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The Largest Chariot Battle Ever: Kadesh – Hittites vs. Egyptians
For most of recorded history, The Hittite Empire was thought to be more of a myth than an actual fact. This state of affairs lasted until the city of Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire, was rediscovered around the turn of the 20 th Century.
Now the city, which is located near Boğazkale close to Kızılırmak River, has become a popular tourist attraction. Hattusa was the center of the powerful Hittite empire, which stretched across Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Northern Syria.
The Hittite King Muwatalli II (1295-1272 BCE) had made himself a thorn in the side of Pharaoh Ramesses II by making regular incursions into Egyptian territory and fortifying the city of Kadesh, just north of the border between the two states.Map of the Hittite kingdoms en the 14th century BC.
The Hittites of Anatolia had been developing their power-base since the 2 nd millennium BCE. Around 1530 BCE, they replaced Babylonia as the regional power and started looking towards their powerful neighbor, Egypt, by poking around their borders. For most of its history, Egypt thought of the Hittites as being of little importance or threat.
This lasted until the Egyptian leader Akhenaten issued his general to engage them in what was ultimately an unsuccessful campaign. By the time of Tutankhamun, the threat posed by the Hittites had grown sufficiently to include fortified positions on the edges of Egypt’s borders.
Hattusas, Capital of the Hittites. Photo: Verity Cridland – CC BY 2.0
In 1320 BCE, Horemheb became Pharaoh and initiated an aggressive policy where the Hittites were concerned. He secured Egypt’s borders but still couldn’t contain the threat caused by the Hittite incursions. Seti I (1290-1279 BCE) was responsible for securing both Palestine and Kadesh for Egypt but made no provisions for keeping the city.
This did Ramesses II, Seti’s successor, few favors. Because of Seti’s negligence, he had to deal with the larger problem of a Hittite invasion. In 1274 BCE he gathered his forces at Per-Ramesses to push the Hittites from Kadesh and to shatter their military strength.
Egypt – Statue of Ramses II.
Among the remnants of the Hittite civilization discovered at Hattusa were tens of thousands of clay tablets documenting much of the life of the empire. The clay tablets didn’t provide all the details, but they did provide some information.
War provides an impetus for technological development perhaps better than anything else, and the war between the Egyptians and the Hittites was absolutely no different.
Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh in his Chariot
In order to deal with the threat posed by the Egyptians, the Hittites developed the lightest and fastest chariots in the world. Technically, they are categorized as being a Bronze Age civilization, but they were already using steel in both their weapons and tools.
When Ramesses II brought his forces north to engage the Hittites his forces were surprised by the attack of Hittite chariots scattering the advance elements. The Hittites then rounded toward the Egyptian camp.
Battle_of_Kadesh_I – Gianandre CC BY-SA 3.0
The Amun division of Eygpt made up the better part of the camp and they engaged the Hittites throwing them back and forcing them to retreat back across the river.
Battle_of_Kadesh_II – Gianandre CC BY-SA 3.0
With the heavy losses of his first attack, Muwattali orders his reserve chariot forces to attack in order to cover his retreating units. However, he did not realize that the Ptah Division was approaching from the south. His new attack on the Egyptians was also repelled and fearing an attack on his rear, he ordered a retreat across the river. Many of his charioteers were forced to abandon their chariots an swim the river.
Battle_of_Kadesh_III – Gianandre CC BY-SA 3.0
Ultimately, the Battle of Kadesh was a draw, although both combatants claimed victory – there appears to have been several small but indecisive victories for each group. For the Egyptians, Ramesses II failed to capture the city, but he did manage to break the Hittite army.
Muwatalli II, in contrast, kept the city but did not crush the Egyptians. Superior technology led the day for the Egyptians, keeping them from suffering a resounding loss as the more agile two-man Egyptian chariot ran circles around its Hittite counterpart, which carried three men and weighed considerably more.
