Defensive and offensive arms are often mentioned in the Bible, though it was not intended to be a glossary of such equipment and hence does not provide extensive details on their manufacture and utilization. Some concept of armor and weaponry employed in Biblical days can be gleaned from 1 Samuel 17:4-7, which mentions equipment possessed by the Philistine giant Goliath at the time of his final encounter, when the shepherd lad David, with confidence in Jehovah, vanquished this mighty antagonist.
While the Hebrew Scriptures in particular tell repeatedly of the use of the literal sword, spear, shield and other arms, they also consistently emphasize the vital necessity and advantage of trusting in Jehovah. (Gen. 15:1; Ps. 76:1-3; 115:9-11; 119:114; 144:2) Reliance upon him was evident in David’s words to Goliath: “You are coming to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I am coming to you with the name of Jehovah of armies, the God of the battle lines of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day Jehovah will surrender you into my hand . . . And all this congregation will know that neither with sword nor with spear does Jehovah save, because to Jehovah belongs the battle.” (1 Sam. 17:45-47) Dependence upon Jehovah’s spirit and not military force is shown to be essential and effective. (Zech. 4:6) And in confirming His love for his figurative wife, Zion, Jehovah assured: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success.”—Isa. 54:17.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures literal armor and weapons receive little attention, whereas spiritual Israelites are admonished: “The night is well along; the day has drawn near. Let us therefore put off the works belonging to darkness and let us put on the weapons of the light.” (Rom. 13:12) The apostle Paul was girded with “the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,” and he told fellow members of spiritual Israel: “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things.”—2 Cor. 6:7; 10:4.
Paul also enables us to get a rather complete view of armor of ancient times in speaking of such spiritual equipment as the “large shield of faith” and the “helmet of salvation,” after urging Christians: “Put on the complete suit of armor from God that you may be able to stand firm against the machinations of the Devil.”—Eph. 6:11-17.
Especially significant are the inspired promises made by Jehovah God through the prophets Isaiah and Micah, which assure that in the “final part of the days” persons who are instructed by Jehovah will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.” (Isa. 2:2, 4; Mic. 4:3) Like righteously disposed inhabitants of ancient Israel who longed for such peace and placed their reliance upon Jehovah, members of spiritual Israel and their peace-loving companions depend upon Jehovah God, who is “a sun and a shield.” (Ps. 84:11) They know that under his kingdom the promise will be fulfilled: “He is making wars to cease to the extremity of the earth. The bow he breaks apart and does cut the spear in pieces.” (Ps. 46:9) It was, therefore, fitting for the psalmist to declare: “It was not in my bow that I kept trusting and it was not my sword that was saving me. For you [Jehovah] saved us from our adversaries, and those intensely hating us you put to shame. In God we will offer praise all day long, and to time indefinite your name we shall laud.”—Ps. 44:6-8.
A military attendant of a king or other leader who carried his armor and weapons, stood by him in danger and did his bidding. Foes wounded by a prominent warrior might be given the final deathblow by his armor-bearer. (1 Sam. 14:13) These attendants were selected from among valiant soldiers, and some were evidently very devoted to their commanders.—1 Sam. 14:6, 7; 31:5.
Mortally wounded Abimelech had the attendant bearing his weapons put him to death that it might not be said, “It was a woman that killed him.” (Judg. 9:52-54) David once served as King Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Sam. 16:21); while another armor-bearer, who refused to put the dying ruler to death, followed him in the course of suicide. (1 Sam. 31:3-6) Armor-bearers also attended Jonathan and Joab (1 Sam. 14:6-14; 2 Sam. 18:15; 23:37; 1 Chron. 11:39) and chief warriors of various ancient nations, such as the Philistine giant Goliath. (1 Sam. 17:7, 41) And, due to their unwieldiness, virtually man-sized shields employed by Assyrian archers were carried by shield bearers.
ARROW, BOW, QUIVER
From early times the bow was used in hunting and warfare. (Gen. 21:20; 27:3; 48:22) It was a standard weapon among the Israelites (2 Chron. 26:14, 15), those who fought for Egypt (Jer. 46:8, 9), the Assyrians (Isa. 7:24; 37:33) and the Medo-Persians.—Jer. 50:14; 51:11; see also ARCHER.
In Mesopotamia bows were made of wood, horn or bones. Among the Israelites they were generally made of seasoned wood and sometimes of horn, though “a bow of copper” is mentioned. (2 Sam. 22:35) Egyptian bows found at Thebes are about five feet (1.5 meters) long and are round pieces of wood that are nearly straight, though tapering to a point at both ends. Others, as depicted on tomb paintings, curved inward at the center. Assyrian warriors carried two bows: one long and somewhat curved, the other short and nearly angular.
The expression ‘to bend the bow’ (literally, ‘to tread the bow’) refers to stringing the bow. (Ps. 7:12; 37:14; Jer. 50:14, 29) This might be done by firmly planting the foot against the middle of the bow; or one end of the bow with the string attached might be held to the ground by the foot while the other end was bent to receive the free end of the string.
Arrow shafts were generally made of reed or light wood. Some Egyptian arrows were winged with feathers, as are modern arrows. Feathers would enable the arrow to maintain smooth flight on a straight course. A bundle of thin iron rods found at Nimrud may have been the shafts of arrows. Arrows tipped with metal or flint were widely used by the Egyptians. Persians and other Eastern peoples at times simply used stone-tipped arrows in battle. Sometimes arrows were barbed, were dipped in poison (Job 6:4), or were dressed with combustible material. (Ps. 7:13) Such an incendiary arrow was found at Shechem. Oil-soaked tow was placed into holes along the edge of its metal head, to be ignited when the arrow was used.
