Ancient Egyptian weapons

Aha’ Kh’aw – Weapons Combat

 New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, around 1470 BC Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple of Queen, Hatshepsut: limestone, painted
 New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, c. 1470 BC Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut

Studying the reliefs of war as well as working with the weapons themselves, عHa’ Kamat has created a formidable fighting style of ancient Egyptian weapons.

mercenaries from the battle of kadesh, Abu Simbel
Mercenaries from the battle of Kadesh, Abu Simbel

Weaponry evolved slowly, with the most significant improvements occurring in the New Kingdom. Weapons in ancient Egypt were very similar, if not identical to weapons in surrounding countries.

mace from the Narmer Palette, c. 3100 BCE
Narmer Palette, c. 3100 BCE

The earliest weapons discovered in ancient Egypt are from c. 4,000 BCE, being axes, maces, and cutting blades. The weapons of the predynastic era were simple flint blades lashed to wood sticks with rope or strips of leather. Flint blades were still widely used even as copper and bronze became available due to the durability of stone over copper and bronze weapons.

bronze dagger
bronze dagger

By the end of the Predynastic period, weapons were being made from copper mined locally. Some ores of copper being formed into the spearheads and battle axes naturally blended with deposits of tin to form a natural bronze alloy long before bronze smelting was prevalent in Egypt.

Hanyat Spear

Hnyt Spear hieroglyphs

The spear, probably the earliest projectile weapon, started as a heavy staff with one end sharpened. Evolving with the spearhead, which was first flint or some other stone. It began with its use to bring down large animals in the Neolithic era, later being used as weapon in battle. The spear consists of a wood staff, 5-6 ft long (1- 1.8 meters), and a leaf shaped blade attached to the end. The earliest spearheads were made of flint, but then replaced with copper as smelting facilities were available.

From the predynastic period until the late middle kingdom slotted spearheads were used. The slotted spearhead was made with a long tab that is slotted into the staff and lashed with leather thongs. After the Middle Kingdom, a new form of spearhead, the socketed spearhead, came into use. The socketed spearhead was fashioned with a socket beneath the blade that the wood shaft was fitted into and then bolted on. The socketed spear proved superior in battle and was used exclusively.

A shorter spear or javelin was used as a short range projectile, and most likely was the result of the spear shaft being broken. As wood was a valued commodity, instead of bolting the spearhead to new staff, it was thrown or a pommel would be attached to the end to balance the javelin.

iwnat – Bow

iwnt - bow - hieroglyphs

The bow and arrow was the primary and most effective weapon of the ancient Egyptian fighter. . The earliest bows varied in design of wood or antlers. Bows were strung with sinew or gut string but only when in use as tautness of the bowstring causes strain and fatigue to the wood and accelerating breakage

Stave Bow

stave bow
stave bow


 The most common bow, which was simply a wooden stave made commonly from acacia wood. The stave bow’s range of firing an arrow was up to two hundred meters. Even with the introduction of the composite bow, most archers were still equipped with the stave bow.

Composite Bow

It was during the Second Intermediate Period, c. 1,782 – 1,570 b.c.e., that the composite bow was introduced by the Hekau en Khasut (Hyksos). The composite bow, called such because it’s construction is a composite of wood, horn, and sinew glued with fish glue and covered with birch bark. Though a complex task to construct a composite bow, the pay off is the increased range over the stave bow to up to three hundred fifty meters. Along with complex construction, the other disadvantage of the composite bow was it was sensitive to moisture, requiring it to be kept in a leather case when not in use. Because of the lengthy and costly requirements to construct the composite bow, they were used exclusively by the elite or Nubian mercenaries.

new kingdom composite bow
new kingdom composite bow

Arrows

Arrows were usually constructed from reed shafts, then tipped with bone, ivory, or metal arrowheads. Arrow construction has remained relatively unchanged, and most modern examples of arrowheads match their ancient counterparts.

  • Ramesses II Battle of Kadesh
  • Nubian archer's thumb guard
  • Nubian archer equipment at UCSB department of Nubian Archaeology
  • arrows
  • arrows
  • bronze arrowheads
  • flint arrowheads
  • Nubian Archers
  • blunted arrow
  • arrow feathers
  • bow of Tutankhamun
  • Nubian archers model
  • Nubian archer's hand guard
  • Composite bow of Rameses II

A’amas mace

Ams - mace  hieroglyphs

The a’amas is one of the oldest weapons in ancient Egypt. An a’amas consists of a heavy stone lashed to a haft made of wood. By the Predynastic era, the a’amas had become more sophisticated.

Stone for mace heads were usually granite or diorite, but any hard and colored stone was used. The mace head was polished highly to show off the colors and grain of the stone. A hole was drilled through the center of the stone, then wedged into the haft. Additionally, the stone was secured with leather thongs.

The shape of the mace head varied; the most common was a flat disc. Other shapes include oval shaped mace head with sharp points, round head, and the pear shaped mace head depicted being held by the predynastic Pharaohs.

A’aqaHw Battle Axe

AqHw battle axe hieroglyphs

Axe heads made of flint and other stone survive from the earliest times. By the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the stone axe head was replaced by copper, and by the New Kingdom, bronze.

