Ancient Egypt Weapons

Ancient Egypt's Predynastic weaponry

Figure 19: Detail of the painting in the Hierankopolis Painted
Tomb, showing a warrior threatening a row of prisoners
with a mace. Late Predynastic Period. (After Kemp 1989)
The principal ancient Egypt weapons in the late Predynastic and Protodynastic Periods were undoubtedly the bow and arrow, spear, axe and mace. These are frequently shown in relief depictions of hunting and battle scenes (figure IX). Comparatively large numbers of maceheads have been excavated at late Predynastic and Protodynastic sites. The mace was the simplest of ancient Egypt weapons, consisting of a stone head attached to a wooden haft, often tapering towards the end that was gripped. At first the most common form of macehead was disc-shaped, but this was gradually replaced by a pear-shaped type, which usually had a longer haft. In the battles that led to the unification of ancient Egypt the mace seems to have played an important role in general hand-to-hand lighting. One of the scenes in the so-called Painted Tomb at Hierakonpolis (dating to the Naqada II period; c.3S00-3300 BC) shows a warrior ---- perhaps a king or prince ---- apparently threatening a row of prisoners with a mace (Figure 19).

Figure 21: Scene of the Roman emperor Trajan smiting
foreigners in the presence of the ram-god Khnum, on the
exterior of the north wall of the temple of Khnum at Esna,
Graeco-Roman Period. (Photograph: Ian Shaw.)
By the Protodynastic Period the actual surface of the macehead, like the ceremonial cosmetic palette, had been adopted as a vehicle for royal propaganda. The limestone maceheads of Scorpion (see figure 20) and Narmer, for instance, both excavated from the so-called Main Deposit of the temple at Hierakonpolis. and both now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, were decorated with scenes illustrating important religious and political events. A scene on the Narmer Palette (Cairo, Egyptian Museum), showing King Narmer dispatching a kneeling captive with a ceremonial mace. is the first clear instance of the transformation or the mace into a primary symbol of royal domination rather than a simple weapon. The walls of Graeco-Roman temples continued to depict Pharaoh in the act of smiting foreigners with a mace long after the weapon itself had fallen out of general use (figure 21).

The throwstick or boomerang (a curved wooden blade) was also a traditional Egyptian weapon dating back to Predynastic times. Although it continued in use as a weapon during the Dynastic Period (some of Queen Hatshepsut's soldiers on a trading mission to Punt, for instance, appear to have been armed with throwsticks), its primary use was in the hunting of birds.


The conservatism of the armory

In the Dynastic Period it is the sheer uniformity and lack of change in Egyptian weaponry that is most striking, considering the military power achieved by the Egyptian empire at its peak. There was a gradual improvement in the military hardware. available to ancient Egyptian soldiers, but the principal changes did not take place until the beginning of the New Kingdom. After the Early Dynastic Period Egyptian arms re­mained similar to those in use in Africa and Palestine-- suggesting that territorial gains in the Old and Middle Kingdoms must have owed more to superior organisation than to military technology.

The soldiers of the Old and Middle Kingdoms wore no armour. In the Old Kingdom they arc usually depicted wearing only a belt and a small triangular loincloth, and by the Middle Kingdom their costume was invariably the same short linen kilt as that worn by civilian workmen. The mass grave of sixty Theban soldiers from the reign of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II contained numerous textiles, including fringed kilts, some apparently bearing official laundry marks.

From the late Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers' only bodily protection (apart from the occasional use of a band of webbing across the shoulders and chest) was supplied by long, roughly rectangular shields made of cowhide stretched over a wooden frame. They were either 1 meter or 1.5 meters high and usually tapered to­wards the top to a curved or pointed edge. Handles for gripping were carved out of the middle of the wooden framework. Leather straps could also be attached to the handle for occasions (such as siege war­fare) when the shield needed to be carried across the shoulder, leaving both hands free.

