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General description of soldiers in the Old Testament and New Testament.

A general picture of the OT and NT soldier can be gathered from 1 Samuel 17 and Ephesians 6. In the former passage the Philistine warrior Goliath is depicted as wearing a bronze helmet, coat of mail, and greaves (i.e., protective pieces) for his legs, with a bronze javelin “slung between his shoulders,” and carrying a spear made partly of wood and partly of iron, and a sword encased in a sheath attached to his body, prob. by a belt (1 Sam 17:5-7, 51). His large shield was carried by an attendant (1 Sam 17:7, 41).

The soldier pictured in Ephesians 6:11-17 is one in full armor (panoplia), having on a belt or girdle, a breastplate or coat of mail, shoes or sandals, and a helmet, and wielding a sword and shield.

The military equipment worn by these two soldiers consists basically of similar type articles. The differences in construction, material, and shape of the various items will be observed in the following discussion.

Stone Age weaponry.

By the Early Bronze period (3000-2000 b.c.) there was further development in fortifications of towns and of weapons as is evidenced by the copper weapons from Jericho and Tell Hesi, including the socketed axe head, crescent-shaped tanged cutting axe head, and the rectangularly shaped axe blade (Kenyon, 119, 120; Yadin, Vol. I, 143, 149). Also an Egyp. carved ivory handle of a flint knife (c. 3000 b.c.) depicts boats (Egyp. arc shaped and Mesopotamian with high stern and prow) and soldiers with spears and leather shields. The bow, long spears, maces, (i.e., limestone and copper heads for clubs), boomerangs, double-headed axes, and fork-headed arrows also appear on representations from this period, together with the socketed axe head (Yadin, Vol I, 116-126). The two- and four-wheeled Mesopotamian battle chariot showed up at about 2800 b.c. In a limestone stela the king of Lagash of Mesopotamia, c. 2500 b.c., is pictured as leading a heavily armed phalanx of soldiers who wear metal helmets and carry heavy rectangular shields with metal studs and heavy spears. In another scene the same king riding in a chariot, with a quiver, light javelins, battle-axe, sickle and sword, leads metal helmeted soldiers carrying long spears and socketed axes. The swords (made of gold, silver, copper, or bronze, or even iron) of this third millennium are more like daggers which would be used for stabbing. In the 24th and 23rd centuries b.c. in siege against fortified cities the Egyptians are depicted as using mobile scaling ladders, battering poles, and in the late third millennium they employed shallow and semi-circular axe heads pierced with holes to secure them to the haft (Yadin, Vol. I, 146, 147).

Old Testament armed units.

Evidence of armed units among the Israelite people.

In the early period of semi-nomadic life, Abraham and his 318 “trained” men showed considerable military ability in pursuing and routing a combined army of several peoples (Gen 14:13-15). Although not stated, it is to be assumed that for that decisive victory, Abraham and his men must have had at least some simple weapons of stone and bronze. Israel in her Exodus from Egypt shows systematic organization of a military type (cf. Num 2:1-34), depicting a people marching under arms; Exodus 13:18 says “equipped for battle.” That Joshua and the Israelites, functioning as a national or semi-national military unit, included among their weapons the sword is suggested by Joshua’s confrontation with the divine figure depicted as holding a drawn sword in his hand (Josh 5:13). Prominent in Joshua’s military engagement against Jericho were his “armed men” who marched before the priests (6:9); and the sword and other weapons like it were evidently an important part of Israel’s weaponry in its conquest of the land of Canaan (cf. reference to smiting the enemies “with the edge of the sword,” Joshua 10:28-39).

Units in the army.

The numbers in the fighting force of a semi-nomadic sheik like Abraham would, of course, be small (cf. Gen 14:14, 15), and the troops mustered among Israel would at times be limited as compared to the enemy (see Josh 4:13; Judg 4:10); at other times the forces were of considerable size (cf. Judg 5:8; 2 Sam 24:8, 9).

Fortified cities and towns and siege.

In the NT period Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20) and that a bank or palisade (χάραξ, G5918) would be built all around her (19:43).

