Khopesh – The Deadly Sword That Forged The Egyptian Empire

Khopesh – The Lethal Blade Paving the Way for the Egyptian Empire: Despite its profound ties to Egypt, the khopesh did not originate within its borders. Mesopotamia took the lead in crafting the earliest forms of the khopesh by the beginning of the second millennium BC.

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Ancient Egypt had a significant role in the development of contemporary Western culture. Egypt has always held a position in the minds of Westerners as an enigmatic country home to lost civilizations, centuries-old wisdom, and secret knowledge. The same is true of Egyptian military technology. The earliest sword type in North Africa and the Near East is the khopesh, a curved blade that was often used in Egypt during the Bronze Age. The sword was also used by the Egyptians to build their ancient empire.

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Egyptian warrior with a khopesh sword. ( MedievalWeaponsBliss)

Defining a Khopesh

A curved blade with a cutting edge often on the convex edge is what distinguishes a khopesh. The section of the blade opposite the handle has a tiny hook because the khopesh is shaped like a sickle. Because of this, some academics categorize the khopesh as a sickle-sword, a form of a sword that can be found all throughout the Indian subcontinent, east Africa, and the Middle East.

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A Middle Bronze Age khopesh. (Rama/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

Origins of the Khopesh and its Early History

Although the khopesh has a strong connection to Egypt, it was not created there. By the start of the second millennium BC, Mesopotamia had developed the earliest varieties of the khopesh. In addition, the Sumerian king Eanatum of Lagash is seen carrying what looks to be a sickle-shaped sword on the 2500 BC Stele of the Vultures. This weapon may have been developed before the khopesh.

The khopesh was introduced to Syria and the Canaanite city-states after being created in Mesopotamia. During the New Kingdom era, it came in Egypt from Mesopotamia probably about 1550 BC.

Copper axes were the first weapons made of metal. Axes were the only tools accessible before the Bronze Age since copper cannot endure the metallurgical operations needed to manufacture swords. However, when bronze usage increased, the stronger metal allowed for a higher impact force. Now, sword-length blades might be produced. This resulted in the khopesh’s growth through time.

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An ancient Egyptian khopesh sword. (Guillaume Blanchard/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Uses of the Khopesh

The sword was perhaps one of the earliest weapons made specifically for combat, unlike the axe and the spear, which had civilian use before becoming weapons of war. The khopesh was a curved sword that was primarily used for cutting, slicing, and chopping. This was helpful prior to the widespread adoption of body armor made to withstand slicing.

The khopesh might be used for thrusting in addition to slicing and cutting. This would have made it effective against opponents who wore armor. The weapon’s hook at the further end might be used to pull off an opponent’s shield. The khopesh would have been a feared and adaptable weapon due to its many applications. The khopesh could have also served as a prestige weapon, much like the mace does in Egyptian art.

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Wielding a khopesh to smite enemies in Egyptian art. ( Public Domain )

Influence of the Egyptian Khopesh Sword on Other Cultures

The Greeks used a curved-bladed weapon they named the machaira or kopis starting in the sixth century BC. According to some academics, the Egyptian word khopesh may have been the source of the name kopis. In addition, swords like the khopesh were also utilized by the Hittites, Egypt’s fervent foes during the Bronze Age. It is uncertain, nevertheless, whether they directly inherited the khopesh from Mesopotamia or merely replicated the Egyptian pattern.

East and central Africa are other continents where curved swords comparable to the khopesh are found. Modern Rwanda and Burundi’s neighboring cultures utilized what look to be sickle-shaped daggers similar to the khopesh. Uncertainty surrounds the question of whether these blade-making customs were carried over from Egypt or if the dagger design originated independently that far south of Mesopotamia.

Both Dravidian civilizations in southern India and non-Dravidic Nepal in the north have swords or daggers like the Khopesh. In view of the connection between the Dravidians and Mesopotamia, it is intriguing that there are swords that resemble khopeshs in some Dravidian societies. The Indus Valley culture, also known as Harappa, which traded with Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC, was likely of Dravidian ancestry. Until the middle of the second millennium BC, the pre-Aryan Indus Valley civilisation persisted in some form or another. This is the ideal time to introduce the Dravidian culture from Mesopotamia to the art of forging blades resembling khopesh.

The Khopesh and Egyptian Military Supremacy During the Bronze Age

The Egyptians were a major force throughout the Bronze Age inside their own region. Throughout the Bronze Age, Egypt remained a strong nation-state. For instance, the sea peoples were effectively driven back by the Egyptians, but Canaan and other places had less success. It’s probable that an advanced military with potent weapons like the khopesh was one of the reasons the Egyptian Empire was so successful in maintaining its dominance. The khopesh would not have been sufficient on its own, but it undoubtedly assisted.

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A limestone ostracon depicting Ramesses IV smiting his enemies, from the 20th dynasty, circa 1156-1150 BC. (JMCC1/ CC BY SA 2.5 )

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