Figure 22: Painted wooden model of ancient Egyptian
soldiers from the tomb of Meshti at Asyut, Middle Kingdom.
(Cairo Museum, JE 30986; reproduced by courtesy of Peter
Clayton)
One of the most important sources for the study of ancient Egypt weapons in the early Middle Kingdom is a pair of painted wooden models (Cairo, Egyptian Museum) from the tomb of Mesehti, a provincial governor at Asyut in the Eleventh Dynasty (figure 22). Forty Egyptian spearmen and forty Nubian archers are reproduced in faithful detail, showing the typical costume and arms of the common soldier. The Egyptian spearmen are wearing short linen kilts and carry a shield in the left hand and a spear, with a long leaf-shaped bronze blade, in the right. Each shield is painted with a different design imitating the mottled markings of cow­ hide. The Nubian archers are dressed somewhat differently, in more elaborate green and red loincloths, probably made from leather rather than linen. They carry their wooden recurved bows in one hand and bunches of arrows in the other. Another tomb at Asyut, belonging to a Twelfth Dynasty nobleman called Nakhr, was found to contain a whole replica armoury, including full-size spears (of a very similar type to those in Mesehti's model), two cylindrical spear-cases, two bows and arrows and a shield (Cairo, Egyptian Museum, and Paris, Louvre).

Figure 23: The development of the ancient Egyptian
battleaxe: A, semicircular axehead (Old Kingdom and Middle
 Kingdom); B, long axehead (Middle Kingdom); C, 'scalloped'
or 'tanged' axehead (Middle Kingdom); D, long narrow
axehead (New Kingdom); E, openwork axehead (New Kingdom).
Throughout the Dynastic Period one of the most commonly used ancient Egypt weapons was the axe. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the conventional axe usually consisted of a semicircular copper head (see figures 23 and 24) tied to a wooden handle by cords, threaded through perforations in the copper and wrapped around lugs. At this stage there was little difference between the battleaxe and the woodworker's axe. In the Middle Kingdom, however, some bauleaxes had longer blades with concave sides narrowing down to a curved edge (figure 23b). Another type of axe, described as 'scalloped' or 'tanged' (figure 23c), was also particularly common in the Middle Kingdom; it had a convex cutting edge and three tangs by which it was attached to the haft. Eventually, by the New Kingdom, the blade of the conventional bauleaxe had been refined into a much longer, narrower and straighter form (figure 23d), designed to achieve deeper penetration. In addition, a more fragile openwork axe (figure 23e), evidently intended purely for ceremonial or funerary purposes, was introduced at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Figure 24: Middle Kingdom battleaxe of wood, copper and leather. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, E 14.1950; reproduced by courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.)

The Egyptian spear typically consisted of a pointed metal blade at tached to a wooden shaft. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the blade was of copper or flint and was attached to the shaft by a tang (figure 25a), but in the New Kingdom bronze blades (figure 25b), often attached by means of a socket, became more common. Whereas the conventional spear was intended to be thrown at the enemy, there was also a form of halberd (figure 25c), which was effectively a spear shaft fitted with an axe blade and used for cutting and slashing. From the Middle Kingdom onwards the dagger grew in popularity as a weapon for stabbing and crushing at close quarters. The two-edged blade, usually riveted (before the New Kingdom) to a bone or ivory handle, was sometimes decorated with grooves in the form of plants or birds.

Figure 25: (right) Development of the ancient Egyptian spear: A, copper tanged blade (Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom); B, copper socketed blade (New Kingdom); C, copper halberd blade (Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom).

The bow and arrow was a crucial element in Egyptian weaponry (figure 26). Along with plaited slings, bows provided a long-range assault that backed up hand-to-hand fighting with slashing and stabbing ancient Egypt weapons.
Scene in a military worskshop showing a craftsman checking
the straightness of an arrow, from an unknown tomb at
Saqqara, New Kingdom. (After Martin, 1991.)
In the late Predynastic Period the 'hom bow' was in common use; this consisted of a pair of antelope horns connected by a central piece of wood (figure 18). By the Dynastic Period, archers were most commonly depicted using a 'self' (or simple) bow, firing reed arrows, fletched with three feathers and tipped with flint or hardwood (later bronze) points. The self bow (figure 27a), usually between I and 2 metres in length, was made up of a wooden rod, narrowing at either end, and strung with twisted gut. The longer self bows, often strengthened at certain points by binding with cord, tended to be either straighter than before or 'rccurved '. The rccurved bow (figure 27b), which consisted of two convex sections, had greater power and range.

