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The Battle of Kadesh

The decisive war between the Egyptians and the Hittites for the control over Syria took place in the fifth year of the reign of Ramses II. The battle of Kadesh resulted from the defection of Amurru to Egypt. While the Hittites wanted to bring Amurru back into the fold, the Egyptians tried to protect their new vassal. Using Karkemish as a base for their operations, the Hittites decided Kadesh offered the best opportunities for the coming battle. Muwatalli had called on his allies, among them Rimisharrinaa, king of Aleppo

... the Sun, the Great King of Hatti, son of Mursili, and all the House of Suppiluliuma, will be allies of the king of Aleppo. The gods of Hatti and the gods of Aleppo will be witnesses and guarantors of this treaty.

The country of Kizwadna

which had belonged to Hatti in the times of Suppiluliuma and had been aquired by the Hurri, belongs again to Muwatalli. Its king will send one hundred horses equipped [with chariots] and a thousand foot soldiers to the army of the Sun, who will provide for them.

Similar treaties had been concluded with most of Hatti's neighbours, resulting in a hotchpotch, not the most reliable kind of army a king could lead into battle. The army of Ramesses on the other hand consisted mostly of Egyptians, with a few Nubian contingents and some Sherden mercenaries and recruits from Amurru. The chariots, were manned exclusively by Egyptian noblemen.

The Hittite army was in hiding, and Ramses believed the false rumours that his enemy was still near Haleb. While one of his divisions was setting up camp, 2500 Hittite chariots attacked in two waves on the Re division which was on the march, while another two divisions were still on the far side of the river Orontes (Arnath). Doubts have been cast on the possibility of the Hittite army being able to hide from the view of the Egyptians and cross the Orontes in sufficient numbers in a very short time and be able to mount a surprise attack. The Hittites began pillaging the Egyptian camp, and the Pharaoh, fighting among his bodyguard with his back to the river, looked lost. At this time, a force from Amurru arrived unexpectedly, surprised the pilfering Hittites and drove them out of the camp. Muwatalli sent an additional 1000 chariots led by the kings of Aleppo and Karkhemish, two of his own brothers and many allied princes, but kept most of his infantry to himself on the far side of the river. Ramesses reorganized his forces and the Hittites escaped being surrounded by the Egyptians by retreating towards Kadesh. After receiving a message from Muwatalli, Ramesses decided to retreat. According to the Egyptians, the "wretched, vanquished chief of Hatti" pleaded with the pharaoh.

The battle of Kadesh should perhaps not be called a battle in the strictest sense of the word, but rather a large-scale skirmish preceding the decisive encounter which in the end never took place. Nevertheless, Muwatalli was able to rob his opponent of the initiative and eliminated about a third of his troops.

The failure of Ramesses' campaign was a result of his tactical mistakes. He did not send enough scouts to explore the countryside sufficiently, the divisions were separated by up to 15 kms from each other and there was no adequate protection of the flanks. Still, the king blamed his troops

None of you was there... None rose to lend me his hand in my fight... None of you came later to tell the story of his heroic deeds in Egypt.... The foreigners who saw me, praise my name to the end of all lands where I was not known... Since ancient times a man was honoured for his fighting abilities, but I will not reward any of you, as you have abandoned me when I was alone fighting my enemy.

Ramesses described the campaign as a splendid victory, while in reality Kadesh remained in Hittite hands, Amurru fell to the Hittites and the Egyptian losses were substantial.



Egyptian Account of the Battle of Kadesh

James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents.
(Chicago: 1906), III:136-147

Beginning of the victory of King Usermare-Setepnere Ramses II, who is given life, forever, which he achieved in the land of Kheta and Naharin, in the land of Arvad, in Pedes, in the Derden, in the land of Mesa, in the land of Kelekesh, Carchemish, Kode, the land of Kadesh, in the land of Ekereth, and Mesheneth.

