Game changing weapons and their role in empire building

Empires come and go, as Greece, Macedonia, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Britain will tell you. These countries are successor states of empires that once ruled huge parts of the world. Of course building such enormous empires required much more than just weapons, but in a few cases, I’ve noticed that deployment of a particular weapon significantly accelerated that empire’s rise.
Of particular interest to me is Macedonia’s rise from a small kingdom on Greece’s periphery to one that came to rule Greece, defeating established powers like Athens. All of this came to be when Philip II of Macedon became king. You might know him as Alexander the Great’s father. By the way, during Alexander’s rule, the Macedonian empire for a brief period included modern day Greece, Italy, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and India. These people were able to manage such a huge area more than 2000 years ago. In fact, legend has it that the only reason Alexander’s empire didn’t spread past India was coz his army simply got tired of conquering shit and turned back.
Anyway on taking the throne, Philip II, apart from reorganizing Macedonia’s army, introduced a weapon that came to prove quite effective in crushing his enemies. That weapon, the sarissa, was a very long spear about 4 to 7 metres long.
It’s sheer length, coupled with the high training and discipline of the Macedonian army, made it damn near impossible for the enemy to penetrate the phalanx. This weapon and the strategies introduced by Philip II were inherited by Alexander and all Macedonian kings after him, and worked extremely well. Until the Roman legion came calling…
The weapon of choice for the Romans was the pilum, another spear.
About 2 metres in length, the pilum was innovative in the sense that it was designed to have a very hard tip, but soft iron shank (the “neck”). So when the tip made contact, it stuck to the target, but it’s soft shank made it bend and lose it’s straightness, hence rendering it useless to the enemy.
Once Roman soldiers threw their pila (plural), the enemy couldn’t pick them up and throw them back. You can also imagine a situation where a pilum hit an enemy soldier’s shield and bent downwards, weighing down the shield. Now imagine that same enemy soldier trying hard to remove the pilum from his shield while Roman soldiers are charging with their swords. Disaster.
Let’s turn our attention to Africa, specifically South Africa. Before Shaka the Zulu came along, the Zulu were a collection of clans that spent time bickering against each other. But he managed to unite them into the Zulu kingdom, and turned the Zulu army into a force to be reckoned with. Shaka’s innovations included introducing the ikiwa, yet another spear, which was a shorter version of the assegai. The ikiwa was effective during close combat. Shaka is also credited with introducing the “bull horn formation”, which was very effective in winning battles.
While the chest was engaging the enemy. the left and right horns would encircle him until he was trapped. The loins acted as reserves. This bull horn formation would be put to use in 1879, decades after shaka’s death, against superior British troops at the battle of Isandiwana. At this battle, the Zulus managed to kill over 1,000 british troops.
Finally, we all know the American empire. We are all experiencing it. For years, America was a main world power, but it was her deployment of a game changing weapon that earned her the superpower tag.
So what game changing weapon will help build the next empire? Will it be a cyber weapon? Or will it be a completely new weapon whose existence we won’t even be aware of until it’s used? Could it already be in development as I type this? I guess only time will tell.


Most likely a bio weapon.

Bio weapons are really nasty, I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’d prefer something that didn’t result in mass murder. Like Boeing’s electromagnetic pulse weapon, which is designed to disable all electronics while doing zero harm to everything else.

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Naskia greece economy inasing ile song ya uliza kiatu

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Hehe it’s hard to believe this nation once ruled the world.

Mimi hushangaa sana kwa nini these “great conquerors” huitwa great we they not just hitlers of their days?

History is written by the victors. -Winston Churchill

Unfortunately that’s how it goes. Victors tend to project themselves in good light, calling themselves “saviours”, “liberators” and “protectors” of the people they conquer. Never mind that these people never ask these victors to save, liberate or protect them. If hitler had emerged victorious, I’m pretty sure Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt would be the bad guys. To give a more recent example, just look at the pointless war George Bush Jr. started in Iraq in the guise of “liberating” them from the tyrant Saddam Hussein. More Iraqis have died as a result of this “liberation” than saddam ever killed. But the world, heavily influenced by western media, treats Bush like a hero for defeating “evil”, completely ignoring the fact that more evil has been unleashed on the middle east (ISIS for example) as a result of this misguided adventure.


Nice article. I used to call the Ikiwa an Assegai.
Why do you think sub saharan Africa has few, if any, examples of communities deciding to build empires?

Greece saa hii ni kama DRC ya Europe.

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I think there was empire building in Africa too, just not in the scale of these european powers. I remember in primary school being taught about the Songhai, Benin, Zimbabwe, Mali, Ashanti, Sokoto and Ethiopian empires. They were not nearly as ambitious as the Greeks and Romans though. The biggest setback to our knowledge of African empire building is that Africans did not have a system of writing. But my opinion of why African empires were not so ambitious is that everything was so plentiful that they didn’t see the need to build armies to conquer other kingdoms and steal their resources. I once read that when the boers first arrived in SA, there were so many minerals that in some areas you could pick diamonds off the ground like kawa rocks. The africans in the area didn’t realize the value of those precious stones, using diamonds for example like axe heads.

and then there was Mansa Musa of Mali who travelled with so much gold when on a pilgrimage to Mecca he caused serious inflation in Egypt and the Middle East…


This Mansa Musa sounds very interesting, I wonder why we don’t know that much about him.
Musa made his pilgrimage in 1324. His procession reportedly included 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves who each carried four pounds of gold bars…But Musa’s generous actions inadvertently devastated the economy of the regions through which he passed. In the cities of Cairo, Medina, and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade.
Given that the people of mali and west Africa in general were exposed to Arab civilization as far back as the 1300s, shouldn’t they be far more ahead of other African countries?


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strories kama za Mansa Musacould not be taught in our schools just incase we stopped worshiping the european conquerors and realised that we too had great men in history…btw why didnt they include Genghis Khan kwa hiyo list ya great conquerors in our schools curriculum? his empire was bigger than that of any european conqueror


Trus about the record keeping. Even when the Great Zimbabwe was discovered, Rhodesia tried covering up and denying it’s existence. Imagine how much more has been kanyagiwad.

About Africans not being ‘hungry for conquest’, I’d counter by saying, how rich was Rome in it’s prime, yet it kept expanding?

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kwanza hiyo ya Great Zimbabwe I had read somewhere of how they tried to explain the builders of the city must have been one of the lost tribes of Israel

:D:D Ati what?

Genghis made it extremely hard to like or even admire him. The only admirable quality he had in my opinion is ruthless efficiency. The mongols did not care about culture, so when they conquered a nation or city, they went on the rampage, destroying everything of value, including libraries, temples, schools and hospitals. The cities that dared resist his demands for surrender were treated especially harshly after being defeated, with their entire populations being massacred or enslaved.I find it hard to believe that the “inferior” mongols managed to conquer more advanced cities like Baghdad.
Contrast the mongols’ handling of conquered kingdoms with the Greek, Roman or even Persian treatment. These 3 empires would largely allow the people to continue with their way of life, so long as they understood who was boss. Sometimes all these conquered kingdoms had to do was pay tribute and contribute soldiers. Alexander for example was notorious for handing back kingdoms to the kings he had defeated, often appointing these kings or other nobles as satraps (governors). He also built many new cities, known as Alexandrias in the places he conquered. The most famous Alexandria was the one which was located in Egypt. So these moves made the Greeks, and Romans to be given favourable treatment by historians.

soma hapa about the lemba people

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