The Military Man in Ancient Egypt Army

 The Military Man in Ancient Egypt Army 

The+Military+Man+in+Ancient+Egypt Army

To be in the military in ancient Egypt might have been difficult, but the officers and men were certainly in good company. After all, it was common for the son's of kings to serve, and on campaigns, the king often led his troops into battle. In fact, when there were dynastic problems in ancient Egypt, it was often the soldier who became king, such as Horemheb at the end of the 18th Dynasty.  However, while there is considerable evidence of the favors bestowed upon elite troops and officers, assessing the fate of the ordinary soldier, who didn't leave tombs decorated with scenes from his life, is more difficult.

the early times of Egypt's ancient history, most young men did not need to fear that they might be conscripted into the army. Yet, many second and subsequent sons, unable to follow their fathers' professions, volunteered for the sake of a career and a secure living.

However, during the much more structured military organization of the New Kingdom, young men were sometimes forced to join the army against their will, even though at the same time the profession of soldiering became more prestigious. This is evidenced by the letters written by the scribe Djehutimose, who accompanied the general and vizier Piankhi on his Nubian campaign, to his son Butehamun, a scribe in at Deir el-Medina. He instructed his son to "take good care of the conscripts", ensuring that they were well fed, but also advising that he should see that they do not abscond.

  The Military Man in Ancient Egypt Army

During the New Kingdom, initially the new recruits faced a hard school of discipline as soon as they were settled in their barracks. Their "uniform" was usually a short kilt or merely a penis sheath, with a feather in the hair for ornament. They were toughened up with a regime of alternati9ng physical exercise, wrestling and weapon training. For breaches of discipline, the commander would order a thrashing, often by his fellow recruits.

We know that the Officers of the Army received considerable booty after a successful campaign, and we can imagine that some of this wealth may have been passed down to the lower ranks. For the officers such as Ahmose, son of Abana, serving in the army produced considerable wealth, for he was able to retire to his own estate. He therefore saw his profession as well remunerated. Brave men, whose names were proclaimed by the royal herald, received grants of land and after the possessions of the king's enemies had been confiscated, they were given slaves and chattels. Ahmose himself got nineteen slaves and slave-girls, and more than once was the recipient of praise and glory in the form of necklaces and trophies with hieroglyphic inscriptions. "Given by the grace of King Menkhepere to the noble prince, the Holy Father, beloved of the God, who fills the heart of the king wherever he is, in all the foreign lands and islands of the Great Green, who fills the treasury with sapphires, silver and gold, over the foreign lands, over the army, the glory of the God is on him."

  The Military Man in Ancient Egypt Army

In fact, both the officers and men often came away with considerable booty, sometimes at the expense of the military campaign. For example, after the initial battle of Megiddo in the reign of Tuthmosis III, we are told that

"...if only his majesty's army had not given their hearts to capturing the possessions of the enemy, they would have captured Megiddo at this time..."

course, the Egyptian army was not the only troops subject to such temptations. When Ramesses II had to abandon his camp at Kadesh, it may very well have been the enemy forces' looting of his camp that saved him from outright defeat.

Soldiers were also provided with land, often tax free, for their honorable service to the king. According to Diodorus (I, 73,94), one third of the land belonged to the king, another third to the priests and the rest to the soldiers.

" ...the warriors are called Calasirians and Hermotybians, and they are of the following districts,--for all Egypt is divided into districts. The districts of the Hermotybians are those of Busiris, Sais, Chemmis, Papremis, the island called Prosopitis, and the half of Natho,--of these districts are the Hermotybians, who reached when most numerous the number of sixteen myriads. Again the districts of the Calasirians are those of Thebes, Bubastis, Aphthis, Tanis, Mendes, Sebennytos, Athribis, Pharbaithos, Thmuis, Onuphis, Anytis, Myecphoris,--this last is on an island opposite to the city of Bubastis. These are the districts of the Calasirians; and they reached, when most numerous, to the number of five-and-twenty myriads of men; nor is it lawful for these, any more than for the others, to practise any craft; but they practise that which has to do with war only, handing down the tradition from father to son."

 The Military Man in Ancient Egypt Army

Herodotus, Histories II,164f

"The warriors were the only Egyptians, except the priests, who had special privileges: for each of them an untaxed plot of twelve acres was set apart. This acre is a square of a hundred Egyptian cubits each way, the Egyptian cubit being equal to the Samian. A thousand Calasirians and as many Hermotybians were the king's annual bodyguard. These men, besides their lands, each received a daily provision of five minae's weight of roast grain, two minae of beef, and four cups of wine. 

Herodotus, Histories II,168

Both officers and the ordinary soldiers were also recognized and, even as today, received metals and other special favors  for their valor. Didu was awarded a necklace with golden bees (or flies) and a golden lion. His cousin, Neb-kemi who was a standard bearer as well, received a golden bracelet. The granting of sinecures, such as Ahmose of Nekhabit received, was another way of rewarding loyal servants. Another reward, given to Neb-amen, was the bestowing of the honorific Amkhu, which entitled its bearer to be buried at the pharaoh's expense.


Mercenaries were sometimes treated even better than the Egyptian soldiers. The Greeks were not use to the Egyptian way of remuneration in natura, which had been accepted by the Nubians and Libyans during earlier, moneyless times. They demanded payment in specie and received money originating in Persia, Greece or the Levant. From 360 BCE onwards the Egyptians minted coins themselves in order to pay their Greek mercenaries.