Ramesses II. Photo: Hajor – CC BY-SA 3.0
When Muwatalli II died, Hattusili III ascended the throne of the Empire. He signed the world’s first peace treaty in 1258 BCE, ending the war with Egypt.
Treaty of Kadesh, discovered at Boğazköy, Turkey. Photo: Iocanus – CC BY 3.0
When compared to the bureaucratic nature of today’s peace treaty’s, the one signed by Hattusili III and the Egyptian pharaoh was primitive. It simply stated that Egypt will not attack the Empire of the Hittites, and the Hittites will not attack Egypt.
This treaty was the beginning of a relationship of peace, trade, and knowledge, rather than one of war. The Hittites passed into history around 1200 BCE due to attacks by the Sea Peoples, the Assyrians, and a tribe called the Kaska.
Lion Gate, Hattusa, Turkey. Photo: Bernard Gagnon – CC BY-SA 3.0
It is believed that both Hattusa and the Hittite Empire were destroyed at some point in the 12 th century BCE. The royal residence, also called the Acropolis, was located in the city’s center on a high ridge.
The population of the city at the peak of the empire was between 40,000 and 50,000 people. Archeological excavations suggest that the city was destroyed primarily by fire after the citizens had been evacuated.
Win lose or draw?
Many historians consider the battle to have been a strategic defeat for the Egyptians and Ramesses is often accused of an arrogance bordering on megalomania because he depicted his “win” against the Hittites repeatedly on temple walls. Detractors complain that he exaggerated his military prowess and personal bravery in order to cover up the fact that he stumbled naively into an ambush, or accuse him of rewriting history in the hope that his subjects would not see past his propaganda and actually believe that he won a great battle. Yet, it seems clear that Ramesses himself believed his own hype, as he referred to the skirmish as an Egyptian victory in a letter to a Hittite king sometime after the peace treaty had been signed.
Perhaps the problem is partly in the modern interpretation of events. Given that Ramesses was caught in an ambush, which could easily have ended his life, it is perhaps not unreasonable that he considered the fact that he survived and indeed avoided a humiliating defeat as proof that the gods were on his side. The peace treaty basically preserved the status quo. The Hittites retained Kadesh but Egypt retained the parts of Amurru they had held before the battle and shortly afterwards the two powers signed a lasting peace. Thus, the battle could reasonably be seen as a draw.
Battle of Kadesh
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 BC, 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:
- The continuation of the treaty concluded between Ramesses and Muwatallish, concerning non-aggression
- Mutual assistance in the form of military aid
- Security in the problem of Hattusilis’ succession
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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
- 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,
- 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).
- 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
- 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,
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- (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
- 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
- . 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
- . 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
- . 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.
- . to come to help to smite his enemies, if it shall please RAmEssu-MERIAmEN the great ruler of Egypt to go,he shall.
- . 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 .
- (This line is nearly erased)
- (This line is nearly erased)
- 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.
- . 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.
- . 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.
- . 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. .
- . 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.
- . 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.
- . SuTEcH of the city of Sarapaina, AsTARATA of Kheta, the god of Taitatkherri, the god of Ka.
- . the goddess of the city of. the goddess of Tain. the god of.
- 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
- 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.
- . 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
- (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,
- 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
- 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 ?)
- 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
- of Kheta.
Source: This treaty is translated by C. W. Goodwin
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The earliest recorded peace treaty was between the Hittite and Egyptian empires. The Battle of Kadesh (about 1274 BC) took place in what is modern Syria. The entire Levant was at that time contested between the Egyptian and Hittite empires. After a costly four-day battle, in which neither side gained a clear advantage, both sides claimed victory.
Fear of further conflict between the two states persuaded both rulers, Hattusili III and Ramesses II, to end their dispute and sign a peace treaty. Both sides were threatened by other enemies. Egypt had to defend her western border against Libyan tribesmen, while the Hittites faced the threat of the Assyrian Empire, which had conquered Mesopotamia. Ώ] p256.
