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Warfare & Weaponry

As you've probably guessed from last week's post, one of the defining aspects of the 18th Dynasty was the incredible military prowess of the Thutmoside pharaohs. Both Thutmose I and, in particular, his grandson Thutmose III, were talented and daring military leaders whose campaigns expanded the Egyptian Empire's borders and kept the threats of another foreign invasion at bay. Therefore, I thought I'd do something a little different this week: instead of taking a look at one particular Thutmoside ruler, I'll be exploring some of the ancient Egyptian weaponry that helped lead Thutmose I & III to victory! To focus things up a bit, this post will only be covering Egyptian weaponry from the end of the Middle Kingdom through the New Kingdom, so you can get an idea of exactly the sort of arsenal the 18th Dynasty kings had at their disposal.

Looking at a typical soldier of the Middle Kingdom, it's clear that the Egyptian weaponry left something to be desired. The pharaoh's armies made extensive use of single-curve bows, copper daggers (for close-quarter combat), so-called "slicing" axes with crescent-shaped blades, and spears. The standard-issue sword at that time was functional...enough. With a blade made of copper riveted to a handle, the sword was effective in combat until it it received a strong enough blow and the blade snapped off from the hilt. When the Middle Kingdom collapsed and Egypt entered the Second Intermediate Period, what was a politically- and culturally-devastating event for the country ultimately benefitted the Egyptian army in ways no one could have imagined.

With the arrival of the Hyksos came a vast array of military technologies the Egyptians had never been exposed to. Foremost among these innovations was the horse-drawn chariot (before the Second Intermediate Period, the ancient Egyptians had never utilized horses in battle!) and the double-curve "composite" bow. This more advanced style bow allowed Egyptian archers to strike their enemies quickly and accurately from a great distance, and the versatile, easily-maneuverable two-person chariot allowed the Egyptians to ride circles around the clunkier, three-man chariots employed by the Hittites and other Near Eastern powers. The Hyksos also introduced the battle axe and the Khopesh sword to their conquered subjects: made of bronze and cast all in one piece, the curved blade of the Khopesh was far deadlier and more reliable than its Middle Kingdom predecessor.

Ironically, it's these very improvements the Hyksos introduced to Egypt that helped Pharaoh Ahmose I and his army oust them from the country at the dawn of the18th Dynasty. The Khopesh, chariot, and the composite bow in particular would become staples of the Egyptian military in the coming decades, being used by Thutmose I to expand the empire and subjugate Nubia, and by Thutmose III at the Battle of Megiddo in the mid-15th Century B.C.E. (don't worry, we'll cover that one in a future #ThutmoseTuesday post!). The efficiency of these weapons remained mostly uncontested throughout the course of Egyptian history, although they were occasionally revamped and improved upon when new technology became available (for example, following the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 B.C.E., Ramesses II began having Egyptian shields crafted from iron, a technique borrowed from the Hittites). Even though the Second Intermediate Period was a dark, uncertain time in ancient Egyptian history, it should be noted that without the invasion of the Hyksos people the technology of the Egyptian army might well have remained stagnant and inefficient for generations, limiting what great military pharaohs like Thutmose I & III could achieve.

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