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Great March South (Battle of Belusium)

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Great March South
Date:

1132-1149

Location:

Mainland Africa

Result:

Zulu, Masai, Ganda, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland Kingdoms conquered

Belligerents

Egyptian Empire

African Kingdoms

Commanders

Ahmose V (until 1142)


Sesostris VIII (from 1142)

Siphamandla


Koinet


Bahari


Haruni

Strength
Casualties and Losses
  
The Great March South, was a massive military undertaking by the Egyptian Empire, by Pharaoh Ahmose V, wherein the Egyptian Imperial Army marched from southern Ethiopia into central and southern Africa. Over the course of several years, the Egyptian Empire conquered most of the opposing African tribes and kingdoms, including the Zulu, Masai, Buganda, Swaziland, and others. During the campaign, Ahmose died, and was succeeded by his son, Sesostris VIII, who had joined him on the campaign. It was under Sesostris that the Zulu were conquered, and the invasion was finished.

Sources

Due to meticulous record keeping on the part of the Egyptians, most sources of the march come from imperial scribes who joined the pharaoh on the invasion. According to official records, a group of fifty scribes, one for each battalion, would record when the army advanced, halted, or encountered native peoples. The natives were collectively described as the "Risyw" (Southerners), and it was not until after the invasion that the scribes began accounting for the separate differences between the people.

In addition to the imperial scribes, many soldiers kept personal journals of the events. One such journal, written by a soldier named Sertmis, remains one of the primary accounts of individual soldiers. In his journal, he provides details as to the precise formation the soldiers marched in, the morale of the army, and interactions with the locals.

Accounts from the natives are scarce, as most were told orally, and there were few written records. Egyptian scribes would later interview natives about their accounts of the events, and what their respective kings did in the time. Some of these accounts were, however, deemed unfit to be stored in the Imperial Library, and were not kept by the order of scribes.

Background

Though the invasion would not formally begin until 15 years into the rule of Ahmose V, intentions for a large scale incursion further south into continental Africa can be traced back generations. Due to consistent obstacles for Northern expansion, most notably the Caliphate and Rome, it was decided that further Northern campaigns would prove too costly and risky to continue. There was also a consensus amongst Egyptian statesman that future wealth for Egypt lay in the South, which had been explored and thoroughly traded with, but not fully colonized. While Ahmose advocated for future conquest, he could not initiate such a large military campaign without the consent of the Council of Commoners.

By this point, many of the African tribes had been regularly trading with the Egyptians, leading to the spread of Egyptian culture amongst the people, though not far beyond locations in Ethiopia and Sudan. To the African kingdoms that were beyond the immediate trade reach of Egypt (trade was generally indirect, or not substantial enough for much cultural exchange), the empire was viewed as a distant power, that was not of immediate consequence. However, as Egypt expanded South, assimilating the peoples in the process, many kingdoms grew nervous about Egyptian encroachment into their lands. To that end, several kingdoms either ended, or severely curbed trade with Egypt; this was considered by the pharaoh to be a serious insult, and he sent ambassadors to the South to negotiate future relations. While most of the ambassadors were sent away, the ambassador sent to the Zulu was killed on the road, presumably by tribes people. This was used by evidence in the imperial court as a means by which to seize control of the "southern barbarians"; the Council of Commoners (then consisting of 231 members) voted on the issue, and voted in favor at 121 to 110.

Egyptian Preparations

The Egyptians had always been aware of the existence of many separate African kingdoms located South of their borders, though actual knowledge of them was limited. The intention was to expand the empire all the way to Africa's southern coast, and then expanding West into central Africa as far as possible. To that end, large scale stockpiling and military conscription was enacted. Due to lack of sufficient knowledge of the native population, it was assumed that the Egyptian army had to be exceptionally large, in case of worst case scenarios.

The intention was to begin the march in the last weeks of the wet season, so that when they arrived the rains would be over, preventing the spoiling of resources, and to make the terrain easier. Observers were sent by ship to Kenya to observe the wet season, and then send word when they began to end.

Preparations took a total 13 years, before completion, after which the army was gather what was at the time, the southernmost Egyptian city, New Damanhur. It took over three months for the entire army to arrive, and assemble. After a formal war ceremony in Sais, Ahmose traveled to New Damanhur himself, accompanied by his son and heir, Sesostris. There he formally ordered the army to begin the advance South towards Uganda, which was to be the first target.