Old Testament armor and arms.

Offensive weapons.

In addition to the larger weapons of siege warfare, the individual soldier was equipped offensively and defensively for military encounter.

A general term for military equipment or weapons is נֶ֫שֶׁק, H5977, used in such as 2 Kings 10:2 in reference to weapons available at Samaria, and Ezekiel 39:9 for the weapons to be burned with fire, the specific items mentioned in the v. being “shields and bucklers, bows and arrows, handpikes and spears.” In Nehemiah 3:19 the same Heb. word is used to indicate a place in Jerusalem where weapons were stored, in the description of a section of the Jerusalem wall which is noted to be “opposite the ascent to the armory at the Angle.”

The sling was a simple but effective weapon in warfare, such as the קֶ֫לַע, H7845, used by David in his single combat with the Philistine Goliath (1 Sam 17:40, 50). Also Uzziah in preparing military weapons for his army provided “stones for slinging” (2 Chron 26:14). It is to be remembered that in an earlier day 700 Benjaminites were known to be expert left-handed slingers (Judg 20:16). On a 10th cent. b.c. Tell Halaf orthostat is depicted an ancient slingman (Yadin, II, 364).

The כִּידוֹן, H3959, such as worn by Goliath, slung between his shoulders” (1 Sam 17:6), and wielded by Joshua in the battle against Ai (Josh 8:18-26) has been understood to be a javelin (so tr. by RSV in these vv.), but the Qumran Order of the War may be depicting the kîdôn as a sword one and a-half cubits long and four finger-breadths wide, which concept could have been influenced by the Rom. gladius, a sword longer and broader than the ḥereb and suspended from a cross-belt slung between the shoulders. Other details in the Qumran Order of the War, however, seem to be picturing the kîdôn as a scimitar (or curved blade or sickle) type of weapon, or sword, examples of which have been found depicted on monuments and found in excavations (deVaux, 241, 242; Yadin, I, 172, 204, 205, 350). The kîdôn seems to have been rarely employed by Israelites, as exampled by the single Biblically recorded use of Joshua (8:18-26), it being seen in Jeremiah 6:23 (RSV “spear”) as a weapon in the hands of foreigners.

Defensive equipment.

The helmet spelled both קוֹ֫בַע, H7746, and כּוֹ֫בַע, H3916, is of foreign derivation, as the variation in spelling witnesses. Goliath, the Philistine, wore one made of bronze kôba’, and David tried one on (qôba’; 1 Sam 17:38) before his battle with the giant. In Jeremiah 46:4 and Ezekiel 27:10 this helmet is associated with foreign troops, but in 2 Chronicles 26:14 Uzziah is said to have provided them for all his army. Archeology freely evidences the use of helmets, made of metal or leather (Yadin, I, 134, 135) or sometimes constructed of mail (I, 192, 193) and in shape, horned (I, 150; 340), conical (II, 360), crested (II, 420), feather-topped (II, 340, 368), and ornamented (II, 340).

The soldier also wore a belt or girdle, חֲגוֹר, H2512, the article given by Jonathan to David with other military equipment (1 Sam 18:4). Joab is pictured as wearing a soldier’s garment over which he wore a girdle with an attached sheath carrying a sword (2 Sam 20:8). Compare such belts in Yadin, II, 420-424, etc.

Little is said about greaves, protective armor for the legs: Goliath is pictured (1 Sam 17:6) wearing greaves (דֶּ֫בֶק, H1817) of bronze, Near E monuments show the soldier barelegged (Yadin, II, 388, 422-423, etc.). He is pictured also as barefooted or sandaled (Yadin, II, 333, 388), or, as in the case of some Assyrian warriors of the Sargon-Sennacherib period, with shoes or boots laced up toward the knee (Yadin, II, 423-428, 429). The Heb. word for “boot,” מִצְחָה, H5196, used only in the OT in Isaiah 9:5 for the “boot of the tramping warrior,” is prob. a loan word from Akkad. šênu, shoe, or sandal of leather.

Armor and arms of the New Testament period.

The NT has comparatively little to say about this subject.

Units in the army.

