Reminiscing the wars in history leads us to wonder about how the ancient Egyptian weapons powered the pharaoh’s army. Since time immemorial, soldiers have been trained to defend lives and protect their country.
The ancient Egyptian army is often portrayed as a heavily armed battalion of soldiers with organized fighting forces ready to devour their enemies. Still, in the early part of this period, it was revealed that the Egyptian army was not as fierce as their contemporaries believed them to be.
Far from reality, history reveals that the soldiers of the Nile were really only trained during the New Kingdom (c 1570–1069 B.C.) and the army of the Middle Kingdom (2040–1782 B.C.), when the first professional armed force was created by Amenemhat I (c. 1991–1962 B.C.)
You might be disappointed, but ancient Egyptians were not really trained for battle because they were mostly farmers and didn’t see any need for an organized or aggressive armed force. Also, they were well protected by the boundaries of the desert that surrounded the kingdom, as well as the Mediterranean Sea on the north side and the Red Sea on the east side.
They thought that the mountains and the seas ensured their safety. However, there came a time when the people of Hyksos became more powerful through their advanced weapons and organized army, which caused Lower Egypt to be conquered.
The people of Hyksos used speedy chariots and powerful bows. They are the ones who had introduced advanced weapons to the Egyptian army.
The Egyptians hadn’t experienced anything like the attack by Hyksos previously, but from that experience, the Egyptians learned that they needed to gather a strong army. This time, it is not just an army but a formidable and invulnerable one to defend its sovereignty.
After a dramatic battle and strategic planning of the commanders of the Egyptian army, they eventually reclaimed their land from the Hyksos. Although the event confirmed that the Egyptians and the Hyksos had some conflicts, what was proven was that the Hyksos were able to improve Egypt, particularly in the advancement of its weaponry.
Ancient Egypt Weaponry
Later on, being embarrassed was not a choice for the Egyptian soldiers. The Egyptian military trained hard and extended its impact all throughout adjoining locales and clashed with different countries.
They promised to make various changes when they found that their weaponry was far less sophisticated than that of other kingdoms, so they devised ways to improve them. Hence, they staged a campaign all over the kingdom to harness the weapons of ancient Egypt and strengthen their arsenal.
Having found out their weakness compared to their intimidating counterparts in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Macedonia, the Egyptian army tried its best to enhance its power, skill, strategic planning ability, and weaponry.
Your guess is right. They trained relentlessly day and night for the sake of the kingdom. Hard training paid off when the Egyptian military has finally won its place as the ancient world’s most significant fighting troops in the New Kingdom (1550 B.C.–1070 B.C.).
You can expect what followed when they succeeded in upgrading their military skills through the kindness of their neighboring allies, who taught the Egyptians about military agility and battles using weapons.
In its early history, Egypt depended on simple stone maces, wooden spears, axes, and bows and arrows to fight off neighboring Nubian and Libyan tribesmen. Then, the Hyksos came, an invading military from Syria that defeated Egypt around 1650 B.C. with their advanced weaponry.
Egyptians planned well ahead of their enemy and improved their arsenal of new weapons based on Syrian designs. When Ahmose I freed and reunited Egypt, he became the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom, where Egypt applied its advanced weaponry and upgraded bureaucracy.
You probably remember the mace as it is pretty popular. This is a crushing weapon and is also considered a symbol of power in Egypt’s history.
The mace was also used in the New Kingdom, as evidenced by the Pharaoh Amenhotep II saying that he “had downed seven chiefs with his mace himself.” Maces were created in different kinds of shapes, with the heads made of bronze or copper.
– Egyptian Sword
The next weapon used was the sword. The Egyptian sword, also known as khopesh, is a curved blade wherein the cutting side is on the blade’s convex edge. It is designed with a sickle-like shape, and the opposite blade has a short hook. People always defined khopesh as the sickle sword, which is found across the Nile valley, Middle East, and East Africa.
During the Bronze Age, khopesh was commonly used in North Africa and the East. Khopesh is also the reason why Egyptians were able to forge an old empire. It was discovered and invented in Mesopotamia in the 2nd Millennium B.C. and designed to be used for battle before axes and spears were identified as weapons of war.
– Curved Sword
Because khopesh is a curved sword, you can use it for cutting, chopping, and slashing. During the sixth century BC, curved bladed weapons were being used by the Greeks and were called machaira or kopis. Some have suggested that the word kopis may have been taken from the Egyptian word khopesh.
However, it is not clear if they copied the Egyptian design or directly inherited the khopesh from Mesopotamia. In East and Central Africa, curved swords like khopesh were also traced in East and Central Africa.
– Bow and Arrow
Egyptian bow and arrows can probably be the most necessary and dangerous weapons in the Egyptian army. They could easily defeat enemies from a long distance using these crude weapons.