The peace treaty was recorded in two versions. One was in Egyptian hieroglyphics, the other in Akkadian, using cuneiform script. Fortunately, both versions survive. Such dual-language recording is common to many treaties. This treaty differs from others in that the two language versions are differently worded. Most of the text is identical, but the Hittite version claims that the Egyptians came suing for peace, while the Egyptian version claims the reverse. ΐ] p73–79 62–64.
The treaty was made in year 21 of Ramesses' reign, probably 1258 BC. Ώ] p257 It contains a mutual-assistance pact in case one of the empires should be attacked by a third party, or in the event of internal strife. There are articles on the forced repatriation (sending back) of refugees, and provisions that they should not be harmed. So this might be called the first extradition treaty. There are also threats of retribution, should the treaty be broken.
This treaty is so significant that a reproduction hangs in the United Nations headquarters.
KADESH (Heb. קָדֵשׁ), name of several places in Ereẓ Israel and Syria to which a sacred character is attributed.
(1) Kadesh, Kadesh-Barnea (Heb. קָדֵשׁ, קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ), an important oasis situated on the southern border of Canaan (Num. 34:4 Josh. 15:3 Ezek. 47:19 48:28) in the wilderness of Zin (Num. 20:1 27:14 33:36 Deut. 32:51) – part of the wilderness of Paran (Num. 20:16) – at a distance of an eleven days' journey from Mt. Horeb (Deut. 1:2). Kadesh is alternatively called En-Mishpat ("spring of judgment" Gen. 14:7) and the "waters of Meribah" ("strife," Num. 20:13, 24 27:14 Deut. 32:51), names which indicate its special role as a sacred place of judgment and assembly for the desert tribes.
Kadesh-Barnea appears in the stories of Abraham (Gen. 16:14 20:1) and in the description of the expedition of Chedorlaomer and his allies Kadesh-Barnea, here called En-Mishpat, is said to have been inhabited by Amalekites (Gen. 14:7). During the Exodus it served as an assembly point for the Israelite tribes in the desert (Deut. 1:46). Some scholars regard it as the first amphictyonic center of the Israelites. From Kadesh-Barnea spies were sent to explore Canaan (Num. 13:26) the attempt was made to penetrate into Canaan which was prevented by Arad and Hormah (Num. 14:40 21:1 33:36) messengers were sent to the king of Edom and from here the Israelites started out on their eastward march to Transjordan (Num. 20:14ff. 33:36ff. Deut. 1:46ff. Judg. 11:16ff.). Biblical tradition associates Kadesh-Barnea with the family of Moses in particular: here Moses drew water abundantly from the rock here he and Aaron were punished for their lack of faith by being denied entrance into the land of Canaan (Num. 20:2ff.) here his sister Miriam died and was buried (Num. 20:1) and Aaron died nearby at mount Hor (Num. 20:22 33:37). Kadesh-Barnea has been identified with the group of springs 46 mi. (75 km.) south of Beer-Sheba and 15 mi. (25 km.) south of Niẓ𞤺nah. The name is preserved at the southernmost spring ⯺yn Qudays, but ⯺yn al-Qudayrāt to the north of it is of much greater importance being a rich spring which waters a fertile plain. In its vicinity a large fortress from the time of the Judahite kings was discovered. Most scholars therefore identify Kadesh-Barnea with the larger spring the entire group of springs may have originally been called Kadesh-Barnea and the name survived at the southern one despite its lesser importance. During the Sinai campaign a large Israelite fortress was discovered also above ⯺yn Qudays as well as numerous remains in the whole region from the Middle Bronze I (c. 2000 B.C.E.) and Israelite periods.
Large-scale excavations in 1976 and 1982 uncovered three superimposed fortresses on the site. The first was dated to the 11 th century, the second to around the time of Hezekiah and measured 65 ft. × 195 ft. (20 × 60 m.) with six rectangular towers and a moat and glacis on three sides, and the third to the seventh century, probably destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Inscriptions indicate that the inhabitants of the fortress probably spoke Hebrew.
