Chariotry in ancient Egypt
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In ancient Egyptian society chariotry stood as an independent unit in the King’s military force. Chariots were first introduced as a weapon in Egypt by the Hyksos in the 16th century BC. The Egyptians developed their own design of the chariot.
Archaeologist Joost Crouwel writes that "Chariots were not sudden inventions, but developed out of earlier vehicles that were mounted on disk or cross-bar wheels. This development can best be traced in the Near East, where spoke-wheeled and horse-drawn ‘true’ chariots are first attested in the earlier part of the second millennium BC...". The early usage of chariots was mainly for transportation purposes. With technological improvements to their structure (such as a “cross-bar” form of wheel construction to reduce the vehicle's weight), the use of chariots for military purposes began. The Egyptians invented the yoke saddle for their chariot horses around 1500 BC. Chariots were effective for their high speed, mobility and strength which could not be matched by infantry at the time. They quickly became a powerful new weapon across the ancient Near East. The best preserved examples of Egyptian chariots are the six specimens from the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Chariots in warfare
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Chariots were very expensive, heavy and prone to breakdowns, yet in contrast with early cavalry, chariots offered a more stable platform for archers. Chariots were also effective for archery because of the relatively long bows used, and even after the invention of the composite bow the length of the bow was not significantly reduced. Such a bow was difficult to handle while on horseback. A chariot could also carry more ammunition than a single rider.
However, the chariot also had several disadvantages, notably its size and its dependence on the right terrain. Their use has been compared to that of tanks in modern day warfare but this is disputed by scholars who point out that chariots were vulnerable, fragile and required a level terrain while tanks are heavily-armored all-terrain vehicles. Chariots were thus not suitable for use in the way modern tanks have been used as a physical shock force.
Chariots form an elite force in the ancient Egyptian military. In field action, chariots usually delivered the first strike and were closely followed by infantry advancing to exploit the resulting breakthrough, somewhat similar to how infantry might operate behind a group of armed vehicles in modern warfare. These tactics would work best against lines of less-disciplined light infantry militia. Chariots, much faster than foot-soldiers, pursued and dispersed broken enemies to seal the victory. Egyptian light chariots contained one driver and one warrior; both might be armed with bow and spear.
In ancient Egypt, members of the chariotry units formed their own aristocratic class known as the maryannu (young heroes). The heroic symbolism can be seen in contemporary paintings in which the King is shown riding with the elites, shooting arrows at the enemies. This image became typical of royal power iconography in the New Kingdom.
- Hyskos introduced chariots to ancient Egypt Archived 2010-06-29 at the Wayback Machine.
- Joost Crouwel (2013). "Studying the Six Chariots from the Tomb of Tutankhamun - An Update". In Veldmeijer, Andre J.; Ikram, Salima. Chasing Chariots: Proceedings of the First International Chariot Conference (Cairo 2012). Sidestone Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-9088902093.
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- Littauer, M.A.; J. H. Crouwel (1979). Wheeled vehicles and ridden animals in the ancient Near East. Brill. p. 98. ISBN 978-90-04-05953-5.
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