The ancient Egyptians used a weapon called the khopesh. It was a curved blade that was excellent for getting around shields and puncturing body parts like kidneys.

Why did no other army in the ancient or medieval world later ever use the khopesh again, at least as a weapon type intended for specific enemies?

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    Do you have any evidence to support these assertions? – Mark C. Wallace Jul 3 '18 at 15:54
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    re "and puncturing body parts like kidneys.": Unlikely, given that they typically had a blunt tip, more akin to a club than a true sword. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 3 '18 at 16:04
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    Initial research shows that the kopesh disappears at roughly the same time that the sea-peoples appear, sporting small round shields with a double (and more secure) strap replacing the single strap full-size shields used previously by the Egyptians. This converts the kopesh from an offensive advantage to a offensive disadvantage (especially if the sea-peoples' shields had bosses which I cannot yet confirm or refute). – Pieter Geerkens Jul 3 '18 at 16:18
  • You might consider the design of the falx, for functional similarity. – justCal Jul 3 '18 at 16:38
  • So sad this good and interesting question gets downvoted for no reason. What happened to this community? – Acroneos Jul 5 '18 at 6:54

The khopesh was a solution to the limitations of bronze as a sword material.

Bronze swords can't be too long because they break. Bronze is more brittle and less flexible than iron. For this reason, bronze swords were used only as secondary weapons. The Greek xyphos was only used when the doris (spear) broke and some hoplites never trained with it.

The khopesh is a sickle sword. The curved blade has a very forward point of balance, making it similar to an axe (in fact, it evolved from axes).

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It's an excellent hacking weapon, which makes it very useful to attack limbs not protected by armor or even break shields. It wasn't used "to get around shields" but through them, and neither "to puncture" because it is difficult to change direction between cuts, the point is almost blunt and backwards and the sword is too short for good lunges.

When swords began to be made with iron/steel, the extreme shape of the khopesh became less valuable. There are still "hacking" swords, like the Greek kopis (with a name so similar) and later the shotel or the scimitar, swords that favor the cut instead of the thrust. The form we usually call "machete" (falchion, etc.) has been popular in all history.

So, basically, ancient and medieval armies used the khopesh, but because it was made from steel, it didn't have its exact shape.

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    While this is otherwise a good answer, bronze is definitively not more brittle than iron. One of the main drawbacks of iron swords is that they is more likely to break with longer blades. The limitation to the length of a bronze sword is that it bends. – Ynneadwraith Jul 4 '18 at 11:10
  • @Ynneadwraith Only steel with a lot of carbon is brittle.The Romans made fun of the Celtic iron swords because they bent when hitting. Bronze for swrods is more brittle in all the books I have (for example Microstructure of Steels and Cast Irons by Madeleine Durand-Charre). – Alberto Yagos Jul 4 '18 at 12:27
  • Edit: interesting. More research has suggested that in fact good tin bronze in harder than early wrought iron. The more you know I suppose ;) I wonder however how many early iron age swords actually counted as pure wrought iron and not some unholy mishmash of iron and steel depending on how much carbon they uptake during construction. – Ynneadwraith Jul 4 '18 at 12:57

Also used in Elam, Syria & Canaan (emphasis mine):

During the Middle Bronze Age the new sickle-sword spread rapidly through-out the Near East, appearing in Elam, Syria, Canaan, and eventually Egypt. Egypt seems to have been the last region to acquire the weapon. It doesn't appear in Middle Kingdom Egyptian art, making it likely that the weapon was initially acquired by Egyptians through trade or plunder from Canaan. There is mention of thirty-three "scimitars" - literally "reaping implements" (ECI 79 n49) - taken as plunder in Syria during the reign of Amenemhet II {l929-1895}. Presumably these are versions of the sickle-swords found in the royal tombs of Byblos in Syria and Shechem in Canaan during this period. The weapon does not seem to have been manufactured in Egypt until the New Kingdom, when it frequently appears in modified form as the Egypt khopesh (khps), or scimitar, where the haft of the weapon is reduced to about one third and the blade extended to two thirds AW 1:206-7; FP51).

Hamblin, 2006. Warfare in the Ancient Near East, p.71

  • Not sure if this what you meant to ask. But that's all I've got time for at the moment. – J Asia Jul 3 '18 at 16:24
  • My 2nd comment on the question may bear on the history as well. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 3 '18 at 16:28

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