(2) Kedesh in Galilee (Heb. קֶדֶשׁ בַּגָּלִיל), one of the principal cities in Upper Galilee in the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In the opinion of some scholars, it is mentioned in the list of cities conquered by Thutmosis III (c. 1468 B.C.E.) and depicted on a relief of Seti I (c. 1300 B.C.E.) others, however, argue that these references are to Kadesh on the Orontes. In the Bible, "Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali" appears in the list of defeated Canaanite kings (Josh. 12:22), as a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7) and a levitical city (Josh. 21:32 I Chron. 6:61), and as one of the fortified cities of the tribe of Naphtali (Josh. 19:37). It was conquered by Tiglath-Pileser III in his expedition in 733/2 B.C.E. (II Kings 15:29) but continued to exist in the Second Temple period eventually becoming a Hellenistic city in the territory of Tyre. Near Kedesh, Jonathan the Hasmonean defeated the army of Demetrius II (I Macc. 11:63 Jos., Ant. 13:154). It is identified with Tell Qadis, a large tell overlooking the fertile plateau west of the Ḥuleh, and containing remains and fortifications from the Canaanite, Israelite, and later periods. A Roman temple was partially excavated in 1981, dedicated under Hadrian in 117/8 C.E.
(3) Kedesh-Naphtali (Heb. קֶדֶשׁ־נַפְתָּלִי), the birthplace of Barak, son of Abinoam, located in Galilee in the territory of the tribe of Naphtali (Judg. 4:6, 9). It is generally identified with Kedesh (2) but this seems unsound for the following reasons:
(a) Kedesh Upper Galilee is far from Mt. Tabor in the vicinity of which Deborah's battle with the Canaanite kings took place
(b) Ȯlon-Bezaanannim, which is by Kedesh" (Judg. 4:11) is also known from the border description of Naphtali where it is situated between the Tabor and the Jordan (Josh. 19:33).
Kedesh-Naphtali should therefore be sought east of Mount Tabor and in this area Khirbat al-Kadīsh near Poriyyah which contains extensive remains from the early Israelite period has been proposed as the location of the site.
(4) Kadesh on the Orontes, a major city in the Canaanite period on the Orontes River, identified with Tell Nabī Mind south of Lake Homs. Together with Megiddo, Kadesh headed the coalition of Canaanite kings against Thutmosis III in their great battle in c. 1468 B.C.E. Although confined with the other defeated kings within the walls of Megiddo, the king of Kadesh succeeded in escaping the Egyptian siege and Kadesh was conquered only during Thutmosis' sixth campaign, in his eighth year. In the 14 th century B.C.E. the city came under Hittite influence, as indicated by the ʮl-Amarna letters. It was conquered at the beginning of the 13 th century by Seti I as shown in a stele discovered by Pézard in his excavations at Kadesh. A relief depicting Seti's conquest may be preserved in the Karnak temple in Egypt but some scholars interpret it as referring to Kadesh in Galilee. During the reign of Ramses II, a famous battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites (c. 1280 B.C.E.) took place near Kadesh it actually terminated in a defeat for the Egyptians and Kadesh remained in the possession of the Hittites. According to the peace treaty concluded after the battle, the border between the two kingdoms in the Lebanon al-Biq⯺ was moved south of Kadesh. Further information on the city is lacking. It was apparently destroyed in the invasion of the Sea Peoples at the beginning of the 12 th century B.C.E. and its place was taken over in the Israelite period by Riblah on the Orontes south of Kadesh. The border of Lebo-Hamath in the Bible corresponds to the Egyptian border south of Kadesh.
Excavations from 1975 reveal a settlement at the site in the sixth millennium B.C.E. and then reoccupation in the third millennium. The settlement was apparently destroyed around 1600 B.C.E. and reestablished by the time mentioned in the sources, i.e., 1468.