Figure 27: The two major types of ancient Egyptian bow: A, self bow; B, recurved composite bow.


The late Fifth Dynasty rock-cut tombs of the nobles Shedu and Inti, at Deshasheh in Middle Egypt, are decorated with some unusual relief scenes of warfare against Asiatics, including (in the tomb of Inti, figure 28) a depiction of a group of Egyptian soldiers attacking a Palestinian fortress. The kilted Egyptian soldiers are engaged in hand-to-hand combat using spears and axes, while some of the defending Asiatics are shown pierced with arrows, indicating that the footsoldiers' advance was backed up by a hail of arrows from Egyptian archers. A scaling ladder is shown propped up against the battlements and at the base of the fortress a group of soldiers are evidently attempting to undermine the wall. A wall painting in the Sixth Dynasty tomb of Kaemheset, at Saqqara, shows another scaling ladder propped against a city wall ­this ladder is furnished with wheels at the base.

Scene showing soldiers using a mobile siege tower, from the
tomb of the general Intef at Thebes, Eleventh Dynasty.
About two hundred years later, as evidenced in another group of provincial governors' tombs, at Beni Hasan, scenes of siege warfare had become common elements in Middle Kingdom wall paintings, probably harking back to the more anarchic times of the First Intermediate Period. A scene in the tomb of the Eleventh Dynasty noble Khety shows a pair of Middle Kingdom soldiers, apparently under the protection of a mobile roofed structure, advancing towards a fortress with a long pole - perhaps an early battering ram - thrust out in front of them. The Theban tomb of Intef', an Eleventh Dynasty general, con­tained a depiction of a type of mobile siege tower (figure 29). Apart from these refinements, however, the weaponry being used by the ancient Egyp­tians and their opponents -- a combination of bows and arrows, shields, spears and axes - remained virtually unchanged from the Sixth to Thirteenth Dynasties. It was not until the end of the Middle Kingdom that ancient Egypt received an abrupt lesson in the dangers of military com­placency, when the throne was seized by the Hyksos Dynasties, a group of Asiatic kings ruling from power bases in the Delta.


Technological innovation in the New Kingdom 

Egypt's temporary domination by the Hyksos was an unequivocal warning of the dangers of allowing the political and military initiative to pass to the Asiatics. When the Theban princes Kamose and his son Ahmose eventually succeeded in defeating the Hyksos, two things must have been abundantly clear: Egypt would have to expand into Syria­ Palestine, in order to provide a buffer zone protecting its vulnerable north-eastern border, and the traditional weaponry of the Egyptian army would need to be radically modernized to keep pace with the military innovations of their neighbors.
Figure 30: The horse-drawn chariot, introduced into ancient
Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. 

Among the most crucial innovations was the introduction of the horse­ drawn chariot (Egyptian wrrt or mrkbti. The typical Egyptian chariot consisted of a light wooden semicircular framework with an open back, surmounting an axle and two wheels of four or six spokes (figure 30). The wheels, usually about a metre in diameter, were meticulously as­sembled from small pieces of wood and bound together with leather tyres. Two horses were yoked to the chassis by a long pole attached to the center of the axle. The deployment of highly mobile chariots, each manned by a driver and a warrior (armed with spear, shield and bow), provided a more intense and precise means of raining arrows on the opposition as well as allowing the routed enemy to be pursued and dispatched more effectively (figure 31). The chariot is often depicted in reliefs and paintings (figure 32) but only eleven examples have survived, including four from the tomb of Tutankhamun (Cairo, Egyptian Museum), which were found in a dismantled state' but have now been reconstructed.

According to the autobiographical inscription of King Ahmose's admiral, Ahmose son of Ibuna, in his tomb at el-Kab, the Egyptian army that defeated the Hyksos was already using the chariot. Ahmose, who also fought in the armies of Amenophis I and Tuthmosis I. writes: 'I followed the king (Ahmose) on foot when he was riding around in his chariot. When the city of Avaris was under siege. I fought bravely in his majesty' s presence.'

