Are there actual examples of armies with iron weaponry overwhelming armies with bronze weaponry in the second and first millenniums BCE?

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,984
MD, USA
No. For starters, there are virtually no battle descriptions at all from the era that saw the first iron weapons. Secondly, early iron weapons were NOT superior to bronze, in fact a good high-tin bronze that was hammer-hardened was *harder* than any iron or steel that the ancients could make until the post-Roman era. Not that that mattered much, since battles were not decided by clanging sword edges together and measuring the nicks, and both iron and bronze were more than capable of cleaving flesh. Third, the rise of iron weapons was slow enough that no army could simply show up with "newfangled" weapons in any significant amount.

The first iron weapons were used by *royalty*, such as King Tut's iron dagger. There are noble graves in Italy that have both bronze and iron weapons, 8th century BC. So for a while it was seen as a high-class metal, which again was not really a big deal since bronze weapons were still pretty high-end, too. My own suspicion is that at some point it was realized that the availability of iron, and the comparative simplicity of manufacture compared to bronze, made it possible to make decent weapons more available to non-noble warriors, leading to larger armies. But again, this wasn't some instant lower-class revolution, all military systems were still dominated and controlled by the classes with the money and the land.

So iron weapons were no inherent advantage over bronze. A society with more troops or better tactics or a more aggressive leader could likely win over another that was lacking those advantages, but what their weapons were made of simply was not very significant.

Matthew
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,062
Navan, Ireland
Can not say for other countries but in Ireland the school text books state iron is much stronger than bronze that's why the Iron age came about.

However I understand that Bronze is weaker than steel but not iron produced in the past. It was used rather because it was cheaper, tin being very rare and expensive.
 
Aug 2018
337
America
No. For starters, there are virtually no battle descriptions at all from the era that saw the first iron weapons. Secondly, early iron weapons were NOT superior to bronze, in fact a good high-tin bronze that was hammer-hardened was *harder* than any iron or steel that the ancients could make until the post-Roman era. Not that that mattered much, since battles were not decided by clanging sword edges together and measuring the nicks, and both iron and bronze were more than capable of cleaving flesh. Third, the rise of iron weapons was slow enough that no army could simply show up with "newfangled" weapons in any significant amount.

The first iron weapons were used by *royalty*, such as King Tut's iron dagger. There are noble graves in Italy that have both bronze and iron weapons, 8th century BC. So for a while it was seen as a high-class metal, which again was not really a big deal since bronze weapons were still pretty high-end, too. My own suspicion is that at some point it was realized that the availability of iron, and the comparative simplicity of manufacture compared to bronze, made it possible to make decent weapons more available to non-noble warriors, leading to larger armies. But again, this wasn't some instant lower-class revolution, all military systems were still dominated and controlled by the classes with the money and the land.

So iron weapons were no inherent advantage over bronze. A society with more troops or better tactics or a more aggressive leader could likely win over another that was lacking those advantages, but what their weapons were made of simply was not very significant.

Matthew
Some continue to argue that the Hittites created their empire because they were the first to develop iron weaponry to an unprecedented degree. I don't agree, of course, but I would like to see your opinion on this.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,880
Australia
No battle is determined by the equipment each side used. Battles are determined by numbers, tactics, supply lines, communication, intelligence, morale, commander experience, training, topography, weather, surprise, and so on. If you list all of the factors that decide a battle in order of importance, the difference between the equipment that both sides used would be right down near the bottom.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,880
Australia
Iron replaced bronze because it was cheaper and more easily avaliable. It is not superior to bronze. Bronze has mechanical properties similar to unhardened medium carbon steel. We've known this since the 1970s. Tylecotte has done the best work in this field.
 
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Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,984
MD, USA
Some continue to argue that the Hittites created their empire because they were the first to develop iron weaponry to an unprecedented degree. I don't agree, of course, but I would like to see your opinion on this.
I don't know the Hittites as well as some other cultures, but from what I've seen they were a perfectly typical Bronze Age society. They created an empire by being aggressive and reasonably competent militarily. They may have been ahead of the curve on the use of iron weapons, but I haven't seen anything to indicate that they had gone completely over to iron when everyone around them was still using bronze, for instance.

Matthew
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,895
Was that not one of the advantages of the romans ? notably against the greeks


In this period, iron was considered a precious metal by Alexander. During his world tour of conquest Alexander gave his generals instructions to seize any iron found. Strangely it was not for its merits in weaponry that it received the status of precious, but instead for its application to lapidary work
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,880
Australia
Complete rubbish. Iron was common-place by the time of Alexander. He ordered his men to seize any iron they found because he needed hundreds of tons of it to keep his armies and garrisons supplied. A army of 10,000 men would need 2-3 tons of iron just to make enough cooking pots.
 
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