Warfare and Empire

   Posted by: Brian Alm   

Categories: New Kingdom, Military History

Introduction from Em Hotep: lecturer Brian Alm has been kind enough to provide us with a couple of guest articles, this being the first. While I am continuing with the ongoing Western Cemetery series, Mr. Alm and others have been gracious enough to to offer some breaks from the Western Field, and this examination of the role the military played in establishing the Ancient Egyptian empire, particularly during the New Kingdom, is both entertaining and elucidating. Please join me in welcoming Brian with this fresh perspective on that subject we all love- Egyptology. I would also like to welcome Krista Moyls, another familiar face to those who participate in the many active and reputable Egyptology groups on Facebook. Ms. Moyls has contributed photography to support Brian’s work. May this just be the beginning to a long tradition of welcoming new voices to our little tavern on the Internet.

One final note before we start.. I have included hyperlinks from some of the keywords in Em Hotep’s’ repertoire in this article. This is intended to aid the curious in finding more information, and for search engine optimization only. It is not intended to communicate Mr. Alm’s implicit nor explicit approval of where the internal links may take you, and should not be assumed as such. These are strictly for editorial and site maintenance purposes only. Mr. Alm’s words speak elegantly for themselves, the hypertext links are included for site optimization site only! Thanks -K


The first two dynasties of Egypt’s New Kingdom (1550-1069 B.C.) were the days of the great warrior kings — Ahmose, the Thutmoses, Amenhotep I and II, Horemheb, Seti I, and Ramesses I and II — but also the time of the female king Hatshepsut, who favored diplomacy over warfare; the elegant and cultured epicure Amenhotep III, who focused on economic development and diplomacy; the heretic Akhenaten, who largely ignored both warfare and diplomacy, preferring poetry; and the young Tutankhamun, whose funerary splendor makes us cringe to think what must have been snatched from the others.

The New Kingdom, the glory of the Egyptian empire, began in war, was sustained by war, and drew kings from the officer corps when the reigning king lacked a direct successor.

The New Kingdom, the glory of the Egyptian empire, began in war, was sustained by war, and drew kings from the officer corps when the reigning king lacked a direct successor.

The New Kingdom, the glory of the Egyptian empire, began in war, was sustained by war, and drew kings from the officer corps when the reigning king lacked a direct successor.

The grand temples, administration centers for vast landholdings and immense wealth; the elegant royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings, filled with treasure and provisions for all eternity; very likely the Hebrew Exodus — all this was in the New Kingdom. And all this glorious and expanding empire was grounded in warfare.

Before the New Kingdom the Egyptians did not keep a standing army, but relied on temporary, conscript armies to deal with some pressing problem — border skirmishes or brief campaigns for vengeance or wealth. Incursions beyond the border were not usually intended to gain permanent territory and expand Egypt, although sometimes national security required protracted occupation, which could give that impression. But primarily these incursions were to seize plunder, institute an expectation of continuing tribute from conquered rulers, and, perhaps most importantly, provide an occasion for the king to demonstrate his dominion.

At one time or another, Egypt depended a lot on mercenaries, too, to protect the border and serve as cemetery police. Most of these mercenaries were Nubians. Nubia was frequently either a potential or pressing problem, but the Nubians had a reputation for being excellent soldiers — strong, fierce, and the best archers in the known world, so the practical Egyptians employed them when it was prudent to do so. (See Booth, p. 37.)

But an ad hoc, on-again, off-again army was not suited to the demands of empire. And in all of its enterprises — military, diplomatic or economic — the New Kingdom was about empire. That meant a professional, standing army had to be in place, trained and equipped for effectiveness, and — most importantly, as it would turn out — it entailed the development of a career officer corps. “The New Kingdom was the age of the soldier … a full-time army was created for the first time in Egyptian history,” says Toby Wilkinson (Rise and Fall, p. 283). It also meant permanent garrisons on the frontiers, stationed in strategically positioned fortresses. Forts occupied high positions, perched on ridges and linked together for surveillance, reinforcement as needed, and communication — messages could be passed from fort to fort using signal fires and runners.

