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Are high tech weapons relevant in low tech wars

Of the many wartime innovations, those in macroeconomics and management techniques were among the most important, for the rapid increase achieved in labour productivity would make possible the economic miracles of many nations after the war as well. There were several reasons for this. First, transport was slow and its capacity small. Second, the technology of agriculture was no more advanced than that of war, so that, with most of their energy devoted to feeding themselves and with little economic surplus, people had few resources available for specialized military technology.

  • The large areas to be protected, restrictions on the weight that a combatant could carry, the difficulty of forging metal into the complex contours required, and cost all conspired to force constant change;
  • The decline of the chariot by the end of the 2nd millennium bce was probably related to the spread of iron weaponry, but it was surely related also to the breeding of horses with sufficient strength and stamina to carry an armed man;
  • Improved methods of transportation and warfare led to the eventual disappearance of the regional ecospheres and their absorption into the European ecosphere;
  • In the New World, on the other hand, both the Aztecs and the Incas used the sling with great effect against Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century;
  • Monumental and artistic evidence suggests that the principle of the composite recurved bow was known as early as 3000 bce.

Low economic development meant that even the benefits of conquest would not pay off a heavy investment in weaponry. Third, and most important, the absolute level of technological development was low. A heavy dependence on human muscle was the principal cause and a major effect of this low level of development. With human ingenuity bound by the constraints of the human bodyboth technology and tactics were heavily shaped by geography, climate, and topography. The importance of geographic and topographic factors, along with limited means of communication and transportation, meant that separate geographic regions tended to develop unique military technologies.

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Such areas are called military ecospheres. The boundaries of a military ecosphere might be physical barriers, such as oceans or mountain ranges; they might also be changes in the military topography, that combination of terrain, vegetation, and man-made features that could render a particular technology or tactic effective or ineffective.

Until the late 15th century ce, when advances in transportation technology broke down the barriers between them, the world contained a number of military ecospheres.

In this contextEurope includes all of the Mediterranean basin and the watershed of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. With the appearance of the horse archer in late antiquity, the Eurasian Steppe became a well-defined military ecosphere as well. Those ecospheres with the most enduring impact on the technology of war were the European and Chinese.

Though Japan possessed a distinctive, coherentand effective military technology, it had little influence on developments elsewhere. India—Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica developed technologies that were well adapted to local conditions, but they were not particularly advanced.

  • There were several reasons for this;
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D;
  • By the middle of the 3rd millennium bce, mace heads were being cast of copper, first in Mesopotamia and then in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt;
  • Around 1600 bce, Iranian tribes introduced the war-horse into Mesopotamia from the north, along with the light two-wheeled chariot.

The Eurasian Steppe was a special case: Samurai on horseback, drawing, late 19th century. Library of Congress, Washington, D. Improved methods of transportation and warfare led to the eventual disappearance of the regional ecospheres and their absorption into the European ecosphere.

Military technology

This process began in the 12th century with the Mongol conquest of China and invasions of Europe, and it quickened and assumed a more pronounced European flavour in the 15th and 16th centuries with the development of oceangoing ships armed with gunpowder weapons.

Because European methods of warfare ultimately dominated the world, and because the technology of war, with few exceptions, advanced first and fastest in Europe, this article devotes most of its attention to the European military ecosphere.

It traces the technology of land war in that ecosphere from Stone Age weapons to the early guns. For reasons of continuitywarships from before the gunpowder era are discussed with modern naval ships and craft in the article naval ship. Prehistory The earliest military weapons The earliest evidence for a specialized technology of war dates from the period before knowledge of metalworking had been acquired.

The stone walls of Jerichowhich date from about 8000 bce, represent the first technology that can be ascribed unequivocally to purely military purposes. These walls, at least 13 feet 4 metres in height and backed by a watchtower or redoubt some 28 feet tall, were clearly intended to protect the settlement and its water supply from human intruders.

When the defenses of Jericho were built, humans already had been using the weapons of the hunt for millennia; the earliest stone tools are hundreds of thousands of years old, and the first arrowheads date to more than 60,000 years ago.

Hunting tools—the spear-thrower atlatlthe simple bow, the javelin, and the sling—had serious military potential, but the first known implements designed purposely as offensive are high tech weapons relevant in low tech wars were maces dating from the Chalcolithic Period or early Bronze Age.

The mace was a simple rock, shaped for the hand and intended to smash bone and flesh, to which a handle had been added to increase the velocity and force of the blow. It is evident that the technical problems of hafting a stone onto a handle were not easily solved. Well-made maces were for a long time few in number and were, by and large, wielded only by champions and rulers. The earliest known inscription identifying a historical personage by name is on the palette of King Narmer, a small, low-relief slate sculpture dating from about 3100 bce.

