Heinrich Schliemann is one of the luckiest archaeologist to have ever lived. After he excavated and proved the existence of ancient Troy, he captured lightning in a bottle once more. This time in mainland Greece, where he found what came to be known as the Mask of Agamemnon – the king who led the Greeks against Troy. It happened in 1876, during Schliemann’s excavation of the royal cemetery near the Lion Gate, the entrance to the citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece. In one of the graves, he found a funeral mask covered in gold, which he attributed to the Iliad’s legendary Greek high king.
As Schliemann put it in a telegraph that announced the discovery: “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon“. However, as with his finds in Troy, Schliemann got the broad outlines right, but was iffy when it came to the details. Later research demonstrated that the mask did, indeed, belong to a Bronze Age Mycenaean king. However, this king had died circa 1580 BC to 1550 BC – two and a half to three centuries before the events of the Trojan War. The name stuck, however, and Schliemann’s discovery is still commonly referred to as the Mask of Agamemnon.
Bronze Age China’s warrior queen Fu Hao (died circa 1200 BC) was one of history’s most fascinating and extraordinary women. She was one of the Shang emperor’s numerous wives, but she was so remarkable that she not only became the imperial favorite, but also the the most prominent figure in court and throughout China during her lifetime. In addition to being a wife and mother, Fu Hao was also a formidable general who led armies into battle, as well as a priestess and a capable politician.
It was traditional for Shang emperors to marry a wife from each nearby tribe to cement their allegiance, and that is how Fu Hao came to be one of emperor Wu Ding’s 64 wives. Once at court, she exhibited remarkable intelligence, as well as military aptitude, and rose rapidly, becoming the emperor’s favorite wife and his most trusted confidant. She also rose to command the Shang armies, and led them into battle where she defeated and subdued restive tribes, and brought them into the Chinese fold.
14. Fu Hao Led One of Ancient China’s Biggest Armies
One of Fu Hao’s earliest victories was notched against an obstinate tribe that had troubled the Shang for generations. She decisively defeated them in a single battle, and ended their menace once and for all. She led numerous other military campaigns to consolidate Shang rule, and is credited with the successful execution of the earliest large-scale ambush in Chinese history. The fascinating Bronze Age warrior queen led an army of 13,000 men, which was huge for that era, and the largest ever assembled under any one Shang general.
With that force under her command, Fu Hao successfully expanded and pacified the imperial borders. She was given her own fiefdom at the edge of Shang territory, in order to guard against potential enemy encroachment. She predeceased her husband, who built her a lavish tomb. In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered Fu Hao’s tomb intact, with a treasure trove of jade and bronze. It also included a large and varied collection of war artifacts, such as great battle axes, which were apparently her favorite weapons.
13. History’s First Reliably Recorded Battle Was Fought During the Bronze Age
The Bronze Age’s Battle of Megiddo, which took place in 1457 BC, is the earliest recorded battle for which we have reliable details. It was fought between an Ancient Egyptian army led by Pharaoh Thutmose III, and a coalition of rebellious Canaanite states that sought to free themselves of vassalage to Egypt. The rebellion’s center was the city of Megiddo, an important hub at the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley, astride the main trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Thutmose advanced from Egypt at the head of a strong army to Yaham, en route to the rebel city.
From Yaham, the pharaoh had the choice of three routes: a southern one via Taanach, a northern route via Yoqneam, and a central one via Aruna that would take him straight to Megiddo (see map above). The southern and northern routes were longer, but safer. The central route was quicker but risky: it involved passage through narrow ravines in which an approaching army would have to advance single file. Once an army was in the ravines, an alert enemy could block the entrances and exits, and bottle it up. As seen below, Thutmose took that risk and transformed it from a liability to an asset.