(1) B. Rothenberg and J. Aharoni, Tagliyyot Sinai (1958) H.C. Trumbull, Kadesh-Barnea (1884): C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (1915) Glueck, in: AASOR, 15 (1935), 118ff. Phythian-Adams, in: PEFAS, 67 (1935), 69ff. 114ff. de Vaux and Savignac, in: RB, 47 (1938), 89ff. (2) J. Aharoni, Hitnalut Shivtei Yisrael ba-Galil ha-Elyon (1957), index Avi-Yonah, Land, index Albright, in: BASOR, 19 (1928), 12 35 (1929), 9 J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges (1931), 390. (3) Press, in: BJPES, 1, pt. 3 (1933/34), 26ff. J. Aharoni, op. cit., index Kolshari, in: BIES, 27 (1963), 165ff. (4) M. Péyard, Qadesh Mission à Tell Nebi Mend… (1931) Du Buisson, in: Mélanges Maspéro, 1 (1938), 919ff. Gardiner, in: Onomastica, 2 (1947), index Aharoni, Land, index.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Battle of Kadesh
A famous confrontation between RAMESSES II (r. 1290-1224 B. C. E.) and MUWATALLIS of the HITTITES, taking place c. 1285 B. C. E. on the Orontes River in modern Syria, the battle was recounted in 10 inscriptions, including a poetic form, bulletins, and reliefs on temple walls. Ramesses II marched out of Egypt on the ninth day of the second month of summer, stopping at Tjel, an Egyptian outpost. He had the Regiment of Amun, as well as three other major units with him, and the Sherden infantry, composing a force of 20,000 men. Reaching Ramesses-Meryamen, an Egyptian fortress in the Valley of the Cedars in modern Lebanon, Ramesses II saw no sign of the Hittites. Tricked by two “Shoshu,” Hittite spies posing as local inhabitants, Ramesses II stretched his forces 30 miles into the enemy territory, divided his forces, and then made camp. When Muwatallis began a series of raids and ambushes, Ramesses II beat the “Shoshu” and received confirmation of the Hittite trap and his peril.
Globally, Ramesses II intended to retake the city of Kadesh which had switched sides after the withdrawal of the large Egyptian army under Seti I. His strategy was a simple one: march to the city and take it. From the background to the eventual combat it is clear that Ramesses with his four divisions did not intend to meet the Hittites. The “Poem” begins the narration at the departure from Sile, and then continues with the arrival at a royal fortress in the “Valley of Cedar.” There was no opposition in Palestine combat was expected only in Syria. He is then described as crossing the ford of the Orontes, which was south of the city and at a point where the river coursed in a westward direction, perpendicular to the march of the king.
Earlier, Ramesses had received false information from two Shasu at the town of Shabtuna (modern Ribla), who stated that his Hittite opponent, Muwatallis, with his army, was in Aleppo, north of Tunip. In other words, the king felt that he could reach Kadesh unopposed and settle for a battle or a siege. A series of background points can now be made. The first is the simplest, and one that I have referred to on more than one occasion. The war was known to all and sundry. Both the local princes in Palestine and Syria as well as the leaders of the two great states of Hatti and Egypt could not hide their feelings, their war preparations, indeed their war aims. The journey of Ramesses, though not rapid by today’s standards, nonetheless covered the same number of miles per day as, for example, Thutmose III did when approaching Megiddo. The march was thus ca. 12.5 miles/day and no lengthy delays occurred. If we allow about 10 days from Sile to Gaza, and then about 12 days to get to Megiddo, we can place him in central Palestine about three weeks after his departure from Egypt. He left Egypt approximately at the close of March to early April, following the practice of his Dynasty XVIII predecessors. On day nine of the third month of the harvest season he was at Shabtuna south of Kadesh, and about one month had passed. (The departure from Sile is dated exactly one month before the arrival at Shabtuna.) At this point he received the false news that the Hittites were not around the city of Kadesh. The Egyptians were approximately 14 km from Kadesh. Ramesses then advanced, and it would have taken at most half of a day for the first division to set up camp opposite the city.
