In answering the question "was the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age violent?" I found out a few facts that I hadn't expected. Namely, that the early iron weapons weren't necessarily much better than the bronze weapons, and Roman officers would prefer to use bronze or steel. Also, steel had existed far earlier than I realized (particularly in the East), just that it was exceedingly rare.

So, I'm wondering how a steel sword compared with a bronze one. Were there any battles fought where one side was outfitted largely with steel, and the other exclusively bronze? Was the outcome as one-sided as I expect?

I'm mainly interested in Middle East / Far East / African examples. I know Europe had abandoned bronze long before it achieved steel. And in the New World the Incas had mastered bronze but were defeated by the Conquistadors, but they also had guns, germs, and horses.

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    Too busy to do proper research, but look into details of Hittite Empire. They probably had good examples of such battles.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 22:35
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    I'm going to ask this elsewhere, but I'm curious if the use of bronze vs the use of iron, given the the incremental nature of metallurgical envelopment, is as relevant durring 'that' period in the levant (?1200BC to 800bc?) as proliferation in written language (Homer, Dueteronomy, Mahabharata..etc.). Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 4:16
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    I think that the consensus opinion on iron vs. bronze is that the former is just as good and much less expensive to produce, not that iron is actually better than bronze. Iron allowed armies to move from elites fighting elites to vast armies composed of people who could never afford bronze armor.
    – Charles
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 0:00
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    I once saw a television documentary (regret can't remember name, date or channel, so I offer this as a comment, not an answer) in which an iron sword and a bronze sword were repeatedly hit against each other. The finding was that each had different advantages. I think one remained sharp for longer but the other was more likely to break altogether.
    – Timothy
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 18:46
  • I started writing a comment to this, but found myself not being sure and turned it into a question on how relevant this would have been instead.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 9:58

3 Answers 3


Also check out Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor to unify China (same man who's tomb has the terracotta army surrounding it). The Qin province sent forth massive armies using bronze while a lot of the rest of China was transitioning to iron/steel (and Qin won in part due to their high grade of bronze compared to low the grade iron weapons of the time, for example Qin bronze swords were able to be made at longer lengths than their contemporaries). So right there is a ton of battles (some of which fielded over half a million soldiers in a single battle).

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    good answer; it would be an excellent answer if there were sources.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 15:27

Possibly the Battle of Kadesh. Check out this video.

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    Maybe; it's certainly an example where one army had iron/steel, the other bronze. But while it was an intensive (though indecisive) battle, it sounds like it was more of a chariot battle and it's unclear what role if any the weapon metals made.
    – Bryce
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 1:16
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    However, that said, if you'd be willing to expand on your answer, I'd accept it. Particularly in context of Charles' Aug 31 quote.
    – Bryce
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 1:18
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    The question was about Bronze v Steel (an alloy predominantly, but never exclusively, of iron, not bronze v iron. While I understand the Hittites (one side at the battle of Kadesh) were early adopters of iron in the Middle East, while the Ancient Egyptians (the other side in that battle, led by Ramses II, who had an account of the battle engraved in his famous temple at Abu Simbel) having less easy access to iron, used bronze for longer, did the Hittites make significant use of steel?
    – Timothy
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 18:45

I'll add some metallurgy information to complement the answers.

There are several different kinds of steel. The basic one, which is iron and carbon, has different behaviors depending of the % of carbon in the alloy. Few carbon and you have mostly iron, which is soft and malleable, while a lot of carbon means that the steel will be hard but fragile. Since is difficult to achieve the correct amount of carbon in an steel alloy, or to remove all carbon to have pure iron, not always the steel is better than bronze. Therefore, depending of the quality of the smith, bronze would be still competitive against a bad iron/steel.

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