New Kingdom infantry contained three kinds of soldiers. The elite troops were the “Braves” – the commandos of the day. Few in number, they undertook the most dangerous assignments. The bulk of the army were the “Veterans”, seasoned troops who formed the front ranks in battle. Then there were the “Recruits”, less experienced troops who formed the second ranks and reserves. The recruits contained both volunteers and conscripts (scribes made lists of able-bodied young men whom the king could call up in turn as part of their labour tax), but most conscripts undertook less dangerous assignments.
New Kingdom infantry used shields, but also had thick padded linen helmets and cuirasses (body armour), sometimes reinforced with leather bands or scales. This extra protection was needed because they had to withstand chariot charges, the new, powerful composit bow and tougher edged weapons made of bronze.
Archers wore a special brace to protect their wrists from the snap of the bowstrings. Everyday versions were made of leather but the rich used more expensive materials, such as a carved ivory version found at Amarna.
Some warriors owned armour made of bronze scales sewn onto a padded linen shirt. This arrangement made the mail shirt flexible, so allowing the wearer to move freely. It was clearly a much better defence against enemy weapons – especially arrows – than leather and line, but it would have been very expensive and perhaps only used by officers and royalty.
The Egyptians used several types of weapons over the years including the battleaxe, battle mace, dagger, khopesh (see picture; this weapon was introduced by the Hyksos), spear, javelins for thrusting, bows and arrows, and swords.
While early weapons were made of stone and copper, New Kingdom ones were made of bronze. By 1000BC some people in the Middle East had discovered the secret of smelting iron. This put Egypt at a disadvantage because it had to import iron to make weapons of comparable quality.