One of the significant arguments that have arisen concerning colonialism is its role in Africa's civilization. The erstwhile colonial masters have changed altered Africa's pre-colonial narrative to portray a people without hope of civilization before the Western invasion.
However, with each passing day, more proofs are surfacing to debunk the age-long claims and portray Africa's true nature before colonialism. There is no doubt that a lot needs to be done, especially regarding African education and re-orientation if we plan on changing the stereotype anytime soon.
One of such proofs of Africa's civilization is Egypt, which ancient chronicles referenced as a great civilization that held the world to its knees.
There is no denying that military strength, technological advancements, and weaponry are major yardsticks used in determining a country's level of advancement. Some critics even argue that military tactics and weaponry are the significant determiners that have placed countries like Israel, South Korea, North Korea, and a few others on the global map – and rightly so.
If this is true, it is only right that Africa gets the proper credit it rightly deserves for being a continent that boasted of the best weapons and military tactics as far back as the B.C.E. and the 15th century.
African nations like Egypt can be credited for the evolution of military systems prior to 1800, emphasizing the role of indigenous states and peoples, whose leaders and fighting forces.
The country possessed main military bases, fortifications, and supply sources, whose operations were conducted within the continental mass or close to its borders or coasts. Regions such as Carthage, Egypt, and Nubia were powerhouses for advanced military arsenals and tactics long before the colonial era.
During the century of foreign humiliation known as the Second Intermediate Period, the Egyptians studied their enemy closely and built up an arsenal of deadly new weapons. When Ahmose I liberated and reunited Egypt, he became the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom, a golden age in which Egypt used its upgraded weaponry and efficient bureaucracy to expand the empire and grow rich from foreign tributes.
Below are some key weapons originally built by Egypt and prove that Africa was civilized before the colonial era, especially when considering the tactics and the materials used.
1. Bronze-Tipped Spear and Shield
The core of the Egyptian army, like most ancient armies, was its spearmen. Armed with a wooden shield (ikem) in their left hand and a bronze-tipped spear (dja) in their right, the Egyptian spearmen would advance on the enemy in tightly packed formations. The length of the spear allowed Egyptian fighters to joust at their enemy behind the relative safety of their shields, and the bronze tip was hard and sharp enough to pierce through an enemy infantry's leather armor.
The Egyptian javelin was more than a hand-launched missile. It also functioned in close combat like a short spear about a meter long (3.3 feet). New Kingdom soldiers would carry a quiver of javelins over their shoulders like arrows.
They would use the javelin to thrust at the enemy behind their shields at close range, but they could also launch the armor-piercing javelin at attacking chariots or lines of infantry.
Egyptians didn't treat the javelin as a disposable ordinance like an arrow. They fitted their javelins with diamond-shaped metal blades and made them easier to aim and throw with a well-balanced and reinforced wooden grip.
3. Battle Axe
The Egyptian battle axe was a secondary weapon tucked into a warrior's waistband or hung from his shoulder. It could hack at an enemy's shield or dispatch an injured foe with a crushing blow in close combat. In earlier periods of Egyptian history, when the enemy didn't wear armor, the blades of battle axes were semi-circular or crescent-shaped, designed to deliver deep, slashing cuts to unprotected flesh.
However, during the New Kingdom, in which Egypt faced Hittite and Syrian armies wearing protective leather jerkins across their chests, the axe blades grew increasingly narrow and straight-edged, "ideally suited to punch through armor," says Elliot.
Archeologists have recovered evidence of a distinctive Egyptian weapon referred to as a mace ax. The standard war mace is a bludgeoning club that's one of the oldest weapons on earth.
Starting as early as 6,000 B.C., Egyptians armed themselves with simple maces made of a wooden handle topped with a heavy stone head. But during the New Kingdom, they improved on the deadly design with a curved blade embedded into a solid wooden head.
5. Short Swords
Swords and daggers wouldn't have been a common Egyptian weapon before the Hyksos introduced advances in bronze casting technology.
Only then was it possible to make short swords strong enough to withstand the rigors of battle. Since bronze isn't the toughest metal, some swords were cast in one solid piece, both blade and hilt, to provide extra strength.
There were two common types of Egyptian short swords. The first was dagger-shaped and came to a sharp point. Its job was to stab the enemy at very close range. The second was longer with flat sides coming to a rounded, "butter-knife" point. This sword was for slashing at the enemy from a safer distance and was strong enough not to bend when brought down hard on a shield or bone.
Perhaps the most iconic and feared Egyptian weapon of the New Kingdom was a curved sword called a khopesh. The khopesh's distinctive blade looks like a question mark with the cutting edge on the outside of the curve like a scimitar, not the inside like a sickle. In Ancient Egyptian, khopesh means "foreleg of an animal," similar to the English word "dogleg."
The Egyptians owed the Hyksos once again for this vicious-looking weapon, which is frequently depicted in relief paintings being wielded by a pharaoh to smite enemy armies. The boy-king Tutankhamun, for example, was buried with two khopeshes. In ancient warfare, the khopesh would have served as a secondary weapon like an axe or short sword to put the finishing blows on an enemy in close combat.
7. Composite Bow
Before the Hyksos invasion, the Egyptians relied on the "self" bow, a simple bow and arrow weapon made from a single piece of wood. But the Syrians introduced them to the compact power and accuracy of the composite bow, an intricate and expensive weapon made from layers of wood, animal horn, and sinew that was "recurved" to generate incredible force.
Before horses were big enough to be ridden into battle as cavalry, the chariot was the speediest and most terrifying war machine. Again, the Hyksos were the ones who introduced the Egyptians to lightweight wooden chariots with flexible leather floors as shock absorbers, but it was the Egyptian New Kingdom, with its vast wealth, that deployed swarms of heavily armed chariots on the battlefield to deadly effect.
9. Scale Armour
The average Egyptian foot soldier in a New Kingdom army wouldn't have worn much protection on the battlefield. From relief paintings and archeological evidence, they may have worn simple textile wraps stiffened by animal glue, but aside from deflecting a long-range arrow; they wouldn't have been very effective as armour.
The most elaborate and protective armour was reserved for the charioteers, both the driver and warrior, who were singled out as prized targets for enemy archers, especially those with long-range composite bows.
The Egyptian charioteers rode into battle wearing long coats of bronze scales, giving them the appearance of large, upright lizards. Like this one from the Metropolitan Museum's collection, each bronze scale was pierced with small holes through which the scale was tied to a linen or leather backing. A large coat of armour might contain more than 600 individual scales, both small and large.
The horses, too, wore armour, at least according to funeral objects and relief paintings. Both Ramses II and Tutankhamun are shown driving chariots with regal horses wearing coats of brightly painted bronze scales.
Credit: African History, History.com, Dave Roos