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In early spring 2003, believing that Saddam Hussein not only had weapons of mass destruction but was about to use them, American and British troops (with some few other allies) attacked Iraq. Their declared intention was to head off the possibility of an ultimately catastrophic sort of warfare never before experienced. Their leaders reasoned that the only viable defense against this formidable new threat was an early and vigorous offense. And so war came again to the region where it has longest been known.

Iraq is a major part of the vast swath of land arcing from the Nile north and east to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that has long been called the cradle of civilization. Evidence of the oldest settled civilization on earth has been found there. So far as we now know, it is where humans first learned to break ground with tools in order to cultivate plants and grow crops, where they first coaxed metals from the earth and learned to fashion them into more-sophisticated tools, where they first settled into communities organized for survival, and first used papyrus or clay to record their thoughts, transactions, and prayers.

But in this cradle was a changeling that bore darker gifts. The same ground furrowed by the earliest plows was churned as well by the heavy wheels of the earliest fighting vehicles. The metals that made the sickle also made the sickle sword. Communal organizations that built irrigation systems and pyramids also organized armies and built walls against enemies, and the written word with which they wrote sublime psalms praising gods praised warriors, too, and administered far-flung empires won by those warriors wielding weapons made from the new metals.

The changeling in the cradle was war.

It is fitting that the cradle of civilization is also war’s cradle: War requires the kind of mass resources and organization that only civilization can provide, and so the fertile ground from which men harvested civilization’s first fruits also nurtured the dragon-tooth seeds of warfare. Conflict between and among humans at an early era in this region should come as no surprise. After all, humanity’s first murder — Cain killing his brother, Abel — comes early in Genesis.

It is likely that the simple bow was in use here by 10,000 b.c., and not likely that animals were its only targets. At Jebel Sahaba in present-day southern Egypt, archaeologists unearthed one of the world’s oldest cemeteries. Among the burial plots is the infamous Site 117, where the skeletons of 59 souls were found who came to an unquestionably violent end some time around 10,000. Who the victims were and exactly how they died is not known, but historian Arther Ferrill thinks these bones may provide ‘the first extensive skeletal evidence for warfare in prehistoric times.’

Tel es-Sultan on the west bank of the Jordan River is the site of ancient Jericho, where excavations in the early 1950s by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon yielded another tantalizing glimpse of mankind’s early experience of war. Often called the world’s oldest city, the first Jericho was built by Neolithic people more than ten thousand years ago. Perhaps as early as 7000 b.c., an extensive fortification system defended the town, then home to about twenty-five hundred people. The world’s oldest city was sheltered by the world’s first fortress. A wall ten feet thick and thirteen feet high encircled the ten-acre town, and hewn from solid stone at its base was a moat thirty feet wide and ten feet deep. Within the wall stood a circular tower thirty feet high with an interior stone stairway. (The high wall and tower are elements of military architecture that would be used in the West until the widespread use of cannons led to the adoption of the low, thick-walled trace italienne during the Renaissance.)

These two intriguing glimpses reveal a Near East already familiar with organized, communal violence. Knowledge of conditions prevalent at the time may help flesh out the sparse archaeological evidence from sites like Tel es-Sultan and Jebel Sahaba. The cradle of civilization is also known as the Fertile Crescent, and that name provides an important clue. In that region first grew the wild einkorn and emmer, wheats that played a pivotal role in the Neolithic Revolution — man’s transition from hunter-gatherer to emergent agrarian. Stone agricultural tools found at Karim-Shehir in northern Iraq provide the first evidence of cultivation at about 7000 b.c. Those regions were generally grassy highlands bordered by arid plains, a frontier of drastically shifting conditions that turned it into the world’s oldest battleground. For war begins over corn, not meat.

The frontier tension between the rapidly evolving agricultural societies springing up throughout the region and their wilderness-wandering counterparts, still dependent on hunting and gathering for their subsistence, may help provide the subtext for the ancient finds at Jebel Sahaba and Tel es-Sultan. We might consider those sites evidence of some of the earliest clashes of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ always a fruitful source of contention, and one still fueling much of the region’s deadly turbulence.

