Battle of Kadesh

Orfeas Katsoulis | Dec 14, 2023

Table of Content


The Battle of Qadesh took place between the forces of the New Empire of Egypt, ruled by Ramses II, and the Hittite Empire, ruled by Muwatalli II, at the city of Qadesh, on the Orontes River, in the vicinity of Lake Homs, near the Syrian border with Lebanon.

The battle is generally dated to around 1274 B.C. by Egyptian chronology and is the first battle for which detailed historical records of formations and tactics are preserved. It is believed to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, having involved between 5000 and 6000 chariots.

As a result of the multiple inscriptions at Qadesh, it is the best documented battle of antiquity.

The Hittites attacked first and came close to defeating the Egyptians, although thanks to the command of Ramses II the Egyptians managed to counter the attack and the battle ended in a draw. After this, Ramses II and Hattusili III signed the first peace treaty in history.

It was the last great military event of the Bronze Age.


Shortly after the battle, Ramses II ordered its commemoration on the walls of several of his temples, attesting to the importance of the event for his reign. The battle of Qadesh is described in five temples: some fragments on two walls of the temple of Abydos, probably the oldest; in three places in the temple of Amun at Luxor; two in each of the large courtyards of the Ramesseum, which was the funerary temple of Ramses II in Thebes-West; and, finally, a shorter representation in the first hypostyle hall of the main temple of Abu Simbel in Nubia. There are also two copies of these texts in papyri written in hieratic.

Three texts sponsored by Ramses II and of which many copies exist explain the battle.


No Hittite text describing the battle of Qadesh is known. Muwatalli II left no official text commemorating his military campaigns, but the conflict with Ramses II is mentioned in texts by his successors: Hattusili III's Apology (CTH 81) and a decree of Hattusili III (CTH 86), who was Muwatalli II's brother and who was present on the battlefield, as well as the history that appears in the prologue of the treaty signed by his son, Tudhaliya IV, and the king of Amurru, Shaushgamuwa (CTH 105). The battle of Qadesh seems to be evoked in letters sent by Ramses II to Hattusili III, although there is little information about it.

The document that formalized the truce between Egypt and the Hittite Empire, known as the Treaty of Qadesh, is the first text in history to document a peace treaty. It was copied in numerous copies written in Babylonian Chaldean (the lingua franca of diplomacy at the time) on precious silver leaf. Several copies have been found in Hattusa, the Hittite capital, while other copies were found in Egypt.

Other copies written on more vile materials, containing the same text, have also come down to us, such as the set of clay tablets preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, corresponding to the Hittite version of the treatise.

The importance of Syria

A meeting, crossing and negotiation point for the traffic and trade of its time, and an area endowed with immeasurable natural resources, Syria was the mercantile, cultural and military crossroads of the ancient world. Not only did it produce enormous quantities of wheat, but the goods from ships crossing the Aegean and those from further afield passed through it, arriving in Asia Minor through the port of Ugarit, a kind of ancient Venice that dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean, and was located precisely in Syria. The customs duties that would be collected by whoever dominated the region were enormous; added to its strategic military position, agricultural production and traffic and export duties, made the area one of the most strategically important in the ancient world.

Glass, copper, tin, precious woods, jewelry, textiles, foodstuffs, luxury goods, chemicals, china and porcelain, tools and precious metals traveled through the area. Through a web of trade routes that began and ended in Syria, these goods were distributed throughout the Middle East, while other products arrived there from as far away as Iran and Afghanistan.

Between two powers

But Syria suffered the disadvantage of being in the middle of the two great political and military powers of its time: the Egyptian Empire and Hatti, the immense Hittite Empire. Obviously, both had ambitions to dominate Syria in order to exploit it to their own advantage. In fact, it is now considered that, 3300 years ago, the mere fact of controlling Syrian land meant the automatic ascent of any nation to the exclusive elite of those who deserved to be called "world power". This is how Mittani seemed to understand it first, Hatti and Egypt later, and Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar at the end.

It is understandable, therefore, that Mittani, Hatti and Egypt shed, during the centuries prior to Qadesh, veritable oceans of blood in their desperate attempts to dominate the region, thus providing a violent general scenario where the concrete factors that would lead to the battle would take place.

After the campaigns of the Hittite monarch Suppiluliuma I against the kingdom of Mittani, in the north of present-day Syria, between 1340 and 1330 BC, Mittani disintegrated and the Hittites came to dominate most of Syria. Several vassal places of the Egyptians fell to the Hittite campaign, such as the kingdom of Amurru and Qadesh, but it does not appear that Pharaoh Akhenaten considered the option of fighting to regain them. There was a conflict between Egypt and the Hittite Empire when, according to Hittite sources, the Egyptian queen Anjesenamon, widow of Tutankhamun, asked Suppiluliuma I for one of her sons in marriage to make him king of Egypt. The Hittite king accepted the proposal and sent his son Zannanza as a betrothed to the queen, but he was killed on the way. The Hittite king chose to confront Egypt despite the treaty of friendship the two countries had signed long ago.

At the beginning of the 13th century B.C., the Egyptians and the Hittites had more than twenty years of conflicting relations.

The conflicts, led by the sons of the old Hittite king, did not yield significant results. The Egyptian response to the Hittite progress came only with Horemheb, considered the last pharaoh of the XVIIIth dynasty. He supported a revolt of several Hittite vassals, among which were Qadesh and Nuhasse, which were difficult to subdue by the Hittite troops led by those princes, including that of Karkemish. King Mursili II later intervened in person to restore cohesion among his vassals, signing with them several peace treaties.

But the situation changed, and the Hittites went on the defensive against the Egyptians. Seti I, the second pharaoh of the 19th dynasty, led an Egyptian counterattack to win back the lost vassals. He commemorated his victory against the Hittites with an inscription and a relief in a temple at Karnak. He seized Qadesh and King Benteshina of Amurru joined his campaign. The Hittite troops were led by the viceroy of Karkemish, who oversaw the Hittite domination of Syria. King Muwatalli II was in western Anatolia dealing with a rebellion more serious than the situation in Syria, despite the fact that the other adversaries in the region, the Assyrians, were also advancing. The Hittite reaction is slow. Qadesh returned to Hittite control in the following years for unknown reasons, as the Hittite sources do not mention this fact.

At the end of Egypt's 18th dynasty, the Amarna letters tell the story of the decline of Egyptian influence in the region. The Egyptians showed little interest in the region at the end of the 18th dynasty.

This continued into the 19th dynasty. Like his father, Ramses I, Seti I was a military leader who set out to make the Egyptian Empire as in the times of kings Thutmose I, Thutmose II and Thutmose III, a century earlier. Inscriptions on the walls of Karnak record details of Seti I's campaigns in Canaan and ancient Syria. He reoccupied abandoned Egyptian positions and fortified cities. However, these regions subsequently returned to Hittite control.

With the arrival of Ramses II, around 1279 B.C., only Amurru remained as an ally in the Egyptian campaign, but Muwatalli tried to get them to join him. The first three years of the new pharaoh's reign were devoted to internal affairs. In the fourth year of his reign, 1275 B.C., he made a first campaign to Amurru, probably passing by sea. He left a stele at Nahr el-Kelb, on the central coast of Lebanon. This expedition was made to show support for his vassal against the Hittites.

In May 1274 BC, the fifth year of his reign, Ramses II began a campaign from his capital, Pi-Ramses (modern Qantir). The army moved to the fortress of Tjel and went along the coast to Gaza.

The status quo: Hatti and Mittani

Two generations before Ramses, the decor had been different: the dominant powers in the region were not Egypt and Hatti but Egypt and the great kingdom of Mittani. Thutmose IV (1425-1417 BC) had managed to formalize a lasting peace, aware that, with two large and many small kingdoms in the area, the two powerful ones could only dominate the others if they did not war with each other.

Aware of this fact, the powerful Hittite king Suppiluliuma I understood that, in order to become one of the two great ones, he had to destroy the weaker of them and replace him. He thus initiated a long-term project of complete and systematic destruction of Mittani, paying particular attention to the project of eradicating him from his military, commercial and industrial positions in northern Syria.

The pharaohs Thutmose III and his son Amenophis II did not react to this fact, because Mittani had been taking Syrian territories from them for two centuries, and they may have believed that whatever was bad for their enemy would be good for them.