Hence, the soldiers, in many instances, and even the common infantryman, were probably well treated.  In the poem of Pentaur Ramesses II says:

"I have made you nemhu (i.e. not subject to compulsory labour). I have made you grow rich with daily sustenance; I have freed you from taxes; I have given the estate of the father to his son"

These privileges were extended by Merneptah and Ramesses III to the Libyans, the Meshwesh, the Sherden (Sea People) and other immigrant peoples who settled in the Delta.

However, not everyone saw the soldier's life in such a good light. Some scribes, who of course traveled with the soldiers on campaigns fulfilling staff duties such as provisioning, had little respect for the professional soldier. Come, [let me tell] you the woes of the soldier, and how many are his superiors: the general, the troop-commander, the officer who leads, the standard-bearer, the lieutenant, the scribe, the commander of fifty, and the garrison-captain. There are no clothes, no sandals. The weapons of war are assembled at the fortress of Sile. His march is uphill through mountains. He drinks water every third day; it is smelly and tastes of salt. His body is ravaged by illness. The enemy comes, surrounds him with missiles, and life recedes from him. He is told: "Quick, forward, valiant soldier! Win for yourself a good name!" When victory is won, the captives are handed over to his majesty, to be taken to Egypt. The foreign woman faints on the march; she hangs herself [on] the soldier's neck. His knapsack drops, another grabs it while he is burdened with the woman. His wife and children are in their village; he dies and does not reach it. If he comes out alive, he is worn out from marching.

Be he at large, be he detained, the soldier suffers. If he leaps and joins the deserters, all his people are imprisoned. He dies on the edge of the desert, and there is none to perpetuate his name. He suffers in death as in life. A big sack is brought for him; he does not know his resting place.

From the instructions of scribe Wenemdiamun Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), Vol. 


Who Were the Sea People

 Who Were the Sea People?

The Sea People, who we are told of on reliefs at Medinet Habu and Karnak, as well as from the text of the Great Harris Papyrus (now in the British Museum), are said to be a loose confederation of people originating in the eastern Mediterranean.  From their individual names, we believe that they may specifically have come from the Aegean and Asia Minor. However, regardless of their organization as a "loose confederation", they did manage to invade Egypt's northern coast and apparently mounted campaigns against the Egyptians on more than one occasion.

The 12th century brought dramatic changes that permanently affected Asia Minor and the civilized world of that time. Between 1200 and 1176 BC, the chaos that occurred in that region was probably a direct outcome of Sea People activity, and may be one reason why we find it difficult to find historical documentation beyond that date in Asia Minor.

We actually believe that the Sea People became active as early as the reign of Akhenaten. These were probably the Denen, Lukka and Sherden. The Lukka and Sherden are also recorded, along with the Peleset as serving as mercenaries in the army of Ramesses II, especially at the Battle of Qadesh. In fact, Ramesses II had earlier been forced to defend himself against attempts by the Sherden to establish a chain of efforts to the west of Egypt. An inscription of  Ramesses II relates in the 8th year of his reign (which is dated c. 1176 BC):

"No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alasiya on, being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in one place in Amurru. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Medinet Habu Inscription

Various scholars have tried to place these people with recognizable regions. The Peleset, who were non other than the Philistines that gave their name to Palestine.
The Lukka who may have come from the Lycian region of Anatolia.
The Ekwesh and Denen who seem to be identified with the Homeric Achaean and Danaean Greeks
The Sherden who may be associated with Sardinia.
The Teresh (Tursha or Tyrshenoi - possibly the Tyrrhenians), the Greek name for the Etruscans; or from the western Anatolian Taruisa
Shekelesh (Shekresh, Sikeloi - Sicilians?)


It would seem that, rather than bands of plunderers, the Sea People were probably part of a great migration of displaced people. The migration was most likely the result of widespread crop failures and famine. In fact, we learn from an inscription at Karnak that Merenptah had already sent grain to the starving Hittites. However, after causing havoc in Mycenaen Greece and elsewhere, they finally arrived on the Delta coast between Cyrenaica and Mersa Matruh. This area was, during this period, seasonally occupied by foreign seafarers sailing from Cyprus via Crete to the Egyptian Delta, so perhaps the initial settlement was not cause for alarm. Here, however, the Sea People joined with the Libyan tribes creating a strong force of some 16,000 men.

As they began to enter Egypt, the warriors were usually accompanied by their wives and families, and it appears that they carried their possessions in ox-drawn cards, prepared to settle down though whatever territory they transverse. After organizing themselves with the Libyans, they began to penetrate the western Delta, and were moving southwards towards Memphis and Heliopolis


This first attack of the Sea people occurred during the 5th regnal year of Merenptah, the 19th Dynasty ruler and son of Ramesses II, and it seems that at first it took that king by surprise. Of course, Merenptah could not allow the Sea People to advance on Egypt's most sacred cities, and it seems that he put an end to this in a six hour battle by killing more than six thousand of them and routing the rest. Those Sea People who were captured appear to have been settled in military colonies located in the Delta, where their descendants would become an increasingly important political factor over time. Moshe Dothan's excavations at the Philistine city of Ashdod between 1962 and 1969, which uncovered a burnt layer dating to the 13th century BC, may correspond to this event, or to the arrival of the Peleset themselves in the area.  Merenptah's victory was recorded on the walls of the temple of Amun at Karnak and on the document we often refer to as the Israel Stele from his funerary temple.

