Ancient Egypt for Kids
Soldiers & Freedom of Speech
Other countries did not want to send their armies marching across a vast desert to finally reach ancient Egypt and start a battle. Thanks to Egypt’s natural barriers, Egypt had little need for a huge army in the beginning. During the Old Kingdom, provinces had local armies to solve local problems.
Ancient Egypt's natural barriers did not totally protect them. They needed protection in the Delta region, where the Nile River meets the Mediterranean Sea. They needed protection in the south, as the Nile River is the longest river in the world. There were other civilizations built along the Nile in the south. The ancient Egyptians built fortresses in the Delta region, to protect themselves from enemies coming in from the Mediterranean Sea. They built a line of fortresses in the south to protect themselves from their African neighbor, the Nubians.
During the Middle Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians created a trained central army, led by commanders. The commander-in-chief was Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s war helmet was bright blue. The army was always looking for new recruits "to support the blue". There are paintings of army life showing new recruits getting military haircuts.
When they did not have enough people enlisted in the army, the royal recruiting officer made the rounds of the villages. He "recruited" one man from every ten into compulsory service. The people were very upset about it. The Egyptian peasant was a peaceful soul. Forcing him to join the military was unpopular and ineffective. The Egyptians lost a great many of their battles. The peasants were not fighters. They were farmers. The thought of spending years locked up in a barracks, marching up and down to the sound of a trumpet, was not a happy thought. They would rather work in the fields. It was hard work, but it was work that mattered, and it was close to home.
The schoolteachers were always speaking out against the military as a choice of career for their students. They were quite outspoken, which shows the freedom of speech the ancient Egyptians enjoyed.
Schoolteacher Story: One of the stories schoolteachers told was about a poor soldier who wrecked his chariot just as the commander was making an inspection. First, he was whipped until he was a bloody mess. Then, he was forced to march over the mountains carrying a heavy backpack. The pack was so heavy that it broke his back. He had to drink foul water, because he was too far away from the Nile. He received almost nothing to eat because he was too far away from the grain storage to pull his fair share. Finally, when he was allowed to return home, he had to come home tossed over the back of a donkey because his legs no longer worked. On the way home, he was set upon by bandits who stole his pay and his donkey. There was nothing left for him but to crawl all the way home to the Nile. Poor soldier. What a life he chose for himself.