Garrisons were strategically positioned and linked together for efficient communication using signal fires and runners.

Garrisons were strategically positioned and linked together for efficient communication using signal fires and runners.

A standing army is not always employed in warfare, but it must be in place pending that eventuality, so what do you do with the army on hand in peacetime? Security — guarding trade routes and national assets; construction — transporting stone for monuments, public works, sarcophagi and tombs; public administration — tax collecting and police work; even agriculture — helping with the harvest when necessary.

Like all armies, the Egyptian army generated job opportunities much broader than soldiering per se: cooks, bakers, standard bearers, chariot maintenance technicians, horse wranglers, musicians, water carriers and servants, and — very important — scribes to record the success of the army, account for the spoils of battle — body count,* plunder, slaves — and, above all, the glorification of the pharaoh via testimonials attesting to his bravery, wisdom and dominion.

Counting the hands (Photo: Krista Moyls)

An accounting of the hands (Photo: Krista Moyls)

(*“Body” count may be something of a misnomer, since the actual metric used was and accounting of severed right hands, or sometimes, in the case of uncircumcized men, penises. Why the uncircumcized were singled out for this special treatment isn’t entirely clear, but it did mark them as lesser beings, i.e., non-Egyptians, so perhaps it was simply a matter of adding insult to injury.)



Accounting, Writing and Glory

A word is called for regarding the importance of accounting. Captives and loot represented visible evidence of success, but such trophies were difficult to display. Enter: accounting and writing. Amenhotep II, for example, reported this booty from his campaign in Asia: three-quarters of a ton of gold, 54 tons of silver, 210 horses, 300 chariots, 550 cavalry, and 90,000 POWs including 21,000 entire families! Symbolic or real, the numbers attested to the ultimate purpose, which was to reinforce confidence in the king’s ability to ensure Egypt’s dominion in the universe. (See Wilkinson, Rise and Fall, p. 236-37.)

Aggrandizing the pharaoh and demonstrating his dominion over all other lands were vital and eternal functions of both art and writing. The typical image, going back to Narmer’s time, was of the pharaoh smiting his enemies, as Thutmose III is doing here on the wall of the seventh pylon at the Temple of Amun, Karnak.

Aggrandizing the pharaoh and demonstrating his dominion over all other lands were vital and eternal functions of both art and writing. The typical image, going back to Narmer’s time, was of the pharaoh smiting his enemies, as Thutmose III is doing here on the wall of the seventh pylon at the Temple of Amun, Karnak.

The importance of accounting, and especially writing, cannot be overstated. Hieroglyphic writing, which first appeared about 3250 B.C., was vital for economic management and international trade, and also enabled clear, precise communication over long distances — imagine warfare today without radios.

And again, the importance of aggrandizing the pharaoh was the very underpinning of writing, which the Egyptians always regarded as a magical means of making something true, even if it wasn’t. To write something down was to create the reality of what it said. You could lose a battle but write on a wall that you won it, and then it was true. Anything could be stamped di ankh (“given life”) and thus become a living truth.

Reading from the top down, right to left: di ankh djet-ta,“ given life forever.”

Reading from the top down, right to left: di ankh djet-ta,“ given life forever.”

Accounting was crucial for economics and trade, and in warfare it was a means of keeping score — and, like writing, a propaganda tool to express the majesty of the pharaoh. Amenhotep II, as we have seen, reported his Asian booty in hyperbolic terms, but with such meticulous precision that the figures, no matter how exaggerated, were convincing.

Ah, but for propaganda purposes, Amenhotep went a step further and hauled seven chiefs he had taken prisoner back to Egypt, their corpses suspended upside-down on his ship. Six of them were then hung on the walls of the Karnak temple and the seventh was taken on to Nubia and displayed there until his body rotted. The employment of extreme measures and dramatic demonstrations such as this was intended to intimidate and demoralize the opposition and discourage resistance or reprisal.