The problems of maintaining a chariot in good order are indicated by a late Nineteenth Dynasty papyrus in the British Museum (Papyrus Anastasi I; EA 10247. figure 33). This described the adventures of an Egyptian charioteer in Canaan. including his visit to a chariot repair shop in Joppa:
'You are brought into the armoury and workshops surround you -- you do all that you have wished. They take care of your chariot so that it is no longer loose. Your pole is freshly trimmed and its attachments are fitted on. They put bindings on your collar piece... and they fix up your yoke. They apply your ensign, engraved with a chisel, and they put a handle on your whip and attach a lash to it. You sally forth quickly to fight at the pass and accomplish glorious deeds.' 
Figure 34: Relief fragment showing Ramesses II
wearing the blue 'war' crown, probably from
Tanis, New Kingdom.
The New Kingdom army was also strengthened by various inno­vations in the equipment of the footsoldier. Body armour, in the form of small bronze plates riveted to linen or leather jerkins, was introduced by the early New Kingdom, and a smaller type of shield, with a tapered lower half, began to be used. The use of helmets remained rare among native Egyptian soldiers, although a new type of headgear was intro­duced into the royal regalia: a war helmet made of leather sewn with metal discs, usually described as the war (or blue) crown (figure 34). The use of a new technique of gluing strips of horn and sinew to a wooden self bow produced the more clastic composite bow, with a considerably greater range than before. There were two types of com­posite bow: rccurved and triangular. A new form of dagger, with the narrow blade and tang cast all in one, appeared at the beginning of the New Kingdom and gradually developed into a weapon resembling a short sword. The most specialized form of dagger was the khepesh, a scimitar-like weapon with a curved blade modelled on an Asiatic form that first appeared in the Second Intermediate Period. The northern exterior wall of the mortuary temple of Ramesses III (Medinet Habu) is decorated with episodes from the war against the Sea Peoples (c. 1164 BC), including a scene of the official allocation of various types of arms (spears, helmets, bows, quivers, khepesh daggers and shields) to the soldiers.

Figure 35: Scene showing Sherden mercenaries at the battle
of Qadesh, from the Great Temple at Abu Simbel, Nineteeth
Dynasty. (Photograph by Ian Shaw)
Among the foreign mercenaries introduced into the Egyptian army in the late New Kingdom were Libyans, often shown with feathers on their heads and armed with bows, and Syrians armed with spears and khepesh daggers. But perhaps the most distinctive, in terms of arms and armour, were the Sherden, one of the groups described as Sea Peoples. The origins of the Sherden probably lay in northern Syria but as far as the Egyptian records are concerned they first ap­peared as part of Ramesses Il 's army in his campaigns against the Hittites. In contrast to the native Egyptian soldiers, who appear to have served primarily as archers, the Sherden fought with sword and spear. They are instantly recognizable by their unusual headgear, a round leather helmet (sometimes with check protectors) surmounted by a pair of curving horns on either side of a spike, which is itself topped by a sphere or disc (figures 35 and 47). They also carry a round shield and wear a distinctive kilt, longer at the back than the front. The long tapering sword with which they are often armed is not specific to the Sherdcn but a lengthened form of a common type of dagger used throughout the Levant during the Middle Bronze Age.

In one of Ramesses II's earlier campaigns in Syria-Palestine a group of foreign mercenaries, wearing tasselled ki Its and carrying round shields decorated with bosses, are shown storming the fortress of Depcr in Amurru; their horned helmets (unusually shown in profile) suggest that they may have been Shcrdcn, although no spike or disc is shown in the centre of the helmet. In Merneptah's first Libyan war (c.1207 Be) the Sherden appear as allies of the Libyans, fighting against the Egyptians, although they are distinguishable from the Egyptianised Sherden by the fact that their helmets were shaped to the backs of their necks and, like the unnamed mercenaries at Deper, there was no disc shape between the horns.

