The Khopesh – An Egyptian Sickle-Sword

Ancient Egypt, along with the Khopesh, has been vital in shaping modern civilization. For a long time, Egypt has set a place in the Western imagination as a land full of mystery and wisdom. And this also goes for the Egyptian military and technology.

The Khopesh is a curved sword utilized during the Bronze Age in Egypt. It is a weapon representing the classic sword style in North Africa and the Near East. This sword was also the piece that forged the Ancient Empire of Egypt.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Origins of the Khopesh and its Early History

The Khopesh is always linked to Egypt despite not originating from there. The earliest form of the sword came from Mesopotamia around the start of the 2nd millennium BC. The Steele of the Vultures, 2500 BC, shows the Sumerian king, Eanatum, using a sickle-like sword. The sword may be a prototype of the Khopesh.

After its development in Mesopotamia, the Khopesh was introduced to different places. Such places included Syria, while the others where Canaanite city-states. It came to Egypt from Mesopotamia after 1500 BC which was around the New Kingdom era.

It is said to have originated in Canaan. While an early version came from Lagash, dating back to the late 3rd millennium. Located in other areas, the Khopesh was present at Schechem and Byblos as well.

The early samples of the Khopesh have a full tang with a grip fasted with rivets or a type of glue. The later types featured a flanged hilt that has organic inlays like bone, ivory, timber, etc. for its grip.

It is basically a curved blade adopted by the Egyptians all the way from the Hyksos. They invaded and ruled portions of Egypt in the 2nd middle era of history. The Hyksos also introduced items like composite bows, horse-drawn chariots, and scale armor.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Appearance and Features of the Khopesh

A regular Khopesh is 50 to 60 centimeters long but there are much smaller samples to this. Plus, the blunt edge of its tip worked as an efficient bludgeon and hook. The weapons soon changed from bronze to iron during the New Kingdom era.  

The sword has a curved blade where its cutting edge usually appears on the convex edge of the sword. It has a sickle-like shape so part of the blade that’s opposite the grip has a small hook. This is the reason why some scholars refer to the Khopesh as a sickle-sword. It is a type of sword from across the Nile valley, Middle East, East Africa, and India.

For the blade and hilt of the Khopesh, these are cast in a single piece, making the weapon more durable. Its length is usually 500-650. Most of the surviving samples are heavyweight and have a cross-section that is fairly thick. However, it is not certain that all of the weapons were used for combat since some ladies are unsharpened.

When it comes to the blade of the Khopesh, only the outer part of the curved edge is not needed. The sword evolved from the Epsilon or the axes in crescent shapes for warfare. It went out of use in 1300 BCE.

The Khopesh is an exotic weapon. It was similar to an intermediate between a sword and an axe. The blade and its hilt are both completely made of metal. The blade sweeps out into a cutting edge with a curved design. Some consider this as an ancestor of the Falchion which is a heavy sword for chopping. The Falcata and Kopis are early examples of the different versions of the Khopesh.

The Development of the Khopesh

The first metal weapons were copper axes. Before the widespread use of the Khopesh, people owned and used these weapons before the Bronze Age. However, copper was not strong enough to withstand metallurgical processing. During the Bronze Age, people used bronze weapons more often. Over the centuries, the Khopesh was finally developed.

Photo Credit: Max Pixel

The Khopesh in the New Kingdom Period

In the New Kingdom period, the Khopesh became a common military weapon. It was famous for its slashing ability in enclosed areas. However, there are examples of unsharpened Khopesh. These have either dull edges or were never intended to be sharp.

The Khopesh also had ceremonial uses and ancient art usually display these images. Two examples show the royal grave of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, who was entombed and had two sickle swords of various sizes. At some point during the 12th century BCE, people abandoned the Khopesh as a combat weapon. This was because they favored another weapon over it. Despite that, the Khopesh is still one of the most popular weapons of Ancient Egypt.

The Khopesh and Egyptian Military Supremacy During the Bronze Age

During the Bronze Age, the Egyptian Empire held high power in their domain. They were powerful throughout the period and were able to repel the sea people. Unlike Canaan that was less successful, the Egyptian Empire was successful at it.  Since they had an advanced military and efficient weapons which include the Khopesh, the Egyptians managed to maintain their sovereignty.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Influence of the Khopesh in other Cultures

Around the 6th century BCE, the Greeks started using the Kopis or Machaira. Some scholars think that the Kopis may have been a word that originates from the term Khopesh. Egypt’s sworn rivals during the Bronze Age, the Hittites, also used the Khopesh. Until today, it is not clear whether they directly inherited the Mesopotamian Khopesh or if they copied the Egyptian style.

In the eastern and central Africa, there are also pieces of evidences of the existence of the Khopesh. Regions that contain modern Burundi and Rwanda had daggers that appeared like a sickle. The blades were comparable to the Khopesh. Until today, it is not clear whether the Africans directly inherited the design from the far southern part of Mesopotamia or if they copied the Egyptian weapons.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Uses of the Khopesh

The sword was one of the first weapons that were exclusively for battle. It was not like the spear or the axe that had noncombatant uses before being weapons. Since the Khopesh is a curved sword, its primary use was for cutting, chopping, and slashing. It was efficient and useful before warriors used body armor to protect themselves against slashes of this weapon.

Aside from chopping and slashing, the  Khopesh was useful for thrusting as well. This would have been useful against armor. The hook that is close to the blade’s tip  can rip an enemy’s shield. It was a versatile weapon that people feared. It’s role was similar to that of the maces that Egyptian art display.

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