Size of Egyptian Forces

Army

The army raised by Ahmose was one of the largest in Egyptian history. While there is debate as to the exact size of hte army, the general historical consensus is 200,000 infantry, 50,000 cavalry, and 1000 elephants. When the preparations began, the standing Egyptian army was 100,000, which including a constant garrison 20,000 strong in the Suez fortifications. Another 30,000 were garrisoned throughout the Syrian and Caanan fortifications. Disinclined to remove important defensive forces from their Northern nomes, Ahomse did not remove the garrisons. Instead, with approval from the the Council of Commoners, Ahmose began the process of raising and training new soldiers.

For cavalry, horses were bred in special breeding facilities across the empire. One particularly large facility was south of Memphis, were an estimated 10,000 horses were believed to have been raised and trained.

The Imperial Army already had a standing elephant force 500 strong, 100 of which were garrisoned across the North, and 50 in the Suez fortifications. Increasing elephant division for the invasion called for the creation for a large scale elephant farm. Young elephants were either captured or traded, and brought to a facility south of Aswan, where they were trained by professional elephant trainers; some elephants were traded as adults already trained. The vast majority of elephants were cows, as it was considered inadvisable to try to train bulls. Most of the years spent in preparation were in raising the elephants. The hope was that the elephants could feed off the surrounding land, and that they would operate on a herd mentality, only a larger scale.

To make the large force more manageable army was divided into five divisions of 40,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 200 elephants. In turn, each division was divided into another five battalions of 8000, 2000, and 40. Each division was commanded by a general, and the battalions by a major, with the Pharaoh serving as the supreme commander.

Ugandan Campaign

The kingdoms of Uganda were considered to be of little consequence, due to being relatively small, especially compared to the massive Egyptian army. Instead, the plan was to use Uganda as a staging point to launch an invasion of Masai territory, who were believed to be the greater threat. The Egyptians marched practically unopposed into Acholi, as many warriors did not answer the Rwot's call to arms.

After the Rwot was executed, many kingdoms surrendered, in hopes of potentially preserving a semblance of independence. Ahmose accepted their surrender, but had the kings surrender their claims, and full authority was given to him. The monarchs were instead given the chance to be the nomarchs of the conquered lands, though the lineage was to be abolished, to defer more power to the empire.

Conquering Uganda proved to be very simple, and Egyptian rule over the land was solidified after only several months. The army then fortified over several miles to prepare for an invasion of the Masai lands. There was a brief uprising in Buganda where roughly 27,000 warriors attempted to charge the Southern most part of the army, only to be soundly defeated by the better armed and better organized Egyptians, who barely lost any forces.

Masai Campaign

The would be uprising proved to be of little consequence to Ahmose, who ordered the invasion to proceed as scheduled. Scouts were sent into Masai lands, to determine the terrain, and the size of the Masai forces. After the scouts returned with word of no forces of consequence, the army was ordered to advance, where they crossed into Masai lands relatively easily. However, this would prove to be one of the harder parts of the campaign, as a combination of terrain and attrition impeded Egyptian movement south.

Word by this point had spread throughout the Masai region of the Egyptian invasion. Then king, Koinet, knew that he was at a military disadvantage, as his 70,000 army had only infantry. To help achieve a terrain advantage, he positioned his army across the Mara river, which was much higher due to the recent rainy season, hoping to force the Egyptians to cross it, a process which would've taken a long time, and make them vulnerable. They made camp across the river near the steeper banks, and prepared for the Egyptian arrival.

Battle of the Mara

The Egyptians arrived relatively on schedule, where Ahmose ordered the army to stop. The majority of banks were two steep for his troops to climb, and the river was too strong for most of the soldiers to cross. Having failed to account for the rising river, he ordered runners to scout up and down the river to find an easier place to cross. Ahmose waited for six days to find a better spot in a decent location, before ordering his forces to make long term fortifications, so as to form a revised strategy.

The Egyptian camp was very large, spreading out at almost a mile. It was formed in the shape of a line along the river, with the infantry closest to the river, the horses in the middle, and the elephants farthest away. The elephants were regularly allowed to roam the surrounding land, where they often ate the surrounding vegetation. It would later be estimated that the imperial elephants cleared almost two thirds of the area.

The opposing encampments was visible to each from the respective sides of the river, though only the Masai attempted to cross. Small troupes of roughly 50 men regularly made incursions into the night, and attempted to sabotage the Egyptian army. Due to intense scrutiny on the part of the Egyptians, not all of this attempts succeeded, and though the primary targets were the elephants, they were too deep into the camp to make it practical. There was at least one direct attempt to assassinate Ahmose, but the troupe was killed by the Imperial Guard before they got to the Pharaoh's tent.