In combination with bows and arrows, chariots also played an important role in the victories of the Egyptian army. It was a wheeled carriage pulled by two fast warhorses.
There should be two soldiers to ride a chariot. One would control the direction of the chariot or the horses while the other one would defend using a bow and arrow or a spear.
It was not usual for you to see an Egyptian soldier wearing armor since their main form of defense was by using a shield, but they did wear a light armor that is made out of hardened leather straps. You can see a fierce soldier once you witness a chariot rushing towards the enemy.
– Bronze-Tipped Spear and Shield
Known as the vital core of the Egyptian army, the spearmen are the life of the battle among Egyptian soldiers. They are armed with a wooden shield in their left hand and a bronze-tipped spear in their right hand.
Egyptian spearmen would advance on the enemy line in tightly packed formations. The length of the spear allowed Egyptian soldiers to joust at their enemy behind the safety of their shields, and the bronze tip was sharp enough to pierce through an enemy infantry’s leather armor.
An Egyptian javelin, as a weapon of war, was far more efficient than a missile. You can use it in close combat or in long-range battle. The soldiers of the New Kingdom would prepare a quiver of javelins like arrows. These weapons are designed with diamond-shaped metal blades, making javelins a fierce weapon against any enemy.
– Battle Axe
The battle axe was a secondary weapon carefully tucked into the soldiers’ waistband. It is the most comfortable weapon in case there is close combat with the enemy. During Egyptian battles, you could absolutely hack an enemy with it once given space. It is expected to injure the enemy with a deep wound. Designed in a semi-circular shape, this weapon is one sure way to protect yourself in times of battle.
The Egyptians claimed victory, and the New Kingdom had a chance for a great expansion for the Egyptian people. All the way from Egypt to parts of Syria, the Egyptians needed strong weapons in order to win and take this territory.
– Cutting Axe
Another weapon used by the Egyptians was the axe. This is used in closed combat and has underwent some modifications throughout history from the very early times. There were two types of axes known and used by the Egyptians in different lighting situations. The first one is the cutting axe with a blade tied to a wooden pole. This type of axe is effective on enemies with lesser armor.
– Piercing Axe
The next type of axe was the so-called piercing axe, also known as the socketed axe. You notice that the axe head was connected to a pole and then sealed in a socket to provide more strength to the axe. This type of socketing was mostly utilized by Asiatic cultures.
You can notice that the thing that made this axe different from the cutting axe was the thinner and longer blade. Axes became a very useful and effective weapon of the Egyptian army during the time of the New Kingdom.
– Archer’s Bow
In addition to using swords, axes, and maces, the Egyptian armies also employed archers. Their archers used composite bows, but these required a lot of care so the simple stave bow, which was used as their earlier weapon, was also employed in later times. These stave bows are a lot easier to maintain and were made out of wood.
The Egyptian armies also carried shields.
Ancient Egyptian shields have been widely used in the Egyptian military and maintained a similar design. At first, these shields were long as compared to the New Kingdom, where the shields were smaller and were tapered at the bottom. This technique provided easy movement and comfortability to the bearer as compared to the heavier shields. Nevertheless, in whatever shape of form, shields were very important for soldiers during battles.
You may not consider horses as weapons in ancient Egypt during a battle but they served as ever-loyal companions during wars. The horses, too, wore armor that can differentiate them from others. They usually wear funeral objects and relief paintings. Two famous pharaohs in history, Ramses II and Tutankhamun, are depicted as driving their elegant chariots with huge horses wearing coats of shining bronze scales.
– Peasants and Artisans
In ancient times, peasants and artisans were part of the Egyptian armies, and they were under the leadership of the pharaoh. During that period, Egyptian armies were very simple, and they had basic weapons like spears and large shields with leather hides.
Later on, the spearmen went to battle and were supported by archers with bows and arrows and arrowheads made of copper. They were not using armor during that time. Nubians and other foreigners entered Egyptian armies and started to establish a group of good archers.
In 1600 B.C., a major advancement in weaponry began in the country where Egyptians fought and claimed victory over the Hyksos people. After this event, horses and chariots were used in the Egyptian military.
Because Egyptians wanted to make some changes, they improved the designs of the chariot, which became lighter and allowed them to move faster than other powerful forces in the Middle East.
Ancient Egyptian Military Campaign
During a real battle, the pharaoh made a strategic plan to dispatch his army by dividing them into two groups: the North and the South soldiers. They were again subdivided into four army soldiers named the Ra, Amen, Sutekh, and Ptah. He would eventually choose his commanding army general who will spearhead the battle.
To be chosen as the army general, one has to receive a higher educational level. The pharaoh believes that an educationally qualified chief would be more efficient in times of battle. This led the army to pursue higher military training because an effective soldier was expected to be educationally qualified for the position.
