Egyptian War Chariot in Action

Egyptian War Chariot in Action



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Military of ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of eastern North Africa, concentrated along the northern reaches of the Nile River in Egypt. The civilization coalesced around 3150 BC [1] with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh, and it developed over the next three millennia. [2] Its history occurred in a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as intermediate periods. Ancient Egypt reached its pinnacle during the New Kingdom, after which it entered a period of slow decline. Egypt was conquered by a succession of foreign powers in the late period, and the rule of the pharaohs officially ended in 31 BC, when the early Roman Empire conquered Egypt and made it a province. [3] Although the Egyptian military forces in the Old and Middle kingdoms were well maintained, the new form that emerged in the New Kingdom showed the state becoming more organized to serve its needs. [4]

For most parts of its long history, ancient Egypt was unified under one government. The main military concern for the nation was to keep enemies out. The arid plains and deserts surrounding Egypt were inhabited by nomadic tribes who occasionally tried to raid or settle in the fertile Nile River valley. Nevertheless, the great expanses of the desert formed a barrier that protected the river valley and was almost impossible for massive armies to cross. The Egyptians built fortresses and outposts along the borders east and west of the Nile Delta, in the Eastern Desert, and in Nubia to the south. Small garrisons could prevent minor incursions, but if a large force was detected a message was sent for the main army corps. Most Egyptian cities lacked city walls and other defenses.

The history of ancient Egypt is divided into three kingdoms and two intermediate periods. During the three kingdoms, Egypt was unified under one government. During the intermediate periods (the periods of time between kingdoms) government control was in the hands of the various nomes (provinces within Egypt) and various foreigners. The geography of Egypt served to isolate the country and allowed it to thrive. This circumstance set the stage for many of Egypt's military conquests. They enfeebled their enemies by using small projectile weapons, like bows and arrows. They also had chariots which they used to charge at the enemy.


Egyptian Warfare and the Largest Chariot Battle in History

The battle of Megiddo was the first reliably recorded battle, and not long after the battle of Kadesh would claim the title of the largest chariot battle ever, despite chariot warfare persisting for nearly 1,000 more years. To understand the battle of Kadesh it is important to know how the Egyptian army and their chariots operated.

The New Kingdom of Egypt was a military power built on the success of the chariot. The chariot features in ancient warfare as an elite warrior transport, a mobile firing platform, a heavy charging vehicle, and a fast moving platform to cut down loose or fleeing troops. Based on the designs of the Egyptian chariots, that show light and unfortified platforms, they seem to be primarily used as firing platforms.

Chariots were pulled by two horses and usually carried a driver and one or maybe two soldiers. One or two composite bows would be fed by around 100 arrows. Charioteers would also have spears and/or javelins as well as a shield and ax or sword if melee was required. Helmets and other armor were still scarce at this point so the curved sword was a common weapon for riding down the enemy.

It would be unwise to assume that charioteers locked themselves into a single role in a battle, it is more likely that due to their quick response ability, the chariots could switch from firing arrows to throwing javelins as they closed with the enemy and utilizing melee weapons if their chariot failed or if their horse or driver perished. Battle is hardly clean cut and organized enough for archery chariots to remain simply archers through every battle.

a depiction of Rameses charging Nubians. notice that the Pharaoh’s chariot is very light and agile.

The battle of Kadesh is one of the earliest recorded battles in which we have some record from both sides, though the records for both sides claim they won the battle. The Egyptians under Rameses and the Hittites under king Muwatalli held powerful empires that bordered in the Levant near the city of Kadesh (Qadesh). Around 1274 BCE the two brought their royal armies to fight and may well have agreed upon a battle at the plains near Kadesh as such practices were not uncommon.

Rameses had a large army of around 20,000 including 2,000 chariots (the number of chariots for either side has been heavily debated). Marching in a long line of four distinct divisions to the northwestern plains of Kadesh Rameses received word that Muwatalli’s army was still far away and so Rameses allowed his force to leisurely march forward as the vanguard Amun division set up camp.

Carving that depicts the torturing of the Hittite scouts/spies for information.

Soon Rameses was brought two Hittite scouts who, under torture, revealed that the first two informants were Hittite agents misleading Rameses and that Muwatalli was camped north of Kadesh with a force “more numerous than the sands of the shore”. In reality, Muwatalli did have a large force with nearly twenty different allies committing troops. Muwatalli seemed to have a force of around 40,000 with 3,000 chariots, many being of the three-man variety.

