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The Khopesh Sword – An Introduction To This Mighty Ancient Egyptian Weapon

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Ancient Egyptian khopesh sword weaponry
A pair of ancient Egyptian Khopesh swords - image courtesy of Joanna Hill

A khopesh sword? What’s that then? And how on earth do I pronounce its name?

The Khopesh Sword is an iconic weapon used by the Ancient Egyptians. It is an instantly recognisable sword because its blade has a funny but distinctive shape. It starts straight and then curves outwards to look a bit like a question mark.

Oh, and the name is pronounced Koh-Pesh. Because having the ‘H’ and ‘O’ the other way round doesn’t make it more confusing at all.

I’m kidding, it is very confusing.

Whoa, is that actually a weapon?

Yes! And it was used in battle by the Ancient Egyptians for hundreds of years. Not the same battle for hundreds of years though. That would be exhausting.

A khopesh sword belonging to Rameses II, now on display at the Louvre in Paris - image courtesy Aoineko

Why is it shaped all curvy?

Clever historian people think that the khopesh came to have its distinctive curved shape because it evolved from an axe. The main reason for this assumption is all down to where the blade is sharpest.

Unlike other curved tools of this time (such as scythes) that are sharp on the inside edge of the curve, or normal straight-edged swords that are sharp on both edges (and on the tip, they’re just dangerous from all angles really!), the khopesh sword is sharpened on the outside edge of the curved blade. This makes it similar in design to the head of an axe (or indeed a sickle, a curved farming tool).

So its good to have the sharp bit on the outside of the curve?

Yes, particularly if you want to use it in a battle. Being sharpened on the outside edge makes the blade particularly good for hacking or slashing at your enemy. Yowch! Also, the Ancient Egyptian soldiers might have used the blunt inside edge of the curved sword to hook over their enemy’s shield and pull it out of the way.

A pair of crossed khopesh swords - image courtesy of Joanna Hill

So they were used by Egyptian soldiers?

Historians think that khopesh swords were just one of a multitude of weapons used by Ancient Egyptian soldiers. They would have also been equipped with spears, shields, battle axes, daggers and bows and arrows. Though not always all of them at the same time! The khopesh would have been a secondary weapon for use in close-quarters combat with the enemy.

Wow, so Ancient Egyptians had an awful lot of fancy weaponry?

Yes, but it wasn’t always that way. The weapons used by the Ancient Egyptians before the New Kingdom era were generally very simple and basic. Some items were even made from wood or stone.

But then the Egyptians were invaded by the Hyksos army from Syria. The Hyksos were much better armed with a superior arsenal made from bronze and the Egyptians didn’t stand a chance against them.

Oh no! Did the Egyptians lose?

Badly! After an embarrassing defeat against the invaders, the Egyptians figured it was time to level up their weaponry - which, by the way, they copied straight from the Hyksos army’s designs (What a bunch of copycats! I’m telling!).

By the time the New Kingdom arrived, they had a bunch of new exciting armaments to use on the battlefield, including powerful chariots, composite bows and, of course, the funky-looking khopesh sword. Suddenly, the Egyptian army was a force to be reckoned with.

Check out the god Amun (left) wielding a khopesh at his enemies (kneeling, bottom)

Did Pharaohs use them too?

There are pictures of pharaohs wielding khopesh swords in the artwork in their tombs (and lots of Egyptian gods wielding them too). Some pharaohs even took khopesh swords with them to the afterlife by having the swords sealed in their tombs with them after they died. Though these swords are often blunt, suggesting they were ceremonial and wouldn’t have actually been used by the pharaoh in battle. Tutankhamun had two khopesh swords in his tomb! Talk about showing off!

Ancient Egyptian khopesh swords workshop for primary school children

Above, you can spot our replica Khopesh Swords alongside the other Egyptian replica artefacts we feature as part of our Ancient Egypt: A Time Travel Tour workshop for Primary School children. Our interactive school workshops use drama activities, roleplay and storytelling to bring history to life for your students. Invite us to your school by enquiring here!

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