This psychological warfare apparently served its purpose effectively enough for a later king, Merenptah (1213-1203), the son of Ramesses II, to take heed and apply similar excess after winning a war against a conglomeration of hostiles called the Sea Peoples, who at that time were mostly Libyans. To discourage such aggression in the future, Merenptah had the survivors impaled alive on wooden stakes along the road south of Memphis as a message to the Libyan army and anyone else with notions of insurrection. (See Wilkinson, Rise and Fall, p. 321.)

Then Merenptah headed up to Palestine and massacred a tribe there in order to create a buffer zone against any possible threat from Asia. That tribe was called Israel. Merenptah recorded on a stela that “Israel is laid waste, its seed is no more.” That is the only reference to Israel in Egyptian records. Israel was essentially a footnote. But the salient fact is that he wrote it.

Incidentally, if the majority view of when the Exodus occurred is right, this would probably have been about 40-50 years later; but in fairness, there remains disagreement about when the Exodus was. In any case, Merenptah, whose reign is historically clear, saw fit to mention Israel, and he is the only king in Egyptian history who ever did so.


Megiddo and Kadesh

But now back to the matter of warfare and the development of empire. Two key New Kingdom battles were Megiddo and Kadesh, both in the area east of the Mediterranean, the Levant, and they were 200 years apart, a span sufficient to demonstrate the continuing role of war in the empire.

In the mid-15th Century B.C. Thutmose III marched a reported 20,000 infantry and drove perhaps 1,000 chariots to Megiddo, just southeast of present-day Haifa, Israel, located at a strategic spot on an important trade route between Assyria and Egypt. He defeated a coalition of Canaanite states and captured 119 cities, which from then on had to pay tribute to Egypt.

He also returned to Egypt with a great deal of booty, which he recorded on a wall at Karnak: 340 prisoners, 2,041 mares, 191 foals, 6 stallions, 924 chariots, 200 suits of armor, 502 bows, 1,929 cattle, 22,500 sheep — and 7 tent poles belonging to the king of Megiddo (Cline, p. 22). For nearly 2,000 years they had been diligent accountants and recorders of their achievements — whether or not they had actually achieved anything, but in this case, they appear to have done it.

Incidentally, the Book of Revelation (16:16) talks about the end of the age — “Armageddon” — at which the last battle between good and evil would be fought. “Armageddon” is Greek; the Hebrew term is Megiddo.

Now to the other battle, 200 years later: Kadesh, 1274 BC. This battle was between Ramesses II (1279-1213) and the Hittites. Ramesses was from a line of top military men who rose from commoner to king. For 44 years Egypt had been ruled by generals, and Ramesses needed to fulfill expectations. He assembled the four divisions of his army and marched toward Kadesh, for a reckoning with the Hittite king Muwatallis II.

After a month of marching, the Egyptian army came upon two local tribesmen who told them the Hittites had fled from the Egyptian army and were now far north of Kadesh. So Ramesses, thus encouraged, pressed on, leaving most of his army behind.

But the report turned out to be disinformation planted by the Hittites, who were hiding behind a hill, planning to swoop down on the gullible Egyptians.

It would seem that they had the resources to make that work: 37,000 infantry. However, they were wearing ankle-length mail coats. The Egyptian army, perhaps 20,000 strong, wore virtually no armor, just leather jerkins. And the Hittites had 3,500 chariots, but they were heavy contraptions, with three men each — a driver and two javelin throwers — and they were slow and hard to maneuver.

Kadesh is the earliest battle in history for which detailed information is recorded. If that information is true, it involved as many as 6,000 chariots, all told, making it the largest chariot battle ever fought (Eggenberger, p. 214; Ralby, pp. 54-55).

Since Ramesses had lunged on ahead with his division, now he had to wait for the rest of his army to catch up with him, and the passes were so narrow that the soldiers sometimes had to go through single-file. Sure enough, the Hittites whipped around to the south and attacked the division that was just now coming up on Ramesses’ rear.

