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Variant Armies

The Mitanni - DBA 8c
(1650-1218 BC)

By Anu Arora

The DBA army lists for the early bronze and iron age armies are quite far from complete, serving only to mention the most prominent armies and empires of the era. Most of the more short-lived of the "barbarian" tribes, such as the Kassites, the Gutians, and the Phrygians, are not even mentioned. This is probably because of the sheer lack of information on their armies, or the fact that they might have conformed to the military organization of more advanced neighbouring empires. In the latter instance, the DBA army lists seem to compact a large number of nations with similar armies into one group. For example, under the rules the early Canaanites, the city of Ugarit, and the latter Syrian armies after Sargon are all lumped together into one list (#8b. The Phoenicians would fall under this list as well). None of these reasons, however, justify the omission of the empire that dominated the Assyrians, fought on equal footing with and defeated the Egyptians, and practically invented chariot warfare.

The Mitanni were descendents of a group of people called the Hurrians that migrated into northern Mesopotamia around 2300 BC. After intermingling with Sumerian and Akkadian culture, they began to copy the Sumerian design of city-states, dividing their land into regions each ruled by their separate tribes. Unlike the Sumerians, there were almost no internecine civil wars. This made the task of the unification of the Hurrians all the more easier, and around 1650 BC a confederation was formed including all the city-states. This was the beginning of the Mitannian Empire (also known as Hanigalbalt in Babylonian Chaldean records).

From their capital at Wayefshuna (alternate: Washshuganni), the Mitanni sent out highly skilled and professional armies to conquer all of north and middle Mesopotamia, the highlands north of the fertile crescent from where they originally came, Phoenicia, the lands west of Mesopotamia (Arrapha and perhaps Assyria). The Mitanni defeated the Assyrians in many battles, but whether they completely conquered them is uncertain. Evidence, in particular scriptures and letters from Egypt and the Hittite Empire, suggests that Assyria was brought into the Mitannian Empire as a vassal state. It is only until the decline of the Mitanni that Assyria is mentioned as a major power.

Existing in an age when warfare depended as much on innovation and new technologies as it did upon armies, one can easily see why the Mitanni gained so much power so quickly. The elite warriors of their army were charioteers, called "maryannu". The maryannu were nobles who could afford chariots, and each had a handful of attendants, including an archer that would fight with them from the chariot and servants that would care for the horses. The word "maryannu", meaning "noble in chariot" descends from the Sanskrit word "marya", meaning "youthful warrior". The Mitanni chariots themselves served as the model for the chariots of most of their neighbouring empires (including, but not limited too, the Egyptians, Canaanites, Hittites, and Babylonians). It could even be said that the system of having elite nobles who formed the chariot corps of the army was created by the Mitanni. Though the Sumerians invented the primitive ancestors of chariots, it was the Mitanni that perfected them and their use in battle. Mitanni chariots were sleek, with two wheels and a team of two horses. Both the horses and the maryannu were well armoured, being covered in scale armour created from bronze or iron. The tactic of using chariots to surround an enemy will deliver a constant influx of missile fire was developed by the Mitanni. Once they closed with the enemy the drivers fought from the chariot, using it as a protected platform as was the old Sumerian style. They even created the tactic of using the chariot as an impact weapon, though they usually did this when all else failed or they had severely broken up the enemy formation through bow and javelin fire. When they encountered enemies with loose positions, however, they attempted to trample first and ask questions later. Slight references to heavier chariots have been made, but I do doubt their existence.

Army Composition

Variant One: 3xLCh, 3xLCh or 2LH, 2x4Pk or 3Bw, 1x3Bw, 3x2Ps.

Variant Two (suggested by Tom Ryan): I would like to put forward an alternative list which more closely reflects the DBM Hurri-Mitanni list. Using the DBA Page 22 Method, the list would look more like this:

8c: Mitanni 1600BC - 1274BC: 6 x LCh (4 Maryannu and 2 Vassal or Provincial chariots); 2 x 4Aux (Alik Ilki Spearmen); 2 x 4Bw or 2Ps (Alik Ilki Bowmen); 2 x 3Ax or 2Ps (Ashshabu levy).


Enemies would include the men of Hatti (#9), the New Kingdom Egyptians (#11), them Midianite camel-jockeys (#5), the Early Assyrians (#12), and the Early Canaanites (#8b).

Certainly, the Mitanni could have done battle with the Old and Middle Kingdom Egyptians (#2) and the Libyans (#4a), but never really did so historically. These two armies could be counted as enemies, but, for purists, I would recommend against it.

Troop Types

The light chariots would of course be maryannu. The light horse would be maryannu that did not fight from chariots but instead took up positions as crack skirmishers. Maryannu were well trained in horsemanship, and tactics would generally be the same as with the chariots save for the fact that the horsemen would neither charge into enemy formations relying on their impact nor stick around long enough to fight in hand to hand from their horses.

The pike would be the Sumerian-style spearmen (there is no discrepancy here-the Sumerian spearmen were classed pike in the army lists, army #1, Sumerian and Akkadian) that the Mitanni used early on. Later, against other chariot armies, the Mitanni must have found that the spearmen were not at all useful against quick, missile-using enemies, for they appeared to have simply stopped using them. In their place were regiments of massed archers, represented by the bows. They were large and their organization appears to have not been that good. The Mitanni neglected their mobility and used them to present a line of battle. The archers would then hold their position and not advance much, if at all. I guess the reasoning here is that they wanted an infantry line that could shoot back at skirmishing chariots and thus not be defeated by their own tactics, which, by that time, everyone seemed to be using.

The psiloi are peasant militia or Martu (Amorite) nomads, armed with as many bows as where available, the rest being armed with slings. It is interesting to note that this practice was carried down from the Sumerian armies as far back as 3500 BC, and we can therefore assume that the slingers were used in a similar fashion despite the time gap. That is, they would be used to advance ahead of the infantry, and pester the closing enemy so that they would abandon formation and charge. The only difference in tactics would be that in this instance the Mitanni would use the impact of their chariots to "mop up" the now vulnerable enemy troops, whereas the Sumerians did not have the luxury of fast moving chariotry.

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Last Updated: Feb. 26, 1999

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.