– The Military Standards
Everyone knows that a military standard is used to signify affiliation among military men. It is applicable if the army is huge so that the young soldiers can be easily distinguished.
In Egypt, men are partially conscripted. They don’t want to do hard military drills, but the government insisted on preparing its young men for war in case a breakout happens. Part of empowering the army in ancient Egypt was setting a higher military standard where the soldiers were given the chance to improve their rank and even social status.
Without a strong army, it was difficult for Egypt to protect its empire. You should always remember that dangerous enemies were lurking around to take over the land, which needed the enhancement of imperial duties. To make this happen, ancient Egypt required committed soldiers to fight for the land. It was expected for men to pledge their loyalty to the military and the throne.
Before the time of the New Kingdom, being a soldier was not a popular choice because it brought little compensation or prestige. As part of military maneuvering, they needed to replace foreigners from northern Egypt as a battle with other nations demanded a powerful, committed, and well-trained army.
When the pharaoh declared this change, being a soldier became a professional career with stable benefits and prospects. It brought more inspiration for the armed forces to fight for the throne because they were recognized and compensated. You now understand how the army struggled in the beginning because they also needed support and recognition.
You can guess how the military accepted the challenge. After the pharaoh’s decree on revitalizing the army, the soldiers became more eager to serve, and a number of military victories followed under the leadership of pharaohs like Ahmose and Tuthmosis III, who brought more prestige and wealth to Egypt. As a result, soldiers were much appreciated by average Egyptians, and they became highly respected members of their communities.
– Learning From the Enemy
At the beginning of the New Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers were only called soldiers by name but did not have proper military training and career goals. They even used primitive weapons with no armor at all.
After they defeated the Hyksos, Egyptians discovered more advanced weapons, such as metal daggers, swords, and spears. They immediately convened the military for more training and advancement and promoted strong and formidable Egyptian warfare.
You can imagine the degree of their enthusiasm to upgrade the army because the Egyptians only previously used light, fast, horse-drawn chariots. The chariot driver’s armor was limited to leather plates with a bronze helmet. He was accompanied by another soldier fully armed with a bow, arrows, and javelins.
It was not enough when soldiers faced a real battle because their neighboring countries were used to fierce fights. When the Egyptian military was upgraded, it paved the way for more committed troops because they became more equipped and advanced than their enemies.
A Very Smart and Strategic Military Tactic
The pharaoh finally devised a smart military tactic to encourage his army to commit more in honor of the empire. As the empire expanded its control and the need for soldiers increased, so did the rewards. The pharaoh ordered good food and wine for the soldiers at the camp while professional soldiers were rewarded with gold and pieces of land.
For the elite, becoming an army commander was a smart career choice because they were given more chances to ascend to the higher levels of society. For example, in times of emergency, when there was no heir to the throne, senior commanders were called to take power and rule as pharaoh.
You might applaud the pharaoh for such a clever decree. It strengthened the morale of the soldiers while at the same time developing their confidence as military officers because they were highly honored for their contributions.
– A Soldier’s Life Is Unlucky for Some
Life was tough in times of war because the pharaoh had the prerogative to raise troops and men from each temple community to support the permanent army. Before the military enhancement, these men were in the lower ranks and didn’t want to be there because they would go into battle with nothing but a tunic and a pair of sandals and armed only with a spear.
During peacetime, food was pouring in, but in wartime, a soldier could only afford to eat what he could carry. He would often be marching for days before he reached the enemy. It’s a total sacrifice on the part of the soldiers. You could imagine the soldiers’ heavy hearts during fierce combat, but they couldn’t oppose the pharaoh.
Battle would often begin with a reward. If they were victorious, the Egyptians would count how many enemy soldiers they had killed. They would cut off their enemy’s hands or penises and count them because there was a reward for each enemy hand or penis a soldier could present. It was a big win for the Egyptian soldiers because they would go home with honor and rewards.
On the brighter side, the army was ranked, organized, and expanded to make sure that it was fully efficient. This organizational enhancement was helpful to the army’s success at war, which made the Egyptian military one of the most feared and formidable armies in the ancient world.
Egypt has enjoyed a harmonious existence coupled with economic stability; that’s why it didn’t invest in military power. The Egyptians were caught by surprise when they found out they were too complacent for comfort because even though they may have been known as the economic power in the Mediterranean Sea, their military weapons were lower in standard than their enemies.
The pharaoh quickly ordered a massive campaign to uplift its military power. In a short time, the Egyptian army has mastered the art of military weaponry, strategies, and loyalty to the pharaoh. As expected, ancient Egypt did not disappoint in its military campaign.
The army needed much-improved weapons and military skills, which they eventually fulfilled. They started less fierce and defeated but ended up becoming an invincible military force that protected the whole empire and restored the glory of the Nile, prompting another victory in history.