A SUMMARIZED HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF MILITARY TECHNOLOGY
(Note: Before 700 BC, the dates listed are approximate calculations.)
30,000 BC Hunters use a very primitive wooden bow.
12,000 BC Spear-throwing devices used.
8000 BC Sharpened stone heads used for axes, spears and arrows. Wood used for clubs, axe handles and spear shafts. Flint daggers (Chipped followed by polished stone.) Simple bows, javelin, spear throwers and slings. Spears used are short and generally shorter than the warrior and used with one hand. Sling use is limited by the great deal of training needed to use it effectively. However they did outrange all other missile weapons even bows through the 4th century BC.
8000 BC Walls of Jericho built to protect the settlement from human intruders
Early Bronze Age Maces - rocks shaped for the hand. Handle added to increase velocity and force of the blow. Handles were difficult to attach to rocks and the few well made ones were used by the elite.
4th century BC Romans used small oval shields.
3000 BC Composite recurved bows being used. The rear, or belly, of the bow is reinforced with horn to increase the bow's resistance to bending. Its speed and recoil power were increased by adding sinew to the front of the bow. The ends of the bow curved away from the archer when the bow was strung.
3000 BC Helmets made of copper-arsenic bronze with padded linings in Mesopotamia
Middle 3rd Millenium BC Copper used for mace heads; first in Mesopotamia, then in Syria, Palestine and Egypt.
2500 BC Sumerians were making helmets of bronze, along with bronze spearheads and ax blades. Smiths began making maces with ellipsoidal forms to concentrate force at the point of impact to counter the helmet and as the helmet became stronger, the mace head became sharper and the axe began to evolve. Because of the the difficulty in casting bronze and its limited strength, axe blades were broad and joined to a handle at three points with bindings or rivets.
2500 BC Sumerians begin designing socketed axes where there is a tubular hole cast in the axe head through which the handle could be fit. Since armor was getting better, the axe head needed to be narrower in order to penetrate the armor and narrow axe heads could not be made secure simply with bindings and rivets.
2500 BC Sumerians used chariots, 4 wheeled carts drawn by four donkeys and wild asses and which lacked a pivoting front axle
2nd and 3rd Millenium BC Helmets and Body armor made of electrum found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. (Though a weaker metal than that available at the time, the mystical, spiritual and psychological properties of the metal may have been considered just as important as the strength of it.)
2000-1400 BC Crete uses ships with keels and ribs.
1850 BC Copper weapons are hardened by hammering.
1700 BC Greeks use defensive bronze armor, slashing swords and thrusting spears.
1600 BC Iranian tribes begin using war horses and light two-wheeled chariots in Mesopotamia.
Middle 2nd Millenium BC Egyptian, Hittite and Palestinian chariots are very light and sophisticated and are drawn by two or three horses with chest girths secured by poles and yokes
1500 BC Armor of overlapping scales of bronze laced together or sewn onto a backing of padded fabric is used in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt. Egyptians are still using bindings and rivets for their axes.
1500 BC Ax has developed into the sickle sword, a bronze sword with a curved concave blade and a straight thick handle.
1400 BC+ Phoenicians develop ships with two banks of rowers on either side and rams.
1200 BC Effective long bladed swords are developed once iron can be used for swords.
End of 2nd Millenium BC Horses are bred with the strength and stamina to carry men. Chariot use has declined greatly.
? Breastplates of bronze, beaten and later molded to specific shapes are used. Greaves, metal plates for the lower leg are developed soon after breastplates. Bronze is more commonly used than iron because iron could only be worked in small pieces.
? Greek hoplite spears are about nine feet long. Alexander the Great's spearmen use 18 foot long spears.
4th century BC Persians are using war elephants.
399 BC Dionysus the Elder of Syracuse directs his engineers to construct military engines for the war with Carthage. The gastrophetes, a large crossbow, is an early example of mechanical artillery.
About 3rd century BC Chain mail appears in Greek art. Possibly older and could have originated from Celts or Asia. Consists of small rings of iron (bronze is too weak for this type of armor), one-half inch in diameter or less, linked into a protective fabric. Very labor intensive product. Since the mail tended to curl at the edges, Romans added metal plates to the ends. Mail was effective against slashing blows and missiles.
300 BC to middle 3rd Century Mechanical artillery began to use torsion in addition to tension power. Torsion allowed larger and more powerful engines to be built. Torsion catapults could send a javelin 800 yards. Catapults hurled arrows and darts, ballista hurled stones. Very large catapults hurled stones.