Ancient Egypt Weapons

Ancient Egypt's Predynastic weaponry

Figure 19: Detail of the painting in the Hierankopolis Painted
Tomb, showing a warrior threatening a row of prisoners
with a mace. Late Predynastic Period. (After Kemp 1989)
The principal ancient Egypt weapons in the late Predynastic and Protodynastic Periods were undoubtedly the bow and arrow, spear, axe and mace. These are frequently shown in relief depictions of hunting and battle scenes (figure IX). Comparatively large numbers of maceheads have been excavated at late Predynastic and Protodynastic sites. The mace was the simplest of ancient Egypt weapons, consisting of a stone head attached to a wooden haft, often tapering towards the end that was gripped. At first the most common form of macehead was disc-shaped, but this was gradually replaced by a pear-shaped type, which usually had a longer haft. In the battles that led to the unification of ancient Egypt the mace seems to have played an important role in general hand-to-hand lighting. One of the scenes in the so-called Painted Tomb at Hierakonpolis (dating to the Naqada II period; c.3S00-3300 BC) shows a warrior ---- perhaps a king or prince ---- apparently threatening a row of prisoners with a mace (Figure 19).

Figure 21: Scene of the Roman emperor Trajan smiting
foreigners in the presence of the ram-god Khnum, on the
exterior of the north wall of the temple of Khnum at Esna,
Graeco-Roman Period. (Photograph: Ian Shaw.)
By the Protodynastic Period the actual surface of the macehead, like the ceremonial cosmetic palette, had been adopted as a vehicle for royal propaganda. The limestone maceheads of Scorpion (see figure 20) and Narmer, for instance, both excavated from the so-called Main Deposit of the temple at Hierakonpolis. and both now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, were decorated with scenes illustrating important religious and political events. A scene on the Narmer Palette (Cairo, Egyptian Museum), showing King Narmer dispatching a kneeling captive with a ceremonial mace. is the first clear instance of the transformation or the mace into a primary symbol of royal domination rather than a simple weapon. The walls of Graeco-Roman temples continued to depict Pharaoh in the act of smiting foreigners with a mace long after the weapon itself had fallen out of general use (figure 21).

The throwstick or boomerang (a curved wooden blade) was also a traditional Egyptian weapon dating back to Predynastic times. Although it continued in use as a weapon during the Dynastic Period (some of Queen Hatshepsut's soldiers on a trading mission to Punt, for instance, appear to have been armed with throwsticks), its primary use was in the hunting of birds.


The conservatism of the armory

In the Dynastic Period it is the sheer uniformity and lack of change in Egyptian weaponry that is most striking, considering the military power achieved by the Egyptian empire at its peak. There was a gradual improvement in the military hardware. available to ancient Egyptian soldiers, but the principal changes did not take place until the beginning of the New Kingdom. After the Early Dynastic Period Egyptian arms re­mained similar to those in use in Africa and Palestine-- suggesting that territorial gains in the Old and Middle Kingdoms must have owed more to superior organisation than to military technology.

The soldiers of the Old and Middle Kingdoms wore no armour. In the Old Kingdom they arc usually depicted wearing only a belt and a small triangular loincloth, and by the Middle Kingdom their costume was invariably the same short linen kilt as that worn by civilian workmen. The mass grave of sixty Theban soldiers from the reign of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II contained numerous textiles, including fringed kilts, some apparently bearing official laundry marks.

From the late Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers' only bodily protection (apart from the occasional use of a band of webbing across the shoulders and chest) was supplied by long, roughly rectangular shields made of cowhide stretched over a wooden frame. They were either 1 meter or 1.5 meters high and usually tapered to­wards the top to a curved or pointed edge. Handles for gripping were carved out of the middle of the wooden framework. Leather straps could also be attached to the handle for occasions (such as siege war­fare) when the shield needed to be carried across the shoulder, leaving both hands free.

