A Knife In Human History, Kinds Of Knives

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The knife is one of the oldest manufactured items in human history. Its development and use in Ancient Egypt is a straightforward progression with some interesting quirks.

The Flint Knife

As in the rest of the world, the flint knife, made by chipping pieces off of a piece of flint to form a point and edges, was the first form of cutting tool made in pre-Dynastic Egypt. Originally this was a tool more than a weapon, and was used for butchery and the skinning of animals. When tribes began to fight, the flint knife was no match for the longer reach of the axe or spear. Knives were therefore used more for finishing off fallen or wounded enemies than for actual close combat. Flint knives also quickly became used in religious ceremonies, and with ritual then becoming ingrained in the Egyptian society, the flint knife became set as the ritual knife, even after more sophisticated blades became available.

Metal Blades

The earliest metal knives in Egypt came along by the Old Kingdom. There were made of single sheets of copper, beaten flat. While a larger copper blade would be too fragile for much use, a small knife blade was a suitable object to be made from this metal. Bronze knives were also made from a single beaten sheet at first, but the Old Kingdom artisans then added a central ridge to strengthen the blade. Both the copper and bronze knives had the same wooden, bone or ivory hilts as the flint knives,but in the case of the metal blades the hilts could now be secured onto a tang formed along with the blade.

Looking (at) Daggers

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These knives were small enough to be tucked into a loincloth, but in the New Kingdom the blades became lengthened from four to six inches up to eight to ten inches, requiring a separate holder, or scabbard. It was also in the New Kingdom that a large pommel was added to the design, producing a true dagger rather than knife. The weapon – for the dagger is a weapon rather than a tool – was no longer beaten from a sheet of metal, but cast entirely in one piece. The blade, hilt and pommel were all one single piece of metal, with a handgrip added to the hilt. As well as being more decorative, the pommel changed the balance of the weapon. Now the weight was at the back of the hand, for easier thrusting, rather than at the blade for cutting. It also meant the outside edge of the hand was snug against the pommel, and so the weapon was more securely gripped. The pommel could also be used as a sort of knuckle-duster.

Khopesh Daggers

Sickles had been made out of flint since the earliest times, and used for harvesting crops. This type of tool also made the change to copper and bronze, becoming double-edged in the process. This curved dagger is sometimes called the khopesh dagger because of its shape, and this along with the inconsistent scale of weapons in Egyptian art sometimes leads to confusion over whether this is a khopesh, and what size a khopesh is. This dagger’s blade is only around eight to ten inches long, and curved like a claw. A vicious weapon, it was often the secondary weapon of soldiers armed with axes or spears. This popularity may be partly due to it being ideally-shaped for thrusting upwards under the individual segments of scale armour. It was also a frequent ritual dagger, and exquisite decorated versions, some made of gold, have been found in Pharonic tombs.

Decorating the Knife

Even flint blades were given well-crafted hilts from the earliest Dynasties. Hilts would be made of wood, ivory, or bone; if it was a ceremonial blade, the hilt could be gilded with metal, or indeed made of bronze, copper, or even gold. Once the pattern for metal blades had been established, they could even be cast entirely from gold. Knives were also valued enough to be protected by scabbards and sheaths, unlike swords. These scabbards were usually made of leather or bark, but could also be gilded and decorated for Royal owners, and some of these have been found as grave goods.

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