This would continue for multiple weeks, and over time, Ahmose was forced to allow many of the elephants to be released before they put too large of a strain on the resources. Up to 200 of the remaining elephants were released, where they were followed for a time to prevent them from doubling back to the camp.

During what is assumed to be the fifth week, scouts found a safe bank to cross several miles down the river, though the bank could only stand one elephant at a time. Persuaded by his generals to accept this as the best he could get, Ahmose ordered his army to cross at that given location. Fully crossing the river would take the whole day, with the plan being for infantry to be the first cross in squads of 40, followed by the cavalry in squads of ten, and the elephants one at a time.

It was during the crossing, that the Masai army charged the Egyptians, forcing the crossing to accelerate. Fortunately, the better armed Egyptians managed to hold the line for the rest of the army to cross, where the Masai army was smashed. King Koinet was taken prisoner, where he was brought before Ahmose. He was sentenced to death and executed on the spot. The remaining Masai population did not resist as the Egyptians marched in, and occupied the surrounding land.

Zulu Campaign

After spending two months solidifying Egyptian rule in Masai lands, preparations began to continue traveling South, the next destination being Swaziland, which was in turn to be a staging point for an invasion of Zulu lands. Installing a Masai collaborator as the nomarch, the Egyptian army traveled virtually unopposed further South, the majority tribes surrendering without struggle. Two other nomes were established in these regions, with natives being installed as the nomarchs.

Eventually, the northern reaches of the Swaziland kingdom was reached, and an offer was given to the reigning king to either surrender unconditionally to the Pharaoh, or wage war. The king accepted the terms, and surrendered to the Egyptians, and was conferred as the nomarch. The Egyptian army marched into Swaziland, and began preparations to begin their invasion of Zulu land.

Death of Ahmose

While making camp in Swaziland, Pharaoh Ahmose fell gravely ill (it is generally believed to be from malaria). Due to the pharaoh being the commander of the army, the advance was halted, and the invasion postponed. After two weeks of showing symptoms Ahmose died in his sleep.

The death of the pharaoh would have put the Egyptians in a difficult position. It was tradition for the pharaoh to be properly interred after death, but being a very long distance from Egypt would mean it would take weeks to get back to Sais for burial. There was also the matter of the Council of Commoners being informed about the monarch's death, and the formal coronation of Sesostris. Foreseeing this, Ahmose had issued a decree prior to beginning the march that the army was not to return to Sais until the campaign was completed. In honor of this final order, the new pharaoh, Sesostris VIII ordered the army to continue as planned.

Invasion of Zululand

Upon getting word of Ahmose's passing, King of the Zulu, Shiphamandla, had hopes this would demoralize the Egyptians, and encourage them to return to Egypt. That could have given the Zulu precious more time to build up and plan their defenses. However, when intelligence arrived that the Egyptian army had crossed into Zulu territory, Shiphamandla was left with no choice but to gather his army, and go out to meet them. Conscious of the numerical advantage the Egyptians had, Siphamandla opted for a guerrilla war, hoping to keep the Egyptians moving, using the terrain advantage. He ordered his army, which was approximately 60,000 strong, to be divided itno five parts, with orders to harass the Egyptian soldiers, and prevent scouters from coming back to relay information.

Knowing that his army would not last long if this was allowed to continue as it did, Sesostris opted to and batter the enemy into submission. He ordered divisions of his army to burn villages, and kill the men, hoping that it would eventually force Shiphamandla into the open. This continued for roughly five months, before the Zulu army attempted to charge the encamped Egyptians. The attack proved disastrous, as the Zulu army was completely annihilated. Shiphamandla was brought before Sesostris, who, according to imperial accounts, took the Royal Spear, broke it over his knee, and took the Zulu crown and put it on his own head, declaring himself King of the Zulu. Siphamandla was then executed. Remaining Zulu settlements promptly surrendered to the Egyptians.

Conclusion

While the defeat of the Zulu, the only major power in that region, essentially marked the completion of Egypt's conquest over Eastern and Southern Africa, Sesostirs continued the march to the coast. Upon reaching South Africa's farther coastline, he ordered the building of several ships, which he would use to return to Egypt. The majority of the army was to remain in Africa, and would return by land, to squash any remaining resistance, and serve as a temporary occupation force until a permanent garrison could be installed. They were also to begin building a road system back to Egypt, to properly unite the Empire. Many of the remaining elephants were released into the wild, but some were kept to assist in the building of roads.

The conquered lands were divided into the nomes 34 through 45, with nomarchs generally either appointed from local groups, or from the armed forces. Due to the unifying force the kings offered, most African nations failed to form any long term resistance, and with promises of being allowed to maintain their current lifestyle, so long as they acknowledged the rule of the pharaoh, most African villagers did not offer much resistance.

