Battle of Kadesh

Battle of Kadesh

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Kadesh

caption=Ramesses atop chariot, at the battle of Kadesh. (Relief inside his Abu Simbel temple.)
partof=the Egyptian-Hittite wars
date= 1274 BC [Lorna Oakes, Pyramids, Temples & Tombs of Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Atlas of the Land of the Pharaohs, Hermes House: 2003. p.142]
place=On the Orontes River near Kadesh
result=Tactical: Pyrrhic Egyptian victory
Operative: Egyptian defeat (campaign ends in Egyptian retreat)
Strategic: Hittite victory (Hittite Empire expands southward to Upi)
combatant1=New Kingdom of Egypt
combatant2=Hittite Empire
commander1=Ramesses II
commander2=Muwatalli II
strength1= 20,000 men
*16,000 infantryM. Healy, "Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings", 32]
(half engaged}
*2,000 chariotsM. Healy, "Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings", 39]
**4,000 menM. Healy, "Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings", 32]
strength2= 50,000 men
*40,000 infantryM. Healy, "Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings", 22]
(not engaged)
*3,700 chariotsM. Healy, "Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings", 22]
**11,100 menM. Healy, "Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings", 21]
casualties1=Unknown (considerably higher)
casualties2=Unknown (considerably lower)

The Battle of Kadesh (also "Qadesh") took place between the forces of the Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, in what is now the Syrian Arab Republic. [Kitchen, K.A, "Ramesside Inscriptions", Volume 2, Blackwell Publishing Limited, 1996, pp.16-17] The battle is generally dated to 1274 BC. [around "Year 5 III Shemu day 9" of Ramesses II's reign (BAR III, p.317<) or more precisely: May 12, 1274 BC based on Ramesses' commonly accepted accession date in 1279 BC.] It was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000&mdash;6,000 chariots. cite web|url=
accessdate=2004-05-15|title="Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare"|quote=viewed=12:00 hrs EDST, 2008-05-14, History Channel Program: "Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare" with panel of three experts|program blurb=Egyptian monuments and great works of art still astound us today. We will reveal another surprising aspect of Egyptian life--their weapons of war, and their great might on the battlefield. A common perception of the Egyptians is of a cultured civilization, yet there is fascinating evidence which reveals they were also a war faring people, who developed advanced weapon making techniques. Some of these techniques would be used for the very first time in history and some of the battles they fought were on a truly massive scale.
] Dead link|date=October 2008


After expelling the Hyksos 15th dynasty, the native Egyptian New Kingdom rulers became more aggressive in reclaiming control of their state's borders. Thutmose I, Thutmose III and his son and coregent Amenhotep II fought battles from Megiddo, North to the Orontes river, including conflict with Kadesh.

Many of the Egyptian campaign accounts between c.1400 and 1300 BC reflect the general destabilization of the region of the Djahi. The reigns of Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III were undistinguished except that Egypt continued to lose territory to Mitanni in northern Syria.

During the late Egyptian 18th dynasty, the Amarna Letters [Moran, William L., "The Amarna Letters", Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992] tell the story of the decline of Egyptian influence in the region. The Egyptians showed flagging interest here until almost the end of the dynasty. Horemheb, the last ruler of this dynasty, campaigned in this region, finally beginning to turn Egyptian interest back to this region.

This process continued in the 19th Dynasty. Like his father Ramesses I, Seti I was a military commander and set out to restore Egypt's empire to the days of the Tuthmosis kings almost a century before. Inscriptions on Karnak temple walls record the details of his campaigns into Canaan and Syria. He took 20,000 men and reoccupied abandoned Egyptian posts and garrisoned cities. He made an informal peace with the Hittites, took control of coastal areas along the Mediterranean, and continued to campaign in Canaan. A second campaign led him to capture Kadesh (where a stela commemorated his victory) and Amurru. His son and heir Ramesses II campaigned with him. The History Channel documentary describes development of the light two man Egyptian chariot, speedier and more maneuverable than the three man heavy chariot of the Hittites, the "penetrating battle axe" - a successor to the traditional infantry's stone headed mace and able to penetrate the helmets of the Hittites, and the Khopesh, which unlike a sickle is sharped on the outside of the curve and able to penetrate and possessed superior cutting ability like a saber, another sword type with curved blade - all developed during this era in response to the armed clashes between Hittite and Egyptians. Historical records exist which record a large weapons order by Ramesses II the year prior to the expedition he lead to Kadesh in 1274 BC.Ibid]