Arrows were carried in quivers on chariots (Isa. 22:6) or were hung on the back or at the warrior’s left side. The Egyptians carried their quiver in a nearly horizontal position, drawing the arrows from it under the arm, while the Assyrians slung it on the back, thus drawing the arrows from behind, over the shoulder.
An instrument of warfare used by besiegers to breach or break down the gates and walls of a city or fortress. In its simplest form, it was a heavy beam of timber with an iron tip resembling the head of a ram. Perhaps due to this or because of its butting action when in use, it is designated by the same Hebrew word (kar) as the animal.
Besiegers would cast up a mound, or siege rampart, against the city walls to serve as an inclined plane on which battering rams and other engines of war might be brought against them. Towers as high as the city walls might be pushed up the rampart, thus placing attackers on the same level as defenders. The defending soldiers would endeavor to put the battering rams out of action by dropping firebrands on them or by catching them with chains or grapnels.
Joab and his men cast up a siege rampart against Abel of Beth-maacah and may have used a battering ram in an attempt to throw down its wall. (2 Sam. 20:15) Ezekiel was told to make a model of Jerusalem under siege, with battering rams set against it. (Ezek. 4:1, 2) Battering rams were part of the siege equipment the Babylonians possessed for use against Jerusalem.—Ezek. 21:22.
The Egyptians and Assyrians were well acquainted with the battering ram. It often was long enough to require one or two hundred men to lift and wield it. In other cases it was suspended from a support allowing it to swing within a framework.
A scene on a relief from the palace of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud shows him attacking a city and depicts a battering ram mounted in a heavy machine with six wheels. It has a “prefabricated” body consisting of many rectangular wicker shields and a domed turret, below which a metal-tipped battering pole protrudes. Also represented is a tall mobile assault tower, from which an archer covers the men operating the ram. He is protected by a shield bearer holding a wicker shield like those covering the battering-ram structure.
Tyre was forewarned that Nebuchadnezzar would direct “the strike of his attack engine” against her walls (Ezek. 26:7-9), apparently indicating the use of the battering ram. The Romans developed battering-ram engines 150 feet (c. 46 meters) in length. According to Josephus, they used one against Jerusalem that was so enormous that 300 oxen were needed to move it and 1,500 men were required to drive it against the walls.
A weapon usually having a relatively short wooden or metal handle and a stone or metal head with a sharp blade. It was used for cutting and piercing in hand-to-hand combat, though besieging warriors might also employ it to split the doors of city gates or fell trees to construct assault engines. While the battle-ax was often used by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Elamites and others, it does not seem to have been of major importance to the Israelites.
Battle-axes of Biblical lands and times were of two basic types, though there were variations of these. One kind, having a long blade ending with a short sharp edge, was used for piercing. The other, with a short blade and wide edge, was for cutting. The cutting kind would be effective against foes not wearing armor, whereas against armored soldiers the piercing type would be useful. A kind used for cutting was the “epsilon ax,” so named because its semicircular blade with three “tangs” or projections that were fitted into the handle resembles the Greek letter eʹpsi· lon (or, from the other side, the figure 3). It seems that in Palestine and Syria this type underwent changes until, for increased effectiveness, the blade was lengthened and the edge narrowed, forming what has been called the “duck-bill ax,” given that name due to its elongated shape and general appearance. At times, the rear part of the battle-ax blade bore likenesses of animal heads, a horse’s mane or the extended fingers of a hand. Sometimes a figure such as that of an animal or a boat was inscribed on the Egyptian ax blade.
Battle-axes with heads of various shapes are depicted on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, the epsilon ax being one of the types represented on Egyptian monuments. Egyptian battle-axes were generally about two or two and a half feet (c. 0.6 or 0.8 meter) in length. Among them was the pole-ax, about three feet (c. 1 meter) long and consisting of a handle to which a metal ball with a projecting blade was affixed. The ball might be as much as four inches (c. 10 centimeters) in diameter and the blade from ten to fourteen inches (c. 25 to 36 centimeters) long by two to three inches (c. 5 to 8 centimeters) wide.
The battle-ax handle often tapered toward the head and was widest where it was gripped; or it was curved, so that it would not escape the wielder’s grip. It was either fitted into a socket in the axhead or the head had one or more tangs at the rear that extended into the handle. In the case of an Egyptian epsilon ax, the tangs have holes through which the blade could be fastened to the haft or handle by nails or cord, or both. One such ax discovered has a bronze blade and silver haft.
In 1961 more than 450 copper objects, including axheads, were found in a cave in the Judean desert between Masada and ʽAin Jidi. These are considered to be of the period prior to Abraham.
The employing of battle-axes against Egypt may be indicated at Jeremiah 46:22-24. Psalm 74:5, 6 also appears to have reference to the use of the battle-ax and there is figurative allusion to some type of double-bladed battle-ax, at Psalm 35:3, where Jehovah is asked by David to “draw spear and double ax to meet those pursuing me.”
An armored breast protector for warriors, consisting of scales, chains or solid metal. It might be worn over the coat of mail, sometimes being attached to it and constituting its front panel.
One type of protective cuirass worn by Greek and Roman soldiers consisted of two solid metal plates, one protecting the breast, the other the back. It was fitted with shoulder bands, was hinged on the right side and buckled on the left.
The “breastplate [Gr., thoʹra·ka] of righteousness” is part of the Christian’s spiritual armor from God, according to the apostle Paul. (Eph. 6:14) He urged the Thessalonians: “Let us keep our senses and have on the breastplate of faith.” (1 Thess. 5:8) The symbolic locusts of Revelation are described as having “breastplates like iron breastplates” and members of symbolic cavalry are also said to wear breastplates.—Rev. 9:9, 17.