However, the Sea People's alliance appears to have remained strong, for afterwards they destroyed the Hittite empire, ransacking the capital of Hattusas, and were probably responsible for the sacking of the client city of Ugarit on the Syrian coast, as well as cities such as Alalakh in northern Syria. Cyprus had also been overwhelmed and its capital Enkomi ransacked. It was clear that their ultimate goal was Egypt.

In the 8th regnal year of Ramesses III, they again returned to attack Egypt, by both land and sea.  Ramesses III records that:

"The foreign countries made a plot in their islands. Dislodged and scattered by battle were the lands all at one time, and no land could stand before their arms, beginning with Khatti [1], Kode [2], Carchemish [3], Arzawa [4], and Alasiya [5]... A camp was set up in one place in Amor [6], and they desolated its people and its land as though they had never come into being. They came, the flame prepared before them, onwards to Egypt. Their confederacy consisted of Peleset, Tjekker, Sheklesh, Danu, and Weshesh, united lands, and they laid their hands upon the lands to the entire circuit of the earth, their hearts bent and trustful 'Our plan is accomplished!' But the heart of this god, the lord of the gods, was prepared and ready to ensnare them like birds... I established my boundary in Djahi [7], prepared in front of them, the local princes, garrison-commanders, and Maryannu. I caused to be prepared the rivermouth like a strong wall with warships, galleys, and skiffs. They were completely equipped both fore and aft with brave fighters carrying their weapons and infantry of all the pick of Egypt, being like roaring lions upon the mountains; chariotry with able warriors and all goodly officers whose hands were competent. Their horses quivered in all their limbs, prepared to crush the foreign countries under their hoofs. "


Again, Egypt seems to have been ready for this onslaught, for they have positioned troops at Djahy in southern Palestine and fortified the mouths of the Nile branches in the Delta. The Sea Peoples, on land, were defeated and scattered but their navy continued towards the eastern Nile delta. Their aim now, was to defeat the Egyptian navy and force an entry up the river. Although the Egyptians had a reputation as poor seamen they fought with the tenacity of those defending their homes. Ramesses had lined the shores with ranks of archers who kept up continuous volleys of arrows into the enemy ships when they attempted to land. Then the Egyptian navy attacked using grappling hooks to haul in the enemy ships. In the brutal hand to hand fighting which ensued the Sea People are utterly defeated.  Ramesses III recorded his victory in stone on the outer walls of his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu and the author of the Harris papyrus included the accounts of these campaigns as well. 

The Sea Battle of Ramesses III's Encounter with the Sea People

While the Sea People forever changed the face of the Mediterranean world, they never succeeded in conquering Egypt, and their presence in Syria-Palestine does not at first seem to have affected Egypt's sway over its northern territories.

 [1] Khatti: The Hittite empire in Anatolia, Hatti
[2] Kode: Cilicia
[3] Carchemish: City on the Euphrates in northern Syria
[4] Arzawa: Country in western Anatolia, allied to Hatti
[5] Alasiya: Cyprus
[6] Amor: Amurru in northern Syria
[7] Djahi: region in Canaan, possibly in the Judean hills

Ancient Egyptian Ships and Boats

 Ancient Egypt Ships and Boats 

When men live by water, whether marsh, river, or sea, they eventually discover ways to build vehicles to move across that water. Egypt’s life has always turned around its River, the Nile, and its marshes in the Delta.The cheapest form of primitive boat was the pot boat, simply a clay container large enough to accommodate a passenger. It was meant for places free of rocks and was ideal for getting around the marshy areas of the Nile delta. Egypt was fairly treeless and it would be difficult to find other means of building boats.

Ancient Egyptian Ships and Boats


The Egyptians did find enough wood to make planked boats. There is evidence that the Old Kingdom of Egypt had the first planked boats ever made. The boat made out of planks was an improvement on the dugout which was hollowed out of a single log. In southern Egypt, archaeologists have found a multitude of pictures of boats that, shortly before 3100 BCE, were drawn on rock outcrops or were included as part of the decoration on pottery. Among them, are some that show a mast with a broad square sail hung from it. The tombs of Egypt have yielded pictures and even models of a variety of river craft, from tiny rowboats through swift yachts and dispatch boats to enormous barges large enough to carry huge obelisks weighing hundreds of tons from the quarries.The earliest surviving example of a sewn boat, one which had the side planking sewn together with fibers, cords, or thongs, was found beside the great pyramid of Giza. It is most probably a descendant of boats going back into Egypt’s predynastic times.

 Ancient Egyptian Ships and Boats

The Nile River was the catalyst for these and more early boats. It is a perfect waterway, running some 500 miles from the beginning of the delta near Cairo to the First Cataract at Aswan (Elephantine). Since the prevailing wind blows against the flow of the water, boatmen could drift downstream (or with the current), and when returning they could raise sail and be gently driven back home. The Egyptians were also the first recorded people to use sails on their craft.

If wood was scarce in Egypt, reeds were not. For their first water transport, the Egyptians turned to these bulrushes. By the middle of the fourth millennium BCE they were building rafts of bundles of reeds tied together, eventually learning to shape them, making them long and narrow and gracefully bowed. They fashioned paddles to propel the rafts and mounted paddles to serve as rudders. They built craft large enough to accommodate two deck cabins and require a long line of rowers to move them.

The first sail was probably a large leafy frond set up in the bow. By about 3500 BCE the Egyptians had replaced this leaf frond with a true sail, made of woven reeds or leaves set on a vertical mast, shaped square.

