Ancient Egyptian Military

A trumpet blares and two masses of armed men rush toward each other. It’s a battle between the ancient Egyptian Military and the Nubian Military. Egypt began forming an army in the Middle Kingdom. When Egypt was without a pharaoh, they fought each other with weapons such as bows, clubs, and spears. They wore linen kilts and leather straps around their chest. Without their army, ancient Egypt wouldn’t have become one of the greatest civilizations in the world. The army was very important to the ancient Egyptians. It was considered to have formed when Nebhepethre Mentuhotep I united Egypt in the Middle Kingdom. Men who wanted to join the military gathered by the mayor of the village. The governor of the territory chose the best men for recruitment. Men of the upper class became charioteers. Scribes started as pay clerks but later advanced to Scribe of Recruits. Soldiers first trained in barracks. They went home when they weren’t needed. Even if they were at home, they shared the booty and plunder that was taken by the army. Before fighting, the Egyptians and their opponents agreed on the place and time of battle. There were no ambushes and they fought in broad daylight on open ground. There was a trumpet signal to begin when both sides were ready. They usually fought on land but the occasional warship was used. Soldiers used medicine to heal battle wounds. They used bandages for broken bones, needles for surgery, and moldy bread to stop cuts from getting infected. Soldiers often received cures in prescription bottles. They carried amulets to ward off evil spirits. There were many wars in ancient Egypt. Egyptians conquered and lost control of many smaller civilizations over the years. The most famous war was when the Hyksos of East Asia conquered Egypt in the 2nd Intermediate Period. The Hyksos were the first people to conquer Egypt. They tried to adopt Egyptian titles and customs. The one thing that made the Hyksos so powerful against the

ancient Egyptians was that they had weapons that Egypt had never seen. The Hyksos brought curved scimitars, double curved bows, horse-drawn chariots, skull caps and metal helmets, leather body armor, and bronze. After one hundred fifty years, the pharaoh Ahmose I used the weapons brought by the Hyksos to kick them out of Egypt. Princes of Thebes drove them out all the way to Sinai while conquering small cities formerly ruled by the Hyksos. After that, Egypt had new weapons and armor. The New Kingdom began when Ahmose I defeated the Hyksos. This period brought many battles with the Hittites, the Mitanni, and the Assyrians. In the New Kingdom, there were many great and powerful pharaohs such as Thutmose III and Ramses II. They were both great generals in the Egyptian military. Thutmose III was the greatest warrior king of ancient Egypt. He was bold and reckless in battle. In his years as pharaoh, he led armies northward into Syria and expanded Egypt all the way to the Euphrates River. During his reign, Thutmose III made Egypt the richest nation. Another great pharaoh general was Ramses II. He controlled a large army of twenty thousand soldiers. It was split into four divisions, each named after a major god. They were Amun, Lord of all Gods; Ra, the Sun God; Set, the God of War and Love; and Ptah, the God of Craftsmen. Each division had five thousand men. The divisions were made up of twenty companies, each with two hundred fifty men. Each company was divided into five platoons with fifty men in each. In his army were bowmen, spearmen, swordsmen, clubmen, and slingers. Ramses II fought land and sea battles. He saved Egypt from the Mediterranean island people called Sea People. His most famous battle was against the Hittites at Kadesh in the New Kingdom. It was said that during that battle, Ramses II was given strength by Amun. Ramses II and his army fell into a trap. The Hittites surrounded them from all sides, isolating them. The Hittites rode two thousand five hundred chariots with three men per chariot. Fortunately, the rest of Ramses’ army soon came to his rescue. Later, Ramses II ordered his workers to write on the walls of great monuments that he had defeated the Hittites single-handedly.

The ancient Egyptian Empire ended with the onslaught of the Greek Empire in the Late Period. Egypt was under Greek leadership until the Battle of Actium over three hundred years later when Rome took over Egypt. There was confusion and starvation. Egyptians became Christians until the seventh century when Arab armies invaded and it officially became a Muslim country. Over the years, ancient Egyptian soldiers wore many different kinds of clothing for battle. In the Old Kingdom, soldiers wore triangular flaps hanging in front of their waists and connected to belts. They wore a ribbon-like sash around their necks. Officers wore diagonally cut strips across their chests. In the Middle Kingdom, soldiers wore simple, shaggy-edged kilts or triangular flaps in the front. They had long black aprons with straps across their chests and around their backs. They wore tied headbands with feathers as badges or signs of victory. They also had leather wrist guards. When the New Kingdom came, soldiers wore shirts as well as short kilts. Sometimes they wore sleeved baggy tunics. They had leather collars and padded helmets of leather with tassels and fringed edges. Soldiers didn’t use metal armor because they couldn’t move around in it easily. The ancient Egyptians used many different kinds of weapons. In the beginning of the Egyptian empire in the archaic times, soldiers used spears, daggers, clubs, cudgels, and throwing sticks. Between the archaic times and the Old Kingdom, Egyptians started to use maces, shields, bows and arrows, and axes. In the Middle Kingdom, soldiers started to use scalloped-headed battle axes. Then, in the 2 nd Intermediate Period when the Hyksos invaded Egypt, the army received new weapons brought by the invaders. When the New Kingdom came, soldiers started using scimitars and body armor. Although the Egyptian army usually fought on land, warships were sometimes used. The first warship in the world was on the Nile River. Early ships were bundles of reeds lashed together. To make them watertight, the Egyptians covered them with pitch, a dark and sticky substance made from distilling tar. Later ships were made of

wood. They were propelled by giant sails and oars. The large ships had twenty oars on each side. Planks protected rowers from arrows. A long pole called a ram was fitted to ships to ram into other ships to split and capsize them. The ancient Egyptian army had military standards. They were fan-shaped and made from wood and ostrich feathers. Men carried them around before and after battles to show that their army was powerful. They had a naval standard which was a square atop a pole with feathers. Sometimes standards were used for ceremonial purposes. The Egyptian military changed throughout the years. It started as an army with few men and not many weapons and ended up being one of the greatest, most powerful armies in the ancient world. When I began my research, I asked the question, “What was the role of the military in the ancient Egyptian civilization?” I learned that the role of the military in ancient Egypt was that it helped Egypt to expand and become a richer empire. The most surprising thing I learned about ancient Egypt was that a pharaoh’s son could become an army commander when he was only an infant. The most interesting thing I learned was that Ramses II had a very complicated system for organizing his army. Without its amazing military, ancient Egypt wouldn’t have become one of the greatest civilizations in the world.