COAT OF MAIL
A coat worn for protection during battle. It consisted of a cloth or leather cloak to the surface of which hundreds of small adjoining pieces of metal (somewhat like fish scales) were attached. Often it covered the breast, back and shoulders, though it sometimes reached to the knees or even the ankles.
Among the Hebrews the coat of mail (Heb., shir·yanʹ) was frequently made of leather covered with metal scales or plates. The wearer enjoyed considerable protection thereby but, nonetheless, would be vulnerable where the scales were connected or where the coat of mail adjoined other parts of the armor. Thus, King Ahab was mortally wounded by a bowman who “got to strike the king of Israel between the appendages and the coat of mail.”—1 Ki. 22:34-37.
The Bible provides no detailed description of coats of mail used by the Israelites or others in ancient times. It has been suggested that originally in Israel such protective coverings were worn only by kings and chiefs. However, their use was not thus restricted at a later date, for Uzziah supplied his entire army with coats of mail.—2 Chron. 26:14.
David’s Philistine antagonist Goliath “was clad with a coat of mail, of overlapping scales, and the weight of the coat of mail was five thousand shekels of copper,” equaling about 126 pounds or 57 kilograms. (1 Sam. 17:5) David donned but subsequently rejected the coat of mail offered him by King Saul, vanquishing the giant without such cumbersome attire.—1 Sam. 17:38-51.
In the face of enemy opposition, half the men associated with Nehemiah in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls were holding weapons and coats of mail (“habergeons,” AV), for use in the event of an attack. (Neh. 4:16) Coats of mail (“brigandines,” AV) comprised part of the battle equipment of the Egyptians, according to Jehovah’s words for Egypt through Jeremiah. (Jer. 46:1-4) By means of this same prophet, the Babylonians were told, “Let no one raise himself up in his coat of mail,” to defend the doomed city.—Jer. 51:3, 4.
The more ancient Egyptian coats of mail covered the breast, back and upper arms. Later types mainly protected the shoulders and the abdomen. However, at times the Egyptian coat of mail extended nearly to the knee and was bound with a girdle at the waist so that it would not rest too heavily on the shoulders. Assyrian chariot-warriors who held the shield to defend the king are depicted on bas-reliefs of Nineveh as clothed in coats of mail descending to the knee or the ankle.
The Scriptures use the coat of mail figuratively. According to Isaiah (59:17), Jehovah is said to have “put on righteousness as a coat of mail.”
Engines of warfare in Biblical times included battering rams and large devices designed to hurl missiles such as arrows or stones, as distinguished from light arms carried by soldiers. Various types were employed by the Hebrews, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans and others. Often such engines were set up on siege ramparts adjacent to city walls.
Large catapults for hurling stones, arrows or other missiles operated on the principle of the sling, the bow or the spring. The latter, consisting of an elastic bar bent back by a screw or cable of sinews, had a trigger to release it and send the projectile forward. Catapults to hurl missiles apparently appeared later than the fifth century B.C.E. among the Greeks, first being mentioned in connection with Dionysius I of Syracuse (430-367 B.C.E.), who supplied himself with engines for an expedition against Carthage. Such devices were used by the forces of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.E.), and thereafter by most Hellenistic armies, also being standard equipment of Roman legions. However, centuries earlier and for purposes of defense, Judean King Uzziah (829-777 B.C.E.) “made in Jerusalem engines of war, the invention of engineers, that they might come to be upon the towers and upon the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones.” (2 Chron. 26:15) It is said that elsewhere in the Mediterranean area such weapons were not in general use until a later period.
It can be appreciated that in the days of walled cities and such weapons as the bow and arrow, sword, spear and mace, immense engines of warfare could strike inhabitants of a beleaguered town with terror.
The military girdle of ancient times was a leather belt worn around the waist or hips. It varied in width from two to six inches (5.1 to 15.2 centimeters) and was often studded with plates of iron, silver or gold. The warrior’s sword was suspended from it and at times the belt was supported by a shoulder strap. (1 Sam. 18:4; 2 Sam. 20:8) Daggers were generally stuck in the girdle, even as some persons in the Middle East today might carry a dagger or pistol in that manner. Also, a cuirass or coat of mail might thus be secured at the waist.
Before going in to Moabite King Eglon, Ehud made a sword and “girded it underneath his garment upon his right thigh.” (Judg. 3:15-17) The Messianic King was also to gird his sword upon his thigh and “ride in the cause of truth and humility and righteousness.”—Ps. 45:3-6.
Whereas a loosened girdle denoted leisure (1 Ki. 20:11), girding up the loins or hips indicated readiness for action or battle. (Ex. 12:11; 1 Ki. 18:46; 1 Pet. 1:13, 1950 ed. NW, ftn. c) Christians equipped with God-given spiritual armor were fittingly admonished by the apostle Paul: “Stand firm, therefore, with your loins girded about with truth.”—Eph. 6:14.
Armor consisting of thin plates of metal, covering the leg between the ankle and the knee. The only Biblical reference to them is at 1 Samuel 17:6, where it is shown that the giant Philistine warrior Goliath from Gath had “greaves of copper above his feet.” While metal greaves have not been found in Philistine tombs, they have been discovered at Carchemish on the northern reaches of the Euphrates.
As indicated by their sculptures, Assyrian greaves protected the leg and also the upper part of the foot, apparently being laced up in the front. In some instances, they seem to have covered the entire thigh. The Greeks and Romans had metal greaves. These had leather, felt or cloth linings and were usually fastened by means of straps around the ankle and the calf. The Israelites may also have used greaves to some extent.
A wooden staff, perhaps tipped with a metal point, that was used as a weapon.—Ezek. 39:9.