But Ramesses had taken the precaution of sending an elite force of marines north by sea along the Phoenician coast, to be in position to attack from the west. That saved his army, but both sides had suffered massive casualties and the Hittites had lost so many chariots — the mainstay of their attack — that they couldn’t go on. Neither could the Egyptians; the army was worn out.

So Ramesses and Muwatallis decided to call it quits, and twenty-four hours after they got to Kadesh, the Egyptians turned around and went home.

Djed, Ankh, Uas — “Stability, Life, Dominion.” Maintaining the order of the universe was the principal responsibility of the king, as the emissary and son of god

Now we get back to that most interesting aspect of military history from an Egyptian perspective. Ramesses claimed victory. So did Muwatallis. But, let’s remember, when something was written down in Egypt, and “given life” (di ankh) it became true, forever (djet-ta). So when Ramesses got home, he immediately turned the whole thing into a massive propaganda campaign, showing himself saving the day, single handedly fighting off the Hittite horde, preserving the natural order of the universe (maat) and imposing Egyptian dominion (uas) and stability (djed) over all (neb).

Among these expressions was the first international peace treaty, which Ramesses II recorded on the walls of Karnak. Again the pendulum swung toward peace, and as part of the treaty the Hittites sent consultants to Egypt to share their weapons technology with the Egyptians, surprising though that may seem, in the wake of war. One interesting example of the Hittites’ largesse is the light, oval shield, which had a vertical rib to stiffen the rim and notches on both sides so it could be used by either a left- or right-handed swordsman (Freedman, Vol. I, pp. 888-90).

The necessity of victory was not simply for political advantage or material wealth — it was fundamentally grounded in religion. The Egyptians deified the idea of order (maat), and then personified the deity (Maat). Maintaining the order of the universe was the principal responsibility of the pharaoh, as the emissary and son of god. And it was the duty of everyone else to do whatever they could to support that. That was the basis of the social, civil, military, and sacred order — a fundamental idea that goes back to the very beginning of recorded time, and remained so throughout Egyptian history.

The 31st-century B.C. Battlefield Palette portrays the king as a lion, mauling Asiatic enemies who are strewn about in disorder, rendered helpless by Egyptian authority. This work of art was not meant primarily to record history but to create it, through magic. Even in something as idyllic as the young Tutankhamun spearing fish on a lazy afternoon, we are seeing the real message: the omnipotent king in dominion.

These battles, Megiddo and especially Kadesh, demonstrate the huge advancements in weaponry, training, organization, mobility and tactics that characterized the professional Egyptian army after about the middle of the 16th Century B.C.


The Hyksos Factor

How did they get so good at war so quickly? To answer that question and to understand the New Kingdom and its rise to empire via warfare, we have to go back to the domination of Egypt by Canaanite warriors known as the Hyksos, from about 1650 to 1550 — the Second Intermediate Period (SIP).

Asiatics from Canaan (present-day Lebanon, southern Syria and Israel) had been settling in the Delta for 500 years, but in the mid-17th century there was a large influx of Asian immigrants,drawn by the promise of employment because of all the construction work going on, and food — about that time there was a famine in Canaan. Around 1650 these skilled warriors came into Egypt, gathered strength among the the Asians already there, and seized power. These were the Hyksos, a Greek rendering of the Egyptian term hekau khasut, “Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

“The rule of the Hyksos …constituted a gross affront to Egyptian ideology, since the Two Lands [Egypt] were supposed to be the focus and model of creation, intrinsically superior to all other countries. Hence, the motive for expelling the Hyksos was not merely national reunification but the re-establishment of created order” (Wilkinson, Lives of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 131).

It was a bitter hundred years, which led to a protracted war between the Hyksos in the north and an Egyptian dynasty that controlled the south, the 17th Dynasty, led by Seqenenra Tao II and then his son Kamose, both killed in battle, and eventually settled by the younger son Ahmose — but early on he was too young to rule or fight, so his mother Ahhotep ruled as regent.