The palette depicts Menesthe first pharaoh of a unified Egypt, ritually smashing the forehead of an enemy with a mace. Figure perhaps representing Menes on a victory tablet of Egyptian King Narmer, c. Courtesy of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo; photograph, Hirmer Fotoarchiv, Munich The advent of the mace as a purposely designed offensive weapon opened the door to the conscious innovation of specialized are high tech weapons relevant in low tech wars technology.

By the middle of the 3rd millennium bce, mace heads were being cast of copper, first in Mesopotamia and then in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt.

The copper mace head, yielding higher density and greater crushing powerrepresents one of the earliest significant uses of metal for other than ornamental purposes. From precious metals to base metals The dividing line between the utilitarian and the symbolic in warfare has never been clear and unequivocaland this line is particularly difficult to find in the design and construction of early weaponry.

The engineering principles that dictated functional effectiveness were not understood in any systematic fashion, yet the psychological reality of victory or defeat was starkly evident.

  • Fortifications were almost exclusively of dressed stone, though by Roman times concrete mortar was used on occasion;
  • The stone walls of Jericho , which date from about 8000 bce, represent the first technology that can be ascribed unequivocally to purely military purposes;
  • On the other hand, mastery of wood and bronze for military purposes reached a level during this period that was seldom, if ever, attained afterward;
  • The palette depicts Menes , the first pharaoh of a unified Egypt, ritually smashing the forehead of an enemy with a mace.

Ornaments and ceremonial artifacts aside, metalworking was applied to the production of weaponry as early as, or earlier than, any other economically significant pursuit. Precious metals, with their low melting points and great malleability, were worked first; next came copper—at first pure, then alloyed with arsenic or tin to produce bronze—and then iron. A remarkable phenomenon was the persistence of weaponry made of the soft, rare metals, such as gold, silver, and electrum a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silverlong after mechanically superior materials had become available.

Although they were functionally inferior to bronze or copper, precious metals were widely valued for their mystical or symbolic importance, and smiths continued to make weapons of them long after they had mastered the working of functionally superior base metals. Some of these weapons were plainly ceremonial, but in other cases they appear to have been functional. For example, helmets and body armour of electrum, which were probably intended for actual use, have been found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian burials dating from the 2nd and 3rd millennia bce.

Antiquity and the classical age, c. Prominent features of that unity were a continuity in the design of individual weaponry, a relative lack of change in transportation technology, and an enduring tactical dominance of heavy infantry. Perhaps the strongest underlying technological feature of the period was the heavy reliance on human muscle, which retained a tactical primacy that contrasted starkly with medieval times, when the application of horse power became a prime ingredient of victory.

There were two major, if partial, exceptions to this prevailing feature: However, the defeat of Roman legions by Parthian horse archers at Carrhae in western Mesopotamia in 53 bce marked merely a shifting of boundaries between ecospheres on topographical grounds rather than any fundamental change within the core of the European ecosphere itself.

Also, the shock cavalry of Philip and Alexander was an exception so rare as to prove the rule; moreover, their decisiveness was made possible by the power of the Macedonian infantry phalanx. Heavy infantry remained the dominant European military institution until it was overthrown in the 4th century ce by a system of war in which shock cavalry played the central role.

Classical technologists never developed an efficient means of applying animal traction to haulage on land, no doubt because agricultural resources in even the most advanced areas were incapable of supporting meaningful numbers of horses powerful enough to make the effort worthwhile.

The yoke-and-pole harness for oxen was relatively efficient and oxen could pull heavy loads, but they were extremely slow. A human porter, on the other hand, was just as efficient as a pack horse in weight carried per unit of food consumed.

The best recipe for mobility, therefore, was to restrict pack animals to the minimum needed for carrying bulky items such as essential rations, tents, and firewood, to use carts only for items such as siege engines that could be carried in no other way, and to require soldiers to carry all their personal equipment are high tech weapons relevant in low tech wars some of their food.

On the other hand, mastery of wood and bronze for military purposes reached a level during this period that was seldom, if ever, attained afterward. Surviving patterns for the Roman military boot, the caliga, suggest equally high standards of craftsmanship in leatherworking, and the standards of carpentry displayed on classical ships were almost impossibly high when measured against those of later eras.

Are high-tech weapons relevant or even useful in low tech wars?

The large areas to be protected, restrictions on the weight that a combatant could carry, the difficulty of forging metal into the complex contours required, and cost all conspired to force constant change. The technology of defensive weapons was rarely static.

Evidence exists of an ancient contest between offensive and defensive weaponry, with defensive weaponry at first leading the way. By 3000 bce Mesopotamian smiths had learned to craft helmets of copper-and-arsenic bronze, which, no doubt worn with a well-padded leather lining, largely neutralized the offensive advantages of the mace. By 2500 bce the Sumerians were making helmets of bronze, along with bronze spearheads and ax blades. Then, as technical competence increased, the ellipsoidal head became a cutting edge, and by this process the mace evolved into the ax.