Behold, his majesty prepared his infantry and his chariotry, the Sherden of the captivity of his majesty from the victories of his word - they gave the plan of battle. His majesty proceeded northward, his infantry and his chariotry being with him. He began the goodly way to march. Year 5, the second month of the third season tenth month, on the ninth day, his majesty passed the fortress of Tharu, like Montu when he goes forth. Every country trembled before him, fear was in their hearts; all the rebels came bowing down for fear of the fame of his majesty, when his army came upon the narrow road, being like one who is upon the highway.

Now, after many days after this, behold, his majesty was in Usermare-Meriamon, the city of cedar. His majesty proceeded northward, and he then arrived at the highland of Kadesh. Then his majesty marched before, like his father, Montu lord of Thebes, and crossed over the channel of the Orontes, there being with him the first division of Amon named: "Victory-of-King-Usermare-Setepnere."

When his majesty reached the city, behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta had come, having gathered together all countries from the ends of the sea to the land of Kheta, which came entire: the Naharin likewise, and Arvad, Mesa, Keshkesh, Kelekesh, Luka, Kezweden, Carchemish, Ekereth, Kode, the entire land of Nuges, Mesheneth, and Kadesh. He left not a country which was not brought together with their chiefs who were with him, every man bringing his chariotry, an exceeding great multitude, without its like. They covered the mountains and the valleys; they were like grasshoppers with their multitudes. He left not silver nor gold in his land but he plundered it of all its possessions and gave to every country, in order to bring them with him to battle.

Behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta, together with numerous allied countries, were stationed in battle array, concealed on the northwest of the city of Kadesh, while his majesty was alone by himself, with his bodyguard, and the division of Amon was marching behind him. The division of Re crossed over the river-bed on the south side of the town of Shabtuna, at the distance of an iter from the division of Amon; the division of Ptah was on the south of the city of Aranami; and the division of Sutekh was marching upon the road. His majesty had formed the first rank of all the leaders of his army, while they were on the shore in the land of the Amor. Behold, the wretched vanquished chief of Kheta was stationed in the midst of the infantry which was with him, and he came not out to fight, for fear of his majesty. Then he made to go the people of the chariotry, an exceedingly numerous multitude like the sand, being three people to each span. Now, they had made their combinations thus: among every three youths was one man of the vanquished of Kheta, equipped with all the weapons of battle. Lo, they had stationed them in battle array, concealed northwest of the city of Kadesh.

They came forth from the southern side of Kadesh, and they cut through the division of Re in its middle, while they were marching without knowing and without being drawn up for battle. The infantry and chariotry of his majesty retreated before them. Now, his majesty had halted on the north of the city of Kadesh, on the western side of the Orontes. Then came one to tell it to his majesty

His majesty shone like his father Montu, when he took the adornments of war; as he seized his coat of mail, he was like Baal in his hour. The great span which bore his majesty called: "Victory-in-Tebes," from the great stables of Ramses II, was in the midst of the leaders. His majesty halted in the rout; then he charged into the foe, the vanquished of Kheta, being alone by himself and none other with him. When his majesty went to look behind him, he found 2,500 chariotry surrounding him, in his way out, being all the youth of the wretched Kheta, together with its numerous allied countries: from Arvad, from Mesa, from Pedes, from Keshkesh, from Erwenet, from Kezweden, from Aleppo, Eketeri, Kadesh, and Luka, being three men to a span, acting in unison.

Year 5, third month of the third season, day 9; under the majesty of Horus: Mighty Bull, Beloved of Truth; King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Usermare-Setepnere; Son of Re; Ramses-Meriamon, given life forever.

Lo, his majesty was in Zahi on his second victorious campaign. The goodly watch in life, prosperity and health, in the tent of his majesty, was on the highland south of Kadesh.