By the Old Kingdom, reed ships were now taking on a more boat-like shape, with a spoonlike form and a prow and stern that came together into a point, often finished off with an ornament shaped like a lotus bud. But with the new pyramid-building program, stone was required—stone which could only be obtained from quarries on the other side of the river or upstream at Aswan. Riverboats were needed that could transport huge limestone blocks. Boats now had to be made of wood.

Ancient Egyptian Ships and Boats
These first wooden boats were more or less replicas of the earlier reed boats. They were built square at each end, more barge than boat. Since Egypt lacked good timber, the shipwrights devised a special technique. They used the acacia tree, with brittle wood which only comes in short lengths. But they cut planks three feet long, put together like brick, building up the hull from a central plank laid for the bottom. They would join the three foot planks together edge to edge by means of long close-set dowels, and when the hull was built up they stretched crossbeams over it. The Pharaoh Snefru, who ruled Egypt about 2600 BCE, was reported to have imported forty ships filled with cedar logs to build more ships. In the tombs of pharaohs and nobles in earlier dynasties, archaeologists have found jars and pitchers made in Palestine and Syria, and in those lands, they have dug up artifacts that were unquestionably Egyptian. Were these transfers of objects done by land or by sea?

Egypt also needed myrrh for unguents and embalming, and frankincense to burn with myrrh in its temples. These products came from southern Arabia and parts of what is now Ethiopia and Somalia. The only alternative to the overland route with all its middlemen and increase in prices and costs was by water down the Red Sea. But the Nile was separated from the Red Sea, the closest place between being an eight-day march across desert, near the Wadi Hammamat. A minister of Mentuhotep III, named Henu, inscribed how he was assigned the job of dispatching a ship to the land of Punt to gather myrrh. But first he had to take 3000 men to the Red Sea and build the ship.


In the Western or European world, boats have been built starting with a skeleton of keel and ribs, with a skin of planking attached. The Egyptians constructed their vessels, whether small or large, without keel, and with few, very light ribs. They had no violent storms, winds ripping currents or waves; they mostly sailed a river. The only stiffening provided beyond a handful of ribs consisted of beams run from side to side on which the deck was laid.

When Sahure in 2450 BCE wanted to transport men to the Lebanon coast, boats were needed that adapted this river-design to sea sailing. Around one end of the vessel was looped an enormous hawser, which was carried along the centerline above the deck and looped about the other end. This served for internal stiffening, as the hawser kept the ends from sagging when the boat rode heavy waves. An elaborate netting was also added, which ran horizontally about the upper part of the hull. A two-legged mast rather than the single mast was also designed, and it served to distribute the pressure, steadied by lines fore and aft. A tall, slender square-sail was mounted with two spars spreading it, a yard along the head, and a boom along the foot. When there was no wind, sail was taken in, the mast lowered, and rowers could power the ship along.

Ancient Egyptian Ships and Boats

A thousand years later, shipbuilders were designing the ships that were shown on Hatshepsut’s reliefs. These had graceful lines and were faster than Sahure’s ships. The sail was broader, not as tall as before, extremely wide. There were fifteen rowers along each side, the overall length of these ships must have been about 90 feet. Trade with Punt was steady and enriching.

Also, obelisks for her temple needed to be transported from Aswan quarries. These obelisks were each almost 100 feet high, and the barge built to ferry them was some 200 feet long with a beam of 70 feet. It required almost 30 oar-driven tugs, each with 30 rowers, to tow that barge.

During the reign of Tuthmosis III, Hatshepsut’s successor, Egypt’s trade increased still more. Punt provided incense, ivory, and rare woods. Copper was brought from Cyprus and silver from Asia Minor. One king of Cyprus in turn requested horses, chariots, a wooden gold plated bed, jars of oil. In another letter he requests a sorcerer who is expert with eagles. A record of such trade activity stands as a painting on the wall of the tomb chamber of Kenamun, official under Amenhotep III.

A wave of invading peoples came out of the eastern Mediterranean right to their very shores. Ramesses III repelled this invasion, celebrating his victory by carving on the temple wall an account accompanied by reliefs describing the sea battle. The description of the Egyptian ships shows that their warships at least have become shorter and heavier in the hull, the anti-sagging truss has disappeared, indicating that some other method of inner strength had been utilized. The elegant curved stern, too delicate for war, was replaced by an undecorated sloping stern and the sternpost replaced by a simple projection ending in a lion’s head. Egypt had joined the rest of the Mediterranean in building its watercraft for war.

Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

 Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

As a practical weapon, it was the battle axe that eventually replaced the mace as one of the Egyptian military's primary close combat weapons.Infantry armed with battle axes were typically deployed after the enemy had been weakened by archers. The axe was more effective in cutting wounded or fleeing enemies to pieces than it was in breaching an intact battle line.  The Hyksos, Asiatics themselves, are credited with having introduced scale body armor into Egypt and brought about changes in the form of the battle axe there by the middle of the 2nd millennium.

 Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

Hence, one distinguishes between two kinds of battle axe: the cutting and the piercing axe. Both were used by Egyptian soldiers, but under different circumstances.
The cutting axe is a blade fastened to a sizable handle, the idea being to keep as far as possible from harm's way. As relatively little power was exerted the affixing of the blade to the handle was not very critical. The head was generally inserted into a hole or groove in the wooden handle and tied fast.  The cutting axe is effective against enemies who do not wear body armor and helmets, as was the custom in Africa, Egypt included. It disappeared as armor became more prevalent, which happened later in Egypt than in Asia, where as early as the 3rd millennium BC Sumerians are depicted wearing helmets.

Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

The piercing axe was designed to penetrate armor, above all helmets. In Asiatic cultures this brought about a change in the way the blade was connected to the handle. The blade was cast with an eye through which the handle could be inserted. In reality, the cutting blade was used throughout Egyptian Dynastic history, while the piercing blade did not appear until the Middle Kingdom. Overall, we can distinguish between about five different subtypes of battle axes.

In the Old and Middle Kingdom, we find a relatively small, semicircular axe head affixed to a long shaft, while the first, long piercing axe head shows up  only in the Middle Kingdom. Also in the Middle Kingdom, we also begin to see the scalloped, or tanged axe head. Then in the New Kingdom, we find a very long, narrow axe head used for piercing, as well as an openwork axe head, introduced at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty which appears to have been purely for ceremonial or funerary purposes. Essentially, the New Kingdom battle axe blades were refined into a much longer, narrower and straighter form designed to achieve deeper penetration. Hence, throughout the dynastic period, the battle axe was one of the most commonly used weapons, first eclipsing the mace, and then gradually being replaced itself.

Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

Even the adaptation of the axe to piercing armor could not prevent its falling into disuse. For example they continued to use flint knives even up to the Roman period for ritual butchering, and, like the mace, we continue to find examples of ornamental or ceremonial battle axes long after their abandonment as a practical weapon.

Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

Swords and Daggers

Daggers were used as a weapon from the very earliest periods of Egyptian history, though like the battle axe, initially they were one and the same as knives used for non-military work. Initially made of flint, at no time would the standard dagger have been a very effective weapon against battle axes or even maces, with their long reach. However, almost from the very  beginning of Egyptian history, they were adorned as ceremonial objects, first made of flint, but with golden hilts at times, and later even more ornate and varied construction.

Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

However, it was the dagger that would eventually lead to a more useful close combat weapon: the sword.

Unlike the other arms used by the ancient Egyptians, including knives and daggers, swords were a direct consequence of the introduction of metal. There are no stone predecessors of this kind of weapon. Axes, arrows and spears have a long wooden handle or shaft and a small cutting or piercing head which was fashioned of flint during the Neolithic period.  Swords, on the other hand, often have short wooden or ivory handles and long cutting edges, which could only be achieved with a metal harder than copper. Bronze, easier to cast than copper and significantly harder, was first used for making swords. Its natural temper could be further augmented by repeated heating and cooling and hammering.


Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

Initially, what we may think of as a sword was simply an elongated dagger. This weapon first seems to have appeared at the beginning of the New Kingdom and gradually developed into a weapon resembling a short sword. The most specialized form of these early daggers was the khepesh, modeled on an Asiatic form that first appeared in the Second Intermediate Period, though it did not see widespread use in Egypt until the late New Kingdom. We find, for example, khepesh, which were named for their similarity to the foreleg of an animal and were  very scimitar-like weapons, being employed to decapitate Sea People prisoners in reliefs from the time of Ramsesses III.

Edged Combat Weapons of Ancient Egyptians

The Sea Peoples had learned metallurgical techniques from the more advanced peoples in eastern Europe. After their defeat, many were incorporated into the Egyptian army, and under their influence longer swords of up to 75 centimeters began to be forged. They moreover favored a straight, two-edged blade with a sharp point, which replaced the curved Egyptian swords.  But it was with improvements in the production and working of iron that the sword became the main weapon of the ancient infantry all around the Mediterranean. Less brittle than bronze, iron weapons could be made thinner and lighter and still retain their strength.  Maces and axes were effective because of the weight of their heads and the force of the fighter, iron swords favored the swordsman with the better technique. Precision of movement and the timing of the strike could give even physically less than overwhelming soldiers an edge over much stronger opponents.

Swords can be used for both cutting and stabbing. The blades of cutting swords were often bent and wide. Troop contingents were issued with either of these kinds of sword and deployed accordingly.

In the army of Ramesses III for instance, Sherden and Philistine mercenaries armed with pointed piercing swords preceded native Egyptian soldiers with curved cutting swords. The Sea People shock troops breached the ranks of their Libyan opponents who were then cut to pieces by the Egyptians.  Scabbards were known, though seemingly rarely used.


Rosetta Stone

 Rosetta Stone

Village in the western Delta (actually called el-Rashid), where in 1799 a stone was found with three languages on it: Greek, Demotic and Hieroglyphic. This stone, still known by the place it was found, would play a key role in the decipherment of the hieroglyphs because, as it quickly turned out, it was the same text that was recorded in the three languages on the stone. Various scholars, such as the Frenchman De Sacy, the Swede Åkerblad and the Englishman Thomas Young made attempts to translate it, with the latter in particular making significant progress. It was the French scholar Champollion, however, who eventually made the crucial breakthrough. The results of this he described in 1822 in his famous 'Lettre à M. Dacier'. The text on the stone is a decree issued at Memphis in honour of Ptolemy V Epiphany, which was to be displayed in every temple in Egypt. It bears a date that corresponds with 27 March 196 BC. The Rosetta Stone, possibly once on display in Sais in the Delta, is now in the British Museum in London. The stone is 114 cm high and made of black granite.

