The Charioteers came from the steppe and conquered many of the agricultural civilizations during the second millennium BC. The Greek Minoan-era Civilization, the Babylonian Empire, the Indus River Valley Civilization and the Egyptian Empire were all destroyed by Steppe Charioteers. Economic trade collapsed and Eurasia entered a dark age.

The Charioteer revolution in military history came from the long animal husbandry of horses which produced a more powerful steed capable of pulling light-weight wooden chariots. The Steppe nomads combined this with the newly designed composite bow. These tools gave them the decisive edge in battles against the infantry armies of the agriculturalists.

The wild horse was an unsuitable work animal. It is not much larger than a modern pony. It could not bear the weight of a full man and it could not draw heavy carts like oxen. Early on, humans could only ride a horse on its hindquarters – which left the rider unable to control the horse. The horse’s back was too weak to support a man in the center control position.

The Steppe nomads husbanded their horses over the centuries to increase their size. By the second millennium, horses grew powerful enough to draw a chariot and rider. In another thousand years, horses would be able to carry the rider on their backs.

The chariot was a simple invention. It likely originated from the four wheeled carts used by the agricultural people. Carts were typically drawn by oxen, which could draw the heavy weight. Horses couldn’t carry the full cart – or at least not very far. The Steppe people basically cut the cart in half and called it the chariot. The lightweight wooden chariot with two spoked wheels weighed perhaps 50 to 70 pounds. The nomads tied a leather harness around the horse’s chest to draw the chariot.

The charioteer was swift. The horse and chariot could travel 15-20 miles per hour over long distances – much faster than anyone on foot or with any other beast of burden. This could be considered the first true revolution in transportation technology.

The Steppe nomads were herders and pastoralists so the chariot was a much needed invention for their economy. The Steppe is a hilly, treeless grazeland, poorly suited for farming but excellent for herding. The horse and chariot allowed them to shepherd their herds much better than on foot. They combined their bows and slings with the chariots to kill predators. The human and herd population must have increased steadily over the third and second millenniums.

The new tools of the Bronze Age spread to the Steppe and somewhere the Composite Bow was invented during the second millennium. Bronze metallurgy was used to make battleaxes and scale armor as well as a large number of economic tools. Bronze tools were likely necessary for chariot construction.

The Composite Bow was a major invention. It was virtually perfected during this era and would only be slightly improved until it became obsolete in the 19th century AD.

The older simple bow was a single piece of bent wood. It was a weak bow with short range, better designed for hunting than war. The composite bow was five separate pieces of laminated wood glued together with resins. There was the center, two arms, and two tips which would be strung together. The tips curve away from the archer when the bow is strung. This gives the bow the characteristic “recurve” shape.

Starting around the 1700s, the Steppe nomads descended on the wealthier agricultural kingdoms of Asia. This may have been the result of a population boom within their territories, combined with climatic changes or simple contact with agricultural societies.

The Sumerian and later Babylonian Empire in Mesopotamia created the first significant civilization in the region. Writing and early mathematics were invented as were the first known legal codes. Politicals and economically, these kingdoms were advanced.

The Babylonian could not be considered weak by any means. The Empire, established by Sargon, was one of the first true Empires, and it created a substantial economy of scale. The Sumerian and Babylonian military developed a logistical system and some signs of professionalism. It was definitely a more advanced military than its neighbors, including Egypt. Politically, they were not weak; in the 1700s, Hammurabi established the first known legal code of the period. The economy was broad and controlled most of Mesopotamia and traded extensively with Iran, Egypt, and the Mediterranean.

Between 1700-1600 BC, the Steppe people conquered much of known civilization rapidly and decisively.

The Charioteers tore apart the Mesopotamian armies, as they would against Indians, Egyptians, Greek and Chinese armies. The agricultural people were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to speed. Their fastest mode of transport was the ox-drawn cart, which was used for logistical transportation rather than battle. In battle, the agricultural people fought on foot, with spears and simple bows. Infantry armies moved slowly (2-3 miles per hour) and the simple bow lacked the range and armor-piercing capability of the composite bow.

The Charioteer tactics appear to be very similar to the later Steppe horse riders. They used shepherding tactics. They would encircle the enemy herd, break it up into manageable chunks, and control them. The fast 20 mile per hour movement of the chariot gave them battlefield supremacy. Bronze scale mail and bronze battle-axes made them formidible in melee combat, and the armor could stop arrows fired from simple bows. The composite bow allowed them to pick off the unarmored infantry from long range. The few infantry with bronze scale mail could be killed at closer ranges with the bow. Masses of infantry made easy targets for volleys of arrows. And the charioteers would descend upon scattered groups of infantry with their bronze battle axes.

Without composite bows or horses of their own, the agricultural peoples were at a severe disadvantage.

The Indo-European Steppe people quickly conquered Mesopotamia. The Hyksos charioteers conquered the Egyptian Empire shortly afterwards. The Aryan charioteers conquered the Indus River Valley. Charioteers appeared to conquer everything. They pressed against the early Chinese Shang Dynasty on the Yellow River. Charioteers conquered southern Europe. The technology of the chariot itself spread across Eurasia, even further than the Charioteers. Wooden chariots were used from Britain to China.

Charioteer warlords may have set out on expiditions upon hearing how wealthy the agricultural kingsdoms were and how easy it was to loot them. The warlords certainly looted every territory they captured. This closed down sea and land trade routes, cities were sacked and looted, and the economy shut down completely. The conquered regions from Greece to Mesopotamia to India were thrown into a dark age. The warlords certainly made themselves richer in the process, or at least much richer than they would have been if they stayed on the impoverished Steppe.

Most of the Charioteers ruled as warlords and governed ineffectively. They left few permanent governments in their wake. The Hittite Kingdom in modern day Turkey is perhaps one of the Charioteer empires which actually survived in history. The Hittites used an Indo-European language and have a mysterious origin. They were not natives to the region and we know the chariot and bow were their primary weapons of warfare.

The Agricultural people discovered the greatest defense against the chariot – the wall. Cities and towns, such as Jericho, during this period were quickly encircled by wooden and stone walls. Walls eliminated the chariot superiority over a flat battlefield, and it gave a missile advantage to the defenders. When the charioteers were spotted, people would withdraw to their urban sanctuaries until the charioteers left.

Ultimately, the spread of technology undid the charioteer empires. People throughout Asia adopted the composite bow, new horses and chariots and overthrew the Steppe warlords.

Later empires, namely the Assyrian Empire, were natives who used the chariot to establish their own kingdoms. The Assyrians rebuild the Middle East and lifted it out of the dark ages which preceded them. Likewise, the new chariot-using nobility of native Egyptians overthrew the Hyksos.

The Assyrians became master charioteers, but their military was very diverse. They used slingers, foot archers, and infantry to support the chariots. To counter the rise of walled cities, the Assyrians experimented with early siege craft and combat engineering.

The Steppe nomads in Central Asia continued to husband their horses. By the first millennium, they bred something much closer to the modern horse. This new horse had a stronger back and could carry a rider in the center control position. The Steppe people were not horse riders. They abandoned the cumbersome chariot and invaded the agricultural people again, and would continue to do so until 1700 AD.

The Assyrian and new Babylonian Empire, so powerful in its day, was overrun by Iranian horseriders who outmaneuvered the Mesopotamian charioteers.