When his majesty appeared like the rising of Re, he assumed the adornments of his father, Montu. When the king proceeded northward, and his majesty had arrived at the locality south of the town of Shabtuna, there came two Shasu, to speak to his majesty as follows: "Our brethren, who belong to the greatest of the families with the vanquished chief of Kheta, have made us come to his majesty, to say: 'We will be subjects of Pharaoh and we will flee from the vanquished chief of Kheta; for the vanquished chief of Kheta sits in the land of Aleppo, on the north of Tunip. He fears because of Pharaoh to come southward.'" Now, these Shasu spake these words, which they spake to his majesty, falsely, for the vanquished chief of Kheta made them come to spy where his majesty was, in order to cause the army of his majesty not to draw up for fighting him, to battle with the vanquished chief of Kheta.

Lo, the vanquished chief of Kheta came with every chief of every country, their infantry and their chariotry, which he had brought with him by force, and stood, equipped, drawn up in line of battle behind Kadesh the Deceitful, while his majesty knew it not. Then his majesty proceeded northward and arrived on the northwest of Kadesh; and the army of his majesty made camp there.

Then, as his majesty sat upon a throne of gold, there arrived a scout who was in the following of his majesty, and he brought two scouts of the vanquished chief of Kheta. They were conducted into the presence, and his majesty said to them: "What are ye?" They said: "As for us, the vanquished chief of the Kheta has caused that we should come to spy out where his majesty is." Said his majesty to them: "He! Where is he, the vanquished chief of Kheta? Behold, I have heard, saying: 'He is in the land of Aleppo,'" Said they: "See, the vanquished chief of Kheta is stationed, together with many countries, which he has brought with him by force, being every country which is in the districts of the land of Kheta, the land of Naharin, and all Kode. They are equipped with infantry and chariotry, bearing their weapons; more numerous are they than the sand of the shore. See, they are standing, drawn up for battle, behind Kadesh the Deceitful."

Then his majesty had the princes called into the presence, and had them hear every word which the two scouts of the vanquished chief of Kheta, who were in the presence, had spoken. Said his majesty to them: "See ye the manner wherewith the chiefs of the peasantry and the officials under whom is the land of Pharaoh have stood, daily, saying to the Pharaoh: 'The vanquished chief of Kheta is in the land of Aleppo; he has fled before his majesty, since hearing that, behold, he came.' So spake they to his majesty daily. But see, I have held a hearing in this very hour, with the two scouts of the vanquished chief of Kheta, to the effect that the vanquished chief of Kheta is coming, together with the numerous countries that are with him, being people and horses, like the multitudes of the sand. They are stationed behind Kadesh the Deceitful. But the governors of the countries and the officials under whose authority is the land of Pharaoh were not able to tell it to us."

Said the princes who were in the presence of his majesty: "It is a great fault, which the governors of the countries and the officials of Pharaoh have committed in not informing that the vanquished chief of Kheta was near the king; and in that they told his report to his majesty daily."

Then the vizier was ordered to hasten the army of his majesty, while they were marching on the south of Shabtuna, in order to bring them to the place where his majesty was.

Lo, while his majesty sat talking with the princes, the vanquished chief of Kheta came, and the numerous countries, which were with him. They crossed over the channel on the south of Kadesh, and charged into the army of his majesty while they were marching, and not expecting it. Then the infantry and chariotry of his majesty retreated before them, northward to the place where his majesty was. Lo, the foes of the vanquished chief of Kheta surrounded the bodyguard of his majesty, who were by his side.

When his majesty saw them, he was enraged against them, like his father, Montu, lord of Thebes. He seized the adornments of battle, and arrayed himself in his coat of mail. He was like Baal in his hour. Then he betook himself to his horses, and led quickly on, being alone by himself. He charged into the foes of the vanquished chief of Kheta, and the numerous countries, which were with him. His majesty was like Sutekh, the great in strength, smiting and slaying among them; his majesty hurled them headlong, one upon another into the water of the Orontes.

"I charged all countries, while I was alone, my infantry and my chariotry having forsaken me. Not one among them stood to turn about. I swear, as Re loves me, as my father, Atum, favors me, that, as for every matter which his majesty has stated, I did it in truth, in the presence of my infantry and my chariotry."


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