Tactical Analysis

The Egyptian army had been well tested, and well proven by the time of the march. Due to Egyptian emphasis on mobility, most Egyptian forces were mediumly armored at the most. The primary infantry force consisted of a soldier wearing medium weight, full body armor, armed with both a long straight sword, and a curved sword. Cavalry consisted of both lancers and archers, which were both lightly armored so as to not potentially slow down the horses. Elephants came in two variations: chargers and skirmishers. Chargers were elephants who only had one or two riders, who directed the elephants in certain directions, while skirmisher elephants had a howdah on their backs from where archers could fire. A battle formation generally consisted of the infantry being formed into blocks of 300 (20 by 15), with spearmen at the front, followed by swordsmen, and then archers. Cavalry was kept apart from the infantry in the battle, to prevent them from getting in the way of each other, and were generally on the flanks. The elephants were in the rear, and only brought it when deemed necessary.

The African armies were far looser organized, as many of them were informally conscripted from separate villages across the respective kingdoms. They were generally armed with iron spears, iron knives, and, on occasion, iron arrows. They wore no armor, and were armed with a leather or wicker shield. None of the African forces had cavalry of any sort, being completely infantry only. According to Egyptian records, they had no battle formations, and generally charged headlong into battle; according to Egyptian scribe, Meneper, "They were superb warriors, but poor soldiers". An exception to this was the Zulu, who charged in a standard "impi" formation, which mimicked stance of a charging bull. In the impi formation, the first wave, mimicking the bull's horns, would flank and try to pin the enemy, while the main force, the bull's chest, would deliver the coup' de grace. Unfortunately for the Zulu, this technique, proved little effective against the Egyptian infantry, as the block formation they were deployed in prevented the horns from proper flanking.

At this point, the Egyptians had been doing battle with African tribes people for centuries, and were very experienced in dealing with them, whereas as the Africans were not. According to scribe Iahsin, many African warriors on the battlefield were discouraged from fighting not long after the battle began, due to very blatant advantages the Egyptians had.

Strategic Analysis

It was clear from the offset that the Egyptians had almost every advantage. The Egyptian Imperial Army was larger, better armed, better supplied, and better organized; it was even mused amongst councilors that the army was size was excessive. There was a clearly defined command structure and military hierarchy, with the pharaoh being the supreme commander, the generals commanding the divisions, majors commanding the battalions, and captains commanding the infantry blocks. This was in contrast to the poorly organized African armies, which were formed loosely out separate tribal groups, and had no distinct command structure, aside from command coming from the king.

The Egyptian strategy with dealing with the Africans was simply to overwhelm them with superior force, and discourage future fighting, and if needed, batter them into submission. African settlements were faced with either annihilation, or submission, the majority choosing the latter. As the Egyptian advanced, it became increasingly apparent to the African people that they had no hope of defeating them, until almost all settlements immediately surrendered when an Egyptian scout arrived.

Among the few African kings that managed to hold out for a time, terrain was a major factor. While much of the terrain was consistently flat, the Egyptians were not entirely familiar with it, and relied heavily on scouts to to determine proper routes. So instead of trying to defeat them in open warfare, the Zulu and Masai, the two most prominent examples, tried to wage a war of attrition, to weaken and demoralize the army enough that it would return to Egypt. Though this failed in the long term, Egyptian military experts would take note of these tactics; they would later be used during the Gahense incursion into Egyptian southern nomes.

Significance

The march solidified the Egyptian Empire as the dominant power in the African continent, as what few remaining African kingdoms would band into an alliance that would ultimately become the Free African Union. The Egyptians also now controlled all sea ways to Asia, as any ship hoping to trade with China, India, or Japan, would have to round South Africa, or travel through the Suez canal. This would lead to the Romans, and to a lesser extent the Ghanese, to seek out alternate means to Asia, which would eventually lead to their respective landings in the Americas. These events have lead some historians to suggest that Egyptian expansion in Africa to be one of the most significant events in world history.

In Africa itself, relatively little immediate change happened to the people and their lifestyle, though over this changed over time, especially as more Egyptian natives began to settle in the new land; the Egyptians were culturally tolerant, and took little issue with the native cultures, so much as they acknowledged the pharaoh's rule. Many African natives would enlist in the Imperial Army, and the Egyptians would actually incorporate African tactics, including the impi formation, which would be used against the Romans during the Crusades. The eventual completion of the road from the city of New Elephantine in South Africa all the way back to Egypt also significantly increased connectivity, and encouraged more settlement.

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