Unformatted text preview: Christopher Belmonte Persian Chariots and Babylonian Economic Records: A brief speculative essay I would like to posit a hypothesis on the origin of scythed chariots. The Persians developed the scythed chariot, but it does not appear to be a response to Greek heavy infantry. Indeed, scythed chariots are not an effective answer to Hoplite infantry at all. Scythed chariots attempting to slice into shield wall in deep ranks simply does not work. This doesn’t necessitate they are entirely without utility against heavy infantry in deep ranks however. Attacks upon the sides of a body of infantry might be somewhat effective if the charioteers have compatible terrain and excellent maneuvering skills. But overall, scythed chariots don’t appear to be an efficient means of breaking serried ranks. The battles of Cunaxa and much later, Gaugamela do not demonstrate scythed chariots are a viable as shock cavalry. These updated chariots may not have actually appeared until after the Greco‐Persian wars of the early 5th century. This is the argument made by Alexander Nefiodkin. (Alexander K. Nefiodkin 2004) If this is the case, then it may reflect a gradual evolution from standard Babylonian chariotry to scythed chariots. It’s quite close to the date of the cuneiform documents at hand. Records in possession of the governor of Babylon, Marduk‐Nasir‐Apli, reveal that the Babylonian ‘warrior aristocracy’ remained intact after Cyrus conquered Babylon. The Neo‐ Babylonians had a system of estate‐supported soldiers, and letters from this collection specifically reference Archer and Chariot Fiefs. (Abraham 2004 p. 23, 28, 46‐47) The documents date between 521 and 487 BC. This suggests the Achaemenid state retained the economic support apparatus, and by extension, the use of Babylonian military personnel. The Babylonian chariots were traditional, not scythed, so normal tactics applied. However, by this time chariots were reaching obsolescence. The flexibility of cavalry put chariots at a significant disadvantage. Cavalry is more maneuverable and makes a smaller target for missiles. In beginning of Iron Age II, cavalry began to be adopted alongside chariot corps throughout the ancient near east. By about 600 BC, Egypt began phasing out its chariot corps in favor of cavalry. (Moreno Garcia 2013, p. 988) While does not mean that by the time of the battle of Pelusium (525 BC) that Egypt no longer used chariots, there is no way to know if they in fact did still employ them in any significant military capacity. The obsolescence of traditional chariot technology meant that it had to be updated in some way. Achaemenid controlled Babylon still had military resources to exploit, but it was not a type of warfare which was native to Persia. Neither Persians nor Medes seem to have had any interest in chariots until after the capture of Babylon. Therefore, scythed chariots may represent an attempt to update chariot technology so as to make it relevant in the wake of swift and maneuverable cavalry which otherwise dominated the battlefield. Chariot formations tend to be much looser than bodies of cavalry. Cavalry attempting to charge scythed chariots would find themselves driving between the gaps between each chariot. Horses’ legs would be extremely vulnerable to the scythes. When necessary, charioteers veer their vehicle in a different direction, tightening or loosening the formation as necessary. Cavalry still have superior maneuverability, but this can be negated in part by scythes, as closing in would leave the horses’ legs exposed to spinning blades. Scythed chariots may rather be an answer to Scythians using armored horses, perhaps some kind of early cataphract, rather than to Greek Hoplites, as spinning blades might make it more difficult to attack chariots in close combat. Abraham, Kathleen. Business and Politics under the Persian Empire : The Financial Dealings of
Marduk-Nasir-Apli of the House of Egibi (521-487 B.C.E.). Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 2004. Alexander K. Nefiodkin. “On the Origin of the Scythed Chariots.” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte
Geschichte 53, no. 3 (2004): 369–78. Moreno Garcia, Juan Carlos. “Ancient Egyptian Administration,” 2013.
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- Summer '14
- Ancient Egypt, Egyptian language, Zeitschrift Für Alte, chariots, Alexander K. Nefiodkin