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).
Building and Design
Ancient Egyptian forts were immensely strong – the walls of a fort could be 10 metres high, 5 metres thick and built of nearly 15 million mud bricks.
Many forts had an inner fortified town and an outer enclosure, also heavily fortified. Beyond this lay a deep ditch. Forts in Nubia could be supplied by river and had hidden access to the Nile so that the garrison could draw water. The fort at Buhen had arrow slits that enabled archers to cover every square metre of ground. As examples of military architecture, these forts rival the best medieval castles.
The Conquered People
Life in a fortress was usually busy – the garrison of a great fort such as Buhen probably contained about 2000 troops and 3000 civilians. Soldiers patrolled regularly, looking for signs of trouble. Trading caravans had to be guarded and the movements of conquered peoples and anyone crossing Egypt’s borders monitored.
The conquered peoples had to pay regular tribute (taxes) to their conquerors in the form of goods, crops or precious items such as gold. Conquered princes had to send their children to Egypt as hostages. The children were educated at the Egyptian court and treated well, so that when they went home they would be loyal subjects of Egypt.
Conquered peoples traded freely with Egypt, and goods from further afield passed through Egyptian forts. Some items arrived by sea, others went overland on donkey caravans, some of which contained more than 300 animals. Camels did not come into use until late in Egypt’s long history.