Chapter 2 - The World's First Armies
The evolution of sophisticated armies and the conduct of war in Sumer and Egypt, while truly a major development in human history, by no means represented the ultimate development of warfare in the ancient world. Much to the contrary. As sophisticated as the armies were in these societies, they represented only the beginning of a period of military development, the Iron Age, that continued for another two thousand years. In this later period it is fair to say that with only a few exceptions, most notably the classical Greeks, the world witnessed a period of fifteen hundred years in which the conduct of war increased in scope, scale, lethality, and sophistication in an unbroken, upward trend that finally ended with the collapse of the Roman imperium in the 5th century A.D. And when that period finally did come to an end, it took the armies of Europe more than a thousand years to reach the level of sophistication in war that the armies of the Iron Age had so consistently demonstrated for more than a millennium.
During the Iron Age almost every aspect of war was developed to modern scale. Armies increased in size with a corollary increase in their destructive power, which further produced larger and larger battles resulting in higher and higher casualty rates. The integration of military structures with their host societies increased greatly, in some instances (Assyria) producing the ancient equivalent of the modern military state. This permitted armies for the first time to suffer major defeats while the state retained the power to continue military operations for years on end (Second Punic War). The productive power of the state to generate ever larger populations and more sophisticated economies for use in war also increased, culminating in the ability of some states to give birth to an even larger form of sociomilitary organization, the imperium.
At the same time there was a genuine revolution in military technology that increased the range and rates of fire of weapons, providing armies with an ever increasing killing capability. When this ability joined with the ability to logistically support and maneuver larger armies over greater and greater distances, the ability to conduct war increased almost exponentially over the level of the Egyptians and Sumerians fifteen hundred years earlier. Indeed, it seems likely that the period between the collapse of Sumer and the fall of Rome can legitimately be viewed as the most dynamic period of military development ever witnessed by man until the 20th century. Modern warfare and its corollary, the destruction of whole societies, were already facts of life in the ancient world. Seen in this context, the invention and use of mechanized weapons in the modern era represents more of a variation on a very old theme than a qualitative change in the evolution of warfare.