the archer, and he could double as a spearmen when required. The archer was an elite warrior; an expert with the bow, he was provided with multiple quivers attached to the side of the vehicle, and also a stock of light javelins for close-quarters work. The whole ensemble was an advanced weapon system that combined mobility, shot-power, and terror. The chariot itself was a masterpiece of Bronze Age engineering, designed to be light and fast, yet strong and resilient. Light enough to be lifted up by an ordinary man, it was yet able to carry a crew of two and achieve speeds of about 25 miles an hour. The quality of wood and carpentry was critical. The Florence chariot employed seven different woods, all of them imported. The bending of wood and the composite construction of wheels and other components was essential to the design. Horses were also new. The evidence is poor, but their use seems to have spread only slowly and erratically across Western Asia from around 2000 BC onwards. Sumerian heavy chariots had been pulled by onagers (Asiatic wild asses); they had been slow, cumbersome, hard to manoeuvre. The light chariot of the Late Bronze Age was pulled by horses and played the role of cavalry. Because the horses were small – they were really ponies – and because saddles and harnesses were crude, mounting heavily armed warriors on horseback was not efficient. So the chariot reigned supreme. Revolutionary: the composite bow The composite (or recurved) bow was formed of wood, bone, and sinew laminated together. The horn fixed to the inside belly was compressed and the sinew on the outside stretched when the bow was drawn, while the wood provided the basic structure. Unstrung, the two arms of the bow were reversed, so that stringing involved ‘recurving’ the arms backwards, storing huge amounts of energy even before the bow was drawn. The composite bow had greater reach – up to 200 yards – and far greater accuracy and penetrative power than simple stave bows.
Like the domestication of the horse (perhaps around 3500 BC), the invention of the composite bow seems to have been an achievement of Central Asian steppe-nomads. The triad of horse, composite bow, and (Mesopotamian) chariot represented a revolution in war at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. From the 16th century BC to the 8th – that is, from time of XVIII Dynasty Egypt to the Homeric ‘Dark Ages’ – the chariot-mounted archer was predominant. The phenomenal expense meant that the chariot was an aristocratic weapon. Whether horses and vehicles were supplied from a central
The Past | April/May 2021