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Iranian Army in The first half of

the first millennium BCE



Map of Iran under the Median (Mâdhâ) Dynasty (728-550BCE)




This is the period of the migration of Iranian tribes-breeders and trainers of horses-into Media, Persis, Car-mania, Parthia, and other regions, and it is militarily characterized by the use of iron and the increasing employment of cavalry [15]. Arriving with their women, children, and flocks, the Iranian horsemen settled the land, entered the service of local rulers and gradually supplanted the native aristocracy and formed political centres which eventually led to the formation of the Median and Achaemenid Empires [16]. Fortified strongholds appeared wherever the Aryans chose to settle, for instance over the mound of Siyalk, where the Necropolis B evidences the Aryan occupation in the early first millennium BCE. Here grave goods show that the warriors wore leathern helmets, and carried swords, daggers, shields, and bows with bronze- or iron-headed arrows while their horses had bronze or iron harness indicating the existence of cavalry units among the settlers [17]. The older social divisions still existed, since the tombs of the warriors at Siyalk Necropolis B, for example, were "bedecked with silver jewellery and furnished with a variety of weapons and tools, while others had only a few modest ornaments" [18]. The weapons and harness were made of iron although bronze was also employed [19]. Lorestān, for example, has produced long iron swords, bronze daggers, and picks, while from Siyalk, Hasanlu, Marliīk, and other sites iron arrow-heads, spear-heads and even remnants of bronze scale armour, helmets and ornamented harness pieces have come to light[20].


In military actions the petty princes of Iranian settlers relied mainly on their cavalry units, and evaded formidable invaders-such as the Assyrians-by swiftly retreating to mountainous areas where chariots and infantry could not operate freely. Gradually, they forced imperial states to adopt their military armament and costume. Thus, the Assyrians, who lacked cavalry units in 860 BCE, began to organize mounted divisions, and soon gained mastery in this tactical force and subjugated or plundered vast areas of neighbouring regions[21]. The Assyrian incursions into West Iran in turn helped local chiefs to unite, and so several Median states emerged in the eighth century BCE, which were ultimately incorporated into an empire. The Median dynasty used the chariot sparingly and relied mainly on the cavalry (*aspabāri attested in the proper name Aspabara [Assyrian Išpabāra[22]) furnished with fine Nisean horses. Their martial equipments were the spear (aršti), the bow, the sword, and the dagger [23]. Their mountainous country and warlike nature contributed towards the development of a costume suitable for cavalry: tight-fitting trousers (often leathern) with an additional girdle from which a short sword (acinaces) suspended along the right thigh; a long tight tunic (leathern), and a felt round headgear (tiara) with cheek flaps and neck-guard, which could also cover the mouth; and a variegated long mantle (*kantuš) thrown over the shoulders and clasped over the chest with empty sleeves suspended on the sides [24]. This Median costume rapidly gained popularity among other horse-breeding Iranians and-with slight modifications-became the general outfit of North Iranians [25].


Towards the end of the seventh century BCE, the Iranian under the Medes dynasty achieved remarkable military progress and success under their ablest king Huvaxštra (Cyaxares): "of him it is reported that he was still more warlike than any of his ancestors, and that he was the first to give organization to an Asiatic army, dividing the troops into companies, and forming distinct bodies of the spearmen, the archers, and the cavalry, who before his time had been mingled in one mass, and confused together" [26]. This testimony shows that before Huvaxštra the Iranians went to war in tribal organization-every chief bringing and leading his infantry and mounted troops-and that the king drilled the forces into an army divided into tactical groups with unified weapons; he supplemented this with a battalion of siege-engines [27]. Having organized an army (spāda, attested in the proper name Taxmaspāda [28]), and having supplemented it with Sacian archers[29], Huvaxštra finally invaded Assyria and with Babylonian cooperation he overthrew that empire [30]. Two generations later, his great-grandson, Cyrus the Great, united the Medes, Persians, and other Iranians and established the first world-empire, the Achaemenian Empire.



Contin.. The Achaemenid Period



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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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