Our history is replete with war and blood. The last 1000 years of our history are a tale of loss of tears and blood. This is an attempt to understand WHY?
War for us, in Bharat, has been a concept that was and has been too pedestrian to ponder upon. In spite of the fact that Bharat has been the site of some of the greatest wars ever fought in the history of mankind. The Dasrajanya wars, the Mahabharat were the greatest wars of their time. These wars were fought long before history & are now sadly, lost in the fog of time. Their story, their legend & antiquity is lost in the ‘black hole’ of history.
Long before civilizations could rise and empires form, Bharat had a thriving economy and an empire bound not by violence but by Dharma. However, none of our armies ventured out to create empires that spanned the globe – WHY? because there was nothing to be conquered or gained. The world civilizations were still in infancy and quite primitive compared to the thriving Bharat. We traded with the world. Our produce and science, our literature and philosophy found its way into the world on trading caravans and ships that sailed the world.
RISE OF CITY STATES AND EMPIRES
For over 5000 years, before the first city states rose out of the plains of the land between rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) and Egypt (older than the first city states). Bharat had been trading with these first cities. The first civilizations, the city states, were formed out of battles between the roaming barbaric horsemen like the Alur Meriki, Ur nammu tribes and the cities of Orak, Sumer, Lagash etc. Life was barbaric and cruel. War and devastation a constant. Driven by fear, the cities attempted to fortify their domains. The first forts were formed out of the need to keep the bandits and tribesmen out.
Development of civilization in the area was blood stained. War between the villages was triggered by greed – for resources. As time passed these wars would seem petty in front of the bigger wars that loomed.
The agrarian villagers were unused to the horse. The wealthy used it as a means of prestige and transport. But no one used it for war. Horse was not plentiful in the city. It could only be bought from the nomadic tribesmen – who had no incentive to sell. On the other hand the bandits – the nomads, had access to wild horses and knew how to domesticate and train them for war. These nomadic tribes fought from horseback and could shoot and kill the defenders long before the arrows of the defenders could reach the attacking tribes. So the city dwellers built barricades of thorn bushes and wood palisades around their villages. These rudimentary fortifications were easy to dismantle and burn. Slowly the city dwellers started using mud (mud bricks) to surround their villages. And soon the walls were being built with parapets and passage-ways from which the defender could fight back the attacking tribes.
Within these mud walls, life thrived and prospered. Culture and arts developed but outside these walls was a barbaric land of the nomads. War between the two opposing lifestyles was inevitable.
The first wars were fought on foot but arrival of roving tribes (nomadic) on horseback changed all that. Horses would play a very crucial role – first as an aggressor in hands of the raiding horsemen and then as a defender, as vanguard of the defending cavalry of city. Horse became entwined in the history of human civilization. As the defending villages with mud wall fortifications grew in size and prosperity the population within these former villages grew and villages developed into the first cities. The walls allowed the city dwellers to defend themselves. But that was not enough as they also needed to protect the trade caravans venturing out beyond their walls. This constant conflict created an opportunity for the city dwellers to master the horse. Greater access to resources enabled them to build better weapons and develop better tactics to fight from behind their walls and from the horseback as well. Out of these conflicts the Akkadian and the Sumerian empires rose.
TRIBESMEN & NOMADS – the Steppe Warrior
While the tribes were destroyed in middle Asia, the horse ridding nomadic tribes and their tribal systems survived and thrived in the central Asian plains. The central Asian horsemen had their run of the arid plains – from Northern China and Mongolia to Anatolia. The Steppes were their playground and no great empire rose to chase them away.
The steppes are harsh places that are very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. The harsh climate provides little more than grazing land for milk and meat producing cattle and sheep. The steppe created a strong people. The steppe plains were inhabited by tribes like the Huns, Avars, Magyars, Turks, Tartars and Mongols.
The steppe warrior was a man of war and blood. And as fate would have it, he stood at the cross roads of civilizations. And he made the best out of it. The steppe warrior would stamp his footprint on the world and create empires
The steppe warrior had two passions – war and his horse. They measured success in terms of how many horses one warrior had. Whatever they needed they got through loot and raids on settlements. Theirs was not a civilized society in the conventional sense. Throughout prehistory and early history, they built no great cities or invented anything (except weapons). Gold was not their passion – the horse was. Horses were wealth and honour could be acquired only in the battlefield.
He used the latter to feed his former passion to acquire loot and slaves. The tough wastelands of Central Asia were ideal for the horse to develop and prosper. Both man and his beast grew into strong and hardy warriors. The horse gave the steppe warrior speed, mobility and elevation. These gave him an unprecedented advantage over the infantry formations of their enemy. They could traverse great distances in a single day (50-55 kms) whereas a fully laden infantry unit of the defenders could travel at best 15-16 km in a day. Mobility in the battlefield allowed the steppe warrior to maneuver around the soldiers on foot and pepper them with arrows from all sides.
A nomad riding atop a horse was always difficult – as an enemy and as a prey. Nomads had mobile and inexpensive armies which consisted of lightly armed archers. Every tribal horseman was a natural soldier (warrior) and skilled archer. Ancient nomads generally used raids on agrarian civilizations to gain the spoils of war or extract gifts or ransom. In combat with foot soldiers they preferred shooting from a distance. Attempts to punish nomads in expeditions to the steppe, even with the use of cavalry, turned out to be ineffective. Unlike the “cradle of civilization” the steppes saw these horse ridding nomads build cities and mobile villages with huge populations (as high as 300,000 to 500,000 citizens). Imagine such a tribe putting out its entire population in the field against agrarian and trading cities!. In the cold arid central Asian plains the steppe warriors grew strong by their passion for war.
As trade developed, the nomads knew that looting was not so profitable. So, they got into the practice of offering protection and safe passage to trade caravans in lieu of money/gold – sometimes even a share of the profits. Most of the trading caravans that passed through the region originated from Bharat and China. As time passed their greed grew and the passing caravans (on the silk road) had given them a good idea of the prosperous lands of Bharat and China – the lands where trade caravans originated – Bharat saw incursions by the Huns, Sakas, Kushans while China saw invasions from mongol/turic tribes. But these were never more than raids for the nomads hated city life BUT It would be only a matter of time before these nomads settled down and built empires by the sharp end of their arrows.
It was from this region that some of the greatest conquerors rose – Kushans, Parthians, Sakas & finally the great Genghis Khan (Pronounced as Han-Chief) his grandson Kublai Khan, the blood thirsty Timur – the Grey Wolf. Everyone of them found their way into Bharat. Most stayed back and amalgamated into the broader Sanatan family. Others came and looted and went back. But all through these times, Bharat had a strong central empire ruling its mainland. The armies of Bharat – under any name, Maurya, Shung, Gupta etc beat back the invading barbarians.
As time passed and the age of empires ended in Bharat. we became unconcerned with the happenings in Middle or Central Asia…..after all our trade was booming. We managed to convince ourselves that there was no chance of these remote battles ever spilling into Bharat. But they did arrive at our shores.
And this time they were here to stay – kill, loot and destroy everything that was Bharat.
- A TALE OF BLOOD & TEARS – II : The Horse
- A TALE OF BLOOD & TEARS – III : Gunpowder
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