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Army Notes

The Akkadian Empire and Its Army

By Vitor Hugo

Searching for a new period of history to wargame on holidays, I decided to choose a period that markedly based its social life on warfare, Mesopotamia since 3000 B.C., and the Akkadian period. Specifically, I decided to concentrate myself on the conquests of Sargon, founder of the dynasty of Akkad.

This empire made warfare its principal way to obtain financial or economic profits, creating a political and social steadiness, apparently strong and self supported. The Sargon's Legend counselled warfare as a way of life, the sieges as the tactics, the use of weapons as the solution, and conquest the goal. This way, Sargon built up a real commercial empire. Since then, his campaigns aimed to send away the threat of others political, military and economic competitors.

The conquest of this empire by Sargon in 2334 B.C. resulted on a profound alteration on the armament and the structure of the ancient war machine. A lighter armed bow army was the preponderant element on the outcome of the confrontation with the Sumer armies, which presented a different morphology. The Sumer army was much heavier in terms of its equipment, wearing helmets and shields of copper or bronze, and manoeuvred in its typical closed formation - "the Sumerian apple."

On the contrary, the Akkadian armies were equipped in a lightness form, did not wear the copper elements, becoming more swift on manoeuvring, together with the use of the bows that allowed distant fight, giving them a incontestable superiority. Only an extremely mobile army would permit an easy and quick capacity of manoeuvre, important to establish a difference on the strategic equilibrium on the Mesopotamia world. That was what made Sargon victorious.

The technical advantage of that bow allowed shooting down their foes at a distance. Besides this factor, there was also the fact that the army would manoeuvre more quickly and easily in comparison with the block pike formations. Thus, the Akkadian bowmen had an important role, as the battle result would depend upon their capacity to decimate the compact the Sumer shield ranks, creating breaches through which to infiltrate infantry armed with axes, spears and daggers.

Observing the army lists, I noticed that I/11(a) army presents five elements of light troops (4 x 2 Ps and 1 x 7 Hd), which in fact gives some lightness to this army. However, the fundamental strategic element of Sargon (Bw) is not contemplated . Thus, I elaborated a proposition for a variant army list, that in my point of view, is more according with historical reality and which express the factor that made it possible for Sargon to conquer and maintain his empire.

DBA I/11. (a) Variant Army for I/11. (a)
Akkadian 2334BC-2139BC Akkadian 2334BC-2139BC
1 HCh (Gen) 1 HCh (Gen)
2 3Sp or 4Pk 1

3Sp, 4Pk or 4Bw

4 4 Pk 3 4Pk
4 2Ps 2 2Ps
1 7Hd 1 2Ps or 7Hd
4 4Bw

Substituting the four bases of Ps for Bw and allowing an option for one more Bw, reducing the Pk in a way to make the army more swift, light and effective.

In terms of the DBA tactical warfare factor interpretation, emerges the principal problem. This is the incapacity of Bw to confront and became superior against Pk. The unique solution is, in this case, to attribute a factor (+ 4 vs Pk, thus making a +1 difference) more accordingly to that historical reality, in such a way that the Sumerian commander could experiment and understand the difficulty on holding the Akkadian forces. That advantage, mathematically speaking, gives to the bows 21 victories, 5 pushes and 10 defeats, on a 10 for 1 proportion.

This fact suggests that apart from the high degree of playability and pleasure of the DBA game, it reverts that punctual situations suffer the process of generalisation (however this generalisation is understandable). At last, I state here the idea for keeping the rules, the basic structure (philosophy), as they are, changing only the combat factor for three to four main historical periods in history: Pre-Classic, Classic, Dark ages and/or Medieval.


  • GADD, C. J., ´The cities of Babyloniaª in The Cambridge Ancient History [=CAH] - Volume I/Part 2 - Early History of the Middle East, 3ª ed., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971.

  • GARELLI, Paul, Le Proche Orient Asiatique. Des origines aux invasions des peubles de la mer, Paris, PUF, 1969.

  • GARELLI, Paul; NIKIPROWETZKI, V., Le Proche Orient Asiatique. Les empires mésopotamiens, Israel, Paris, PUF, 1974.

  • PARROT, André, Sumer, Paris, Gallimard, 1981.

  • SALES, José das Candeias, A Ideologia Real Acádica e Egípcia, representações do poder politico pré-clássico, 1ª edição, Lisboa, Editorial Estampa, Colecção Nova História, nº 33, 1997.

  • ´Sargón's Chroniclesª in Ancient Near Eastern Texts - Relating to the Old Testament (=ANET), (Ed., James B. Pritchard), 3ª ed. with supplement, Princeton/New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1969.

  • ´Sargón's Legendª in Ancient Near Eastern Texts - Relating to the Old Testament (=ANET), (Ed., James B. Pritchard), 3ª ed. with supplement, Princeton/New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1969.

  • WISE, Terence, Ancient Armies of the Middle East, London, Osprey Publishing, 1990.

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Last Updated: Oct. 26, 2001