Last Updated 10 May 2021

The Military in New Kingdom Egypt

Category Egypt, Military
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In New Kingdom Egypt, the military became very important. The army evolved from being a disorganised band of conscripted peasants into a lethal, professional outfit well equipped and ready for combat. Egypt became the most expansionist it had even been in its history. The emergence of Egypt’s army started in the 18th Dynasty when Ahmose expelled the Hyksos from Egypt. Tuthmosis I and Tuthmosis III and also Ramses II and Ramses III further maintained Egypt’s military strength in campaigns ranging from Nubia to Syria.

Prior to the New Kingdom in Egypt, the country’s military was an unprofessional group made up at different times of peasants, Nubian and Greek mercenaries and the King’s personal troops. In the New Kingdom, this changed dramatically. For the first time Egypt had a standing army, and being a soldier brought prestige and social standing as it had not done in the past. With the advances in the way the army was made up, there were also major advances in the equipment they used. For the first time body armour was used, as well as the sickle sword.

During the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, Ahmose brought military to the fore of Egyptian life. He was the first king of the 18th Dynasty and probably ruled from 1539-1514 BC. Ahmose attacked Avaris and subsequently the Palestinian fortress of Sharuhen to end the Hyksos’ reign over Egypt. Ahmose then turned to Nubia and Egypt’s land grew south to the Second Cataract. After this Ahmose returned his attentions to Palestine and may have led campaigns as far as the Euphrates. Tuthmosis I followed soon after Ahmose’s reign and was highly trained in military practises.

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He only ruled for a short time – around 1493-1481 BC. However Tuthmosis I was a very effective general and in several campaigns, Tuthmosis I reached Argo, the Third Cataract, in Nubia and also the Euphrates River – while fighting the Syrians. He also defended Egypt’s colonies against the Mitanni people. Tuthmosis III was also very focussed on military. It is possible he spent most of his younger years in the military as his stepmother and regent, Hatshepsut, took over the rule of Egypt when Tuthmosis III was only very young.

Tuthmosis III only took over the governance of Egypt when Hatshepsut finally died, leaving him free to take his rightful place. He ruled from around 1504-1450 BC, although for part of that time Hatshepsut may have been ruling. However once Tuthmosis III was king of Egypt, he led many successful military campaigns. He has even been referred to as the ‘Napoleon of Egypt’. In the battle for Megiddo, Tuthmosis III led his troops to fight through a narrow pass where soldiers could only march single file.

When the army emerged from the canyon it was discovered that the enemy troops has arranged their lines expecting an attack from the two easier routes, and the Egyptians subsequently defeated their enemy in battle. In other wars, Tuthmosis III and his army marched from Thebes along the Syrian coast and captured three cities. Every year after that, Egypt’s armies would march against Syria until dominance over Palestine was established. Tuthmosis III recorded the capture of 350 cities at Karnak and he finally took the Syrian city Kadesh in his 42nd year of rule.

The military continued to play a part in Egypt’s affairs during the New Kingdom with Ramses II. He was part of the 19th Dynasty and ruled from 1279-1213 BC. His most well known campaign was the Battle of Kadesh, although he brilliantly maintained Egypt’s borders against the Sherden (pirates) and created a defensive line of forts along Egypt’s north western border. Ramses II also made a peace treaty with the Hittites, which led to Egypt prospering greatly. Furthermore, Ramses II secured the kingdom of Amurru to return to Egyptian influence, as it had been lost during his father’s reign.

However, the Battle of Kadesh was his most famous, although was neither a victory but more of a loss for the Egyptians. Ramses II advanced on the Hittite army from the south, but was led to believe by captured enemy scouts that the Hittites were still far away to the north. Ramses set up camp only to find that the Hittites had already arrived for battle, and tried to hurry the rest of his army forward. However, 2 500 Hittites ambushed them as they tried to meet up with Ramses’ forces and were defeated. The Hittites then attacked Ramses and his troops.

According to documentation, Ramses almost single-handedly held off the Hittites. However, it may be the case that the Hittites were simply distracted by the riches in the camp. Ramses was then saved by the appearance of the Ne’arin, another body of troops, which Ramses had separated in order to approach Kadesh from the north. The armies may have fought again the next day, but the end result of the conflict was the peace treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites. This then prevented Egypt from ever taking control of Kadesh.

Ramses III was the last great Pharaoh of Egypt and ruled in the 20th Dynasty from 1184-1153 BC. In Ramses III’s reign, the Libyans attacked in the south but were crushed by the Egyptian army. However, Ramses and Egypt had a more powerful threat to deal with: the Sea People, who had destroyed the Hittite empire. The Sea People moved into Egypt from Syria with the intention of settling. Luckily for Egypt Ramses was quick to send his army to fend off the Sea Peoples and the crisis was averted at least for a time.

Next, the Sea People approached from the sea, a cleaver move considering Egypt’s poor naval force. However again Egypt fended off this attack and saved itself once more. Ramses again proved himself an effective general while defending from another attack from the Libyans and Meshwesh which left 2 000 enemy soldiers dead on the battlefield. However, once the New Kingdom collapsed Egypt lost most (if not all) of it’s colonies and was mostly ruled by foreigner. No one ever saw the likes of what occurred in the New Kingdom again.

The military in the New Kingdom Egypt was an organised and prestigious machine unlike anything that Egypt had seen before. Several Pharaohs stood out from the rest in terms of what they did for Egypt: Ahmose, who expelled that Hyksos; Tuthmosis I and Tuthmosis III who led campaigns in Nubia, Argo, Syria and Kadesh; Ramses II and Ramses III were both excellent generals who maintained Egypt’s borders and fought to maintain the existence of Egypt. During New Kingdom Egypt the military became more important than it had ever been in the last years of power of the world’s most fantastic nations.

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