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, in what is now the Syrian Arab Republic.
The battle is generally dated to 1274
.around "Year 5 III Shemu day 9" of Ramesses II's reign (BAR
III, p.317<) or="" more="" precisely:="" May="" 12,="" 1274=""
BC="" based="" on="" Ramesses'="" commonly="" accepted=""
accession="" date="" in="" 1279=""
BC.<=""></)>ref>It was probably the largest chariot
battle ever fought, involving perhaps
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 battle from Megiddo north to the Orontes River, including the conflict
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
and Amenhotep III
undistinguished, except that Egypt continued to lose territory to
in northern Syria.
During the late Egyptian
, 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
, 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.
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. A
documentary by The History
describes development of the light two-man Egyptian
chariot, speedier and more maneuverable than the heavy three-man
chariot of the Hittites, the "penetrating battle axe
"—a successor to the traditional
infantry's stone-headed mace
and able to
penetrate the helmets of the Hittites—and the Khopesh
, which, unlike a sickle, is sharped on the
outside of the curve, able to penetrate, and possessed superior
cutting ability like a saber
, another type
with curved blade, all developed in response to the armed clashes
between the Hittites and the Egyptians.
However, at some point, both regions may have lapsed back into
Hittite control. What exactly happened to Amurru is disputed. The
Hittitologist Trevor Bryce
that, although it may have fallen once again under Hittite control,
it is more likely Amurru remained a Hittite vassal state.
The immediate antecedents to the Battle of Kadesh were the early campaigns
Ramesses II into Canaan. In the fourth year of his reign, he
marched north into Syria, either to recapture Amurru or, as a
probing effort, to confirm his vassals' loyalty and explore the
terrain of possible battles. The recovery of Amurru was Muwatalli's
stated motivation for marching south to confront the Egyptians.
Ramesses marched north in the fifth year of his reign and
encountered the Hittites at Kadesh.
Ramesses' army crossed the Egyptian border in the spring of year
five of his reign and, after a month's march, reached the area of
Kadesh from the South.
Hittite king Muwatalli, who had mustered several of his allies
(among them Rimisharrinaa, the king of Aleppo), had
positioned his troops behind "Old Kadesh", but Ramesses, misled by
two spies whom the Egyptians had captured, thought the Hittite
forces were still far off, at Aleppo, and ordered
his forces to set up camp.
The contending forces
spring of the fifth year of his reign, in May 1274 BC, Ramesses II launched his campaign from his
capital Pi-Ramesses (modern Qantir).
Ramesses led an army of
four divisions: Amun
(Suteh) and the
apparently newly formed Ptah
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
. This division would come to play a
critical role in the battle. Also significant was the presence of
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
ultimately appearing among the Sea
that ravaged the east Mediterranean at the end of the
. Healy in Armies of the
- "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 19 Hittite
allies brought to Kadesh
has excited considerable interest over the years because it has
been a challenge to identify all of the locations, because it
represents such a broad swath of the Hittite subject lands, and
because of the appearance of several west Anatolian lands, apparently including the Dardanians
mentioned by Homer.
(For the complete list, see Appendix A
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":
The Shasu spies shown being beaten by
As Ramesses and the Egyptian advance guard were about 11 kilometers
, south of Shabtuna, he met two
(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:
In his haste to capture Kadesh
, Ramesses II
committed a major tactical error. He
increased the distance between his Amun
and the remaining Re
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 reporting 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
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
"...No officer was with me, no charioteer, no soldier of the
army, no shield-bearer ...
Only with help from the gods did Ramesses
personally defeat his attackers and return to the Egyptian
"...I was before them like Seth in his
monument. 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
power and range of Egyptian composite
, deployed and attacked the overextended and tired Hittite
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.
action was successful in driving the Hittites back towards the
Orontes 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
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 faced with the humiliation of having to swim
back across the Orontes River to rejoin their infantry. 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 the Orontes (This flight is depicted in
Egyptian inscriptions as "hurried" to say the least—"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.
Disputes over the outcome
There is no consensus about the outcome or what took place, with
views ranging from an Egyptian victory, a draw, and an Egyptian
defeat (with the Egyptian accounts simply propaganda).
