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

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 between 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 invaders too). Around 1700 BC, there was a big invasion of Hyksos from the north.


Rameses III conquering the Libyans (ca. 1300 BC)

Also, the Egyptians sometimes invaded their neighbors. They sometimes invaded the Levant (modern Israel) to their north, as in the New Kingdom, and sometimes they invaded Nubia (modern Ethiopia and Sudan) to their south.

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 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 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 the Nubians

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian warfare:

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. For kids.

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.

Old Kingdom (2686-2160 BC)
First Intermediate Period (2160-2040 BC)
Middle Kingdom (2040-1633 BC)
Second Intermediate Period (1786-1558 BC)
New Kingdom (1558-1085 BC)
Third Intermediate Period (1085-525 BC)
Persian rule (525-332 BC)
Greek rule (332-30 BC) (also called the Hellenistic)
Roman rule (30 BC-700 AD)
Islamic rule (700 AD to 1500)




Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated August 2015.

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