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The Egyptian military became one of the ancient world’s greatest fighting forces during the New Kingdom period (1550 B.C. - 1070 B.C.), but it did so using borrowed weapons technology. For much of its early history, Egypt relied on simple stone maces, wooden-tipped spears, axes and bows and arrows to fight off neighboring Nubian and Libyan tribesmen. Then came the Hyksos, an invading army from Syria that conquered Egypt around 1650 B.C. with vastly superior weapons like speedy chariots and powerful composite bows.
During the century of foreign humiliation known as the Second Intermediate Period, the Egyptians studied their enemy closely and built up an arsenal of deadly new weapons based on the Syrian designs. When Ahmose I liberated and reunited Egypt, he became the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom, a golden age in which Egypt used its upgraded weaponry and efficient bureaucracy to expand the empire and grow rich from foreign tributes.
These are the nine key weapons that powered the Egyptian army at the height of its power.
WATCH: Egyptian Warfare on HISTORY Vault
1. Bronze-Tipped Spear and Shield
The core of the Egyptian army, like most ancient armies, was its spearmen. Armed with a wooden shield (ikem) in their left hand and a bronze-tipped spear (dja) in their right, the Egyptian spearmen would advance on the enemy in tightly packed formations. The length of the spear allowed Egyptian fighters to joust at their enemy behind the relative safety of their shields, and the bronze tip was hard and sharp enough to pierce through an enemy infantry’s leather armor.
Even better, spears were cheap to make.
“At a time when metal was so precious, all you needed was a small bit of bronze at the tip,” says Paul Elliott, a historian and reenactor who wrote Warfare in New Kingdom Egypt. “You could outfit hundreds of recruits with them, perfect for the warfare of the period.”
Before the Hyksos invasion, Egyptian speartips were wooden and prone to splintering on contact. The Syrians showed them how to forge simple bronze speartips with a hollow socket that fit tightly over a wooden shaft. The Egyptians’ shields were utilitarian—three wooden planks bound with glue and animal hides—but they transformed into a formidable defense when the infantry closed ranks in a phalanx formation.
The Egyptian javelin was more than a hand-launched missile. It also functioned in close combat as a short spear about a meter long (3.3 feet). New Kingdom soldiers would carry a quiver of javelins over their shoulder like arrows. At close range, they would use the javelin to thrust at the enemy behind their shields, but they could also launch the armor-piercing javelin at attacking chariots or lines of infantry. Eliott says that Egyptians didn’t treat the javelin as a disposable ordinance like an arrow. They fitted their javelins with diamond-shaped metal blades and made them easier to aim and throw with a well-balanced and reinforced wooden grip.
3. Battle Axe
The Egyptian battle axe was a secondary weapon tucked into a warrior’s waistband or hung from his shoulder. In close combat, it could hack at an enemy’s shield or dispatch an injured foe with a crushing blow. In earlier periods of Egyptian history, when the enemy didn’t wear armor, the blades of battle axes were semi-circular or crescent-shaped, designed to deliver deep, slashing cuts to unprotected flesh.
During the New Kingdom, however, in which Egypt faced Hittite and Syrian armies wearing protective leather jerkins across their chests, the axe blades grew increasingly narrow and straight-edged, “ideally suited to punch through armor,” says Elliot.
The battle axe also doubled as a multi-faceted tool suitable for all manner of wartime demands. During a siege of a Canaanite city, half the army of Ramses III used their axes to dig beneath the city’s mud walls while the rest leveled the trees in the surrounding countryside.
READ MORE: 11 Things You May Not Know About Ancient Egypt
Archeologists have recovered evidence of a distinctive Egyptian weapon referred to as a mace ax. The standard war mace is a bludgeoning club that’s one of the oldest weapons on earth. Starting as early as 6,000 B.C., Egyptians armed themselves with simple maces made of a wooden handle topped with a heavy stone head. But during the New Kingdom, they improved on the deadly design with the addition of a curved blade embedded into a solid wooden head.
“This is a weapon that’s purely Egyptian,” says Elliott. “It’s essentially an ax with extra power behind it.”
The mace ax would have been wielded with two hands to break enemy swords and bash through even the strongest bronze armor.
5. Short Swords
Swords and daggers wouldn’t have been a common Egyptian weapon before the Hyksos introduced advances in bronze casting technology. Only then was it possible to make short swords strong enough to withstand the rigors of battle. Since bronze isn’t the toughest metal, some swords were cast in one solid piece, both blade and hilt, to provide extra strength.
There were two common types of Egyptian short swords. The first was dagger-shaped and came to a sharp point. Its job was to stab the enemy at very close range. The second was longer with flat sides coming to a rounded, “butter-knife” point. This sword was for slashing at the enemy from a safer distance and was strong enough not to bend when brought down hard on a shield or bone.
Perhaps the most iconic and feared Egyptian weapon of the New Kingdom was a curved sword called a khopesh. The distinctive blade of the khopesh looks like a question mark with the cutting edge on the outside of the curve like a scimitar, not the inside like a sickle. In Ancient Egyptian, khopesh means “foreleg of an animal,” similar to the English word “dogleg.”
The Egyptians owed the Hyksos once again for this vicious-looking weapon, which is frequently depicted in relief paintings being wielded by a pharaoh to smite enemy armies. The boy king Tutankhamun, for example, was buried with two khopeshes. In ancient warfare, the khopesh would have served as a secondary weapon like an axe or short sword to put the finishing blows on an enemy in close combat.
7. Composite Bow
Before the Hyksos invasion, the Egyptians relied on the “self” bow, a simple bow and arrow weapon made from a single piece of wood. But the Syrians introduced them to the compact power and accuracy of the composite bow, an intricate and expensive weapon made from layers of wood, animal horn and sinew that was “recurved” to generate incredible force.
“The composite bow became the Egyptian superweapon,” says Elliott. “They didn’t just have a few archers. They had platoons of 50 archers apiece who acted as shock troops all shooting at the enemy at once.”
Egyptian composite bows were long, about 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet), and carefully constructed from birch wood, goat horns, bull tendons and sinews, all cemented together by animal glues. The layered construction, plus the recurved design, allowed the bow to snap back with far more action than the simple self bow, launching an arrow as far as 250 to 300 meters (820 to 984 feet) by ancient accounts.
The strings of composite bows were made from tightly woven animal gut and the arrows were fashioned from bronze-tipped woody reeds, which were plentiful in the Nile Valley. To improve accuracy, the arrows were fletched with three feathers. The composite bows were so expensive and difficult to make that conquering Egyptian armies often asked for bows instead of gold as tribute. Ramses III is cited as bringing back 603 composite bows from his defeat of the Libyans.
Before horses were big enough to be ridden into battle as cavalry, the chariot was the speediest and most terrifying war machine. Again, the Hyksos were the ones who introduced the Egyptians to lightweight wooden chariots with flexible leather floors as shock absorbers, but it was the Egyptian New Kingdom, with its vast wealth, that deployed swarms of heavily armed chariots on the battlefield to deadly effect.
Eliott says that the Egyptians treated the chariot like a fast-moving “weapons platform” manned by a chariot driver and a warrior.
“The chariots raced around the battlefield with the warrior peppering the enemy with arrow after arrow from his composite bow like an ancient machine gunner,” says Elliott. “Hanging from the chariot would be double quivers of arrows and also javelins, and the Egyptians could afford hundreds and hundreds of these mobile machine gun nests.”
Ancient battle records tell of large chariot formations of more than 100 teams bearing down on an enemy and viciously attacking its flanks and rear positions. The speed and maneuverability of the Egyptian chariot was only matched by its weaponry, which not only included arrows and javelins, but several khopeshes and battle axes for hand-to-hand combat.
9. Scale Armor
The average Egyptian foot soldier in a New Kingdom army wouldn’t have worn much protection on the battlefield. From relief paintings and archeological evidence, they may have worn simple textile wraps stiffened by animal glue, but aside from deflecting a long-range arrow, they wouldn’t have been very effective as armor.
The most elaborate and protective armor was reserved for the charioteers, both the driver and warrior, who were singled out as prized targets for enemy archers, especially those with long-range composite bows. The Egyptian charioteers rode into battle wearing long coats of bronze scales, giving them the appearance of large, upright lizards. Each bronze scale, like this one from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, was pierced with small holes through which the scale was tied to a linen or leather backing. A large coat of armor might contain more than 600 individual scales, both small and large.