With its deep-rooted history, unmatchable civilization and everlasting monuments, Egypt has always attracted the attention and admiration of Egyptologists as well as fans from all corners of the globe. This has developed into what came to be known as Egyptomania. In this context, celebrations were held last July simultaneously in Britain and France to mark the bicentenary of the discovery the Rosetta Stone ( July 1799 )


Dramatic discovery

Closely associated with the town of Rosetta is the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. This great occurrence took place in the course of search by a French contingent during the French expedition to Egypt of a suitable site for fortifications. Dated 23.3.196 BC.

The stone recorded a decree passed by the priests of Memphis in honor of Ptolemy Epipanes (r. 205 BC- 181 BC ) on the occasion of his accession and coronation, for his bounty to the temples and the priesthood.
The stone was taken to Alexandria then to Cairo. However, following the defeat of the French fleet at the hands of the British in 1801 at Abu- Qeer, Alexandria, the Rosetta Stone was forfeited to the British, together with countless other treasures which formed the nucleus of the Egypt collection at the British Museum in London.As the original stone was moved to London, copies were sent to universities and research centers interested in Egyptology around the world.

Champollion Deciphers the "Stone"
Jean- Francois Champollion was born in Figeac, south France on December 23, 1790. At the age of 18, Champollion was well-versed in Arabic, Calidonian, Syrianic and Coptic languages. Following in-depth examination of the Rosetta Stone, Champollion came to the conclusion that he had at hand one single text in three languages. Based on his profound knowledge of Coptic language, Champollion found out that there was one text , written once in hieroglyphics, a second time in demotic, and a third time in Greek.

The stone recorded a decree passed by the priests of Memphis in honor of Ptolemy Epipanes (r. 205 BC- 181 BC ) on the occasion of his accession and coronation, for his bounty to the temples and the priesthood. The decree embodied quotations from proclamations whereby the king attempted to correct the evidently sorry conditions of Egypt at that time

In order to get a first-hand experience of ancient Egyptian history, Champollion traveled to Egypt, where he visited ancient temples and tombs and copied inscriptions on the walls. On March 3, 1832, Champollion died, leaving behind a substantial dictionary of ancient Egyptian together with a grammar of the language. As a result of his work and continuing research, trained scholars can now read with ease hieroglyphic texts, that were before him , a closed mystery.

Rosetta : Rose of the Nile

Rosetta, with its strategic location between the Mediterranean and the western arm of the Nile, Rosetta had been an extremely important military site since early times. The town was witness to many important events in ancient as well as modern times. It is typically tranquil and highly green town with vast gardens, orchards and date-palm plantations , in addition to a multitude of beautiful historical houses, inns and mosques adorned with exquisite decorative inscriptions and woodworks.

Rosetta across History

Lying 65 km east of Alexandria, Rosetta dates back to the Protodynastic era , where Menes marched from Upper Egypt to capture the town within his drive to unite both parts of the country and the town was then named " Khito". In the Ptolemic era, the town was renamed " Poulbotine" after the Poulbotinium Temple, dedicated to the worship of of Queen Cleopatra. In the Coptic age, the town was known as Rashit, later converted to Rashid. In later epochs, the town came to known by its present name of Rosetta ( rosy in Latin ).

In 853 AD , the Abbasid Caliph ordered a town to be built on the site of the old town on Poulbotine as a protective fortification against sea invaders. Rashid was referred to in history books as famous for making salted fish and sea snails. In 1249, king Louis IX of France occupied the town, in the course of his crusade against the Orient. This incident drew the attention of the Mamelukes to its importance. As a result, they flocked into the town and many of them built beautiful houses, mosques, inns and public baths. Since then, the town was used as a trading harbor.The Mameluk Sultan Qunsuwa al- Ghouri built a castle and ordered many houses and mosques to be built there.

Under Ottoman rule, Rosetta remained a prosperous trading harbor. At that time, the town attracted the attention of both Britain and France, being the major colonial powers that controlled trade between Europe and the East. They set their eyes on Rosetta as a foothold to possibly capture Egypt and France, appointed as a consul-general at the town Mr. Benoit De Mallet, an encyclopedic, enlightened French scholar, known for his mastery of Arabic. Mr. Mallet had lived in Rosetta fort 16 years , where he wrote one of the best-known classics "Description of Egypt".

At the same time, Britain was also looking for a foothold on the Mediterranean in order to protect its trade route for coffee shipped from Yemen, then a British protectorate to Europe across the Red Sea and the Mediterranean via Suez and Cairo.

As a result, Rosetta turned into one of the most flourishing Mediterranean harbors. Its warehouses were replete with grains, coffee, silk and many other trading commodities. Its warehouses were replete with grains, coffee, silk and many other trading commodities and its streets bustling with Armenian, Turkish, Syrian and Jewish traders.

Rich merchants and consuls of European countries, in addition to hotels, inns, mosques and churches, built many elegant houses.

During the French expedition, General Mineau was appointed ruler of Rosetta, where he stayed for one year, embraced Islam and took a wife; Zobayda al- Bawab.

As Mohammad Ali took over in 1805, Rosetta gained more importance as a town and trading harbor.

An Open Museum

The town itself is an open museum, with 22 monumental residences dating back to the Ottoman era in addition to 12 mosques, mills, castles and public baths.

In no other town in Egypt there can found such unique collection of monumental residences, built with a rare type of brown, well-trimmed and pointed bricks. How these bricks were made still remains a mystery.

