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Bronze Age Military Structure

During the Bronze Age, military structures varied across different regions, but some common features can be identified.

In Late Bronze Age Greece, the Mycenaean civilization was divided into a series of warrior kingdoms centered in Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, and Thebes. The Mycenaean armies were initially based on heavy infantry, equipped with spears, large shields, and occasionally armor. Military production and logistics were supervised directly from the palatial centers. Expansion towards the Aegean, the Anatolian coast, and Cyprus began in the 15th century BC.

In Egypt, only the pharaoh and the top ranks of the army were given armor, and bronze armor was also used to a limited extent in Mesopotamia. The Stele of Vultures, erected around 2450 BC, provides an early example of an organized army, depicting a phalanx of heavy spearmen six files deep and eight across, wearing helmets and carrying heavy rectangular shields.

The ability to equip larger armies with bronze weapons led to the creation of powerful empires in North Africa and the Middle East, which were linked together by diplomacy, trade, and war. Bronze was expensive to make and distribute, so only larger and richer empires could afford it on a large scale, giving them an advantage in conflicts against smaller city-states and kingdoms. The size of Bronze Age armies also increased over time, with an army circa 2300 BC possibly fielding around 5,400 men, compared to the Egyptian army of 1300 BC, which numbered around 20,000.

Bronze Age armies organized themselves differently depending on the region and specific culture. However, some general aspects of their organization can be identified. Armies were typically raised from city-states or empires, with larger forces consisting of multiple divisions representing allied cities or regions. The core of a Bronze Age army was often heavy infantry, organized into companies or units. Armies would have skirmishers and ranged units in addition to heavy infantry. Some armies had specialized units, such as a company of infantry armed with the hefty Gamlu battle-axe, possibly serving as the guard of a high-ranking officer.

Although not as prevalent as in later periods, some Bronze Age armies had limited cavalry units. These units might be supported by a squadron of chariots or horsemen. Bronze Age armies had a hierarchical command structure, with high-ranking officers leading divisions or companies. The overall commander of the army was often a king or a high-ranking noble. Armies required logistical support for supplies, transportation, and communication. This support was often organized and supervised directly from the palatial centers or the ruling elite.

Bronze Age armies employed various tactics in battle, which evolved over time and differed across regions. Armies often used formations to maximize their effectiveness in battle. Skirmishers, armed with javelins or slings, were used to harass and weaken the enemy before the main infantry engaged in close combat. Archers played a crucial role in Bronze Age warfare, providing ranged support and suppressing enemy forces from a distance. Chariots were used in some regions, such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, for rapid movement and to strike at enemy flanks or rear. Armies sought to outmaneuver their opponents by attacking their flanks or encircling them, aiming to break the enemy formation and create confusion. Armies sometimes used ambushes and surprise attacks to catch their enemies off guard and gain an advantage in battle. Armies often adopted a defensive posture, using terrain features such as hills, rivers, or fortifications to their advantage. Due to the soft nature of bronze, warriors were careful not to expose their weapons to heavy, direct blows that might break or damage them. This led to the development of specialized fighting techniques that required training and experience to master.

In conclusion, the Bronze Age saw the development of various military structures and tactics across different regions and cultures. Heavy infantry was the core of most Bronze Age armies, but they also had skirmishers, ranged units, and sometimes cavalry and chariots. Bronze weapons and armor were expensive, and only larger and richer empires could afford them on a large scale, giving them an advantage against smaller city-states and kingdoms. Bronze Age armies employed various tactics in battle, including formations, skirmishing, archery, chariot warfare, flanking, envelopment, ambush, surprise attacks, defensive tactics, and weapon conservation. These tactics were not universally employed by all Bronze Age armies, and specific strategies varied depending on the region, culture, and available resources.


Annotated Bibliography

  • Keegan, J. (1993). A History Of Warfare. Vintage.

This book provides a broad overview of the history of warfare, including a detailed analysis of the Bronze Age. Keegan argues that while technology and tactics have changed over time, the fundamental nature of warfare has remained the same. He provides a comprehensive analysis of the military structures and tactics used in the Bronze Age, including the importance of heavy infantry and the use of formations.

  • Fields, N. (2007). Bronze Age Military Equipment. Osprey Publishing.

This book provides an in-depth analysis of the military equipment used during the Bronze Age, including weapons, armor, and chariots. Fields examines the development of bronze technology and how it impacted military equipment and tactics. He also provides detailed illustrations and descriptions of various Bronze Age weapons and armor.

  • Drews, R. (1993). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe Ca. 1200 B.C.. Princeton University Press.

Drews offers a compelling argument for why the Bronze Age ended and how it was related to changes in warfare. He argues that the widespread use of iron weapons and the shift to a more mobile style of warfare played a significant role in the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations. This book provides valuable insights into the evolution of warfare during the Bronze Age and its impact on broader historical developments.

  • Snodgrass, A. (1999). The Dark Age of Greece: An Archaeological Survey of the Eleventh to the Eighth Centuries BC. Routledge.

Snodgrass provides a comprehensive survey of Greek archaeology from the end of the Bronze Age to the beginning of the Archaic period. He examines how changes in warfare impacted Greek society and culture during this period. This book provides valuable insights into how military structures and tactics evolved during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

  • Cline, E. (2014). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton University Press.

Cline offers a fascinating account of the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean around 1177 BC. He argues that a combination of factors, including earthquakes, droughts, and the invasion of the Sea Peoples, led to the collapse of these civilizations. This book provides valuable insights into the complex interactions between military structures, environmental factors, and broader historical developments during the Bronze Age.

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