More details help to elucidate the final stages of the march to Kadesh. In the morning the king awoke and prepared his troops for the march. Sometime after that the army reached Shabtuna. This would have taken time. Ramesses’s extended army was composed of four divisions, all marching separately and behind one another the advance would have been slow. The temporary halt at Shabtuna did not last long. Moreover, the king discussed with his commanders the oral evidence of two Shasu “deserters” who falsely reported that the Hittites were not at Kadesh but away in the north. Again, we can assume the passing of time, at least one hour, but probably more. One line of the “Poem” (P 60) states that a distance of 1 Egyptian iter separated that ford south of Shabtuna from the position of Ramesses when the second division (Pre) was crossing the Orontes. The distance from the ford to the camp, or even to Kadesh, was at most 16.5 km. To march it would have taken 3/5 of a day. We cannot but assume that the time when Ramesses settled peacefully in his camp must have been in the afternoon. One final point needs to be brought into the discussion namely, the length of the Egyptian iter. There were two: a larger one of about 10.5 km and a smaller, of approximately 2.65 km. It is evident that the former was employed here.
We can perhaps better understand why the Egyptian monarch failed to take cognizance of the Hittites. According to the Poem the latter were “concealed and ready to the northeast” of Kadesh. The first division of the Egyptians was at the northwest of the city, settled beside a local brook that was so necessary for the animals and men. They had pitched the tents, and from the scenes of relaxation the army had already settled down for the day. However, as one relief caption indicates, they were not completely finished with the preliminary tasks of pitching the camp.
But no attack by Ramesses was planned on day nine. The city of Kadesh was not directly approached. Indeed, the king settled down on the west, across the Orontes, and arranged his camp for the arrival of the following divisions. We must assume that either he expected a military encounter with the enemy forces stationed within Kadesh on at least the following day or that he intended a siege of the citadel. The second alternative is a secure and economical way to victory, provided that time is not of the essence. Such a blockage prevents additional men from supporting the enemy, and eventually the lack of food and water becomes a major problem for the defenders. Yet in this case there is no evidence that Ramesses immediately proceeded to invest Kadesh. Indeed, he was somewhat removed from that citadel. The topography of the region indicates that west of the city and around the Orontes there was a relatively level plain, one suitable for chariot warfare. The Egyptian camp and the advancing three other divisions were well placed to suit their purposes. If this analysis is accepted, then we may very well wonder if once more the possibility of a “pre-arranged” battle was understood. That is to say, soon after dawn on the following day, the clash of the Egyptians and the foes within Kadesh was expected, provided that no surrender took place.
The Hittites reportedly had 3,500 chariots, manned by three men each, and an infantry of 18,000 to 19,000 with auxiliary units and escorts totaling 47,500. Ramesses II, becoming alarmed, sent for the Regiment of Ptah and scolded his officers for their laxity in assessing the situation. While this was happening, however, the Hittites were cutting their way through the Regiment of Ré, sealing the trap. Hundreds of Egyptians began to arrive at Ramesses II’s camp in headlong flight. The Hittite cavalry was close behind, followed by some 2,500 chariots. The Regiment of Amun was almost overwhelmed by the panicking soldiers who had suffered the first losses in the battle. The unit therefore raced northward in the same disorder.
Undaunted, Ramesses II brought calm and purpose to his small units and began to slice his way through the enemy in order to reach his southern forces. With only his household troops, a few officers, and followers, and with the rabble of the defeated units standing by, he mounted his chariot and discovered the extent of the forces against him. His chariot was drawn by his favorite horses, “Victory of Thebes” and “Mut Is Content,” and he charged the east wing of the assembled force with such ferocity that they gave way, allowing the Egyptians to escape the net that Muwatallis had cast for them. The Hittite king watched the cream of his command fall before Ramesses II, including his own brother. The Hittites and their allies were being driven into the river, where they drowned.
