- Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History
Hamblin's book, a rather voluminous tome of over 500 pages, is a scholarly rendering of the status of research on the type of warfare waged from the end of the prehistoric period to 1600 BC. The author begins his analysis by defining the adoption of some terms and assumptions on chronology, sources, historical geography, and ethnography.
War, he maintains, was for the people of that period "the means by which the gods restored cosmic order through organized violence undertaken in their name by their divinely ordained king" (p. 12). Generally Hamblin's view would not be objectionable, yet to limit warfare mainly to those terms will not necessarily suffice to explain all conflicts or the motivations of all contestants. Often men were moved by more realistic and ordinary desires such as a personal lust for power, economic needs of their own or of their people, personal grievances, and so on, even if they justified violence on the basis of divine decrees and will.
The military threshold, that is, the time when societies were forced to militarize, argues Hamblin, originated as early as the sixth millennium in Anatolia, reaching full force about 2,500 years later in the lands of the Fertile Crescent. Hamblin justly emphasizes the Standard of Ur and the Stele of the Vultures as the most important early visual renderings of some aspects of military confrontation, in a meticulous presentation of the evidence together with its various scholarly interpretations. He maintains that approach for most of the period covered, making his book most useful for consultation but slow going at times and rather weak as "a story". Yet in spite of its ponderous style the book is organized very well and the evidence has few if any significant gaps. Actually the reader is amazed by how much information the book contains and by the [End Page 549] wide array of primary and secondary sources deployed. The author presents his story in a skillful and scholarly way, moving from Mesopotamia to the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean (Syria, Lebanon, Canaan, and Anatolia), ending with seven strong chapters on Egypt from the Pre-Dynastic Age to the Second Intermediate Period.
One of the problems facing the reader and a real weakness of the book (the author too is well aware of that) is the limited number of figures (twelve and all black and white), and maps (just four of them). The subject instead would have required plenty of illustrations, hopefully in color, as in the magisterial work of Y. Yadin, already some time ago. However, in all fairness I must add that few if any publishers would be willing to accept such a burden today.
In conclusion, in spite of my criticisms I have found Hamblin's work an important addition to my personal library on the Ancient Near East. It should be a must for all libraries, like another book rarely seen in North America, Francis Joannès, ed., Dictionnaire de la Civilisation Mésopotamienne (Paris, 2001).
London, Ontario, Canada