(Photo: Krista Moyls)

(Photo: Krista Moyls)

Ahhotep not only ran the government, she also took an active role in battle, and was buried with a whole necklace of Golden Flies, which were awarded for valor on the battlefield. Why flies? In recognition of their perseverance. They believed you win battles by never letting up.

When young Ahmose assumed full reign, he finished off the Hyksos and chased them back to Canaan, and that’s the last really serious threat from Asia we will see for almost 300 years.

The century under Hyksos rule, the Second Intermediate Period, was extremely important as a prelude to the New Kingdom and the Empire because of what the Egyptians learned from the Hyksos in war — about weaponry, mobility and tactics. They were students of their business, too — they improved upon the weapons and tactics they had seen, and came back to apply these improvements on their enemies.


Advancements in Weaponry

The Egyptian arsenal had always included weapons like axes, clubs, fighting rods, maces and daggers — the infantry’s primary weapons for close combat — as well as spears for thrusting, javelins for throwing; and, for longer distances, stones flung with slings, throw sticks (which were also used for hunting birds) and archery. These weapons were okay for the skirmishes of the past, but now in the New Kingdom there were three colossal advancements: the khepesh sword, the composite bow, and the chariot, which depended on yet another introduction to Egypt — horses.

The scimitar-type short sword the Egyptians adopted from the Hyksos, the khepesh, was good for hacking at the shoulders and heads of men who were protected by shields. It was compact, its curved design gave it a lot of mechanical advantage on the down stroke, and it was handy to wield.

Tuhankhamun’s khapesh sword and (below, right) dagger *Putnam Museum exhibit replicas.

The short bow was for chariots, the longbow for massed stationary archers, with a range of about 275 feet, but now the major advancement was the composite bow, which could deliver much higher penetrating power and was more compact and less cumbersome than the longbow — ideal for chariot warfare.

The chariot was the most decisive weapon advancement of all. Chariots originated in Mesopotamia 1,500 years before Egypt had them. The Hyksos brought them into Egypt around 1650, along with horses to pull them, to pursue their takeover of Egypt.

Jumping ahead a bit, it might be noted that a later adversary, the Mitanni, known to the Egyptians as Naharin (“Two Rivers,” i.e., Tigris and Euphrates), who occupied Mesopotamia (now Iraq), must have been introduced to the chariot by the Hyksos. Later on, the Hittites adopted the Mittani-style chariot, a decision they may have regretted, as things turned out at Kadesh.

This Hyksos-Hittite chariot had three men: driver, shield bearer and javelin thrower, or driver and two javelin throwers, whereas the Egyptian chariot carried a driver and an archer, standing abreast. The Egyptian chariot was lighter, faster, more maneuverable, and had a longer effective range (arrow versus javelin). The Hyksos chariot was big, heavy, not too maneuverable — and the Egyptians soon figured out how to improve on it, dramatically, and began turning them out by the hundreds.

The Egyptian chariot was all wood and leather — two men could carry it easily — and much more maneuverable; it was faster, too — it has been said that it could go 24 mph (38 kph); and it was smoother — it rode well over rough terrain, ruts, sand, marsh, even water, all the better for the archer.

Before a battle, beaters chased wild game (whenever available) over the ground to make it as smooth and even as possible, to prepare the way for chariots (Freedman, Vol. I, p. 888).

The Egyptian chariots were innovatively engineered. By moving the axle to the back of the platform, they improved the suspension — the axle placement functioned as a shock absorber. They joined the draft pole to the body, under the platform, by fitting a square end into a socket, which was left loose so it served as an anti-rollover device.

