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Ancient Egyptian history: The battle of Kadesh
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Ramses II: The Battle of Kadesh
c.1273 BCE [2]

    The decisive war between the Egyptians and the Hittites for the control over Syria took place in the spring of 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 their 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 footsoldiers 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 Ramses on the other hand consisted probably mostly of Egyptians, with a few Nubian contingents and some Sherden mercenaries. The chariots were manned exclusively by Egyptian noblemen. The records do not mention how many Egyptian soldiers there were. It is generally assumed that an Egyptian division was comprised of 5000 footsoldiers. Ramses setting out with four divisions of 20,000 seems reasonable but remains speculative.

Hittites chariots attack the Re division-     The Hittite army of 37,000 footsoldiers and 3500 chariots was hiding behind the tell of Kadesh, but Ramses believed false rumors that his enemy was still near Haleb. After beating what he thought was the truth out of two captured Hittites, he held a council of war and the vizier in a chariot and a rider on horseback were dispatched south to hasten the progress of the Ptah division.
    While the Amen division was setting up camp, 2500 Hittite chariots attacked the marching Re division in two waves. The other two Egyptian divisions were still on the far side of the river Orontes (Arnath) near the town of Sabtuna.
    G.Cavillier casts doubts on the possibility of the Hittite army being able to hide from the view of the Egyptians and ford the Orontes in sufficient numbers in a very short time to be able to mount a surprise attack. [1] - but if they were stationed on the western bank of the river they did not have to cross the Orontes itself but only the small brook el Mukadiyeh, being stationed on the fields between the river and the town.

 

Hittites pillaging     The Hittites dispersed the Amen division and began pillaging the Egyptian camp. The Pharaoh, fighting among his body guard with his back to the river, looked lost.

 

The Hittites are surprised by an Amurru contingent-     At this time, a force referred to as nearin arrived, surprising the pilfering Hittites, and drove them out of the camp. Their identity is the subject of debate. At times they are equated with sDm-aS (Sedjemash), which accords well with the meaning of Ugaritic n'rm. According to this interpretation they were camp-followers: servants, grooms and others. Others see them as recruits coming from Amurru.
    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.

 

Hittites retreat to Kadesh     Ramses reorganized his forces and the Hittites escaped being surrounded by the Egyptians by retreating towards Kadesh.
    After receiving a message from Muwatalli, Ramses decided to retreat. According to the Egyptians, the "wretched, vanquished chief of Hatti" pleaded with the pharaoh
    Suteh are you, Baal himself, your anger burns like fire in the land of Hatti... Your servant speaks to you and announces that you are the son of Re. He put all the lands into your hand, united as one. The land of Kemi, the land of Hatti, are at your service. They are under your feet. Re, your exalted father, gave them to you so you would rule us. Is it good, that you should kill your servants? ... Look at what you have done yesterday. You have slaughtered thousands of your servants ... You will not leave any inheritance. Do not rob yourself of your property, powerful king, glorious in battle, give us breath in our nostrils.
    The route through the Biqa'a valley being considered too risky, it was decided to take the route east of it, through Upe in the region of Damascus.

    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 Ramses' 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

    not one of my princes, of my chief men and my great,
Was with me, not a captain, not a knight;
For my warriors and chariots had left me to my fate,
Not one was there to take his part in fight.
........
Here I stand,
All alone;
There is no one at my side,
My warriors and chariots afeared,
Have deserted me, none heard
My voice, when to the cravens I, their king, for succor, cried.
But I find that Ammon's grace
Is better far to me
Than a million fighting men and ten thousand chariots be.
    This attack on the army and his leaders was the beginning of the gradual distancing process between army and king, who relied more and more on Amen and his priesthood. Since the reign of Horemheb, who had appointed a general to succeed him, the army command had played a decisive role in foreign policy decisions. Ramses II reasserted the royal power in this domain and brought about a rapprochement between Egypt and Hatti which culminated in the signing of a peace treaty.

    Ramses 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.

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[1]     Apart from the scenes in which Qadesh itself is represented with some bridges over its encircling moats, it is clear that, if in May the Orontes was at its lowest point, it is also true that a quick transfer of chariots in some kind of temporary wooden bridges would have taken a lot of time. A chariot might require an overall space of about 5 x 2.5 m, so that an ordinary crossing of a bridge needed at least two pairs of chariots. Thus, an entire group of 200 or 300 chariots with an average speed of 20 km/h could cross a bridge at least in one or two hours, to reconstruct the attack order. Hence, certain practical limits can be set on the Hittite surprise attack on Ra-division in march. It is impossible to assume that the Hittite charioteers, who attacked and crashed through the midst of Ra, were only the " first battle line" of the group itself. Breaking a compact force of 5000 men in march - like an Egyptian division - needs a prolonged attack of a massive chariot-force. In this circumstance it is right to assume that a chariot-force marshalled to fight in a open plain, like those of Qadesh, would have been visible at the advancing column of the Ra-division. Similarly, the advancing of Hittite forces (chariots and infantry) from their encampment to cross the Orontes, in correspondence with the line of march of Ra, would have been visible from the Egyptian camp.
From Some Tactical Remarks on the Battle of Qadesh by Giacomo Cavillier
(University of Rome "La Sapienza")
[2] Like all dates of this period, this one should be taken with a grain of salt. The events took place in the 5th year of the reign of Ramses II. It is unfortunately unknown when his reign began according to the common reckoning.
The Gregorian date of the battle depends on the exact year. If we accept 1273 BCE as the fifth year of the reign of Ramses II then the Egyptian date of 3rd month of the 3rd season day 9 would be Gregorian 30 April. Whatever the exact year, it was a spring campaign.

  -Egyptian Accounts of the Battle of Kadesh
-The End of the Egyptian-Hittite Hostilities
-Back to Ramses II
-The armed forces
-Ancient Egyptian weapons

 

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