The pattern was established early: Nomads roving the marginal lands outside of the fertile areas would raid their more-settled neighbors. Initially, all the advantages were with the nomads. As John Keegan pointed out in his History of Warfare, these nomads had for centuries developed the skills that gave them mastery over the flocks on which they depended for life itself:


It was flock management, as much as slaughter and butchery, which made the pastoralists so cold-bloodedly adept at confronting the sedentary agriculturalists of the civilized lands in battle….[B]attle formations were likely to have been loose, discipline weak and battlefield behavior crowd- or herdlike. Working a herd however was the pastoralists’ stock in trade. They knew how to break a flock up into manageable sections, how to cut off a line of retreat by circling to a flank, how to compress scattered beasts into a compact mass, how to isolate flock leaders, how to dominate superior numbers by threat and menace, how to kill the chosen few while leaving the mass inert and subject to control.


In addition to these skills, the ability of hunters to kill quickly and without any trace of sentiment contrasted with the agrarians’ tendency to value domesticated animals as long-term investments and companions.

By the fourth millennium b.c., much that defines civilization’s material culture existed in the Fertile Crescent. The cultivation of plants and domestication of animals were widespread. People smelted copper and tin, mixed them, and cast the resulting bronze into tools and weapons. Evidence of the earliest ox-drawn plows appeared in Sumer about 3000 b.c. The wheel quickly evolved from a potter’s stationary tool to the device that allowed the ox cart to move easily. And although the role of writing in warfare was minimal before a.d. 1500, its invention was crucial to the administration of the large empires of the ancient world and the armies that ruled them. The earliest known pictographs are from Kish around 3500 b.c.

Behind these seemingly innocent, civilizing improvements also inexorably crept the advance of matters military. During the two thousand years after the beginning of the fourth millennium b.c., war went from a relative rarity to an established part of the human experience. According to military historians Richard Gabriel and Karen Metz, ‘This period saw the emergence of the whole range of social, political, economic, psychological, and military technologies that made the conduct of war a relatively normal part of social existence.’ Increasingly, cohesive villages coalesced into city-states. Cities were well established in Mesopotamia by 3000 b.c., and it is this social revolution that lead to what Israeli general-cum-archaeologist Yigael Yadin called ‘a period of extraordinary military activity which brought in its wake innovations and developments in branches in the art of warfare.’

When the hitherto peaceful Sumerians took to organized warfare around 3100 b.c., they did so with enthusiasm. Although none of the thirteen Mesopotamian cities at the start of the third millennium b.c. was walled, that soon changed. Previously undefended cities sprouted walls, metal weapons and helmets appeared, and, most particularly, the word ‘battle’ was frequently inscribed on clay tablets. Regular combat between Mesopotamia and Elam (present-day western Iran) is known to have occurred around the dawn of Mesopotamian history.

The very first ruler of whom we have positive evidence is Enmebaragesi, king of Kish (circa 2700 b.c.). In the King List, an ancient record of the rulers of Sumer, he is noted as having ‘carried away as spoil the weapons of Elam.’ Around the time of Enmebaragesi’s campaign against Elam came the earliest account of a long-distance campaign. King Gilgamesh of Uruk needed cedar for construction of a temple, and set off for the mountains: ‘I will cut down the cedar. An everlasting name I will establish for myself! Orders…to the armorers will I give….’ And Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316 b.c.) provided history with the name of its first career conqueror. Cuneiform records suggest that in his fifty-plus-year reign he fought at least thirty-four wars.

In effect, the Sumerians introduced a period in history that took militarism several steps forward. And with the advance of militarism came a growing preoccupation with the three key components of successful warfare: mobility, firepower, and security. What ensued could reasonably be called mankind’s first arms race. According to Yigael Yadin:


New tactics introduced by one side prompted new counter-tactics by the other. These in turn produced further tactical innovations by the first. Weapons development followed the same process. The appearance of the composite bow, for example, with its increased power of penetration, led to the invention of the coat of mail for defense. This in turn provided a further challenge for a weapon to defeat armor. And so the process continued, leading to advances in both offensive and defensive battle devices. Similarly, the various types of city fortifications can be understood only in the light of standard patterns of attack on cities prevalent during the different periods, and in particular the use of the battering ram.


There is strong archaeological support for Yadin’s theory. The so-called Royal Standard (circa 2700 b.c.), found in the royal cemetery of Ur, is one of the oldest military documents. Its three registers detail a Sumerian army of the third millennium b.c. The soldiers in the middle register are armed with spears and protected by the earliest known armor: metal-studded capes and metal helmets. We also see the mobile fighting platform, and with it the first known depiction of the wheel in war. Not yet a chariot, this was a heavy, four-wheeled battlewagon slung low to the ground and pulled by a team of four onagers, or wild asses. Each wagon was manned by a driver and a warrior armed with light javelins. Tellingly, depictions of battle carts appear almost simultaneously with those of the first ox carts.

For a glimpse of this force in action, we can look at the Stele of Vultures, erected to celebrate the victory of King Eanatum of Lagash over neighboring Umma, two Sumerian city-states, around 2450 b.c. It gives us our first indication of an organized army: a phalanx of heavy spearmen six files deep and eight across, wearing helmets and carrying heavy rectangular shields. The stele shows Eanatum himself aboard his battlewagon, brandishing sickle sword and spear, a brace of light javelins at his side.

He is leading a contingent of light troops armed with axes and long spears, and although they wear helmets, they carry no shields. Presumably the use of a shield would have forced them to forego one of their offensive weapons, either ax or spear. Although this phalanx resembles its more famous Greek namesake, it precedes it by two thousand years.

Apparently, it was a potent force, but it lacked any long-range offensive capability. The composite bow did not make its first-known appearance until the days of Sargon’s grandson, Naram-Sin of Akkad, on a rock carving of the mid-third millennium b.c. So dominant did this weapon become that it was still decisive on the battlefield thousands of years later.The sickle sword, probably Sumerian in origin, eventually became the standard close-in weapon of the ancient Israelite and Egyptian armies. The Sumerians also introduced the socketed ax to the battlefield, probably in response to the appearance of body armor. Placing the ax socket over a shaft and securing it with rivets made it a much more reliable weapon. This, in combination with its tapering blade, made it the first truly penetrating hand weapon — the logical reaction to armor. All told, Sumerian ingenuity accounted for at least six major innovations on early Near Eastern battlefields.

At the southwestern extreme of the Fertile Crescent, the nascent kingdom of Egypt — although its military development lagged somewhat — broke plenty of new ground. Possible warfare between Egypt and Sumer is hinted at as early as the Naqada II Period (3500-3300 b.c.) on the Gebel el-Arak flint knife. The carvings on the ivory handle of this artifact seem to depict a battle between indigenous Nile boats, on the one hand, and Mesopotamian boats with flat bottoms and high prows and sterns, on the other. Less ambiguous is the narrative from the tomb of Uni (circa 2300 b.c.), which seems to be the first coherent written account of any military campaign. Uni was a general under Old Kingdom Pharaoh Pepi I, and his tomb walls tell the tale of a combined land-sea expedition to the ‘Gazelle’s Nose,’ believed to be Mount Carmel, near the Mediterranean coast in present-day northern Israel.

Three centuries later, from the Twelfth Dynasty tomb of Khety at Beni Hasan, comes the first depiction of an early battering ram. It was a simple affair, three soldiers in a covered enclosure hammering away at a wall with a long pole. About the same time, the Egyptians constructed the first ‘Maginot Line,’ a line of forts strung 250 miles between the first and fourth cataracts of the Nile, along the boundary of Upper Egypt and Nubia.

Probably because it was protected by sea to its north and by desert to its east and west, Egypt seems to have been constrained in warfare by ritual and anachronism, even through the Middle Kingdom (1991-1785 b.c.). Bronze weaponry was already well known throughout the region, even in Egypt itself, but pharaonic armies prior to the rearmament program of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 b.c.) were armed primarily with clubs and flint spears. They wore neither helmets nor body armor, even though both had already long been in use among their rivals.

Even so, the Egyptians made innovations during the Old Kingdom period that would become widely adopted. For instance, they were the first to use conscription to levy troops, and the first to devise military titles and ranks.

Early Egyptian fighting was not always merely ritualistic in nature, as shown by the gaping ax wound in the skull of the Seventeenth Dynasty pharaoh Sekenre. In all likelihood, Sekenre died fighting the Hyksos invaders who had dominated Egypt in its Second Intermediate Period, from the eighteenth to the sixteenth centuries b.c. The Hyksos had swept out of the East firing composite bows from their revolutionary new two-wheeled fighting platforms — chariots.