The houses reflect a high style of architecture, construction and carpentry. Designed to Islamic architectural style, the houses comprise Mushrabiyyas ( oriels), vast reception rooms, decoratives, in-laid sea –shell woodworks, domes and densely ornamented doors. Houses were provided with fresh water tanks, properly insulated to protect buildings against water leakage. Normally, each house had a drinking fountain ( Sabeel), made available for free to passers-by.

The interior of the house was rich with exquisite decorations, including inscriptions in Kufic calligraphy. Mushrabiyyas were made of geometrically shaped, fine woodworks. On top of the house, which sometimes rose to two floors, there was a decorative skylight to allow natural light and air into the building.

Witness to History

Rosetta commands a special significance in Egypt’s modern history. On March 31, 1807, it was the theatre of a crucial battle between local inhabitants led by the town’s ruler; Ali Bey as- Slanki on the one hand and British forces led by General Fraser, who sought to capture the town as spring board for invading Egypt. As the British marched from Alexandria, Egyptian fierce resistance, leading to the defeat of the British troops and death of the British commander, surprised them. Later a treaty was signed by both parties, whereby the British troops evacuated the town.

One of the outstanding landmarks of Rosetta is Abu Madour Tower, wherefrom Vivien Dinon, a major historian of the French Expedition monitored the famous Abu-Qeer naval battle between the British and French fleets.

Rosetta at Present

Lying under the jurisdiction of al-Behaira Gvernorate, Rosetta now covers an area of about 92 sq. km, with a population of about 163,000. The town has also an efficient infrastructure, stations, regional and international telecommunications besides an overland and river transport network that link it with other parts of the country.

Today, as a tourist attraction, it is best known for its distinct Ottoman era merchant houses, of which there are around 22.  Most are being restored, but a few are open for visitors.  With many mashrabiyyas, the intricately carved wooden screens, the houses are usually three stories with each level stuck slightly out from the lower ones. The facades are relatively narrow, and the mortar is often outlined to create polychrome patterning in red, black and white.   There is suppose to be a museum which occupies the House of Arab Kily where the governor resided during Rosetta's better days.  Also of interest is the Hammam Azouz, which is a two story, public bath.


Ancient Egyptian Enemies

 The Traditional Enemies of Ancient Egypt

The earliest depictions we have of Egyptian kings portray the motif of prostrate foreigners as a symbol of Egyptian supremacy over the rest of mankind. For example, the Narmer Palette shows the king in his efforts to rid the world of such aberrations as the "vile Asiatic". Here, we find the trampling of the "Nine Bows", as the Egyptian referred to their enemies, as a vivid embodiment of the king's supremacy over foreigners (and sometimes even other Egyptians). The figure "nine" represented three times three, which was the "plurality of Pluralities", thus designating the entirety of all enemies. And later, during the New Kingdom, the Sphinx Stele of Amenhotep II provides a striking textual description of the Egyptian King smiting his enemies:

"He bound the heads of the Nine Bows... He has gathered them all into his fist, his mace has crashed upon their heads..."

Hence, the visual image of the king slaughtering foreigners was an important, as well as constantly repeated element of Egyptian iconography throughout the empires ancient history.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

With the cane from the tomb of Tutankhamun now in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, we find a very symbolic reference to Egypt's traditional enemies. Carved on its handle are the heads of a Nubian and an Asiatic, and indeed, these embody the Egyptian air of symmetry. Egyptians saw the Asiatics and the Nubians as the two opposite poles of a hostile world outside the Nile valley. In fact, they sometimes simply referred to these enemies as the North and the South. Actually, just about everyone outside the Nile Valley was considered enemies of Egypt, for those were the lands of chaos.  The visual depiction of Egypt's enemies and their role became so prevalent that it is difficult to distinguish in the archaeological and textual sources between purely ritualistic and rhetorical references to foreigners and genuine historical records. Repeatedly, we find examples of battles, and king's smiting enemies that in fact, did not take place, but were mere copies of earlier scenes.

 Ancient Egyptian Enemies

The Execration Texts, which dates from the Old and Middle Kingdoms, is one of the most important souses for information on the specific names of Egypt's enemies. They were discovered near tombs at Thebes and Saqqara, as well as in the "ritual site" at Mirgissa in Nubia. Those found in Nubia even included one example of such text inscribed on a human skull. Written in the hieratic script on small pottery vessels and clay figures of bound captives, these text listed the hostile foreigners, places, groups of people or individuals that the Egyptians wished thought to be inherently evil and wished to destroy. The objects were then deliberately broken and buried, inflicting a magical victory over these enemies. The names listed in these texts include deceased Egyptians, as well as foreign princes and peoples mostly in Nubia and Syria-Palestine. However, it is clear that these lists name both old and new enemies, which were mixed together, forming a powerful universal statement about the way in which Egypt viewed the outside world.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

Factually, Egypt had two forms of enemies. The first type of enemy was held valuable resources that the Egyptians sought. Except for the Nubians, they were usually not a threat to Egypt as invaders. These enemies included the empires such as Mitanni, Hatti. Other enemies mostly possessed little that Egypt wished to have, but were a direct threat to Egypt as an invading force. These enemies included the Libyans and the Sea People.

The Nubians

During almost the entire Dynastic Period of Egypt's history, the Nubians (or Nehesyw) were considered by the Egyptians to be "vile" and "wretched". The official view of the Nubians was clear from a Middle Kingdom boundary stele of Senusret III from Smna which denounces them:

"They are not people one respects; they are wretches, craven hearted. My majesty has seen it, it is not an untruth. I have captured their women, I have carried off their dependents..."