However, at some point, both regions may have lapsed back into Hittite control. What exactly happened to Amurru is disputed. The Hittitologist Trevor Bryce suggests that although it may have fallen once again under Hittite control, he thinks it's more likely Amurru remained a Hittite vassal state.Bryce, Trevor, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford University Press, new edition 2005, ISBN 019927908Xm p.233]

The immediate antecedents to the Battle of Kadesh were the early campaigns of Ramesses II into Canaan. In the fourth year of his reign, he marched north into Syria, either to recapture Amurru. [Grimal, Nicolas, "A History of Ancient Egypt" (1994) pp. 253ff.] or to as a probing effort to confirm his vassals' loyalty and explore the terrain of possible battles. The recovery of Amurru was Muwatalli's stated motivation for marching south to confront the Egyptians. Ramesses marched north the 5th year of his reign, and encountered the Hittites at Kadesh.

Documentation and disagreements

Although there is more evidence in the form of texts and wall reliefs for this battle than for any other battle in the Ancient Near East, almost all of it is from an Egyptian perspective, and indeed the first scholarly report on the battle, by James Henry Breasted in 1903, took the Egyptian evidence literally and assumed a great Egyptian victory. His certainty has been replaced by a situation in which there are varying opinions on almost every aspect of the battle.

Kadesh campaign

Ramesses's army crossed the Egyptian border in the spring of Year five of his reign and after a month's march reached the area of Kadesh from the south.

The Hittite king Muwatalli, who had mustered several of his allies (among them Rimisharrinaa, the king of Aleppo), had positioned his troops behind "Old Kadesh", but Ramesses, misled by two spies whom the Egyptians had captured, thought the Hittite forces were still far off, at Aleppo, and ordered his forces to set up camp.

The Contending Forces

In the spring of the fifth year of his reign in May 1274 B.C., Ramesses launched his campaign from his capital Pi-Ramesses (modern Qantir). Ramesses led an army of four divisions, Amun, Re (P're), Seth (Suteh) and the apparently newly formed Ptah division.cite book|title=Egypt of the Pharaohs|first=Sir Alan|last=Gardiner|year=1964|publisher=Oxford University Press|pages=p. 260] There was also a poorly documented troop called the "nrrn" (Ne'arin or Nearin), possibly Canaanite military mercenaries with Egyptian allegiance [ cite journal|title=Considerations on the Battle of Kadesh|journal=The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology|month=December | year=1966|first=Hans|last=Goedicke|coauthors=|volume=52|issue=|pages=71–80|page=78|id= |url=|format=|accessdate=2008-04-26|doi=10.2307/3855821 ] or even Egyptians [ cite journal|title=The Narn at Kadesh Once Again|journal=Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities|year=1981|first=A.R.|last=Schulman|coauthors=|volume=11|issue=1|pages=7–19|id= |url=|format=|accessdate=2008-04-27 ] which Ramesses had left in Amurru, apparently in order to secure the port of Sumur [ [ The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite history] ] . This division would come to play a critical role in the battle. Also significant was the presence of Sherden troops among the Egyptian army. This is the first time they appear as Egyptian mercenaries, and they would play an increasingly significant role in Late Bronze Age history, ultimately appearing among the Sea Peoples that ravaged the east Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age. Healy in "Armies of the Pharaohs" observes that "It is not possible to be precise about the size of the Egyptian chariot force at Qadesh though it could not have numbered less than 2,000 vehicles spread though the corps of Amun, P'Re, Ptah and Sutekh, assuming that approx. 500 machines were allocated to each corps. To this we may need to add those of the Ne'arin, for if they were not native Egyptian troops their number may not have been formed from chariots detached from the army corps." [Mark Healy, Armies of the Pharaohs, Osprey Publishing, 2000. p.39]

On the Hittite side, Ramesses recorded a long list of 19 Hittite allies brought to Kadesh by Muwattalli. This list has excited considerable interest over the years because it has been a challenge to identify all of the locations, because it represents such a broad swath of the Hittite subject lands, and because of the appearance of several west Anatolian lands, apparently including the Dardanians mentioned by Homer. (For the complete list, see Appendix A.)