12. A Brilliant Maneuver With a Sequel More Than Three Millennia Later
Pharaoh Thutmose III realized that the central route through Aruna was so obviously dangerous that no reasonable commander would risk his army in its ravines. He also guessed that the rebels would leave it unguarded because they would not expect the Egyptians to be so foolhardy as to run such an obvious risk and thus court disaster. So he took the central route. As he had guessed, it was unguarded. The Egyptians arrived at Megiddo sooner than expected, and caught the Canaanites flat footed.
The result was a decisive victory that secured Egyptian hegemony over the region for centuries. The Bronze Age battle had a fascinating sequel 3,375 years later, during World War I. British General Edmund Allenby, an avid student of ancient history, was confronted with the same choice as Thutmose III as he led an army that advanced from the south against Ottoman and German forces entrenched in the Jezreel Valley. He stole a march upon them and burst unexpected in front of Megiddo with an advance through the central route via Aruna.
11. Ancient Egyptians Liked Cats, But Not The Way Cat Owners Like Cats Today
Cats are probably the animal most commonly associated with Ancient Egypt. For good reason – there are thousands of cat statutes all over the place, and millions of cat mummies. Indeed, mummified cats were so common that archaeologists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries recorded that Egyptian farmers routinely crushed and used them as fertilizers. So it stands to reason that Ancient Egyptians must have really loved cats and treated them as pampered pets. That was a common assumption, but it turned out to be untrue. Recent discoveries and research indicate that while cats were popular in ancient Egypt, they were not popular for the same reasons as in the modern era.
Ancient Egyptians did not see cats like we do today: as pets and cute fur ball companions. Instead, they saw them as religious sacrifices to be killed in order to please one of their gods. Those millions of mummified cats? They were not dear pets, lovingly preserved by their saddened owners after their sad demise. Instead, they were bred by the millions near temples, and as soon as they got big enough – usually around five or six months old, but sometimes as young as two to four-month-old kittens – they were sold to the faithful to sacrifice at the temple. So while Ancient Egyptians liked cats, it was a different kind of “like” than that exhibited by modern cat owners towards their cuddly felines.
Most people would agree that dung is disgusting. However, it is widely available, and at some point some ancient people decided that it might be useful as medicine. Whether for better or for worse, the exact details of how somebody first arrived at that brainstorm are lost in the mists of history, but there must have been an interesting tale involved. However it came about, by the time civilization arose, poop was often prescribed to treat a variety of illnesses and assorted maladies.
Ancient Egyptians, for example, swore by the healing properties of donkey, dog, gazelle, and fly dung, and the ability of those creatures’ droppings to ward off evil spirits. They also used animal poop to heal their wounds. On the one hand, that might have caused tetanus and other infections on occasion, especially when poop was applied to open cuts. On the other hand, the microflora in some animal dung contains antibiotics, so the remedy might actually have worked every now and then.
9. The Fascinating Bronze Age Crocodile Poo Contraceptive
The use of fly poop as a medicinal treatment raises some fascinating questions. Not just about its effectiveness, if it actually was effective. The more fascinating question is just how did people back then, long before microscopes were invented, even manage to spot, let alone gather, tiny fly turds? However they went about the collection of fly poop, the Ancient Egyptians had a good reputation as physicians. As a result, many contemporary cultures during the Bronze Age and afterwards looked up and tried and emulate their medicinal practices.
The Ancient Greeks in particular borrowed a lot from the Egyptians, and one of those borrowed things was a medical prescription that used crocodile poop as birth control. Ancient Greek women believed that crocodile dung inserted into their vaginas would serve as a powerful contraceptive. It might have even worked. At least in the sense that to encounter a vagina full of crocodile poop might have been such a huge turn off that it prevented sexual intercourse in the first place.
Ozymandias was the Greek name for Pharaoh Ramses II (circa 1303 – 1213 BC), or Ramses the Great – a title he might have bestowed upon himself. Often identified as the pharaoh who clashed with Moses in the Exodus story, this Ramses was the greatest, most powerful, and most celebrated ruler of the New Kingdom, Ancient Egypt’s most powerful period. A fascinating figure and a warrior through and through, he battled sea pirates, fought numerous campaigns in the Levant, and led several military expeditions into Nubia. While Thutmose III fought history first reliably recorded battle, Ramses fought the first battle whose tactical details have been recorded.