As it was, the king of Mittani, Shaushtatar, decided to approach Egypt to see if the aggressiveness of the Hittites would stop. He did not want to be forced to fight a war on two fronts, against the Egyptians to the south and against the Hittites to the east. He offered the Egyptians a treaty of "brotherhood" which was accepted, and his emissaries arrived in Egypt in the tenth year of the reign of Amenophis (1418 B.C.?) with tribute and greetings for the pharaoh.

Alliance between Egypt and Mittani

The successors of Amenophis II and Shaushatar -Amenophis III and Artatama I- finally formalized the pact, adding a blood union to the political friendship between Mittani and Egypt: the Egyptian emperor married the daughter of the Mittani king, Taduhepa.

Once all the objectives of unity, non-aggression and free trade had been achieved, the time came to carefully delimit the borders between the two empires, which consisted precisely in Central Syria, in territories coveted by both empires and also by the Hittites.

By means of a boundary treaty - which has never been found - Artatama recognized Egyptian rights over the kingdom of Amurru, the valley of the Eleutherus River and the cities of Qadesh (the new one, on a strategic promontory, and the old one next to it, on the plain).

To compensate for these cessions, Amenophis renounced forever the territories that were then Mittan but had been Egyptian by virtue of the conquests of the great warrior pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty: Thutmose I and Thutmose III.

The treaty was so satisfactory for both parties that more than two centuries of peace and prosperity, mutual respect and friendship followed its formalization. The stability of these borders lasted so long that they were imprinted in the minds of all those who inhabited the region as static and impossible to modify.

Amenophis III's fruitful diplomacy removed the Hittites from the equation: Hatti had once again become a "small kingdom" among the great powers. The peace dividends were so great, and so powerful did Mittani and Egypt become, that no one in Hatti could dream of unseating either. Add to this the threat of a third power rising behind them in the east -Kasite Assyria- and the Hittites were forced to accept their role as extras in the great work of growth by the three powers that dominated the world for the next two centuries: Assyrians, Egyptians and Mittani.

The strategic region of Amurru and Qadesh

Amurru was the name with which the Egyptians colloquially called the strategic valley of the Eleutheros ("River of the Free Men"), a kind of land corridor that allowed them to reach from the coast and its ports the advanced positions in Central Syria, located on the banks of the Orontes River. Amurru was, therefore, vital for the pharaohs.

But Amurru was not important only for trade and peace: previous kings had had to keep the pass open in order to send their armies north to make war on Mittani. And it so happened that, to keep the Amurru pass at their disposal, Egypt had to dominate the city of Qadesh, on the Orontes. Fallen Qadesh, Amurru would fall and the Egyptian commerce and communications would be completely annulled. This fact alone is the justification for the entire Syrian war of Ramses, and for the efforts of his predecessors to keep the area in their hands.

Satellite states

The very precise demarcation of the limits between Mittani and Egypt, a consequence of the treaty of two centuries before, and the subsequent peace, made possible the establishment of numerous "intermediate" kingdoms or states, vassals of one or the other of the powerful empires, which behaved like the modern "satellite countries" that populated Europe and Asia in the 20th century.

These satellites softened possible tensions between the two, becoming "lubricants" or intermediaries who, out of self-interest, did what was in their hands to maintain peace and concord. Being border states, militarily weak but wealthy and strategically located, their rulers were clear that they would be the first to disappear if a conflict broke out. With no territorial ambitions other than those related to their own survival, the satellite states had much to lose and nothing to gain in the event of a military confrontation in the region.

The Amorite kingdoms

However, the reign of Amenophis III saw the birth of a new emerging power: a strange political unit that called itself the "kingdom of the Amurru" (or Amorites) and which immediately began to cause problems.

This kingdom did not exist at the time of the delimitation of the borders, but it fell on the Egyptian side, so the Hittites did not recognize it as a sovereignty or legal entity of an independent country. A leader named Abdi-Ashirta, and later his son Aziru, began to organize the heterogeneous constellation of tribes that populated the place, and, with some skill, managed to unite them into a political structure that dominated, at the end of the 14th century BC, the entire critical territory, that is, the one located between the Mediterranean beach and the Orontes River.

Not content with this, Abdi-Ashirta and Aziru managed to expand the borders of their small kingdom, exploiting the indifference that the Egyptian court showed towards the region. The neighboring states, which saw their borders shrinking at the expense of the Amorite expansionist ambitions, turned to the pharaoh to ask him, by sending troops, to impose discipline on their vassal, to which the emperor refused.

Finally, it was Mittani who was affected by the territorial spoils, and this kingdom was not in the habit of remaining unmoved by invasions. Mittani sent an expedition to destroy the Amorite power - it is believed that Abdi-Ashirta died in this conflict - and achieved his goal, but the damage was already done. As expected, the Mittani troops did not withdraw after the destruction of Amurru, and the pharaoh, who could not tolerate that one of his powerful neighbors should have troops stationed in his territory, was forced to take military action himself.

Amenophis sent the army to dislodge the Mittanians, and this movement represented the end of two centuries of peace and the liquefaction of the borders drawn with so much work and maintained with so much effort. It was also the beginning of the controversy that would culminate on the battlefield of Qadeš.

Suppiluliuma I the Great

Suppiluliuma I the Great was crowned king of Hatti around 1380 B.C., and from the very day of his accession he showed that his main interest was to obtain and retain Hittite control of Northern and Central Syria. He immediately attacked Mittani and seized the kingdoms of Aleppo, Nuhashshe, Tunip and Alalakh. This conflict is known as the First Syrian War.

Ten years later, Mittani attempted to take them back by force. Suppiluliuma considered that this initiative enabled him to attack again, and so the Second Syrian War brought destruction and chaos to the neighboring kingdom. Waššukanni, capital and main city of the Mitanni kingdom, was sacked and burned. The Hittites crossed the Euphrates and, turning west, captured Syria, which is now believed to have always been their true objective.

Hatti formalized treaties with the captured ex-Mitanian kingdoms, declared them her vassals and occupied the south, reaching as far as Carchemish and becoming the owner -in addition to the above-mentioned- of the vassal states of Mukish, Niya, Arakhtu and Qatna.


Meanwhile, in his palace of Akhenaten, the young pharaoh Amenophis IV, who would pass to posterity under the name of Akhenaten, watched the unstoppable Hittite advance with apparent disinterest. Many historians impute to him the fact of having tolerated the fall of the important commercial city of Ugarit and the strategic stronghold of Qadesh without having intervened to prevent it or to recover them later.

Modern theory explains, in part, Akhenaten's attitude: seen from Amarna, Qadesh and Ugarit were outside the new borders established for Egyptian territory, which made their conquest or loss an exclusive matter of the Mittan-Hittite conflict, in which Egypt would not intervene as long as it could avoid it. The pharaoh had enough problems with his resisted reform of the belief system and the conversion of Egypt to a monotheistic religion without worrying about what for him were small villages located more than 800 km away. Moreover, Suppiluliuma had made it clear to him that Hatti would not cross the borders, and that peace between Egyptians and Hittites would be assured as long as he lived.

In fact, the Hittite conquest of Qadesh had been the unintended consequence of an imponderable: it had never been in the mind of Suppiluliuma to attack a vassal state of Akhenaten. What happened was this: the king of Qadesh, acting on his own and without consulting Amarna, had obstructed the passage of Hittite troops through the valley of the Orontes, forcing Suppiluliuma to attack him and capture his city. The king and his son Aitakama were taken as prisoners to the Hittite capital of Hattusa but Suppiluliuma, skillfully, soon returned them safe and sound so as not to give an excuse that would make Akhenaten set in motion the dreaded Nilotic war machine.

Qadesh vs. Egypt

Suppiluliuma restored, after the war, the status of Egyptian vassal to the kingdom of Qadesh and, for a time, everything seemed to return to normal.

But upon the death of his father and once crowned king, the young Aitakama began to behave as if he were really a Hittite agent. Some neighboring vassal kings notified Akhenaten about his behavior, which consisted basically in advancing them that he would attack the city of Upe (another important Egyptian vassal and, therefore, his equal), "suggesting" that they support him in that campaign.

Once again, Egypt decided not to intervene. Instead of sending in the army and imposing order by force, Akhenaten communicated with Aziru, king of Amurru, and ordered him to protect Egyptian interests in the region, defending them from the voracity of Aitakama.

True to his father's style, Aziru accepted the gold and supplies from the pharaoh but, instead of using them as he had been commanded, he invested them in starting his own expansionist process at the expense of his neighbors.

