariots were placed on the flanks of the unit or in front of it. Their rapid attack caused panic and confusion in the ranks of the enemy and allowed the infantry to easily take over.

But the chariots had a significant drawback – they were practically useless in rough terrain and could only be used in an open field.

The same problem was with the Greek infantry, the phalanx, which was strong at head-on collisions but could not maneuver and simply broke down on rugged terrain, becoming an easy target for the enemy.

The Romans solved this problem by breaking up the phalanx into autonomously controlled units called maniples. Now, it is necessary to note an interesting detail – the famous Roman army won its battles almost exclusively with infantry.

Cavalry was small and did not play a decisive role. This can be said about almost the entire ancient world. Only Alexander the Great used it in combination with regular phalanxes, which immediately yielded its results.

But the strength of his cavalry was still limited. Some historians think the reason for the weak cavalry was the absence of such a simple but necessary equipment as stirrups.

Really, how would one even get up on a horse fully armored and armed without stirrups? Not to mention battling on the run, when the horseman would need to keep himself in place firmly.  And even with spears, the stirrups are necessary to maintain balance. All this is absolutely clear, and centuries later, after the appearance and spread of stirrups, the role of the cavalry increased sharply.

Meanwhile, since the 1st millennium BC, cavalry was already the main striking force at least in one army – the Armenian armed forces. Now, you should remember that not only equipment is necessary for cavalry but, most importantly, horses as well.

Many horses. Tens of thousands of horsemen (namely, as many as the Armenian cavalry included) are tens of thousands of horses of a particular breed. And their numbers had to be replenished all the time.

Unlike the rest of the ancient world, Armenia, in which horse breeding was superbly developed, did not stumble upon this problem. Equine breeding in Armenia was of exceptional, strategic importance and was under state care.

Since the times of the Kingdom of Van (Urartu), there have been whole complexes with stables, racetracks, riding grounds, and bathing places for horses. An interesting thing is that when the Armenian state became a satrapy of Achaemenid Persia, its government, besides silver and gold, gave a lot of select horses and mules as a tribute.

This is said in the writings on the Behistun rock, where, by the order of King Darius, the names of the lands that paid tribute to Persia were written. Among these countries, only Armenia paid tribute with horses – these animals were valued on a par with precious metals and served as a kind of currency.


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