Logistically unable to support a long siege
of the walled city of Kadesh, Ramesses prudently gathered his
troops and retreated south towards Damascus and ultimately back to Egypt.
Once back in
Egypt, Ramesses proclaimed that he had won a great victory, but in
reality, all he had managed to do was to rescue his army since he
was unable 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
, 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 Hittite's
retreating chariots were thus pinned against the river and in
several hieroglyphic inscriptions related to Ramseses II, said to
flee across the river, abandoning their chariots, "swimming as fast
as any crocodile" in their flight.
records from Boghazkoy, however, tell 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, and the strategic win to Muwatalli II, since he lost a
large portion of his chariot forces but sustained Kadesh through
the brief siege.
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
In his eighth and ninth years, 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 1258 BC, in the 21st year of Ramesses II's reign, 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. Its text, in the Hittite version,
appears in the links below. An Egyptian version survives on a
Documentation and disagreements
Although there is more evidence in the form of texts and wall
reliefs for this battle than for any other battle in the Ancient Near East
, almost all of it is
from an Egyptian perspective, and indeed the first scholarly report
on the battle, by James Henry
in 1903, took the Egyptian evidence literally and
assumed a great Egyptian victory. His certainty has been replaced
by a situation in which there are varying opinions on almost every
aspect of the battle.
Recording the battle
The main source of information is in the Egyptian record of the
battle, for which a general level of accuracy is assumed despite
factual errors and propaganda.The bombastic nature of Ramesses'
version has long been recognized.The Egyptian version of the battle
of Kadesh is recorded in two primary forms, known as the
and the Bulletin
. The Poem
questioned as actual verse, as opposed to a prose account similar
to what other pharaohs had recorded. Similarly, the
is itself simply a lengthy caption accompanying
the reliefs. These inscriptions are repeated multiple
times (seven for the Bulletin and eight for the
Poem, in temples in Abydos, Temple of
Luxor, Karnak, Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum.) In addition to these lengthy presentations, there
are also numerous small captions used to point out various elements
of the battle.
Outside of the inscriptions, there are
textual occurrences preserved in Papyrus Raifet
Papyrus Sallier III
, and a rendering of these same events
in a letter from Ramesses to Hattusili III written in response to a
scoffing complaint by Hattusili about the pharaoh's victorious
depiction of the battle.
Hittite references to the battle, including the above letter, have
been found at Hattusa, although no annals have been discovered that
might describe it as part of a campaign. Instead, there are various
references made to it in the context of other events. This is
especially true of Hattusili III, for whom the battle marked an
important milestone in his career.
Archaeologists have been unable to verify independently any of the
events recounted in the Egyptian and Hittite records of the Battle
of Kadesh. Knowledge of the battle is derived entirely from the
accounts of Hittite and Egyptian records, both of which disagree
with each other (each side claiming victory). Details of the battle
are reconstructed with reasonable certainty by reconciling the
conflicting accounts through harmonizing these contradictions.
Generally speaking, the nature of the available evidence makes it
possible to reconstruct the outcome as portrayed by the Hittites,
while gleaning believable details from Ramesses' account wherever
Appendix A - The Hittite allies
Sources: Goetze, A., "The Hittites and Syria (1300-1200 B.C.)", in
Cambridge Ancient History
(1975) p. 253; Gardiner, Alan,
The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II
(1975) pp. 57ff.;
Breasted, James Henry, Ancient Records of Egypt; Historical
(1906) pp. 125ff.; Lichtheim, Mirian, Ancient
Egyptian Literature, Vol. 2: The New Kingdom
||Ḥatti (central Anatolia)
||Nahrin = Mitanni
||Arzawa (western Anatolia)
||Pitassa (central Anatolia)
||Dardania (allies of the
Trojans, northwest Anatolia)
||Masa (Mysia, northwest Anatolia)
||Carchemish, in Syria
||A poorly defined area in northern Syria
||Kadesh (in Syria)
||Ugarit (in north
||Kaska (northern Anatolia)
||Lukka lands (Lycia
and Caria, southwest Anatolia)
||Nuḥḥašši (in Syria)
||Arawanna (In Anatolia)
Syria. Led by its king, Talmi-Sarruma, grandson of Suppiluliuma I.)