Figure 22: Painted wooden model of ancient Egyptian
soldiers from the tomb of Meshti at Asyut, Middle Kingdom.
(Cairo Museum, JE 30986; reproduced by courtesy of Peter
Clayton)
One of the most important sources for the study of ancient Egypt weapons in the early Middle Kingdom is a pair of painted wooden models (Cairo, Egyptian Museum) from the tomb of Mesehti, a provincial governor at Asyut in the Eleventh Dynasty (figure 22). Forty Egyptian spearmen and forty Nubian archers are reproduced in faithful detail, showing the typical costume and arms of the common soldier. The Egyptian spearmen are wearing short linen kilts and carry a shield in the left hand and a spear, with a long leaf-shaped bronze blade, in the right. Each shield is painted with a different design imitating the mottled markings of cow­ hide. The Nubian archers are dressed somewhat differently, in more elaborate green and red loincloths, probably made from leather rather than linen. They carry their wooden recurved bows in one hand and bunches of arrows in the other. Another tomb at Asyut, belonging to a Twelfth Dynasty nobleman called Nakhr, was found to contain a whole replica armoury, including full-size spears (of a very similar type to those in Mesehti's model), two cylindrical spear-cases, two bows and arrows and a shield (Cairo, Egyptian Museum, and Paris, Louvre).

Figure 23: The development of the ancient Egyptian
battleaxe: A, semicircular axehead (Old Kingdom and Middle
 Kingdom); B, long axehead (Middle Kingdom); C, 'scalloped'
or 'tanged' axehead (Middle Kingdom); D, long narrow
axehead (New Kingdom); E, openwork axehead (New Kingdom).
Throughout the Dynastic Period one of the most commonly used ancient Egypt weapons was the axe. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the conventional axe usually consisted of a semicircular copper head (see figures 23 and 24) tied to a wooden handle by cords, threaded through perforations in the copper and wrapped around lugs. At this stage there was little difference between the battleaxe and the woodworker's axe. In the Middle Kingdom, however, some bauleaxes had longer blades with concave sides narrowing down to a curved edge (figure 23b). Another type of axe, described as 'scalloped' or 'tanged' (figure 23c), was also particularly common in the Middle Kingdom; it had a convex cutting edge and three tangs by which it was attached to the haft. Eventually, by the New Kingdom, the blade of the conventional bauleaxe had been refined into a much longer, narrower and straighter form (figure 23d), designed to achieve deeper penetration. In addition, a more fragile openwork axe (figure 23e), evidently intended purely for ceremonial or funerary purposes, was introduced at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Figure 24: Middle Kingdom battleaxe of wood, copper and leather. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, E 14.1950; reproduced by courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.)

The Egyptian spear typically consisted of a pointed metal blade at tached to a wooden shaft. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the blade was of copper or flint and was attached to the shaft by a tang (figure 25a), but in the New Kingdom bronze blades (figure 25b), often attached by means of a socket, became more common. Whereas the conventional spear was intended to be thrown at the enemy, there was also a form of halberd (figure 25c), which was effectively a spear shaft fitted with an axe blade and used for cutting and slashing. From the Middle Kingdom onwards the dagger grew in popularity as a weapon for stabbing and crushing at close quarters. The two-edged blade, usually riveted (before the New Kingdom) to a bone or ivory handle, was sometimes decorated with grooves in the form of plants or birds.

Figure 25: (right) Development of the ancient Egyptian spear: A, copper tanged blade (Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom); B, copper socketed blade (New Kingdom); C, copper halberd blade (Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom).

The bow and arrow was a crucial element in Egyptian weaponry (figure 26). Along with plaited slings, bows provided a long-range assault that backed up hand-to-hand fighting with slashing and stabbing ancient Egypt weapons.
Scene in a military worskshop showing a craftsman checking
the straightness of an arrow, from an unknown tomb at
Saqqara, New Kingdom. (After Martin, 1991.)
In the late Predynastic Period the 'hom bow' was in common use; this consisted of a pair of antelope horns connected by a central piece of wood (figure 18). By the Dynastic Period, archers were most commonly depicted using a 'self' (or simple) bow, firing reed arrows, fletched with three feathers and tipped with flint or hardwood (later bronze) points. The self bow (figure 27a), usually between I and 2 metres in length, was made up of a wooden rod, narrowing at either end, and strung with twisted gut. The longer self bows, often strengthened at certain points by binding with cord, tended to be either straighter than before or 'rccurved '. The rccurved bow (figure 27b), which consisted of two convex sections, had greater power and range.

