Many specimens of weapons have been discovered in the
ruins of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, most of which were mainly used for
hunting. A. D. Pusalker lists that remains of “axes, spears, daggers,
bows, arrows, maces, slings, perhaps catapults and swords” have been
found. They were made of copper or bronze. Daggers and knives are long and
leaf-shaped, either single- or double- edged. Arrow heads were thin and had
long barbs. Maces similar to those used in Egypt and Mesopotamia at that
time were also used; these were made of alabaster, sandstone or limestone.
The Vedic age
With the coming of the Aryans, the
Indus valley civilisation was phased out and India was in the Vedic age
until the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the 6th century. The
land was soon subdivided into different dynasties and kingdoms, and
skirmishes often took place to capture territory.
The Rigveda, one of four books that
tell us about this period, mentions the state of warfare at that time. The
dominant weapon was the bow and arrow. The arrowheads were made of metal.
Accounts of poisoned horn arrowheads are also known. Lances, spears and
slings were used along with swords and axes. As for armour, leather guards
for the forearms were used to prevent rope burn fron the bowstring. Chain
mail and helmets are also mentioned.
Siege warfare mainly consisted of
setting fire to walls of opposing territory. However, a “moving fort”
has been mentioned which might have been a battering ram or siege machine of
Buddhist & Gupta periods (ca. 560 BCE - 600 CE)
Armour and shields: Armour of metal
and leather became widespread with the invasions from the north-west (200
BCE – 200 CE). Shields had a frame of bent cane and were covered with
either metal or leather. Helmets were rarely used; the Indian soldiers
relied on the thick folds of cloth of the turbans they wore.
Accounts of the Mauryan period
(ca. 320 – 180 BCE) describe bows as being made of bamboo; they were about
five feet long and shot cane arrows. Swords were made in different styles,
the two-edged long sword being a favourite. Lances, maces and battle-axes
were also used.
War elephants are first described in
the Magadha kingdom (ca. 5th century BCE). They were specially
trained and walked ahead of the infantry, breaking through enemy lines and
flattening walls, gates and barriers. They wore leather armour and often had
metal-tipped tusks. One account
describes swords attached to elephants’ trunks which wreaked havoc on a
Most siege weaponry, mainly
seen after the Mauryan kingdom, was borrowed from the west and as such was
not unique. A special feature of Indian warfare was the use of incendiary
fireballs, missiles and bombs to set fire to enemy camps.