Battle of Sekhmen [Sekmen] (1875 BC)

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Battle of Sekhmen Sekmen 1875 BC

Hereditary archers and menfat “shock troops” were supported by conscripts. The centre of the battle line would consist of massed close fighters in columns or deep lines, supported by massed archer formations. Archers and close combat troops formed up in separate bodies. The archers were to discharge a heavy volume of arrows in support of the close-combat troops, while themselves avoiding hand-to-hand fighting. Lighter troops such as javelinmen or tribal auxiliaries would form up on the flanks of the array. Although generals were usually bowmen, and can be so represented, their bodyguards were axemen with large shields.

Ancient Warfare VII.1 with Warriors of the Nile

Retainers and the Royal Army. A nomarch would usually maintain a body of personal retainers, or shonsu. In tomb paintings of the Middle Kingdom these are usually armed with a large shield and hefty axe. They closely accompanied the noble as he carried out his duties and no doubt comprised his personal bodyguard in battle. The king also possessed shtmsu, and an inner retinue of highly trusted officials known as ‘Sole-Companions’ to whom might be entrusted any important commission. In the Old Kingdom the shonsu were a very small and select body, possibly not entirely military in character.

During the Middle Kingdom the shtmsu of the king were expanded and organised as a military unit. In the reign of Senusret III (1878-1841 BC), Sebek-Khu was one of the royal retainers and began his career in command of a unit of 6 men. He was subsequently promoted to a shtmsu en heqa (Retainer of the Ruler) and given command of 60 men on an expedition into Nubia. His gallantry won him promotion to a sehedj Shemsu (Instructor of Retainers) in command of a unit of 100 men. Sebek-Khu fought at the battle of Sekmem as commander of the rearguard, indicating that the royal retainers had an important role on the battlefield.

The shemsu were supplemented by troops conscripted from the provinces for the Royal Army. These were called henu-nefru (Household Recruits) and were commanded by an imy-er henu-nefru, (Commander of the Household Recruits). An ‘Army-Scribe’ was sent into each nome to select one man in a hundred males to form a company for the Royal Army.

A unit mentioned in the Old Kingdom is the tjeset (battalion), meaning simply a large body of troops. The sa (Company) appears in the Middle Kingdom but there is no record of its size at this time. Model soldiers from a tomb at Asyut were organised into two bodies of 40 men, which may represent a basic unit of organisation. They march in 10 ranks, each rank being 4 abreast, so they are clearly drilled troops and probably typical of most provincial soldiers.

The Great Battles of History series ventures back into the mists of time: the Bronze Age, or the Age of the Chariot. From approximately 1700 BC to 1200 BC (which was the abrupt end of the Bronze Age) the chariot reigned supreme on the battlefield. It was the first modern weapons system, and chariots controlled most of warfare until actual cavalry appeared in the middle of the Iron Age.

But how did chariots work as a tactical weapons system? There is no complete historical agreement on what exactly they did or how they were used, but Chariots of Fire will show you our view of their many applications – and many types of chariotry there were – providing GBoH players with the complete and definitive chariot rules. These rules cover combat and mobility from the first battle wagons of the Sumerians to the two-man, fast-moving light chariots of the Egyptians, often complete with their associated and specialized Runner Infantry, to the heavy 3-man Hittite wheels.

Egypt (XIIth Dynasty), under Pharaoh Senusret III vs. the Canaanites North Canaan (Retjenu), ca. 1870 BC

This battle appears to be part of one of the few northern campaigns of Senusret III, considered to be perhaps the most powerful Egyptian ruler of this time (Middle Kingdom). Most of his military activity focused on subduing the Nubians, to the south. This time the Pharaoh marched north to seize the important trade route city of Sekmem (Shechem)-the site of what is now Nablus-in the valley between the Biblical mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. The region was then known as Retjenu. Not much is known about the battle, other than that it took place.

This battIe was fought during a campaign of Senusret III (1818-1841 B. C.) in Retjennu. The enemy were engaged at Sekmem. The Egyptian deployment included a vanguard led by the king and a rearguard under Sebek-khu, a commander of the royal retainers. The course of the battle is not recorded exactly but the rearguard was eventually brought into action.

The Egyptians say they were victorious, but various interpretations of the sources we do have seem to indicate it may not have been much of a victory.

