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September 17, 2016

The Usage of Iron for Assyrian Weaponry

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
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

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.

Tags from the story

Assyrian Empire

iron weapons

Recent Comments

Raymond Nash Munoz III

History and this amazing article make it quite clear that advancements in technology are necessary in order to gain an edge over others. So, having read this article, I understand the significance and impact of technological advances. Though, instead of me considering the next advancements of our time, I am thinking about how we can incorporate the technology of the past into our world now. I think its important to incorporate things and ideas from our past so we can achieve balance, because balance gives us the hindsight that we easily lose in the excitement of new technologies.



7:39 am

Antonio Coffee

This article shows that technology is constantly changing how we live our lives. It also shows how technological improvement often comes from a desire to do better in war. There are many improvements that we have gotten through warfare such as radar and satellites. This is just one example of how war had advanced technology.



7:39 am

Noah Wesolowski

Finding new ways to make stronger weapons gave armies a huge advantage back in the day and when the assyrians discovered iron weapons they quickly used them to conquer other kingdoms. It is interesting to learn about how iron swords differed from bronze and all they different ways they used iron to make their weapons, and how they also improved their shields with iron.



7:39 am

Joshua Garza

Learning about the Assyrians in class, I also made me learn how lucky they were to have such a resource to fight with and make structures with. The use of iron was such an advanced thing to have back then which is why they were such a powerful force in the ancient world and were able to be so dominant on the battlefield.



7:39 am

Raul Colunga

Interesting article, I did not know that the Assyrians were the first to use iron weapons. Technological advancements can really turn the tide when it comes to warfare and from reading the article, the iron weapons made the difference when fighting other armies. The slingshots was something that took me by surprise, but it makes sense that being hit by an iron ball would not feel the greatest.



7:39 am

Alondra Lozano

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.



7:39 am

Samson Pullattu

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.



7:39 am

Seth Roen

Great good talking about how the disciding factor of a military’s superiority comes down to the technology and equipment soldiers have at their disposal. Such as the Assyrians with their iron weapons compared to their rivals in the Bronzes Age. And great job going into detail with some of the weapons the Assyrians had during their time and showing how they, pardon the pun, had an edge over their opponents



7:39 am

Madeline Chandler

Such an informative and interesting article! Very captivating. Honestly, I am not familiar with the Assyrians and their use of iron, and I did not know the information this in-depth. It is interesting to think that iron played such a strategic role during the ancient times for battle. For the sole reason, it was stronger than bronze. I think this article truly highlighted the idea that minor details during that time can play such an important role of power. I loved reading your article. Great job!



7:39 am


Hi Did the Assyrians use yokes of iron around the necks of their captives?



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