Ramesses II describes his arrival on the battlefield in the two principle inscriptions he wrote concerning the battle, the so called "Poem" and the "Bulletin":

As Ramesses and the Egyptian advance guard were about 11 kilometers from Kadesh, south of Shabtuna, he met two Shasu (nomads) who told him that the Hittites were "in the land of Aleppo, on the north of Tunip" 200 kilometers away, where, the Shasu said, they were "(too much) afraid of Pharaoh, L.P.H., to come south."Wilson, John A, "The Texts of the Battle of Kadesh", The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 34, no. 4, July 1927, p.278] This was, state the Egyptian texts, a false report ordered by the Hittites "with the aim of preventing the army of His Majesty from drawing up to combat with the foe of Hatti." Egyptian scouts then returned to his camp bringing two new Hittite prisoners. Ramesses II only learned of the true nature of his dire predicament when these spies were captured, beaten and forced to reveal the truth before him. Under torture, the second group of spies revealed that the entire Hittite army and the Hittite king were actually close at hand:

cquote|When they had been brought before Pharaoh, His Majesty asked, 'Who are you?' They replied 'We belong to the king of Hatti. He has sent us to spy on you.' Then His Majesty said to them, 'Where is he, the enemy from Hatti? I had heard that he was in the land of Khaleb, north of Tunip.' They replied to His Majesty, 'Lo, the king of Hatti has already arrived, together with the many countries who are supporting him... They are armed with their infantry and their chariots. They have their weapons of war at the ready. They are more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. Behold, they stand equipped and ready for battle behind the old city of Kadesh [Joyce Tyldesley, Ramesses: Egypt's Greatest Pharaoh, Penguin Books, 2000. pp.70-71]

In his haste to capture Kadesh, Ramesses committed a major tactical error. He increased the distance between his Amun brigade and the remaining Re, Ptah and the Seth divisions thereby splitting up his combined forces. When they were attacked by the Hittites, Ramesses II complained of the failure of his officials to dispatch scouts to discover the true location of the Hittites and reporting their location to him.Santosuosso, Antonio, "Kadesh Revisited: Reconstructing the Battle Between the Egyptians and the Hittites " "The Journal of Military History", Vol 60 no. 3, July 1996] The pharaoh quickly sent urgent messengers to hasten the arrival of the Ptah and Seth divisions of his army, which were still some distance away on the far side of the river Orontes. Before Ramesses could organize his troops, however, Muwatalli's chariots attacked the Re division, which was caught in the open and almost destroyed. Some of its survivors fled to the safety of the Amun camp, but they were pursued by the Hittite forces.

The Hittite chariotry crashed through the Amun camp’s shield wall and began their assault. This created panic among the Amun troops as well. However, the momentum of the Hittite attack was already starting to wane, as the impending obstacles of such a large camp forced many Hittite charioteers to slow their attack; some were killed in chariot crashes. [Mark Healy, op. cit., p.61] In the Egyptian account of the battle, Ramesses describes himself as being deserted and surrounded by enemies:

"...No officer was with me, no charioteer, no soldier of the army, no shield-bearer ..." [cite book|title=Ancient Egyptian Literature|volume=II:The New Kingdom|pages=p.65|year=1976|first=Miriam|last=Lichtheim|location=Berkeley|publisher=University of California Press]

Only with help from the gods did Ramesses personally defeat his attackers and return to the Egyptian lines:

"...I was before them like Seth in his monument. I found the mass of chariots in whose midst I was, scattering them before my horses..."

The pharaoh, now facing a desperate fight for his life, summoned up his courage, called upon his god Amun, and fought valiantly to save himself. Ramesses personally led several charges into the Hittite ranks together with his personal guard, some of the chariots from his Amun division and survivors from the routed division of Re, [Mark Healy, op. cit., p.61] using the superior maneuverability of their chariots and the power and range of Egyptian composite bows, deployed and attacked the overextended and tired Hittite chariotry.

The Hittites meanwhile, who understandably believed their enemies to be totally routed, had stopped to loot the Egyptian camp, and in doing so became easy targets for Ramesses's counterattack. Ramesses' action was successful in driving the Hittites back towards the Orontes and away from the Egyptian camp [Mark Healy, op. cit., p.62] , while in the ensuing pursuit, the heavier Hittite chariots were easily overtaken and dispatched by the lighter, faster, Egyptians chariots.

Although he had suffering a significant reversal, Muwatalli still commanded a large force of reserve chariotry and infantry plus the walls of the town. As the retreat reached the river, he ordered another thousand chariots to attack the Egyptians, the stiffening element consisting of the high nobles who surrounded the king. As the Hittite forces approached the Egyptian camp again, the Ne'arin troop contingent from Amurru suddenly arrived, this time surprising the Hittites. Ramesses had also reorganized his forces and expecting the help, also attacked from the camp.