The horses, too, wore armor, at least according to funeral objects and relief paintings. Both Ramses II and Tutankhamun are show driving chariots with regal horses wearing coats of brightly painted bronze scales.
Ancient Egypt: Food
Egyptian food is surprisingly diverse considering the arid landscape from which it came. Although Ancient Egypt is a hot, desert country where the lack of water makes it difficult to grow crops and raise animals, the annual flooding of the river Nile (inundation) between the months of June and September made the Nile Valley one of the most fertile areas of the ancient world.
When the river flooded, mud and silt was deposited onto the surrounding area. This soil was rich and fertile and made good farming land. The main crops grown were wheat and barley.
Wheat was made into bread which was one of the main ancient Egyptian foods eaten by both rich and poor ancient Egyptians. The picture (right) shows the bread-making process.
First the grain was made into flour. It was then made into dough with water and yeast which was placed into a clay mould before being cooked in a stone oven.
Barley was used to make beer. The barley was combined with yeast and made into a dough which was part-baked in a stone oven. It was then crumbled into a large vat, mixed with water and allowed to ferment before being flavoured with dates or honey. Recent evidence suggests that barley malt may also have been used in the process.
Beer was drank by both rich and poor.
Wine made from grapes, pomegranates and plums was enjoyed by the rich.
The ancient Egyptian food of the rich included meat – (beef, goat, mutton), fish from the Nile (perch, catfish, mullet) or poultry (goose, pigeon, duck, heron, crane) on a daily basis. Poor Egyptians only ate meat on special occasions but ate fish and poultry more often.
The picture (above) shows ancient Egyptians hunting for fish and birds in the reeds that grew on the banks of the Nile.
Meat, fish and poultry was roasted or boiled. It was flavoured with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, sesame, dill and fennel.
Meat, fish and poultry that was not eaten quickly was preserved by salting or drying.
A variety of vegetables were grown and eaten by the ancient Egyptians including onions, leeks, garlic, beans, lettuce, lentils, cabbages, radishes and turnips.
Fruit including dates, figs, plums and melons were eaten for dessert.
Dawn of Warfare: The Ancient Egptian Military
Pre-Dynastic Egyptian Military and Warfare (prior to 3100 BC)
Man&rsquos history in the lands of the Nile extends back to the dawn of mankind and is one of the possible locations where man first crossed the line from violence to warfare.
The first possible prehistoric battle in the archaeological record is on the Nile near the border of Egypt and Sudan. The site known as Cemetery 117 has been determined to be between approximately 13,140 to 14,340 years old. It contains 59 skeletons, along with many partial skeletons, many with arrowheads or spear points embedded in them, indicating that they may have been battle casualties. The wounds show no signs associated with healing. Some speculate that an increasingly arid climate may have caused greater competition, and there seems to be a quick decline in population at the end of the Paleolithic period. Others have questioned this conclusion, arguing that the bodies could have accumulated over decades, or even centuries. Perhaps the site is evidence of the murder of trespassers rather than an actual battle. They also point out that nearly half of the bodies are female, and thirteen are children.
Archeologists have identified a string of Nile cultures spanning from the 14th millennium BC to the Dynastic period. These cultures developed from hunter-gathers and wild grain gathers to settled agricultural villages, and eventually, the mini-states that were forged into ancient Egypt. These societies are credited with many firsts for mankind and developed into one of our earliest urban populations. However the productive, but limited, areas available for farming caused conflict, first among bands of human struggling to make their first attempts at food production, then later between villages. Groups of desert nomads would have been attracted to the comparative paradise the Nile valley offered, with its vast flocks of birds, wild grains and animal life, and they needed to be repulsed. These conflicts would have been carried out using primitive weapons, clubs, stone maces, slings, throwing sticks, stone-tipped spears and stone-tipped arrows. Early bows were constructed using two antelope horns fixed to a handle. By 5500 BC, tribes had adapted to the annual flooding of the Nile for agriculture, and had mastered animal husbandry, creating food surpluses and villages. As their societies became more advanced, so did the complexity of warfare. Small raiding tactics evolved into armies, and they began to make shields of animal hide stretched over wood frames.
Egyptian society had an early jump on the world stage, developing medicine, astronomy, mathematics, cosmetics, and domestication of animals, to name a few. They also broadened their world, making contact with Palestine and the Byblos coast.
By 4000 BC, they began to import obsidian from Ethiopia to make razor-sharp blades. Over the next thousand years, they developed from scattered villages and hamlets to powerful civilizations, with kings in complete control of the people and resources of the Nile valley. The wooden simple bow (or self bow) had been developed by this time and replaced the older horn bows. They expanded their trade routes, developed writing and increased their territory along the Nile, until three cities dominated the valley and vied for complete control. The world&rsquos first depictions of siege warfare can be found in reliefs depicting sieges and wheeled siege ladders. By 3150 BC, the king of Upper Egypt had had defeated the other two kings and taken control over all of Egypt. This may have been accomplished by a Pharaoh named Narmar, the so-called Scorpion King, who is the first known to be depicted with the symbols of a united upper and lower Egypt.
Warfare in Egypt&rsquos Archaic Period
During the archaic period (3100 BC &ndash 2686 BC), soldiers were equipped with stone maces, copper-tipped spears and bows with flint or obsidian arrows. Soldiers were protected by large wooden shields and didn&rsquot wear armor due to the desert heat. Forces were raised by conscription when needed to fend off small-scale raids form groups like the Libyans. In battle, a signature tactic of Egyptian warfare was used enemy forces were attacked by the Egyptian&rsquos perpetual main weapon of choice, the bow and arrow. The old horn bows and simple long bows were replaced by a more compact and simpler to pullback recurve bow. Once an enemy was weekend and in disarray from the volleys of arrows the Egyptian infantry assaulted with their main melee weapons, the stone mace and spears. Infantry soldiers also carried throwing sticks as secondary weapons, a largely ineffective but extremely inexpensive short ranged missile weapon.
Old Kingdom Military & Warfare
The Old Kingdom (2686 BC &ndash 2134 BC) was a prosperous time for the Egyptians. It was a golden age when great periods were constructed and Egypt grew rich and influential. This government to become stable and in turn they reorganized the military. The Pharaoh&rsquos began a military construction program placing forts to protect Egypt from incursions from the Libyans to the West and the Sinai and Canaanite tribes to the Northeast. Their greatest conflict during this time was with the Nubians to the South. A string of Forts were constructed within territories taken from them to ensure the safety of Egypt.
During the Old Kingdom, Egypt didn&rsquot have a standing army. Instead governors of administrative divisions called Nomes were required to raise armies. When a force was needed all of the armies of the Nomes would be come together and be commanded by the Pharaoh. However, this created another problem for Pharaoh&rsquos, occasionally Nomes created rival factions and vied for the monarchy in which case they needed to be forcibly suppressed through military action by the Pharaoh.
Egyptian armies of the period consisted of archers and infantry men . Most infantry would be equipped spears, brandishing copper spearheads and a large shield. (Also, see Egyptian weapons.) These shields were the kind that used hides stretched over wooden frames. The design has been tested and it was surprisingly resilient. They are lighter then a pure wooden shield allowing for a larger size and their ability to flex allowed them to absorb blows that shattered wooden shields. Elite troops and leaders would have been armed with copper maces, ideal for bashing lightly armored foes but expensive. Archers carrying simple curved bows and arrows with arrowheads made of flint or copper backed the infantry. The reason the Egyptians returned to the simple curved bow from the recurved bow is unclear perhaps they preferred its lower maintenance. Nubian mercenaries were said to have been their best archers.
As the pharoah&rsquos of the old kingdom concentrated on constructing their pyramids they slowly allowed more power to fall into the hands of the Governors of the nomes. Upon the death of the 94 year old pharaoh Pepy II Egypt fell into civil war. Without a clear heir the regional powers began to contend with each other for supremacy. Egyptian power waned in the following period, called The First Intermediate Period. Militarily Egypt would never be as secure again as it was in the Old Kingdom, now forced to contend with other rising powers in the near East.
