World War BC? On Tollense, Troy, And The Deep History Of The Professional Soldier
A Bronze Age battlefield from Homeric time, but in Germany
“Over 10,000 human bones were found. This is the largest series of human remains that we have from this period in this region,” archaeologist Detlef Jantzen told Deutche Welle in 2017. Painstaking digs of the prehistoric battlefield at Tollense, Germany had by then revealed “a whole series of bronze weapons, such as lances, arrowheads and knives … a few wooden clubs which were used for battle as well as — and this is also remarkable — the remains of about five horses. Even though it's unclear exactly how many there were, it does show that horses died on that battlefield.”
Forget about shock cavalry tactics, though. Radiocarbon dating has placed the battle sometime around 1250 BC and Assyrians bred the first combat-ready riding horses five centuries later. As no wheels have been identified at the battle site, we can rule out the presence of chariots, leaving logistics, leadership, and messaging as a more likely set of explanations for the presence of horses. Five animals among what appear to be 130 dead men (they are all men) is consistent with primitive armies simply using pack horses. The word “primitive” can be contentious; in the context of polemology, it merely means the original state of warfare. Featuring a mix of Stone Age and Bronze Age weapons, Tollense is a window on the late Neolithic military (r)evolution, horses and riders included.
This was a battle between armies, an event in a larger conflict. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people. That’s incredible for the Bronze Age,” Jantzen told the magazine Science in 2016. “Twenty-seven percent of the skeletons show signs of healed traumas from earlier fights, including three skulls with healed fractures.” Jantzen “and [Thomas] Terberger argue that if one in five of the battle’s participants was killed and left on the battlefield, that could mean almost 4000 warriors took part in the fighting,” Andrew Curry wrote. Carried out between 2009 and 2015, the excavation was pronounced a “smoking gun” that Homeric battles were common in the Bronze Age. It happened around the same time that the Bronze Age ‘collapsed’ in the Mediterranean, where Egyptian propaganda describes a similar hodgepodge army of ‘sea peoples.’ If Tollense is a smoking gun, then it points to the stunning possibility of a primitive ‘world war’ over bronze.
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