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Weapons of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Sumer)

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Haunty is a history buff who enjoys reading and writing about ancient history and cultures from around the world.

The Egyptian deity Horus spearing the enemy. The carving is from around 332 BC.

The Egyptian deity Horus spearing the enemy. The carving is from around 332 BC.

A Visual History of Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian Swords, Daggers and Blades

For the bow and spear-wielding ancient Egyptian or Mesopotamian (or Sumerian) warriors, swords and blades were a rare commodity. Since they were expensive to produce and required special skills to use, swords only became fashionable after around 1000 BCE, when Middle Eastern soldiers first came into conflict with enemy swordsmen from other regions.

The Egyptians and Mesopotamians made their arrowheads from flint and bronze, and they were able to pierce even the best body armors of the time within close range. Alongside the spears that were used as thrusting weapons, Middle Eastern soldiers also used bronze battle-axes to combat their enemies.

Here is a closer look at some of the weapons warriors in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia used.

A map detailing Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) and ancient Egypt (along the Nile). Where the Tigris and Euphrates meet is the area of Sumer. The whole region is also often referred to as the Fertile Crescent.

A map detailing Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) and ancient Egypt (along the Nile). Where the Tigris and Euphrates meet is the area of Sumer. The whole region is also often referred to as the Fertile Crescent.

Figure 1: A ceremonial dagger of Queen Pu-Abi of Ur, Sumer.

Figure 1: A ceremonial dagger of Queen Pu-Abi of Ur, Sumer.

Mesopotamian (Sumerian) Swords and Daggers

The ceremonial dagger in Figure 1 is Sumerian and dates to c. 2500 BCE. It weighs about 34 oz (950 g), while its length is about 10 in (25 cm). The double-edged blade is made of gold, and the hilt is made from lapis lazuli gemstones decorated with gold. The intricate geometric design of the sheath is remarkable.

This exquisite dagger most likely belonged to the Sumerian Queen Pu-Abi (who died around 2500 BCE), and she carried it on her eternal journey to the afterlife.

The dagger was excavated from her burial site in the Royal Cemetery at present-day Ur, Iraq.

Figure 2: A bronze short-sword from the Luristan region of the Near East.

Figure 2: A bronze short-sword from the Luristan region of the Near East.

The Near Eastern short sword in Figure 2 dates to c. 1500–1000 BCE. Its length is 12.5 in (32.3 cm). It is broad-bladed, and like most bladed weapons of the time, it was made of bronze. Such swords most likely belonged to common soldiers.

One uncommon thing about this sword is its handle design. It features an iron spacer decoration in the center, which might have been a kind of open cage design. The counterweight at the end of the hilt is open, with an iron tube running up through it into the pommel center.

Figure 3: The funerary battle-axe of Queen Ahhotep I, bearing the cartouche of King Ahmose I.

Figure 3: The funerary battle-axe of Queen Ahhotep I, bearing the cartouche of King Ahmose I.

Funerary Axe and Dagger of Egyptian Queen Ahhotep I

Figure 3 shows the funerary ceremonial axe of the influential and warlike Queen Ahhotep I of Egypt. The axe bears the sign or cartouche of her son, King Ahmose I.

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A cartouche is an oblong figure in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics enclosing characters that express the names of royal personages. The axe dates to c. 1560–1530 BCE.

Figure 4: The coffin lid of Queen Ahhotep I, along with weapons and small trinkets recovered from the Queen's grave in the Dra Abu el-Naga tomb.

Figure 4: The coffin lid of Queen Ahhotep I, along with weapons and small trinkets recovered from the Queen's grave in the Dra Abu el-Naga tomb.

Figure 4 shows the inner coffin lid of the Egyptian queen Ahhotep I, along with weapons and small trinkets recovered from the queen's grave in the Dra Abu el-Naga tomb.

Figure 5: An ornamental golden dagger given as a gift to Egyptian Queen Ahhotep I by her son, Ahmose I.

Figure 5: An ornamental golden dagger given as a gift to Egyptian Queen Ahhotep I by her son, Ahmose I.

Figure 5 shows the ornamental golden dagger given to Ahhotep I as a gift from her son, Ahmose I. He would go on to become pharaoh and the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. This dagger was also found in the queen's coffin in her tomb in Thebes.

Figure 6: The dagger of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's.

Figure 6: The dagger of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's.

Egyptian Swords and Daggers

Pharaoh Tutankhamun's sword, shown in Figure 6, dates to c. 14th century BCE Egypt. The sword is somewhat longer than average Near Eastern short swords at a length of 16¼ in (41.1 cm).

The sword boasts a double-edged iron blade, which was a rarity in the period of Tutankhamun's reign (1333–1323 BCE). The Egyptians did not have direct access to iron ore, and most of their supplies arrived from the Near East, often by routes controlled by the enemies of Egypt. The handle is decorated with gold.

Figure 7: An ordinary Egyptian copper long-sword.

Figure 7: An ordinary Egyptian copper long-sword.

Figure 7 shows an ordinary Egyptian copper long-sword with a mushroom-shaped pommel at the top of the sword’s grip to provide balance. The handle is gold-coated, and the blade is double-edged. This Egyptian long-sword dates to 1539–1075 BCE. Its length is 16 in (40.6 cm).

This sword was not very effective in combat. Though copper was readily available in Egypt, the weapons made from it were significantly weaker than bronze and iron weapons. The blade could not be made to take a sharp edge.

Until the beginning of the New Kingdom around 1570 BCE, swords had not been held in particularly high esteem in Egypt. It was only the inevitable encounters with the warlike people from the Near East that urged the Egyptians to develop edged weapons capable of piercing through body armor. Broad-bladed swords like these became ideal for this purpose.

Figure 8: The cruel Egyptian scimitar or sickle-sword.

Figure 8: The cruel Egyptian scimitar or sickle-sword.

Egyptian Sickle Sword

Perhaps the most infamous of Egyptian swords was likely the Khopesh or sickle sword that the Egyptians adopted from the Canaanites. It was both an infantry weapon used to butcher enemies in battle and a symbol of the authority of the nobility. See Figure 8 above.

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Comments

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