Map by Gianandre – derivative work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite learning that the enemy was near, Rameses did not know precisely where and before he could get his marching column into the camp they were attacked by a large chariot force that had crossed the Orontes River and surprised the division. The sights and sounds of the charging chariots quickly scattered the Egyptians and with the remaining marching division still scattered a ways to the south the victorious Hittite chariots began raiding the camp established by the Amun division. Though the camp was full of the fresh troops of the Amun division, they had trouble resisting the Hittite troops, suggesting that this force actually represented a significant force of Muwatalli’s chariots.

As portions of the camp fell, Pharaoh Rameses found himself “alone” likely with his core of personal guard. Rameses and his guard led several charges on the Hittites raiding the camp and rallied the routed Ra division and organized the Amun division to launch coordinated assaults and drove the Hittites back south-east towards their original river crossing.

Map by Gianandre – derivative work – CC BY-SA 3.0

In this position the slightly lighter Egyptian chariots seemed to have an advantage as they were able to outmaneuver the heavier Hittite chariots and cause many casualties. King Muwatalli realized the trouble his chariots were in and sent his remaining chariots across the northern ford in order to again flank a pursing column of Egyptians. This second assault met with tremendous success and threatened to push the Egyptians back to their camp once again while allowing the defeated Hittite chariots to cross the river and regroup.

Rameses’ army was saved by the arrival of an allied contingent of Ne’arin. While the origin of these troops is hazy, their name implies that they were the young elite warriors. They seem to have been a garrison force or an allied army from the north that was ordered to meet Rameses at Kadesh for the battle. Upon their arrival they moved southeast around the camp to attack the Hittite’s second assault force. Seeing this, Rameses again rallied his men and attacked northward, flanking and confining the Hittites.

Map by Gianandre – derivative work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Being almost surrounded, the Hittites were forced to abandon their chariots to swim across the river to safety. With a brutal battle just fought, Rameses did not have the resources to maintain a siege of Kadesh and Muwatalli, himself weakened by a great loss of his chariot core, could do little more than hold up inside the city walls.

The battle has been described as an Egyptian victory, a draw, and even as a Hittite victory. What Rameses was able to do was recover from a disastrous position to save his army. Furthermore, despite sections of his army being routed twice and his camp ransacked, Rameses and his army ultimately held the field of battle after all was said and done. To emphasize that this should be considered a slight Egyptian victory is the amount of booty gained in the capture of the Hittite chariots. Ancient battles heavily focused on the amount of plunder the individual and the state could gain. Chariots were status symbols at the time and therefore many of them were ornately decorated and even plated in precious metals. Capturing as many as 1,000 chariots would have been quite the joyous occasion for the Egyptians regardless of whether or not they took Kadesh.

The Egyptians certainly proclaimed the battle as a great victory and Rameses himself would constantly refer back to it as one of his greatest achievements despite orchestrating several other successful campaigns. The attention Rameses gives to this battle above others may suggest that the stories of his personal charges into the fray to rally the troops were more truth than propaganda. The battle surely would have been quite an event to be involved in and it set the stage for the much-storied reign of Rameses the Great.


Wheeled victories

The earliest chariots appeared in Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C. They were very different from the familiar horse-drawn vehicles seen in ancient Greece and Rome. Early prototypes often had four solid wheels, and their main purpose was for use in parades and funerary rites. These vehicles were not pulled by horses, but by oxen and other draft animals, or equids such as donkeys or mules. The Standard of Ur, a casket from the Sumerian city of Ur dating to around 2600 B.C., features a chariot that looks like a solid-wheeled wagon pulled by either mules or donkeys.

The beginning of the second millennium B.C. was a period of rapid change for chariot building. In this period, the horse was first used as a draft animal, and wheels became increasingly spoked, and therefore much lighter. The advances in speed and mobility that resulted from these innovations led to the chariot becoming essential military equipment in the Bronze Age. (Constantinople's chariot races were all the rage in the Roman Empire.)

Two-wheeled models were acquired for military use by the leading powers of the day, including the Egyptians and the Hittites. In 1650 B.C., during the siege of a city called Urshu, the Hittite king Hattusilis mentions 30 Hittite chariots ranged against 80 chariots belonging to his Hurrian enemies. The Hittite fleet of chariots would grow exponentially in subsequent centuries, from tens to hundreds, and later, to thousands.

Anatolian techniques of bending and shaping wood helped the Hittites develop sophisticated two-wheeled models. The imperial-era Hittites left little illustrative evidence behind of such vehicles (although, following the collapse of the Hittite Empire, craftsmen in surviving Hittite enclaves did leave artworks that depict chariots). Other evidence tells historians that by the 17th century B.C., Hittite chariots had developed lighter wheels.