Within the abandoned Egyptian camp, the enemy soldiers were looting, and they were surprised by a group of Ramesses II’s soldiers and slain. Ramesses II gathered up the victorious unit, determined to stand his ground until reinforcements arrived. The Hittite king, in turn, threw his reserves of 1,000 chariots into the fray, but he was unable to score against Ramesses II and his men. Then the banners and totems of the Regiment of Ptah came into sight and both camps knew that the Egyptian reinforcements had arrived. The Hittite cavalry was driven into the city, with terrible losses, and Muwatallis withdrew. Ramesses II did not capture Kadesh, and Muwatallis claimed a Hittite victory and the acquisition of the city of Apa (modern Damascus). Ramesses II claimed victory and executed all of the Egyptians who had not rushed to his aid. This battle would not end the conflicts between Egypt and the Hittites. Almost two decades of confrontations finally led to the Egyptian Hittite Treaty.
This war had opened with the Battle of KADESH, a military campaign commemorated in the Poem of PENTAUR (or Pentauret) on the walls of KARNAK and in the SALLIER PAPYRUS III.
This particular campaign provided a temporary truce but then continued in a series of three phases. After pushing the Egyptian domain to Beirut, (modern Lebanon), Ramesses II met the enemy at Kadesh. Later he battled to recover Palestine, which had been encouraged to revolt. Lastly, Ramesses II conquered Hittite lands far from Egypt and deep inside the enemy’s empire, bringing the Hittites to the treaty table.
With the exception of cavalry, the Egyptians developed every kind of military arm known at the time. The bulk of their forces were infantry, carrying shields and armed with lances or bows. Light infantry carried slings or javelins. For sidearms, the infantry usually carried short, double-edged swords. However, some pictures show them with a khopesh, which has a wide curved blade vaguely resembling a meat cleaver. Their shields were curved on top and straight or slightly curved along the sides, wooden and covered with leather. A shield was roughly about half the height of a man. Armor was unknown for the common soldier, his protection being little more than a quilted tunic and cap. The higher ranks are depicted in Egyptian artwork as wearing links of metal fastened loosely to permit freedom of movement. The king is usually depicted wearing a metal helmet and often carried a battle-axe or a mace. More than any other weapon, however, the Egyptians depended on the bow. The one they employed was five to six feet long with arrows up to 30 inches long.
The glory of the Egyptian army was the chariot, the weapon they had adopted from the Hyksos. Tomb paintings almost always show the pharaoh in a chariot, usually alone with the reins tied about his midriff as he defeats his enemies. This is probably artistic license, as the two-wheeled vehicles they drove were designed to carry two men, a driver and an archer, and are usually shown with attached quivers of arrows and short spears. The horses were not only decorated with headdresses, but covered at their joints with metal ornaments doubling as protection. The most famous story concerning the use of chariots in Egypt is that of the Exodus, wherein the whole of Pharaoh’s force of 600 chariots was employed in chasing the Hebrews. Although the Book of Exodus mentions cavalry, contemporary Egyptian artwork almost never shows men on horseback, and those who are depicted are usually foreigners.
The army of the New Kingdom was a thoroughly professional force, although conscripts were used: One man in 10 was liable for military service. Egyptian units were given names of gods for their titles (for example, Anubis, Phre, Thoth, etc.), which probably reflected the local divinity where the unit was raised. The divisions usually numbered 5,000, subdivided into 250-man companies and 50-man platoons. The artwork of ancient Egypt depicts the soldiers marching in order, but the battles seem to have no structure, just a melee. It is therefore difficult to know what military doctrines may have been developed in Egypt. However, as the point to the artwork was to glorify the pharaoh, the actions of the regular soldiers would not have mattered. In the depictions of attacks on fortifications, no reference exists for any sort of siege engines, like catapults or battering rams. In the pictures only arrows and extremely long pikes are being used in order to clear the walls of defenders, and scaling ladders are then employed. Art work at Abu Simbel shows how the Egyptians set up camp when on campaign. They did not dig entrenchments, but surrounded the camp with a palisade made of the soldier’s shields. The pharaoh’s tent is in the center of the camp, surrounded by those of his officers. Separate sections hold the horses, the chariots, the mules, and the pack gear. A hospital section is depicted, as well as another area of camp for drill and punishment. Outside the camp, charioteers and infantry are shown exercising. In the center of the camp is a lion, although whether this is literal or the symbol of the pharaoh is disputed.
