How Military Evolved in Ancient Egypt?

The Hyksos of Ancient Egypt drove chariots

Military of ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was an ancient North Africa civilization centered along the Nile River’s northern region in Egypt. The civilization coalesced around 3150 BCE with Lower and Upper Egypt’s political unification under the first Pharaoh, and it emerged over the next three millennia. Its history transpired in a series of enduring kingdoms, separated by relative instability intervals known as intermediate periods. Ancient Egypt reached its zenith during the popular New Kingdom, after which it entered an era of slow decline. Egypt was ultimately conquered by a series of foreign powers in the late period. The Pharaoh’s rule officially ended in 31 BCE, when the early Roman Empire invaded Egypt and made it a province.

Now that we know about Ancient Egypt’s timeline and brief history, let’s start exploring the topic for today – Ancient Egypt’s military.

The Old Kingdom (2686 BCE–2181 BCE)

The Old Kingdom was one of the most significant times in Egypt’s past. Thus, it allowed the state to stabilize and, in turn, organize a functioning army. During this time, the terrain and lack of technology limited most military conflict to Egypt’s consolidation of power.

There was no trained army in Egypt; the governor of each administrative division raised his own volunteer army. Then, all the troops would come together under the Pharaoh to fight. Because military service was not deemed prestigious, the army was essentially made up of poor lower-class men who could not train in other jobs due to lack of money and infrastructure.

The First Intermediate Period (2181 BCE–2055 BCE) and Middle Kingdom (2055 BCE –1650 BCE)

The Pharaoh Mentuhotep II led military campaigns south as far as the Second Cataract in Nubia, which had won its independence during the First Intermediate Phase. He restored Egyptian hegemony over the Sinai region, which had been lost to Egypt since the top of the Old Kingdom.

From the mystical Twelfth Dynasty onwards, pharaohs regularly kept well-trained standing soldiers, which formed the foundation of larger forces raised for resistance against the invasion. Under Senusret I’s rule, Egyptian armies created a border fort at Buhen and included all of lower Nubia as an Egyptian colony.

The Second Intermediate Period (1650 BCE–1550 BCE)

After Merneferre Ay of the 13th dynasty left his palace, a Canaanite tribe called the Hyksos raided Memphis (the Ancient Egyptians’ capital city) and declared dominion over Lower and Upper Egypt. After the Hyksos gained control, many Egyptians fled to Thebes, where they ultimately started to oppose the Hyksos control.

The Hyksos, Northeast’s Asiatics, set up a strong capital at Avaris. The Egyptians were confined at this time; their regime had collapsed. They were in the midst of an “enemy sandwich” between the Kushite Nubians in the south and the Hyksos in the north. This era marked a grand change for Egypt’s army. The Hyksos have been attributed to bringing to Egypt the composite bow, the horse, the chariot (Ourarit)—tools that drastically remodeled Egypt’s military operated.

The composite bow, which provided for greater kill distance and more accuracy with arrows, along with chariots and horses, eventually assisted the Egyptian army in expelling the Hyksos from Egypt, starting when Seqenenre Tao became king of Thebes and opened a conflict that claimed his own life in combat. Seqenenre was ultimately succeeded by Kamose, who continued to fight the Hyksos before his brother Ahmose eventually succeeded in driving them out. This marked the start of the New Kingdom.

The New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC)

In the New Kingdom, new menaces emerged. However, the Hyksos military’s contributions enabled Egypt to defend itself from these invasions triumphantly. The Hittites tried to conquer Egypt but were defeated, and a peace treaty was made. Also, the strange Sea Peoples attacked the entire ancient Near East during this period. The Sea Peoples caused many obstacles, but eventually, the military was strong enough to prevent a total government collapse. Unlike the Hittites, the Egyptians were firmly vested in their infantry. This was the main difference between the Old and New Kingdom army.

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