18th century BC khepesh found in Nablus; the blade is decorated with electrum inlays.
Place of originAncient Egypt
Service history
In servicec. 3rd millennium BC – 1300 BC
Used byNew Kingdom of Egypt
Kingdom of Israel and Judah
Canaanite city-states
WarsBattle of Kadesh
Battle of Qarqar
Lengthavg. 50–60 cm (20–24 in)

Blade typeCurved
ḫpš ('leg')
Egyptian hieroglyphs

The khepesh (ḫpš) is an Egyptian sickle-shaped sword that evolved from battle axes.[1][2]

A typical khepesh is 50–60 cm (20–24 inches) in length, though smaller examples also exist. The inside curve of the weapon could be used to trap an opponent's arm, or to pull an opponent's shield out of the way. These weapons changed from bronze to iron in the New Kingdom period.[3] The earliest known depiction of a khopesh is from the Stele of Vultures, depicting King Eannatum of Lagash wielding the weapon; this would date the khopesh to at least 2500 BC.[4]

The word khepesh may have been derived from "leg", as in "leg of beef", because of their similarity in shape. The hieroglyph for ḫpš ('leg') is found as early as during the time of the Coffin Texts (the First Intermediate Period).[5]

The blade is only sharpened on the outside portion of the curved end. The khepesh evolved from the epsilon or similar crescent-shaped axes that were used in warfare.[1] The khepesh fell out of use around 1300 BC. However, in the 196 BC Rosetta Stone, it is referenced as the "sword" determinative in a hieroglyphic block, with the spelled letters of kh, p, and sh to say:

Shall be set up a statue..., the Avenger of -(Egypt), the interpretation whereof is 'Ptolemy, the strong one of Kam-t'-(Egypt), and a statue of the god of the city, giving to him a sword royal of victory, ...[6]

Various pharaohs are depicted with a khopesh, and some have been found in royal graves, such as the two examples found with Tutankhamun.[4]

Although some examples have clearly sharpened edges, many examples have dull edges that apparently were never intended to be sharp. It may therefore be possible that some khopeshes found in high-status graves were ceremonial variants.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hamblin, 2006. Warfare in the Ancient Near East, pp. 66–71.
  2. ^ Wise, Terence (1981). Ancient Armies of the Middle East. Osprey Publishing. pp. 23–25. ISBN 978-0-85045-384-3.
  3. ^ Howard, Dan (2011). Bronze Age Military Equipment. Casemate Publishers. pp. 31–34. ISBN 978-1-84884-293-9.
  4. ^ a b c Mike Loades (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Pen & Sword Military. pp. 1–21. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8.
  5. ^ Coffin Texts: CT V, 9c, B1C
  6. ^ Budge, 1989, (1929). The Rosetta Stone, p. 155–156. (Rosetta line 6)


  • Budge, 1989, (1929). The Rosetta Stone, E.A.Wallace Budge, (Dover Publications), c 1929, Dover edition (unabridged), 1989. (softcover, ISBN 0-486-26163-8)
  • Hamblin, 2006. Warfare in the Ancient Near East, William J. Hamblin, Routledge (softcover, ISBN 0-415-25589-9)
  • Wernick, 2004, A Khepesh Sword in the University of Liverpool Museum in JSSEA 31, 151–155
  • Massafra, 2009, Le harpai nel Vicino Oriente antico. Cronologia e distribuzione, Roma 2012, (Rome La Sapienza Studies on the Archaeology of Palestine & Transjordan, 09).
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