Subject: nakhtu-aa 'strong-of-arm' heavy infantry
Culture: Middle Kingdom Egyptian
Setting: imperial warfare, Egypt 2055-1650BC
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Fields/Bull 2007 p5
"That the Middle Kingdom heralded a huge development of military organization and hierarchy is clearly reflected in the emergence of such specific titles as 'chief of the leaders of the town militia', 'soldier of the town militia', 'crew of the ruler', 'chief of the leaders of the dog partols' and 'scribe of the army'. The last was a duty of great importance. In an age where literacy levels were extremely low -- the extent of literacy has been tentatively estimated at less than 1 per cent of the population -- reports and orders could be passed in writing and only be accessible to those senior officials who could either read or had access to their own scribes. Remaining textual sources, such as the so-called Semna Dispatches, also indicate that the Middle Kingdom army had a sizeable 'tail', an administrative infrastructure manned by state bureaucrats (scribal and managerial) who could handle all of the routine chores of military housekeeping with competence. By the time of Senusret III (r. 1874-1855 B.C.), with the centralization of power and the creation of fortresses with their permanent garrisons, the army, supported by its administrative body, was a bottomless pit of expenditure, consuming the surplus production that had earlier fuelled the peaceful building programme of the pyramids."
* Fields/Bull 2007 p13
"All Egyptian units in this period were exclusively made up of foot soldiers, of which there were two distinct types. Tactics were firmly based on the use of dense formations of close-order archers (megau, 'shooters') and open-order hand-to-hand fighters (nakhtu-aa, 'strong-of-arm'), perhaps split 50-50."
* Fields/Bull 2007 p13-14
"Wearing neither body armor nor head protection and even barefoot, these soldiers are invariably depicted in funerary art wearing the same bleached linen kilt as that worn by civilian labourers and field-workers.
"Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant, which was grown extensively in ancient Egypt. The extremely fine threads were woven into cloth to produce a gauze-like material. The kilts themselves were made from a simple triangle of linen some 50 centimetres wide. The base of the triangle was placed around the back of the wearer and the two corners tied in front of the body. The third corner was pulled between the legs and under the tied corner and then allowed to hang down in front of the groin. ...
"Over his kilt a soldier could wear the so-called naval kilt. This was a leather garment that protected the linen kilt from wear and tear. Believed to have originated in Nubia, 'naval kilts' were made from a single panel of soft hide. This was webbed methodically using a sharp implement so that it resembled a net, although a square patch of leather was left intact at the seat. Being webbed meant the garment was more flexible, and it was fastened around the waist by a thin strip of leather that was incised with holes. Middle Kingdom soldiers did not have body armour or helmets."
* Shaw 2019 p96-97
"In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the conventional axe usually consisted of a semi-circular copper head tied to a wooden handle by cords, threaded through perforations in the copper, and wrapped around lugs. At this stage there was little difference between the battle axe and the woodworker's axe. In the Middle Kingdom, however, some battle axes had longer blades with concave sides narrowing down to a curved edge. The Egyptians more commonly used the tang-style cutting axe than the socketed axe found primarily in Western Asia. A particularly common axe in Egypt was the three-tanged epsilon axe, which was frequently used in battle during the Middle Kingdom; it was manufactured with three tangs wedged into grooves in a spear-styled haft, and secured with cord. 'Duck-bill' axes were also common in this period, and are clearly depicted in the tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hasan (BH3); this type of axe remained in use during the Second Intermediate Period when more rounded forms were developed, before being replaced by a splayed variety, with straight or incurved sides, that became predominant in the New Kingdom. This change is believed to have been adopted to improve the axe's ability to penetrate the target. The design is also widely regarded as linked to the development of body armour. The axe remained an important weapon up to the end of the 18th Dynasty, until it was gradually supplanted by the sickle sword ...."
* Fields/Bull 2007 p18-19
"This shock weapon usually consisted of a D-shaped or a rounded copper axe-head lashed to a wooden handle by rawhide thongs, threaded through perforations in the metal and wrapped around projecting lugs. The use of wet rawhide thongs, which shrank and tightened as they slowly dried, produced an extremely strong fixing. Blades could easily be removed from damaged or broken hafts, which could then be replaced. This would not have required specialist skills and could be undertaken by the soldier in the field. Hafts were usually made of willow, a native wood that was suitably strong.
