Ancient Egyptian Armies & Government
Before the New Kingdom the ancient Egyptian armies were made up of soldiers recruited temporarily for the duration of the military campaign. These soldiers were just strong, able men from different villages.
They would then return to their homes and original careers once the campaign is finished.
This proved to be a disadvantage after a while. Conscription took time, the soldiers had no proper training, and Egypt was left vulnerable to surprise attacks.
Finally, during the New Kingdom, the king decided that it was just about time to have a standing army ready for orders. The King now didn’t need to rely on the nomarch’s (the heads of the nomes) to conscript men from their provinces. He commanded his own men with the help of his generals.
This intelligent king was the Pharaoh Ahmose. His decision was to be one of the most important in all of ancient Egypt’s history…
Division of Ancient Egyptian Armies
At the head of the army of course was the King. He was the main decision maker of military campaigns.
Under him were his generals. Another intelligent decisions the Pharaoh made was to appoint two army generals rather than one. This way the power was divided rather than centralized, and the threat of overthrowing the thrown by a general was halved.
There were two main ancient Egyptian armies – those of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, with one of the two generals at the head of each.
Also, another intelligent tactic by the Pharaoh was to appoint these generals from his own royal family (such as princes). This kept more power in the family.
Then the next division was according to the soldiers’ skills. There were charioteers, spearmen and archers.
And then the foot soldiers were divided into infantries of 5,000 men each. These were further divided into platoons and squads of smaller numbers of soldiers.
Read more about the lives of ancient Egyptian soldiers.
Pharaoh’s Battle Tactics
A good battle tactic was to build fortresses in the areas the army has invaded or secured. These fortresses had towers from which the soldiers could shoot arrows from. They had thick walls and ditches to protect their perimeter.
An integral part of preparing for battle was to conduct rituals to imbue the army and weapons with religious power. Army divisions were named after Gods, soldiers were adorned with protective symbols, and incantations and spells were chanted whenever suitable.
And finally, one of the more gory practices by the ancient Egyptian armies was to sever body parts of the enemy’s dead in order to identify them for the records. They would cut off a specific arm (and sometimes other unmentionable parts) and leave them for the scribes to count :S
Ancient Egyptian Government
Of course, since the pharaoh was believed to be the reincarnation of god on earth, the ancient Egyptian armies and government revolved around him. He was the head, the heart and the hand of Egypt.
Right after him was the vizier. His most important administrative assistant. Then there were the army generals, the main two we mentioned above. Also the priesthood were extremely powerful, sometimes their power surpassing that of the pharaoh, and they were heavily influential on governance.
And for a “live” example of how judgment and punishment went with regards to serious crimes, take a look at the Judicial Turin Papyrus for the trial of the accused in the assassination of Ramesses III.
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