Akhenaten fails

Learning that Aziru of Amurru had a diplomatic mission from Hatti at his court, Akhenaten realized that the time for words had finally passed: with Qadesh on the Hittite side and Amurru negotiating with Egypt's strategic enemy, it was time to adopt a military solution.

Although no documents are found to prove it, today it is believed that the pharaoh sent an army that was defeated. From then on the recovery of Amurru, Qadesh and the valley of the Orontes became a priority objective for the remaining pharaohs of the XVIII Dynasty and the beginning of the XIX.

Thus, the strategic area remained under Hittite domination until Ramses decided to recover it.

Seti I

After the deaths of Akhenaten and his son Tutankhamun, Egypt was involved in a succession of three military dictatorships led by army chiefs. This situation, which lasted thirty-two years, was the consequence of the institutional chaos inherited after Akhenaten's attempt at social and religious reform. Any ambition of these three generals to recover Syria had to be postponed because of the more terrible and urgent need to appease the internal environment of the nation, threatened by civil war.

However, the last of the three, Horemheb, made it clear what would be the Egyptian position in relation to Amurru from then on: the policy of indirect rule through the vassal kinglets of the region would be abandoned, and a full-fledged military occupation would be implemented.

At the beginning of the XIX Dynasty after him, his successor, Ramses I and later his son, Seti I, wanted to recover the disputed areas. Seti I undertook immediately (in the year 2 of his reign) a campaign that was an imitation of those of Thutmose III. He put himself at the head of an army that headed north, with the aim of "destroying the lands of Qadesh and Amurru", as his military monument at Karnak crudely explains.

Seti succeeded in recapturing Qadesh, but Amurru remained on the Hittite side. The pharaoh continued north and faced a Hittite levy army, which was easily destroyed. Hatti did not oppose him with more conspicuous forces because at that time his professional army was engaged against the Assyrians on the eastern frontier.

1279 a. C.]]), Qadesh estaba nuevamente en manos hititas, y la situación se mantendría en equilibrio inestable durante cuatro años más. Para ese entonces, había ya dos nuevos reyes sentados en los tronos de los reinos enfrentados.

Last attempt

In 1301 BC, Ramses II, son of Seti I, made a drastic decision: to hold Syria he needed Qadesh, and it would not submit to a mere messenger. He headed north, therefore, with a large army, to personally receive the oath of allegiance from the Amorite king, Benteshina, "motivated," perhaps, by the grim sight of thousands of soldiers escorting the pharaoh. It is quite clear that Ramses II's intention was to subdue Qadesh, either by degree or by force.

Hatti had a new king, the clever and cunning Muwatalli II. Muwatalli was not unaware of the young Ramses' intentions, nor did he forget that it was imperative for Egypt to dominate Qadesh if it ever wanted to regain control over Syria. In such circumstances, he understood that he was obliged to act. If Benteshina was kidnapped or dominated by Egypt and if Amurru fell into the hands of the emperor of the Nile, the Hittites stood to lose all of central and northern Syria, including such strategic nerve points as Aleppo and Carchemish.

However, the Hittites could now concentrate on a single front, because recent treaties had eliminated the Assyrian threat at their backs. So in the summer of 1301 BC, Muwatalli began to organize a large army which, he hoped, would put an end to the Egyptian campaign. The battlefield was very clear to both commanders: they would fight under the walls of Qadesh. Egypt and Hatti would face each other once and for all in a definitive combat, a huge battle that, at last, would define whether Syria would remain under Pharaonic or Hittite rule.

Ramses II

Crown Prince of the 19th Dynasty, grandson of its founder Ramses I and son of Seti I, Ramses was educated like all future pharaohs of his time. He was taught to ride chariots as well as walk, to tame and ride horses and camels, to fight with a spear and - most important of all - to shoot with a bow with impressive accuracy from the platform of a chariot launched on the run.

The princes with possibilities of reaching the throne were separated from their mothers at a very early age -perhaps at four or five years old- and sent to spend the rest of their childhood and adolescence in military camps, being in charge of one or several generals who would raise them and educate them in the arts of war, as it corresponded to those who, probably, would have to perform in the future as powerful warrior kings.

Between the ages of sixteen and twenty, Ramses accompanied his father in the Libyan and Syrian campaigns. Upon the unexpected death of Seti, the double crown was placed on his head when Ramses was between twenty-four and twenty-six years old. He was already an expert warrior, and was perfectly convinced of the vital importance of Qadesh and Amurru for the future of his empire.

From an early age he prepared for this conflict, disregarding in the national interest the terms of the treaty his father had signed with the Hittites. Three years before the start of the campaign, Ramses made great and profound changes in the organization of the army and rebuilt the ancient Hyksos capital of Avaris (renaming it Pi-Ramses) for use as a major military base in the future Asiatic campaign.


We know very little about the Hittite ruler: he was crowned four years before Ramses, and was the second of the four sons of King Mursili II, Seti I's opponent in the previous Syrian war.

On the death of Mursili II, his firstborn son inherited the throne, but his premature death placed Muwatalli in the position of predominance that he needed to try to conserve the disputed area. He was a competent and strong ruler, quite honest and a very good administrator: he reorganized the whole administration of his empire in order to gather the huge army that would face the Egyptians at Qadesh. Never, neither before nor since, would any other Hittite monarch succeed in assembling such a force in numbers and power.

Hittite Army

What is now known as the Hittite army was, in reality, the armed force of a huge confederacy recruited from all corners of the great empire. It was composed of troops from Hatti and seventeen other neighboring or vassal states. The following table shows them with their commanders (when their names are known) and the troops contributed by each of them.

Like most Bronze Age armies, the Hittite army was organized around its efficient chariot force and powerful infantry.

The charioteers constituted a small and hardy core in peacetime, which was quickly augmented when war loomed, recruiting numerous men from the reserves. These wealthy peasant fighters fulfilled their feudal obligations to the king by enlisting. Unlike many feudal levy soldiers of the time, the Hittite charioteers underwent regular training sessions, which made them feared and feared units.

The chariot army, predecessor of the later cavalry, was made up of soldiers of the small rural aristocracy and the lower nobility, of high economic power -which was, evidently, essential to be able to take care of the maintenance of the chariots, their horses and crews-. The expenses incurred by the chariots were also part of the feudal obligation to the crown. However, to achieve the large numbers of chariots that Muwatalli considered necessary for success at Qadesh, he undoubtedly had to resort to many mercenary charioteers.

The expense to the Hittite state of organizing their chariot units compelled the leaders to order their troops to donate their soldiers' salaries to the crown. This was only accepted in exchange for the full amount of the spoils. The appetite of the Hittite soldiers for the plunder of the Egyptian camp explains the events that occurred in the first phase of the battle.

The three crew members of the Hittite chariot -whom Ramses pejoratively called "effeminate" or "women-soldiers" because of their habit of wearing their hair long- were the driver -unarmed, since he needed both hands to drive the chariot-, the spearman and a squire, in charge of protecting the other two.

However, these chariots of three (which P'Ra had to face in the approach march) constituted only the Hittite national force. Their other Syrian allies came to the battle in two-man chariots called mariyannu, copied from the Hurrian war tradition, lighter and of similar uses to those of their Egyptian counterparts.

The infantry was, for the Hittite commanders, a subsidiary and secondary weapon with respect to the chariots. Their uniforms were very varied, reflecting the diverse physical and meteorological conditions in which they fought. In Qadesh they used a long white smock, uncommon in the other campaigns.

The infant used to carry a bronze sickle-shaped sword and a bronze battle axe, although iron weapons were already beginning to make their appearance in the time of Qadesh. Likewise, Muwatalli's personal guard (called thr) carried long spears like those of the charioteers and the same daggers as they did.

Although it is known that Hittite soldiers used to wear helmets and bronze plate helmets, Egyptian reliefs showing them wearing them are very rare. Regarding plate armor, it has been suggested that they were used at Qadesh, but that they were hidden by the breastplates.

Unlike the Egyptian army, the Hittites used chariots as their primary offensive weapon. This attitude is evident from the very design of the chariot itself. It was considered a basic assault weapon, created to break through the ranks of the enemy infantry and open breaches in it that the infantry itself could penetrate. That is why, although the crews were equipped with powerful recurve bows, the weapon they used on all occasions was the long throwing spear.