After six charges, the Hittite forces were almost surrounded and the survivors were faced with the humiliation of having to swim back across the Orontes River to rejoin their infantry. [ [ The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite history] ] Pinned against the Orontes, the elements remaining of the Hittites not overtaken in the withdrawal, were forced to abandon their chariots and attempt to swim the Orontes (This flight is depicted in Egyptian inscriptions as 'hurried' to say the least&mdash;"as fast as Crocodiles swimming"), where many of them drowned.Ibid]

The next morning a second, inconclusive battle, was fought. Muwatalli is reported by Ramesses to have called for a truce but this may be propaganda since Hittite records note no such arrangement. Neither side gained total victory. Both the Egyptians and the Hittites had suffered heavy casualties; the Egyptian army failed to break Kadesh’s defenses while the Hittite army had failed to gain a victory in the face of what earlier must have seemed certain success. [ [ The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite history] ]

Disputes over the outcome

There is no consensus about the outcome or what took place, with views ranging from an Egyptian victory, a draw, and an Egyptian defeat (with the Egyptian accounts simply propaganda). [cite book | last = Hasel | first = Michael G | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Domination and Resistance: Egyptian Military Activity in the Southern Levant, 1300-1185 B.C. (Probleme Der Agyptologie) | publisher = Brill Academic Publishers | year = 1998 | location = | pages = 155 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 978-9004109841 ]


- it is believed to be the earliest example of any written international agreement of any kind.cite web
title=Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare
quote=viewed=12:00 hrs EDST, 2008-05-14, the recently produced program details current thinking of three experts on the Battle of Qadesh, and the Peace of Qadesh (signed about) 15 years later. |more=Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian WarfareEgyptian monuments and great works of art still astound us today. We will reveal another surprising aspect of Egyptian life--their weapons of war, and their great might on the battlefield. A common perception of the Egyptians is of a cultured civilization, yet there is fascinating evidence which reveals they were also a war faring people, who developed advanced weapon making techniques. Some of these techniques would be used for the very first time in history and some of the battles they fought were on a truly massive scale.
] ]

LogisticallyIbid] unable to support a long siege of the walled city of Kadesh, Ramesses prudently gathered his troops and retreated south towards Damascus, and ultimately back to Egypt. Once back in Egypt, Ramesses proclaimed that he had won a great victory but in reality all he had managed to do was to rescue his army since he was unable to capture Qadesh. [Nicholas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, Blackwell Books: 1992, p.256] In a personal sense, however, the Battle of Kadesh was a triumph for Ramesses since, after blundering into a devastating Hittite chariot ambush, the young king had courageously rallied his scattered troops to fight on the battlefield while escaping death or capture. The new lighter, faster, two-man Egyptian chariots were able to pursue and take down the slower three-man Hittite chariots from behind as they overtook them. The leading elements of Hittite's retreating chariots were thus pinned against the river, and in several heiroglypic inscriptions related to Ramseses II, said to flee across the river, abandoning their chariots, "swimming as fast as any crocodile" in their flightIbid] .

Hittite records from Boghazkoy, however, tell a very different conclusion to the greater campaign where a chastened Ramesses was forced to depart from Kadesh in defeat. Modern historians essentially conclude the battle was a draw, a great moral victory for the Egyptians, who had developed new technologies and rearmedIbid] before pushing back against the years long steady incursions by Hittites, and the strategic win to the Muwatalli II, since he lost a large portion of his chariot forces but sustained Qadesh through the brief siege.

The Hittite king, Muwatalli II, continued to successfully campaign as far south as the Egyptian province of Upi (Apa), which he captured and placed under the control of his brother Hattusili, the future Hattusili III. [Joyce Tyldesley, Ramesses: Egypt's Greatest Pharaoh, Penguin Books, 2000. p.73] Egypt's sphere of influence in Asia was now restricted to Canaan. [Tyldesley, op. cit., p.73] Even this was threatened for a time by revolts among Egypt's vassal states in the Levant and Ramesses was compelled to embark on a series of campaigns in Canaan in order to uphold his authority there before he could initiate further assaults against the Hittite Empire.

In his eight and ninth years, Ramesses extended his military successes; this time he proved more successful against his Hittite foes when he successfully captured the cities of Dapur and Tunip [Tyldesley, op. cit., p.75] where no Egyptian soldier had been seen since the time of Thutmose III almost 120 years previously. His victory proved to be ephemeral, however. The thin strip of territory pinched between Amurru and Kadesh did not make for a stable possession. Within a year, they had returned to the Hittite fold, which meant that Ramesses had to march against Dapur once more in his tenth year. His second success here was equally as meaningless as his first since neither Egypt nor Hatti could decisively defeat the other in battle. [ [ The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite history] ]

The running borderlands conflicts were finally concluded some fifteen years after the Battle of QadeshIbid] by an official peace treaty in 1258 BC, in the 21st year of Ramesses II's reign, with Hattusili III, the new king of the Hittites. [cite web|title=Ramses/Hattusili Treaty|url=] The treaty that was established was inscribed on a silver tablet, of which a clay copy survived in the Hittite capital of Hattusa, in modern Turkey, and is on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. An enlarged replica of the Kadesh agreement hangs on a wall at the headquarters of the United Nations, as the earliest international peace treaty known to historiansIbid] . Its text, in the Hittite version, appears in the links below. An Egyptian version survives in a papyrus.

