6000 years ago, the first warfare took place on Syrian land

By Youssef Kanjou

It is very difficult to determine when humans invented war and how they came to organize fighting as a means of achieving domineering, political and social goals. The only source to answer this question is archaeological excavations before the invention of writing. Through these, many historical battlefields were discovered. The ancient findings show us that conflicts were rare at early stage. Man lived in peaceful mobile groups in the early stages of his life on earth. Signs of wars did not appear until the middle of the fourth millennium BC, when ancient cities and kingdoms were formed with walls and castles.

Syrian-American excavations at Tell HamouKar in northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border in 2005 to 2006 found remarkable signs of a war that took place around the year 5500 before today. They found massive destruction on a large scale: heavy bombardment with slingshots led to the complete collapse of walls and buildings and the quick burning of the city. In the ruins of the city, archaeologists also found about 1,200 oval pointed balls of clay used in the war. Each ball was 2.5 cm long and 3.5 cm in diameter. They also found 120 other round balls of clay with a diameter of 6 to 10 cm. It must have been a violent battle between two powers in the fourth millennium BC, which raged for a while in the city.

During the excavations, the places for the production of these weapons were also discovered, and it was found that some of these slingshots had penetrated the walls. The people of this city used various means to defend their city. Thus, they turned clay balls, which were used for mathematical calculations, into tools of war.

Twelve human skeletons were found in the ruins, which showed clear signs that they had fallen in battle. The archaeologists also discovered evidence of a quick escape of people from the city: the tools that people used in daily life remained in their place under the destroyed buildings, indicating that they did not have enough time to take their tools with them. At the same time, this helped archaeologists to determine the function of the buildings, whether in terms of religion, administration, productivity or even the location of the kitchens. This was possible only because of this sudden war. Moreover, it seems that the inhabitants of the city at that time had foreseen the danger and therefore built a wall around the city, about three meters thick.

All these findings are an important proof that the oldest organized battle in Mesopotamia took place at “Tell HamouKar” in the northeast of Syria. It was during this period that the first cities were built and thus this represented an important turning point in the life of mankind. It also seems to be the beginning of organized wars.

Finally, will archaeologists, in the future, be able to explain the great destruction that occurred in Syrian cities and villages during the current conflict or a war in other regions of the world?


6000 Jahre nach dem ersten Krieg in Syrien: Zerstörungen der Altstadt von Aleppo im aktuellen Krieg. Foto: S. Zakor.

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