The Roman soldier.


J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures (1954); R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 213-246; Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, vols I, II (1963); K. M. Kenyon, Amorites and Canaanites (1966), 12-55.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ar’-mer, arms.




2. Sling

3. Bow and Arrows

4. Spear--Javelin

5. Sword


2. Helmet

3. Coat of Mail

4. Greaves

5. Girdle

LITERATURE I. Armor in General--Old Testament.

II. In the New Testament; Polybius.

In the New Testament, Paul describes the panoply of the Christian soldier, naming the essential pieces of the Roman soldier’s armor--the girdle, the breastplate, the footgear, the shield, the helmet, the sword--although it is to be noticed that his most characteristic weapon, the pilum or spear, is omitted (Eph 6:10-17). In a similar context the same apostle speaks of "the armor" of light (Ro 13:12), "of righteousness on the right hand and on the left" (2Co 6:7). Of the equipment of the Roman soldier in detail, the most useful illustration is the account given by Polybius (vi.23): "The Roman panoply consists in the first place of a shield (thureos). .... Along with the shield is a sword (machaira). .... Next come two javelins (hussoi) and a helmet (perikephalaia), and a greave (knemis). ..... Now the majority, when they have further put on a bronze plate, measuring a span every way, which they wear on their breasts and call a heart-guard (kardiophulax), are completely armed, but those citizens who are assessed at more than 10,000 drachmae wear instead, together with the other arms, cuirasses made of chain mail (halusidotous thorakas)."

III. Offensive Weapons.

1. Rod:

2. Sling:

Scarcely less common and equally homely is the sling (qela`; sphendone) (1Sa 17:40). It consists of plaited thongs, or of one strip of leather, made broad at the middle to form a hollow or pocket for the stone or other contents, the ends being held firmly in the hand as it is whirled loaded round the head, and one of them being at length let go, so that the stone may take its flight. It is used by the shepherd still to turn the straying sheep, and it can also be used with deadly effect as a weapon of war. The slingers (ha-qalla`im, 2Ki 3:25) belonged to the light infantry, like the archers. The Benjamites were specially skilled in the use of the sling, which they could use as well with their left hand as the right (Jud 20:16). The sling was a weapon in use in the armies of Egypt and Babylonia, and Jeremiah in a powerful figure makes the Lord say to Jerusalem in a time of impending calamity: "Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this time" (Jer 10:18; compare 1Sa 25:29).

3. Bow and Arrows:

A very important offensive weapon in the wars of Israel was the bow (qesheth) and arrows (chitstsim), and the archers whether mounted or on foot formed a powerful element of the fighting forces of the Philistines, Egyptians and Assyrians (s.v. ARCHERY; BOW).

4. Spear--Javelin:

The spear has various words to represent it.

(1) The chanith had a wooden staff or shaft of varying size and length with a head, or blade, of bronze, or, at a later time, of iron (1Sa 17:7). In the King James Version it is sometimes translated "javelin," but in the Revised Version (British and American) "spear" (see 1Sa 13:22; 18:11). Saul’s spear, stuck in the ground, betokened the abode of the king for the time, just as today the spear in front of his tent marks the halting-place of the Bedouin Sheikh (1Sa 22:6; 26:7). Nahum, describing the arms of the Assyrians, joins together the flashing sword and the glittering spear (Na 3:3). The bearers of the chanith belonged to the heavy-armed troops.

(2) The romach, also translated in the King James Version "javelin," was of the character of a lance. It does not appear to have differed much from the chanith--they appear as synonyms in Joe 3:10, where romach is used, and in Isa 2,4 where chanith is used, of spears beaten into pruning hooks. It describes the Egyptian spear in Jer 46:4. The bearers of the romach also belonged to the heavy-armed troops.

(3) The kidhon was lighter than either of the preceding and more of the nature of a javelin (gaison in the Septuagint, Jos 8:18 and Polybius vi.39, 3; Job 41:29; Jer 6:23). (4) In the New Testament the word "spear" occurs only once and is represented by the Greek logche, the equivalent no doubt of chanith as above (Joh 19:34).

