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Fernand Braudel

Model of Nubian Soldiers

Early Middle Kingdom (11th Dynasty around 2055-1985 BC)

These small figurines of different sizes, wood stuccoed and painted, represent Nubian soldiers as if in a parade. They are fixed on a base composed of five boards joined by three cross boards below. This group was found in a tomb dated to the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in the necropolis of Asyut in Middle Egypt, accompanied by a second group representing a troop of Egyptian soldiers.

These objects are in fact what we call “models”, made to accompany the deceased in his/her trip to the afterlife. They probably belonged to the governor of the nome (province) that they call Nomarch, perhaps Mesehti, who lived during the late 11th Dynasty.

The black skinned figures, dressed in a red or white loincloth and wearing a necklace and hair band, are standing in a way which represents the march of the parade: the bare feet, with the left leg forward. The left arm is brought back to a right angle and holds a bow. The other arm is left dangling by the body with the hand holding a set of arrows. The squad consists of four lines of ten soldiers giving a total of forty soldiers.

In Pharaonic Egypt, from the earliest times, there existed a military organization consisting of both Egyptians and other ethnic groups such as Nubians. The Nubian and Medjay auxiliaries appeared in the Middle Kingdom. Some stelae testify that a garrison of Nubian and Medjay archers was established in the late 11th Dynasty at Gebelein in Upper Egypt. In this period, it was primarily the infantry of defeated soldiers who were enlisted in the Egyptian troops.

With the New Kingdom and expansive aims of Egypt the army became professionalized. The pharaoh, supreme commander of armies, was surrounded by important management personnel. Titles connected to the military were numerous; from scribe to chief of troop (so-called General).

The Old and Middle Kingdoms defended their borders and did not venture out much, except to Sinai and Nubia up to the Second Cataract. With the appearance of the horse (see the notice on the Horse bit), a new military unit was created: the chariot, which will have a big influence in conflicts starting from the New Kingdom, especially considering it was a period when ambitions for the Near East intensified. In this period, other ethnic groups from Libya and the Near East will be incorporated into the army. The foreign reinforcements in the army will be continued in future periods as pharaohs will not hesitate to call on foreign mercenaries from the Saite period and onwards: a practice which will become the norm in Antiquity from Hellenistic Greece to Rome.

see also