The Iron Age in Egypt

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Although the Iron Age in Egypt was relatively short compared to other eras, it was still notable. To learn more about this period of Egyptian history, give this lesson a look.

Prehistoric Metals in Egypt

As one of the earliest civilizations known to man, Egypt passed through several periods of prehistory, each named for the form of technology that was most predominant, including stone, copper, bronze, and iron ages. The Stone Age in Egypt, which ended in 4000 BC, was characterized by flint knives. These knives would be of continued use through other periods in Egypt up to the Iron Age. Copper replaced stone in Egypt and began a new age of technology, which was then replaced by bronze with the Bronze Age in Egypt beginning around 3150 BC. During the later parts of the Bronze Age, Egyptians began to use iron.

Around the year 1200 BC, Egyptians began their Iron Age. While other metals continued to be used, as the use of iron progressed, it became more popular since it proved to be successful in creating tools and weapons.

Reasons for Iron

Egypt had to contend with other civilizations who encroached on their territory. There were the Hyksos who for a time controlled Egypt, and later, the Nubians held dominance over the region. Egyptian pharaohs constantly looked for an advantage over other civilizations, like stronger tools and weapons. Although only by a slight margin, iron is stronger than bronze, and high grades would have produced stronger weapons.

For centuries, Egyptians had worked with smelting, or heating metal to a molten state. They smelted everything from gold and silver to copper and tin. The Egyptians were proven to be adept at blacksmithing (working metal). Later, they learned about iron smelting and blacksmithing as well.

Sources of Iron

Iron was first introduced to Egypt by way of the Middle Eastern civilizations along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Mesopotamia). For example, the Hittites brought iron knives into Egypt during the Late Bronze Period (1550 - 1200 BC).

In addition to imported iron, some iron in Egypt was meteoric iron, which as the name suggests comes from meteors. Later, it was also mined. Mining in Egypt was done primarily for gold, which had religious properties to Egyptians, but there were also copper and tin mines. Eventually, iron ore was located in Egypt in the mountain and desert regions in the east and in the Sinai region. However, the iron they possessed was of a low grade.

Early Iron Age

The years between 1200 and 1000 BC are called Egypt's Early Iron Age, when there was no iron production and sources of the metal were imported from other areas. There was also a deficiency in the corresponding materials needed to smelt iron, like coal. Without high grade iron or the materials needed to work the metal, Egyptians looked to Asia and the Middle East for their iron tools and weapons.

However, Egyptians had other uses for iron. To create trinkets and jewelry of various colors, Egyptians used iron. Sienna (brown) and hematite (red/black blend) iron were both used to make jewelry in Egypt during the period.

Iron Age II

Not until the period called Iron Age II did the Egyptians begin producing their own iron between the years 1000 and 586 BC. Sometime in the 7th century BC, Greeks called Ionians began to populate Egypt's Nile Delta region, and with them came the knowledge of smelting iron. In the next century, Egypt had their own iron-producing hubs mainly in ancient Naukratis and Defenneh.

From the Ionians, Egyptians learned the correct heat for smelting iron at 1100 degrees Celsius or hotter. Egyptians were most experienced with smelting gold, and so they needed guidance from other civilizations to work with iron. Casting iron, or setting it into form, produced another set of complications.

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