Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.01.21

Anthony J. Spalinger, War in Ancient Egypt. Ancient World at War Series.   Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing, 2005.  Pp. 291.  ISBN 1-4051-1372-3.  $29.95 (pb).  



Reviewed by Peter C. Nadig, RWTH-Aachen (cvr@rwth-aachen.de)
Word count: 1420 words

Anthony J. Spalinger (hereafter Sp.) has written a very handy and innovative introduction on the war machine of New Kingdom Egypt (ca. 1550-1070 BC). The author concentrates primarily on the basic logistics of ancient Egyptian warfare and avoids the commonplace historical surveys of the wars conducted by various kings. His focus aims at an analysis of military effectiveness of the Egyptians. Descriptions of weaponry employed in battle, defensive, and offensive abilities of the Egyptians and subsequent successes outside Egypt get less emphasis here. Sp. also spares the reader "a blow-by-blow" account of each campaign. War in Ancient Egypt is structured in sixteen chapters, eleven of which deal with the XVIIIth Dynasty. Every chapter is divided into three parts: the main text is followed by an "excursus", graphically set apart by a gray font, which summarizes the relevant scholarly literature and gives some additional commentary. The endnotes conclude each chapter. A general bibliography and an index round out the book.

Chapter one, "Prelude to New Kingdom Warfare" (1-31), presents the historical outlook of Egypt at the end of the Second Intermediate Period (1630-1520 BC) and the commencement of Dynasty XVIII. During the former most of northern Egypt was controlled by a dynasty of Asiatic foreigners, the Hyksos, who had their capital in the delta city of Avaris, modern Tell ed-Dab'a. A succession of native rulers from Thebes (Dynasty XVII) took up the fight and finally expelled the Hyksos early in Dynasty XVIII. Sp. evaluates the military terminology of the Thebans and, at greater length, the changes in the military technology of that period when horses and chariots were not only introduced in Egypt but employed with success against the enemy who introduced them. He also examines the types of horses and chariots used by both sides, and, most interestingly, explains that the image of the fighting king driving a chariot was depicted at a far earlier date than previously thought. Here Sp. points to some limestone relief fragments from the pyramid temple of Ahmose, the first king of Dynasty XVIII, in Abydos. These fragments are partially shown in photographs and completely in line drawings alongside a tentative reconstruction of the original depiction.

Chapter two (32-45) is a brief discussion of the technological and physical constraints of early Dynasty XVIII. The author gives some thought to the possible travel distance per day by the Egyptian army as well as the supply needed for men, horses, and mules. The war record of Thutmose III on his way to Megiddo provides some reliable information here. Special attention is paid to travelling routes through Palestine, which might have put a constraint on the size and advancement of the Egyptian army, and raises the possibility that it was not a large one by later standards of the ancient world. The "Southern and Northern Expansion" into Nubia and Asia by the first kings of Dynasty XVIII is the theme of chapter three (46-69). Among other things the velocity of maritime vessels is investigated here. Chapter four (70-82) examines the change in military tasks, titles, and ranks as well as political theology when the king became the deputy and son of Amun. One major change was the increasing professionalization of the Egyptian army. While higher officers had previously also been engaged in paramilitary functions, their role now became purely military. Sp. also emphasizes the importance of the charioteers as a new elite sector which replaced that of the naval commanders. A thorough analysis of the battle of Megiddo and its results is followed in chapter five (83-100).

The sixth chapter, "The Pharaoh on Campaign: Ideal and Real" (101-109), takes a brief look at how the army, and particularly the king, camped out while on a campaign by comparing the record of the battles of Megiddo and Kadesh. Chapter seven (110-129) evaluates the military situation in Asia and Nubia after Megiddo until the reign of Thutmose IV. The main focus is primarily on the gains of military campaigns on the basis of the later campaign records of Thutmose III. Sp. begins by analyzing the ambiguous Egyptian term "inu", which is commonly translated as plunder but in a more native context refers to an extraordinary delivery of goods. Further attention is drawn to the development of weaponry (bows, axes) and the different chariot types as depicted in artwork. Egyptian imperialism in Asia under Thutmose III is outlined in chapter eight (130-139). Sp. concentrates on the Egyptian geographical terms for the region (Upper Retjenu, or just Retjenu and Kharu) and the war booty as recorded in the sources, some of which, as he clarifies, was used to supply the troops. The following chapter (140-159) discusses the economy and warfare of the XVIIIth Dynasty by assessing the population size in Egypt and the occupied territories in Asia. Here the rations needed by the army, which had to be supplied by the local population, is estimated. While the author cites the Amarna Letters throughout his book, chapter ten (160-168) gives a more detailed examination of these unique documents and their references to warfare in the times of Amenhotep III and IV.

Chapter eleven (169-186) investigates the rising influence of the military at the end of Dynasty XVIII and the beginning of Dynasty XIX. The aspects of early Dynasty XIX warfare under Seti I is the theme of chapter twelve (187-208). Sp. analyzes the pictorial as well epigraphic evidence of six registers on the northern exterior wall of the Hypostyle Court between the second and third pylon at Karnak and offers a reconstruction of Seti's campaigns against Asia and Libya. The battle of Kadesh was the final and decisive battle in Asia. It is primarily known from numerous accounts from various temples of Ramesses II. A succinct examination of these sources and the historical background of this confrontation and its aftermath is covered in chapter thirteen (209-234). The next chapter (235-248) deals with the challenges of the two main successors of Ramesses II, his son Merenptah and Ramesses III, the second king of Dynasty XX. Both had to fight off invasions by the Libyans and the Sea Peoples. The author takes a close and critical look at troop figures in the official battle reports. Chapter fifteen, "Egypt on the Defensive" (249-263), covers the campaigns of Ramesses III against the Sea Peoples. While the king could fight them off Egyptian soil, he was not able to dislodge them from Canaan. The last chapter (264-277) assesses the social system of the military in the later Ramesside period, i.e. Dynasty XX. Here Sp. turns to several papyri (P. Wilbour, P. Anastasi I-III, P. Lansing, and P. Kollier). During Dynasty XX Egypt lost its hold on Asia. The gradual loss of this region and the increase of mercenaries, many of whom were Libyan, in the Egyptian army is discussed here. This transition led to the growing power of Libyan families as the military turned into a ruling warrior class.

The information on warfare in Ancient Egypt fills not only volumes but justifies numerous separate studies. Sp. has approached this subject by concentrating on the logistic aspects of the military in the New Kingdom, where Egypt reached its peak of expansion after the successful introduction of a new weapon, the horsedrawn chariot. The author shows a thorough familiarity with the ancient sources and relevant literature on military topics , ancient and modern. In fact, he often makes comparisons with campaigns of later ages, where armies might have faced similar topographical and logistic challenges. Spalinger's tight focus notwithstanding, his study might have been more rounded if it had not started with Dynasty XVII, but with a general introduction on how warfare was conducted during the earlier history of Egypt, although. there are some sporadic references to that throughout the book. Also some greater emphasis on possible political motives might have added some weight, for example, why does Ramses II shows himself as the sole victor many years after Kadesh while pointing out the failure of his own military? It also might have enriched this work (and this might be a suggestion for a second edition) if we were given a few pages on the visual concept of the king slaying his enemies, which existed from Pre-dynastic to Roman times. This depiction, where the king slays his kneeling enemy/enemies with a piriform club, can be paralleled by the image of the charging king on a chariot on New Kingdom monuments. In any case, Sp.'s book is a stimulating and highly competent study no one who deals with New Kingdom warfare should overlook.

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