Battle of Kadesh (c.1275 BC)
The Battle of Kadesh between the Hittites and Egyptians
has been hailed as the first true battle for study, for it is the first time in
history where enough historical evidence survives, from both sides, to paint a
fairly accurate picture. The armies of these two empires were both powerful and
massive. Ramesside Egypt is covered with depictions and inscriptions of the
Battle, and an entire epic poem by an unknown Egyptian scribe, recalls the
battle in 'vivid' detail:
"Now when the king looked behind him, he saw that he was blocked off by 2500 chariots. All the various warriors of the wretched king of Hatti encircled him, and of the numerous lands that were his allies; warriors from Aradus, Mese, Pedes, Keshkesh, Irun, Kizwanda, Cherb, Ekeret, Kadesh and Reke. They stood three to a chariot and had united against him. (Ceram p.177)
The two players in this momentous clash, are the Egyptian and Hittite empires. The Hittites had recently lost much of their northern Syrian territories to the Hurrians, but with the succession of Subbiluliumas, Hittite prestige was restored. After at first attempting an alliance with Egypt, he eventually decided against such a step, persuading Ugarit (the last main Egyptian stronghold in Syria) to defect, Subbiluliumas led a successful assault against the Pharaoh's forces in Syria, pushing Egyptian boundaries back behind Kadesh.
Occupied with her religious revolution, and then later by the end of XVIII Dynasty, Egypt was in no position to rebuke the Hittite advances. Attempting to curb their power, the widow of the young-king Tutankhamun asked for the betrothal of a son of Subbiluliumas, but the Hittite prince was assassinated on his way to her. With the rise of the more aggressive and military-apt Pharaoh's of the XIX Dynasty, Egypt resumed her efforts towards empire.
Sety I set the stage for the conflict between Egypt and the Hittites. In attempting to recover Amurru in Syria, he sought the Eleutheros Valley. This strip of land allowed its occupants an easy line of communication between the Mediterranean and northern Syria, and was easy on marching armies due to its flat land. Kadesh was the key-point to controlling the Eleutheros Valley, and an attempt to capture it proved unsuccessful for Sety.
His son, however, believed he could succeed. Ramesses II is one of the most famous pharaoh's in history, and his program of monuments and temples was one of the greatest in Egyptian history. Ramesses was a fine general and leader, but he often let his ambition outrun the reality, and his reign was quite a strain on Egypt's resources. His opponent in the Battle of Kadesh, was king Muwatallish. He rose to power in 1308 BCE, and was content with defending the current borders of the Hittite empire, roused to action only when required.
In 1275, Ramesses made the first move, leading an Egyptian force of around 20,000 beyond Egypt's borders. He proceeded to divide his army into four corps which were to march on Kadesh by way of the desert. A second, smaller army, was to take sail and land north of Byblos before setting out for Kadesh also - Ramesses attempted the first ever documented pincer movement!
Ramesses though, made a few important mistakes. Separating his army into four divisions, each marching up to a day apart, and crossing the Orontes river in Syria at various times, they were unable to support each other, with the Pharaoh compounding the problem by not creating adequate communication not only between the divisions, but between them and himself.
Ramesses set out for Kadesh with the first corps, the second following slightly behind, but with the 3rd and 4th divisions remaining on the right bank of the Orontes. Shortly after, Ramesses intercepted two "Bedouin" spies, who told the Pharaoh about the fearful flight of the Hittite enemy in face of the Egyptian forces. Ramesses believed them. He was later to realize that the Bedouins were actually Hittite!
As Ramesses ploughed onwards, a host of a 1000 Hittite charioteers descended upon the 2nd corps at a ford. The unsuspecting Egyptian army was no match for the heavy chariots, each manned with 4 or 5 Hittite warriors. Assistance was no where in sight, for by now 2 days separated the leading 1st corps and the remaining 3rd and 4th. The Egyptians fled.
Ramesses received word of the Hittite attack and sped in haste, with his small personal guard, to strategic hill near the marauding Hittites, erecting a fort and valiantly fending off his enemies, despite overwhelming numbers. Relief was at hand, when the second army that had traveled by boat, arrived and fought of the now disorganized Hittite forces. The enemy withdrew and took to Kadesh.
Ramesses gathered his armies, and returned to Egypt, where he declared the clash a victorious battle, adorning walls of all major temples with valiant scenes from the conflict.
The Battle of Kadesh was the last major clash between the Egyptian and Hittite empires. The result was a blow to both states, but in an indirect way. Though Muwatallish had halted Egyptian expansion and defined a peaceful border of the Hittite Empire, this battle had serious consequences for the Hittites. During the conflict with Egypt, Assyria had annexed Mitanni, removing the buffer that the Hittites so relied upon. For Egypt, the defeat of her army led to an all-out revolt by her Canaan vassals, and with them went the last great possessions of the Pharaoh's beyond the Sinai.
Hittite king Hattusilis III finally took over the throne and exiled the son of Muwatallish, who was very unpopular at the time. When Hattusilis evaluated the condition of his empire and that of Assyria, he became increasingly friendly with Egypt. In the twenty-first year of Ramesses’ reign, ca. 1259, Hattusilis and Ramesses created a diplomatic treaty, the first document of its kind. Hattusilis sealed this deal by marrying his daughter to Ramesses. It contained four important conditions:
a) The continuation of the treaty
concluded between Ramesses and Muwatallish, concerning non-aggression.
b) Mutual assistance in the form of military aid.
c) Security in the problem of Hattusilis’ succession
d) Mutual extradition of fugitives.
This pact, reflected in the relieves of Abu Simbel, gave the people of the Near East the great accomplishment of nearly seventy years of peace.
Today an enlarged copy of this peace pact made of cuneiform tablet found in Hattusas hangs in the United Nations building in New York, demonstrating to modern statesmen that international treaties are a tradition going back to the earliest civilizations.
1. The twenty-first year, the twenty-first day of Tybi, in the reign of King RA-USER-mA, approved by the Sun, Son of the Sun, RAmEssu-MERIAmEN, endowed with life eternal and for ever; lover of AMEN-RA, HARmAcHu, PTAH of Memphis, MAUT Lady of Asheru, and CHENsu-NEFERHoTEP; invested upon the throne of HoRus, among the living, like his father HARmACHU, eternally and for ever.
2. On this day behold His Majesty was in the city of the House of Ramessu-Meriamen, making propitiations to his father AMEN-RA, to HARmAcHu, to AToM Lord of On, to AMEN of Ramessu-Meriamen, to PTAH of Ramessu-Meriamem, to SuTEcH the most glorious son of NUT; may they grant him an eternity of thirty-years' festivals, an infinity of years of peace, all lands, all nations, being bowed down beneath his feet for ever.
3. There came a royal Herald (nearly a whole line is erased here; the sellsc is, two royal Heralds came, bringing a tablet of silver, which)
4. the Grand-Duke of Kheta, KHETA-sIRA, had sent to the King to beg for peace of King RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, Son of the Sun, RAmEssu-MERIAmEN, endowed with life for ever and ever, like his father the Sun continually. Copy of the plate of silver which the Grand-Duke of Kheta, KHETAsIRA, sent to the King by the hand of his Herald
5. TARTIsBu, and his Herald RAmEs, to beg for peace of His Majesty RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, Son of the Sun, RAmEssu-MERIAmEN, Chief' of rulers, whose boundaries extend to every land at his pleasure, the covenant made by the Grand-Duke of ICheta, KHETAsIRA, the puissant, son of MARASARA,
6. the Grand-Duke of Kheta, the puissant, grandson of SAPALALA, the Grand-Duke of Kheta, the puissant; upon the plate of silver, with RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, the great ruler of Egypt, the puissant, son of RAmEN-mA (Seti Meneptah I) the great ruler of Egypt, the puissant, grandson of RA-MEN-PERU (Ramessu I).
7. the great ruler of Egypt, the puissant : The good conditions of peace and fraternity ... to eternity, which were aforetime from eternity. This was an arrangement of the great ruler of Egypt with the great Prince of Kheta, by way of covenant, that god might cause no hostility to arise between them ! Now it happened
8. in the time of MAuTENARA, the Grand-Duke of Kheta, my brother, that he fought with... the great ruler of Egypt. But thus it shall be henceforth, even from this day-Behold; KHETAsIRA the Grand-Duke of Kheta, covenants to adhere to the arrangement made by the Sun, made by SuTEcH, concerning the land of Egypt,
9. with the land of Kheta, to cause no hostility to arise between them for ever. Behold, this it is--KHETAsIRA the Grand-Duke of Kheta covenants with RA-USER-mA, approved by the Sun, the great ruler of Egypt from this day forth, that good peace and good brotherhood shall be between us for ever.
10. He shall fraternize with me, he shall be at peace with me, and I will fraternize with him, I will be at peace with him for ever. It happened in the time of MAUTENARA the Grand-Duke of Kheta, my brother, after his decease, KHETAsIRA sat as
ll. Grand-Duke of Kheta upon the throne of his father--Behold I am at one in heart with RAmEssu-MERIAmEN, the great ruler of Egypt... of peace, of brotherhood; it shall be better than the peace and the brotherhood, which was before this. Behold, I the Grand-Duke of Kheta with
12. RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt, am in good peace, in good brotherhood ; the children's children of the Grand-Duke of Kheta shall be in good brotherhood and peace with the children's children of RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt, As our (treaty) of brotherhood, and our arrangements
13. (made for the land of Egypt) with the land of Kheta, so to them also shall be peace and brotherhood for ever; there shall no hostility arise between them for ever. The Grand-Duke of Kheta shall not invade the land of Egypt for ever, to carry away anything from it; nor shall RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt invade the land
14. of Kheta for ever to carry away anything from it for ever. The treaty of alliance which was even from the time of SAPALALA the Grand-Duke of Kheta, as well as the treaty of alliance which was in the time of MATENARA (Mura-sara) the Grand-Duke of Kheta my father, if I fulfill it, behold RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt shall fulfill it
15. ....together with us, in each case, even from this day, we will fulfill it, executing the design of alliance. If any enemy shall come to the lands of RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt, and he shall send to the Grand Duke of Kheta saying, Come and give me help against him, then shall the Grand-Duke of Kheta
16. ....the grand-Duke of Kheta to smite the enemy; but if it be that the Grand-Duke of Kheta shall not come (himself), he shall send his infantry and his cavalry... to smite his enemy... of the anger of RAmEssu-MERIAmE
17. ....the slaves of the gates, and they shall do any damage to him, and he shall go to smite them, then shall the Grand-Duke of Kheta together with...
18. ....to come to help to smite his enemies, if it shall please RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt to go,he shall...
19. ....to return all answer to the land of Kheta. But if the servants of the Grand-Duke of Kheta shall invade him, namely RAmEssu-MERIAmEN ....
(Lines 20 and 21 are nearly erased.)
22. from the lands of RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt and they shall come to the Grand-Duke of Kheta, then shall the Grand-Duke of Kheta not receive them, but the Grand-Duke of Kheta shall send them to RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, the great ruler of Egypt...
23. ....and they shall come to the land of Kheta to do service to any one, they shall not be added to the land of . Kheta, they shall be given up to RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt. Or if there shall pass over...
24. ....coming from the land of Kheta, and they shall come to RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt, then shall not RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, the great ruler of Egypt...
25. ....and they shall come to the land of Egypt to do service of any sort, then shall not RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, the great ruler of Egypt, claim them; he shall cause them to be given up to the Grand-Duke of Kheta... .
26. ....the tablet of silver, it is declared by the thousand
gods, the gods male (warriors), the gods female, those which are of the land of Kheta, in concert with the thousand gods, the gods male, the gods female, those which are of the land of Egypt, those...
27. ....SuTEcH of Kheta, SuTEch ofthe city ofA.... SuTEcH of the city of Taaranta, SUTEcH of the city of Pairaka, SuTEcH of the city of Khisasap, SuTEcH of the city of Sarasu, SuTEch of the city of Khira(bu), SUTEcH....
28. ....SuTEcH of the city of Sarapaina, AsTARATA of Kheta, the god of Taitatkherri, the god of Ka....
29. ....the goddess of the city of.....the goddess of Tain...., the god of.....
30. of the hills of the rivers of the land of Kheta, the gods of the land of Kheta, the gods of the land of Tawatana, AMEN the Sun, SuTEcH, the gods male, the gods female, of the hills, the rivers of the land of Egypt, the... the the great sea, the winds, the clouds. These words
31. which are on the tablet of silver of the land of Kheta, and of the land of Egypt, Whosoever shall not observe them, the thousand gods of the land of Kheta, in concert with the thousand gods of the land of Egypt shall be (against) his house, his family, his servants. But whosoever shall observe these words which are in the tablet of silver, be he of Kheta....
32. ....the thousand gods of the land of Kheta, in concert with the thousand gods of the land of Egypt shall give health, shall give life to his (family) together with . himself together with his servants. If there shall pass over one man of the (land of Egypt) or two, or three
33. (and they shall go to the land of Kheta then shall the Grand-Duke of Kheta cause them to be) given up again to RA-USER-mA, approved of the Sun, the great ruler of Egypt, but whosoever shall be given up to RAmEssu-MERIAmEN, the great ruler of Egypt,
34. let not his crime be set up against him let not... himself, his wives, his children...... If there shall pass over a man from the land of Kheta be it one only be it two, be it three, and they come to RA-usER-mA, approved of the Sun
35. the great ruler of Egypt let RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt seize (them and cause them to be) given up to the Grand-Duke of Kheta (but whosoever shall be delivered up... ) himself his wives, his children, moreover let him not be smitten to death, moreover let him not (suffer ?)
36. in his eyes, in his mouth, in his feet, moreover let not any crime be set up against him. That which is upon the tablet of silver upon its front side is the likeness of the figure of SuTEcH... of SuTEcH the great ruler of heaven, the director of the Treaty made by KHETAsIRA the great ruler
37. of Kheta...
 The fifth month.
 Rameses II
 Rameses II
Source: This treaty is translated by C. W. Goodwin.