War and Battle in Ancient Egypt
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War in Ancient Egypt


Victims of civil war, bound with ropes and with their
heads cut off and placed between their legs,
from the Narmer palette, about 3000 BC

December 2016 - Because it is surrounded by deserts like the Land of Oz, Egypt is pretty hard to invade. So a lot of the time Egypt was at peace. But not all the time. The Egyptians fought among themselves over who would be in charge of their country, and over whether the country would be united (as in the First Intermediate Period).

11th dynasty soldiers
Soldiers from the 11th Dynasty (about 2000 BC)

The Egyptians also sometimes fought off invasions from the Libyans to their west, or from the Nubians to their south (and sometimes they lost to these attacks too). Around 1700 BC, there was a big invasion of Hyksos from the north.

stone carving of a man killing another man
Rameses III conquering the
Libyans (ca. 1300 BC)

Also, the Egyptians sometimes attacked their neighbors. They sometimes marched armies into the Levant (modern Israel) to their north, as in the New Kingdom, and sometimes they tried to get control of Nubia (modern Sudan) to their south or the Libyans to their west.

pharaoh in a chariot
Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses at the Battle of Kadesh
(Abu Simbel, New Kingdom)

The Egyptian army had bronze-tipped spears and shields made of wood and ox-hide. They also had highly trained archers who used bows and arrows. Egyptian soldiers do not seem to have worn armor. The Pharaohs in the New Kingdom fought from chariots drawn by horses, but probably before the New Kingdom the Egyptians did not have horse-drawn war chariots.

Beginning as early as the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian pharaohs hired Nubian mercenaries from Sudan to fight in their wars. It is likely (though not proven) that the New Kingdom Egyptians hired Greek mercenary soldiers to fight in their wars with them about 1500 BC. Certainly many Greek soldiers fought for Egypt while Egypt was revolting against Persian rule in the 500s and 400s BC.

Learn by doing: archery
More about bows and arrows
More about the Nubians

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian warfare:

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. Easy reading.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, by Ian Shaw (2002).

History of Ancient Egypt: An Introduction, by Erik Hornung (1999). A college textbook. On the conservative side - not much on new developments.

Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture, by William H. Stiebing (2002). Expensive for a paperback, but brief and very up to date. And yes, it includes Egypt in the Near East.

More about African warfare
More about chariots and horses
More about mercenary soldiers
More about ancient Egypt
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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