Chariots in the ancient Near East.
Heavy wheeled vehicles drawn by asses were used in Southern Mesopotamia throughout the 3rd millennium b.c. and are represented in finds from Ur, Kish and Tell Agrab. From Tell Agrab dating c. 2500 b.c., comes a small copper model of a war chariot drawn by four asses. It consists of a flat platform, a pole and two disc wheels, and it was driven by a single driver.
The true chariot which was much lighter was drawn by the faster horse (q.v.). It did not come into use until the 2nd millennium b.c., when folk movements brought peoples from the S Russian steppes and introduced the horse to Mesopotamia. The art of warfare was revolutionized by the horse-drawn chariot. The term “horse” occurs in cuneiform inscrs. as an ideogram meaning “foreigners,” and in phonetic form as sisû in 19th cent. tablets from Anatolia. These folk movements had already reached Asia Minor in the 19th cent. b.c. As the 2nd millennium wore on, Hittites in Anatolia, Kassites in Mesopotamia and Hyksos in Syria, Palestine and Egypt all gained advantage in warfare by the use of the chariot. The Hyksos were enabled thereby to conquer most of Syria and Egypt between c. 1800 and c. 1600 b.c.
The disc wheel gave place to the spoked wheel about 1700 b.c. when wheels with four, or more regularly, six spokes, came into use and remained until about the 10th cent. b.c. The Assyrians in the days of (c. 883-859) began to use eight spokes. Such wheels remained in use down to Pers. times.
In the second half of the 2nd millennium a special class in society, the mariannu, is referred to in the documents found at Alalaḥ and Ugarit, in the Amarna letters, and in documents from Egypt. They were men of importance who owned a chariot or wagon, perhaps best described as “chariot warriors.” That the two great powers in Western Asia, the Hittites and Egyptians, were using horse-drawn chariots for war is attested both by documents and bas reliefs. The small Aramaean states in Syria and the Canaanites in Pal. also learned to use the chariot. In the 1st millennium the Assyrians made extensive use of the war chariot, which was the secret of their widespread military success.
In construction the chariot was very light, the basic materials being wood and leather. Only essential parts were made of bronze or iron. The body was made of light wicker work with a high front to which were attached holders for spears, arrows, and a battle ax. The back was open. In later chariots the axle was regularly at the rear of the chariot body; earlier it was in the middle. Mostly chariots were low-set, although Sennacherib used one with wheels as high as a man.
The chariot crew consisted of two to four men. In the Egyptian and early Assyrian chariots there were two men, a driver and a warrior. The Hittites had a third man to carry a shield and the Assyrians followed this custom. Their records refer to the šalšu rakbu, “third rider.” Three-man chariots were known in Syria and possibly among the Israelites who had a military officer known as שָׁלִישׁ, H8957, “third man” (
Normally two horses were used to draw a chariot. Some Assyrian bas reliefs show a third horse, not yoked to the chariot but tethered behind.
The chariot was of maximum use in battles on the plains although it was used in mountainous areas also, judging from the Bronze Gates of Shalmaneser III in Balawat which depict a campaign in the mountainous areas of the Upper Tigris.
The use of chariots.
Chariots were used in both war and peace. Reliefs and paintings from various lands show the chariot in use for hunting, processions and ceremonial rites. On such special occasions runners preceded the chariot calling bystanders to pay honor to the dignitary who was approaching (
Numerous bas reliefs and inscrs. show the importance of the chariot in war. The number of chariots engaged in battles was listed, as were the numbers taken as booty. Thus Thutmose III claims to have taken 924 chariots in booty at Megiddo (ANET p. 237), and Amenhotep II lists 60 chariots of silver and gold and 1,032 painted wooden chariots among the booty of one of his campaigns (ANET p. 247). Shalmaneser III of Assyria lists 1,121 chariots and 470 horses as the booty for his campaign against Hazael (ANET p. 280), while at the Battle of Karkar in 853 b.c. he claims that Ahab the Israelite sent a contingent of 2,000 chariots to the battle (ANET p. 279). Assyrian and Egyptian records provide many more examples.
Chariots in the OT.
After Solomon’s day, the northern kingdom developed its own chariot force. Elah had two groups of chariots (
In Jehu’s and Jehoahaz’ wars with the Syrians Israel’s chariot force was nearly wiped out. Hazael of Damascus reduced Israel to ten chariots and fifty horsemen (
There is little mention in the OT of chariots in Judah, which prob. had less need of them because of its hilly terrain. Josiah had two chariots at the Battle of Megiddo in 609 b.c. (
In later days chariots featured in the Seleucid wars (
Chariots in the NT.
There are only five references to chariots in the NT. Three of these are concerned with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (
C. J. Gadd, The Assyrian Sculptures (1934), 27, 28, 30-35; O. R. Gurney, The Hittites (1952), 104-106, 124, 125; D. J. Wiseman, The Alalakh Tablets (1953), II; A. G. Barrois, Manuel d’Archéologie Biblique II (1953), 98 ff.; V. G. Childe, “Wheeled Vehicles” in Singer, Holmyard and Hall, History of Technology, I (1954), 724-728; Y. Yadin, B. A. XXIII (1960), 62-68; R. de Vaux, AI (1962), 222-225; J. Gray, The Legacy of Canaan (1965), 7, 144, 232.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(merkabh, merkabhah, "riding-chariot," rekhebh, "war-chariot"; harma):
1. Chariots of Egypt
2. Chariots of the Canaanites
3. Chariots of Solomon and Later Kings
4. Chariots of the Assyrians
5. Chariots of Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks
6. In the
7. Figurative Use
1. Chariots of Egypt:
2. Chariots of the Canaanites:
The Canaanites had long been possessed of horses and chariots when Joshua houghed their horses and burnt their chariots with fire at the waters of Merom (
3. Chariots of Solomon and Later Kings:
(1) the pole to which the two horses were yoked,
(2) the axle--resting upon two wheels with six or eight spokes (
(3) a frame or body open behind, standing upon the axle and fitted by a leather band to the pole.
The chariots of iron of which we read (
4. Chariots of the Assyrians:
In the later days when the Assyrians overran the lands of the West, the Israelites had to face the chariots and the hosts of Sennacherib and of the kings (
5. Chariots of Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks:
In early Babylonian inscriptions of the 3rd millennium before Christ there is evidence of the use of the war-chariots, and Nebuchadrezzar in his campaigns to the West had chariots as part of his victorious host (
6. In the New Testament:
In the New Testament the chariot is only twice mentioned. Besides the chariot in which the Ethiopian eunuch was traveling when Philip the evangelist made up to him (
7. Figurative Use:
In the figurative language of Scripture, the chariot has a place. It is a tribute to the powerful influence of Elijah and Elisha when they are separately called "the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (
Nowack, Hebrew Archaeology, I, 366 f; Garstang, Land of the Hittites, 363 f; Maspero, Struggle of the Nations and Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria; Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies, II, 1-21.