Pharaoh Senusret III

Senusret came to the throne in about 1878 BC, and is thought to have reigned for 37 years. He is probably the best known, visually, of all the Middle Kingdom pharaohs with his brooding, hooded-eyed and careworn portraits, carved mainly in hard black granite. In Middle Kingdom royal portrait sculpture there is a move away from the almost bland, godlike and complacent representations of the Old Kingdom to a more realistic likeness. Part of this stems from the realization that the king, although still a god on earth, is nevertheless concerned with the earthly welfare of his people. The Egyptians no longer placed huge emphasis and resources on erecting great monuments to the king’s immortal hereafter, as the rather inferior Middle Kingdom pyramids show. Instead, greater emphasis was placed on agricultural reforms and projects, best exemplified by the great Bahr Yusuf canal.

Manetho describes Senusret as a great warrior, and unusually mentions that the king was of great height: ‘4 cubits 3 palms 2 fingers breadth’ – over 6 ft 6 in (2 m). His commanding presence must have helped the success of his internal reforms in Egypt. Most notably he managed to curtail the activities of the local nomarchs, whose influence had once again risen to challenge that of the monarchy, by creating a new system of government that subjugated the autonomy of the nomarchs. The king divided the country into three administrative departments – the North, the South and the Head of the South (Elephantine and Lower Nubia) – each administered by a council of senior staff which reported to a vizier.

Senusret III as military leader

With the internal stability of the country assured, Senusret III was able to concentrate on foreign policy. He initiated a series of devastating campaigns in Nubia quite early in his reign, aimed at securing Egypt’s southern borders against incursions from her bellicose neighbours and at safeguarding access to trade routes and to the mineral resources of Nubia. To facilitate the rapid and ready access of his fleets he had a bypass canal cut around the First Cataract at Aswan. A canal had existed here in the Old Kingdom, but Senusret III cleared, broadened and deepened it, repairing it again in Year 8 of his reign, according to an inscription. Senusret was forced to bring the Nubians into line on several occasions, in Years 12 and 15 of his reign, and he was clearly proud of his military prowess in subduing the recalcitrant tribes. A great stele at Semna (now in Berlin) records, ‘I carried off their women, I carried off their subjects, went forth to their wells, smote their bulls: I reaped their grain, and set fire thereto’. He pushed Egypt’s boundary further south than any of his forebears and left an admonition for future kings: ‘Now, as for every son of mine who shall maintain this boundary, which My Majesty has made, he is my son, he is born of My Majesty, the likeness of a son who is the champion of his father, who maintains the boundary of him that begat him. Now;’ as for him who shall relax it, and shall not fight for it; he is not my son, he is not born to me.’ No wonder Senusret was worshipped as a god in Nubia by later generations, or that his sons and grandsons maintained their inheritance.

Although most of Senusret’s military energies were directed against Nubia, there is also record of a campaign in Syria – but it seems to have been more one of retribution and to gain plunder than to extend the Egyptian frontiers in that direction.

Middle Kingdom Warfare

By the time of the Middle Kingdom the troops carried copper axes and swords. The long, bronze spear became standard as did body armor of leather over short kilts. The army was better organized with “a minister of war and a commander in chief of the army, or an official who worked in that capacity” (Bunson, 169). These professional troops were highly trained and there were elite “shock troops” used as the vanguard. Officers were in charge of an unspecified number of men in their units and reported to a commander who then reported up the chain of command; it is unclear exactly what the individual responsibilities were or what they were known as but military life offered a much greater opportunity at this time than in the past. Historian Marc van de Mieroop writes:

Although our knowledge of the military in the Middle Kingdom is very limited, it seems that its role in society was much greater than in the Old Kingdom. The army was well organized and in the 12th dynasty it had a core of professional soldiers. They served for prolonged periods of time and were regularly stationed abroad. The army provided an outlet for ambitious men to make careers. The bulk of the troops continued to be recruited from the populations of the provinces and participated in individual campaigns only. How many troops were involved and how long they served remains unknown.

The military of the Middle Kingdom reached its apex under the reign of the warrior-king Senusret III (c. 1878-1860 BC) who was the model for the later legendary conqueror Sesostris made famous by Greek writers. Senusret III led his men on major campaigns in Nubia and Palestine, abolished the position of nomarch and took more direct control of the regions his soldiers came from, and secured Egypt’s borders with manned fortifications.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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