Ancient Egyptian EnemiesAncient Egyptian Enemies

Military campaigns and trading expeditions were sent to Nubia at regular intervals in order to sustain a regular supply of prisoners, herds of cattle and exotic products from the south such as ivory, ostrich feathers and ebony. And of course there were also the mining operations in Nubia, where the Egyptian's obtained much of their gold. Many of these expeditions were recorded in the tombs of the nobles at Elephantine (at modern Aswan). However, by the New Kingdom, Nubia had effectively become a province of Egypt, at least between Aswan and Napata, under the control of a viceroy known as "King's Son of Kush". Yet even then, the iconography of the Nubian as a defeated enemy never lost its popularity as a symbol of Egyptian supremacy. Even during the Meroitic Period, when the Nubian's controlled Egypt with A Nubian as Pharaoh, this motif of the defeated Nubian was still depicted in the royal regalia, with no apparent sense of contradiction.

The Libyans

The Libyans were known to the Egyptians as the Tjehenu or Tjemehu, though they may have been composed of more than one race of people. They were depicted by the Egyptians mostly as dark skinned and bearded, though occasionally with fair hair and blue eyes. A semi nomadic people, the Libyans occupied the lands to the northwest of the Nile Valley. Even during the predynastic period, temple reliefs frequently show them as a defeated enemy, and there are records from the reigns of the Old Kingdom pharaohs Snefru and Sahure of specific campaigns against them.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

The Libyans, like the Nubians, were by the time of the Old Kingdom, a symbol of the King's military prowess. The reliefs in the Old Kingdom mortuary temples of Sahure at Abusir and Pepi II at Saqqara, as well as the Late Period temple of Taharqa at Kawa, include stock scenes of a Libyan chief being smitten by the pharaoh, while the victim's wife and children beg for mercy. However, the personal names for the Libyans in all three scenes are repetitions and therefore suggest that these reliefs did not actually record historical events, but were rather an elaborate icon of Kingship. However, it is also clear that at intervals, the Egyptians had to undertake punitive campaigns against the Libyans. In fact, during the New Kingdom reigns of Merneptah and Ramesses III, the Egyptians had to stave off major invasions from Libyans.

However, the Libyans, as well as other foreign captives, were often being settled in military colonies by the late New Kingdom, and these people, known as Meshwesh, eventually became an influential group within Egyptian society. In fact, by the 22nd Dynasty, they even gained temporary control of Egypt.

The Hyksos

During the Old and Middle Kingdoms there seem to have been little military contact of any significance with Western Asia. However, after the Middle Kingdom, during the Second Intermediate Period, Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Asiatic kings known as the Hyksos. The term Hyksos really refers simply to the "rulers of foreign lands". They came to Egypt with horses, chariots and copper weapons, which the Egyptians would later adapt for their own armies. 

 Ancient Egyptian Enemies

 Ancient Egyptian Enemies
The were expelled from Egypt by King Ahmose, but this interlude of foreign rule in Egypt resulted in a new, aggressive policy of imperialism in Syria-Palestine. This would eventually bring Egypt's New Kingdom pharaohs into direct confrontation with the great powers beyond the Levant, including first Mitanni and then Hatti and Assyria.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

Mitanni, Hatti and Assyria

Most of Egypt's conflicts with the Asiatic enemies revolved around Egypt's attempted control the Syrian area of Canaan, and the various city states of that region along the Mediterranean coast north of the Sinai. At first, it would seem that the conflicts within Syria with these various enemies of Egypt were to provide a buffer zone for Egypt's defense. However, like Mitanni and Hittites, Egypt's prolonged interest in the region derived from their desire to dominate and exploit the economic resources and trade. During the New Kingdom, Syria was the crossroads of world commerce, with goods from the Aegean and beyond entering the Near East by way of ports such as Ugarit. When one considers the inherent fertility and richness in natural resources, Syria obviously offered much to the predatory powers who sought to use this wealth for their own purposes. Hence, some thirty-thee centuries ago, "world power" was synonymous with the control of Syria, so it is not surprising that for nearly two hundred years, the great powers of Egypt, Mitanni and Hatti expended much blood and treasure in wars designed to ensure their respective control of this vitally strategic region.

The Sea People

Even as Egypt was vying for a powerful position in Syria, there was apparently a disturbance along the Mediterranean coast that displaced whole nations of people. This disturbance was to effect all of the powers of the region, as these people moved about the lands. They became collectively known as the "People of the Sea", who today we simply call the Sea People. As they invaded the lands of the Levant, the bought with them their families, cattle and household possessions, with the clear intent to settle Some of these people have been identified as the Sherden, Sheklesh, Lukka, Tursha and Akawasha.

There were several waves of these people,  invading Egypt. At first, they reached as far south as the Farafra Oasis and the Canopic branch of the Nile. They advanced on Egypt by both land and sea, and represented a desperate threat to the Egyptians and other powers of the region.

Persia and the End of the Dynastic Period

As Egypt's Dynastic Period drew to an end, it was not the traditional enemies that finally brought down this great empire, but rather a succession of new enemies. It was first the Persians, who were so offensive to the Egyptians that when Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt, he seems to have been welcomed as a liberator. While Egypt would carry on a dynastic tradition with the arrival of the Ptolomies, there would never again be a true Egyptian Pharaoh  with his own enemies to smite.