Unlike Egyptian two-man chariots, the Hittite model could carry three people: the driver, a warrior armed with lances or bow and arrows, and a shield bearer. The latter was tethered to the back section of the carriage, lending stability during tight maneuvers. (Watch archaeologists uncover an ancient mosaic of a chariot race.)


Egyptian War Chariot

The principle component of Ancient Egypt's Military, The War Chariot was &ldquointroduced&rdquo in the 15th Century B.C. - by Egypt's &ldquoenemy&rdquo, The Hyskos. Expensive to make (and frequently breaking down due to terrain), a typical Chariot was used as a mobile platform for Spearmen and Archers. This afforded a more stable firing platform than Cavalry. A single axle connected to twin wheels, a later stabilizer &ldquoT&rdquo Bar was added to the axles, gave more control. A long Lead Bar (15-feet), went from the lower axle to a brace for normally 2 horses to be attached. The added component called a Yoke Saddle controlled them.

The Chariot Basket featured a 3 foot containment shield which stretched from the front to the rear (and opened inward). A typical Chariot afforded a Driver and either a Spearman or Archer. Specialized outer &ldquocompartments&rdquo (built into the Shield Basket), carried extra arrows or spears (depending on the troop deployment). Chariots were were fast (due to the lightness of materials used). The Ancient Egyptians developed massed deployment tactics which far surpassed their enemies. These tactics would enable them to conquer and expand their Kingdoms. Used by Commanders in the field for &ldquoobservation platforms&rdquo, a common problem with Chariots was their lack of armor protection and well as issues with speed (and controlling the Chariot when at &ldquofull run&rdquo).

Many accidents in deployment happened. Often, this was why so many were deployed in battle (as a form of attrition). In some cases, masses of enemy Spearmen could compensate for mass Chariot attacks. They would simply concentrate their &ldquofire&rdquo on the lead Chariots. Several &ldquofalling&rdquo Chariots could create obstructions that were hard to correct &ldquoat speed&rdquo. Still, the Egyptian War Chariot was the pinnacle of military technology (for The Period), which would continue until &ldquocountered&rdquo by Ancient Rome (and the eventual decline of The Egyptian Dynastic Periods).

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The history of ancient Egypt is divided into three stabilized kingdoms: The Old Kingdom (c.2686-2160 BC), The Middle Kingdom (c.2055-1650 BC) and The New Kingdom (c.1550-1069 BC) separated by two unstable intermediate periods. These periods were characterized by minor battles, political upheavals and revolutions through the wars fought before the beginning of the new kingdom have no written records. Three major wars were fought during the New Kingdom.

Battle of Mediggo (c. 1457 BC)

The Battle of Megiddo was fought between Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Thutmose III and a large Canaanite army under the king of Kadesh. It is the first battle to have been recorded in relatively reliable detail. Megiddo was also the first battle to record the use of the composite bow and body count of casualties of war. All details of the battle came from the hieroglyphic writings on the Hall of Annals in the Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak, Thebes (now Luxor), by the military scribe Tjaneni.

The Battle of Megiddo was an Egyptian victory and resulted in a rout of the Canaanite forces, which fled to safety in the city of Megiddo. Their action resulted in the subsequent lengthy Siege of Megiddo. By re-establishing Egyptian dominance in the Levant, Pharaoh Thutmose III began a reign in which the Egyptian Empire reached its greatest expanse.

Battle of Kadesh (c. 1274 BC)

The Battle of Qadesh (or Kadesh) took place between the forces of the Egyptian empire under Ramesses II and the Hittite empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, of what is now the Syrian Arab Republic. The battle is generally dated to around 1274 BC. It was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving approximately 5,000-6,000 chariots.

Though Egyptian accounts claim that Muwatalli called for a truce, the Hittite records note no such arrangement. However, neither side gained the total victory. The running borderlands skirmishes were finally concluded some fifteen years after the Battle of Kadesh by an official peace treaty in 1258 BC, in the 21st year of Ramses II’s reign, with Hattusili III, the new king of the Hittites. This treaty, which is now on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, is believed to be the earliest example of any written international agreement of any kind.

Battle of the Delta (c. 1178 to 1175 BC)

The Battle of the Delta was a great sea battle, fought between Egyptian forces and the so-called Sea Peoples when the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III repulsed a great sea invasion by the ‘Peoples of the Sea’. The conflict occurred somewhere at the shores of the eastern Nile Delta and partly on the borders of the Egyptian Empire in Syria, although their precise location is unknown.

These Egyptian Battles have been described as ‘the first naval battle in history’. This major conflict is recorded on the temple walls of the mortuary temple of pharaoh Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.