7. The Bronze Age Super Powers That Jockeyed for Control of the Middle East
Two centuries after Thutmose III fought the Battle of Megiddo, Ramses II fought the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC. It was the earliest battle in recorded history for which details such as tactics and formations are known. It was also the largest chariot battle ever fought, in which up to 6000 chariots took part. It occurred against a backdrop of a generations-long rivalry between Egypt and the Hittite Empire of Anatolia, the super powers of their day, as they jockeyed to control the lands of Canaan between them. Early in his reign (1279 – 1213 BC), Ramses decided to finish off the Hittites, and patiently worked for years to gather a powerful army and build up supply depots.
Ramses marched north from Egypt into Canaan with four divisions. First was the Amon Division, led by the pharaoh in person, followed by the divisions of Re, Ptah, and Sutekh. When he heard the news, the Hittite King Muwatalli II marched south from Anatolia into Canaan, with 3,000 heavy chariots and 8,000 infantry. In the late spring of 1274 BC, Ramses emerged from the hills above the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, near the border between modern Syria and Lebanon. He had not spotted the Hittites, who were far closer to his army than he thought.
6. A Desperate Battle, and a Bronze Age Propaganda Campaign to Paint it as a Glorious Victory
The Hittites hid behind Kadesh when Ramses II neared the city, and nomads falsely informed the pharaoh that his enemies were nowhere near. An emboldened Ramses hurried with the Amon Division to Kadesh, and left the rest of his army behind. As Ramses advanced, the Hittites circled around the city, and took care to keep Kadesh between themselves and the Egyptians. As Ramses and the Division of Amon made camp, the Division of Re straggled up the road behind. That was when 2000 massed Hittite chariots charged directly across the Egyptian line of march. They wrecked the Division of Re, then surrounded Ramses in his camp.
The pharaoh gathered his personal guards, and led a desperate charge that drove some Hittite leaders into the river. Fortunately for Ramses, the Hittites behind him abandoned their chariots to loot the Egyptian camp. That was when the Division of Sutekh arrived, and slaughtered the looters. As King Muwatalli sent in the rest of his chariots, the last Egyptian Division of Ptah arrived, and the battle lasted until sunset. After prolonged slaughter, the Hittites finally withdrew into Kadesh and left the field – and victory – to Ramses. Upon his return, the warrior pharaoh littered Egypt with monuments and murals that detailed the engagement and in which he described himself as “Ramses, the Great, Conqueror of the Hittites“. It is thanks to that bragging that know so much about the battle.
5. The Fascinating Bronze Age Egyptian Warrior Queen
Bronze Age warrior Queen Ahhotep I (circa 1560 – 1530 BC) shone during Ancient Egypt’s Seventeenth Dynasty. She led armies in combat against the Hyksos – foreign Semitic interlopers who had conquered Egypt’s Nile Delta. After Ahhotep’s husband was killed fighting the invaders, she took over Egypt’s throne and armies as regent during the minority of her son, Ahmose I. As regent, she kept up the pressure against the Hyksos until her son came of age and took over the fight.
According to a stele that recorded her accomplishments: “The king’s wife, the noble lady, who knew everything, assembled Kemet [Egypt]. She looked after what her Sovereign had established. She guarded it. She assembled her fugitives. She brought together her deserters. She pacified her Upper Egyptians. She subdued her rebels, The kingÂ´s wife Ahhotep given life. … She is the one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt… She has looked after her soldiers, she has guarded her, she has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters, she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.”
4. Ahhotep’s Prowess Won Her Ancient Egypt’s Highest Military Award
Ahmose I, Ahhotep’s son, eventually came of age and took the reins of power, and took over where his mother and his father before her had left off. Ahmose fought the Hyksos, beat and drove them out of Egypt, and reunified the kingdom. He then went on to found the Eighteenth Dynasty, Ancient Egypt’s most famous and successful ruling family. During their reign, the Egyptian Empire reached the zenith of its power and stretched from Syria in the north to Nubia in the south, and from Mesopotamia in the east to the Libyan desert in the west.
