Ancient Egyptian Warfare
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Ancient Wars
Ancient Egypt was one of the very first civilisations and also one of the first to adopt a hierarchal society. What is interesting about Ancient Egypt is the fact that the time line ran between 3150 BC an 31 BC but the Ancient Egyptian wars did not occur until half way through their existence.
Ancient Egyptian Warfare
The reason why the Egyptians could live in harmony for so long lends itself to the geographical boundaries such as the Nile that were difficult for potential attackers to overcome.
While it is known that the early Ancient Egyptians did send out raiding parties to nearby countries for the looting of precious metals, animals and people to keep as slaves these did not turn into full blown wars.
It is said that around the year 1650 BC the Hyksos of the northern Nile Delta made an invasion into Egypt and with little confrontation was able to take control of the northern Egyptian lands.
This invasion led to the Hyksos holding the Egyptian lands for around a century. While many see this as a negative for Egypt it seems the Hyksos were part of the reason why the Egyptians grew in stature as a military nation as they took the war to the Hyksos Empire.
The Ancient Egyptians under Seqenenre Tao (II) and Apophis waged war with the Hyksos in northern Egypt and Apophis was able to rout the Hyksos forcing them north out of Egypt forever.
Egypt and the Canaanite
Ancient Egyptian warfare started around 1500 BC and were mainly caused by the Egyptians wish to expand their lands and political control in the region. The first known war was one with the Canaanite coalition that occurred along the coastal lands Israel, Lebanon and Syria and into Turkey.
The most well known battle of this war was the Battle of Megiddo where Pharaoh Thutmose III sent 10,000 to 20,000 men to face an army of 10,000 to 15,000 led by the King of Kadesh and the King of Megiddo. This battle happened in 1457 BC.
The Egyptians camped close to the Canaanite forces and as morning broke the Egyptians surprised the Canaanite in attack, the overwhelming strength of the Egyptians broke the will of the Canaanite and they fell into full retreat. The Egyptians killed 83 Canaanite and captured just fewer than 400 as prisoners, the outcome of the battle meant that the Egyptians needed to lay siege to the city, which they did for 7 months before the city fell in surrender. Egypt won the war and its lands grew to encompass the region within its boundaries.
Egypt and the Hittites
The next well known Ancient Egyptian War was against the Hittites in the famous Battle of Kadesh in 1288 BC. Here the Egyptians under Ramesses II faced the Hittite’s led by Muwatalli II at the plains outside the city of Kadesh (present day Syria).
History says that the Egyptians had 20,000 men with only 10,000 engaged in the battle while the Hittites had a massive 50,000 men. This battle was the largest Chariot battle in history with just fewer than 6,000 chariots between the two armies.
The battle in its placement outside Kadesh came as a surprise to the Egyptians as Nomad travellers had told them that the Hittites were some 200 kilometres north from where they actually were. This meant Ramesses thought that he had the chance to take Kadesh unopposed and rushed towards the city, unfortunately this meant his four divisions got scattered as they all moved at different paces.
The Hittites took the initiative and started a massive chariot attack on the Egyptian division named Ri, annihilating them as they went. The Hittites chariot attack then moved onto a second Egyptian division called Anum which was decimated, although some managed to flee. The Hittites thought they had won the battle and started looting whatever they could from the dead Egyptians, this was their big mistake.
The remaining two Egyptian divisions made a counterattack and the two combined divisions routed the Hittite chariot force killing almost all Hittites other than the few who managed to swim over the river back to the rest of the Hittite army.
The final part of battle happened the next day when the Hittite army attacked once more, this attack turned into bloodshed on both sides with many men lost. In the end the Hittite army had to retreat back across the river to where they were positioned the previous day.
Both sides claimed victory in the battle, although it looks to have ended in a stalemate. The true result was that Egypt didn’t claim more ground but the Hittites could not continue the battle because of logistical problems with supplies thus it turned into a Pyrrhic victory to Egypt.
Ancient Egyptian Weaponry
The Ancient Egyptians were known to use siege warfare weapons such as battering rams and siege towers.
General warfare weapons were a mix of ranged and melee weapons.
Melee weapons used: clubs and maces, axe, knives, swords and daggers.
Ranged weapons used: spears, bows and arrows, and javelins.
The Egyptians wore little body armour and had a simple shield to protect them. It is known that the Egyptians used chariots in battle.