264 BC During the First Punic War, the Romans develop boarding ramps for their ships.
? Romans use the gladius a two-foot long stabbing sword. Later the spatha, the long slashing sword of the barbarians, becomes popular.
1st century BC Romans develop the pilum, a five foot long weapon with one-third of it being a spear head. It had short range but the head was of soft iron and bent back when hitting an object. This prevented it from being thrown back at them and helped it hook into an enemy's shields.
40 BC Roman ships are designed with larger catapults and towers.
37 BC Roman ships are strengthened with beams around the waterline. This is the first recorded use of belted armor.
AD 70 Roman catapults reported to be able to send 55 pound stones 400 yards and more. Roman catapults were refered to as onagers, or wild asses, because there rears jump upwards from the recoil.
1st century AD Romans begin to use the segmented iron torso armor - lorica segmentata (plate armor), good against smashing and heavy piercing blows.
2nd century AD Square/rectangular Roman fortresses are used along communications routes.
3rd century AD Roman fortresses are using flanking towers and are built with thicker walls, fewer gates and wider moats.
4th century AD Roman fortress walls begin following the contours of the ground on which they are situated.
AD 378 Battle at Adrianople traditionally marks the beginning of cavalry development.
6th century AD War saddle with a single girth is introduced. Avars are using stirrups.
7th century AD Iron stirrup has become common. Curb bit introduced about this time.
678 AD Greek fire (a mixture of saltpetre, pitch, sulfur, and oil) is first used by Byzantines. It ignites on contact with sea water.
9th century AD Large, wheeled, wooden siege towers (called belforys) with a drawbridge are used against fortifications. Battering rams are used as well. Large ones are mounted on wheels in a covered shed.
9th century AD Crossbow appears.
End of 9th century AD Iron horseshoes used.
9th century AD Chinese chemists mix black powder, the forerunner to modern gunpowder.
10th to 11 century Motte and bailey castles are the first distinctive european fortifications. A motte, or mound of earth, had a timber palisade surrounded by a ditch. Beyond the ditch was another palisaded compund, the baily. A bridge was used over the ditch. The timber palisade was later replaced with a stone keep, or donjon, and this compound, called the enceinte, was surrounded by a stone wall. Parapets and crenellated firing positions were added to the stone walls. Moats were dug around the enceinte and high towers were built with protruding feet to discourage mining and allow for flanking fire on the wall face and base. Overhanging hoardings, or wooden galleries, were added to walls to allow defenders to drop things on the attacker. These were replaced by permanent stone galleries, or machicolations. Castle gates were deeply recessed, protected by low-lying outworks, called barbicans, and covered by a large grate called a portcullis. Often, a drawbridge could be used to seal the gate as well.
11th century Spurs used. The knight's mail shirt, the byrnie, becomes longer and closer fitting. Sleeves extended from bicep area to wrist, hem drops from just above the knee to just below the knee. Knights begin wearing the gambeson, a quilted leather or canvas shirt worn under the mail to absorb blows. Surcoats, a light garment, are used over the knight's mail. Hauberks are also used. They are knee length mail coats split at the sides to allow the knight to ride his horse and also had a mail hood. With the hauberk, a knight wore a pointed iron helmet (having a vertical nasal bar) and used a large kite-shaped shield.
11th century Longbow appears.
12th century War saddle with high, wraparound cantle and pommel secured to the horse with a double girth is being used. Size and power of war horses and the quality of personal armor have been steadly improved. Casque, or pot helm, used. The casque had a flat top and nasal protection which covered the entire face. It was extremely heavy so sometimes a mail coif with padding, an iron cap and/or an iron visor was used instead.
12th century Trebuchet, a counterpoise seige engine, is used.
End of 12th century Rigid backplate added to knightly armor to add protection during a head-on impact.
13th century Mail mesh is made fine enough for gloves of chain mail begin to be used. Mail protection for horses becomes common. Torsion siege engines used. Broad-beamed ships with rigging are developed. The fore and aft-castles of ships became part of the main hull.
1200 Thin plates begin to be worn with chain mail.
1250 Cuirass, chest plate, worn shortly followed by the use of a back plate as well (perhaps to counter the weight.)
1290-1325 Plate armor begins to be used on the extremities and joints. Shield become smaller.
