We are all familiar with swords and spears but what about the formidable khopesh? As Colleen Anne Coyle explains on Quora, the khopesh was more than a symbolic weapon of the Pharaohs and an emblem of Egyptian Deities. A true weapon of war, the khopesh/ sword was probably one of the first weapons designed exclusively for battle, unlike the axe and the spear which had civilian uses before becoming standard military equipment. A khopesh is a sword or saber with a curved blade, in the shape of a “U” or sickle shape (depending on the period) with the edge in its convex part, primarily dedicated to cutting, slashing, and chopping movements.
Its origins can be traced back to Sumer in the third millennium BCE. The earliest known depiction of a khopesh is from the Stele of Vultures, documenting King Eannatum of Lagash wielding the weapon, as a symbol of royal authority. Via the conduit of Syria and Canaanite city-states or adapted directly from the invading Hyksos, the Khopesh rapidly became an emblem of Egyptian royal power, during the New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC). The earliest reference derives from the XVII dynasty as the weapon of Pharaoh Kamose, the last king of the 17th dynasty (c. 1630–1540 BC).
Sword and Axe
Developed from axes used in warfare, which makes it not a true sword but it should be categorized as a specialized axe, rather than a true sword (which evolved from daggers) producing slashes, rather than deep cuts. Improvements in bronze casting technologies transitioned the ax to an all-metal variant, reducing its weight, and leaving only the blade close to the edge. This was to maximize the cutting power of the Khopesh when used in battle against straight-edged swords.
“The inside curve of the weapon could be used to trap an opponent’s arm, or to pull an opponent’s shield out of the way, a crucial means of protection, before the widespread use of body armor designed to withstand slashing”.
The khopesh was mostly abandoned between ~1200-1100BCE, coinciding nicely with the Bronze age collapse, but the fact that it was historically made out of bronze has little to do with why the design was abandoned. Properly hardened tin bronze can be stronger than mild steel (wrought iron) and was not significantly bypassed by the properties of steel until the Medieval period “when people started to figure out how to make medium carbon steels without too much sulfur and phosphorous contamination”. Furthermore, not all bronze-age swords were short. Many, like those used by the Minoans, had blade lengths in excess of 1 meter long, ranging from 170 to 141 cm. long.
While the exact shape of the khopesh was abandoned, the iron age saw several civilizations using equally recurved swords but with different edge profiles. The Dacian falx and Celtic sickle swords had nearly identical blades except that the cutting edge is on the inside of the hook instead of the outside.