Recording the Battle

The main source of information is in the Egyptian record of the battle, for which a general level of accuracy is assumed despite factual errors and propaganda. [TG James, "Pharaoh's People: Scenes from Life in Imperial Egypt", 2007. James says 'This romanticized record of the Battle of Qadesh cannot be treated as a truthful account of what happened, and I doubt whether many ancient Egyptians would have accepted it wholly as an historical record' (page 26). He notes however that the 'broad facts' are 'probably reported with a fair degree of accuracy' (page 27).] The bombastic nature of Ramesses' version has long been recognized. [Some of the harshest criticism of Ramesses has come from Egyptologists. "It is all too clear that he was a stupid and culpably inefficient general and that he failed to gain his objectives at Kadesh" (John A. Wilson, "The Culture of Ancient Egypt" (1951) p. 247. Although Wilson does recognize the personal bravery of Ramesses, and the improvement of his skills in subsequent campaigns.)] The Egyptian version of the battle of Kadesh is recorded in two primary forms, known as the "Poem" and the "Bulletin". The "Poem" has been questioned as actual verse, as opposed to a prose account similar to what other pharaohs had recorded. Similarly, the "Bulletin" is itself simply a lengthy caption accompanying the reliefs. [Gardiner, Alan, "The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II" (1975) pp.2-4. However, Miriam Lichtheim, "Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 2: The New Kingdom" (1978) p. 58, maintains that the "Poem" is truly just that, contra Gardiner, and prefers to maintain the older tripartite division of the documentation.] These inscriptions are repeated multiple times (7 for the "Bulletin" and 8 times for the "Poem", in temples in Abydos, Temple of Luxor, Karnak, Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum.) [cite book|title=Ancient Egyptian Literature|volume=II:The New Kingdom|pages=p.57|year=1976|first=Miriam|last=Lichtheim|location=Berkeley|publisher=University of California Press] In addition to these lengthy presentations, there are also numerous small captions used to point out various elements of the battle. Outside of the inscriptions, there are textual occurrences preserved in Papyrus Raifet and Papyrus Sallier III, [Breasted, James Henry, "Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents" (1906) p. 58.] and a rendering of these same events in a letter from Ramesses to Hattusili III, written in response to a scoffing complaint by Hattusili about the pharaoh's victorious depiction of the battle. [Kitchen, Kenneth A., "Ramesside Inscriptions, Notes and Comments Volume II" (1999) pp. 13ff.]

Hittite references to the battle, including the above letter, have been found at Hattusa, although no annals have been discovered that might describe it as part of a campaign. Instead, there are various references made to it in the context of other events. This is especially true of Hattusili III, for whom the battle marked an important milestone in his career.

Archaeologists have been unable to verify independently any of the events recounted in the Egyptian and Hittite records of the Battle of Kadesh. Knowledge of the battle is derived entirely from the accounts of Hittite and Egyptian records, both of which disagree with each other (each side claiming victory). Details of the battle are reconstructed with reasonable certainty by reconciling the conflicting accounts through harmonizing these contradictions. Generally speaking, the nature of the available evidence makes it possible to reconstruct the outcome as portrayed by the Hittites, while gleaning believable details from Ramesses' account wherever possible.

Appendix A - The Hittite Allies

Sources: Goetze, A., "The Hittites and Syria (1300-1200 B.C.)", in "Cambridge Ancient History" (1975) p.253; Gardiner, Alan, "The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II" (1975) pp. 57ff.; Breasted, James Henry, "Ancient Records of Egypt; Historical Records" (1906) pp. 125ff.; Lichtheim, Mirian, "Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 2: The New Kingdom" (1978) pp.57ff.

In addition to these allies, the Hittite king also hired the services of some of the local Shasu tribes.

Appendix B - The Hittite Fallen

Source: Gardiner, Alan, "The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II" (1975) pp. 39-41.


Further reading

* includes information of the clash of the Egyptians and Hittites including the battle of Kadesh and maps of the regions controlled by the peoples named in the accounts.

External links

* [ End of Egyptian&ndash;Hittite hostilities]
* [ Hittite version of the Peace treaty of 1258 BC]
* [ The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite history]
* [ Battle of Kadesh]
* [ The actual Battle of Kadesh]
* [ The Eternal treaty from the Hittite perspective]

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