Text #9323"Battle of Kadesh", in .
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.
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 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. Historical records exist which record a large weapons order by Ramesses II the year prior to the expedition he led to Kadesh in his fifth regnal year. …
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. The leading elements of Hittites’ retreating chariots were thus pinned against the river and in several hieroglyphic inscriptions related to Ramesses II, said to flee across the river, abandoning their chariots, “swimming as fast as any crocodile” in their flight.
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.