There are two types of ancient Egyptian weapons – the close combat weapons and the projectile weapons. I can tell already that this is going to be one of my favorite pages to write about!
Projectile weapons were used first to attack the enemy from far away - usually to break the unity force and soften the enemy before charging in for close combat. They include:
By far the most widely used and effective of the ancient Egyptian weapons were the bow and arrow. The ancient Egyptians were skilled archers from back in the pre-dynastic period.
I don't know why, but I find the bow and arrow a most beautiful creation... I've wanted to take archery lessons for a long time and haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe this page will inspire me :)
At first, in the pre-dynastic period, bows had a double-curved shape – which kind of looks like an elongated top part of a heart. It comes together in the middle and each side then curves outwards, upwards then downward. They were first made by putting together two antelope horns joined by a piece of wood in the middle, and were thus called "Horn Bows".
With the coming of the Old Kingdom, the Simple Bow (or Self Bow) was introduced. These have a single curve shape, which is basically one big arch from top to bottom. It was usually between one and two meters in length. These were more difficult to maneuver and didn't give as much draw-length. Draw length is basically how far you can pull the arrow back in the bow-string.
Self bows needed more strength and dexterity and so the archers had to become more and more skilled.
After that came the Composite Bow during the New Kingdom which was taken from the Hyksos, who took it from the Asiatics (maybe even the Chinese). A composite bow is made of different kinds of material, usually wood, horn and sinew all glued together then covered in a layer of bark.
The mix of material allowed for more elasticity (so the bow could bend more easily without breaking). It also gave more range, accuracy and more draw-length. They were also lighter and smaller – which helped with the carrying during battle.
The problem with composite bows was that they had to be well taken care of. They had to be unstrung and covered when not in use (moisture affected them). They were difficult to make and more expensive. And stringing them required two people – which wasn't exactly logical during a hot battle!
So the ancient Egyptians used a mix of the two types of bows – the simple bow for the foot soldiers and the composite bow for the charioteers.
The arrows themselves were sometimes made of reeds with feathers at the bottom and tipped with hardwood, bronze or flint.
You can consider a spear as one of the projectile ancient Egyptian weapons although it was also used for close combat – depending on the type. They were in use since pre-dynastic times in Egypt, mainly for hunting large animals.
They were usually made of a long wooden stick with an attached pointed blade at the end, made of either copper or flint. Javelins were used as throwing spears.
Throwing sticks were not used as much although they are probably one of the earliest forms of hunting tools... and they stayed on to become a weapon during the dynastic period. They are basically small wooden clubs that one throws at the prey or enemy.
They are usually shorter than a javelin and don't have the attached spearhead. Sometimes their ends are sharpened into points like a spear though.
I bet you made one when you were a kid... Or did you buy one of those high-tech ones with the hand-grip? I tried both and loved them! I didn't actually shoot at birds or animals, but it was fun to just play with. Some kids here use them to hunt birds to roast and eat.
In battle they were just a way of scattering the enemy. They were easy to make and you could just pick anything up from the ground and sling-shoot it at someone. The ancient Egyptian soldiers had to really practice though because as you know it could go in any direction!
None of these slings survived because they weren't made with long-lasting materials – but we do know they were used because of wall paintings and inscriptions about them.
After the use of the projectile weapons, the infantry would then charge in using a variety of ancient Egyptian weapons, including:
Maces, clubs, swords, axes and of course the spear.
As for protective equipment, the ancient Egyptians hardly used any! You have to consider the hot climate wouldn't allow for them to wear heavy body armor... they’d probably faint from over-heating before the battle even started. They hardly even wore helmets.
The one exception was the shield, which was made of wood, leather or bronze. It still restricted the range of weapons that the soldier could use and also his speed and agility. Archers couldn't use shields at all since they needed both hands, and so sometimes they were accompanied by shield-bearers.
Ancient Egyptian weapons of all sorts can be seen at the Cairo Museum. It always gives me a strange sensation when looking at them and I wonder "who did this little spearhead kill?"
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