The Hittite chariot, unlike the Egyptian, had the axle located in the center of the chassis and was heavier, since it had three axles. These two characteristics made it slower and less maneuverable than that of its opponent, and it also had a clear tendency to tip over if it was intended to turn at tight angles. For this reason, it needed very large empty spaces to maneuver. Its advantage consisted in its greater mass and inertia, which made it fearsome when launching at speed. When the momentum and inertia dissipated (e.g., when traversing hills or obstacles), the advantage of the Hittite chariot was diluted.

The infantry, as has been said, had to penetrate the gaps opened by the chariots in the enemy infantry, and for this reason it was considered only a secondary force. Whenever possible, the Hittite generals tried to surprise their enemy in open fields of such dimensions as would allow them to take advantage of their heavy chariots, having at the same time enough room to turn with their large turning angles.

Egyptian Army

The army of Ramses II with its countless chariots, infantry, archers, standard-bearers and marching bands, was the largest ever assembled by an Egyptian pharaoh for an offensive operation, up to that time.

Although the Egyptian military presence in Syria had been almost constant during the Old and Middle Empires, the structure of the one that went to Qadesh is typical of the New Empire and was designed in the middle of the 16th century BC.

The organization of the army imitated that of the state, and was a direct consequence of the Egyptian victory over the Hyksos, which suddenly put the pharaohs in charge of a territory that reached as far as the Euphrates. To control such an expanse of land required the creation of a professional standing army, equipped with all the weapons that the technology of the late Bronze Age could provide. Egypt had thus become a military state. The fact that the princes were raised by generals and not by wet nurses is the most lapidary proof of this.

The close union between army and state allowed, for example, that after the death of Tutankhamun and his successor Ay, a series of military dictators were established in the government, three generals who proclaimed themselves pharaohs and marked the end of the XVIII Dynasty. When the last of these - Horemheb - died, power passed to Ramses I, Seti I and Ramses II, legitimate rulers, but the concept that a general could set himself up as pharaoh had already penetrated the minds of all the subjects, and mainly of the military. Leaving aside the military coup, it was clearly possible for a soldier to grow economically and socially through his participation in the army, and he could very well rise to the nobility and even reach the court. Normally, moreover, officers who went into effective retirement were appointed personal attendants to the nobles, administrators of the state or attendants to the king's sons.

The army was thus seen as an important tool for social progress. Particularly for the poor, it presented opportunities never before seen by the peasant who stayed on his land. As there was no distinction between troops, non-commissioned officers and officers - a private soldier could become an army general if his ability allowed it - and they were given an important share of the rich spoils obtained, the ambition of very many workers was to join the ranks of the royal militia as soon as possible.

The papyri of the time prove that all veterans were deeded large tracts of land that legally remained in their hands forever. The soldier also received flocks and personnel from the royal household's service corps to work the newly obtained land immediately. The only condition required of him was that he reserve one of his sons to enter the army in turn. A papyrus relating to taxes, dated about 1315 B.C. (under Seti I), lists these advantages granted to a lieutenant general, a captain and numerous battalion commanders, marines, standard bearers, charioteers and administrative scribes of the army.

Each soldier had to "fight for his good name" and defend the pharaoh as a son defends his father, and if he fought well, he was awarded a title or decoration called "The Gold of Courage". If he showed cowardice or fled from combat, he was denigrated, degraded and, in certain cases, such as Qadesh, he could even be summarily executed without trial, at the king's sole discretion.

The Egyptian army was traditionally organized into large army corps (or divisions, according to the terminology used) organized at the local level, each with about 5000 men (4000 infantrymen and 1000 chariots manning the 500 chariots attached to each corps or division).

Although it is believed that in the time of Thutmose III there were four of these corps (in the battle of Megiddo, as a passage in a single papyrus seems to indicate), a decree of Horemheb ratified the ancestral structure of two army corps. Aware of the need to amass a large force to fight the Hittites, Ramses II expanded and reorganized the two-corps army that Seti had taken to Syria, restoring the four-corps scheme (or creating it, as mentioned above). It is possible that the Third Corps existed already in the time of Ramses I or Seti I, but there is no doubt that the Fourth Corps was founded by Ramses II. This structure, added to the high mobility of the units, provided Ramses with great tactical flexibility.

Each army corps received as its emblem the effigy of the tutelary god of the city where it had been created, normally resided and served as its base, and each also had its own supply, combat support services, logistics and intelligence units.

The structure of the army at the time of Qadesh was as follows:

The 4000 infantrymen of each army corps were organized in 20 companies or sa of between 200 and 250 men each. These companies bore sonorous and picturesque names, many of which have come down to us, such as "Lion on the Prowl", "Bull of Nubia", "Destroyers of Syria", "Radiance of Aton" or "Manifested Justice".

The companies, in turn, were divided into 50-man units. In combat, the companies and units adopted a phalanx structure: the veteran soldiers (menfyt) were placed in the vanguard, and the rookies, conscripts and reservists (called nefru) in the rear.

The numerous foreign units that fought with Ramses (mercenaries and also prisoners of war to whom life, liberty, part of the booty and land were offered if they fought for Egypt) maintained their identity by being organized in units separated by nationality and attached to one or another army corps, or as auxiliary, support or service units. Such was the case of the Canaanites, Nubians, Sherden (Pharaoh's bodyguards, possibly primitive inhabitants of the island of Sardinia), etc.

The nakhtu-aa, known as "The strong-armed" were special units trained for close combat. They were very well armed, but their shields and armor were rudimentary.

The main weapon of the Egyptian army, used in large numbers by both infantry and chariot crews, was the fearsome Egyptian mixed bow. These bows shot long arrows capable of piercing any armor of the time, making them the most lethal weapon on the battlefield in the hands of a good marksman.

In addition to the bow, Egyptian soldiers carried khopesh, bronze scythe-like swords in the shape of a horse's leg, short daggers and bronze-headed battle axes.

The tank units were not organized as their own corps, but in the manner of today's regimental artillery: they were attached to the army corps, on which they depended, in a ratio of 25 tanks per company. In addition to the combat versions, there were two lighter and faster variants: a type dedicated to communications and another for exploration and advanced observation.

Ten chariots formed a squadron, fifty (five squadrons) a squadron, and five squadrons a larger unit called a pedjet (battalion), composed of 250 vehicles and commanded by a "Chief of Hosts" who obeyed directly to the corps commander.

Consequently, each army corps was assigned no less than two pedjet (500 cars) which, between the four corps, made the 2000 vehicles indicated by contemporary sources.

Although the Amorite chariot units called ne'arin - which, like the foreign infantry units, did not belong to the army corps - must be added to them, it must be said that many of the Egyptian chariots were still on their way when the battle began and never entered into combat. This is probably what happened with the chariots of the Ptah and Seth divisions. If this is the case, and they arrived when all was over, those 1000 chariots with their healthy and rested crews must have deterred the Hittites from trying to do battle again.

The Egyptian chariots had the axle at the rear end and their width was much greater than the width of the vehicle, which made them almost involuntary and capable of turning practically on themselves, changing direction in a very short time. They were therefore more maneuverable than those of the Hittites, although their inertia was not as great due to their lighter weight.

They were manned by only two men and not three like their enemies: the crews consisted of a seneny (archer) and the driver, kedjen, who also had to protect him with a shield. The lack of a third crew member was compensated for by a foot infantryman who ran alongside the vehicle, armed with a shield and one or two spears. This soldier fulfilled the function of protecting the seneny if necessary, but mainly he was there to finish off the wounded that the chariot ran over in its path - the worst thing that could happen to the charioteers was to leave live enemies behind them, an angle from which they were completely defenseless.

Contrary to their enemies, who based their tactics on the use of heavy chariots, the Egyptian army was centered, already since the Ancient Empire, on the coordination of numerous infantry units organized in their respective army corps. The assimilation between society and state and the state and the army allowed the generals to take advantage for their troops of the capacity for coordination, organization and precision that the ancient pharaohs had achieved for the great masses of workers in their remarkable architectural projects. Also the administration and quartermastering had been copied from the teams of workers who had worked on the pyramids of Giza.

The chiefs relied on highly mobile chariot groups, but, until the end of their civilization, the primary weapon and core of the army remained the infantry.

