The Battle of Kadesh was held between the Egyptian forces led by Ramesses II, in the fifth year of the Pharaoh’s reign. The Egyptians fought against the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II, which had risen out of the ruins of Mesopotamia. The city of Kadesh was an essential trading point. It was located on the Orontes River, upstream from lake Homs, on the territory of the present day Syrian-Lebanese border. The battle is dated by most historians back to 1274 BC, and is one of the earliest recorded battles in world history. It was also the largest chariot battle ever fought in Antiquity. Here are some interesting facts about the battle of Kadesh.
1. The military campaign started in Pi-Ramesses.
Pi-Ramesses was the new Egyptian capital and the main headquarters of Ramesses II. The city was built with the onset of the reign of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, by orders of Ramesses I. Previously, it served as a summer palace under Seti I. The city was situated at the exact same place where Qantir is today. Ramesses moved his army first towards the fortress of Tjel and then along the coast, all the way to Gaza on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, that bordered with Egypt on the southwest and was under Egyptian control.
2. Ramesses’s army had four major divisions.
The divisions were called: Amun, Re (P’re), Seth (Suteh) and Ptah, to honor the Egyptian gods. Amun was worshiped as the King of Gods, Re was the sun god, whereas Seth was the god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners, and Ptah was a deity of creation, the arts, fertility and craftsmen. There was also a fifth division by the name of Ne’arin, which historians think was made up of Canaanite military mercenaries pleading allegiance to Egypt. There were also Sherden troops present within the Egyptian army of Ramesses II. Sherden were an Eastern Mediterranean Sea people, deriving probably from Ionia, in the central west coast of Anatolia.
3. There are two descriptions of the battle, made by Ramesses II himself.
The first description is quite lengthy and literary in its nature, quite resemblant of the Greek battle epics, and goes by the name ‘Poem’. This piece of literary work describes the campaign in great detail, focusing on the various geographical points passed along the way by the military troops. The second description is quite brief and goes by the name of ‘Bulletin’. It is much more matter-of-fact and only retains the most important information about the campaign. In both works, Ramesses II talks about himself in third person, to make the record more official and respectable.
4. When Ramesses’s army was close to Kadesh, they were tricked.
By the time Ramesses’s troops were approximately 11 kilometers from Kadesh, south of Shabtuna, suddenly two Shasu nomads arrived. They imparted information as to the whereabouts of the Hittite forces, and said that these were far, far away „in the land of Aleppo, on the north of Tunip”. This meant that Ramesses did not yet have to set the order of battle, as Aleppo was some 200 kilometers away. Only later did the Egyptians find out the harsh way that the nomads were Hittite spies sent deliberately to mislead them. The Egyptians then tortured them, and the nomads confessed to the intentional deceit.
5. The first fight was lost by the Hittites, whereas the second was inconclusive.
Although the first fight of the battle of Kadesh at one point saw Ramesses II completely on his own, surrounded by the foe’s military from every side, he managed to gather his guard and chariot division together and effectively thwart the attack, leaving the Hittite forces pushed against the banks of the Orontes River, forced to run from the battlefield “as fast as Crocodiles swimming”. The second battle, however, was inconclusive, ending with a truce between the Egyptians and the Hittites.
6. The Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty was the first one in the world.
Though it didn’t bring a full relaxation of atmosphere and civilian “enmity between Hatti and Egypt lasted many years,” it still proved effective, mainly as a template for generations to come. The document in itself was so significant that it was inscribed on the walls of Egyptian temples in hieroglyphs and preserved on baked clay tablets in the Hittite capital of Hattusa. Today the tablets are on display at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and at Berlin State Museums in Germany. A copy of the text of the treaty also adorns the wall of the UN Headquarters in New York City.