Fort Buhen, Egypt: Ancient Messages

By | January 14, 2021

[January 14, 2021]  Looking back into the haze of thousands of years ago, we can sometimes see meaning in the works of those who lived.  And, those meanings can be a lesson for us living today.  That is the case with Fort Buhen, Egypt.

Early Egypt:

Before the New Kingdom (16th to 11th Century BC), Egypt had a policy of defending its existing borders rather than looking outwards for empire expansion.  As a result, Egypt had no standing army but instead relied on militias and conscription when threatened.  During this period, Egyptian rulers created a buffer between them and various invasion routes to act as a simple shield of protection.  The buffer was highly effective.

Fort Buhen:

Fortresses, rather than fortified towns (like the Romans built), stood guard to control Egypt’s vulnerable frontiers.  The mudbrick fortress of Buhen, in Lower Nubia, is one of the better-known and impressive structures.  Various fortifications were built along the Nile River and were designed for mutual support.1  Fort Buhen was a significant cog in the defensive machinery of Egypt.

Ancient Messages:

Fort Buhen played a defensive role to some extent, but there are additional core roles in terms of function and symbolism.  In function, Buhen was part of a system to protect Egypt’s monopoly on exotic trade goods.  However, my interest here is in the symbolism.

With the sheer size and complexity of Fort Buhen and being tied-in with other forts, it was designed to intimidate.  With its elaborate bastions and ditches, the propaganda role was essential to deter Nubia and roving bands of bandits.  It symbolized the strength of Egypt and projected power.  Although primarily a defensive structure, it was a jumping off point for invasions southward in the Second Dynasty.

What is interesting for us in my leadership blog is that many of the innovations at Buhen preceded European Forts and purpose.  For example, outer defensive walls were thick, tall, and included ditches (a moat without water), protective bastions for troops, narrow slits, and limited access routes.  These were later built into Europe’s castle-fortresses starting in the 9th Century AD2 – 3,000 years later.

Today’s Lesson:

Fort Buhen’s messages to those who would attack the Egyptian empire are clear – “Don’t mess with me,” the fortress tells us.  In a modern nation, fortresses no longer exist.  The French Maginot Line is an example of how fortresses can be a failure since mobile warfare was created.  But being prepared and letting your enemies (or competition) know you are ready, is a message that leaders must always project.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Fort Buhen, Egypt: Ancient Messages

  1. Kenny Foster

    I think you should expand on “today’s lessons.” Maybe a followup here. I’d like to see the comparison spelt out in a little more detail. To illustrate, the idea of don’t mess with me is not so simple as it first appears. It means that we will defend ourselves (yes) but it also means we are coming after you if you do mess with us (yes) and we will destroy you completely, brutally, and with extreme prejudice (yes). Look how we can translate into politics today. We can see that in Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumar’s attacks on the US President who lost the election (unfairly I might add). However, there is a risk in this strategy if you go too far. Like the Nazi Army in WW2 went too deep into Russia and got their butt kicked.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Well said, Kenny. THere is a point that being on the defense can work so much but overdoing the offensive part can too get you destroyed.

  2. Yusaf from Texas

    Another spot-on article. Thanks Gen. Satterfield. I had no idea.

  3. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    “Don’t mess with me.” This is an ancient message going back to the beginning of mankind. I would think that is the case and explains why certain civilizations survived and others didn’t.

    1. Max Foster

      This concept is pretty straight forward. Not complex at all. And, that is a good thing since any complex idea is much slower to filter out into the masses. Well, I don’t use ‘masses’ lightly but … anyway. It is interesting that those empires of the past that we know about all had one thing in common; they were expansionist and not defensive only. I will note that while Gen. Satterfield notes the defensive nature of Fort BUHEN, it was also later a jumping off place for military expeditions southward into Nubian territory. Note we don’t hear much about the Nubians. I wonder why. Simple, they got conquered.

  4. JT Patterson

    Hi Gen. Satterfield, I’m one of your many fans. Sure did enjoy today’s blog post. Thanks for it. Keep up the history, I love history.

  5. Harry Donner

    Good article, Gen. Satterfield. The point – which is well taken – is that we can learn from history. Buy also as noted below by Army Capt, you had to fight or die or be enslaved (I added that last one). True enough. We can translate that into today’s modern world. Maybe another article dedicated to old messages from the past will be helpful.

  6. Army Captain

    Ancient Messages ….. seems sinister but it’s not. Ancient times meant that you fought for survival because there was always some group who wanted to take what you had. War was a perpetual state of affairs. Peace was just a temporary respite. Fight or die. That was the mantra.

    1. Audrey

      Today’s snowflake generation wouldn’t survive a minute in ancient days. Well, maybe a minute but only as a slave or long enough to be butchered and eaten.

      1. Tom Bushmaster

        Yeah, and they would say that someone is being ‘mean’ to them. HaHaHa ………

      2. Georgie B.

        Yep, plenty of those snowflakes around who are ‘priviledged’ beyond belief.

    2. Roger Yellowmule

      I was thinking something a little different when I read the title. Maybe, I thought, it was something secret. But, of course not. Why? Because if it was secret then they would not have lived to expand their civilization. Egypt should be studied for why they were so successful for so long. Like the Inca and Mayans of Peru and Mexico. Why did certain civs exist for so long?


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