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Battle of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh is a battle between the armies of the Egyptian and Hittite kingdoms, the strongest powers of the Middle East. The troops were led by Pharaoh Ramesses II and Muwatalli II. The clash took place near the town of Kadesh on the Orontes River (modern Syria). The battle began with a clear advantage for the enemies of Ramesses, but the result was a victory for the Egyptians, although with heavy losses. In strategic terms, it led to a “technical draw”, but the advantage in terms of war was on the side of the Hittites, which put an end to the invasion of Ramesses II in Syria. As a result, a truce was concluded between the Hittites and the Egyptians. Both sides attributed the victory to themselves.

The beginning of Ramesses ‘ campaign in Syria

By the time of the beginning of the reign of Ramesses II ( 1279-1213 BC or 1317-1251 BC), the Egyptians had been driven out of Syria by the Hittites. The Hittite state emerged in the central part of Asia Minor around the XVIII century BC and was an association of warlike mountain tribes. For the war with the Egyptians, the Hittites gathered a large force at that time – about 20 thousand soldiers. The core of this army was a 2.5-thousand-strong war chariot squad. Such a huge number of war chariots that took part in the battle, the history of wars has not yet known. The weakness of the Hittite army was its diverse composition: the army consisted of more than twelve different tribes.

The Hittite stronghold in Syria was Kadesh – a strong fortress located on the left bank of the Orontes River. This river had a tributary that flowed into it north of the city. A canal was dug south of Kadesh to connect the two rivers. Thus, the fortress had water barriers on all sides. In addition, the city was surrounded by a high wall.

Perhaps the Shardens are depicted-representatives of one of the peoples of the sea. A fragment of the bas-relief of the "Sea Battle" from the Memorial Temple of Ramesses III, in the Medinet Abu temple complex. Around 1190/1180 BC

Perhaps the Shardens are depicted-representatives of one of the peoples of the sea. A fragment of the bas-relief of the “Sea Battle” from the Memorial Temple of Ramesses III, in the Medinet Abu temple complex. Around 1190/1180 BC

The Egyptians fought with the Hittites for supremacy in the Near East. The strategic plan of the Egyptians was to take possession of the Phoenician coast, establish bases in it and establish sea communication – the most convenient communication with Egypt. As a result of the first campaign, these tasks were solved: on the Phoenician coast, the Egyptians built a city that became a solid support and base for the Egyptian fleet. The next task was to invade deep into Syria, defeat the Hittites and establish themselves there. To do this, Ramesses II gathered a large force at that time – according to some sources, at least 20 thousand soldiers. The Egyptian army included mercenaries recruited in Nubia, and even natives of Sardinia (Shardens). Of the Shardens, Pharaoh said that he had taken them captive. It is possible that they were Sardinian pirates captured in the Nile Delta.

Ramesses gathered “his infantry, his chariots, and his chardens.” He divided the whole army into four detachments, which were named after the gods:

  • Amon (the commander was Ramses himself)
  • Ra
  • Ptah
  • Seth

At the end of April 1274 BC (according to another version of 1314 BC), when the rains stopped in Syria, the Egyptian army marched out of the border fortress of Jara. There is no information about the route through Palestine, but it is known that the army went further along the Phoenician coast, apparently accompanied by its fleet. Then the Egyptians turned deep into Syria and entered the valley of the Orontes River. A special detachment reported that the enemy was nowhere to be found; perhaps it was far to the north. On the twenty-ninth day of the campaign, the Egyptians camped on the heights south of Kadesh, one march away. At this time, two defectors were brought to Ramesses, who claimed that they were sent by the leaders of two tribes who did not want to fight on the side of the Hittites. According to the defectors, the army of the Hittites and their allies was located in the area of the city of Tunip, i.e. at a distance of at least 150 km from Kadesh. The testimony of the defectors confirmed the reports of the scouting party, and this blunted Ramses ‘ vigilance. In this situation, the battle of Kadesh began.

Day of the Battle of Kadesh

Egyptians on the march

Early in the morning of the thirtieth day of the campaign, the Egyptian army marched out of the camp towards Kadesh. At the head of the marching column was a detachment of Amon, followed by successive detachments: Ra, and Ptah. The Egyptian army was moving along the right bank of the Orontes River. At Shabtun, which was located 10 km south of Kadesh, it was necessary to cross the river. It took at least 5-6 hours to cross the marching column of the Egyptian army with war chariots and baggage trains 15 km deep, even if the crossing of the river was well organized. From the subsequent course of events, it is clear that the crossing of the Orontes took a considerable time. Moreover, the marching column broke up, the detachments of the Egyptian army moved independently, without having a tactical connection between them, about the preservation of which Ramses did not show concern, considering that the enemy was far to the north.

As soon as the Amon force crossed at Shabtun, the Pharaoh and his personal guard quickly moved to Kadesh and about noon was already under the walls of the fortress. In an effort to intercept the routes from Kadesh to the north, Ramesses ordered a camp to be set up to the northwest of the city, where Amon’s detachment soon arrived. The camp was surrounded by shields and some wagons. The horses were harnessed from the war chariots and were at the hitching posts. The Pharaoh believed that the Ra squad was approaching the Cadet. There was no information about the location of the other detachments. The Ptah party must have been delayed at the crossing.

As a result of the poorly organized crossing of the Orontes River, the Egyptian army was divided into two large parts: one of them was in the area of Kadesh, the other was still in the area of Shabtun. Moreover, there was no connection between the Amon and Ra units.

The so-called defectors were actually sent by the Hittites to mislead Ramesses. In fact, the Hittites were secretly located to the northwest of Kadesh. This dangerous situation for the Egyptians, which developed before the battle, is reported by many sources. So, in the poem of Pentaur, it says: “The king of the hostile Hittites, along with many of his people, hid in an ambush to the northwest of the city of Kadesh.” Another account of the battle of Kadesh says :” The King of the Hittites stands in ambush to fight behind the city of Kadesh.”

