Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian weapons: Impact weapons - club, mace
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Canaanite copper mace heads
Canaanite copper mace heads
Source: R. Gonen, Weapons of the Ancient World, Excerpt

 
maceheads
Pre-dynastic maceheads
Top: Pointed (unusual)
Middle: Lobed, possibly foreign
Bottom: Hammershaped (rare)
Source: W.M.F. Petrie Prehistoric Egypt, Excerpt
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Impact weapons

The club

Clubs, carved stone knife handle, Source: Black and white excerpt from a colour picture, 'Les merveilles du Louvre', Hachette     Some of the oldest weapons used by man, clubs are easily fashioned from branches. Strong and shock absorbing, wood is an almost perfect material for making many implements, weapons among them. Its lightness on the other hand is a drawback when the intention is to hit ones opponent over the head with it in order to crack his skull. The attempt to overcome this by widening the business end of the club was only partially successful.
    Even in a culture as peaceful as pre-dynastic Egypt - peaceful that is compared to more warlike regions like Mesopotamia, where internecine conflict was almost constant from earliest times - clubs gave way to maces, which could do a much better job at smashing skulls.

    A few cultures, like some Pacific Ocean islanders', resisted entering an arms race and clung to their traditions of using clubs, until they were overwhelmed by gun-carrying Europeans.

The mace

Mace, carved stone knife handle,  Source: Black and white excerpt from a colour picture, 'Les merveilles du Louvre', Hachette     A mace is a wooden club with a head of some hard and heavy material fastened to it. Stone suggested itself to ancient weaponmakers: it was easily available and could be shaped with proven techniques. There were two difficulties to overcome, though. Stone shatters relatively easily and a reliable fixing of the head to the wooden handle was difficult to achieve. With the advent of copper both these obstacles could be overcome, despite the expense and difficulty of extracting and casting copper.
    An excellent and enduring fit of head and handle could be achieved by giving the eye in the mace head the shape of a conus and using a tapered handle, thus preventing the head from slipping off the club.

    Maces were extensively used in Egypt and neighbouring Canaan from the middle of the fourth millennium BCE to the middle of the third. In Mesopotamia, where Sumerian soldiers wore body armour and helmets, their use was limited.

saucer shaped macehead made of porphyry     Improvements to the mace were few. The Egyptians tried to give them a disk shaped form in order to increase their impact or even endow them with some cutting capabilities, but with improving defensive equipment the mace disappeared as a fighting weapon [1], and gave way to the battle axe. According to the archaeological records disk and pear-shaped mace heads were frequently used, in contrast to all the other forms which were unusual.


    The mace did not require a great deal of dexterity but rather great physical force. In many places, even after it was abandoned by the military, it remained a symbol of power: Narmer wielding his mace on the Narmer Palette, carved maces used for show in Mesopotamia or the mace kept at Westminster, symbolizing the power of parliament. Seti I wielding a mace, Source: Jon Bodsworth
    Whether Amenhotep II killed his enemies personally with a mace may not be of prime importance, the picture drawn in the mind when reading the following passage is certainly one of a powerful king crushing his opponents
His Majesty returned in joy of heart to his father Amen; his hand had struck down seven chiefs with his mace himself, which were in the territory of Takhsi.
Stela of Amadeh
W.M.Flinders Petrie A History of Egypt, Part Two, p.156
    Similarly in a Karnak relief Seti I was depicted on foot wielding a mace, smiting his enemies. An inscription reads:
Your mace is over the head of every foreign land and their great ones fall victim to your sword.
After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, I. Hafemann (ed.), Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften > Inschriften der Ramessidenzeit > Historisch-rhetorische Königstexte (19.Dynastie) > Karnak > Tempel des Amun > Hypostyl (Aussen)/Nordwand > Ostseite > 1. Unteres Register Kriegszug von Sile nach Kanaan

 


Picture sources:
[  ] Source of the black and white excerpts of the stone knife handle: 'Les merveilles du Louvre', Hachette
[  ] Source of the picture of the Canaanite mace heads: 'Weapons of the Ancient World' by R.Gonen, Excerpt
[  ] Source of the photo of Seti I smiting his enemies: Jon Bodsworth

    [1] It was only during the Middle Ages that the mace reappeared in the form of the armour piercing Morning Star. The chain, to which the spiked mace head was connected, increased its speed and thus its penetrating power.
    As an impact weapon which supposedly did cut the skin and shed blood, it was also the preferred weapon of Christian clerics, who - while having few qualms about killing, seemed to have an aversion to shedding blood.


Bibliography for this and related pages

- -Weapons in ancient Egypt
-Edged weapons: Battle axes, swords, spears
-Missiles: The javelin, the bow and arrow, the slingshot
-Protective equipment: Shields, helmets and body armour
 
-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page
 

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Update: December 2003

 

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