Axe heads varied in shape, such as a rectangular shape with a rounded blade, or an elongated head with a paddle shaped head. Another type of axe that evolved in the New Kingdom consisting of a half oval blade close to the handle, with three tangs that fit into the haft.

Ancient Egyptian axes had similar constructions. Axe heads had projecting lugs on either side, which were used to lash the axe head to the wooden handle by using wet leather thongs. The thong was wound around the handle securing the lugs, then threading the thongs through a hole in the top center of the axe head. The leather shrank as it dried, securing the axe head to the handle.

Axes with engraving and ornate openwork were of ceremonial use.

khapash Khopesh

khopesh heiroglyphs

The Khapash, evolved from the iqaHw battle axe. Originating in Syria, the khapash was first employed by Thutmose III c. 1504-1450 BCE, with depictions of this ‘weapon of victory’ being given to Pharaohs by gods. It is depicted being the favored weapon of Manatjw or Montu, and Iman, or Amun, and depictions of Pharaohs Rameses II being shown wielding the khapash atop his chariot, as well as Rameses III using the khapash to execute Sea People prisoners.

The word khapash means ‘foreleg’ and is named for its resemblance to the hieroglyph for the foreleg of an animal. It also has a deeper meaning, being its connection to the foreleg offering in the opening of the mouth ceremony, where the foreleg of bulls from Upper and Lower Egypt are offered with their hearts to allow the statue of the deity or the dead to see and speak. The khopesh had several different styles, but all have the foreleg shaped curved blade. There are examples of the khapash being one or two handed. The khapash is used for various attacks, such as stabbing, slashing, and blunt force attacks.

damat Knife

dmt - knife hieroglyphs

The damat is one of the earliest weapons. a small blade is effective for close quarter combat, easily carried, light, and easily manufactured.

Flint was the first material used, and even still continued to be used after bronze smelting technology was widely available.

The mace in ceremonial context was made larger than a practical battle mace. The ceremonial royal mace is carved with scenes to commemorate a religious event, victory, or historical event. 

nakan sword

nkn sword hieroglyphs

During the New Kingdom the new bronze knives became longer and thinner, becoming the nakan sword. However, with the limitations of bronze weapons technology, the nakan could not be casted longer than about 24 inches overall, or 2 feet long.

New Kingdom bronze knives or daggers were discovered in tombs. Bronze damatw were formed by molten casted poured into clay forms, then heated in fire and hammered to temper.

Evolutions of the New Kingdom damat included a mid-ridge running the length of the center of the blade that added strength. Another addition was the pommel, which was cast in one piece with the blade and added balance.

Madw stick

mdw stick hieroglyphs

The Madja’ayw police force utilized an madw shaped as a hand to combat criminals in ancient Egyptian cities. As weapons of war were banned in urban areas, Madja’ayw were equipped with the madw and trained baboons.

The madw was also used by stick fighters in sport games, which evolved into the modern day Tahtib

‘ama’at Throwstick

amAt - throw stick

The primary use of the throwstick is to hunt birds. The throwstick was used as a secondary weapon on the battlefield.

inatjat Chain

In the myth of Horus Behdety and the Winged Disk, the Shamasw Har (Followers of Horus) were workers of metal with spears and chains, and they smote the Followers of Seth who rebelled against Ra:

The enemies of Ra rushed into the water, and they took the forms of crocodiles and hippopotami. Ra-Horakhty sailed over the waters in His boat, and when the crocodiles and the hippopotami had come near to Him, they opened wide their jaws in order to destroy Ra-Horakhty. Horus-Behdety arrived, with His followers behind him in the forms of workers in metal, each having in his hands an iron spear and a chain. In Horus’ name, they smote the crocodiles and the hippopotami. There were brought in six hundred and fifty-one crocodiles, which had been slain before the city of Djeba. Ra-Hor-ma-A’akhet said to Horus-Behdety, “My Image shall be here in the land of the South, which is a house of victory; “the House of Horus-Behdety is called hwt-nakhatat to this day…The enemies rose up to make their escape before Him, as the face of the god was toward the Land of the North. Their hearts were stricken through fear of Him, as Horus-Behdety was at the back of them in the Boat of Ra with His Metalworkers wielding spears of metal and chains of metal in their hands. The god Himself was equipped for battle with the weapons of the metal workers. He passed a full day before he saw them to the north-east of the Nome of Tantyra (Dendera). Ra said to Thoth, “The enemies are resting, hidden from their lord.” The Majesty of Ra-Horus-Behdety, “You are my exalted son who comes from Nut. The courage of the enemies failed in a moment.”

Myth of Horus and the Winged Disk – Temple of Edfu

ikam shield

The ancient Egyptian shield was constructed of wood and covered in cow hide with fur. The wood and hide shield was shown to be more effective against the weapons of the time than shields made of bronze. It was utilized on the shield arm, or lashed to the back to allow full use of arms and to prevent attack from behind

ikam a’a  forearm Shield

The ikam a’a was utilized in sport stick fighting. This shield was made from slats of wood bound in leather and lashed to the arm to block strikes from the A’aryat and to strike the opponent.