The function of the Egyptian chariots was to break through the enemy lines, previously forced to open up by the powerful bows of the infantry, rolling over everything in their path. Apart from their shock capacity, they acted as powerful mobile fire platforms, trying to avoid, as far as possible, getting into close combat, where the heavier enemy chariots had the advantage. This tactic of "hit and run" was successfully implemented during more than three centuries of Egyptian warfare, and its versatility was fulfilled when the infantry developed the tactic of the foot runner who supported each chariot and sacrificed the wounded. The safety aboard the chariot was so good that most of them could enter and leave the enemy ranks two or three times per battle with their seneny unharmed, multiplying the apparent number of chariots on the battlefield.

Declaration of war

There are credible arguments that indicate that the battlefield of Qadesh was chosen by common agreement between the two opposing commands. The defection of Amurru in the winter of 1302 B.C. was considered by the Hittites as a violation of the Seti-Mursilis treaty, and this was expressed to the court of Ramses in a diplomatic mission the following year.

Although there is no documentary evidence, indirect sources indicate that Muwatalli took all the necessary legal steps, such as formally accusing Ramses of having instigated the treason of his vassal Amurru, raising a contentious trial through a messenger who arrived at Pi-Ramses in the early winter of 1301 B.C. That message, practically a verbatim copy of the one that his father Mursilis had sent years earlier, concluded that since the parties could not agree on the disputed territories, the legal dispute should be settled by the courts. That message, practically a verbatim copy of the one his father Mursilis had sent years earlier, concluded that, since the parties could not agree on the disputed territories, the legal dispute should be settled by the judgment of the gods, i.e., on the battlefield.

Egyptian approach march

Having exhausted all instances of peaceful negotiation, Ramses II assembled his army at the two major military bases of Delta and Pi-Ramses. On the ninth day of the second month of the summer of 1300 B.C. (see the question of dates), his troops overran the border fortress-city of Tjel and entered Gaza by the Mediterranean coast road. From there, it took them a month to reach the intended battlefield, under the walls of the citadel of Qadesh. Pharaoh was at the head of his forces, mounted on his chariot and wielding his bow.

The four army corps marched by different routes: the Poem carved on the walls of the temple of Karnak says that the First Corps went towards Hamath, the Second towards Beth Shan and the Third through Yenoam. Certain modern historians have used this circumstance to impute to Ramses the blame for the surprise suffered by the first two in the first phase of the battle, but other authors, like Mark Healy, assure that to send the armies by different routes was a normal practice and adjusted to the military doctrines of his time (see controversy in this respect).

The First and Second Corps advanced along the eastern bank of the Orontes, while the other two advanced along parallel routes along the west bank, between the river and the sea. The Poem supports this theory in its verse which says that Ptah "...was south of Aronama". This city was indeed on the western bank. This enabled the Ptah Corps to come immediately to the support of Amun and Sutekh, without having to waste precious time in fording the wide river.

Eve of the battle

The American archaeologist and Egyptologist Henry Breasted identified more than 100 years ago the place where Ramses established his initial camp, the 150 m hill called Kamuat el-Harmel, located on the right bank of the Orontes. There the king dawned, accompanied by his generals and his sons, on the morning of the 9th day of the third month of the summer of 1300 BC.

Shortly after sunrise, the Corps of Amun dismounted the camp and headed, through terrain considered "proper", towards the north, to reach the agreed battlefield (the plain below Qadesh). The march, although difficult, had the advantage that many of the veterans knew the way, as they had done it before under the command of Seti I (as the king himself, who had accompanied his father in the operation) or in the previous campaign of Ramses.

The Army Corps of Ptah, Sutekh and P'Ra were behind, about a day's distance away, and the Amorite Ne'arin with their chariots had not yet arrived either. It is safe to assume that the pharaoh intended to camp in front of Qadesh and wait a few days for the rest of his forces.

The army corps, commanded by the monarch, spent the whole morning descending from the mountain where it was located, crossing the forest of Robawi and beginning the fording of the wide and deep Orontes about 6 km downstream from the village of Shabtuna, today identified with the hill of Tell Ma'ayan. Nearby was also the village of Ribla, where Nebuchadnezzar II would, centuries later, locate his command post to besiege Jerusalem.

The Amon Corps and its supply train were larger than any of the other three, so the crossing of the Orontes must have lasted from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Shortly after crossing the river, Pharaonic troops captured two Shasu Bedouin, who were brought before Ramses for questioning.

To the god-king's delight, the prisoners claimed that Muwatalli and the Hittite army were not in the plain of Qadesh as feared, but were at Khaleb, a locality north of Tunip. The War Bulletin accompanying the Poem states that the two men were instructed by the Hittites to supply the Egyptians with false intelligence, making them believe that they had arrived first and thus had the advantage. However, it is rather naive to think that the Egyptians actually believed such informants or that such informants even existed.

Arriving before the place of battle was of enormous tactical importance in the Bronze Age, to such an extent that a difference of a few hours could define the course of a war. The enormous logistical difficulties of the time made it very difficult to prepare a huge army for combat, all the more so when, as in this case, men and animals needed a chance to eat and rest after a forced march of 800 km that had taken them more than a month. Upon learning that the Hittites were not there, Ramses saw the opportunity to wait a day for the other three corps to meet the enemy with their full forces, even giving them two or three days to prepare.

Incredibly, not even the Egyptian sources mention that the pharaoh had attempted to verify the information offered to him, thus demonstrating his youth and lack of experience. Contradicting the opinion of his senior generals and eunuchs, Ramses gave orders for Amon to proceed immediately to Qadesh.

Arrival at the battlefield

It has not been possible to determine with precision the exact location of the Egyptian camp on the battlefield, but there was only one place with drinking water and easy to defend, so it is possible that Ramses had established it there. It is the same place where Seti had built his years before.

The camp was organized in the manner of a Roman encampment, the troops being ordered to dig a defensive perimeter that was later fortified with thousands of shields overlapping each other and driven into the ground.

In anticipation of having to spend many days there, the base was fitted out to provide some comfort for a time: the temple of Amun was built in the center, a large tent was erected for Ramses, his sons and his retinue, and even the great golden throne of the pharaoh that had accompanied him all the way was unloaded from a chariot.

The two Shasu prisoners were beaten and subjected to other severe tortures before being brought back to the king, who again asked them where Muwatalli was. They stood firm in their version. However, the punishments softened them somewhat, until they later recognized that they "belonged" to the king of Hatti. Thus, worries replaced the Pharaoh's clear confidence. More sticks and more torments, and the Bedouins confessed what no one in the camp would have wanted to hear: "Muwatalli is not in Khaleb, but behind the Old City of Qadesh. There is the infantry, there are the chariots, there are their weapons of war, and all together they are more numerous than the sands of the river, all ready, prepared, and ready to fight." Old Qadesh was very close, a few hundred yards northeast of the promontory on which the city stood.

Rameses understood that he had been deceived and that, in all probability, a total disaster was imminent: Ptah, Sutekh and P'Ra had to be warned of the situation, to reunite them with Amun as soon as possible. The initiative was now left to the Hittites, so the ruler sent his vizier south to meet P'Re, to demand that he redouble the march. Although it is not recorded, it seems reasonable that he sent another messenger to the north to hasten the arrival of the Amorite ne'arin units.

The Hittite hideout

The Hittite army was indeed behind the walls of Qadesh the Old, but Muwatalli had established his command post on the northeastern slope of the tell (hill or promontory) on which Qadesh stood, an elevated position which, while not allowing him to observe the enemy camp, did give him a distinct intelligence advantage.

For reasons unknown, Ramses released the two Bedouin spies instead of detaining or executing them, and they, of course, rushed to supply information to their master. The Hittite king had also sent other advanced scouts to determine where exactly the enemy army was located, and it can be established that by nightfall on the 9th of the third month (not before) the Hatti monarch had managed to gather all the necessary information.

It is said in the Bulletin that the Hittites attacked in the middle of Ramses' last meeting with his staff. If this is true, we have to believe that what is described is a night assault. Although night attacks existed, they were very rare, for several reasons: if one attacked blindly one ran the risk of being ambushed, and if torches were carried so as not to get lost, the attacking troops became easy targets for the enemy archers.

Moreover: Muwatalli could not attack before he had his intelligence information, and it is demonstrated that he could not have it before nightfall. To make matters worse, his army was at Old Qadesh, so that to attack Ramses in the dark his more than 40,000 infantrymen and 3,500 chariots would have had to ford the river without being able to see anything, which would have represented a sure collective suicide. Thus, modern sources feel authorized to affirm that the battle did not take place on the 9th itself, but on the following day.

