Robert Harding Picture Library/Photo by F. L. Kenett

A chariot-borne Tutankhamen, his bow taut and his two rearing steeds trampling his enemies, assumes a victorious posture in this scene painted on stucco and discovered on one of the great pharaoh’s wooden chests.

The chariot was a crucial element in an ancient army’s repertoire. Any new refinement to it could shift the balance of power to the side that developed an improvement in design. It was no minor detail, then, when the Bible records in several instances that the Israelites—before the Iron Age had begun—faced Canaanite armies who possessed “iron chariots.” The term need not mean that the chariots were entirely of iron, but that they were reinforced with it. It is possible that iron plates were fixed or hung on the front or sides of the chariots to protect them in battle.

The chariot depicted here from the chest in Tut’s tomb, like all chariots recovered from Egypt, contains no iron. What made it so effective in battle was the placement of the wheels at the rear of the chariot floor. This gave it more maneuverability than other chariots (such as the one at lower left in the photo), whose wheels were hung in the middle of the floor.