Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
As early as the Predynastic Period, Egyptian foot soldiers relied on fearsome battle-axes and sharp daggers to crush their opponents in hand-to-hand combat, and employed the bow and arrow from a distance.
Originally there was no difference in design between the battle-axe and the woodworker’s axe; both featured a semicircular blade tied to a wooden handle by cords. In the Middle Kingdom, toolsmiths developed a more effective weapon that had a long blade with convex sides narrowing to a curved edge.
Most daggers, which resembled short swords, had double-edged blades riveted to ivory or bone handles and reinforced by a vertical rib.
The bow and arrow remained an Egyptian’s most effective weapon. (Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Museum does not have a complete example.) Archers shot from a stationary position or from the cab of a moving chariot as a skilled driver spurred on the horses. Reconstruction
Copper alloy, wood, metal, ivory, and leather
ca. 1539-1292 B.C.E.
2 1/4 × 5/8 × 11 3/8 in. (5.7 × 1.6 × 28.9 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
Archaeological provenance not documented, reportedly from Fayum, Egypt; December 1907 - January 1908, purchased in Cairo, Egypt by Henri de Morgan; 1909, purchased from Henri de Morgan by the Brooklyn Museum.
Bronze dagger with elaborate handle. Long, rather narrow triangular blade of bronze with straight sides, which sets the piece apart from its type, slightly blunted tip and on either face a flat, low but pronounced rather broad midrib, narrowing to tip and running down into it. Bronze handle, oblong, with indented sides and deeply indented ends, the horn of one of which enclose the shoulders of the blade, while the horns of the other overlap the opposing horns of the pommel, which is of ivory, crescent-shaped, with a median tongue meeting a tongue from the handle, so that on either side an oval hole is left, for passing through a thong. The handle is covered on both faces alike with three thin strips of ebony laid on longitudinal shallow grooves and fastened with large nails, their heads underlaid with small leather “Goodyear” rosettes: two on either side, four on the long median board. The handle is fastened to the blade with three smaller nails, forming an equilateral triangle, on either face. Excellent example of well-known type.
Condition: Good. Edges of blade jagged. Green patina in places. The two central studs are missing on one face of handle.
Dagger, ca. 1539-1292 B.C.E. Copper alloy, wood, metal, ivory, and leather, 2 1/4 × 5/8 × 11 3/8 in. (5.7 × 1.6 × 28.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 09.889.339. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.09.889.339_NegA_print_bw.jpg)
. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2013
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any additional information you might have.
Were these weapons ceremonial, or functional?
It is likely that this was a ceremonial blade due to the high artistic quality of the object. Both ceremonial and functional objects like this would be placed in the tomb of the deceased for use in the afterlife.
Where did the Egyptians get the materials to make this dagger?
The materials used were from trade and local resources. Bronze is made from copper--likely imported from Cyprus--and tin--possibly imported from Anatolia. Ivory would have come from either a hippo or an elephant. Ebony was imported from Sub-Saharan Africa.
How would this dagger be held? There are two holes in the hilt that look like they could accommodate a brass knuckle/scissor style of holding, and the pommel seems pretty wide, but I guess if the hand was large enough it could be held in the palm? Or is that just decorative?
Yes! The decorative qualities of this dagger suggest that it served a ceremonial purpose.
Any idea of the type of ceremony? Or is there not enough context to tell?
Unfortunately, I don't know enough about where this was found. Although, when I say "ceremonial" it could also mean it was used as a part of ceremonial regalia; something that an important person would wear for a special occasion.
I see. Thanks for answering my questions.
It says provence unknown. Do you have any guesses about the provenance?
Unfortunately, the dagger itself doesn't give us any clues and we don't have any notes from the person who found it. Similar daggers have been found in various locations throughout Egypt.
Tell me more.
This dagger would have served a ceremonial function based on its unusually shaped ivory handle. It was more an accessory than a weapon.
The dagger at the bottom looks sharp though
Yes! Just like ceremonial swords today, ceremonial weapons in ancient Egypt were still weapons, just not intended for battle.
The decorative and somewhat impractical handle of the dagger is what indicates that it was for show.