What Soldiers Carried To Battle Through The Ages

Societies have been warring with each other since ancient times. Weapons were probably the first tools humans built, first to hunt animals for food and later to kill enemies competing for the same resources. Cave paintings dating to 30,000 years ago depict human beings pierced with arrows, and some of the oldest rock art depicting acts of violence between hunter-gatherers have been found in Northern Australia, dated to 10,000 years ago. Cave art belonging to the Mesolithic period (15,000 to 5,000 BP) shows explicit scenes of battle scenes between groups of archers.

As humans discovered new natural resources beneath the Earth's surface, traditional stone weapons were replaced with those made with bronze and then with iron. Spears, axes and swords evolved and eventually gave way to muskets and finally automatic rifles.

In this photo series titled Soldiers' Inventories, Thom Atkinson attempts to documents the battle kits of soldiers over the course of 1,000 years, starting with momentous battles such as the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to the war in Afghanistan in 2013, and in doing so provides a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of warfare.

“Looking at Atkinson’s photos is like watching history fast forward and rewind,” observes Wired. “As we've developed new ways of killing, we've had to develop new ways of armouring the men and women we send forth to fight. Take for example, a soldier’s clothing. Early on, soldiers wore colourful vests and coats, but as weapons became more sophisticated, and able to kill with greater accuracy from greater distances, camouflage became increasingly important.”

“The fact that certain objects recur is more fascinating than the ones that evolve,” Atkinson says. He’s referring to the spoon present in every picture and a helmet in most. Also interesting to note is the sheer loads of stuff soldiers had to bring with them. In the earliest battles, warriors carried fewer things into battle to keep weight down, but in modern-day battles soldiers carry an awful lot of things. This is thanks mostly to modern materials that are not only lighter but sturdier too, allowing the soldiers to haul much more items.

This image contains at least 27 items with five different weapons—sword, dagger, crescent-shaped axe, flanged mace and glaive, a new invention for the time consisting of a short sword attached to a piece of wood. Body armoury consist of a shield, two types of helmet, thigh-length sleeveless leather vest lined with metal plates, and maille to cover the legs. Soldiers also carried a wooden bowl and cup, ceramic cup, a wooden spoon and a knife and sheaf for cutting food. To make small repairs they also carried a leather box of needles and a roll of thread.


This image of a soldier’s inventory during the Battle of Waterloo contains as many as 50 items. Aside from the usual muskets and box of cartridge, bowls and spoons and backpacks, soldiers carried games to fight monotony in the battlefield. Here we see draught board made from a piece of tent canvas, a pack of cards and a wooden yo-yo.