A military headgear designed to protect a fighter during battle and a very basic part of defensive armor. In very early times helmets were made of rushes and were in the form of beehives or of skullcaps. Skins of animal heads were also worn on the head, perhaps to conceal the soldier, to terrify the enemy, or the wearer may have thought thereby to acquire the animal’s strength. It appears that the Elamites (to the E of Babylonia) first developed the metal helmet.
Shapes of helmets varied considerably and their forms often served particular desired purposes. Round or cone-shaped helmets, for instance, made penetration difficult or deflected arrows. Forms and decorations of helmets also made it possible to distinguish between friend and foe on the battlefield. Sometimes different kinds were worn by the various units of the same army, thus enabling the commander to see where each was situated at all times. However, in other instances, tradition rather than military purpose apparently influenced helmet shapes and decorations.
Originally, Israelite helmets were probably made of leather. Later these were covered with copper or iron and were worn over woolen, felt or leather bonnets. Copper helmets were used in Israel as early as the days of King Saul. (1 Sam. 17:38) While helmets may at first have been reserved for kings and other leaders, later they seem to have been in general use, Uzziah furnishing his entire army with them. (2 Chron. 26:14) The Bible itself gives us no description of the actual form of the Israelite helmet.
Among the Egyptians, helmets were usually made of quilted linen cloth, though they also used leather helmets. The Philistines possessed metal helmets, Goliath wearing one of copper. (1 Sam. 17:5) A relief in the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu depicts a dead Philistine warrior in full armor, complete with a plumed helmet. Assyrian helmets varied in shape in different periods. As indicated on ancient monuments, some were plain round caps and may have resembled those worn by the Israelites. Other Assyrian helmets were of iron and terminated in a point at the top to deflect the blows of assailants. To protect the ears and the back of the head, they sometimes had flaps with metal scales descending over the shoulders. Babylonian helmets also had earflaps.
Ezekiel mentioned helmets in connection with Persians, Ethiopians and others. (Ezek. 27:10; 38:5) Greek and Roman helmets of Herodian times were commonly made of either leather or bronze. The early Greek helmet enclosed the whole head, but it was later reduced and provided with a visor, a crest and often a plume. Roman helmets had movable earflaps and plumes.
Isaiah wrote that Jehovah put on a figurative “helmet of salvation.” (Isa. 59:15-17) The apostle Paul cited as part of the Christian’s “suit of armor from God” the “helmet of salvation.” (Eph. 6:13, 17) He also urged wearing “as a helmet the hope of salvation.”—1 Thess. 5:8.
Wooden siege ladders were often employed in warfare in ancient times, being used by attackers to scale city walls. On some monuments, as at Thebes, soldiers equipped with them are shown assaulting fortifications. Similar representations appear on Assyrian monuments. An Egyptian wall painting from a tomb at Saqqara depicts the use by warriors of a unique wheeled and hence mobile scaling-ladder.
During an assault, troops carrying spears and shields might attempt to mount a city’s walls by means of strategically placed ladders, while their fellow besiegers showered defenders on the walls with a barrage of arrows. Some features of this type of attack are shown on a relief from Nineveh depicting Assyrian King Ashurbanipal attacking an Egyptian city. In the face of such an onslaught the city’s defenders frequently retaliated with flaming arrows, stones or boiling water or oil. The only mention of a ladder in the Scriptures is the one Jacob saw in his dream.—Gen. 28:12; see LADDER.
A broad piece of defensive armor used by all ancient nations. It was equipped with an inside handle and was carried by the warrior during battle, usually on the left arm or in the left hand, although during the march it may have been hung from a shoulder strap. Isaiah 22:6 indicates that some may have been provided with a cover that was removed at time of combat. In peacetime shields were often placed in arsenals.—Song of Sol. 4:4.
Shields used in ancient times were often made of wood covered with leather, and such shields could be burned. (Ezek. 39:9) Shields were oiled to make them pliable and moisture resistant, to keep the metal from rusting, or to make them smooth and slippery. (2 Sam. 1:21; Isa. 21:5) The leather shield was often decked with a heavy center boss (a knob or stud) of metal, which gave added protection. (Job 15:26) Since Near Eastern shields were generally made of perishable materials, their nature and various forms are known, not because of actual discovery, but from numerous Egyptian and Assyrian reliefs.
Whereas wooden and leather shields were in general use, it appears that metal shields were less common, being used especially by leaders, royal guards or possibly for ceremonial purposes. (2 Sam. 8:7; 1 Ki. 14:27, 28) Solomon made 200 large shields and 300 bucklers (small shields) of alloyed gold and put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon (1 Ki. 10:16, 17; 2 Chron. 9:15, 16) In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Egyptian King Shishak came against Jerusalem and took the treasures of the house of Jehovah and of the house of the king, including all the gold shields Solomon had made, obliging Rehoboam to replace them with copper shields.—1 Ki. 14:25-28.
The large shield (Heb., tsin·nahʹ, from a root meaning “to protect”) was carried by the heavily armed infantry (2 Chron. 14:8) and sometimes by a shield bearer. (1 Sam. 17:7, 41) It was either oval or else rectangular like a door. Apparently a similar large shield is designated at Ephesians 6:16 by the Greek word thy·re·osʹ (from thyʹra, a door). The tsin·nahʹ was large enough to cover the entire body. (Ps. 5:12) It was sometimes used to set up solid-front battle lines with lances protruding. The large shield (tsin·nahʹ) is sometimes mentioned with the lance or spear as a form of reference to weapons in general.—1 Chron. 12:8, 34; 2 Chron. 11:12.