The wide-track Egyptian chariots were innovatively engineered to ride smoothly over rough terrain and provide a stable platform for the archer. Sidings were open, so the archer could anchor his knee while shooting arrows. (Author, Putnam replica)

The wide-track Egyptian chariots were innovatively engineered to ride smoothly over rough terrain and provide a stable platform for the archer. Sidings were open, so the archer could anchor his knee while shooting arrows. (Author, Putnam replica)

The D-shaped platform, about 1 meter wide by a half-meter deep, had a floor mat of lashed rawhide, which was “light and resilient in an otherwise springless vehicle” (Freedman). Rawhide also figured in the construction of the wheels. A tire of rawhide was applied wet so it would shrink tight on the wheel rim, which was made of heat-bent wood. The rawhide fastenings were robust and “could not be jolted loose in rough going, as could metal parts” (Freedman).

They positioned the harness around the horses’ shoulders and adjusted the bit so the horses’ heads were kept down; that shifted the weight further back and thus improved both maneuvering and speed. They also selected and trained horses especially to run well together. (An outstanding study, “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot,” was aired on the NOVA public television program in the United States in 2013, now available online on YouTube; see also Freedman, Vol. I, pp. 888-90.)  [Editor’s Note:  If you want to know more about New Kingdom chariots, after Brian Alm’s work, please check out “The New Kingdom Chariot – An Interview with Kathy Hansen“.  Dr.  Hansen was featureded in the NOVA special, and there is a lot of original up-close photography in the article.  Sorry!  Could’t resist!]

The early chariots had four spokes, but that meant four impacts per revolution— a very rough ride and poor weight distribution. They tried eight spokes; that gave a better ride but it was too heavy. Finally, they settled on the ideal design: six spokes, made by joining together six V-shaped pieces of springy mulberry wood to create isosceles triangles, so each side of the V was one-half of a spoke; the resulting 60-degree, arch-shaped design was strong, light and tough.

Also, further adding to the Egyptian chariot’s stability, the track was wide: 1.5-1.8 meters.

The body was hip-height and open (fenestrated), which reduced weight and wind resistance — but most important, it provided a place for the archer to anchor his knee while shooting arrows. The heavier and less maneuverable Hyksos-Hittite chari-
ots did not have fenestrated sidings.

Weapons engineers can literally change the course of history. Toby Wilkinson concludes that “Without the chariot, it is doubtful that Egypt would ever have succeeded in forging an empire” (Rise and Fall, p. 286).

The body of Tutankhamun’s gilded ceremonial chariot attests to the dominion of the king over his enemies north and south, the Asians of the Levant and the Nubians of Kush. Battle chariots were simply wood and leather. (Putnam exhibit replica)

The body of Tutankhamun’s gilded ceremonial chariot attests to the dominion of the king over his enemies north and south, the Asians of the Levant and the Nubians of Kush. Battle chariots were simply wood and leather. (Putnam exhibit replica).

The bodies of ceremonial and parade chariots, such as those in Tutankhamun’s tomb with which we are familiar, were made of wood and coated with gesso and gilded, or, in the case of Thutmose IV’s chariot, silvered; the war chariots were leather. Now, tactically, how did they deploy it? Their tactical maneuver was a “wheeling charge,” also called “shoot and scoot,” on a long, narrowly oval track with the tight end toward the enemy, and they went fast, so they would present minimal exposure to enemy fire as they came into range, and then on the retreat the archer could turn around on the platform and keep shooting. (Again, see NOVA on public television, “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot,” and Freedman, Vol. I, pp. 888-90.)

Imagine the thunderous noise and clouds of dust as hundreds of chariots made their successive attack runs, wave after wave. It has been demonstrated that a skilled archer could launch two or even three arrows per second. Think of the psychological impact of this weapon platform, on top of its tactical effectiveness.


Army Organization

The New Kingdom army was organized into divisions of 5,000 men, including infantry, archers, spearmen and charioteers, and all the various support personnel. Each division was subdivided into hosts of 500, companies of 250 and platoons of 50, each with five squads of 10. The principle tactical unit was the platoon. Also, several companies could be formed up as a battalion, which varied in strength depending on requirements. This division of management ensured that each soldier could be trained, controlled and directed, and military operations from squad-level tactics to division-level strategy could be addressed at the appropriate level of force.