5. Sword:

Figurative: In the highly metaphorical language of the prophets it stands for war and its attendant calamities (Jer 50:35-37; Eze 21:28).

IV. Defensive Weapons.

1. Shield:

The most ancient and universal weapon of defense is the shield. The two chief varieties are

(1) the tsinnah, Latin scutum, the large shield, worn by heavy-armed infantry, adapted to the form of the human body, being made oval or in the shape of a door; hence, its Greek name, thureos, from thura, a door; and

(2) the maghen, Latin clypeus, the light, round hand-buckler, to which pelte is the Greek equivalent. The two are often mentioned together (Eze 23:24; 38:4; Ps 35:2).

Figurative: Yahweh is spoken of as the Shield and Protector of His people--of Abraham (Ge 15:1); of Israel (De 33:29); of the Psalmist (Ps 18:30; 35:2, and many other passages). In his description of the panoply of the Christian soldier, Paul introduces faith as the thureos, the large Greek-Roman shield, a defense by which he may quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.

2. Helmet:

The helmet, qobha` or kobha`, seems to have been originally in the form of a skull-cap, and it is thus figured in representations of Hittites on the walls of Karnak in Egypt. In the earliest times it is found worn only by outstanding personages like kings and commanders. When King Saul armed David with his own armor he put a helmet of brass upon his head (1Sa 17:38). Uzziah at a later time provided his soldiers with helmets, as part of their equipment (2Ch 26:14). The men of Pharaoh-neco’s army also wore helmets (Jer 46:4), and the mercenaries in the armies of Tyre had both shield and helmet to hang up within her (Eze 27:10). The materials of the helmet were at first of wood, linen, felt, or even of rushes; leather was in use until the Seleucid period when it was supplanted by bronze (1 Macc 6:35); the Greek and Roman helmets both of leather and brass were well known in the Herodian period.

Figurative: Paul has the helmet, perikephalaia, for his Christian soldier (Eph 6:17; 1Th 5:8). In the Septuagint perikephalaia occurs eleven times as the equivalent of the Hebrew term.

3. Coat of Mail:

Body armor for the protection of the person in battle is mentioned in the Old Testament and is well known in representations of Egyptian, Persian and Parthian warriors. The shiryon, translated "habergeon" in the King James Version, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) "coat of mail," is part of the armor of Nehemiah’s workers (Ne 4:16), and one of the pieces of armor supplied by King Uzziah to his soldiers. (2Ch 26:14). Goliath was armed with a shiryon, and when Saul clad David in his own armor to meet the Philistine champion he put on him a coat of mail, his shiryon (1Sa 17:5,38). Such a piece of body armor Ahab wore in the fatal battle of Ramoth-gilead (1Ki 22:34). In the battle of Bethsura in the Maccabean struggle the Syrian war-elephants were protected with breastplates, the word for which, thorax, represents the shiryon in the Septuagint (1 Macc 6:43).

Figurative: Isaiah in a striking figure describes Yahweh as putting on righteousness for a coat of mail and salvation as a helmet, where thorax and perikephalaia are the Greek words of the Septuagint to render shiryon and kobha`. It is from this passage (Isa 59:17) that Paul obtains his "breastplate of righteousness" (Eph 6:14).

4. Greaves:

Greaves (mitschah; knemides) are mentioned once in Scripture as part of the armor of Goliath (1Sa 17:6). They were of brass or leather, fastened by thongs round the leg and above the ankles.

5. Girdle:

The girdle (chaghorah; Greek zone) was of leather studded with nails, and was used for supporting the sword (1Sa 18:4; 2Sa 20:8). See Girdle.

Figurative: For figurative uses see under the separate weapons.


Nowack, Hebraische Archaeologie, I, 359-67; Benzinger, Herzog, RE, article "Kriegswesen bei den Hebraern"; McCurdy, HPM, I, II; Woods and Powell, The Hebrew Prophets for English Readers, I, II; G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs; Browne, Hebrew Antiquities, 40-46; corresponding articles in Kitto, Hastings, and other Bible dictionaries.

T. Nicol.

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