The small shield or buckler (Heb., ma·ghenʹ, from a root meaning to “defend” or “cover”) was customarily carried by archers and is usually associated with light weapons, such as the bow. For instance, it was carried by Benjamite bowmen of Judean King Asa’s military force. (2 Chron. 14:8) The small shield was usually round and more common than the large shield (tsin·nahʹ), probably being used chiefly in hand-to-hand fighting. That the Hebrew tsin·nahʹ and ma·ghenʹ differed considerably in size seems to be indicated by the gold shields Solomon made, the large shield (tsin·nahʹ) being overlaid with four times as much gold as the small shield or buckler (ma·ghenʹ). (1 Ki. 10:16, 17; 2 Chron. 9:15, 16) Ma·ghenʹ, like tsin·nahʹ, seems to be used as part of a formula for weapons of war.—2 Chron. 14:8; 17:17; 32:5.
The Scriptures make specific reference to the circular shield (Heb., sheʹlet). Such shields were used by the Hebrews, Syrians, Medes and others.—2 Sam. 8:7; 1 Chron. 18:7; 2 Ki 11:10; 2 Chron. 23:9; Song of Sol. 4:4; Jer. 51:11; Ezek. 27:11.
The common Egyptian shield seems to have consisted of a wooden frame covered with hide, the hair being turned outward. It had one or more metal rims and studs, a rounded top and squared bottom and was about half the soldier’s height. The circular shield was another type in use, as indicated on a relief from the tomb of Ramses II, in which a soldier of the bodyguard is depicted as holding one of this kind.
Many types of shields were used by the Assyrians. Circular and oblong shields appear on ancient Assyrian bas-reliefs. They were often of hide-covered wickerwork. Bowmen were protected by nearly man-sized large shields, evidently made of bundles of plaited and padded osiers (shoots of willows or similar plants) bound together. A shield bearer was required to carry such a shield, due to its size. The top curved backward, forming a canopy over the head of the archer for protection from spent enemy arrows that might descend upon him almost vertically, or perhaps as protection against enemies high up on walls. Circular bronze shields were found at Nimrud, one of which was about two and a half feet (c. 0.8 meter) in diameter. Iron handles were fastened to the inside of the shields by six bosses or nails, the heads of which ornamented the outer face. Job 15:26 may allude to a similar type of shield. A relief from the palace of King Sennacherib in Nineveh shows Assyrian soldiers carrying round shields that, at the center, converge into a projecting point, which probably served to deflect blows of enemy weapons and missiles.
The large shield (Gr., a·spisʹ; Lat., clipeus) of the early Greeks and Romans was originally round and sometimes made of osiers twisted together, or it consisted of a wooden frame covered with several layers of oxhide. A center projection, at times terminating in a spike, made it like a weapon, while the point itself would cause missiles to glance off the shield. In the case of the Roman soldier, the clipeus was eventually discontinued for the oval or oblong shield called a scutum, which was curved so as partly to encircle the body. The name of each Roman soldier (and sometimes that of his commander) was inscribed on his shield, thus facilitating prompt identification when the order was given to unpile arms. Possibly the apostle Paul had in mind large Roman shields (scuta longa) when mentioning “the large shield [Gr., thy·re·onʹ] of faith” at Ephesians 6:16. This type of Roman shield is said to have been four feet by two and a half feet (c. 1.2 by .8 meters).
The Scriptures use the shield figuratively in connection with nobles or rulers as protectors of people (Ps. 47:9), Jehovah’s trueness (Ps. 91:4), God’s protection (Gen. 15:1; Deut. 33:29; 2 Sam. 22:3, 31; Ps. 3:3; 18:2, 30; 28:7; 33:20; 59:11; 84:11; 115:9-11; 144:2) and salvation from Jehovah. (2 Sam. 22:36; Ps. 18:35) Spiritual armor from Jehovah God includes “the large shield of faith,” needed by the Christian “to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles.”—Eph 6:16.
From ancient times the sling (Heb., qeʹlaʽ) has been the weapon of shepherds (1 Sam. 17:40) and warriors. (2 Chron. 26:14) It was a leather thong or was a band woven of such materials as animal sinews, rushes or hair. The “hollow of the sling,” a widened center piece, held the projectile. (1 Sam. 25:29) One end of the sling might be tied to the hand or wrist while the other was held in the hand, to be freed when the sling was swung. The loaded sling was whirled overhead, perhaps several times, and then one end was suddenly released, sending the missile forward with considerable force and speed.
Smooth, round stones were especially desired for slinging, though other projectiles were also used. (1 Sam. 17:40) Acorn-shaped lead plummets employed by Greek slingers could be sent some 600 feet (183 meters). A number of baked clay pellets found at Tell Hassuna may have been used by slingers. Flint slingstones as much as four inches (10 centimeters) in diameter and weighing about two pounds (1 kilogram) have been discovered at Megiddo, Tell Beit Mirsim and other sites in Palestine.
Slingstones might be carried in a bag at the slinger’s side or be heaped at his feet. David selected five smooth stones, placed them in his shepherds’ bag and went forth to meet Goliath. As the lad ran toward the battle line, he took a stone from his bag and slung it with telling effect. Thus “with a sling and a stone” David struck down the Philistine giant.—1 Sam. 17:40, 48-50.
Slingers were a regular part of the armies of Judah (2 Chron. 26:14) and Israel. (2 Ki. 3:25) According to Josephus, there were slingers among the Jews as late as the first century C.E., during the war with the Romans. (Wars of the Jews, Book II, chap. XVII, par. 5; Book IV, chap. I, par. 3) Some of the Benjamites seem to have been especially skillful with the sling, being able to use it equally well with the left or the right hand. (1 Chron. 12:2) Of seven hundred left-handed Benjamite warriors Judges 20:16 says: “Everyone of these was a slinger of stones to a hairbreadth and would not miss.” The sling was also a common weapon of war among the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and others. Slingers are often depicted among Assyrian troops in bas-reliefs of Kouyunjik. Generally, a heap of slingstones is shown at the slinger’s feet, while he holds a second stone in his left hand, ready for prompt use.