The Second Army Corps

The vizier of Ramses arrived at the bivouac of the P'Re Corps, next to the ford of Ribla, at dawn on the 10th. As is logical, nothing was ready yet: the soldiers were sleeping and the horses were unhitched from the chariots.

Faced with the peremptory order to go immediately to the battlefield, the troops dismantled the tents, fed the animals and loaded the convoys with the impedimenta. This work had to last several hours.

The vizier changed the horses of his chariot and, instead of accompanying the Second Corps to the north, went even further south to give the same order to the Ptah Corps, which was south of the city of Aronama.

It took the Second Corps considerable time to ford the river, for the banks were churned and trampled by the passage of Amon's Corps the day before, and military caution was apparently set aside because of the urgency. The cohesion of the formations was lost on the opposite bank, and the army marched toward Qadesh at a redoubled pace, possibly sending the chariots ahead.

Hittite attack

As the Second Corps pressed northward, hurrying toward Ramses' camp in compliance with instructions from the vizier, it approached the banks of the Al-Mukadiyah River, a tributary of the Orontes that skirted the base of the mountain where Qadesh was built and then flowed southward.

Visibility was very poor, because the weather had been dry for months and the dust kicked up by thousands of feet and wagon wheels floated in the air and took a long time to settle.

The banks of the river were overgrown with vegetation, full of bushes, shrubs and even trees that did not allow the Egyptians to see the water or what lay beyond.

When P'Ra was 500 meters from the river, the surprise came: from the line of vegetation of Al-Mukadiyah - to the right of the marching Egyptians - emerged a huge mass of Hittite war chariots, which threw themselves on the column. The Egyptian chariots guarding the right of the line were overwhelmed and destroyed by the tide of vehicles, horses and men that kept emerging from the trees and showed no sign of ending. Launched at a gallop, the Hittite charioteers knew they had to take advantage of the enormous inertia of their chariots, and whipped up the beasts even more, which in a mad rush crushed the Egyptian right. Cutting through the ranks of infantrymen like fire, the Hittites continued westward, smashed the chariots on the left and scattered the enemy, spearing them from the vehicles. The two rows of Egyptian chariots collapsed, their marching formation-totally inadequate to survive a lateral assault-disintegrated, and the few surviving infantrymen scattered to get out of range of enemy pikes.

Egyptian discipline disappeared in the face of this surprise attack (see controversy), and before the last Hittite chariots had even emerged from the trees, the Second Army Corps was no more. Of the survivors, those in the lead rushed towards the camp of Rameses, while the rearguard must have run south in search of the protection of the Ptah Corps approaching in the distance.

All that remained of the Egyptian formation was a bloody trail pulverized by the wheels of chariots and the hooves of their horses, and several thousand corpses lying in the desert sands.

The Egyptian chariots in the vanguard dropped their reins and galloped north toward the camp to warn Ramses of the impending attack. Meanwhile, the Hittite chariots had reached the great plain to the west, of a size that would have allowed them to turn at an open angle and return to hunt down the survivors. But instead of doing that, they turned north and headed north to attack the camp of Ramses II.

Assault on the Egyptian camp

Rameses had arranged for several units of chariots and infantry companies to remain on guard, ready for action, inside the enclosure enclosed by shields. Despite the confidence that P'Ra and Ptah, in compliance with the urgent orders of the vizier, would arrive later that day, and Sutekh the next day, and perhaps on the 12th the ne'arin coming north from Amurru across the valley of the Eleutherus, many lookouts were posted on all four sides of the camp watching the distance. Their task was made difficult by the hot desert air that distorted shapes and by the suspended dust that refracted the light.

The lookouts on the southern front shouted their alarms at the same time as those on the western side: while the former announced the frantic rush of P'Ra's surviving chariots, the latter had just seen the huge formation of Hittite vehicles hurtling towards them.

Even before the senenys of P'Ra entered the camp and began to explain what had happened, all the troops were already in battle array: in a few minutes, the Hittite chariots pounced on the northwest corner of the shield wall, demolished it and penetrated the camp. The row of shields, the moat and the numerous tents, chariots and locked horses they encountered in their path began to stop them and cause them to lose their initial inertia, while the defenders tried to attack them with their scythe-like khopesh swords. The assault quickly degenerated into a savage melee melee. The Hittite chariots pushed each other because the space inside was not enough for all of them, so that many of them could not enter and had to fight from the outside of the shield wall and the defensive moat.

Many Egyptians died, and also numerous Hittites who, knocked off their chariots by collisions with their companions or fixed obstacles, were quickly sacrificed on the ground with a blow of khopesh.

The Pharaoh's personal guard (the Sherden) surrounded his tent, ready to defend the king with their lives. Ramses II, for his part -as the Poem informs us-, "put on his armor and took his battle gear", organizing the defense with the Sherden (who had chariots and infantry) and several other squadrons of chariots that were stationed at the back of the camp (that is, on its eastern side).

The king's guard placed Rameses' sons - including the eldest boy, Prahiwenamef, who was then the heir to the throne since his two brothers had died in infancy - safely in the eastern end, which had not been attacked.

The pharaoh put on the blue khepresh (crown) and, shouting orders to his personal driver (kedjen), named Menna, mounted his battle chariot.

Ramses organizes the defense

Wielding his bow and placing himself at the head of the surviving chariots, Ramses II left the camp by the east gate and, turning north, surrounded it until he reached the northwest corner, where the Hittite chariots were bottled up in uncomfortable confusion and, therefore, almost defenseless. The attention of the invaders was not directed to the Egyptian chariots attacking them from the rear and left flank: they were absorbed in trying to enter the camp. Remember that Muwatalli had taken their pay, promising them only the part of the booty they could capture. Therefore, the first priority of the Hittites was to take as many goods as possible from the Egyptian camp, especially the huge and heavy golden throne of the pharaoh.

Their ambition lost them: the superior range of the Egyptian bows caused a great slaughter on the Hittite crews that had not yet managed to enter, fixed targets that became easy prey for the experienced Egyptian marksmen. So crowded were the Hittites that the disciplined Egyptian archers did not need to aim to hit man or horse.

Slowly the Hittites reacted: spurring their animals, they tried to abandon the battle and flee across the western plain, in the opposite direction from which they had come. But their horses, unlike those of the enemy, were fatigued, and their chariots were slower and heavier. Those who gained the plain tried to disperse so as not to offer such an obvious target, but the Egyptian chariots rushed in pursuit.

Many died under the khopesh of the menfyt as they fell from their chariots, which crashed into others or overturned as they stumbled over dead horses, and many others fell under the fearsome accuracy of enemy archers.

Within moments, the desert to the south and west of the camp was covered with corpses, to such an extent that Ramses exclaims in the Poem, "I made the camp white [referring to the long aprons worn by the Hittites] with the bodies of the Sons of Hatti."

Completely defeated the Hittites, with a few survivors scattered and on the run, the menfyt methodically scoured the battlefield, finishing off the wounded and amputating their right hands. This method, often shown as an example of Egyptian cruelty, was in reality an administrative expedient. The severed hands were given to the scribes, who, by counting them meticulously, could make a reliable statistic of the enemy casualties.

Hittite distraction maneuver

According to the modern view of the battle, the engagement was not unfolding as Muwatalli had anticipated. In addition to the hasty action of pouncing on the advancing corps, the determined reaction of Ramesses and his chariots had put the Hittite vehicles to flight and the Egyptians were now pursuing the attacking chariots.

Muwatalli had to relieve the pressure on them at any cost: he knew perfectly well that the bulk of the Egyptian force had not even arrived (Sutekh and Ptah were still on their way to Qadesh) and his whole plan was facing disaster.

Consequently, he chose to move into action with a diversionary maneuver that would allow him to regain the lost initiative, bringing back some of the troops that were pursuing his own and forcing Rameses to return to his camp.

At the outpost where the Hittite king was stationed there were very few troops: apart from his personal retinue, he was accompanied by only a few trusted nobles. Accordingly, he ordered them to organize a chariot force, cross the river and attack the Egyptian camp from the eastern side.

The response was half-hearted (nobility were not accustomed to engage in combat), but their emperor's blunt orders left little room for inaction. Thus, the most important men of the Hittite political hierarchy - including Muwatalli's sons, brothers and personal friends - and of his allies' commands assembled in an ad hoc squadron and, with difficulty, crossed the Orontes to the west.

