Weakness of the ancient Egyptian Army

Jan 2011
13,755
#1
So ancient Egyptians could organize well for large building projects (and organization was one of the key strength of the Roman army for example)

They had a fairly large population for quite a long while (as compared to others)

They had decent technology

Egypt is a kind of "natural fortress" with the desert protecting it from east and west... Thus vulnerability is limited to the short southern "border" along the Nile and the north coast (which would required invaders to master naval operations and logistics) + the narrow Sinai (some 120 kms at its narrowest)... Its an easily defensible country

However Egypt never knew the kind of significant military expansion that the persians, the romans or even the greeks enjoyed...

At peak it basically covered present day Egypt , parts of Sudan, Lebanon, Israel and parts of Syria... Even that is a bit optimistic, for present day Egypt is about 1 million square kilometers of which some 97% is desert, most of which the ancient egyptians did not really control... Even being optimistic, and giving them 15 % of the total current Egyptian land area, at peak the "egyptian empire" covered maybe 200 000 square kilometers (or less than the size of Italy)






And the egyptian army does not seem to have gained a significant reputation.

So why is that ?
And secondary question, why did not the egyptian build a wall along the narrowest part of the Sinai to keep land invaders from the M/E out ?
 
Last edited:
Jul 2017
2,980
Crows nest
#2
The active military history of Egypt is far shorter than the totality of it's existence and this may skew the picture, or our expectations of them. For instance there is nothing of consequence, other than internal fighting, for about the first one thousand years of their existence. The "empire" only came about more as a consequence of creating a cordon sanitaire to stop invasion after the Hyksos had been dealt with. It's then clear that the Egyptian Army was a force to be reckoned with, barring blips, until after Ramesses III. Khadesh can be pointed to as one of these blips, but then I think we see this score draw, or even defeat, in the light of our declaration that Ramesses II was "great", when he was in fact no Thumosis III and only "great" in living a long time, leaving some superb monuments and "stealing" many of his predecessors. So we have this long period where there was no substantial military activity, then intense activity in the 18th Dynasty, during which I'm sure their reputation was considerable, then a "living on their laurels", until a brief resurgence by Ramesses III. After that, and due to self inflicted wounds, they became prey to outsiders.

As for a wall, well I expect that when we get to the period of expansion in the 18th Dynasty they had no need for one as they conducted their defense using mobile warfare with chariots, and no serious enemy to defend against, at least until later. They were of course competent builders of fortifications and there were a network of such along the borders, but being a mobile people both on land and on the water, they may have concluded that while walls are okay for a garrison or city, they are no good for defending territory, as later empires discovered, and mobility is needed.
 
Likes: macon
Oct 2011
26,829
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#3
This is an other question with a complicated answer. I start from the matter of the wall.

First of all you need to consider the period. Before that Egyptians met warriors using chariots with horses, they had to face "slow" armies. To do this fortresses are almost enough: once you detect an approaching enemy army [made by walking warriors] you organize your forces and you march against them [possibly remaining between the range of the artillery of your stronghold].

After the experience with the Hyksos they realized that they needed a higher number of fortresses with ranks of charioteers ... [they didn't change their strategy a lot]. Anyway, a part that the terrain in the delta helped them a bit, they had an organized defensive system in the Sinai during the Knew Kingdom. It wasn't based on a wall, but on a network of streets and fortresses which had called "ways of Horus" [and the "Walls of the Ruler" from Middle Kingdom]. It's visible on the hypostile of Seti I at Karnak.

This is an interesting essay about that defensive system: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct...A_final2.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0uxbxNBseq2CcVJz2SyeGz
 
Likes: macon
Jul 2017
219
Neverland
#4
So ancient Egyptians could organize well for large building projects (and organization was one of the key strength of the Roman army for example)

They had a fairly large population for quite a long while (as compared to others)

They had decent technology

Egypt is a kind of "natural fortress" with the desert protecting it from east and west... Thus vulnerability is limited to the short southern "border" along the Nile and the north coast (which would required invaders to master naval operations and logistics) + the narrow Sinai (some 120 kms at its narrowest)... Its an easily defensible country

However Egypt never knew the kind of significant military expansion that the persians, the romans or even the greeks enjoyed...

At peak it basically covered present day Egypt , parts of Sudan, Lebanon, Israel and parts of Syria... Even that is a bit optimistic, for present day Egypt is about 1 million square kilometers of which some 97% is desert, most of which the ancient egyptians did not really control... Even being optimistic, and giving them 15 % of the total current Egyptian land area, at peak the "egyptian empire" covered maybe 200 000 square kilometers (or less than the size of Italy)






And the egyptian army does not seem to have gained a significant reputation.

So why is that ?
And secondary question, why did not the egyptian build a wall along the narrowest part of the Sinai to keep land invaders from the M/E out ?

