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Ramesses II (reigned 1279 BCE to 1213 BCE - also known as Ramesses the Great

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, just upstream of Lake Homs near the modern Syrian-Lebanese border.

The battle is generally dated to 1274 BC of the conventional Egyptian chronology, and is the earliest battle in recorded history for which details of tactics and formations are known. It was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000–6,000 chariots.

In the spring of the fifth year of his reign, in May 1274 BC, Ramesses II launched his campaign from his capital Pi-Ramesses (modern Qantir). The army moved beyond the fortress of Tjel and along the coast leading to Gaza. Ramesses led an army of four divisions: Amun, Re (P're), Seth (Suteh) and the apparently newly formed Ptah division.

There was also a poorly documented troop called the nrrn (Ne'arin or Nearin), possibly Canaanite military mercenaries with Egyptian allegiance or even Egyptians, which Ramesses II had left in Amurru, apparently in order to secure the port of Sumur. 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:

"It is not possible to be precise about the size of the Egyptian chariot force at Kadesh 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."

On the Hittite side, Ramesses II recorded a long list of nineteen Hittite allies brought to Kadesh by Muwatalli.

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

“ (From the "Poem") Now then, his majesty had prepared his infantry, his chariotry, and the Sherden of his majesty's capturing, the Year 5, 2nd month of the third season, day 9, his majesty passed the fortress of Sile. [and entered Canaan] ... His infantry went on the narrow passes as if on the highways of Egypt. Now after days had passed after this, then his majesty was in Ramses Meri-Amon, the town which is in the Valley of the Cedar.

His majesty proceeded northward. After his majesty reached the mountain range of Kadesh, then his majesty went forward...and he crossed the ford of the Orontes, with the first division of Amon (named) "He Gives Victory to User-maat-Re Setep-en-Re". His majesty reached the town of Kadesh ....The division of Amon was on the march behind him; the division of Re was crossing the ford in a district south of the town of Shabtuna at the distance of one iter from the place where his majesty was; the division of Ptah was on the south of the town of Arnaim; the division of Set was marching on the road. His majesty had formed the first ranks of battle of all the leaders of his army, while they were (still) on the shore in the land of Amurru.

“ (From the "Bulletin") "Year 5, 3rd month of the third season, day 9, under the majesty of (Ramesses II)...The lord proceeded northward, and his majesty arrived at a vicinity south of the town of Shabtuna. ”

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." 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:

“ 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 .' They of Tunip 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.' ”

In his haste to capture Kadesh, Ramesses II committed a major tactical error. He increased the distance between his Amun Division and the remaining Re, Ptah and 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 report their location to him. 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. 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 ..."
Only with help from the gods did Ramesses II personally defeat his attackers and return to the Egyptian lines:
"...I was before them like Set in his moment. 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, and 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' counterattack. Ramesses' action was successful in driving the Hittites back towards the Orontes river and away from the Egyptian camp, while in the ensuing pursuit, the heavier Hittite chariots were easily overtaken and dispatched by the lighter, faster, Egyptian chariots.

Although he had suffered 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 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 across the river, according to Egyptian accounts hurriedly ("as fast as crocodiles swimming"), where many of them drowned.

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.

There is no consensus about the outcome or what took place, with views ranging from an Egyptian victory to a draw, or, in the view of Iranian Egyptologist Mehdi Yarahmadi, an Egyptian defeat (with the Egyptian accounts simply propaganda).

The Siege of Dapur

Logistically unable to support a long siege of the walled city of Kadesh, Ramesses gathered his troops and retreated south towards Damascus and ultimately back to Egypt. Once back in Egypt, Ramesses proclaimed victory, having routed his enemies, however he didn't try further to capture Kadesh. 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.

Hittite records from Boghazkoy, however, tell of 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 rearmed before pushing back against the years-long steady incursions by the Hittites.

The Hittite king, Muwatalli II, continued to 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. Egypt's sphere of influence in Asia was now restricted to Canaan. 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 the eighth and ninth years of his reign, 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, 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 running borderlands conflicts were finally concluded some fifteen years after the Battle of Kadesh by an official peace treaty in the 21st year of Ramesses II's reign (1258 BC in conventional chronology), with Hattusili III, the new king of the Hittites. 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 historians.


Shalmaneser I of Assyria (c. 1274 - c. 1245 BCE)

The Assyrian king Shalmaneser I (1274 BC–1245 BC) built Kalhu (Calah/Nimrud) during the Middle Assyrian Empire. However, the ancient city of Assur remained the capital of Assyria, as it had been since c. 3500 BC (archaeological evidence show the city was founded about 2600 BCE).


Hittite prosperity was mostly dependent on control of the trade routes and metal sources. Because of the importance of Northern Syria to the vital routes linking the Cilician gates with Mesopotamia, defense of this area was crucial, and was soon put to the test by Egyptian expansion under Pharaoh Rameses II. The outcome of the battle is uncertain, though it seems that the timely arrival of Egyptian reinforcements prevented total Hittite victory. The Egyptians forced the Hittites to take refuge in the fortress of Kadesh, but their own losses prevented them from sustaining a siege. This battle took place in the 5th year of Rameses (c.1274 BC by the most commonly used chronology).

Pharaoh Ramesses II and the Hittite king met at Kadesh in the mountains containing the headwaters of the Orontes in northern Syria around May 1274 BCE.

Ramesses II recorded the names of the Hittite allies who opposed him; among them are the following: 1) Pi-da-sa, 2) Da-ar-d(a)-an-ya, 3) Ma-sa, 4) Qa-r(a)-qi-sa, 5) Ru-ka, and 6) Arzawa. The first name has been associated with Pedasos in Mysia of the Troad south of Troy, the second with the Dardanoi of the Troad, the third with southwest Anatolia, the fourth with Caria, the fifth with Lukka/Lycia, and the sixth with Arzawa in western Anatolia.

This battle marked a stalemate between Hittite power and the power of 19th Dynasty Egypt, where the two met face to face along their outermost marches, in what is now Syria. The Hittites, based at Carchemish, were angry over the defection of Amurru to Egypt and wanted to bring it back under control – on the other hand the Egyptians wanted to protect their new vassal.

The Hittite king Muwatallis, who had mustered several of his allies (among them Rimisharrinaa, the king of Aleppo), had positioned his troops behind the hill at Kadesh, but Ramesses thought they were at Aleppo and learned the truth only after capturing two Hittites. Immediately Ramesses sent messengers to hasten the coming of the Ptah and Setekh divisions of his army which were still on the far side of the river Orontes.

Before Ramesses could gather them all together, however, 2500 of Muwatallis' chariots attacked the Ra and Amon divisions and plundered the Egyptian camp. The Egyptians retreated, and Ramesses himself narrowly escaped capture, mainly thanks to the intervention of a troop contingent from Amurru, which suddenly arrived to assist the pharaoh and drive the Hittites back. The Egyptians regrouped and almost surrounded the Hittites, but the Hittite chariots retreated back across the Orontes to join their infantry.

Formerly under the Hittites, the Assuwa confederation defected after the battle of Kadesh between Egypt and the Hittites (ca. 1274 BC)

Pharaoh Ramses II The Egyptian ruler built a memorial to his magnificent "triumph." The monument endured, the Hittites died out, and generation upon generation of historians paid tribute to Ramses' military victory. Only recently have archaeologists unearthed the truth about the Battle of Kadesh and exposed Ramses' 3,300-year-old lie.


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