In the end, Egypt was so weakened by this battle that it never recovered to be the powerful kingdom it was prior to the Sea People’s invasion. Ramses III is generally considered to the last great Pharaoh of Egypt’s the New Kingdom. The conflict with the Sea Peoples also drained her treasury. Thus, the Egyptians used to say that death comes from across the seas.


Design of Egyptian Chariots

Some analysis of ancient Egyptian Chariots provides that the Egyptians greatly improved the design of this vehicle. The Egyptian chariot had a metal covering for the axes, which reduced friction, and this was certainly an improvement. Also, some wooden parts were strengthened by covering them with metal sleeves. The most obvious changes were the adoption of six spokes in the wheel (previously they had used four), and the increasing use of protection for the horses.

In Egypt, war Egyptian Chariots were manned by a driver holding a whip and the reigns and a fighter, generally wielding a bow or, after spending all his arrows, a short spear of which he had a few.

When hunting, the pharaohs would sometimes dispense with the driver and enjoy chasing after their prey on their own. However, in warfare, chariot runners would also usually accompany the vehicle into battle. After the chariot was constructed, considerable work was needed in order to maintain the vehicle in good working order.

Hence, the chariot was of paramount social and political significance since it heralded the appearance of the chariot corps which consisted of a new aristocratic warrior class modeled on the ubiquitous Asiatic military elite known to the Egyptians as the maryannu (young heroes).

The depiction of the triumphant New Kingdom pharaoh as a charioteer shows that the chariot was quickly absorbed into the royal regalia, becoming a powerful symbol of domination. Interestingly, the royal chariot itself was treated as a heroic personality with gods overseeing each of its named parts.


Battle of Kadesh

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Battle of Kadesh, (1275 bc ), major battle between the Egyptians under Ramses II and the Hittites under Muwatallis, in Syria, southwest of Ḥimṣ, on the Orontes River. In one of the world’s largest chariot battles, fought beside the Orontes River, Pharaoh Ramses II sought to wrest Syria from the Hittites and recapture the Hittite-held city of Kadesh. There was a day of carnage as some 5,000 chariots charged into the fray, but no outright victor. The battle led to the world’s first recorded peace treaty.

Resolved to pursue the expansionist policy introduced by his father, Seti I, Ramses invaded Hittite territories in Palestine and pushed on into Syria. Near the Orontes River, his soldiers captured two men who said they were deserters from the Hittite force, which now lay some way off, outside Aleppo. This was reassuring, since the impetuous pharaoh had pushed well ahead of his main army with an advance guard of 20,000 infantry and 2,000 chariots. Unfortunately, the "deserters" were loyal agents of his enemy. Led by their High Prince, Muwatallis, the Hittites were at hand—with 40,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 chariots—and swiftly attacked. Their heavy, three-horse chariots smashed into the Egyptian vanguard, scattering its lighter chariots and the ranks behind. An easy victory seemed assured, and the Hittites dropped their guard and set about plundering their fallen enemy. Calm and determined, Ramses quickly remarshalled his men and launched a counterattack.

With their shock advantage gone, the Hittite chariots seemed slow and ungainly the lighter Egyptian vehicles outmaneuvered them with ease. Ramses, bold and decisive, managed to pluck from the jaws of defeat if not victory, then at least an honorable draw. Both sides claimed Kadesh as a triumph, and Ramses had his temples festooned with celebratory reliefs. In truth, the outcome was inconclusive. So much so that, fifteen years later, the two sides returned to Kadesh to agree to a nonaggression pact—the first known example in history.

The biased Egyptian version of the battle was recorded on numerous temples by Ramses, but a Hittite version excavated at Boghazköy has enabled a truer assessment of the battle.


The New Kingdom (1550 - 1069 BC)

© Tjflex2 - Relief of a Chariot

The first Egyptian chariots were introduced during the beginning of the 18th Dynasty at the start of the New Kingdom. The Egyptians gradually improved their chariots, making them faster and lighter.

Egyptian war chariots typically carried two people: the driver who controlled the chariot and a warrior. The latter typically used a bow and arrows. When he ran out of arrows, he would use a short spear.

Charioteers sometimes wore scale armor, but many carried shields or wore leather bands across their chests. Charioteers generally only wore armor that protected their upper bodies, for the chariots themselves protected their lower bodies. Unlike most other soldiers, charioteers generally came from the upper class.

The scale armor was first seen during the 19th Dynasty (1292 - 1189 BC). Another innovation seen in the New Kingdom was the khopesh, a type of sword. It was somewhat sickle-shaped and had evolved from battle axes.

By the time of the New Kingdom, the Egyptian military had three main branches: infantry, navy and chariotry.

© Deror avi - Warship Model (based on an Egyptian ship from the reign of Ramses III)


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