Making Camp

When they were on campaign, Egyptian soldiers made camp every night. Workers piled up a mound of earth and planted shields on top to form a defensive wall. This protected the troops within from all but the most determined attack. Behind the wall, troops erected tents in neat rows with the king’s tent at the centre and the tent housing statues of the gods close by. Areas were set aside for both the horses and chariots and the donkeys that carried the supplies.

Tents were made of leather, stretched over wooden frames. Ordinary soldiers slept ten to a tent but paintings of officers’ tents have shown that they enjoyed more room.

Mounted scouts continually patrolled the area around the camp on fast horses to locate the enemy and make sure that the Egyptian army was not in danger of a surprise attack. Spies might also slip in with news of enemy movements.

Servants and doctors looked after the troops, grooms and vets tended the animals, and armourers repaired damaged weapons. There were also priests with the army to look for omens that revealed the gods’ will, especially that of Amen-Re, King of the Gods, who personally advised the king when to go to war.

To avoid conflict whenever possible, ancient kings in the Middle East had a well-established diplomatic practice. Ambassadors, with special passports guaranteeing their safety, lived at foreign courts. Special messengers dashed between capital cities. Presents and letters of goodwill were exchanged by the various rulers. The kings of Egypt, Babylon, the Mitanni and the Hittites called each other “Brother”. Rulers of less powerful states addressed these monarchs as “Father” or “My Lord”.

Weapons & Armour

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.

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Armour

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.

Weapons

khopeshThe 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.

Fortresses

The catastrophic invasions and civil wars of the First Intermediate Period (2100-2040BC) made the Egyptians realise that they needed to guard their frontiers and trade routes effectively.

Around 2000BC the king ordered the building of two lines of fortresses: one along the eastern frontier and the other around the Second Cataract. During the New Kingdom (1550-1080BC) forts were built on the north-west frontier as a defence against raids by the Libyans and Sea Peoples (mainly from Mycenaean Greece but also the Sherden and Peleset peoples).

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First Armies

Here are some quick facts on Egypt’s first armies:

During the Old Kingdom (2700-2100BC), the kings of Egypt possessed a troop of bodyguards and a small regular army. These forces were usually enough to protect trade and deal with border raids by neighbouring states. All Egyptians owed the king a labour tax, so if more soldiers were required for any reason, taxpayers were called up, trained and sent off to war.

In the Middle Kingdom (2040-1790BC) Egypt began to build an empire. The kings led large well-trained armies against Nubia. They eventually conquered it and held it as a buffer between Egypt and the warlike peoples of Kush to the south.

Enemies

Bedouin and Canaanites
The Bedouin, a nomadic people of the Eastern Desert, often attacked Egyptian trade caravans. Canaanites came from the area of Modern Israel. Some traded with Egypt; others, were hostile.

Libyans
To the Libyans of the arid Western Desert, Egypt’s lush Delta farmland was temptation. Given any opportunity, they invaded. Strong Egyptian kings usually repelled such attacks, but in the First Intermediate Period the Libyans managed to seize land and settle.

Nubians and Kushites
Nubians came from the south. They were trading partners and later subjects of the Egyptians. The Kushites lived south of the Nile’s Third Cataract and were a great threat to Egypt. They were not conquered until the New Kingdom (1550-1080BC).