14th century The empirical recipe for modern gunpowder is determined. A fixed rudder controlled by a tiller replaces the steering method of attaching an oar to the starboard side of a ship. Development of the compass and astrolobe allows for long distance ocean voyages to be undertaken.
1315 The Swiss Battle of Morgarten demonstrates that an unarmored man with a seven foot halberd can dispatch an armored man-at-arms. Soon after, the Swiss begin using an 18 foot pike and develop the pike square tactical formation.
1327 Earliest known gunpowder weapon described by Walter de Millimete. It was three feet long with a two inch bore diameter.
1357-1453 English longbow achieves great victories in the Hundred Years' War. Round ships using one mast and sail begin to be replaced by flatter ships with additional masts and sails. These new ships were faster and allowed for greater use of artillery.
1385 Portugese effectively use slings against the Spanish.
Late 14th century Wrought-iron seige bombards firing stone cannonballs of 450+ pounds are being used.
15th century Horse plate armor begins to be used.
15th century Exploding shot developed. This was a hollow iron ball filled with gunpowder and fitted with a fuse. Cannons used on naval vessels. Fortress and castle walls became lower and thicker to protect against more powerful artillery.
1400-1500's Halberds popular in Europe. Consists of a five to six foot staff with an axe blade at the end balanced with a pick. The end of the staff was topped with a pike head.
15th century Trunnions, used to pivot the cannon barrel on the barrel carriage, are developed.
1400-1430's Bronze cannons began rivaling wrought-iron cannons in size.
1440 First suit of full plate armor developed.
1453 Greek fire disappears from use after the fall of Constantinople.
1460-1480 Germans develop small arms gunpowder weapons with the harquebus becoming the dominant military small arm.
1470's Fortress towers began to be cut down to the level of the walls and firing platforms of packed earth were built behind the fortress walls.
Late 15th century Crossbow use as a weapon ends. Harquebus and flintlock musket use replaces the crossbow.
Late 15th century French founders have developed a carriage design using large wooden side pieces, trunnions, an axle, two wheels and a trail. The trail could absorb some of the gun recoil and could also hook onto a limber. A limber was a two-wheeled mount which served as a front axle and the point of attachment to a team of horses.
1501 The French develop gunports for their naval vessels.
1515 Wheel lock mechanism for small arms is developed.
1520 The sunken profile of fortresses has become well established as a military engineering technique.
16th century Armor has become merely ceremonial.
16th century Stone-throwing cannon made obselete by the high level of skill needed to carve properly shaped stone cannonballs.
Mid-16th century English smiths develop a compact four-wheeled carriage for trunnion-equipped shipboard cannons.
1543 English develop reliable iron cannons. Despite being heavier and bulkier than bronze cannon, susceptible to internal corrosion, and bursting like a bomb at failure, they were one-third as expensive to build than bronze cannons.
1500's Aztecs and Incas effectively use slings against the Spanish conquistadors.
1580's Military planners argue over the relative use of longbows versus gunpowder weapons.
1592 Use of ironclad naval vessels is introduced by Korea during war with Japan.
1608 Telescope invented
Early 17th century Sweden has an advanced army because of the use of lighter muskets and cartridges and lighter artillery pieces which had been recently developed.
Late 17th century Ring and socket bayonet invented. Bayonet use replaces the pike. Flintlock musket replaces the matchlock harquebus.
Late 17th century Fortress profiles and traces have been integrated for very sophisticated fortress designs.
Early 18th century The wheel replaces the tiller on ships.
1742 Ballisitic pendulum invented. This gave gunners the ability to measure the power of a given quantity of gunpowder.
1750 Some foundries could cast cannon barrels as solid pieces and bore them out. This made cannons more accurate.
1800 British develop cylinder-burned charcoal.
1802 First practical paddle steamer ship built.
1803 First use of the exploding canister shell invented by Henry Shrapnel.
1820 First iron steam ship, the Aaron Manby, is built.
1821 Paixhans invents the explosive shell.
1829 A practical ship's screw is invented which would replace the paddle on ships. Sails on ships are still in use.
1846 Guncotton is invented.
1849 Minie ball invented by Claude E. Minie.
1850 A primitive submarine is built by Wilhelm Bauer.
Mid 19th century Development of methods for the measuring of pressure inside cannons allowed for the building of more effective cannons.