Figure 27: The two major types of ancient Egyptian bow: A, self bow; B, recurved composite bow.


The late Fifth Dynasty rock-cut tombs of the nobles Shedu and Inti, at Deshasheh in Middle Egypt, are decorated with some unusual relief scenes of warfare against Asiatics, including (in the tomb of Inti, figure 28) a depiction of a group of Egyptian soldiers attacking a Palestinian fortress. The kilted Egyptian soldiers are engaged in hand-to-hand combat using spears and axes, while some of the defending Asiatics are shown pierced with arrows, indicating that the footsoldiers' advance was backed up by a hail of arrows from Egyptian archers. A scaling ladder is shown propped up against the battlements and at the base of the fortress a group of soldiers are evidently attempting to undermine the wall. A wall painting in the Sixth Dynasty tomb of Kaemheset, at Saqqara, shows another scaling ladder propped against a city wall ­this ladder is furnished with wheels at the base.

Scene showing soldiers using a mobile siege tower, from the
tomb of the general Intef at Thebes, Eleventh Dynasty.
About two hundred years later, as evidenced in another group of provincial governors' tombs, at Beni Hasan, scenes of siege warfare had become common elements in Middle Kingdom wall paintings, probably harking back to the more anarchic times of the First Intermediate Period. A scene in the tomb of the Eleventh Dynasty noble Khety shows a pair of Middle Kingdom soldiers, apparently under the protection of a mobile roofed structure, advancing towards a fortress with a long pole - perhaps an early battering ram - thrust out in front of them. The Theban tomb of Intef', an Eleventh Dynasty general, con­tained a depiction of a type of mobile siege tower (figure 29). Apart from these refinements, however, the weaponry being used by the ancient Egyp­tians and their opponents -- a combination of bows and arrows, shields, spears and axes - remained virtually unchanged from the Sixth to Thirteenth Dynasties. It was not until the end of the Middle Kingdom that ancient Egypt received an abrupt lesson in the dangers of military com­placency, when the throne was seized by the Hyksos Dynasties, a group of Asiatic kings ruling from power bases in the Delta.


Technological innovation in the New Kingdom 

Egypt's temporary domination by the Hyksos was an unequivocal warning of the dangers of allowing the political and military initiative to pass to the Asiatics. When the Theban princes Kamose and his son Ahmose eventually succeeded in defeating the Hyksos, two things must have been abundantly clear: Egypt would have to expand into Syria­ Palestine, in order to provide a buffer zone protecting its vulnerable north-eastern border, and the traditional weaponry of the Egyptian army would need to be radically modernized to keep pace with the military innovations of their neighbors.
Figure 30: The horse-drawn chariot, introduced into ancient
Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. 

Among the most crucial innovations was the introduction of the horse­ drawn chariot (Egyptian wrrt or mrkbti. The typical Egyptian chariot consisted of a light wooden semicircular framework with an open back, surmounting an axle and two wheels of four or six spokes (figure 30). The wheels, usually about a metre in diameter, were meticulously as­sembled from small pieces of wood and bound together with leather tyres. Two horses were yoked to the chassis by a long pole attached to the center of the axle. The deployment of highly mobile chariots, each manned by a driver and a warrior (armed with spear, shield and bow), provided a more intense and precise means of raining arrows on the opposition as well as allowing the routed enemy to be pursued and dispatched more effectively (figure 31). The chariot is often depicted in reliefs and paintings (figure 32) but only eleven examples have survived, including four from the tomb of Tutankhamun (Cairo, Egyptian Museum), which were found in a dismantled state' but have now been reconstructed.

According to the autobiographical inscription of King Ahmose's admiral, Ahmose son of Ibuna, in his tomb at el-Kab, the Egyptian army that defeated the Hyksos was already using the chariot. Ahmose, who also fought in the armies of Amenophis I and Tuthmosis I. writes: 'I followed the king (Ahmose) on foot when he was riding around in his chariot. When the city of Avaris was under siege. I fought bravely in his majesty' s presence.'