The development of the light chariot and the composite bow seems to have coincided fairly closely, probably by the middle of the eighteenth century b.c. Although it is unclear which innovation came first, the pairing of the two made the chariot, in the words of ancient historian William McNeill, ‘the master weapon of the age.’ The composite bow, shorter and more powerful than its predecessors, was perfectly suited for firing above the chariot rail. In combination, they created a lethal strike force that no army of the day could withstand. Such was the impact of the chariot on the power balance of its time that thirty-seven hundred years later, when the Israeli army developed its first tank, they named it the Merkava, or Chariot.

But chariots demanded both a level of specialization and a support structure previously unknown to warfare. Use of the chariot often depended on a specially trained warrior class, the maryanu. Probably Mitanni in origin, the maryanu (literally ‘chariot warriors’) were early international mercenaries — high-priced and loyal only when convenient. Beyond the need for this specialized fighting force, the vehicle itself demanded its own small army of support technicians to build and maintain it, to train and feed its horses (at least two per chariot), and to service it on campaign. The reliefs of the Battle of Kadesh (1294 b.c.) at Abu Simbel show not only battle scenes but also much about the logistics of the campaign, with special attention to the chariot-repair depots.

The expulsion of the Hyksos in the sixteenth century b.c. did not signal a return to the military status quo in Egypt: The days of ritual warfare protected by geographic insularity were over. From then on, Egypt would be an integral part of the larger geopolitical picture. During the New Kingdom period, Egypt would use her new weapons and technologies to become the region’s next formidable power, reaching its broadest expanse under Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Thuthmose III (1490-1436 b.c.), who is often called the ‘Napoleon of Egypt.’ (It is interesting that, although the pharaoh preceded the emperor by roughly thirty-three hundred years, no one ever thinks of calling Napoleon the ‘Thuthmose of France’!)

Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was fond of saying that the book of Joshua is the model of a perfect battle report. However, an Egyptian scribe named Tjaneni in the fifteenth century b.c. actually gave us history’s first detailed battle account. Tjaneni recounted Thuthmose’s stunning victory at the Battle of Megiddo, 1469 b.c.:


Year 23, first month of summer, day 21, the exact day of the feast of the new moon. Appearance of the King at dawn. An order was given to the whole army to pass. His majesty set out on a chariot of fine gold, decked in his shining armour like strong-armed Horus, lord of action, like Mont of Thebes, his father Amun strengthening his arm. The southern wing of his majesty’s army was at a hill south of the Qina [brook], and the northern wing to the northwest of Megiddo, while his majesty was in their centre, Amun protecting his person [in] the melee, and the strength of [Seth pervading] his limbs.


Thuthmose smashed his enemies in a great chariot battle, but his men stopped to loot the enemy camp, allowing their quarry to escape behind the city walls and forcing Thuthmose to lay siege. Siegecraft being still in its infancy, Megiddo re-sisted for seven months before finally suing for peace. Refinement and perfection of siege techniques would have to wait for the rise of the Assyrian Empire several centuries later.

Still, the Egyptian army of the New Kingdom introduced a number of its own significant firsts. Horseback riding is known to have occurred along the Nile by the fourteenth century b.c. Soon after, there are depictions of a mounted soldier. He is hardly a cavalryman. He rides bareback, lacks stirrups, and sits too far back on his mount to be an effective fighter — but there he is. And even one of the first major battles on salt water (circa 1186 b.c.), between Ramses III and the Sea People — mainly Philistines — is depicted in the reliefs at Medinet Habu.

The Israelites appeared on the scene in the thirteenth century b.c. Although never the greatest military force in the region, they too would contribute to the evolution of warfare. ‘With ruses make war,’ advises Proverbs 20:18, written in the time of Solomon, circa 970-928 b.c. (Five hundred years later, Sun Tzu would write, ‘Warfare is the art of deceit.’)

When ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,’ he may well have been history’s first general to use psychological warfare. For seven days he had his army — accompanied by priests blowing rams’ horn trumpets and carrying the ark of the covenant — circle the Canaanite city’s walls. We can imagine that at the first appearance of the Israelites’ noisy procession, the Canaanites must have scrambled to man Jericho’s defenses. On the second day, too, they leapt to their positions. And again on the third. But after the same thing had happened six days in a row, they probably became inured. On the seventh day, the Israelites made seven circuits. Whatever the bizarre performance meant, the defenders must have thought that it obviously was not a threat. But upon finishing the seventh lap, the Israelites let out a shout and attacked, catching the defenders off guard.