The contest between mace and helmet initiated a contest between offensive and defensive technology that continued throughout history. Forging an integralone-piece dome of metal capable of covering the entire head was extremely difficult.

Many classical Greek helmets of bronze were joined by a seam down the crown. Corinthian-style helmetCorinthian-style helmet, bronze, Greek, c.

Photograph by Stephen Sandoval. The legionnaire of the early Roman Republic wore a helmet of bronze, while his successor in the Empire of the 1st century ce wore one of iron. Shields Shields were used for hunting long before they were used for warfare, partly for defense and partly for concealment in stalking game, and it is likely that the military shield evolved from that of the hunter and herdsman. The size and composition of shields varied greatly, depending on the tactical demands of the user.

  1. Some of these weapons were plainly ceremonial, but in other cases they appear to have been functional. By the middle of the 3rd century bce, the bow had been replaced by rigid wooden arms constrained in a wooden box and drawn against the force of tightly twisted bundles of hair or sinew.
  2. This development overcame the inherent limitations of wood in stiffness and tensile strength.
  3. The engineering principles that dictated functional effectiveness were not understood in any systematic fashion, yet the psychological reality of victory or defeat was starkly evident. A significant refinement of the javelin was the Roman pilum.
  4. Another 1,000 men were needed to wield a battering ram 180 feet 55 metres long.

The Greek hoplite, a heavy infantryman who fought in closely packed formation, acquired his name from the hoplon, a convex circular shield, approximately 3 feet 90 cm in diameter, made of composite wood and bronze.

It was carried on the left arm by means of a bronze strap that passed across the forearm and a rope looped around the inner rim with sufficient slack to be gripped in the fist. In the 4th century bce the soldier of the Roman Republic, who fought primarily with the spear, carried an oval shield, while the later imperial legionnaire, who closed in with a short sword, protected himself with the scutum, a large cylindrical shield of leather-clad wood that covered most of his body.

  1. Spearheads were also among the earliest militarily significant applications of iron, no doubt because existing patterns could be directly extrapolated from bronze to iron.
  2. Though Greek texts did not go into detail on construction of the bow, it was based on a composite bow of wood, horn, and sinew. The earliest mail was made of hand-forged links, each individual link riveted together.
  3. Bronze swords with straight blades more than three feet one metre long have been found in Greek grave sites. Evidence exists of an ancient contest between offensive and defensive weaponry, with defensive weaponry at first leading the way.

Body armour Padded garments, and perhaps armour of hardened leather, preceded edged metal weapons. It was then a logical, if expensive, step to cast or forge small metal plates and sew them onto a protective garment. These provided real protection against arrow, spear, or mace, and the small scales, perforated for attachment, were a far less demanding technical challenge than even the simplest helmet.

Armour of overlapping scales of bronze, laced together or sewn onto a backing of padded fabric, is well represented in pictorial evidence and burial items from Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt from about 1500 bce, though its use was probably restricted to a small elite.

Sumerian phalanxSumerian phalanx, a block of foot soldiers depicted standing shield-to-shield, presenting spears, and advancing in a dense mass, detail from the Stele of the Vultures, limestone bas-relief, c.

Greaves, defenses for the lower leg, closely followed the breastplate. At first these were forged of bronze plates; some classical Greek examples were cast to such fine tolerances that they sprang open and could be snapped onto the calf.

Defenses for more remote portions of the body, such as vambraces for the forearm and defenses for the ankle resembling spats, were included in Greek temple dedications, but they were probably not common in field service.

Bronze was the most common metal for body defenses well into the Iron Agea consequence of the fact that it could be worked in large pieces without extended hand forging and careful tempering, while iron had to be forged from relatively small billets. Mail The first practical body armour of iron was mail, which made its appearance in Hellenistic times but became common only during the Roman Imperial period.

Bronze mail was impractical because of the insufficient strength of the alloy. Mail, or chain mail, was made of small rings of iron, typically of one-half-inch diameter or less, linked into a protective fabric.

The rings were fastened together in patterns of varying complexity depending on the degree of protection desired; in general, smaller, lighter rings fastened in dense, overlapping patterns meant lighter, better protection.

The fabrication of mail was extremely labour-intensive. The earliest mail was made of hand-forged links, each individual link riveted together. Later, armourers used punches of hardened iron to cut rings from sheets: Trajan's ColumnA relief from Trajan's Column, a monument from the early 2nd century ce, showing Roman legionnaires in armour of the period. Little else is known about the use of mail by the Greeks, but the Roman legionnaire was equipped with a lorica hamata, a mail shirt, from a very early date.

Mail was extremely flexible and provided good protection against cutting and piercing weapons. Its main disadvantage was its weight, which tended to hang from the shoulders and waist. In addition, strips of mail tended to curl at the edges; the Romans solved this problem by lacing mail shoulder defenses to leather plates. Plate-iron armour While some early forged bronze armour was technically plate, the introduction of the lorica segmentata heralded the production of practical plate armour on a large scale.