Jehovah told Job that for Leviathan slingstones have been changed “into mere stubble.” (Job 41:1, 28) The Bible also uses the sling and slingstones figuratively, as at Jeremiah 10:18, where sudden and forcible removal of inhabitants of the earth seems to be likened to the violence with which slingstones are projected. Abigail said of Jehovah’s action against and rejection of David’s foes: “As for the soul of your enemies, he will sling it forth as from inside the hollow of the sling.”—1 Sam. 25:29.
SPEAR, LANCE, JAVELIN, DART
Weapons used for thrusting or hurling, consisting of a shaft fitted with a sharp point or head. (1 Sam. 18:11; Judg. 5:8; Josh. 8:18; Job 41:26) Various kinds were used by all the nations of antiquity. Precise delineation between them, as designated by different Hebrew words, is somewhat uncertain.
The spear (Heb., hhanithʹ) was apparently the largest of these four weapons, having a long wooden shaft and generally a sharp stone or metal head. In importance it ranked second to the sword. The giant Goliath carried a spear with a blade weighing “six hundred shekels of iron” (15 pounds or 6.8 kilograms) and with a wooden shaft “like the beam of loom workers.” (1 Sam. 17:7; compare 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 11:22, 23; 20:5.) In fits of anger, King Saul hurled spears at both David and Jonathan.—1 Sam. 18:10, 11; 19:9, 10; 20:32, 33.
Some spears had a metal point at the butt end by which they might be fixed in the ground. Hence, this end, and not just the spearhead, could be used effectively by a warrior. Abner, apparently with a powerful backward thrust, struck Asahel “in the abdomen with the butt end of the spear, so that the spear came out from his back; and he fell there and died where he was.”—2 Sam. 2:19-23.
A spear stuck in the earth might denote a king’s temporary abode, even as a spear thrust into the ground in front of a tent today indicates it is the halting place of a Bedouin sheik. On one occasion, King Saul slept in a camp enclosure “with his spear stuck into the earth at his head.” (1 Sam. 26:7) When outlawed David and Abishai stealthily entered the camp and there was an opportunity to kill Saul with the spear, David would not allow the murder of sleeping Saul, as the “anointed of Jehovah,” though Abishai pleaded: “Let me, please, pin him to the earth with the spear just once, and I shall not do it to him twice.”—1 Sam. 26:8-16.
The lance (Heb., roʹmahh), a weapon with a long shaft and a sharp point, was used for thrusting. With it Phinehas executed an Israelite offender and his consort, a Midianite woman, thus ending a scourge that had come upon Israel for attaching itself to the Baal of Peor. (Num. 25:6-8) Among David’s supporters were Gadites ‘keeping the lance in readiness,’ as well as men of Judah bearing lances. (1 Chron. 12:8, 24) When ten tribes of Israel rebelled, Rehoboam fortified Judah, placing large shields and lances in all the different cities. (2 Chron. 11:12) Arms possessed by Judah’s soldiers in the days of Asa and of Uzziah included the lance (2 Chron. 14:8; 26:14), and, upon registering the warriors of Judah and Benjamin, King Amaziah “found them to be three hundred thousand choice men going out to the army, handling lance and large shield.” (2 Chron. 25:5) In the days of Elijah, frenzied Baal worshipers on Mount Carmel used lances as well as daggers to cut themselves when beseeching their false god to act. (1 Ki. 18:28) Also, Nehemiah posted men with lances during the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. (Neh. 4:13, 16, 21) So the lance was a standard weapon of the Hebrews.
The javelin (Heb., ki·dhohnʹ) had a pointed metal head and was usually thrown. It was apparently smaller and lighter than the conventional spear, which would allow for it to be held outstretched and utilized as described at Joshua 8:18-26, where we learn that the javelin was used by Joshua in the battle against Ai. Besides his spear (hhanithʹ) Goliath carried a javelin (ki·dhohnʹ) of copper between his shoulders. (1 Sam. 17:6, 7, 45) The javelin was not customarily carried in the hand but on the back, warriors sometimes having several in a quiver. Javelins were somewhat like large arrows and had bodies of wood or reed. To increase this weapon’s range, a cord with a loop might be attached to it. This was wound around the shaft, the loop being retained by the soldier’s fingers when the javelin was hurled. Rapid unwinding of the cord caused it to spin, which resulted in steadier flight. In some cases the javelin had a metal point at the base, enabling it to be stuck in the ground during rest periods and adding to its speed and balance in flight. The javelin was apparently also employed in the hunt, being thrown at the prey from a safe distance. At Job 41:29 Leviathan is said to laugh “at the rattling of a javelin.” The Babylonians ravaging Judah and Jerusalem brandished javelins (Jer. 6:22, 23), and Medo-Persian forces also wielded the javelin when they, in turn, mercilessly overran Babylon.—Jer. 50:41, 42.
Darts and shafts
The dart, possibly designated by more than one Hebrew word (i.e., mas·saʽʹ, sheʹlahh), was evidently a short pointed missile similar to the arrow. There were various types. Jehovah informed Job that the dart (mas·saʽʹ) is ineffective against Leviathan.—Job 41:26.
Among the Romans darts were made of hollow reeds, and on the lower part, under the point, there was an iron receptacle that could be filled with burning naphtha. The dart was then shot from a slack bow, as projecting it from a taut bow would put out the fire. Endeavoring to extinguish such a missile with water would just increase the flame, and the only way to put it out was by covering the destructive projectile with earth. The Hebrews may also have used flaming darts in battle. The apostle Paul was evidently acquainted with fiery darts, and may have alluded to them when admonishing Christians: “Above all things, take up the large shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles [fiery darts, AV].”—Eph. 6:16.
