From the vast plains of the Eurasian steppes armies of mounted warriors
would periodically burst forth to devastate the sounding civilizations.
The settled peoples rimmed the bottom and sides of the vast steppes
stretching for 3500 miles in a belt from Eastern Europe to the Pacific
Ocean, a land populated by many tribes of nomads. When these groups
periodically joined together they rained havoc on the civilized
world. They spread forth in waves, devastating the settled nations
and empires on their borders. Many of the greatest civilized empires
in history fell to these warriors, from China to the Western Roman
Empire, including the Persians and Indians in between.
The steppe warrior’s used many
ancient weapons, however, their
weapon of choice was the composite bow, a powerful long range ancient
weapon used to devastating effect. Civilized societies typically
referred to armies of steppe warriors as hordes, however, that label
isn’t very accurate. Over the centuries of continuous warfare
in the vast steppes these warriors perfected mounted tactics. The
most common tactic was to shower the enemies with arrows while staying
out of range, groups of mounted archers would dash into range, let
loose their arrows and dash out again before a response could be
mounted. Once their enemies were sufficiently demoralized they would
then take the opportunity to close with their secondary weapons.
These close combat weapons include lances, swords and even lassos.
Another favorite tactic of these
mounted warriors was to feign a retreat, causing any enemy cavalry
to charge after them and into an ambush. Once they had dealt with
the cavalry they would then return to finish off any enemy infantry
their impetuous cavalry opponents had left behind.
Steppe warriors became advanced in
the use of formations as well, peaking with the Mongols military
structure. The Mongols organized their armies logically in groups
of 10, 100, 1000 and 10,000 creating an easily commanded but flexible
system. However, steppe warriors in general were all very self-sufficient.
Capable of river crossings alone and isolated survival, these nomads
required little in the way of supplies.
These were warriors who lived in
the saddle from a very young age and came from a society where every
man was expected to be a warrior, and often the women too! They
were known for being ruthless butchers by those they opposed and
fear of them was wide spread in the ancient world. It has been theorized
since they all were butcher’s in order to survive as herders,
the butchering of defeated humans just seemed to follow suit. They
went by terrifying names to those who settled around them, the Huns
and Mongols for example! Less known are the Scythians, Sarmatian
and Xiongnu. These mounted warriors dominated the plains of Eurasia
and destroyed empires in the settled world up until the invention
of gunpowder broke their power in the 1600’s.
Perhaps the most iconic of the ancient warriors, barbarian warriors
included the bearded, sword wielding maniacs that images of ancient
warriors often depict. The truth often wasn’t far off! They
would sweep into the civilized world in vast hordes, wrecking armies
with a combination of sheer terror and overwhelming numbers. They
often were better at one on one combat than formations, but there
charges were feared and deadly. These ancient warriors lived a more
agrarian lifestyle than the nomadic steppes warriors, but they usually
weren’t any more “civilized”. In fact, to the
ancient Greeks, both groups were considered barbarians.
Infamous groups of these barbarian
warriors included the Vandals, Goths and Celts. The ancient
Slavs, Germans and Iberians can be also be added to the long
list of barbarians. These warrior societies developed fierce and
proud warriors, individual performance in battle meant great prestige
for them in their societies. Hence, to the “civilized”
Mediterranean world they seemed undisciplined in battle, which they
usually were. However, they often made up for this with sheer strength.
Sometimes that strength was in the style of Conan, but more often
it was the strength of numbers. The rush of a barbarian horde was
the stuff of nightmares, only highly disciplined troops could stand
before its impact and not flee in the grips of terror. These large
men, in comparison to the Mediterranean’s, would charge headlong
into enemy lines with a fury unmatched in the ancient world. Their
goal was to scare, hack and crush enemies. The Roman
military was born after a crushing defeat by a Celtic horde
using these tactics. However, these Celtic
warriors were also known for being cunning, if crude. Another
favored method of warfare employed by them was ambush and hit and
Despite these strengths the barbarian
warriors typically suffered from some short comings. They almost
always lacked, but made up for it somewhat with shields and mobility.
Sometimes they even fought naked, that’s unnerving, if somewhat
stupid. They also typically lacked discipline, their command and
control was often more like a mob than an army, and this lost many
battles for them. Perhaps there greatest weakness though, was turned
into their greatest strength. Barbarian armies had supply issues,
causing them to only be able to take to the field for short times
compared to the nomads and “civilized” armies. However,
they often laid down roots, literally, in territories gained from
warfare. In time this meant that they were able to control vast
tracts of land.
In Europe the most successful of
these tribes formed the bases of the modern nations found in its
borders. Although they lost the characteristics of what we consider
to be barbaric warriors, these ancient peoples formed the backbone
of all the European countries and by extension much of the world.
From the barbaric tribe of the Angles comes modern English, perhaps
the most widely spoken language on the planet. We can thank these
peoples for the modern countries of France, Germany and Russia.
We can even include them largely in the makeup of Italy, America
and Australia. Perhaps surprisingly, among Western Nations this
group of ancient warriors proved to be the most successful in the
long run. However, they absorbed the both the lessons of fighting
the steppe warriors and the culture of what I have been referring
to as the “civilized world”. This brings us to the final
group of ancient warriors, the heavy infantry of the ancient Mediterranean.
Ancient Greco-Roman Warriors
The ancient Greco-Roman warriors were the pros of their world and
the top warriors of their day. The Spartan
military and Roman military
are the top to dogs in this style of warfare. Although separated
by time both of these militaries adopted similar principals. Both
were well armored, well trained and motivated. In general the Greeks,
Macedonians and Romans pumped out the greatest heavy infantry units
of the ancient world. In an age when control of the battlefield
was often the key to victory the heavy infantry excelled. While
Greek warriors tended to prefer
spears, Roman weapons tended to
be heavy javelins and swords. They developed tactics through centuries
of warfare between themselves, as did the other groups, but the
Mediterranean’s perfected the art of armor at a much earlier
age and were able to fund its high costs for a millennium more than
These ancient warriors were supported
by advanced civilizations, highly skilled in mathematics, engineering
and writing. This gave them a large edge in the critical area of
logistics when compared to the barbarian hordes at their boarders,
being able to field armies for much longer periods. It also served
to produce competent generals more frequently. However, the greatest
advantage they had was their disciplined heavy infantry.
The Romans, Greeks and Macedonians
produced top tier heavy infantry units. The things they shared in
common were discipline, heavy armor and advanced tactics. This often
gave them an edge against the barbarian armies, even when heavily
outnumbered. Although these armies were considered the “civilized”
forces of the ancient world, discipline and training was harsh.
For example, Roman units that retreated without orders could be
subject to decimation. In decimation one in ten soldiers are selected
by lot and beaten to death. Their treatment of defeated foes could
be just as harsh; cities that resisted could have all males put
to the sword and their remaining population sold into slavery. In
the year 146 BC the Roman’s destroyed both the once mighty
cities of Carthage and Corinth, killing or selling all of their
inhabitance. The cities were raised to the grown, a terrifying example
of what happens to those that resist Roman power.
Although the “civilized”
warriors were eventually defeated or absorbed by barbarian elements,
at least in Western Europe, the civilizations they created became
the standard model for what is now called the West. Greek and Roman
architecture can be seen in the civic buildings in the United States,
Europe and even Australia. The ideas these ancient warriors carried
with them had longer lasting effects than even their great skill