Battle of Kadesh

(ca. 1274 b.c.)
   Perhaps the largest battle fought in the Near East in the second millennium b.c. and the earliest battle in world history for which a specific play-by-play account can be reconstructed. The confrontation took place in Syria and did not involve Meso-potamian armies. However, the major players - the Hittite Empire (centered in Anatolia) and Egypt - were part of a delicate balance of power that included and affected the fortunes of the leading Mesopotamian realms, including Mitanni, Assyria, and Kassite-controlled Babylonia. The Hittites long had a loose alliance with the Kassites, whom the Hittites had helped place in power in Babylon, for example. And pressure brought to bear by both the Egyptians and the Hittites on Mitanni's western flank served to limit the aggressions of that large and powerful kingdom. By about 1300 b.c. or so, however, the balance of power in the Near East was upset when the Hittites and the Assyrians destroyed Mitanni. This allowed the Assyrians to expand westward and the Hittites to move southward into Syria and Palestine and capture the cities of Aleppo, Ugarit, Carchemish, and Kadesh (or Qadesh). The Egyptians, who had long controlled or influenced Syria-Palestine, viewed the Hittites' presence in that region as unacceptable, thereby setting the scene for the great battle between the two peoples.
   In the summer of 1275 b.c., Egypt's new pharaoh, Ramesses II, marched through Palestine and captured much of southern Syria. No Hittite army tried to stop him, so he returned to Egypt in triumph. The following year the Hittite king, Muwatallis, retaliated by leading a force of some thirty-seven thousand infantry and twenty-five hundred chariots - a very large army for that time - into Syria and taking a stand near Kadesh. Ramesses marched northward with about eighteen thousand foot soldiers and perhaps two thousand chariots. Following custom, the Egyptian forces were divided into four large field units, each named after gods - Amun, Ra, Ptah, and Seth. These units were separated from one another by several miles as they approached Kadesh. At first Ramesses was tricked into thinking the Hittite army was camped many miles to the north. But then some of his men captured two Hittite spies who, under torture, revealed that Muwatallis and his forces were hiding on the far side of Kadesh, preparing to ambush the Egyptians.
   Hearing this unwelcome news, Ramesses scrambled to prepare, but it was too late. A few miles to the south of the city, near the Orontes River, his Ra unit was suddenly struck by a massed charge of Hittite chariots, which did tremendous damage and sent the survivors into flight. These refugees made it to Ramesses' camp, which began to fall into confusion. The pharaoh realized he had to act quickly to avert total disaster. According to an official Egyptian account of the event:
   Taking up weapons and donning his armor, he was like [the formidable god] Seth in the moment of his power. He mounted his [chariot, pulled by his prized horses named] "Victory in Thebes" [and "Mut is Content"], and started out quickly. . . . His majesty was mighty, his heart stout, [and] one could not stand before him.
   Ramesses and a small force of his soldiers assaulted the enemy chariots from the side or rear. For several hours the two armies clashed in sight of the city, perhaps until darkness forced them to retire. Evidence suggests that the battle was largely indecisive. After agreeing to a temporary peace, the opposing kings returned to their countries and each claimed victory. Nearly a generation of uneasy standoff ensued until about circa 1259 b.c., when Ramesses signed a treaty with a new Hittite king, Hattusilis III. As a result of the battle and the treaty, the Egyptians and the Hittites remained in control of Syria-Palestine. And Assyria and other Mesopotamian realms were temporarily discouraged from expanding westward into the area.
   See also: Egypt; Hittites; Palestine; Syria

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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