Egypt's Golden Empire
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Carvings of Soldiers
Without an army, Egypt would never have gained an empire. Dangerous enemies and imperial duties required a professional army and soldiering soon became a respectable career.

Career soldiers

Before the time of the New Kingdom, being a soldier brought little reward or prestige. But the need to remove foreigners from northern Egypt and then conquer other countries required a powerful, professional and well-trained standing army. Soldiering became a career with real prospects.

The military victories of the 'warrior' pharaohs like Ahmose and Tuthmosis III brought prestige and wealth to Egypt. As a result, soldiers were much appreciated by average Egyptians and became respected members of their communities.

Learning from the enemy

At the beginning of the New Kingdom period, soldiers had primitive weapons and no armor. After they defeated the Hyksos, Egyptians learned about more advanced weapons, such as metal daggers, swords and spears.

Egyptians also used light, fast, horse-drawn chariots. The chariot driver wore a leather or bronze helmet and armor, and was accompanied by another soldier armed with a bow, arrows and javelins.

Archers and armor

The most-feared soldiers were the archers. They used highly sophisticated bows, made from a variety of woods and animal horn to give them strength. These powerful weapons could fire arrows deep into the enemy ranks.

Although senior commanders were protected by bronze armor, most soldiers were protected by only light shields of animal hide, padded caps and triangular sporrans - heavy cloth patches in front of their genitals.

A smart move

As the empire expanded and the need for soldiers increased, so did the rewards. Soldiers at camp enjoyed good food and wine, and professional soldiers were paid in gold and land.

For the upper classes, becoming an army commander was a smart career move. In times of emergency, when there was no heir to the throne, it was often senior commanders who took power and ruled as pharaoh.

Soldiers on tomb walls
Unlucky for some

Life was difficult in times of war. The pharaoh had the right to raise troops and would conscript one in 10 able-bodied men from each temple community to supplement the permanent army.

These conscripts were in the lower ranks and didn't want to be there. Many would go into battle wearing little more than a tunic and a pair of sandals, armed only with a spear. And although peacetime food was good, in wartime a soldier only ate what he could carry. He would often be marching for many days before he reached the enemy.

Hands up

Battle would often begin with a charge. If they were victorious, the Egyptians would find out how many enemy soldiers they had killed by cutting off their hands or penises and counting them. There was a reward for each enemy hand or penis a soldier produced.

Chain of command

Like the rest of Egyptian society, the army was ordered into a strict hierarchy. There were as many as 50 different ranks and the highest were passed down from father to son.

Foot soldiers were grouped into platoons of 10 men and companies of 200. These were commanded by captains, who carried a staff with the company insignia. Companies would then be grouped together into divisions of 5,000 men, led by a general under the banner of their local god.

Military efficiency

The army was not just carefully ranked, it was highly organized. As the army expanded, a vast bureaucracy developed to make sure that it was fully supplied and as efficient as possible. Military scribes recorded recruitment and supplies, but also kept a record of events when the army was fighting abroad.

This organizational efficiency was central to the army's success at war, a success that made it one of the most feared and formidable armies in the ancient world.

Where to next:
Pharaohs - Ahmose
Pharaohs - Tuthmosis III

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Day in the Life: Soldier   Day in the Life:
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- Hatshepsut
- Tuthmosis III
- Amenhotep III
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- Ramesses II

Women In Power
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- Tiy
- Nefertari

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Egyptian Society
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Egypt's Golden Empire