The Usage of Iron for Assyrian Weaponry

The powerful Assyrian Army was known for their ruthless conquering styles | Courtesy of realmofhistory.com

During the first millennium BCE, warfare with neighboring civilizations was a constant possibility. The only way a society would be safe would be by having an advantage over its attackers. The Assyrians found that advantage in the new technology of iron weapons. The Assyrian empire reached its height between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C.E., and although it would be in constant war with their various rivals, which included the Babylonians, Egyptians, and the Hittites, their military was much better equipped.1

By 800 B.C.E., the Assyrian army was ruthlessly conquering other territories with their use of iron weaponry, which was superior to the brittle bronze weapons that were still being used at the time. They adopted the Hittite’s technique of smelting iron and were the first to incorporate it in their variety of weapons. The process used involved extracting oxygen from metal ore using charcoal, leaving just the metal alone.2 Most of the iron produced at that time was used for making weapons for both short and long range, as well as armor for protection.

The short ranged weapons included iron swords, daggers, javelins, and spears.3 Iron swords were used for close combat and they gave the Assyrians a great advantage. Unlike their bronze sword counterparts, iron swords suffered less damage, and if bent, they were able to return to their original shape. The daggers were also sturdier and were used commonly on enemies. They were carefully crafted and modeled like combat knives, which were highly valued.4 The next two weapons are considered mid-ranged since they could be thrown if need be. Both spears and javelins were long pointed sticks. The spear was usually a wooden shaft with an iron spearhead and usually measured around five feet. They were used on opponents themselves, while the javelins were used to break their opponents’ shields or puncture their armor.

The Assyrian army was known for their usage of advanced iron weaponry which included the bow and arrow. | Courtesy of realmofhistory.com
King Ashurbanipal, who was a powerful Assyrian King, is pictured on  his horse with a strong iron bow and arrow, which helped the Assyrians defeat many rival armies | Courtesy of realmofhistory.com

Other forms of weaponry included those that were long ranged. One of the two main long ranged weapons included the sling. A strong army included specialist slingers who could aim a sling bullet to fire up to 1300 feet.5 It was very practical due to its cheap production cost and lightweight structure. Many soldiers were stationed at a hill fort, and with these iron slings they were able to aim their slings better. The other weapon was the bow, which either used iron tipped arrows or flaming arrows, and they had a range of up to 700 yards.6

Finally, the Assyrian army used three main iron shields, all of which were superior to previous models that had been made of either bronze or wood. The most common shield was the round shield, which could sometimes contain embedded spikes. Another shield was the convex shield, which was similar to a rectangle in shape and could also include spikes to be used as a weapon if need be. Lastly, the conical shield, like its name, was cone-like in shape. 7

Due largely to the fact that the Assyrians were the first to incorporate iron into their daily lives, they were able to build a powerful army. Assyria is remembered for its strong military, improvements in weaponry, and numerous conquests, all of which would not have been made possible without the cheap yet efficient use of iron.

  1. John Marriott and Karen Radner, “Sustaining the Assyrian Army Among Friends and Enemies in 714 BCE,” Journal Of Cuneiform Studies 67 (2015): 129.
  2. A. J. Arkell, “The Iron Age in the Sudan,” Current Anthropology 7, no. 4 (1966): 451-52.
  3. Mark Healy and Angus McBride, The Ancient Assyrians (London: Osprey, 1991), 12.
  4.  Vagn Fabritius Buchwald, Iron and Steel in Ancient Times (Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2005), 63-65.
  5.  Salem Press Encyclopedia,  January 2016, s.v. “Clubs, maces, and slings.” by Scott M. Rusch.
  6. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2015, s.v. “War and Weapons in the Ancient World,” by Wilton Eckley.
  7. A. J. Arkell, “The Iron Age in the Sudan,” Current Anthropology 7, no. 4 (1966): 451-52.

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32 Responses

  1. It is interesting how someone can just stumble onto the discovery of how to make something. In the case of iron, someone had to discover the effect of removing the oxygen out of metal ore by smelting it with charcoal. Granted, it took several centuries for humanity to reach that realization, but the process is so random, that I am surprised we had discovered it at all. I cannot imagine the feeling of Assyrian’s enemies when they were being demolished by them using weapons and armor made from a strange substance. They must have thought it was dark magic or some curse had befallen on them.

  2. This was very interesting! I did not know that the Assyrians used to use so many weapons using iron back then. It was very informative and when you mentioned the sling shot it reminded me about David and Goliath from the bible. But the story was different because David knocked down Goliath with a stone, and the Assyrians used the iron to defeat their enemies at war.

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