The problems of maintaining a chariot in good order are indicated by a late Nineteenth Dynasty papyrus in the British Museum (Papyrus Anastasi I; EA 10247. figure 33). This described the adventures of an Egyptian charioteer in Canaan. including his visit to a chariot repair shop in Joppa:
'You are brought into the armoury and workshops surround you -- you do all that you have wished. They take care of your chariot so that it is no longer loose. Your pole is freshly trimmed and its attachments are fitted on. They put bindings on your collar piece... and they fix up your yoke. They apply your ensign, engraved with a chisel, and they put a handle on your whip and attach a lash to it. You sally forth quickly to fight at the pass and accomplish glorious deeds.' 
Figure 34: Relief fragment showing Ramesses II
wearing the blue 'war' crown, probably from
Tanis, New Kingdom.
The New Kingdom army was also strengthened by various inno­vations in the equipment of the footsoldier. Body armour, in the form of small bronze plates riveted to linen or leather jerkins, was introduced by the early New Kingdom, and a smaller type of shield, with a tapered lower half, began to be used. The use of helmets remained rare among native Egyptian soldiers, although a new type of headgear was intro­duced into the royal regalia: a war helmet made of leather sewn with metal discs, usually described as the war (or blue) crown (figure 34). The use of a new technique of gluing strips of horn and sinew to a wooden self bow produced the more clastic composite bow, with a considerably greater range than before. There were two types of com­posite bow: rccurved and triangular. A new form of dagger, with the narrow blade and tang cast all in one, appeared at the beginning of the New Kingdom and gradually developed into a weapon resembling a short sword. The most specialized form of dagger was the khepesh, a scimitar-like weapon with a curved blade modelled on an Asiatic form that first appeared in the Second Intermediate Period. The northern exterior wall of the mortuary temple of Ramesses III (Medinet Habu) is decorated with episodes from the war against the Sea Peoples (c. 1164 BC), including a scene of the official allocation of various types of arms (spears, helmets, bows, quivers, khepesh daggers and shields) to the soldiers.

Figure 35: Scene showing Sherden mercenaries at the battle
of Qadesh, from the Great Temple at Abu Simbel, Nineteeth
Dynasty. (Photograph by Ian Shaw)
Among the foreign mercenaries introduced into the Egyptian army in the late New Kingdom were Libyans, often shown with feathers on their heads and armed with bows, and Syrians armed with spears and khepesh daggers. But perhaps the most distinctive, in terms of arms and armour, were the Sherden, one of the groups described as Sea Peoples. The origins of the Sherden probably lay in northern Syria but as far as the Egyptian records are concerned they first ap­peared as part of Ramesses Il 's army in his campaigns against the Hittites. In contrast to the native Egyptian soldiers, who appear to have served primarily as archers, the Sherden fought with sword and spear. They are instantly recognizable by their unusual headgear, a round leather helmet (sometimes with check protectors) surmounted by a pair of curving horns on either side of a spike, which is itself topped by a sphere or disc (figures 35 and 47). They also carry a round shield and wear a distinctive kilt, longer at the back than the front. The long tapering sword with which they are often armed is not specific to the Sherdcn but a lengthened form of a common type of dagger used throughout the Levant during the Middle Bronze Age.

In one of Ramesses II's earlier campaigns in Syria-Palestine a group of foreign mercenaries, wearing tasselled ki Its and carrying round shields decorated with bosses, are shown storming the fortress of Depcr in Amurru; their horned helmets (unusually shown in profile) suggest that they may have been Shcrdcn, although no spike or disc is shown in the centre of the helmet. In Merneptah's first Libyan war (c.1207 Be) the Sherden appear as allies of the Libyans, fighting against the Egyptians, although they are distinguishable from the Egyptianised Sherden by the fact that their helmets were shaped to the backs of their necks and, like the unnamed mercenaries at Deper, there was no disc shape between the horns.

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