Identifying what weapons were used in Ancient Sumerian and Akkadian warfare is complex task. In the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, we see Naram-Sin holding a bow, an arrow, and a narrow-headed axe. Other warriors are holding spears (Amiet). The bow looks like it may be a composite bow. If it is a composite bow, it would be the earliest representation of a composite bow. This bow opens up a debate which demonstrates the inherent flaws in using art as evidence to build a case around. Yigael Yaden argues that this bow proves that composite bows were used by Akkadians to take over Mesopotamia during the Pre-Dynastic Era. When analyzing other evidence, we realize his bow is not likely to be a composite bow, and if it is a composite bow, it is not likely that the composite bow was widespread through the Akkadian empire. 6 pieces of art from the Pre-Dynastic Era show unstrung bows that are straight including a cylinder seal of an arms factory and a stele of a Priest-king. Naram-Sin is shown in a monument in the same stance with what is an unmistakably normal bow. all of these alternate sources seem to suggest the way the bow was depicted in the stele is an artistic liberty (Hamblin). The danger with using art as evidence is that art is designed by the artist, and it is not necessarily accurate. If an artist decided to get creative with the type of bow, the artist could change the weapons entirely and we would never know the difference. There is no basis to believe the artist changed the weapons entirely, but it is possible. Iconography tells us what weapons existed at the time, but we have to determine if the weapons were used commonly or not to gain any information about the military as a whole.

The tombs of Ur from the First Dynasty were excavated in years 1922-1934. In the tombs of royalty, excavators found many weapons that perfectly resembled weapons from Sumerian iconography including: a giant gold dagger, multiple copper daggers, spike-like javelins, broad-headed spears, and socketed axe-heads. In the common tombs, 58 spears, 171 daggers, and 301 axes were found. The findings of the royal tombs reinforce the credibility of the Sumerian iconography depicting these weapons.  The weapons found in the common tombs are likely an accurate representation of the distribution of weapons throughout the armies of Ur at this time period (Hamblin). Using excavated weapons to determine what the armies fought with is also a risk. In this context, it’s not likely these commoners were buried with anything other than the weapons they fought with, however, it is possible that these people were buried with these specific weapons as a ritual to honor them or provide them protection in death. If each weapon honored them in a different way based on such a ritual, then no basis would exist for the argument that these weapons are proportional to their use in the military. No basis would exist to argue that these weapons were used in combat at all.

The Standard of Ur was discovered in a Royal Tomb of Ur. The standard is a box decorated with shell and lapis lazuli. This box is interpreted as the armies of Ur fighting a war on one side and a banquet to celebrate winning a war on the other side. On the side that depicts war, we find a line of men in uniform armor, carrying short spears. The line of men are standing in the same stance, holding their weapons the same way. This suggests some degree of training. We also find war carts being pulled by asses. Two men stand on each cart — one driver and one warrior; the warriors carry a javelin or an axe (Hamblin). This suggests the cart is used as a drive-by assault weapon.  The carts themselves have armored fronts, suggesting their use as ballistic vehicles. It is possible that the asses are difficult to control, so the carts often crash. The carts would then need to be durable, but could still be intended to be used as drive-by vehicles. This picture is the only ancient source in which war carts are used, so there is no reason to conclude war carts were commonly used in Ur. The main flaw in using this royal standard to learn what weapons were used in the First Dynasty of Ur is the lack of context for this image. The uniforms that the warrior are wearing, and the training they have may indicate that they are royal guard which would give us little indication of how the common warrior fought or what the common warrior fought with. Also, the function of war carts within the context of the military of Ur is ambiguous. We do not know if the war carts are used for special operations, or if there are enough of them that they could be deployed in daily combat the same way any other unit would be deployed.


Hamblin, Warfare in the Ancient Near East, 35-153, 215-36

Pierre Amiet, Art of the Ancient Near East (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980) 49

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