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Topics: Topics: Military
Government > Military

Egypt was considered the most peaceful country in the ancient world. Its natural boundaries, the First Cataract on the Nile at Aswan, the deserts east and west of the Nile Valley, and the Mediterranean coast to the north, provided plenty of protection from outsiders, and Egyptians themselves were not a society of invaders or conquerors.

At that time, Egypt had a loosely organized, part-time army and crude, inferior weapons. A small core of regular soldiers were scattered throughout the country to preserve law and order and to protect public buildings, palaces, and cemeteries. The government used mandatory recruitment of the youth and peasants in times of crises.

However, war was not to be avoided. The image of a king slaughtering foreigners was constantly repeated throughout ancient history. Many wooden models were found portraying marching soldiers. Egyptians referred to their enemies as the "Nine Bows." The figure "nine" represented three times three, which the ancient Egyptians considered the "Plurality of Pluralities," symbolizing all possible enemies.

Nations such as the Hittites that held valuable resources the Egyptians wanted were one type of enemy. Except for the Nubians, they were usually not a threat to Egypt as invaders. Other enemies were a direct threat to Egypt as an invading force and possessed little that Egypt wished to have. These enemies included the Libyans, Persians, and the Mediterranean Sea Peoples.

After the Middle Kingdom, Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Asiatic kings, known as the Hyksos. They came to Egypt with horses, chariots, and copper weapons, which the Egyptians would later adapt for their own armies. The Hyksos were eventually expelled, but this interlude of foreign rule resulted in a new, aggressive professional army with improved weaponry, such as the khepesh, a sickle sword similar to Asiatic curved swords. Egypt became a major military power and the New Kingdom characterized an aggressive nation rather than the defensive one it had been previously.

The army was made up of the infantry and chariotry divisions, commanded by either the king or one of the princes. These divisions consisted of approximately 5,000 soldiers and each division was named after an Egyptian god. Some men chose the army as their profession due to the privileges it provided. They were given untaxed plots of land and daily provisions of fine foods. There was a general code of conduct that soldiers were proud to adhere to, like returning safely to the homeland with the army, no quarrelling among soldiers, obeying orders, and not attacking civilians or their properties.

During the New Kingdom, King Tuthmosis the Third and King Ramesses the Second stand out as great military leaders. The Battle of Kadesh is one of the earliest battles that can be reliably reconstructed in detail from various records on both sides of the conflict. It was fought between Ramesses the Second and the Hittites over control of Syrian territory. After both sides realized no victory was near, the first peace treaty in the world was signed.

At the beginning of the Ptolemaic reign in Egypt, the Ptolemies depended on Macedonians and Greeks to form their army, because most wars during that era were fought on water. Egyptians had little experience in this and so their participation was limited. However, after an expansion in military operations, especially due to frequent wars with Syria, King Ptolemy the Fourth had to recruit about 20,000 Egyptians. Thanks to them, the Ptolemies were able to achieve victory over the Saluki invasion in a decisive battle at Rafah in AD 217. Afterward, the Egyptians' position improved and their power increased within the Ptolemaic Army.

In the Roman era, the majority of the army were Romans, especially during the first 150 years of the Roman reign in Egypt. Afterward, the number of local soldiers increased until they became the majority in the army of Byzantine Egypt. Military service in the Roman era lasted for 25 years and soldiers were not allowed to get married during their service.

During the Islamic reign of Egypt, Arabs prohibited the Egyptians from serving in the military, except for subsidiary work. When the Arabs found that Egyptian soldiers had good experience on the sea, they used them to establish Islamic marine power in the Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs also benefited from the experience of the Egyptians in shipbuilding. Egypt became a marine base and there were a number of shipbuilding arsenals in Al-Roda, Alexandria, and Damietta.

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