Are we talking about late Egypt by the time of the Assyrians, Caldeans, Persians, when Egypt was at its sunset or any period prior to that ?
Because the land of the Pharaohs can take care of its own, up until the Empires of the Middle East sprang up.
We can surmise, the Sea People, barbarians of semitic stock, Libu invaders from the West are live attestation to Egyptian military prowess.

Moreover, there were no power/s that can successfully challenge the Pharaohs in open warfare.Hyksos might be an exception to the rule, since their "invasion" started as illegal immigration of semites, much like the Latino explorers of the Rio Grande into the USA or muslims/africans into Europe of late.
But to be historically correct we may need to punctuate on the fact, that Egypt was never militaristic society to begin with.
It was always a Kingdom as opposed to an Empire of classical meaning. And what a Kingdom it was...
 
Sep 2011
5,625
#5
Considering Egypt for the first couple of millennia of its history as a unified country was an absolute beast of a unified political entity compared to all kinds of then contemporary states, mostly city states, it seems a tad unfair to describe it like the OP. The ancient Egyptian nation state was virtually unique in size, population, scope, and range of activities. One of the first things observed as and adjunct to the unification of the Two Lands is a burn layer south of the First Cataract and Aswan. Apparently the newly united Egyptian kingdom went on a rampage south, killing and razing everything for hundreds of miles.

Even when compared to later empires challenging it, like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Mitanni and Hittites, Egypt still held its own as equal to them in size and population. It just didn't have to engage in massive blood-letting to make it happen, since it was already all-Egyptian, so there's perhaps less military "glory" ("gory" perhaps...) to go around. Then again unlike these other imperial contenders Egypt outlasted them all.

It was only by the time of the Achmaenid Persian empire, and then Alexander's, that Egypt clearly became outmatched, and then it was conquered too. But then so was most everyone. Possibly the question might be asked why ancient Egypt didn't transform itself into an expansionist empire to rival the Persian? It might have – Cyprus had the experience of first being conquered by the Assyrians, but then by the Egyptians, and by comparison they found the Egyptian occupation the more brutal – possibly they just never got their stuff together in time?
 
Sep 2011
5,625
#6
our declaration that Ramesses II was "great", when he was in fact no Thumosis III and only "great" in living a long time, leaving some superb monuments and "stealing" many of his predecessors.
Considering Ramses II transformed most things about ancient Egypt, as evidenced with Egypt itself AFTER his rule being pretty obsessed with him and his rule, it seems to have been rather more than just us moderns declaring him "great". For good or ill, Egypt was largely a different place after Ramses II.
 
Jul 2017
2,980
Crows nest
#7
Considering Ramses II transformed most things about ancient Egypt, as evidenced with Egypt itself AFTER his rule being pretty obsessed with him and his rule, it seems to have been rather more than just us moderns declaring him "great". For good or ill, Egypt was largely a different place after Ramses II.
He was nothing like as good a general as Thutmosis III, or as ferocious a warrior as Amunhotep II, or as majestic and god-like as Amunhotep III, who of course became a god, several in fact, while Ramesses II was merely Sa Ra. I see the move of the capital, but he was not the first to do that, or the last. I see no changes in the borders of Egypt, no move forwards in law or what we call science. He did not move things in religion as new texts were a consequence of Akhenaten, and show themselves first on the shrines of Tutankhamun. We do see the onwards march of Osiris, but that was more due to his father, with Ramesses II simply completing the Abydos temple. He added to Karnak, but didn't build the entire site as I know some people think. He left the Ramesseum and Abu Simbel, both magnificent of course, but while Abu Simbel is unique, I wonder if the Ramesseum is any grander than the long demolished mortuary temple for Amunhotep III, whose remaining colossi have in modern times been usurped for the "great one", "Ozymandias". Looking at the reign of Merneptah and comparing it to that of Seti I, I don't see much to separate them except time and a few temples. The Thutmosids were great, the Ramessids simply sat on their shoulders, then let it all slip away.
 
Oct 2013
6,409
Planet Nine, Oregon
#8
The Egyptians were only interested in securing materials and commodities from outside of Egypt --not occupying or conquering foreign territory --why? Egypt was the best place to be. Egyptians were worried about dying during battle in a foreign country and not having their body returned tom Egypt. As far as the military of the New Kingdom, it was widely feared; the Egyptians had excellent chariots improved from the original Hyksos examples, and the chariot archers had powerful angular composite bows. Egypt was a wealthy country, and doubtless had plenty of armour as needed --linen, scale armour (hide, bronze and composite hide and bronze). They had bronze helmets and scale armour helmets, and also received arms and armour through tribute.
 
#9
Let's not forget that Egypt had to deal with other powerful empires. During the bronze age you had themiddle Assyrian,Babylonian mitanni and Hittite empires. Then when Egypt resurged after it had to still compete with the neo Assyrians etc. Serious competition between these empires woul have limited expansion
 

Similar History Discussions