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Ancient Weapon Manufacturing

Ancient Manufacturing
  The manufacturing of weapons was instrumental to the survival of ancient groups and culture, not just for hunting, also due to the war like nature of humanity. Manufacturing in the ancient world was typically a cottage industry. Literally, a cottage industry. An early metal smith was considered to be a person with an incredible, almost magical power. Early metal workers were highly valued members of society, their trade could mean the life or death of a tribe for example. The secrets of working with metals would have been passed down to an apprentice. Eventually, this evolved into small shops that could turn out quality arms and armor. However, a few step would be necessary to arm something like the 100,000 man armies of the Roman Empire.


Ancient manufacturing skills meant the rise and fall of ancient tribes, societies and empires as we advanced from stone tooling to carbide dies.


History of Tooling, Industry and Manufacturing

The Beginning of Manufacturing
Man has technically been into manufacturing since the dawn of its time as a species, and therefor our use of tools. Early man used manufacturing techniques in production as we advanced from spears to ranged weaponry. For example, their arrows were made with a stone featuring a rounded groove or hole to draw arrows through in order to straighten them, greatly increasing the flight qualities of the arrows. The sides of these primitive dies ground off the high points and soothed theirs surface. These abraders live on in modern manufacturing as in things like carbide dies that form bullets instead of arrow shafts as well as forming many other things out of metal. These manufacturing tools were first made of stone or bone, but were eventually made of steel and tungsten carbide.

The first manufacturing economy sprang up in Sumer. Perhaps not surprisingly as it was also the first civilization but additional factors played into it this development. The Fertile Crescent provided enough surplus food to allow its citizens to specialize but was scant on many of the raw materials needed to construct the goods desired by the first civilized society. What kind of urban civilization would you be without products? Wood, stone and bronze needed to be traded for with at first food, but later with manufactured goods. They used the raw material to make the things they needed - weapons, jewelry, idols, shields, shoes, and boats – everything they couldn’t make out of clay or reeds. The nomads around them couldn’t set up a shop to manufacture pottery for example, not complete with molds and designated foremen, but in time they would and manufacturing spread. Developments in civilian/domestic production went hand and hand, as it still does today, with military technology, both spurring on the other.

The next phase of development in the West was ushered in by the Greeks and Romans, while equally impressive manufacturing gains were made in China. Perhaps the first people to develop large scale military and domestic production in the West through proto factories would be the Athenians. Honestly, for some reason they seem to be the next phase in everything from medicine and math to warfare and philosophy. The Athenians lead the charge with a manufacturing economy. Manufacturing shops and shipyards developed, employing between 10 and 150 workers approximately at each location. Many of them were slaves, but manufacturing employed the majority of the population. These proto factories practiced division of labor and provided a competitive advantage.

There is a theme that many modern historians enjoy that likes to point out that the Romans had some cultural jealousy towards the Greeks but this certainly didn’t apply to the military. In the area of warfare the Romans definitely didn’t have an inferiority complex. The Romans used steel to make their famous swords, the gladius, and employed government agents to ensure that the weapons and armor of the Roman armies would be standardized. While at first the military contracts for weapons and armor were fulfilled by private entrepreneurs they eventually became state run enterprises. In the late empire each massive field army had its own state owned armament facility in key locations. These large field armies were tasked with countering any large enemy excursions into Roman territory. Field armies retained production capabilities themselves, but largely became dependent on these government facilities for equipping them. The Romans made further advancement in weapon and armor standardization and although their military products weren’t as elegant and refined as our reproductions, they really only cared about efficiency. The Romans used something similar to modern carbide dies to draw the shafts of their pilum (heavy javelins) and developed such things as standardized metal plate armor. However, the next step in industrialization was never achieved, the Romans were stagnated and fell before they could achieve true industrialization.

The next notable leap wasn’t until the Venice Arsenal, owned by the Republic of Venice, perhaps the first place to qualify as a factory by many modern standards. The Venice Arsenal, found in 1104 was several hundred years before the industrial revolution but had 16,000 employees at its height. They used prefabricated, standardized parts to produce ships and other war goods on assembly lines. At its height it could launch a ship a day. Once the industrial revelation hit full swing, things were mechanized, but this wouldn’t be until beyond the scope of ancient military production.


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