The fascinating warrior queen was not done fighting, however. While Ahhotep’s son was busy in the south on a campaign against the Nubians, a cabal of Hyksos-sympathizing rebels tried to seize the throne. She rallied loyal troops, fought off the rebels, and foiled their attempt. For that, she was rewarded with the “Golden Flies of Valor” – Ancient Egypt’s highest military award for courage. It was discovered by archaeologists in Ahhoteps tomb, along with weapons and jewelry, thousands of years later.
The kingdom and civilization of Ancient Egypt lasted for roughly three millennia, from around 3100 BC until its conquest and annexation by the Romans in 30 BC. For most of the first two thirds of its existence, Ancient Egypt was a dominant great power in its neck of the woods. Then it went into a steady decline during its last millennium or so. Pharaoh Ramses III (reigned 1186 – 1155 BC) is considered to be the last great ruler of that long-lived civilization.
This Ramses left his mark as a warrior king, and he is most famous for having fought against a confederation of mysterious marauders known as “The Sea Peoples”. Scholars and historians to this day are unsure just who exactly the Sea Peoples were, but what is known is that they overran nearly all of the era’s Mediterranean kingdoms. Except for Egypt. They invaders inflicted widespread devastation that ushered in what came to be known as the Late Bronze Age Collapse – a dark age that lasted for centuries, during which civilization took a nose dive.
2. A Decisive Victory Against the Bronze Age’s Most Terrifying Marauders
The one Bronze Age kingdom that the Sea Peoples failed to conquer was Ramses III’s Egypt. In the eighth year of his reign, the mysterious marauders invaded Egypt by land and by sea, while Libyans from the west also had a go at the pharaoh’s kingdom. Ramses took on and crushed the invaders. Ancient Egyptians did not have a great reputation as seamen, but on this one occasion, with everything at stake, they put up a determined resistance. Ramses massed archers along the banks of the Nile, and they kept up a steady and heavy fire that devastated the invaders as they tried to disembark. Then Egyptian ships struck, used grappling hooks to secure themselves to the enemy’s vessels, and slaughtered the Sea Peoples in vicious hand-to-hand fighting.
The victory was total. As Ramses put it on inscriptions that commemorated the event: “As for those who reached my frontier, their seed is not, their heart and their soul are finished forever and ever. As for those who came forward together on the seas, the full flame was in front of them at the Nile mouths, while a stockade of lances surrounded them on the shore, prostrated on the beach, slain, and made into heaps from head to tail“. Unfortunately, as seen below, although Ramses had saved Egypt, he was unable to save himself from his own family.
1. The Pharaoh Who Saved Egypt Could Not Save Himself From His Own Family
Ancient Egyptian pharaohs often had multiple wives and many sons, and Ramses III was no exception. His designated heir was his son Ramses IV, but one of his minor wives, Queen Tiye, wanted her own son Pentawer to become the next ruler instead. So she enlisted a group of palace officials in a conspiracy to assassinate the pharaoh. In 1155 BC, as the pharaoh relaxed amidst the royal harem in a palace near Luxor, the plotters struck, took him by surprise, and slashed his throat. Unfortunately for the plotters, only the first part of their plan, the assassination, had succeeded.
The follow up did not fare so well. Queen Tiye and her accomplices failed to install her son Pentawer on the throne, which had been their ultimate goal. The assassinated pharaoh’s designated heir Ramses IV rallied his supporters, secured the throne, rounded up the plotters, and executed 28 of them. Pentawer was either strangled to death, or was buried alive. Millennia later, his remains were discovered, and his face bore an agonized expression that led to its designation as “The Screaming Mummy”. Other plotters had their ears and noses cut off. Queen Tiye’s punishment is not recorded.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading