The Battle of Kadesh is the first battle in history for which we have detailed accounts of what happened. It features two of the middle eastern heavy weights – Egypt and Hatti – battling it out for supremacy. It also features bit players that would subsequently stand out on the world stage – tribes that would constitute the Sea Peoples fought on both sides at Kadesh. And, if you follow the New Chronology proposed by David Rohl, Pharaoh was rescued by Elite Israelites from Solomon’s Kingdom.
Egyptian sources for the Battle of Kadesh:
- Relief carvings in the major temples: Karnak, Luxor, the Ramesseum Abydos and Abu Simbel
- the ‘Poem’ – see The Battle of Kadesh & the Poem of Pentaur
- the ‘Bulletin’ – see The Battle if Kadesh: The Bulletin
The ‘Poem’ is quite lengthy and literary in its nature and resembles the Greek battle epics. It describes the campaign in great detail, focusing on the various geographical points passed along the way by the military troops.
The ‘Bulletin’, in contrast, is quite brief, is much more matter-of-fact, and only includes the most important information about the campaign.
Hittite records from Hatusili III (Muwatalli’s brother and eventual successor) and Tudhaliya IV (Hattusili’s son).
The Chronology of the battle is disputed – actually Egyptian chronology in general is disputed. We have the Conventional Egyptian Chronology being challenged by the New Chronology proposed by David Rohl. In the Conventional Chronology the Battle of Kadesh is late May 1274 BC (Wikipedia: Battle of Kadesh).
Rohl (1995, 2002), however, presents a number of – to me anyway – convincing arguments for adjusting the chronology of Ancient Egypt. For the Battle of Kadesh the main point is that Rohl equates Ramesses II with the biblical King of Egypt Shishak (1 Kings 14:25f; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9). The Conventional Egyptian Chronology equates the biblical Shishak with Shoshenq I – largely, as Rohl points out, because they sound alike in modern Egypto-speak (which has little to do with how ancient Egyptian was spoken). If Ramesses is in fact Shishak then the whole Egyptian Chronology moves by hundreds of years. The Battle of Kadesh moves to 939 BC and overlaps with the the United Kingdom of Israel, and in particular with Solomon’s rule. Exciting stuff.
I have followed Rohl (2002) to create this Chronology.
1011 BC – Akhenaten Year 13 – David Year 1
David becomes king of the Israelites in Hebron.
Aziru murdered his father Abdi-Ashirta to become king of Amurru.
In Egypt Queen Neferneferuaten Nefertiti became Akenaten’s co-regent under the coronation name Ankhkheperure.
1007 BC – Smenkhkare Year 1
Akhenaten died and his co-regent / Queen became Pharaoh as Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare. She adopted Nebkheperure Tutankhaten as co-regent.
1004 BC – Smenkhkare Year 4 – Tutankhamum Year 1
Nebkheperure Tutankhaten became Pharaoh Tutankhamum.
King Aziru arrived in Memphis for ‘consultation’ with the Egyptians. He remained at the northern capital for 12 months under house arrest. Aziru persuaded the Egyptians he was loyal and the best bet for dealing with the Habiru uprising and David’s Israelites.
1002 BC – Smenkhkare Year 6 – Tutankhamum Year 3
King Aziru returned to Amurru. He use Habiru mercenaries and Hittite troops to expand his territory.
1001 BC – Smenkhkare Year 7 – Tutankhamum Year 4
King Aziru captured Simyra, the Egyptian port on the Phoenician coast.
1000 BC – Smenkhkare Year 8 – Tutankhamum Year 5
Pharaoh Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare died.
999 BC – Tutankhamum Year 6 – David Year 13
Shupak, a Hittite General in the service of Aziru of Amurru so leading an Aramaean army, conquered the Kingdom of Amuk and seized Kadesh on the Orontes.
The Israelite General Ayab defeated another Aramaean army outside the town of Madeba.
998 BC – Ay Year 1
Tutankhamum died in suspicious circumstances. His wife Queen Ankhesenamum sought a husband from the Hittite Empire to avoid marrying her much older uncle Ay. After some hesitation King Shuppiluliuma I of Hatti agreed to Ankhesenamum’s request and sent his son Prince Zananza to Egypt. Ankhesenamum’s uncle Ay had Zananza assassinated as he crossed into Egypt at the border post of Zile. Following the assassination of Egypt and Hatti would be at war for the next 75 years. Ay became Pharaoh and forced his niece Ankhesenamum to marry him.
Shupak led an Aramaean army south but was defeated by David’s Israelites at the Battle of Helan. Shupak was killed. The Israelites kept only 100 of the captured chariots and horse teams, hamstringing the remaining horses.
996 BC – ?
In the Edomite war, Israel’s greatest general of the time, Ayad, led an Israelite army into Edom. In six months they destroyed most of the Edomite settlements and killed most of the population. The Edomite royal family fled to Egypt where Ay gave them sanctuary.
993 BC – ?
Shuppiluliuma I died and Murshilli II became King of Hatti.
992 BC – ?
In Damascus, Rezon, son of Eliada, killed Du-Teshub, Aziru’s son, and seized control. Aramaean bands, under Rezon’s control, marauded in the northern Israelite territory for the next 13 years.
[Note: Du-Teshub is the biblical Ben-Hadad I. Both are mixed names, i.e. formed from different languages. Translated into English both names mean “Son of the weather god”. “Du” is “son” in Sumerian. “Teshub” is the Hurrian weather god. “Ben” is the Hebrew for “son”. “Hadad” is the Syrian weather god.]
990 BC – Haremheb Year 1
Haremheb, the army commander, became co-regent with the elderly Ay.
987 BC – Ay Year 12
Ay died and Haremheb became sole ruler of Egypt.
980 BC – ?
David’s forced defeated the Aramaean bands under Rezon of Damascus.
971 BC – Haremheb Year 21; Solomon Year 1
David died and Solomon became King in Israel. Solomon killed off many leading figures from David’s reign including general Ayab. Ayab’s death encouraged the exiled King of Edom, Hadad, to return to his devastated Kingdom.
With Solomon’s accession, Haremheb offered him a marriage alliance. Solomon agreed and Haremheb’s second daughter (of five) became Solomon’s principle wife. Solomon gained the city of Gezer as part of the dowry.
968 BC – Haremheb Year 22
Solomon began work on the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem.
966 BC – ?
Murshilli II died and Muwatali II became King of Hatti.
961 BC – Seti I Year 1
Haremheb died. Rameses I and his son Seti I became co-rulers. Seti led an Egyptian expedition to quell a Habiru rebellion in the eastern Jezeel and the upper Jordan. Egyptian’s took Hamath and Yanoam and Beth-Shean. Seeking longer term protection from marauding Habiru and Aramaenans, Solomon agreed to let the Egyptians retain a garrison within Beth-Shean.
960 BC – Seti I Year 2
Seti let a new expedition through Solomon’s territory and on into the Bekaa valley. A second Egyptian force travel to Simyra by sea and then marched east, via the Homs-Tripoli gap, to meet the main force. The expedition drove the Hittites out of the southern Syria and took Kadesh where they left a stele of conquest. In Egypt Seti had a a temple relief carved to depict the victory. Subsequently Kadesh would revert to Hittite control.
945 BC – ?
By this time Solomon, having become a wealthy merchant prince, had turned the rag-bag Israelite army, comprising infantry supplemented by Habriu mercenaries, into a modern army with a considerable chariot force. Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor were refortified and had stables for a large chariot force. Solomon also organised what Rohl calls a ‘rapid reaction force’ – the Nearim (‘young braves’).
943 BC – Rameses II Year 1
Seti I died and Rameses II became sole ruler of Egypt.
939 BC – Rameses Year 5; Solomon Year 33
Rameses II led an Egyptian army through Solomon’s lands to the Jezreel valley. In fulfilment of the treaty with Egypt a Israelite contingent, 5,000 Nearim, boarded ship at Dor. The plan was to have the Israelites sail to Simyra then march through the Homs-Tripoli gap to join up with the Egyptians at Kadesh.
Battle of Kadesh – see detailed description of the battle.
938 BC – Rameses Year 6
As a result of the Battle of Kadesh, the Aramaean King Rezon (992-937 BC) of Damascus began to exert pressure on the Egyptian territory in Canann. Cities on the edge of Egyptian control began to break away. The cities of the Galilee and Jezreel refused the pay their taxes. Rezon took and sacked the Israelite royal city of Hazor.
Hadad of Edom, newly reinvigorated, stirred up the people to of Transjordan and overthrew Israelite rule.
937 BC – Rameses Year 7; Solomon Year 35
Jeroboam let a revolt in the Israelite Kingdom. Solomon’s Nearim put down the revolt easily and Jeroboam fled to Egypt for sanctuary. Jeroboam arrived in the Egyptian court at Pi-Rameses (Avaris) just as Rameses was Rameses was preparing a new expedition to take into Canaan. Rameses crushed the Israelite rebels and installed Egyptian garrisons in the major strategic cities of the area: Gaza, Beth-Shean, Zarethan, Kamidi, and Simyra.
931 BC – ?
Solomon died leading to the ‘Schism’ and the ‘Divided Monarchy period’ of Israel. Jeroboam I was anointed King of Israel, which included the other tribes, and set up his capital in Tirzah.
Rehoboam, son of Solomon, ruled the Kingdom of Judah from his capital of Jerusalem including the tribal territories of Judah and Benjamin. Rehoboam was suspicious of Egypt and fortified his western and southern boundaries.
927 BC – Rameses Year 16; Rehoboam Year 5
Rameses attacked the Rehoboam’s Kingdom of Judah. The Egyptian force was huge – the bible says “twelve hundre chariots and sixty thousand cavalry and countless hordes or Libyans, Sukkiim and Kushites”; Rohl estimates 30,000 men given normal inflation of numbers. Rameses took Ashkelon then headed inland and took Gezer and other strongholds. In only two weeks he was camped in front of Jerusalem. Rehoboam capitulated and the Egyptians sacked the Temple and Solomon’s palace. Rameses then headed north to seize the rebel city of Yanoam. This is the campaign of King Shishak, recorded in the Bible.
922 BC – Rameses Year 21
In Year 21 of Rameses’s reign he signed a peace treaty with the Hittite Emperor.
This account is based on Rohl (2002) and Healy (1993).
1. Egyptian approach
Rameses had four Egyptian corps: Amun (Thebes), Re (Heliopolis), Ptah (Memphis) and Seth (Pi-Rameses/Avaris). Each corps had 500 chariots and 5,000 infantry. The corps travelled with half a day’s march between. Rameses and his guard were at the head of the column. When Rameses and Amun were at the northern end of the Bekaa, within a day’s march of Kadesh, Re was at Baalbek, Ptah at Kamidi, and Seth was passing Mount Hermon at the entrance to the Bekaa valley.
2. Hittite spies
The Egyptians captured two Shosu (Bedouin) spies when the army began to cross the Orontes river south of Shabtuna, about 11 kilometers from Kadesh. The spies claimed the Hittite army was at Aleppo, far to the north.
3. Egyptians camp
Rameses rushed to set up camp outside the city of Kadesh, to the north-west, with Amun and his guard.
4. Hittite scouts
During the night an Egyptian patrol captured two Hittite scouts. This is how Rameses discovered that the Hittite army was in fact on the other side of the City of Kadesh. The Hittites heavily outnumbered the Egyptians. King Muwatali had 3,500 chariots and 37,000 infantry and was only 3 km away from the Egyptian camp.
5. Hittite wave 1 routs Re
During the night Muwatali sent the majority of his chariot force – 2,5000 chariots under the King of Allepo including Hittites, subjects, and allies – south of the city where they crossed the Orontes river before dawn.
The original Egyptian illustrations depict the Hittite chariots with a crew of three, in contrast to the Egyptian chariots with a crew of two. I interpret this as the normal Hittite crew of two and the chariot runner on board to facilitate rapid movement. The Egyptians also had chariot runners.