The account at 2 Samuel 18:14 states that Joab “took three shafts in his palm and proceeded to drive them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive in the heart of the big tree.” The Hebrew word sheʹvet, used for these implements, carries the thought of a rod, staff or shaft.
Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Roman spears and lances
The Egyptian spear had a wooden shaft, five to six feet (c. 1.5 to 1.8 meters) long, tipped with a head of bronze or iron, generally double-edged. Egyptian javelins were lighter and shorter, with two-edged metal heads usually of elongated diamond or leaf shape. At the butt end was a bronze knob with a ball to which two tassels or thongs were attached, evidently as ornaments and to counterbalance the heavy point. At times, the Egyptian javelin was used as a spear for thrusting, and the knob prevented the weapon from slipping from the warrior’s grasp. Through Jeremiah, Jehovah told the Egyptians under Pharaoh Necho: “Polish the lances.” (Jer. 46:4) A relief from Medinet Habu, near Thebes, depicts an Egyptian attack on a fortified Syrian town. Within battlements on the walls stand numerous defending soldiers wielding lances and ready for the fray.
Assyrian foot soldiers used spears the length of which hardly exceeded the height of the soldier; the horseman’s spear seems to have been considerably longer. A relief from Nineveh depicts the assault of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s forces on the city of Lachish and behind the besieging archers are Assyrian spearmen carrying large round shields and holding the spear in hand, poised for action.
The spear (Gr., logʹkhe) is mentioned only once in the Christian Greek Scriptures. After Jesus Christ died, “one of the soldiers jabbed his side with a spear.” (John 19:33, 34) Since this was a Roman soldier, the Roman pilum was probably used. Such a weapon was about six feet (c. 1.8 meters) long, with a barbed iron head extending halfway down the length of the wooden shaft. It is interesting to note that two hundred spearmen initially formed part of the formidable escort taking the apostle Paul from Jerusalem to Governor Felix in Caesarea.—Acts 23:23, 24; see SPEARMEN.
Figurative and prophetic usage
David, speaking of his devouring adversaries, figuratively describes their teeth as “spears and arrows, and whose tongue is a sharp sword.” (Ps. 57:4) Nineveh, “the city of bloodshed,” in its doom was to see “the lightning of the spear, and the multitude of slain ones” at the hands of the Medes and Chaldeans. (Nah. 3:1, 3) Habakkuk associated the effects of God’s wrath with “the lightning of your spear,” saying further: “With denunciation you went marching through the earth. In anger you went threshing the nations.”—Hab. 3:11, 12.
Yet, the spear is also used Biblically with respect to divine protection.—Ps. 35:3.
To the nations who have scattered his people, God throws down the challenge: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning shears into lances.” (Joel 3:9-12) Lances are listed among the weapons remaining with which “to light fires seven years” after “Gog and all his crowd” meet their end.—Ezek. 39:1-11.
SWORD, DAGGER, SHEATH
The Bible first refers to the sword (Heb., hheʹrev) at Genesis 3:24, in the account about the posting of cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden along with “the flaming blade of a sword.” The sword was used in patriarchal times (Gen. 27:40; 31:26; 34:25) and was employed by the Israelites during the conquest of Canaan.—Josh. 6:21; 8:24; 10:28, 30-39; 11:10-14.
In the Scriptures the sword is the most frequently mentioned weapon of offense and defense. It had a handle and a metal blade, which might be made of brass, copper, iron or steel. Swords were employed for cutting (1 Sam. 17:51; 1 Ki. 3:24, 25) and thrusting or running through. (1 Sam. 31:4) Some swords were short, others long, being single- or double-edged. The two basic kinds in the Near East were the straight, thrusting or stabbing sword, sharp at the edges and at the point (thus serving equally well for cutting and stabbing), and the striking sword with just one sharp edge (used for cutting or hacking). The latter sometimes had a slight curve; in other cases it curved considerably and is often called the sickle sword because of its appearance. However, these implements are dissimilar in that the sickle’s inner edge is sharp, whereas it was the outer edge of the sickle sword that was sharpened. The Bible itself furnishes no detailed description of Hebrew or other swords, though this weapon was widely used by nations of antiquity.
Archaeologists separate daggers from swords by length, the point of differentiation being about 16 inches (40 centimeters). However, it is not known whether the Hebrews made a similar distinction. During the fire test atop Mount Carmel, prophets of Baal cut themselves with daggers in a futile attempt to elicit action on the part of their false god. (1 Ki. 18:28, 29) Ehud’s double-edged sword was a cubit long, which may mean that it was about 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters) in length. Though it may have been relatively short, it was no mere dagger and is appropriately called a “sword.”—Judg. 3:16, 17, 21, 22.
It has been suggested, partly on the basis of the length of Ehud’s sword and because David was able to wield the sword of the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17:51), that the weapon designated by the Hebrew word hheʹrev was lighter and shorter than common swords of more recent times. Nonetheless, it was a formidable weapon in the hand of a skilled swordsman. When Joab struck Amasa in the abdomen with his sword, Amasa’s “intestines spilled out to the earth, and he did not have to do it to him again.”—2 Sam. 20:10.
Generally the sword was suspended on the left side from the girdle (1 Sam. 25:13) and was worn in a sheath, a leather case or covering for the sword or the dagger. Specific Biblical reference is made to sheaths worn by Goliath, Joab, and the apostle Peter. (1 Sam. 17:51; 2 Sam. 20:8; John 18:11) Second Samuel 20:8 allows for the possibility that Joab deliberately adjusted his sword so that it fell from its sheath and then merely held the weapon in his hand instead of sheathing it once again. Unsuspecting Amasa perhaps thought it had fallen accidentally, and he was unconcerned. That proved fatal.