In addition to these allies, the Hittite king also hired the
services of some of the local Shasu tribes.
Appendix B - The Hittite fallen
Source: Gardiner, Alan, The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses
(1975) pp. 39-41.
||Brother of Muwattalli
||Troop-captain of those of Qbsw(?)
||A head of thr-warriers (infantry?)
||Chief of the bodyguard
||Troop-captain of Inns.
||Brother of Muwattalli
||Head of the thr-warriors
||Troop-captain of Ins
||[One further name and title, lost]
- Kitchen, K.A, "Ramesside Inscriptions", Volume 2, Blackwell
Publishing Limited, 1996, pp.16-17
- Moran, William L., "The Amarna Letters", Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1992
-  W. J. Murnane, The Road to Kadesh: A Historical
Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak.
(Second Edition Revised), Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1990,
- Bryce, Trevor, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford University
Press, new edition 2005, ISBN 019927908Xm p.233
- Grimal, Nicolas, A History of Ancient Egypt (1994) pp.
- The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite
- Mark Healy, Armies of the Pharaohs, Osprey Publishing, 2000.
- Wilson, John A, "The Texts of the Battle of Kadesh", The
American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 34, no.
4, July 1927, p.278
- Santosuosso, Antonio, "Kadesh Revisited: Reconstructing the
Battle Between the Egyptians and the Hittites " The Journal of
Military History, Vol 60 no. 3, July 1996
- Mark Healy, op. cit., p.61
- Mark Healy, p.62
- The Battle of Kadesh in the context of Hittite
- Nicholas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, Blackwell Books:
- Joyce Tyldesley, Ramesses: Egypt's Greatest Pharaoh, Penguin
Books, 2000. p.73
- Tyldesley, p.73
- Tyldesley, p.75
- TG James, Pharaoh's People: Scenes from Life in Imperial
Egypt, 2007. James says 'This romanticized record of the
Battle of Qadesh cannot be treated as a truthful account of what
happened, and I doubt whether many ancient Egyptians would have
accepted it wholly as an historical record' (page 26). He notes
however that the 'broad facts' are 'probably reported with a fair
degree of accuracy' (page 27).
- Some of the harshest criticism of Ramesses has come from
Egyptologists. "It is all too clear that he was a stupid and
culpably inefficient general and that he failed to gain his
objectives at Kadesh" (John A. Wilson, The Culture of Ancient
Egypt (1951) p. 247. Although Wilson does recognize the
personal bravery of Ramesses, and the improvement of his skills in
- Gardiner, Alan, The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II
(1975) pp.2-4. However, Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian
Literature, Vol. 2: The New Kingdom (1978) p. 58, maintains
that the Poem is truly just that, contra Gardiner, and
prefers to maintain the older tripartite division of the
- Breasted, James Henry, Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical
Documents" (1906) p. 58.
- Kitchen, Kenneth A., Ramesside Inscriptions, Notes and
Comments Volume II (1999) pp. 13ff.
- "Review: Some Recent Works on Ancient Syria and the Sea
People", Michael C. Astour, Journal of the American Oriental
Society, Vol. 92, No. 3, (Jul. - Sep., 1972), pp. 447-459 writing
about someone who identified the Dardanians with the Trojans:
"Which is, incidentally, not so: the Iliad carefully distinguishes
the Dardanians from the Trojans, not only in the list of Trojan
allies (11:816-823) but also in the frequently repeated formula
keklyte meu, Tr6es kai Dardanoi ed' epikuroi (e.g., III:456)
- A problematical name. Gardiner translates the title as "chief
of suite of suite". If the Chief of the Royal Bodyguard is meant
here, then that position was held by his brother Hattusili, who
quite clearly did not die.
- includes information of the clash of the Egyptians and Hittites
including the battle of Kadesh and maps of the regions controlled
by the peoples named in the accounts.