Joshua gets credit, too, for a strikingly modern gathering of and reliance on intelligence. When he sent his spies into Canaan (‘Go view the land, even Jericho.’ Joshua 2:1), he was asking for a report on the capabilities and intentions of the people his army was facing. A source no less authoritative than the CIA evaluated this information gathering and rated it a major success, reporting, ‘Joshua’s operation, conducted in private by professionals, led to an achievement of national destiny.’

The ancient upper Euphrates city of Mari practiced sending out reconnaissance patrols to take prisoners and bring them back for interrogation. According to one of the letters in the archives of Mari:


Hammurabi spoke to me as follows: a heavily armed force had gone to raid the enemy column, but there was no suitable base to be found, so that force returned empty-handed and the column of the enemy is proceeding in good order without panic. Now let a light armed force go to raid the enemy column and capture informers [literally ‘men of tongue’].


From these prisoners came fresh information that interrogators forwarded to army superiors, including information about troop strength, movements, and objectives. Care was taken to differentiate between hearsay and direct information.There was, in general, an appreciation of the value of good intelligence in the ancient Near East. The earliest known maps are among the clay tablets of Sumer (circa 2500 b.c.), and they deal with geography that is still of intense topographic focus today — the area between Babylon (in present-day central Iraq) and the Persian Gulf. (Perhaps those maps were the result of reports from men of tongue.)

The invention of iron changed everything, and led to an incredibly dynamic period of military development. Within a few centuries of its appearance among the Hittites (circa 1300 b.c.), iron technology had spread throughout Egypt and Mesopotamia. The strength and durability of iron, although important, were only part of the reason for its enormous impact. It was the economy of the metal that truly made it the backbone of ancient armies. Unlike bronze, it did not require the alloying of copper with rare tin to harden it. It was more readily found, more easily extracted, and more reliably forged (rather than cast) — all of which put manufacturing mass quantities of iron weapons within the means of even the poorest states.

The ability to equip larger armies led to larger armies. A Bronze Age army circa 2300 b.c. might briefly field perhaps fifty-four hundred men. By comparison, the Egyptian army of 1300 b.c. numbered one hundred thousand. The Assyrian army six centuries later was twice that size. The exponential increase in size demanded entirely new concepts of raising and training troops, of strategy and tactics, of logistics — in short, of everything.

These armies were not only bigger but were far more diversified, with specialty units of infantry, cavalry, charioteers, artillery, and engineers. Each branch had its own particular requirements and logistics, and so the logistical services themselves had to evolve radically. We have already seen that the Egyptians brought mobile chariot repair battalions with them on campaign. The Assyrians created the musarkisus, a logistical branch to specifically provide for the needs of their cavalry. Persia’s Great King Darius I imposed history’s first coinage on his realm in the sixth century b.c., allowing his logistical branch to anticipate the needs of his campaigns with far greater precision (and, as a byproduct, gave rise to the earliest military contractors).

Echoing down from the Fertile Crescent’s Iron Age come two other seemingly modern concepts — ecological and biological warfare. When Sargon II of Assyria attacked neighboring Urartu (714 b.c.), he ordered his armies not only to attack their opponents in the field but also to destroy granaries, fill irrigation ditches, and cut down fruit trees. It is clear that this was a new development in the early warfare of the region. The Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, prohibits warring on trees: ‘When thou shalt besiege a city…, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof…; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?’

But trees were used for siege engines. Armies on the move carried with them only the most necessary manufactured iron components of larger equipment. For the structures and framework of their catapults and crossbows, towers, and ladders, they depended on raw materials — trees — from the theater of operations. This new artillery did not depend only on stones or oversized arrows as ammunition. In an early foreshadowing of biological warfare, ancient accounts tell of them being used to fling dead horses, pieces of bodies, even poisonous snakes into a besieged city.