Jesus’ words at Luke 22:36, “let the one having no sword sell his outer garment and buy one,” have been explained by some as indicating that his disciples were about to enter into a hazardous life. It is true that the country of Palestine was even then infested with robbers as well as wild beasts. Paul spoke of experiencing “dangers from highwaymen” and “dangers in the wilderness” in his travels there and in other surrounding lands (2 Cor. 11:26), although there is nothing to show that he relied upon a sword to frighten off would-be attackers. The fact that two swords were available among the disciples on that night of Jesus’ betrayal, therefore, was certainly not unusual for those times (Luke 22:38), and there is evidence that for Galileans in particular it was not uncommon to carry arms. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book III, chap. III, par. 2) Additionally, it should be realized that a sword can be utilitarian, serving similarly to an ax or a large knife when necessary.
However, in view of the subsequent Christian teaching regarding weapons, showing that the “weapons of our warfare are not fleshly” but spiritual, it seems very probable that Christ was desirous of having a sword available among his followers on that night in order to demonstrate clearly that, though they would come into circumstances that could easily provoke armed resistance, he did not intend to resort to the sword but would give himself up voluntarily in harmony with God’s will. (2 Cor. 10:4) Thus, when Peter did react and try to put up armed resistance, lopping off the ear of Malchus, Jesus ordered him: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52; John 18:10, 11) Certainly, Peter’s sword and the other one at hand would have availed little against such a large group of armed men, and by trying to use them they would undoubtedly have ‘perished by the sword.’ (Matt. 26:47) More importantly, such attempted delivery of Jesus would have failed, being completely contrary to Jehovah God’s purpose. (Matt. 26:53, 54) As it was, later that day Jesus could plainly state to Pilate: “If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.”—John 18:36
The Greek word maʹkhai·ra is usually used for the sword in the Christian Scriptures (Matt. 26:47), though hrom·phaiʹa, denoting a large, broad sword, is also employed. (Rev. 1:16) In both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures the sword is used in a literal and a figurative sense. When employed figuratively, it may symbolize war (Lev. 26:25; Ezek. 7:15), divisions (Matt. 10:34, 35), wicked speech (Ps. 55:21; 59:7), sharp words thoughtlessly spoken (Prov. 12:18), executional authority (Rom. 13:4), divine judgment (Deut. 32:41; Isa. 34:5, 6), God’s protection (Deut. 33:29), and so forth. Whereas drawing the sword denotes war and destruction (Lev. 26:33; Ezek. 21:3, 4), sheathing it indicates peace.—Jer. 47:6.
The word of God is said to be “sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12) Christian spiritual armor includes “the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.” (Eph. 6:17) A “great sword” was given to the second horseman of the Apocalypse, who was foretold to take peace away from the earth. (Rev. 6:3, 4; compare Matthew 24:7.) According to the apocalyptic vision, from the mouth of the one called “Faithful and True,” who wages righteous war and is also named “The Word of God,” “there protrudes a sharp long sword, that he may strike the nations with it.” (Rev. 19:11-15; compare Psalm 45:3-5.) As for persons taught by Jehovah, even now they “beat their swords into plowshares,” employing resources formerly used in war for purposes of peace.—Mic. 4:3.
The “war club” was evidently a heavy club or mace, sometimes studded with metal. At Proverbs 25:18 a false witness is likened to a “war club” (“maul,” AV), a sword and an arrow. The same Hebrew word (me·phitsʹ, literally meaning “shatterer, disperser”) may also apply to a hammer, such as that used by a coppersmith, and to a club carried by shepherds in the Middle East today.
The Hebrew word map·petsʹ, derived from another root, appears at Jeremiah 51:20 and is rendered “club” (“battle ax,” AV). There Nebuchadnezzar in particular, as head of the Babylonian forces, is referred to as a “club” and as war weapons whereby God would “dash nations to pieces” and “bring kingdoms to ruin.” A similar Hebrew word (map·patsʹ) is employed at Ezekiel 9:2, where divinely appointed executioners are said to be equipped with a “weapon for smashing.”
Jehovah told Job that a club has been regarded as mere stubble by Leviathan. (Job 41:29) And the club (Gr., xyʹlon) was among the weapons carried by those who came to arrest Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.—Matt. 26:47, 55; Mark 14:43, 48; Luke 22:52.
In addition, there was the more elaborate mace that generally consisted of a heavy socketed stone or metal head into which a relatively short handle was fitted. Sometimes the handle was bound with cord where it was gripped, probably to prevent its slipping from the wielder’s grasp. The mace was used to beat and smash during hand-to-hand combat. Its head might be pear- or saucer-shaped, or spherical. With the development and use of the helmet and other armor, the mace nearly disappeared from the battlefield.
The mace is frequently represented on Egyptian monuments. One type consisted of a wooden handle to which a bronze ball was attached. Egyptian maces were about two and a half feet (c. 0.8 meter) long and were carried by the heavy-armed infantry and charioteers. Egyptian heavy- and light-armed troops and archers also used a curved stick, which was probably hurled at the enemy or employed in hand-to-hand fighting. This device is represented on both Egyptian and Assyrian monuments. According to Herodotus (Book VII, sec. 63), Assyrians in Xerxes’ army “had wooden clubs knotted with iron.”
Maceheads of various kinds have been discovered. For example, excavations near Beer-sheba have yielded round copper maceheads considered to be of the time before Abraham. Pear-shaped and fluted Mesopotamian limestone maceheads, held to be of the same period, have also been found.
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Battering ram with domed turret and protruding battering pole. Behind it is a mobile assault tower with archer and shield bearer. Exact copy from relief in palace of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II
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Large Roman shield, as shown on a frieze believed to be from the first century B.C.E.
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