The ne'arin arrive

As soon as the camp was assaulted by this small force, the Hittite chariots were overwhelmed by a large force of chariots arriving from the north. These were the Amorite chariots, the Ne'arin, which providentially appeared at that moment of Egyptian distress. Further behind came the heavy infantry of Amurru. The report written on the walls of the funerary temple of Ramses, in Thebes, says textually in this regard: "The Ne'arin burst in among the hated Sons of Hatti. It was at the moment when they were attacking the Pharaoh's camp and managed to penetrate it. The Ne'arin killed them all".

Like a déjà vu of the first part of the battle, everything was repeated: the Amorites shot with their arrows at the Hittite chariots that were struggling to enter through a breach in the shield wall. As they tried to retreat to get out of there and flee again to the relative safety of the eastern bank of the Orontes, another event occurred that sealed the Hittite fate: as they began to ford the waters, some chariot units returning from hunting and chasing the other force made their appearance from the south, accompanied by the advanced chariot and infantry elements belonging to the Ptah Corps that was present at the right time.

Death rained down on the Hittites on the way to the river, on the banks and even in the middle of the water: many were asaethed, others crushed by the chariots, and the more drowned as they were thrown out of their vehicles, overwhelmed and dragged to the bottom by the weight of their armor.

Ramses punishes his own

While the last Hittite chariots were being brought to safety on their bank of the river and the Egyptian infantrymen were amputating the right hands of the fallen and stowing them in sacks, Rameses reoccupied the remains of his camp to await the arrival of Ptah and the return of the survivors of Amun and P'Ra.

The Hittite prisoners, among whom were high-ranking officers, nobles and even royalty, were also taken there, and had to wait in silence for the Pharaoh's decision about their lives.

The Poem says that Ramses received the congratulations of all for his personal courage and daring in battle, and that he then retired to his tent and sat on his throne to "meditate mournfully."

On the morning of the 11th, Ramses had the troops of the Corps of Amun and P'Ra line up in front of him. Bringing the captured Hittite dignitaries to witness the events, the pharaoh -perhaps personally- carried out the first historical antecedent of the punishment that the Romans would later call "tithing": counting his soldiers ten by ten, he executed every tenth man as a lesson and example to the others. The Poem describes it in the first person: "My Majesty stood before them, I counted them and killed them one by one, in front of my horses they collapsed and remained each one where he had fallen, drowning in his own blood...".

While the troops of Amun and P'Ra cannot be said to have fought in cowardice - remember that the marching columns were surprised by a chariot force which, according to Ramses' own intelligence, was not supposed to be there, and which, moreover, came out of a place out of sight - it is now believed that they were punished for having violated the paternal-filial relationship they were supposed to maintain with their lord.

Moreover, it is quite possible that such a chastisement served the tactical purposes of the Pharaoh. Muwatalli's friends and relatives were, as stated, forced to witness the carnage, and then, released, ran to bring news of the Egyptians' savagery towards their own troops to their master. This was, no doubt, one of the factors that prompted the Hittites to sign the armistice later that day.

End of the battle

With the high-ranking Hittite prisoners released, Muwatalli's line of action became very clear. The main offensive force of his army - the chariots - had been destroyed, and, likewise, many chiefs and dignitaries had been killed in the Ne'arin attack.

He had been unable to exploit the tactical advantage of having arrived first on the battlefield by being forced to fight prematurely after the chance encounter of his chariots with the Egyptian column, so it was clear that the battle was lost.

Ramses had, instead, two fresh and complete army corps, and the survivors of the other two strongly motivated by the summary executions they had just witnessed.

However, the Egyptian forces of Ptah, Sutekh and ne'arin were not sufficient to maintain Egyptian hegemony in the region, and the Hittite king realized this. Rameses' desires to sustain himself as a power by retaining Qadesh had just vanished and, under these conditions of tactical defeat and possible strategic technical draw, the best thing to do was to request an armistice. Qadesh remained in Egyptian hands, but it was impossible for Ramses to stay there to take care of it. He would have to return to Egypt to lick the wounds of his great losses and this would represent the restoration of Hittite dominion over Syria.

Muwatalli therefore sent an embassy to request the truce and Ramses, by accepting it, revealed to the Egyptians a weakness that would be confirmed by subsequent events.

By proposing an immediate cease-fire, Muwatalli demonstrated his great intelligence. The armistice saved him losses, for soon after Qadesh he had to send the remnants of his army to put down various rebellions in other parts of his empire.

Ramses and his army returned crestfallen to Egypt, jeered and whistled contemptuously by every village they passed through. To further humiliation, the Hittite troops followed the Egyptians to the Nile a few miles away, giving every impression that they were escorting a defeated and captive army.

The humiliation of the supposedly "victorious" Egyptian soldiers was so great that all the parts of Syria that came under their dominion after Qadesh revolted against the Pharaoh (some of them even before the army passed through on its march to Pi-Ramses). They all sought Hittite shelter and came under his orbit for many years.

Although Egypt later recovered these regions, it took several decades to do so.

Immediately after Qadesh, there followed a very long cold war between the two powers, a kind of unstable equilibrium that ended sixteen years later with the signing of the famous Treaty of Qadesh.

The Treaty of Qadesh -the first peace agreement in history and which is perfectly preserved, since one of its versions was written in the diplomatic language of the time, Akkadian (the other in Egyptian hieroglyphic), on silver plates-, describes in detail the new borders between the two empires. It continues with the oath of both kings not to fight each other again, and culminates with the definitive and perpetual renunciation of Ramses to Qadesh, Amurru, the valley of the Eleutherus and all the lands surrounding the Orontes River and its tributaries.

Despite the heavy human losses suffered at Qadesh, therefore, the final victory went to the Hittites.

Later, specifically in the year 34 of the reign of Ramses, the pharaoh and the Hittite king sealed and consolidated the state of affairs established in the Treaty by blood ties: the brother of Muwatalli and new king Hattusili III sent his daughter to marry the pharaoh. Ramses II was 50 years old when he received his very young wife, and he was so pleased with the gift that he named her queen, under the Egyptian name of Maat-Hor-Nefru-Re. Thus, some of the children and grandchildren of Ramses II were grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his great enemy, King Muwatalli of Hatti, although it is believed that none of them reached the royal throne.

From Qadesh, Egypt and Hatti remained at peace for approximately 110 years, until 1190 B.C. when Hatti was completely destroyed by the so-called "Sea Peoples".

The battlefield can be visited today. The promontory on which the citadel of Qadesh stood is today called Tell Nebi Mend and can be visited. The state of preservation of the ruins and the recreation of the environment are quite bad, although it is not difficult to reach it from Damascus.

However, the visit is not, today, justified. Although several Assyrian artifacts have been unearthed, archaeological excavations are prohibited due to the existence of a Muslim saint's tomb and a mosque precisely on the top of the promontory and several other Arab tombs in the battlefield.

About the date of the battle

All sources agree that the battle began "on the ninth day of the third month of the summer of the fifth year of the reign of Ramses". This places the battle around May 27, 1274 BC if the coronation year of Ramses II occurred in 1279 BC.

Although it has been claimed that the conflict occurred between 1274 and 1275 BC, there are scholars who estimate that it occurred in 1270 BC or even 1265 BC, although some modern sources, for example, Healy (1995), date the battle in 1300 BC, but many Egyptologists and scholars, such as Helck, von Beckerath, Ian Shaw, Kenneth Kitchen, Krauss and Málek, estimate that Ramses II ruled about 66 years, from ca. 1279 to 1213 BC, placing the date around 1274 BC.

On the trajectories of the Egyptian armies

Much has been written about the supposed "mistake" of Ramses II in sending the four armies by different roads, and the near-disaster suffered by the first two armies when they were surprised by the Hittite chariots on the first day of the battle has been imputed to this decision.

However, there are strong military reasons for the pharaoh to do so, the main ones being the size of his armies and the aridity of the terrain to be traversed. These two circumstances made the logistics of supplying the troops a major problem. It was a matter of traveling from Egypt some 800 km north, through Canaan, to reach Central Syria.

Although "the season when kings go to war" (the time when wars were fought) was clearly limited to the period after the wheat and barley harvests to give the vassal states time to stockpile large quantities of food for the army that would arrive later, once the friendly territory was abandoned the army corps would have been left to its own devices. The only way to transport the supplies would have been the formation of huge convoys of bullock carts, so slow that they would have delayed the entire force for months on end.