"Another type of battleaxe was the splayed axe. This kind had a longer blade with concave sides narrowing down to a slightly curved cutting edge. Again blades were simply lashed to a wooden handle using rawhide thongs passing through holes at the base of the blade and around the haft. Yet another type, the epsilon axe, was also particularly common in the Middle Kingdom. So-called by Egyptologists because of its resemblance to the Greek letter ε, it had a wide convex cutting edge and three tangs, each perforated with one or more holes, by which it was attached to the haft using copper pins or rivets.
"For all these types of battleaxe the haft was often slightly curved, and the end with which it was grasped was wider than the central part of the shaft. This shape enabled the soldier to swing without the weapon slipping from his hand. The haft was also part-wrapped with leather or linen to produce an efficient grip, especially important if it became wet with sweat (or blood). When not in use the battleaxe was secured against the body. Often this was easily done by a soldier simply tucking the weapon into the back of his kilt."
* Darnell/Manassa 2007 p75
"Broad but short, curved blades attached to a long pole were common through the late Middle Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom, the duck-billed ax, named for the overall shape and two cutouts resembling nostrils, was introduced from Syria-Palestine."
* Fields/Bull 2007 p22
"Shields are depicted in funerary art and in many tomb models of the period. Shields were large, usually between 1 and 1.5 metres in height, and probably fairly heavy, as they were made of tough cowhide stretched over a wooden frame and stitched together. Their solid construction was sufficient to protect the user in battle from incoming arrows and other missiles, as well as from close-quarter weapons such as spears and battleaxes. Shields might be painted with black spots, or with mottled brown and black patches on a white or buff background, which may have imitated cowhide.
"The characteristic shape of the Egyptian shield, which usually tapered towards the top to a curve or a pointed edge something like a Gothic window, was ideally suited to allow soldiers deployed in close-order to form a continuous wall of shields. The flat base allowed it to be planted firmly on the ground to form a temporary palisade to protect both hand-to-hand fighters and archers, the latter being able to fire over the heads of their fighting comrades.
"A handgrip, either of wood or plaited rawhide was attached to the wooden framework. Rawhide thongs could also be attached to the handgrip for occasions (such as sieges) when the shield needed to be slung over the shoulder and across the back, leaving both hands free."
* Darnell/Manassa 2007 p83
"[T]all, full-coverage shields are known from the Middle Kingdom."
* Darnell/Manassa 2007 p74
"Some use of the mace on the battlefield appears to have persisted at least into the Middle Kingdom" ....
* Fields/Bull 2007 p20-22
"For close-quarter work and delivering the coup de grâce to one's fallen enemy, the weapon used was a dagger. The blade of this shock weapon was short and double-edged, and was designed primarily for stabbing, rather than slashing, so that it created a deep, narrow wound in the body of the opponent.
"The earliest copper daggers are made from a single sheet of flat metal, whilst later examples are made with a clearly defined mid-ridge to the blade, which gives additional strength. Handles were of wood, bone or ivory, and scabbards of wood or leather were used to protect the blade when not in use. The earliest examples are small enough to be carried tucked into the waistbands of the soldiers' kilts. Otherwise they could be carried on a band around the arm.
"Some daggers have rounded pommels on the end of the handles. These may appear decorative, but have the practical purpose of helping the wielder of the weapon keep a secure grip on it and prevent it from slipping from his hand. The weight of a pommel, usually cast in one piece with the blade and the handle of the dagger, also produced a better-balanced weapon. The addition of a pommel marks the transition from a knife to a dagger. Daggers continued as one of the most popular weapons of the Bronze Age."
* Shaw 2019 p97-98
"The dagger, typically made from copper alloy, retained roughly the same design throughout the majority of the Bronze Age. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, it grew in popularity as a weapon for stabbing and crushing at close quarters. The two-edged blade, which, prior to the New Kingdom, was usually riveted to a bone or ivory handle, was sometimes decorated with grooves in the form of plants or birds."