Information about military organization comes from pictorial and written sources. The earliest visual images, from the Uruk period, represent naked men with their arms tied behind their backs. It is not clear, though, whether such scenes refer to local prisoners or captives of warfare. Depictions of armed ranks in action can be seen on such monuments as the Early Dynastic “Stele of Vultures” (see EANNATUM) or the “Standard of Ur.” They show soldiers protected by leather coats, wearing caps and helmets, and wielding spears. Their leaders ride in wooden chariots with solid wheels, driven by sturdy donkeys. On the stele commemorating the victory of Naram-Sin of Akkad over the Lullubi, his men ascend a steep mountain while the enemies are trampled underfoot or fall down the precipice. Naram-Sin carries a large bow.
   Much more detailed and numerous are the representations on NeoAssyrian palace reliefs that were meant to impress local and foreign visitors alike with the efficiency and determination of the Assyrian army. Scenes of camp life, with portable kitchens, tents, and baggage trains, showing soldiers at rest, are interspersed with the more common depictions of army on campaign, marching across all manner of territories, or setting siege to enemy towns. They represent the different divisions, such as the chariotry, the cavalry, the archers, and the foot soldiers equipped with short and long spears. Some scenes concentrate on the result of victorious battles: smoking ruins of burned towns, heaps of corpses, and clerks recording the number of casualties from a pile of severed hands. Since wars were also meant to deter insurrections, the palace reliefs served as a reminder of how the Assyrian king could punish rebels; the accompanying texts explained who was flayed, impaled, beheaded, or otherwise mutilated and why. The written sources of the royal inscriptions and annals customarily dwell on successful conquests and campaigns that brought fame and wealth to the kings who led them. In the third and much of the second millennia B.C., such campaigns were waged after the harvest, since the king only commanded a limited number of bodyguards in peacetime. Sargon of Akkad, however, claimed that “5,400 men ate with him daily,” which was an unusually large entourage and perhaps constituted the beginning of a standing army.
   In the Old Babylonian period, numbers of fighting men are sometimes recorded; the Mari letters, for example, refer to 10,000 men, and Shamshi-Addu I boasts of 60,000 under his command. In the Old Babylonian times, fighting men could be conscripted for specific campaigns, or they were part-time professionals who could raise crops on crown land for their services. On campaign they were provisioned by the local population. Since the army played such a vital role in the Assyrian empire, it was better organized than in earlier periods, with auxiliary contingents from subjugated territories. There were career possibilities in the Assyrian army, and senior officers could command a great deal of influence. Some Assyrian generals were eunuchs. They could lead campaigns when the king was unable to do so himself. The center of the army since the time of Shalmaneser III was a huge building known as the ekal masarti (Review Palace) at Kalhu (Nimrud). This served as arsenal, training ground, and administrative headquarters.
   See also WARFARE.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.


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