Each army had, therefore, once the limits of the empire had been crossed, to supply itself by requisitioning food from the enemy's vassals. Only in this way could the Egyptians reach the battlefield in good physical and moral condition.

If Rameses had sent the four corps by the same route, the Second would have found, at a given point, only the devastation produced by the needs of the First. After him would come the Third, finding even less food, and it is very likely that the soldiers of the Fourth would have starved to death. Rameses did not wish to fight alone with one army corps well fed and three others weak and on the verge of starvation, so he designed four parallel routes of approach so that each corps would never encounter to its front the great famine produced by the one preceding it.

On the duration of the battle

The only reference to specific dates mentioned in ancient sources is that of the Poem, which locates Ramses' camp south of Qadesh on the morning of the 9th. Thereafter there is no other chronological indication, which has led classical historians to assume that everything happened on the 9th itself.

This is highly improbable, and the main obstacle is that the sources mention the river fording as if it were something that could be done in quite short periods of time.

Geology and hydrology have shown that the width, depth and flow of the Orontes have not changed substantially over the past thousands of years, so the difficulties encountered today in fording it need not have been any less at the time of the battle.

Experiments have been made to reproduce the crossing of the river at the places where it was first forded by Amun and later by the Hittites. Modern Arabian donkey-drawn chariots were used, which have wheels of about the same size as the vehicles we are concerned with, and it has been seen that, as soon as the bank is left, the water reaches higher than the axles. From this observation arises the statement that the Egyptian army (4000 infantry and more than 500 chariots, not counting those for supplies) had to tarry until the evening of the 9th. The spies were captured afterwards, tortured, interrogated and released even later, so, if one wants to justify the Hittite attack once their king had the data, the whole battle of Qadesh occurred in close night.

But even this assumption does not take into account that the Hittites also had to cross the river in the opposite direction. It is no longer a question of a single army corps, but of the whole force, consisting of more than 3500 chariots and 40 000 men. Apart from the impossible circumstance that this huge mass of people waited patiently all day under the tremendous Syrian summer sun for the Egyptians to arrive, only to have to cross a wide river in the dark of night. Those who take this view do not take into account that the crossing would have taken all night and more than half the morning. Apart from the dead, drowned and chariots lost during the crossing, the Egyptians would have surprised them even crossing at dawn, and possibly slaughtered them despite the Hittite numerical superiority.

That is why the current theory states that the Hittite attack took place during the following day, the 10th, and not on the night of the 9th.

Dispute over the surprise of the Hittite attack

It is reasonable to assume that by the evening of the 9th, Muwatalli knew the location of Ramses' camp but not how many soldiers it housed, and undoubtedly had no way of knowing that P'Ra's Corps was approaching from the south, for even the column of dust raised by it on its march was hidden by the hill of Qadesh from the eyes of his own command post and indeed from those of the lookouts posted on the walls of Qadesh the Old.

Although his army was fresh and alert, there are very good reasons to suppose that neither the Hittite nor the Pharaoh had planned to begin an all-out battle at dawn the next day. They had not concluded the strict protocol that governed battles at that time, an inescapable procedure that had to be carried out before engaging in combat and which included exchange of diplomatic delegations, parleys, taking of statements by scribes, etc.

Although this was the first time that the young Ramses entered into battle, and therefore we do not know how he had conducted himself previously, it is known that Muwatalli had always complied with extreme legality with the protocols of war. In all his previous interventions he had first camped, parleyed and then attacked in agreement with his enemy. In fact, the Hittites never used the surprise factor, which they considered dishonorable and worthy of cowards. They saw the surprise attack against an unsuspecting enemy as an illegitimate advantage. Hittite sources consider Muwatalli to be a great chief and a preeminent strategist, laurels he would not have obtained had he attacked the P'Ra Corps by surprise.

Those who claim that the intention of the Hittite king was to destroy P'Ra forget that he did not succeed, because many of the surviving troops managed to reach the camp of Ramses and it is possible that many others (the rear) have retreated to seek the protection of Ptah. To destroy P'Ra he must necessarily have sent the infantry along with the chariots -which he did not do- and certainly, when they crossed the Egyptian column, the crews should have turned around and returned to attack the survivors. They did no such thing. Turning in a wide curve to the north, they headed for Ramses' camp.

The current theory indicates that Muwatalli did not send his chariots to attack P'Ra because, as a first consideration, he did not even know that the army was passing that way. He sent them to reconnoiter the terrain and Ramses' camp, which was the real tactical use of a chariot force without infantry. That is why, today, it is thought that Egyptians and Hittites did not wish to engage in combat that day. The Hatti chariots did indeed cross the Al Mukadiyah River and, as they emerged from the tree line, were met hand to mouth by the P'Ra columns marching in front of them. Faced with this surprise, they had no choice but to overwhelm them and, without turning back to completely destroy their enemy, they proceeded, once through the obstacle, to the Pharaoh's camp which, as has been said, had always been their real objective.

The beginning of hostilities on the 10th is considered today as the result of an imponderable chance and not the decision of the opposing commanders. Thus, it can be affirmed that a simple Hittite expedition of reconnaissance forced the Egyptians to present a battle for which none of the contenders was prepared.

Identity of the ne'arin

The fact that both the Poem and the Bulletin speak only vaguely about the position of the Sutekh Corps and the controversies over the exact meaning of the term ne'arin has led scholars to wonder where exactly one was and who the others were.

Beyond the undeniable facts that the Hittite king launched the attack of his personal retinue to decongest the situation of his chariots in the plain and that this took the Egyptians completely by surprise, it was also an unthinkable stroke of bad luck that the Ne'arin arrived from the north at that precise moment and destroyed him.

What is clear is that Muwatalli was completely unaware of their existence. The arrival of fresh troops from the north took him completely by surprise.

The meaning of the word ne'arin is not clear even today: while sources believe that these were Amorite units, it is also possible that they were Canaanite, that it was an elite corps made up of the best soldiers of the four corps or that it was simply a name, title or nickname for the Sutekh Corps, which Ramses would have cautiously sent to the north foreseeing a situation similar to the one that occurred.

Another more modern hypothesis names this unit as Naharina, curiously the name given to Mitanni by the Egyptians.

Battle or mass execution?

Until a few years ago, the mass execution of 10% of the Egyptian survivors of the P'Ra and Amun corps (approximately 5% of the total army) was interpreted as a resumption of combat on the 11th. This was not the case.

The key is found in the terminology of the Poem and the Bulletin: throughout the length of the texts the Hittites are called "the Coming of Hatti", while the victims of the events of the 11th are simply referred to as "rebels", using the same term that was used to designate a runaway child. This is why we know that the scribe is actually referring to the surviving soldiers who, with their supposed cowardice and lack of morals, had destroyed the loving relationship that their divine father had always had with them.

NOTE: As explained above, this article uses the chronology of modern theory, led by Cambridge University. More classical sources date the battle to more recent years, going as far back as 1275 BC.


  1. Battle of Kadesh
  2. Batalla de Qadesh
  3. Aproximadamente el 5 % de los supervivientes egipcios fueron ejecutados después por orden de Ramsés II[8]​
  4. Hacia el día 9 del año 5 del reinado de Ramsés II, III Shemu (BAR III, p. 317) o más concretamente: el 12 de mayo de 1274 a. C. en base a la fecha comúnmente aceptada de acceso al trono de Ramsés II, en el año 1279 a. C.
  5. @NatGeoFrance, « La plus grande bataille de chars de l'Histoire a opposé Égyptiens et Hittites », sur National Geographic, 4 mai 2020 (consulté le 4 mars 2022).
  6. ^ Oakes L (2003), Pyramids, Temples & Tombs of Ancient Egypt : An Illustrated Atlas of the Land of the Pharaohs, Hermes House, p. 142.
  7. ^ a b Grimal N (1992), A History of Ancient Egypt, Blackwell Books, p. 256.
  8. ^ a b c d e Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare, a 12:00. URL consultato il 15 maggio 2008 (archiviato dall'url originale il 4 marzo 2009).
  9. ^ Dougherty M [e] Parragon J, Decisive Battles that Shaped the World, pp. 10–11.
  10. ^ Lorna Oakes, Pyramids, Temples & Tombs of Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Atlas of the Land of the Pharaohs, Hermes House: 2003, p. 142.
  11. ^ a b Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, Blackwell Books, 1992, p. 256.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare. Event occurs at 12:00 hrs EDST, 2008-05-14. Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2008.

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