< Canaan home


contact us >

Home&Family | PersonalIdentity | Writing | Glossary | Bibliography | Activities

The maintenance of armies and the defense of cities were of the highest concern for the Canaanites and Israelites. Over the course of time, styles of warfare and weaponry evolved in the southern Levant.

a duckbill axe

Fortified cities were built for defense against marauding bands and enemy armies as early as 3000 BCE. Most of the evidence for early warfare comes from "Warrior tombs" of the Middle Bronze Age. Warriors were equipped with a bronze belt, a "duckbill" axe or a narrow, chisel-shaped axe, a spear and a leaf-shaped dagger with a wooden handle and a stone pommel. Large rounded stones were also fastened to handles to create the mace, a primitive blunt instrument.

Battles in the Early Bronze Age and first half of the Middle Bronze Age seem to have been carried out between opposing groups of infantry, which fought hand to hand with spear or axe. Combat tactics changed with the introduction of the horse-drawn chariot to the field of battle.

Each chariot carried two young men: a charioteer who drove the two horses and a chariot warrior who shot arrows against the enemy formations. The chariot became militarily significant when it was combined with the use of the composite bow. This bow was a longer, more sturdy and expensive version of the simple bow and had a greater range. The armies of Egypt contained thousands of chariots and their military strength enabled Pharaoh Thutmose III to capture the city of Megiddo and impose Egyptian rule over Canaan. The size of a kingdom's chariot corps was restricted by the enormous expense and maintenance of the team of horses, the chariot itself, defensive armor for the crew (and sometimes for the horses) and the composite bows. In battle, opposing chariotries would charge against each other, firing arrows and swinging in several passes until one of the forces was heavily depleted or thrown into disorder. Alongside chariots ran footsoldiers who were lightly armored and carried lightweight throwing javelins or swords. The swords employed throughout most of the Bronze Age were long, heavy thrusting rapiers, or sickel-shaped swords for hacking.

Towards the end of the Late Bronze Age, warfare again changed with the attacks of the Sea Peoples against the eastern Mediterranean societies. It was during the period of the great catastrophe around 1200 BCE that chariot armies began to be defeated by hordes of raiders and city-sackers armed with the light javelin and slashing sword. The chariot corps of the Mycenaean and Hittite cities seem to have been unable to adapt themselves to the new changes in warfare and quickly perished. Egypt, on the other hand, was able to gather armies of infantrymen to fend off the attacking Sea Peoples and the Egyptian kingdom lived on, although it was greatly weakened. Chariots would never again serve as the main power behind a kingdom's army, but instead were relegated to smaller, supporting roles such as flanking the enemy or chasing down a routed force. The Iron Age kingdoms in Canaan and Israel were dependent on mass infantries armed with iron swords and spears and donning shields and corselets of leather with metal scales sewn onto them. The heavy infantry were assisted by squadrons of bowmen and slingers.

© 1999 | University of Pennsylvania Museum
more online exhibits at:
Penn Museum Sites