Around 2,700 years ago, a new type of deadly weapon debuted in biblical Israel: socketed copper-alloy arrowheads were employed by the Assyrian army which brought the region to its knees during the 7th century BCE.
A group of Israeli researchers documented their use in the battles waged in the area over the next centuries, offering new insights on some key historical moments, including the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
As Prof. Oded Lipschits, the director for the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, explained to The Jerusalem Post, these arrowheads offered the Assyrians a significant advantage which might have been instrumental to the important victories they obtained.
“There is no question that the Assyrian army could count on significant technological advancements on the battlefield. No one could stand up to them when they laid siege for example,” said Lipschits, who co-authored a paper on the topic in the latest issue of the Israel Exploration Journal together with Dr. Guy Stiebel and Sean Dugaw.
Scythian-Iranian arrowheads, which acquired this name because they were first associated with a nomadic people from the Eurasian steppe who were referred to as Skythai by the ancient Greeks, were also uncovered in many different sites outside Israel, with the earliest known samples found in the Volga region, dating back to the late 8th or early 7th century BCE.
According to the paper, they were characterized “by sockets with which to affix the arrowhead to the shaft of the arrow, and they exhibit either two blades, three blades, or a solid pyramidal point.”
The project by TAU scholars marks the first comprehensive study of their use in the southern Levant. They considered 359 items found in excavations all over Israel.
By analyzing the arrowheads’ specific shapes and evolution and comparing them with other archaeological data such as the sites where they were found and their dating, the scholars were able to document their use throughout several centuries up until the beginning of the Hellenistic period and to offer new insights on the armies that fought in the region and their battles.
“We were able to identify three main types of arrowheads which we traced back to the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonians and the Persian Empire,” he told the Post.
“What we found particularly interesting is that within the Babylonian period we could see a change in the arrowheads used. We know from historical sources that King Nebuchadnezzar conquered all the Levant but was defeated in Egypt in 601 BCE and then took one or two years to rebuild his army. This event is reflected in the arrowheads. The Babylonians destroyed the city of Ashkelon in 604 and the cities of Judea, including Jerusalem, in 586. The arrowheads we uncovered in the former and latter sites are different.”
Many arrowheads were also found in Ramat Rachel, which was an administrative citadel in Judea and likely became a camp of the Babylonian army.
The professor pointed out that another meaningful insight they documented was how the arrowheads found in the Persian period match those unearthed in the sites of the great battles with the Greeks in other parts of the ancient world.
Moreover, different designs of arrowheads were used for different purposes, such as hitting the enemies from a very long distance or penetrating their armor.
“They were really the weapons of ancient times, it is fascinating to see the way people back then were able to change them, to use aerodynamics and technology, to improve them,” Lipschits commented.
“Each empire in the region became such after defeating the previous power: the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians, the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Each one of these empires used and improved the weapons from the previous one. We stopped our research when Alexander the Great and the Macedonians came into power, because with them, in the 3rd and 2nd century BCE everything changed, even though we found some arrowheads later in the Roman time,” he concluded.
And indeed, according to the paper, the last evidence of the use of these specific arrowheads in the region date back to the 2nd century CE, when Jewish soldiers probably reused some of them during the Second Jewish Revolt.