Soldiers carried a staff to aid their footing, but weapons usually were transported separately and distributed to the troops before the battle. That saved strength and sped up the march — the army could move at about 15 miles per day.

They had very little body armor, just a leather kilt and jacket, and a full-body shield made of solid wood or a wooden frame covered with leather — later improved by the Hittite advisers.

Soldiers received painted wooden tokens for bread rations, marked with their value in loaves. That is astonishing, in view of the fact that the Egyptians did not have general-purpose currency — just barter and equivalent values for goods and services, but no “money,” i.e., coinage, until the Ptolemaic Period. Senior commanders and others who performed meritoriously also were awarded slaves from the captive corral, and soldiers could grab whatever plunder they could carry, which of course wasn’t a lot, since they were hiking for a month or more across the desert.

Pay may not have been their first motivation. Defending Egypt and the pharaoh was a religious duty — in fact, their eternal souls depended on it, and the order of the universe depended on the pharaoh. (For army organization and equipage, see Booth, pp. 36-37, and Wilkinson, Rise and Fall, pp. 284-85.)


Career Officers and Kings

There’s one more very important point to be made about the military in the New Kingdom.

First, to retrace our steps: Ahmose, the founder of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom, rescued Egypt from the Hyksos. Then he and his son, Amenhotep I, secured the southern border and seized territory in Nubia — the Land of Kush, modern-day Sudan — which protected the important trade of gold, ivory, exotic animals, frankincense and myrrh, that had to go through northern Nubia en route to Egypt.

Amenhotep I had no heir, so a commoner, Thutmose, was brought in to be pharaoh. The important thing to know about Thutmose is that he was a military man.

Once formed, the standing army quickly became very influential — and a career path to kingship. At least ten New Kingdom pharaohs (Ahmose, Thutmose I, Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Horemheb, Ramesses I, Seti I, Ramesses II, Merenptah, Ramesses III) were senior military men — and they were active soldiers, too, not just figurehead generals who dressed up for parades. The Egyptian Empire was founded on — and for much of the New Kingdom it was sustained by — military might.

But now here is an irony about military might and empire, and the assumption in the ancient world that both were the province of men. Thutmose I was the first king in three generations to take the throne as an adult. His predecessors were all minor children when they assumed the kingship, so their mothers stood in for them, as regents.

For at least 70 years, as the roots of Empire formed at the dawn of the New Kingdom, Egypt was governed by women.

Author’s Note: This paper is drawn from notes I prepared for an after-dinner talk at the annual meeting of the Rock Island Arsenal Historical Society, Rock Island, Illinois, March 5, 2015:

Warfare, Weapons and Empire: The Rise of Ancient Egypt as World Power

It relies on information gleaned from the sources listed below.

All photos are the author’s except as noted in the captions.



Brian Alm took his undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, but later switched to Egyptology. He is a retired college teacher, editor and former naval officer, and now teaches mini-courses, lectures and writes for both online and print publications on ancient Egyptian culture in general, but with special focus on the New Kingdom. He is an active participant in several international Egyptology societies and a member of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, his alma mater. He lives in Rock Island, Illinois.



Booth, Charlotte. Ancient Egypt As It Was. Guilford, Connecticut:
Lyons Press, 2011

Cline, Eric H. The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the
Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Eggenberger, David. An Encyclopedia of Battles. New York:
Dover Publications, 1985.

Freedman, David N., ed.; “Chariots,” M.A. Littauer and J.H.
Crouwel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday,

NOVA, Public Broadcasting System (U.S.), “Building Pharaoh’s
Chariot,” 2013.

Ralby, Aaron. “Battle of Kadesh, c. 1274 BCE: Clash of Em-
pires,” Atlas of Military History. New York: Parragon, 2013.

Wilkinson, Toby. Lives of the Ancient Egyptians. London:
Thames & Hudson, 2007.

Wilkinson, Toby. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt.
New York: Random House, 2010.


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