1853 Britain begins using the Enfield rifle.
1853-1856 During the Crimean War, the Russians are the first to use mines as a strategic weapon.
1859 French launch the Gloire, the first sea-going armored ship.
1862 The Gatling Gun is patented. Two ironclad ships, the Monitor and the Merrimack, fought to a draw.
1860's Heavy rifled cannon made of high-quality cast iron are used extensively in the US Civil War. The early modern fortress based on the sunken profile and bastioned trace is made obsolete.
1867 Dynamite invented by Alfred Nobel.
1875 Smokeless gunpowder, ballistite, invented by Alfred Nobel.
1880's Steam-powered torpedo boats are used for harbor defense. These evolved into the modern destroyer. Rigging and sails are discarded for all except training ships.
Late 19th century Brass cartridges for breechloading cannons are developed.
1891 During the Chilean Revolutionary War, a self-propelled torpedo sinks an armored warship for the first time.
1896 Armed and armored car designed by E.J. Pennington.
1900 First rigid dirigible, the zeppelin, was built by Ferdinand von Zeppelin.
1903 Powered flight is effectively demonstrated by Wilbur and Orville Wright.
1904 Radar is patented by Christian Hulsmeyer.
1904-1905 Wireless communications are used in war for the first time (Russo-Japanese War.)
1914 Submarines begin to have a heavy impact on sea warfare.
1915 British begin using the depth charge as an anti-submarine weapon. Sonar developed by Paul Langevin. Fokker warplane became the first to have its machine guns synchronized with its propeller. Trench mortars first used.
WW I Anti-aircraft guns introduced. Aircraft Carriers developed at the end of WWI for scouting and air defense. Flame throwers developed.
1916 Phosgene gas developed. Mark I tanks are first used in action..
1926 First liquid-propellent rocket launched.
1927 Italy accomplishes the first instance of planned military parachuting after adopting escape parachutes for the task.
1930's First practical helicopters developed by Igor Sikorsky.
1931 Deuterium discovered.
1935 Robert Alexander Watson-Watt develops a practical aircraft-detecting radar.
WW II Soviets introduce rocket artillery. Germans develop the assault rifle but they were not widely adapted until after WWII because they lacked the power of standard rifles.
1940 Plutonium is discovered.
1942 U.S. Manhattan Project begins in order to develop the first atomic bomb. The anti-tank rocket, or bazooka, is invented. Before the bazooka, only anti-tank grenades or "elephant guns" would damage well-armored tanks but even these performed poorly. Aircraft carriers become the major offensive arm of the Navy.
1943 First use of air-launched, radio command guided anti-ship missiles.
1944 First V-1 flying bomb used by Germany against the U.K. V-2 rockets are used by Germany. First German military jet, the Messerschmidt, is used in battle.
1945 Atom bomb developed and used.
Late WWII Acoustical homing torpedoes developed.
Post 1945 The use of Radar and techniques to quickly find artillery firing positions led to rapid advances in self-propelled artillery.
1950-1953 During the Korean War, jet aircraft made their first wartime flights from aircraft carriers and helicopters were first used on a large scale.
1954 First US hydrogen bomb successfully tested. Long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles were developed by the US. The first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, is launched.
1960's Multi-role fighter/attack aircraft replace fighter/fighter-bomber aircraft.
1961 The Long Beach, the first nuclear powered surface warship, is commissioned.
1963 North American early warning radar system is set up to detect incoming Soviet missiles.
1964-1973 During the Vietnam War, surface-to-air missiles were effectively used and hovercraft were used on inland waterways.
1967 First effective use of surface-to-surface missiles.
1980's Software-based weapons systems become prevalent.
Information taken from the following sources:
A History of War at Sea. Pemsel, Helmut. Trans. Major i.G. D.G. Smith. Naval Institute Press (1989).
Assault From the Sky. Weeks, John. Optimum Publishing Company Ltd. (1978).
Atlas of World History. Rand McNally and Company (1992).
Dawn of Modern Warfare, The. ed. Griess, Thomas E. Avery Publishing Group, Inc. (1984).
Dictionary of Modern War, The. Luttwak, Edward; Koehl, Stuart L. Gramercy Books (1998).
Lore of Arms, The. Reid, William. Facts on File Publications (1984).
Price of Admiralty, The. Keegan, John. Penguin Books (1990).
Timelines of War. Brownstone, David; Franck, Irene. Little, Brown and Company (1996).