weapons and warfare, naval
- No naval warfare of any consequence occurred within the confines of ancient Mesopotamia, mainly because the region itself contained no large open bodies of water and the local inhabitants were mainly landlubbers, except for their travel on the rivers in small boats. The only major waterway that bordered Mesopotamia was the Persian Gulf, and no major enemies with war fleets ever materialized on its shores. So there was no need for the Sum-erians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians to build large numbers of warships of their own. Nevertheless, two of the empires that controlled Mesopotamia - the Persians and the Seleucids - had larger political designs that sometimes carried their armies into the eastern Mediterranean region. Inevitably, the Persian and Seleucid kings were compelled to use ships to transport troops and supplies for land battles as well as to fight sea battles against the Greeks and the Romans. Though these naval encounters, which were largely provoked by Mesopotamian rulers, were few in number, their consequences were often huge. If Persia's king Xerxes I had won, rather than lost, the Battle of Salamis in 480 b.c. against the Greeks, for example, hemayhavegoneontoconquermuchor all of Europe. Also, Seleucid naval losses to the Romans contributed to the decline of Seleucid power in the Near East.Because the Persians were largely a land power with their capitals situated far from the Mediterranean, they did not view it as cost effective to build and maintain large fleets of warships of their own. So they adopted the practice of commandeering vessels from those of their subject peoples who already had Mediterranean fleets. In particular, Persian admirals - or foreign admirals answering to the Persian king - used Phoenician and Greek ships. The breakdown of Persian vessels that fought in the empire's first major naval battle illustrates this policy in action. In 499 b.c. most of the Greek cities situated along the western coast of Anatolia rebelled rebel forces faced a Persian fleet at Lade, against King Darius I. In 494 the allied near the Greek city of Miletus in south-western Anatolia. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, who was born at about this time, the Persian squadron had some 600 ships. Most of these were Phoenician, but there were also contingents from Caria in southern Anatolia, Cyprus, and Egypt, all regions then subject to Persia. In contrast, the Greeks had about 350 vessels.The ships on both sides were mostly triremes. The chief warship of the mid-first millennium b.c., the trireme (trieres) was typically about 130 feet (40m) long, 18 feet (6m) wide, and carried a crew of about 200, 170 of whom were rowers. The rest were sailors and marines (fighters, including archers and men armed with spears and swords). The main battle strategy and tactics these crews employed were naturally intended to sink or board enemy vessels. The most common tactic was the ramming run, which utilized a metal-covered wooden ram, often called a "beak," mounted on a ship's prow. Various tactics developed to outmaneuver opposing vessels and make it easier to ram them. For example, one trireme might approach an enemy ship at an angle and sheer off most of its oars on one side, rendering it helpless; then a second attacker, stationed directly behind the first, would move in for the kill. Still another offensive tactic was to use grappling hooks or ropes to lock two ships together; the marines from one vessel then boarded the other and fought hand to hand.These were the kinds of ships and tactics used at Lade in 494 b.c., although not all the ships got a chance to employ them. Not long after the battle began, some of the Greek contingents turned tail and ran. "As for the Samians [Greeks from Samos, an island off the Anatolian coast]," Herodotus reports, it is said that they abandoned their place in the line, got sail on their vessels, and made for home - with the exception of eleven triremes, whose officers stayed and fought. . . . The sight of the Samians under sail for home was too much for the Lesbians [from the island of Lesbos], who were next in the line. They soon followed suit, as indeed did the majority of the Greek fleet. Of those who remained at their posts and fought it out . . . were the Chians [from the island of Chios], who fought a brilliant and most valiant action. (Histories 6.15)Despite the heroics of the Chians, the larger Persian forces won the day at Lade.But this first major Persian foray into the world of large sparring war fleets also marked the high point of Persian naval warfare. Four years later Darius sent a fleet across the Aegean Sea to punish two of the Greek cities, Athens and Eretria, for helping the Anatolian Greeks in their insurrection. The ships disembarked a large army at Marathon, northeast of Athens. But the Athenians proceeded to crush the invaders and capture several of the ships, after which the rest of the vessels sailed back to Anatolia. The worst Persian naval loss occurred in 480 b.c., when Darius's son, Xerxes, led perhaps a thousand or more ships to Greece. While the Persian king watched from a makeshift throne set up on a nearby hilltop, about six hundred of these ships engaged a united Greek fleet in the Salamis straits southwest of Athens. Though the Greeks had far fewer ships, they won a resounding victory. As Cornell University scholar Barry Strauss points out:The Greeks took advantage of the unusual geography of the Salamis straits. The narrow space made it impossible for the Persians to use their superiority in [numbers and] speed. . . . Their boats collided with each other. . . . [This and other factors] turned the battle of Salamis from a hammer blow by Persia into a trap laid by Greeks. Persia hoped to crush the Greeks . . . but blundered into an ambush in which its [fleet's] very mass worked against it. Rarely have so manybeenhurtbysofew. (The Battle of Salamis, p. 207)An eyewitness account of the carnage has survived in the form of a passage from The Persians by the Athenian playwright Aeschylus, who actually fought in the battle. In the play, a Persian messenger returns to Mesopotamia and tells King Xerxes' mother:A Greek ship charged first, and chopped off the whole stern of a Persian galley. Then charge followed charge on every side. At first by its huge impetus our fleet withstood them. But soon, in that narrow space, our ships were jammed in hundreds; none could help another. They rammed each other with their prows of bronze; and some were stripped of every oar. Meanwhile the enemy came round us in a ring and charged. Our vessels heeled over; the sea was hidden, carpeted with wrecks and dead men; all the shores and reefs were full of dead. Then every ship we had broke rank and rowed for life. The Greeks seized fragments of wrecks and broken oars and hacked and stabbed at our men swimming in the sea. . . . The whole sea was one din of shrieks and dying groans, till night and darkness hid the scene. (The Persians 406-22)Two centuries after the Persian disaster at Salamis, which may have saved Europe from domination by a Near Eastern power, the Mesopotamian-based Seleucid mon-archs also vied for power and wealth in the pivotal eastern Mediterranean region. Like the Persians, they utilized triremes and other vessels from foreign lands, especially Rhodes and other Greek islands lying off the western coast of Anatolia. In the late 190s b.c. the Seleucid king Antio-chus III found himself at odds with the Romans, who had recently stunned the world by decisively defeating a large Macedonian phalanx in mainland Greece. An-tiochus led an army to Greece with the intention of driving the Romans out. But instead they drove him out, and in 191 b.c. he tried to defeat them at sea near cape corycus on the Anatolian coast. The Roman ships were supplemented by Rhodian vessels; while Antiochus's admiral, Polyx-enides, was himself a Rhodian. The Seleu-cid fleet ended up fleeing the scene, and the victorious Romans sank ten enemy ships and captured another thirteen. Two smaller naval encounters between the Seleucids and the Romans occurred in the following year. After the eventual decline of the Seleucid Empire, the Parthians and Sassanians who inherited the Mesopota-mian plains concentrated their money and energies on developing their land forces, especially their cavalry. Neither people at-temptedtobecomeanavalpower.
Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. Don Nardo Robert B. Kebric. 2015.
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