Egypt probably enjoyed more stability than any other ancient civilization, largely because of its terrain and its chariot warriors. The vast Sahara and Eastern deserts and the mighty Nile river created a natural barrier against aggressors, making the unified Egyptian kingdom all but invulnerable to attack. Those charioteers, military men trained in desert fighting with minimal armor and weaponry, made up perhaps the longest-standing army -- some 3,000 years -- on record.
The Old Kingdom Conscriptee
The Old Kingdom, distinctive for the Giza pyramids built around 2600 B.C., employed numerous armies to fight civil brawls in a relatively peaceful kingdom. These warriors were not the sullen supermen depicted on hieroglyphic steles -- those chariot-driving paragons would flourish in the New Kingdom -- but were conscripted artisans and peasants, or paid foreign troops armed with minimal weapons. Egypt made war with the Hyksos during the First Intermediate Period and employed a Nubian tribe known as Medjay, powerful desert fighter/archers who became Egypt's foot soldiers and enforcers of her police state.
The New Kingdom Charioteer
The most notable innovation to Egyptian war came during the New Kingdom -- 1570-1070 B.C. -- under Ramesses II, with the introduction of lighter chariots. Charioteers became sought-after warriors, since their chest-protecting armor was less cumbersome -- the chariot protected the rest -- and light bow-and-arrow weaponry provided excellent long-range attack power. Most charioteers fastened scythes to their wheels to increase battlefield carnage. When Ramesses II fought the Hittites to an enforced peace and decimated the the confederacy known as the Seas People at Djahy in 1178 B.C., he credited his chariots with the victory.
Warrior Recruitment and Training
The Egyptian warrior could be an adult recruited for a few years' service, or he could join as early as the age of 5, a born warrior with a permanent military career. Training, especially for the latter, was strenuous, with emphasis on stamina-building activities such as lifting bags of Sahara sand and coordination training such as stick fighting and wrestling. Charioteer training was required, as well as endless target practice as archer, swordsman and knife thrower. Depending on the aptitude he demonstrated, a warrior could serve as charioteer, archer, foot soldier or spearman.
Early Egyptian warriors employed clubs, slings, maces and obsidian-tipped spears, the latter notorious for their cutting edge. When the charioteer came into power, Egypt's main armament became the bow-and-arrow, the lightest weapon for hot desert fighting. When iron arrows with non-shattering heads came into use around 1000 B.C., Egyptian warriors were the most formidable fighting force imaginable. And, lest we give too much credit to machismo, many queens and females of elevated stature did double duty as warriors.
- The Ancient Egyptians: The River Nile
- Phouka.com: Old Kingdom
- Reshafim.org: An Introduction to the History and Culture of Pharaonic Egypt: The Armed Forces: The Army
- Narod: A History of the Med-jai Nubians
- AncientMilitary.com: The Military of Ancient Egypt
- Experience Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egyptian Soldiers - Warriors of Pharaoh
- AncientMilitary.com: Egyptian Weapons
- BBC: History: From Warrior Women to Female Pharaohs: Careers for Women in Ancient Egypt
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images