Battle of Kadesh Stage 1 First stage

First stage

As soon as the Hittite king noticed the movement of the Egyptians to Kadesh, he moved his army to the right bank of the Orontes River and began to move south. This was a flank march with the aim of a surprise attack on the Egyptian army during the campaign. But since the marching order of the Egyptian army was greatly stretched, the Hittites were forced to inflict successive blows on individual detachments of the Egyptians.

The first stage of the battle

The first stage of the battle – a sudden flank attack by the Hittites on the detachment of Ra, which was on the march south of Kadesh. To carry out the attack, the Hittites forded the Orontes south of Kadesh with a detachment of war chariots. The Hittites ” … appeared on the south side of Kadesh, and they broke through Ra’s detachment in its center, while he was moving forward, not knowing and not being ready for battle.” A significant part of the Egyptian detachment was destroyed, only a few, including the two sons of Ramesses, managed to escape and take refuge in the camp of the Amon detachment.

The second stage of the battle

The second stage of the battle is the attack of the Hittites on the Egyptian camp and the struggle of the Amon detachment in the environment. When Ramses, still unaware of the actual situation, was calmly engaged in placing a detachment of Amon in the camp, two Hittite spies were brought to him, who, under torture, showed that the Hittite troops were secretly located behind Kadesh. Pharaoh sent an order to Ptah’s squad to speed up the movement, and he hastily gathered his captains. “And when his Majesty was sitting talking with his nobles,” reproaching them for not being able to detect the enemy in time – “the Hittite king appeared with his many countries that were with him…” This attack was unexpected for the Amon squad. The Hittites broke into the camp of the Egyptians, who were not ready for battle.

Battle of Kadesh Stage 2 Second stage

Second stage

The Egyptians met the Hittite attack bravely, but their attempts to break through to the west were unsuccessful. Then the main forces of the Egyptians turned to the east and with a strong blow threw the weak enemy forces that were there into the river. And on the opposite bank of the Orontes, at that time, an eight-thousand-strong detachment of Hittite infantry stood idle.

The Hittites, who broke into the camp, were attracted by the rich booty. While the Hittites were looting the camp, a fresh detachment of Egyptians, who had arrived to replenish the Egyptian army, came up and attacked the Hittites. This was a select group of Seth, also called in the sources – in Canaanite “well done” (nearim) and was sent by Ramesses II along the sea coast in advance and arrived just in time to save his pharaoh. All the Hittites in the camp were destroyed. When the situation of the Egyptians began to improve, the Hittite king threw into battle his reserve-a thousand war chariots. The Egyptians held off their onslaught, counterattacking the Hittite chariots six times. The battle went on with varying success and lasted three hours until the approach of the Ptah detachment.

The third stage of the battle

Battle of Kadesh Stage 3

Third stage

The third stage of the battle is a blow to the rear of the Hittites of the Ptah detachment, which arrived at the end of the day to help the Amon detachment. At the moment of the brewing crisis of the battle, a detachment of Ptah approached from the south and attacked the Hittites from the rear. As a result of this attack, the Hittite chariots were surrounded, forced to fight their way into the city and there to hide from pursuit.

The image of the battle order of the Ptah detachment has been preserved. It had three lines:

  • the first and third lines were made up of battle chariots,
  • in the second line there were infantry, built in ten ranks,
  • the right flank of the battle order was provided by battle chariots.

This is the first known order of battle in the history of the art of war, consisting of neatly placed chariots and infantry.

The battlefield was left to the Egyptians. But the losses were so great that Ramses, apparently, did not dare to storm such a strong fortress as Kadesh, and returned to Egypt.

Evaluating enemy tactics

The war with the Hittites lasted 18 years and ended with the conclusion in 1296 BC of the so-called eternal peace, according to which the Egyptians and the Hittites pledged to help each other. The treaty was written, which is the first international document known to us.

In preparation for the campaign in Syria, Ramesses II, taking into account the experience of Thutmose III, established a base on the Phoenician coast and organized sea communication. But in the tactical support of the campaign, he made a number of major mistakes. Due to the poor organization of the military intelligence of Ramesses II, the Hittites managed to secretly carry out a flank maneuver and suddenly attack the Egyptians on the march and in a weakly fortified camp.

In the actions of the Hittites, the combination of enemy disinformation (sent “defectors”) with the covert location of the entire large army and its flank maneuver in close proximity to the enemy, which made it possible to suddenly attack individual detachments of the Egyptian army, deserves attention. The mistake of the Hittites was that they allocated insufficient forces for the attacks: at first about 1.5 thousand war chariots, and then, when the attack was exhausted, another thousand were thrown; the infantry passively watched the progress of the battle of the chariots and did not take part in it. The possibility of destroying the Egyptian army in parts was also not used; if the Hittites had thrown their large forces into battle at once, they could have destroyed the Amon Detachment before the Ptah detachment arrived. Relying on the reports of his scouts, who reported the absence of the enemy, Ramses showed complete carelessness: he did not take measures to verify the data received and did not organize the crossing of the Orontes River. Tactical communication between the individual units was lost. Approaching the fortress, the Egyptian troops were suddenly attacked by the enemy.

The order of battle of the Egyptian detachment consisted of two branches of the army:

  • of war chariots and
  • infantry interacting in battle

The Hittite war chariots fought without infantry support. The main role in the battle, both on the one hand and on the other, belonged to the war chariots; the Egyptians on the war chariots were archers, the Hittites-spearmen. Egyptian bas-reliefs emphasize the advantage of archers over spearmen, since archers could still disable the drivers and horses of Hittite war chariots from afar.

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