The earliest written references to artillery put it on the walls of Jerusalem in the reign of King Uzziah (783-742 b.c.): ‘And he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal’ (2 Chronicles, 26:15). This is probably an anachronism. The Assyrians, certainly the preeminent military force of the time, show in their reliefs no knowledge whatsoever of this kind of artillery.

Methods of attacking across bodies of water — troops using pontoon bridges, or maneuvering through marshlands in reed boats or on inflated goat skins — were introduced by the Assyrians, who seemed to have innate genius for war.

Strategic hamlet programs appeared under Tiglath-Pileser III. Rather than weaken his magnificent war machine by detaching forces to garrison the vast areas they had conquered, he ordered his troops to round up the members of the defeated local population most needed to raise rebellion — commanders, armorers, smiths, warriors, etc. — and resettle them in new communities in foreign lands, where they had nothing in common with the indigenous populations.

No detail was too humble for Assyrian ingenuity as long as it related to war, right down to the footgear of their troops. Understanding that troops are only as healthy as their feet, they issued the first standardized military footgear, an early jackboot. This consisted of a knee-high leather boot with iron plates sewn into the shins, and thick heels studded with hobnails. This boot could be worn in any climate or terrain, minimized foot injuries both on the march and in combat, and kept the formidable Assyrian army on the move.

That was a good thing, because they had a lot of territory to cover. The Iron Age Assyrian Empire covered more than five times the area of Bronze Age Sumer, and included history’s earliest geographic ‘choke point,’ Palestine — the crucial land bridge connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa. Sandwiched between sea and desert, it was the battleground by default for competing ancient empires. Its possession remained indispensable throughout much of ancient and even modern history, putting that small part of the Fertile Crescent under what Israeli historian Chaim Herzog described as ‘constant concentric pressure.’

As the birthplace of three great Western religions, this area was probably doomed to give rise to a few particularly vicious blights: religious warfare, genocide, and terrorism. The first war for religious freedom (of which we have any knowledge) is the second century b.c. rebellion of the Maccabees against their Seleucid overlords.

During the centuries to come, both jihad and crusade would boil through the region, leaving their particularly bloody palm prints behind. The pages of the Bible reverberate with accounts of genocide, commands by God to the Israelites to exterminate their Canaanite foes. One bloodcurdling example will suffice: ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’ (I Sam. 15:3).

Terrorism too has numerous precedents in the turmoil of the Fertile Crescent. At the time of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (a.d. 66-69), the Jewish nationalists called themselves Zealots. But to their Roman enemies, they were the Sicarii, thus called for the sica, or short daggers they carried under their cloaks and used to murder their religio-political opponents. Contemporary Jewish historian Josephus attested to the vague fears the Sicarii inspired, writing in Bellum Judaicum: ‘…[M]any were slain every day, while the fear men were in of being so served was more afflicting than the calamity itself….’

Even the root word for assassin comes to us from the region, via the story of the ‘Old Man of the Mountain,’ Hasan ibn-Sabah. In the eleventh century a.d., ibn-Sabah, an early practitioner of psychological warfare and brainwashing, created a secret corps of elite killers, fidais, whom he sent out to terrorize and murder his opponents with ruthless efficiency. Allegedly users of hashish, these fidais were dubbed ‘hashish-eaters,’ or hashishin, from which the modern word is derived.

Skipping ahead nearly a millenium, at the outbreak of 1973’s Yom Kippur War in which Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack against Israel, military scholars thoughtfully declared the debut of what they called the ‘electronic battlefield.’ After two wars against Iraq and various interventions in the Balkans and elsewhere, during which the technology of war took center stage, this new form of warfare has become increasingly familiar to us in the early twenty-first century.

There is that one biblical concept that remains as yet untried, one that we want desperately to avoid: apocalyptic war — war that destroys the world. The concept of a final Armageddon comes down to us as a distant echo of another of the region’s choke points. (The word ‘Armageddon’ is derived from the Hebrew name Khar [Mount] Megiddo.)

Its ominous implications commend yet another biblical precept on warfare, one that has had little currency to date. It is the famous response in 1 Kings 20:11 of King Ahab to Ben-Hadad of Aram’s arrogant threat to reduce Israel’s capital of Samaria to no more than a small pile of dust: ‘Tell him, ‘Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off.”


This article was written by Ira Meistrich and originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of MHQ. For more great articles, subscribe to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History today!