Middle Kingdom Military & Warfare
During the Middle Kingdom, between 2030 BC &ndash 1640 BC, the Pharaoh&rsquos struggled to hold on to Egyptian power. They needed to protect their trade routes and resources now more than ever. The era of their complete military dominance was now in the past. The borders were pushed out to their greatest extent yet and the Pharaoh&rsquos were now content with keeping a power balance with the other near eastern empires. Senusret III, Pharaoh from 1878 BC to 1839 BC, and was one of the most powerful kings of this period. He cleared a navigable canal through the first cataract and relentlessly pushed Egypt&rsquos southern border to the second cataract deep into Nubia. He then erected massive river forts including Buhen, Semna and Toshka to protect the new border. He also erected great steles (that&rsquos the plural of stela, large stone tablets) to commemorate his victories and to extol his successors to maintain the new border.
Tactically and organizationally the Egyptian army remained similar to that of the Old Kingdom. Conscripted peasants and tradesmen continued to form the army, although the establishment of garrisons may have added to their professionalism. Tactically they continued to be heavily dependent on their archers. Around 2000 BC the first metal arrowheads made an appearance in their military made from hammer hardened copper. Bronze bladed axes began to appear in the infantry at this time. They were constructed with blade affixed into grooves on long handles. This was a weaker connection then the axes made by their contemporaries that feathered a hole through the axe head that the handle fit through, but it served their purpose of slashing unarmored troops and hacking through hide covered, wood framed shields. New infantry mercenary troops, called Maryannu, were hired from the Levant during the end of the Middle Kingdom. Unfortunately for the Egyptians there had been major advances weapons and tactics had been both developed and found their way into the Near East. The stagnant Egyptian military was on the brink of disastrous defeat.
What may have started as peaceful migrations of Asiatic workers needed for building projects in the Nile delta ended with the militarily powerful Hyskos dominating the Nile Delta and ushering in the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyskos, meaning &ldquoShepard Kings&rdquo, had Canaanite names and were of Semitic origins. They took over the Egyptian capitol Memphis and ruled from Avaris in the lower delta. New military equipment insured their ascendancy and domination of the locals. Archery advances such as, the composite bow, an improved recurve bow and improved arrowheads, were brought by the Hyskos. Infantry advances included various kinds of swords and daggers, a metal bound wooden shields, mailed shirts, and the metal helmet. However, it is their use of the horse drawn chariot that is most commonly cited as their greatest military advancement over the Egyptians. This may be an oversimplification though, there is evidence that both the horse and Chariot were known of by the Middle Kingdom Egyptians, apparently they just hadn&rsquot incorporated them into their military forces at the time.
The Egyptians that chafed under foreign rule flocked to Thebes in Upper Egypt. Here, on the upper Nile domestic Egyptian pharaoh&rsquos still ruled. The Hyskos kings in Lower Egypt had styled themselves as Pharaohs and added the middle Egypt to their domain. The Nubians, or Kush, took the opportunity to assert their independence, trapping the Egyptians in an enemy sandwich. The Pharaohs in Thebes may first have been content to mine gold and make money off the Red Sea trade to care about their overrun countrymen down river. However, demands of tribute and taxes for access to the Lower Nile made a new generation of Pharaoh&rsquos consider the foreign domination to be blight on their holy land. They retrained their army, adopted the deadly composite bow and built light, fast war chariots to their own specifications.
Seqenenre Tao II, called &ldquoThe Brave&rdquo, the Theban Pharaoh from c.1560 BC - 1558 BC, launched the first assaults against the Hyksos and their Pharaoh Apepi (also called Apophis). His mummies head features multiple, vicious axe wounds he fell in battle against the Hyksos only two years into his reign. However, his sons would take up the banner of their fallen father.
Kamose, called &ldquoThe Strong&rdquo, the son of Seqenenre, inherited the throne from his now mummified father. Apepi, who had usurped the Hyksos thrown of Lower and Middle Egypt preferred to change the names on old monuments instead of having his own built. You have to admire the old ruler&rsquos consistency. Apepi traded peacefully with the native Egyptians to the South, but like his Father, Kamose despised the Theban Pharaohs subordinate position. In the third year of his reign he launched his attack on the Hyskos, surprising and overrunning their southern garrisons. He then headed straight for their capitol and battled the Hyksos outside of Avaris itself. The city itself was not taken, but the Thebans devastated their fields. Kamose intercepted a letter requesting aid from the King of Kush, wounded from the battle he then sailed back up the Nile and dispatched forces to intercept any aid from Kush. In Thebes he celebrated his victory then died, most likely from his wounds. The Hyksos had been caught off guard, but weren&rsquot much worse off.
Kamose&rsquos brother Ahmose then became the Pharaoh. He was more cautious then his father and brother and waited before resuming the war. Hyksos king Apepi died, he had been a contemporary of Seqenenre Tao II and ruled both Middle and Lower Egypt but at the time of his death the Hyksos had lost Middle Egypt. Kamose&rsquos continuous campaigns and chariot-based army wore down the Hyskos. The Egyptians employed their own weapons and tactics against them, and after several campaigns against it the stronghold of Avaris was conquered. Egypt was once again under the domain of one Egyptian Pharaoh.
The Thebans started to rebel against the Hyksos when Pharaoh Sekenre (or Senakhtenre) Taa became Pharaoh. Sekenre called the Thebans to a battle against the Hyksos, a battle that claimed his own life. Sekenre was succeeded by Kamose, who also attempted to battle the Hyksos, but spent only three years on the throne, before probably being killed in battle. Kamose&rsquos brother Ahmose was far more successful than his predecessors. He battled the Hyksos, and drove them from Egypt. This marked the beginning of the New Kingdom.
New Kingdom Military & Warfare
The New Kingdom (1570 BC &ndash 1070 BC) was a time of great change and renewed strength for the military forces of Egypt. The Egyptians had learned much from the Hyskos and they reformed their military into that of a first rate power. During the New Kingdom the Egyptian Empire reached its greatest extent.
A rich, noble warrior class joined the army as Charioteers, shooting powerful composite bows from their mobile platforms. The Egyptians made lighter, more agile chariots then their contemporaries. Two horses would pull the chariot and its two man team, one warrior handling the chariot while the other peppered the enemy with arrows. Spears would be employed for close combat and the warrior usually had some protection. Occasionally scale armor or a shield, but more typically thick leather straps across the chest. It was unnecessary to protect the lower body, as the chariot shielded it. The chariots were the masters of the battlefield during their day, providing both speed and long ranged attacks. The Egyptians preferred to use their chariots to stay out of range of their opponents, while devastating them with arrows. Other Near Eastern empires would send their chariots crashing into enemy formations, creating carnage with blades placed on their wheels (scythed chariots). Uniquely among the powers of the time, the Chariots of Egypt were state owned, instead of by individual warriors.
Advances were also made in the Egyptian infantry. A sword called the khopesh came in to use. This iconic weapon was balanced both for slashing and stabbing and it featured a hook on one site of the blade. The hook could be used to pull an enemies shield down before the khopesh was lunged forward, stabbing the face, neck or chest. Infantry also began wearing armor, scale armor or leather tunics with metal scales sewn on them. Advances in armor lead to advances in axes the old Egyptian slashing battle axe was replaced by a new piercing one. However, the Egyptians neglected to use the eyehole design of the Hysko&rsquos Axe heads and never achieved their stability. Axes fell out of favor, probably due to a lack of need for armor penetrating weapons in their hot climate, the Egyptians preferred swords.
While the superior composite bow, made of layers of bone and wood, was used by the Egyptians of this period, their very high cost and difficult maintenance would have made them less common. Composite bows offered greater range and the ability to penetrate scale armor. However, composite bows required them to be unstrung between uses and stringing them was not a simple task. It took two people and a lot of strength. They were also difficult to maintain, they had to be covered and protected from humidity. Composite bows were also difficult to construct, Egypt imported most of theirs from Egypt. For these reasons most of the bows used by the Egyptian military continued to be simple bows and recurve bows, composite bows were only given out to the elite troops and this usually meant the chariot warriors.
During the New Kingdom, the Egyptian military changed from levy troops into a firm organization of professional soldiers. Conquests of foreign territories, like Nubia, required a permanent force to be garrisoned abroad. The encounter with other powerful Near Eastern kingdoms like Mitanni, Hittites, and later the Assyrians and Babylonians, made it necessary for the Egyptians to conduct campaigns far from home. Infantry troops were organized into large square formations by weapon type, Archers, swordsmen or spearmen.
The New Kingdom also employed mercenaries to fill its ranks Sherden (one of the Sea Peoples), Libyans and Maryannu charioteers where all employed. A group called the Na&rsquoarn mercenaries were hired by Ramesses II, an ethnicity from Anatolia. Hebrews tribal infantry may also have served as mercenaries under Ramesses II.