As the Hittite chariots swung south the Egyptian corps of Re commenced their march in an attempt to catch up with Rameses. This meant that, as the sun rose in the east, the Hittite chariots saw Re strung out in front of them. The Hittite chariots smashed through the Egyptian line of march and swung north towards the Egyptian camp. In modern accounts, and certainly in wargaming simulations, this part of the battle is often presented as a full on fight. However, the original sources don’t really support this. It is most likely the Hittite chariots, with the Egyptian camp as their target, drove through gaps in the Re’s march order. This would have disordered the Egyptians but not destroyed Re as a military force. Given Re appears later in the battle this seems a reasonable interpretation.
6. Hittite wave 1 attacks Camp
The Hittite chariots attacked the Egyptian camp. Some Hittites broke into the camp and began to loot. Original illustrations show fighting inside the camp.
Rameses, mounted in his chariot, led a counter-attack and succeeded in holding the Hittites at bay.
7. Hittite wave 2
King Muwatali sent another 1,000 chariots to assist the attack. These crossed north of the city.
Just as the second wave of chariots reached the Egyptian camp, the Hittites were surprised in turn by a force arriving from the west. This was Solomon’s Nearim who had marched overnight from Simyra.
9. Egyptians rally
The arrival of the Nearim gave the two Egyptian corps on the field – Amun and Re – an opportunity to rally behind Rameses. The combined Egyptian and Israelite force drove off the Hittite chariotry.
10. Hittite withdrawal
After three hours of combat the King of Allepo ordered the Hittite chariots to retreat. Unfortunately they had to retreat back across the Orontes, this time north of the city. Many of the chariots were wrecked and their crews killed.
11. Ptah arrives
About this time the third Egyptian corp (Ptah) arrived on the field of battle. The two armies stared at each other across the Orontes river. Stalemate.
So who won? Despite effective Rameside propaganda to the contrary, propaganda that has lasted down to our time, I think the Hittites won the battle. The Egyptians had suffered fewer losses and held the immediate field of battle. The Hittites suffered much higher losses – and amongst the noble charioteers at that – but held Kadesh and their territory in southern Syria. In fact, after the battle, Rameses retreated back into Canaan which quickly rose in revolt.
Order of Battle
Both the Hittite and Egyptian armies included allies, although the Hittites were much more dependent on these.
Hittite Order of Battle
The Hittite army included troops from the Kingdom of Hatti itself, but also from 18 allied and vassal states (Healy, 1992). Combined this reached a total force of 3,700 chariots and 37,000 infantry.
Egyptian Order of Battle
Except the Egyptian army of the time was organised into four known named corps each named after a deity (Healy, 1993):
- Amun, “Mighty of Bows”, from Thebes
- P’Re (or Re), “Plentiful of Valour”, from Heliopolis
- Sutekh (or Seth or Set), “Strong of Bows”, from the north-east delta around Avaris; raised by Rameses I or Seti
- Ptah from the Memphite region; possibly raised by Rameses II
Each Egyptian corps was a combined arms force with 4,000 infantry and 500 chariots. Plus a whole bunch of baggage carried by oxen carts and donkeys (Healy, 1993).
Solomon contributed the Ne’arim (Rohl, 2002). This was also a combined arms force. Possibly of a similar size to the Egyptian corps. Judging from the illustrations from Luxor, they used Egyptian style chariots (Healy, 1993).
Egypt – The Land of Eternity. (n.d.) The Battle if Kadesh: The Bulletin. Author.
Mark, J. J. (2012, 18 January). The Battle of Kadesh & the Poem of Pentaur. Ancient History Encyclopaedia.
Healy, M. (1993). Qadesh 1300 BC: Clash of the warrior kings [Campaign 22]. Osprey.
Rohl, D. (1995). A Test of Time.
Rohl, D. (2002). From Eden to Exile: The epic history of the people of the Bible. Arrow Books.
Russell Lowell, I. (2010, November). Qadesh from Egyptian and Hittite Records (Part 1). Slingshot, 273, p. 25-30.
Kadesh was the theme for the Society of Ancient’s Battle Day in 2011. Ian Russell Lowell provides the briefing pack.