Of all the Egyptian swords, the khopesh (or khepesh) is the best-known and perhaps the most famous of all ancient Egyptian weapons, having often been featured in popular culture.
The Khopesh (ḫpš) is the Egyptian name of the Canaanite “sickle-sword" whose origins can be traced back to third-millennium Sumer. The hilt and blade of this khopesh is cast as one piece, giving the sword great strength. The handle angles slightly down from the forte. It has upraised ridges higher than its recess so it can accommodate a wood inlay, traces of which still remain. In the recess cavity there are rivet-holes to secure the inlay. The rounded pommel is straight at the top and hooked at the bottom to prevent it from slipping out of the user’s hand. Given the size of the handle’s concave side, it is apparent this sword was intended to be wielded with one hand.
The hand guard is a small squared area at the base of the handle that does not appear to have been designed to actually protect the hand, but rather further secure the handle inlay. Surmounting the handle is a double papyrus motif, symbolizing the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. Papyrus played an important role in keeping the land of Egypt vigorous and humming with energetic activity.
The ‘forte’ is the straight area that extends from the top of the hand guard to the beginning of the blade curvature. The material is in a squared shape and provides the artifact with the most tensile strength. There appear to be two lines that were cast in the mold process. Both lines run parallel with the shape of the blade, turning at a right angle at the top of the forte and then following the curvature of the blade. At the tip of the blade, the lower line deviates to meet the top line, thus suggesting a beveled point.
The end of the blade itself is squared, and the lack of a point suggests this implement was designed for use in slashing motions, not stabbing. There are minor signs of wear to the blade area, suggesting this weapon was used in battle.
Background: The name Khopesh possibly derives from the khopesh joint, specifically the right foreleg of an ox that was cut off and used for meat offerings to deities in Egyptian rituals. Petrie writes:
“By its great curvature, it was intended for a swiping cut; and the retreat of the handle behind the edge was to protect the hand from the subject and to gain a few inches of distance.“
The Khopesh was clearly intended for slashing and chopping due to its weight being focused around the crescent portion at the front of the blade. This inside curve of the weapon forms a hook that can be used to trap an opponent's arm or pull his shield out of the way. The cutting edge was finely honed and sharpened and would have been effective at thrusting, cutting and slicing lightly armored enemies. The biblical expression of striking "with the edge of the sword" (Josh . 6:21) probably comes from the use of this type of sword. It was the Hyksos who supposedly introduced the khopesh into Egypt, along with the relevant body armor, helmets and the chariot. They quite possibly unwittingly provided the Egyptians with the means by which they eventually defeated their Hyksos rulers.
It is equally possible the manufacturing techniques for the khopesh came from Canaan, although there may also have been direct imports through either trade or tribute. This theory is supported by reliefs in early Theban tombs, in which foreigners are depicted with the khopesh and the straight sword as objects of tribute.
First appearing in southern Mesopotamia at the very end of the 3rd millennium BC, the specific form and design of the Khopesh diffused in a short time through Iran, the Levant, and Egypt. This adoption was due to the choice of the elite. Curved swords are often found in prestigious contexts, with three early examples found in the second millennium BC Royal graves of Byblos. All three measure around 22 inches long, are tanged, with the grip fastened with glue or rivets, and bear some minor relief decoration. Such swords later achieve a similar high status in Egypt for the earliest known example there takes the form of a small knife inscribed with the name of Thutmosis III (1482-1425 BC).
However, the Khopesh became most popular during the 19th Dynasty (1570–1070 BCE), when it was used as a symbol of royal power, replacing the mace as the symbol of Egyptian authority. The khopesh often features in the most important of symbolic scenes, such as smiting, a pharaoh driving a chariot into battle, hunting scenes, and scenes portraying the beheading of enemy prisoners.
This is a weapon that communicated a deep symbolic meaning, and high status over a wide geographic area to all those who saw or bore it.
Condition: Heave green patina,with traces of original wood handle inlay remaining. The sword is intact and in excellent condition overall,
Dimensions: Length: 23 1/2 inches (59.7 cm)
Provenance: Private Belgium collection, acquired at Sotheby's in 1992. Thereafter private Californian collection, acquired from Sands of Time Ancient Art in 2017.