New Kingdom Egypt reached the zenith of its power under the Pharaohs Seti I and Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great), increasing Egyptian territory all the way to Syria in the Levant. Ramesses II campaigned vigorously against both the Libyans and the Hittites, fought in. During the battle of Kadesh Ramesses II fought the Hittites to a stalemate in what was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving around 5,000 &ndash 6,000 chariots. The stalemate resulted in the earliest known and physically surviving international peace treaty. An enlarged replica of the Kadesh agreement hangs on a wall at the United Nations headquarters.
The reorganization and reequipping of the Egyptian military during the New Kingdom allowed them to engage the powerful Near Eastern kingdoms like Mitanni, the Hittites, and later the Assyrians and Babylonians. Egypt&rsquos old enemies, the Libyans and Numidians also required military attention. Without the knowledge gained from the Hyksos the Egyptians never would have survived, especially from the onslaught of The Sea Peoples in the 12th century BC.
The mysterious Sea Peoples, a confederacy of seafaring raiders and conquerors, smashed into the civilizations of the Near East. The ends of several civilizations around 1175 BC have lead to a theory that the Sea Peoples caused the collapse of the Hittite, Mycenaean and Mitanni kingdoms. They definitely destroyed some kingdoms of the Levant and may have been the catalyst for the Bronze Age Collapse (1206 - 1150 BCE). Characterized by the interruption of trade routes and extinguished literacy. In the first phase of this period, almost every city between Troy and Gaza on the Eastern Mediterranean was violently destroyed. An inscription in Egypt reads, &ldquoNo land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, Alashiya on being cut down.&rdquo Carchemish in fact survived the Sea People's attacks, despite the Egyptian report. However, the ferocity of their invasions is not in doubt.
Egypt proper was next on their hit list, and they needed a miracle, the Sea Peoples had already overrun all of their newly acquired territories in Asia. The army of Ramesses III met the Sea Peoples on Egypt&rsquos Eastern frontier and defeated them in the Battle of Djahy (c. 1178 BC). Ramessess III largely credited his chariots for the victory in inscriptions. This was followed by an attack by the Sea Peoples naval fleet. At the following Battle of the Delta a great sea battle was fought between Egypt and the invaders. Ramesses III hid his navy in one of the many branches of Nile mouth and posted coastal watchmen. The enemy fleet was ambushed, then after a great ship to ship battle the invasion was repulsed. Survivors found in the waters of the Nile were dragged up on shore and executed ad hoc. However, this wasn&rsquot the end, the raids continued for years.
Ramesses III certainly scored a great and decisive victory against the invaders. However, after his death the Sea Peoples settled in Canaan and Palestine. One of these groups may have been the biblically mentioned Philistines, including their champion Goliath. The Egyptians were able to repulse the attack of the Sea Peoples on their homeland, but at a heavy cost. The conflict exhausted the Egyptian military and emptied the treasury to such an extent that Egypt would never again recover to be a powerful empire.
The entire eastern world faced an onslaught from new invaders known as The Sea Peoples and slipped into a dark age. After these brutal conquers were repelled by Ramesses III their old enemies like the Libyans and Nubians rose up and then and invaded. Internal conflict was another cause of the fall of Egyptian power as a sect of priests contended with the Princes for Pharaoh the New Kingdom slipped into the &ldquoThird Intermediate Period&rdquo and Late period. It is often regarded as the last gasp of a once great culture, where the power of Egypt had greatly diminished. The Sheridans (a Sea Peoples) and Libyans took control of the Western portions of the Nile Delta while the Nubians took control of upper Egypt. The weekend and divided Egyptians were then unable to counter an Assyrian invasion and the lands of the Nile became part of the Assyrian Empire. Egypt was then ruled by foreign powers, the Assyrians, Persians and finally the Romans all were able to conquer and rule the once mighty empire. The Egyptian military would never again be a great force in the ancient world.
The First Intermediate Period [ edit | edit source ]
Pharaoh Pepy II lived to be 94 years old, but upon his death the country fell into civil war. The Intermediate Period came as a huge shock to the Egyptian government and military since they had been secure in the stability and prosperity of the Old Kingdom. A dramatic shift in the military ideology began at the fall of the Old Kingdom Egypt was no longer the dominating faction in the ancient Near East. They had to shift from a position of complete supremacy to one of constant struggle to maintain their territories.
10 The Glass Spearhead
Over a century ago, male Aboriginal prisoners were sent to Australia&lsquos Rottnest Island.  Recently, the island was visited by University staff and students from Western Australia&rsquos School of Indigenous Studies. While learning about the area&rsquos history, one student found a beautiful artifact&mdasha spearhead knapped from green glass. The rare point was about 100 years old and joined previous finds of other glass and ceramic spearheads. What makes this one unique is the deep, sparkling emerald shade. Every other glass point collected over the years was of the usual clear kind.
The weapons are believed to have been used by the Aboriginal inmates to forge bonds, a form of currency during the trading of goods, and to hunt quokkas. It appears the men chose a hilltop overlooking the mainland and went there to craft the spears from any glass they could salvage. The discovery shows the remarkable adaptability of the prisoners despite being incarcerated.
The team was searching for the remains of ancient ships and artifacts related to Stone Age and Bronze Age trade in the Red Sea area when they stumbled upon a gigantic mass of human bones darkened by age.
The scientists led by Professor Abdel Muhammad Gader and associated with Cairo University’s Faculty of Archaeology, have already recovered a total of more than 400 different skeletons, as well as hundreds of weapons and pieces of armor.
The remains of two war chariots were also discovered scattered over an area of approximately 200 square meters.
They estimate that more than 5,000 other bodies could be dispersed over a wider area, suggesting that an army of large size may have perished on the site.
This magnificient blade from an egyptian khopesh, was certainly the weapon of an important character. It was discovered near the remains of a richly decorated war chariot, suggesting it could have belonged to a prince or nobleman.
Many clues on the site have brought Professor Gader and his team to conclude that the bodies could be linked to the famous episode of the Exodus.
First of all, the ancient soldiers seem to have died on dry ground, since no traces of boats or ships have been found in the area.
The positions of the bodies and the fact that they were stuck in a vast quantity of clay and rock imply that they could have died in a mudslide or a tidal wave.
The sheer number of bodies suggests that a large ancient army perished on the site, and the dramatic way by which they were killed, seem to corroborate the biblical version of the Red Sea Crossing when the army of the Egyptian Pharaoh was destroyed by the returning waters that Moses had parted.
This new find certainly proves that there was indeed an Egyptian army of large size that was destroyed by the waters of the Red Sea during the reign of King Akhenaten.
For centuries, the famous biblical account of the “Red Sea Crossing” was dismissed by most scholars and historians as more symbolic than historical.
“This astounding discovery brings undeniable scientific proof that one the most famous episodes of the Old Testament was indeed based on a historical event,” Professor Gader said during the press conference.
“It brings a brand new perspective on a story that many historians have been considering for years as a work of fiction and suggesting that other biblical stories like the Plagues of Egypt could indeed have a historical base.
A lot more research and many more recovery operations are to be expected on the site over the next few years, as Professor Gader and his team have already announced their desire to retrieve the rest of the bodies and artefacts from was has turned out to be one of the richest archaeological underwater sites ever discovered.
9 Ancient Egyptian Weapons and Tools That Powered the Pharaoh's Army - HISTORY
The original Egyptians were farmers, not fighters. They didn't see the need for an organized army. They were well protected by the natural boundaries of the desert that surrounded the empire. During the Old Kingdom, if the Pharaoh needed men to fight, he would call up the farmers to defend the country.
However, eventually the Hyksos people located near northern Egypt became organized. They conquered Lower Egypt using chariots and advanced weapons. The Egyptians knew they now needed an army. They learned how to make powerful chariots and gathered a strong army with infantry, archers, and charioteers. They eventually took Lower Egypt back from the Hyksos.
Egyptian Chariot by Abzt
From that point Egypt began to maintain a standing army. During the New Kingdom the Pharaohs often led the army into battle and Egypt conquered much of the surrounding land, expanding the Egyptian Empire.
Probably the most important weapon in the Egyptian army was the bow and arrow. The Egyptians used the composite bow that they learned about from the Hyksos. They could shoot arrows over 600 feet killing many enemies from long distance. The foot soldiers, also called the infantry, were armed with a variety of weapons including spears, axes, and short swords.
Chariots were an important part of the Egyptian army. They were wheeled carriages pulled by two fast warhorses. Two soldiers rode in a chariot. One would drive the chariot and control the horses while the other would fight using a bow and arrow or spear.
The Egyptian soldiers seldom wore armor. Their main form of defense was a shield. When they did wear armor it was in the form of hardened leather straps.
Life as an Egyptian Soldier
Life as an Egyptian soldier was hard work. They trained to keep up their strength and endurance. They also trained on different types of weapons. If they were proficient with a bow, then they would become an archer.
The army was often used for tasks other than fighting. After all, if Pharaoh was going to feed all these men, he was going to get some use out of them during times of peace. The army worked the fields during planting and harvest time. They also worked as laborers on a lot of the construction such as palaces, temples, and pyramids.
The head of the Egyptian army was the Pharaoh. Under the Pharaoh were two generals, one who led the army in Upper Egypt and one who led the army in Lower Egypt. Each army had three major branches: the Infantry, the Chariotry, and the Navy. The generals were usually close relatives to the Pharaoh.
History of Egyptian swords
History of Egyptian swords. Ancient Egyptian swords. Khopesh sword.
For most of the country’s existence, Egypt has been an Arabic country following the North African Arabic development of swords. However, previous to the Arabic influence, the kingdom of Ancient Egypt was distinct and almost unique in the world.
There was never a great need in Ancient Egypt for a standing army of soldiers. The kingdom was very introverted and insular, even shunning trade with foreign powers and certainly forgoing military conquest. As a result, the weaponry of this time period (3150 BC to 30 BC) is somewhat limited. Egyptian charioteers made excellent use of the bow and arrow, but for infantry the weapon of choice was the bronze Khopesh.
Egyprian warrior with Khopesh
The Khopesh was typically around 50 to 60 cm long and had a crook-like curve or hook, used to disarm opponents quickly and easily. The inside curve of the hook was not sharpened, but the outside curve was the single cutting edge. Many Khopeshes were manufactured with no intention of ever being sharpened, usually as offerings in high profile graves.
The designs of these weapons were quite intricate. Though the main blade was made of bronze decorative inlays of electrum were quite common. Later examples were also made in iron.
Swords were not too common in ancient Egypt. Egyptians used very often daggers or a short swords of various shapes as a tool.
However, the major exception to this rule were the Egyptian swords known as the Khopesh – the cruelly curved sickle sword adopted from the Canaanites, which was used to execute en-masse their enemies, as an infantry weapon and also as a symbol of the authority of their nobles.
Building Pharaoh's Ship
PBS Airdate: January 12, 2010
NARRATOR: The ancient Egyptians created some of the greatest wonders on Earth&mdashpyramids, temples, statues&mdashbut they are far less known for their mastery of the sea.
CHERYL WARD (Coastal Carolina University): People never think about the Egyptians as seafaring people, but they should.
NARRATOR: Thirty-five-hundred years ago, one of Egypt's most controversial pharaohs claimed to launch an epic journey on the open sea.
TOM VOSMER (Maritime Archaeologist): This is absolutely amazing.
NARRATOR: Now, for the first time ever, a team of archaeologists and builders will try to reconstruct that pharaoh's ship. Following a trail of ancient evidence, from temple wall reliefs, to coils of ancient rope, to remarkably intact boats, they will use traditional tools to try to build a vessel strong enough to endure the rough waters of the Red Sea.
By modern standards, the design is unusual and maybe even dangerous.
DAVID VANN (Author, A Mile Down ): I've never sailed anything like this. The technical term would be a "pig," you know, a short, fat boat that's going to move terribly through the water.
NARRATOR: Can they make a ship worthy of a pharaoh?
TOM VOSMER: I am a little bit afraid, yes. I think it's silly not to be afraid.
NARRATOR: Can they prove that the Egyptians were among the greatest shipbuilders and traders of the ancient world or will the experiment end in disaster?
DAVID VANN: As a captain, I'm doing something different than I would normally do, and I'm really worried about that.
NARRATOR: Building Pharaoh's Ship .
CHERYL WARD: Sails picking up water!
NARRATOR: . right now, on NOVA.
Arriving today, at the port city of Alexandria, in Egypt, is some precious cargo: 60 tons of timber to be used in a highly unusual experiment. A team of archaeologists and builders is attempting to recreate one of the great wonders of ancient Egypt.
Egypt is filled with spectacular wonders&mdashtemples, pyramids, tombs&mdashall built on an enormous scale, thousands of years ago. But the ancient pharaohs' engineers may have mastered another kind of wonder, one they don't usually get credit for: fantastic seagoing ships.
CHERYL WARD: When people think about Egypt, they think about pyramids, they think about King Tut, they think about tombs. They might think about the Nile, but they never think about the Egyptians as seafaring people. And they should.
NARRATOR: But how, exactly, did the Egyptians become master shipbuilders 3,500 years ago?
Pulling together all the ancient evidence, archaeologist Cheryl Ward and her team will try to design, build and sail a seagoing ship just like the pharaoh's.
CHERYL WARD: I wanted to show that by using the archaeological evidence, we could build a ship in Egyptian style, with Egyptian construction, and succeed.
NARRATOR: Direct evidence of Egypt's seafaring exploits is hard to come by, but some pharaohs left intriguing clues.
One of the most spectacular journeys was described here, at the sprawling funerary temple of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, who ruled around 1500 B.C. Carved onto the temple walls are five massive seagoing ships, setting out on the Red Sea and returning loaded with luxury items. The epic journey was proclaimed a triumph, one that could solidify the power of the pharaoh behind it&mdashespecially if that pharaoh were a woman.
Hatshepsut started out as a queen, married to a pharaoh. When he died, his son, from another wife, was just a young child.
CHERYL WARD: Hatshepsut became the regent, or guardian, acting head of state, for this four-year-old child. But she stepped into the role as a full king.
NARRATOR: If Hatshepsut wanted to retain full power as pharaoh, she would have to win the support of the temple priests. One way to do that was to deliver one of the most prized commodities of ancient Egypt: incense.
It was used constantly in temple ceremonies, a gift to the gods.
CHERYL WARD: The Egyptians used a lot of incense. It was scarce. It didn't come from Egypt. They had to get it from their faraway contacts. If Hatshepsut could get the priests the incense they craved and needed, she would establish herself as a strong, effective and powerful leader.
NARRATOR: Back then, the best source for incense like frankincense and myrrh was a land called Punt.
No one knows exactly where Punt was.
KATHRYN BARD (Boston University): What we know about Punt is the materials that came back from Punt.
NARRATOR: Things like ivory, ostrich eggs, giraffe and panther skins could all come from an area hundreds of miles south of Egypt in what is today Sudan or Eritrea.
To get there on the turbulent Red Sea, Hatshepsut would need tough, seagoing ships. But how could the Egyptians manage to build such vessels?
That's what Cheryl wants to find out.
She's organized a team of experts: an Egyptian archaeologist, Mohamed Abd-el-Maguid, and Tom Vosmer, an American who specializes in reconstructing ancient ships.
TOM VOSMER: I'd like to talk to Mohamed about how much this has changed since it got here.
NARRATOR: The building itself will mostly be done by the Lahma family, several brothers who run a shipyard about 50 miles from Alexandria and have a lot of experience with modern wooden boats.
They're led by Mahrous and Reda. Their oldest worker, Mosaad, is the most familiar with traditional building techniques and tools, like the adze, achieving amazing precision with the simple, sharp tool. And they seem fearless about their toes.
The team's first task is shaping and assembling the ship's keel, the central, bottom line of the ship's hull. The keel acts as a spine that everything else will be built around.
CHERYL WARD: Every boat that's ever been built begins with laying the keel and the precision with which these shipwrights work, with these very simple tools: levers, wedges, strings with the plumb bob.
NARRATOR: The shipwrights are using the plumb bob to make sure the enormous pieces of wood are in precisely the right place.
The laying of the keel is a ritual this ship shares with most others, even modern ones. But once that's done, these shipwrights will be heading into unfamiliar waters, because ancient Egyptian vessels were structurally nothing like today's boats.
Very few ancient boats have survived the millennia since pharaonic times, but one that has is absolutely spectacular. It was found at the most famous site in Egypt, the Giza Plateau, where three pharaohs built some of the biggest tombs in the world, along with the Great Sphinx.
The pharaoh Khufu started the project about 4,500 years ago, with the Great Pyramid. At its foot, archaeologists uncovered a boat-shaped pit. Inside was a pile of wood. When the scraps were assembled, this elegant boat, which may have been used in Khufu's funeral, took shape.
The fantastically preserved Khufu boat shows the incredible precision of the ancient shipwrights and reveals an unusual construction technique, vastly different from how ships are made today.
CHERYL WARD: Modern ships are built very differently from ancient ships. Modern ships get their strength from the frames. The frames are set up on a keel, they act like a skeleton for a thin skin of planking that is nailed on the outside.
NARRATOR: But none of the old Egyptian boats were built this way.
CHERYL WARD: Look at these timbers. Aren't they amazing?
NARRATOR: On Khufu's boat, there's no obvious skeleton. Instead, it's all skin.
The thick, irregularly shaped planks fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, held, not with nails, but with mortise-and-tenon joints. And, as this model shows, to add more support, rope was threaded through the planks and tightened to keep them from sliding apart.
Building these kinds of boats required massive pieces of wood.
TOM VOSMER: I'm quite overwhelmed by the size of the timbers. I think it's an incredible amount of wood.
NARRATOR: Egypt has never been a great place to find giant trees.
The pharaohs built their boats with enormous cedar trunks, imported from Lebanon. But today, the cedars of Lebanon are rare, so all this wood came from Europe.
CHERYL WARD: These trees, which were cut in France, they are about 120 years old. We chose to use Douglas fir, because its physical properties are most like ancient cedar.
NARRATOR: But even if we have the right kind of wood, how can we know what this ship looked like?
Khufu's boat is a masterpiece of nautical engineering and contains lots of clues, but this slender, graceful boat was never meant for sea travel. It's a ceremonial rowboat that floated only on the Nile River.
We want to build something much more substantial: a sturdy, seagoing sailing ship.
But evidence of these boats is much more elusive.
To find some clues, Cheryl Ward and ancient-boat expert Tom Vosmer head south from Cairo, boarding a train to Luxor. Their destination? The grand funerary temple of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, built about 1,000 years after the Great Pyramids.
Here, the ancient wall reliefs show up best at night.
A series of carvings shows several large sailing ships at different stages of a journey, their crew, rigging and cargo shown in amazing detail, even after 3,500 years.
TOM VOSMER: This is absolutely amazing, isn't it?
CHERYL WARD: It's stunning. It's just stunning. The detail is so precise. These are seagoing ships, they're great seagoing ships. They're huge. They are work ships they're not covered with fancy paintings, they don't have elaborate pavilions on them, they do not have ribbons and flags. They have people who are rowing, people who are sailing. They have the cargoes piled up. They are a veritable treasure house of information about the seafaring of ancient Egypt.
NARRATOR: According to the inscriptions here, the ships were sent by the pharaoh Hatshepsut to journey to a faraway land, called Punt, or "God's land," thought to be about 800 miles down the coast of the Red Sea.
But even with these elaborate pictures, some historians still find it hard to believe that the Egyptians could have pulled off such an ambitious journey.
CHERYL WARD: In spite of the details on the reliefs, modern scholars still argued constantly about where Punt was. They didn't understand how the Egyptian technology would have let them get there. And there were some people who said they were just ships on the Nile, that they never went to sea.
NARRATOR: Cheryl wants to prove, once and for all, that the doubters are wrong.
With the help of a naval architect, she turns one of Hatshepsut's two-dimensional ships into a 3-D model, and starts designing the 66-foot-long replica, plank by plank.
CHERYL WARD: There are a lot of difficulties right now, because there are literally thousands of decisions to be made: how long is this plank? How wide is this plank? What angle should this shape be? Every plank is unique. We have about 45 planks on each side, and they all fit together in an interlocking way.
NARRATOR: Back at his workshop, Tom Vosmer starts making a scale model, carving each tiny plank to fit with its neighbors.
TOM VOSMER: One of the amazing things, I think, in western minds anyway, is that there's no skeleton to build this boat around, we build the hull plank first and the planks&mdashthe shapes of these planks that I'm working on now&mdashactually determines the shape of the hull. Not the shape of any frame or molds or anything like that.
CHERYL WARD: It's like a puzzle. We have to put it together, and each piece must fit exactly to the other, to keep the water out and the ship floating.
TOM VOSMER: It's very complex. It's confusing me now. Basically what I'm doing right now is just experimenting with how these pieces go together and how we need to cut them. You can see, for example, this piece is cut two angles here it's curved here it's cut here it's got a little hook here and another little angle there. It's a really very, very complex three-dimensional puzzle.
NARRATOR: Working out a three-dimensional puzzle with tiny scraps of wood is one thing, but how will the plan work with full-scale timbers?
When Tom presents his model to the Lahma brothers, things become a bit more clear.
TOM VOSMER: That's the initial few strakes of planking.
CHERYL WARD: Very nice, Tom.
TOM VOSMER: . trying to understand how these all fit together. These two were very easy, this one is easy, these two: very difficult.
I think, with this model, they have been able to see in the three dimensions what is perhaps a little bit confusing in two dimensions. But now they can translate it completely from the drawing to this and go "Ah ha, this is how it works."
They understand the complexity of it they understand the joinery. Nobody's built a ship like this for thousands of years.
NARRATOR: The shipwrights are used to working in wood, but they've never built a boat of this design, where each giant plank will have a unique shape.
CHERYL WARD: Each plank is sculpted to fit exactly in place. That means that you take your piece of wood, you don't bend it, because they didn't bend wood, they carved it, just like you would carve a statue.
NARRATOR: And it's not just the jigsaw-puzzle structure of the ship that's new to the builders. They've got to attach the pieces together in a completely different way from modern boats. And it's still got to be secure enough so that, even on rough seas, the boat won't fall apart.
So how did the ancients do it?
On the Khufu boat, the planks were held together by a combination of mortise-and-tenon joints and rope lashing. But how were Hatshepsut's ship-planks held together?
There's no way to tell from the reliefs. What's needed are remains from actual seagoing vessels.
For years, Cheryl and other marine archaeologists have been diving along Egypt's coastlines, in both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, searching for ancient Egyptian shipwrecks.
They all came up empty-handed.
CHERYL WARD: I looked underwater for the remains of Egyptian seagoing ships, and we found nothing but sand.
NARRATOR: But now, some striking new discoveries could finally provide the answer.
The location is the desert site of Mersa Gawasis, about 100 miles northeast of the temples of Luxor, and right on the shores of the Red Sea. Just recently, archaeologists started uncovering amazing artifacts here, all related to ancient Egyptian seafaring.
More than a dozen stone anchors are found at the site.
When Cheryl is invited to visit, more surprises await inside a series of manmade caves.
CHERYL WARD: As you walk around some of the rock fall, suddenly you realize that on the floor of that are coils of rope that have not a grain of sand on them, laying there just like the Egyptians left them about 3,800 years ago. They're perfectly preserved.
KATHRYN BARD: It's absolutely the most rope that anyone's ever seen from ancient Egypt. It looks as if it was made yesterday. It looks exactly like modern rope.
NARRATOR: Kathryn Bard, one of the lead archaeologists here, finds more clues in the sand nearby: a pile of wooden crates, 3,800 years old.
KATHRYN BARD: We found an inscription on one of the boxes that in translation said: "The wonderful things of Punt." So, that could not be a better answer to what they were used for.
So there's no question, in my mind, that this was a harbor from where the Punt expeditions were sent and that they arrived back successfully with the "wonderful things of Punt."
NARRATOR: Punt was the place Hatshepsut claimed to have sent several ships to gather luxury goods.
The boxes and rope are fantastic discoveries for lead archaeologists Kathryn Bard and Rodolfo Fattovich. But, for Cheryl, the most intriguing finds are several large planks of wood, found scattered around the camp, buried in the sand.
They might not look like much, but, to Cheryl's expert eye, their peculiar shapes fit right into the ancient drawings of Egyptian ships.
RODOLFO FATTOVICH (Archeologist): Which part of the boat is this one?
CHERYL WARD: This is from the Punt relief, of course, and what we see is. this is a plank that can fit exactly here, and it touches here, on the center strake.
NARRATOR: Plank after plank is uncovered, riddled with holes&mdashholes drilled, not by tools, but by shipworms. Shipworms are actually saltwater mollusks that burrow into submerged wood.
CHERYL WARD: They're riddled with shipworm. Shipworms are only found in the sea. When I look at these planks, I know they're from seagoing ships.
NARRATOR: This is what Cheryl has been looking for for years, physical evidence of a pharaoh's seagoing vessel.
CHERYL WARD: Every piece of wood that we find here tells us so much more than we ever knew. Even if we had only one piece, it would tell a new story.
NARRATOR: One of the amazing stories these planks tell is how the Egyptian shipwrights joined their planks together. The thick planks have mortise holes for double rows of mortise-and-tenon joints.
But unlike the Khufu river boat, there are no holes for lashing the planks together with rope.
Cheryl is intent on following the ancient evidence, so this is the method the Lahma family will use on our replica ship: giant, thick pieces of timber, carefully carved and held together with lots and lots of mortise-and-tenon joints.
TOM VOSMER: Now they're marking it. They'll plane a little more, make it a tighter fit, a closer fit.
NARRATOR: With nothing tying the planks together, no one really knows if this boat will hold up once it hits the high seas.And the builders and Tom are wondering: with this strange, ancient ship design, how will they keep the water out?
CHERYL WARD: Trying to understand how to keep the inside of a ship dry preoccupies everybody who has any kind of boat at any time.
NARRATOR: Today's wooden ships are made watertight with caulking. Natural materials like cotton, or synthetics like silicone, are hammered and squeezed into the joints between the planks.
But the ancient planks Cheryl has seen seem clean.
CHERYL WARD: I have never seen any evidence of caulking, no material, no tool marks, nothing that would show that the Egyptians would have pounded material in between their plank seams, like you do on a modern boat.
NARRATOR: The lack of caulking troubles Tom. Without it, he fears, the joints won't be tight enough to hold out the water, especially if the ship is being jostled by rough sea waves.
But Cheryl has her own plan.
CHERYL WARD: Our plan is to sink the ship after it's built. To let it sit, submerged in water, for two weeks, allowing the planks to swell around their joints, and seal the joints more tightly together to keep the water out.
NARRATOR: For this method to have any chance of making the ship watertight, the joints, before swelling, need to be nearly perfect.
At the shipyard, seeing water poured onto the joints, Tom is feeling less confident in the plan.
TOM VOSMER: I just can't believe that there's no caulking whatsoever, there must have been something. It's almost inevitable, I think. I don't see how you can get a perfect fit over these oddly shaped planks, with the thickness they are, without something in there. And the archaeological evidence is thousands of years old something could have disappeared.
NARRATOR: Tom is painfully aware of the importance of a watertight ship. The last boat he built sank on its maiden voyage.
TOM VOSMER: It's a very strange feeling, as your feet sort of leave the deck and you get lighter and lighter, and suddenly the boat's not there supporting you anymore. It's a very strange feeling, rather frightening, as well.
NARRATOR: Despite Tom's fears, the shipwrights forge ahead.
Over several months, the extended Lahma family works away at the boat's hull.
Shipbuilding skills are passed on from parent to child, just as they were in ancient times. The Lahmas are carrying on a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, in Egypt. Since the very beginning, so much of Egyptian life revolved around the water.
CHERYL WARD: The Egyptian civilization grew up along the Nile. For thousands of years, people lived on its bank, and they crossed its waters. They used the water as a highway. The Egyptians weren't isolated, though. They didn't only focus on the Nile. They were part of a globalized system.
NARRATOR: According to ancient inscriptions, even during the Old Kingdom, 4,500 years ago, in the age of the pyramids, Egypt was already actively trading with other cultures: wood from Lebanon, wine and olive oil, also, from the eastern Mediterranean. But experts have debated whether the Egyptians used their own boats or relied on foreign shipbuilders.
Some believed that the Egyptian approach to boat-building wouldn't be good enough for sea travel. Now, we have a chance to find out if a ship held together almost exclusively with mortise-and-tenon joints will be sturdy enough for the Red Sea.
As the hull nears completion, the team gets an important new member. Long-distance sailor David Vann will serve as the ship's captain, if it ever makes it into the water.
David is immediately struck by the shape of the hull.
DAVID VANN: My first impression was that it looked like a giant wooden salad bowl and a really beautiful one. I've never sailed anything like this. This is the kind of boat they were sailing, up to 4,000 years ago. But compared to a boat now, of course, it will. the technical term would be a "pig." We would call it a pig now, you know, it 's a beamy, heavy, you know, short, fat boat that's going to move terribly through the water.
NARRATOR: Modern sailboats are narrower, with pointy keels that help grip the water and keep them from capsizing. This rounded hull looks like it could roll right over.
But the round, tubby shape isn't David's only concern.
DAVID VANN: I'm a little worried about this. I, I had a crack once in a boat, just a little hairline crack, and the title of my book about it is A Mile Down , because that boat sank in 5,000 feet of water&mdasha big 90 foot, very strong steel boat&mdashbecause of a little crack, and these are really big cracks.
As a captain, you're really not ever supposed to go sea in something that you think could possibly break, and so, you know, for the sake of the project, I'm doing something different than I would normally do, and I'm really worried about that. If we could just dip the whole thing in epoxy, that would be great, but I'm not sure they were using epoxy systems 4,000 years ago. So we'll see.
NARRATOR: The team is still determined to make the ship sound without any epoxy.
Following the ancient ship evidence, the shipwrights add a series of horizontal beams. They'll support the deck, but, more importantly, they'll help lock together the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the hull.
It's just about time to find out if this ship can be made watertight.
CHERYL WARD: The first thing we want to do is sink the boat, let it fill with water, let everything swell. And then we'll pump the water out of the inside and see if it's watertight. Maybe we need to do something else, and at that point we decide what to do.
NARRATOR: For the shipwrights, getting the boat to this moment, when it is moved into the Nile for the first time, is a huge accomplishment.
MOSAAD EL-HEDEK (Shipwright/In Arabic): Launching this boat is a truly wonderful thing for us, and, God willing, if we can do this, then we can meet any difficult challenge.
NARRATOR: But it's hard to maintain a celebratory mood when your ship quickly fills with water and sinks into the river.
Of course, according to Cheryl, this is all part of the plan. Still, to some crew members, it comes as a surprise.
SHIPWRIGHT(In Arabic): Why is the boat filled with water?
YOSRY LAHMA (Shipwright/In Arabic): Who said it wouldn't fill with water? It has to fill with water.
NARRATOR: Cheryl thinks the sinking of new ships was the norm for the Egyptians, but launching into the Red Sea was even more complicated, because the ships weren't built anywhere near the coast.
According to ancient inscriptions, seafaring ships were built on the Nile River, 90 miles from the sea.
CHERYL WARD: This was just incredible. What the Egyptians did was to completely build a ship on the Nile, then take it apart. Every single piece was disassembled. They loaded those disassembled pieces on donkeys and, with a train of men and donkeys in the thousands, walked across 90 miles of desert, to reach the shores of the Red Sea.
KATHRYN BARD: It wasn't easy at all. One inscription describes an expedition to Mersa Gawasis of 3,756 men.
CHERYL WARD: It's no wonder Hatshepsut bragged about this. It's a huge, huge undertaking.
NARRATOR: At the boatyard, the crew is dealing with their own huge undertaking. For weeks, the ship sits in the Nile River, filled with water.
Today, the crew starts to pump the water out.
By the end of the day, the boat is high and dry. The question is, will it stay that way?
Unfortunately, it doesn't. The ship is still riddled with leaks.
MOHAMED ABD-EL-MAGUID (Underwater Archaeologist/In French): We have a problem. At first, everything was going really well, but now.
(In Arabic) Do you think the archaeologists were crazy not to have reacted earlier, even though they were aware of the problem and did nothing to fix it?
REDA LAHMA (Shipwright/In Arabic): Go ahead. Go ahead, Mahrous, you answer that one.
MAHROUS LAHMA (Shipwright/In Arabic): The thing is, it's not a question of them being ignorant or anything. We expected the wood to swell more than it did, so it's because of the wood.
NARRATOR: The plan has not worked, and there's not much agreement about why. Some crew members blame the condition of the wood. Others say the joints weren't tight enough or it was crazy to build the boat without caulking in the first place.
Whatever the reason, if they want the ship to float, they've got to get it out of the water and find a way to plug the holes.
Tom immediately pushes to caulk the seams.
TOM VOSMER: So this is linen fiber? I wonder what would happen if we put this between our planks?
NARRATOR: The Egyptians definitely had linen and at the Red Sea camp at Mersa Gawasis archaeologist Kathryn Bard even found scraps of it buried in the sand.
KATHRYN BARD: We have excavated a lot of little tiny fragments of linen at the site. So possibly linen was used to stick into the cracks.
NARRATOR: The builders decide to use a combination of linen strips with soft beeswax. We don't know for sure if the Egyptians used this technique, but the materials were definitely available to them.
CHERYL WARD: Beeswax is a natural product. We know the Egyptians used it on their coffins, they used it on their furniture. We see it used as a fixative for their paints. So, I felt comfortable using natural fiber and beeswax just to fill the gaps. And it's working very well.
NARRATOR: This time, when the ship hits the water the seams hold.
The hull is finally finished and floating, but it's not about to go anywhere. For that, it will need some rigging.
Fortunately, Hatshepsut's reliefs show the ropes and sails in fantastic detail. And ancient ship models found in Egyptian tombs provide more clues.
The whole arrangement is known as a square rig, and it's very different from most of today's sailboats.
CHERYL WARD: The Egyptian rig is really simple. There's a central mast, there are two long pieces of wood we call "yards," that spread the sail, and lots and lots and lots of rope.
NARRATOR: Today, rope is still made by traditional methods in the streets near the shipyard, by twisting together plant fibers.
SHIPWRIGHT (In Arabic): You say they've done this for hundreds of years?
HAMDY LAHMA (Shipwright/In Arabic): Yes, the same, the exact same way.
NARRATOR: And of course, they'll need a sail.
To hold all this in place, the ship requires a sturdy mast. This massive tree trunk weighs just about a ton. The shipwrights get it aboard with just a ramp and a couple of ropes.
Next, comes the rigging. The mast has to hold and organize the web of ropes that will support the yardarms and sail.
According to Hatshepsut's reliefs, the top of the mast was rigged with a masthead, outfitted with metal loops that held more than a dozen ropes.
The team has replicated the design on our full-size mast, and now it's time to thread the loops.
DAVID VANN: It's such strange rigging. It's nothing like I've ever seen before. This is based on the relief. It's just a brand-new experience. I've never seen anything like it.
NARRATOR: With all the ropes finally looped through the masthead, now they have a much tougher task: getting the mast upright.
CHERYL WARD: What we're doing is getting ready to put the heel of the mast in this very small hole.
NARRATOR: For a modern ship, this would be done easily with a crane, but we're just using ropes, and as many guys as we can find at the shipyard.
The boat is built, and David Vann is eager to find out if it is truly seaworthy. Though the ancient Egyptians took their ships apart and loaded the pieces on donkeys for the journey to the Red Sea, our boat will stay in one piece and get a ride on an eighteen-wheeler.
As it's transported from the Nile shipyard to a Red Sea port near Mersa Gawasis, reality starts to set in.
Tom Vosmer has no idea how the boat will perform.
TOM VOSMER: I am a little bit afraid, yes. We don't know the boat we don't know the conditions we've never sailed this kind of boat before. It's silly not to be afraid.
NARRATOR: One of the big fears is that the boat, with a high center of gravity and a round hull, might easily tip over. To make the ship more stable, the crew stows about nine tons of sand to act as ballast.
DAVID VANN: This boat requires a huge amount of ballast. It's very important, because it gives us stability when we are sailing, so we don't tip over too much and dip a rail and turtle and sink&mdashslightly important!
CHERYL WARD: I'm most concerned about stability. I have no idea what's going to happen when we get on the ship. In some ways, I'm terrified.
NARRATOR: Finally, the moment has arrived to take the ship out into open water on the Red Sea and find out if it can hold up.
Soon after the boat is towed from the dock, the stability fears seem justified.
CHERYL WARD: Oh, I don't like the way this feels.
NARRATOR: Things don't feel much better when the crew tries out the oars.
DAVID VANN: Okay, so let's row now. This thing rocks a lot.
NARRATOR: No one wants the ship to capsize and sink, but just in case disaster strikes, a support boat is always nearby.
DAVID VANN: So now we're going to try to sail, raise the sail, and just have three rowers on each side.
NARRATOR: Everyone is anxious to get the sail up maybe the forward momentum will reduce the rocking.
CHERYL WARD: Just learning how to raise the sail was a challenge, because this very, very heavy sail and yard had to be hauled up without the help of pulleys.
NARRATOR: Then, suddenly, as the sail fills with wind, everything changes.
CHERYL WARD: I just feel stunned as the sail goes up and the wind catches it. I just can't believe it's actually sailing.
DAVID VANN: I want to just go straight downwind first, see how it is, what the speed is, and then we can change a little, see how the speed is.
NARRATOR: Captain David Vann points our ship southward.
DAVID VANN: Let's turn to port a little bit.
NARRATOR: Most scholars agree this is the direction Hatshepsut's ships would have sailed. Though the exact location of ancient Punt is still a mystery, it was most likely hundreds of miles down the African coast. For most of the year, the wind blows from the north.
CHERYL WARD: To sail south along the African coast of the Red Sea is easy. The prevailing wind is at your back. It pushes you along in a nice simple path, and you end up at Punt.
NARRATOR: Our crew won't be sailing that far, but they'll sail as far as they can in the right direction. And up to now, the ship is performing well.
CHERYL WARD: I am thrilled. I had no idea how smooth, how easy it would feel to be on this ship, with this glorious, ancient sail.
TOM VOSMER: I'm really impressed. The thing is tracking well. I mean we got the wind coming from just aft of the beam. We're making good speed, can't complain about that.
NARRATOR: To everyone's surprise, even with a rounded hull, the boat manages to stay on course.
The credit probably goes to a pair of giant steering oars lashed to the stern of the ship.
TOM VOSMER: This is really impressive.
DAVID VANN: I've never sailed anything like this at all, but what I'm amazed at is it feels like a modern boat. It's very solid, very stable, moves well. It amazes me that they had this 4,000 years ago, because it's not a bad sailboat, even today.
NARRATOR: The trip is beginning to seem easy, maybe too easy.
Then one night, the weather turns and the wind comes up. It's clear that the Red Sea has a bigger test in store for the ship and its crew.
DAVID VANN: Most of us didn't sleep last night with how much it was rocking&mdashreally wildly&mdashand there was a lot of wind. And today, there's too much wind to do the full sail. There's about 20 knots of wind, and that's too much for our main sail.
NARRATOR: With much stronger winds putting too much force on the large sail, the cotton cloth could rip, so the crew will try out a smaller sail they brought along.
DAVID VANN: Not, not a lucky turn of events for us, because we've only had a couple days on this boat, and it would be nice if the conditions could remain a little lighter. So we'll see.
CHERYL WARD: I was really apprehensive. The waves were 10 feet high in some cases, and we had no idea how the ship would respond. It was scary.
Where is your lifejacket? Lifejacket!!
DAVID VANN: We don't really have solid information on how far over this boat has to go to turtle and really go over, but we took some water over the port rail, so that was certainly exciting.
CHERYL WARD: Okay, we need to do something pretty quickly here.
NARRATOR: Even though the ship, held together with just wood and rope, creaks and groans, it manages to weather the storm. And despite the rocking, it surfs gracefully over the crests of the waves.
The ship is sailing faster than anyone expected, so Cheryl thinks the trip to Punt might have taken just a month. Getting back would have taken longer. With the winds from the north, the Egyptians may have had to row back, or they might have sailed in a circle around the opposite coast of the Red Sea.
Either way, the crew is convinced this ship could handle the journey.
TOM VOSMER: Probably the thing that will stick with me the most is just the thrill of surfing down those waves and just feeling the whole boat move and the power it had and the incredible power that that sail has. I mean, we were doing seven knots sometimes, and it was really good fun.
NARRATOR: And though he called it a pig, Captain David Vann is amazed at how safe and effective the ship feels.
DAVID VANN: What I love about this rig is it's incredibly easy to sail downwind. It's my favorite boat I've ever sailed on&mdashand that includes many modern boats&mdashfor sailing downwind. I think it's wonderful. I think it's fun to sail. I would sail across an ocean with this. I think it's fun.
CHERYL WARD: I'm ecstatic. We showed that a ship built with ancient technology, based, as much as possible, on duplicating archaeological evidence, can easily sail the Red Sea. No one can argue that Egyptian technology wasn't sufficient for that. In fact they've got to rethink their whole approach to understanding seafaring in the ancient world.
NARRATOR: The ancient Egyptians have always been honored as kings of the Nile, but now finally, they can be celebrated as masters of the sea.