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rawhide thongs passing through holes at the base of the blade and around the haft. Yet another type, the epsilon axe, was also particularly common in the Middle Kingdom. So-called by Egyptologists because of its resemblance to the Greek letter E, it had a wide convex cutting edge and three tangs, each perforated with one or more holes, by which it was attached to the haft using copper pins or rivets. For all these types of battleaxe the haft was often slightly curved, and the end with which it was grasped was wider than the central part of the shaft. This shape enabled the soldier to swing without the weapon slipping from his hand. The haft was also part-wrapped with leather or linen to produce an efficient grip, especially important if it became wet with sweat (and blood). When not in use the battleaxe was secured against the body. Often this was easily done by a soldier simply tucking the weapon into the back of his kilt. The Bronze Age, to which the Middle Kingdom belongs, is the period when bronze tools and weapons were widely used. The archaeological record indicates that the use of bronze increased during Dynasty XII, when early bronze items were imported ready-made from Retennu (the Egyptian term for Syria-Palestine) rather than home produced. However, copper was still used extensively by Egyptian armourers to craft the business ends of shock weapons, and the distinction between copper and bronze objects is sometimes so subtle it can only be verified by scientific analysis. Spears

Spears originated from a dagger-like blade with a long tang that may have been mounted on a shaft rather than held close to the body. The spear was used as a short (held) or mid-range (thrown) weapon. It came in various lengths, but models from the First Intermediate Period show soldiers carrying spears that are the height of a man. The shaft was made of reed or wood and tipped with a copper blade. The majority of spearheads were designed with a flat or voluted tang with round or leafshaped (splaying) blades. The latter type ensured that a serious stabbing wound could be inflicted, but, most importantly, that the spear could be recovered quickly, ready for further use. Incredible as it may seem, it is difficult to extract a narrow blade easily and rapidly from a victim. The Egyptians used voluted tangs curved at the rear to prevent the shaft from splitting as it was thrust. The widest point of the shaft would be split down the centre and the tang slotted into the wood. Its volute was turned outwards, and the blade was then lashed into place with sinew or gut thread to create a firmer bond. It was not until the New Kingdom onwards that spearheads were made with a socket into which the shaft was fitted.

Three battleaxes, a dagger and two throwsticks {Florence, Museo Archeologico, 6971-3, 7677, 7683-4}. Although the copper blades of these battleaxes vary in design {Dshaped, splayed, rounded} they are all mounted on short, wooden hafts and were used for hacking at very close quarters. {Author's collection}

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