Once liberated from the Hyksos, the Egyptians apparently understood that the more distant the frontier they could de fend, the safer would be the homeland. Thus, Egyptian campaigns began up the east coast of the Mediterranean toward modern Syria. Inscriptions of the time praise war as a high calling, whereas in previous days the main accomplishment of warfare was looting and the acquisition of wealth. (That, of course, remained a goal, and the pillage and tribute the Egyptians gathered financed the impressive buildings for which they are justly famous.) The problem they faced was that, unlike the nomads and bandits they had fought in earlier times, they now had to fight trained soldiers of other kings. The Egyptians apparently learned the art of war fairly quickly, however, for the contemporary inscriptions describe the joy the pharaoh felt when he got to go to war. “For the good god exults when he begins the fight, he is joyful when he has to cross the frontier, and is content when he sees blood. He cuts off the heads of his enemies, and an hour of fighting gives him more delight than a day of pleasure” (Erman, 1971).
The Egyptian military maintained a strong presence in the Palestine/Syria region for centuries, sometimes farther away and sometimes closer, depending on the nature of their opponents. They also expanded their borders southward at the expense of the Nubians.
Suggested Readings: Road to Kadesh a Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak. Chicago: Oriental Inst., 1990 Healy, Mark. The Warrior Pharaoh: Ramesses II and the Battle. London: Osprey, 2000.
Kadesh: Searching For Glory
One of the challenges with Ancient History is the primary sources. In ancient cultures, kings supposedly did no wrong (some cultures even thought their rulers were gods!). So…what if a king lost a battle in a far distant land, but escaped to rule another day? Would he really tell his subjects back home that he lost? Would he inscript a defeat on his memorial walls and columns? Would historians centuries later take this king at his word when he claimed a victory?
The Battle of Kadesh in 1285 B.C. illustrates some of these challenges in Ancient Military History. The battle is significant in the history of Ancient Egypt and the Hittite Kingdom, and its story concludes with the first “recognized” peace treaty in World History.
This blog post delves into some of the most important things you should know about this battle: armies and leaders, the battle, the propaganda, and the historical conclusion.
Pharaoh Ramses II & The Egyptian Army
Ramses II had ancestors who had won great victories for Egypt their war conquests adorned the engraved monuments around him, and Ramses determined to add to or surpass the military splendors in his nation’s history. Expanding the nation’s territory would be a good start…except the Hittites weren’t too keen on being conquered.
Ramses organized his army of approximately 20,000 into “divisions” which he named after Egyptian gods. He had chariots and infantry in his army archery was his “long range” weaponry. The Egyptian war chariots were fast, light, and horse-drawn.
King Muwatallis & The Hittite Army
The Hittite Kingdom was in the northern part of the Middle East, encompassing the modern countries of Syria and Turkey. The Hittites had perfected war-chariots, but their vehicles differed from the Egyptian style. Their chariots were sturdier in design and built to protect the warriors they used wild donkeys or horses bred for endurance rather than speed.
King Muwatallis and the Hittites opposed Ramses’s conquesting spirit by rallying about 23,000 infantry and charioteers. They gathered around the city of Kadesh, a wealthy and well-fortified city which would be a prime target in the Egyptian campaign.
The Battle of Kadesh
Fought during the year 1285 B.C., the Battle of Kadesh unfolded with a classic strategem – spies. Muwatallis send informers to the Egyptian army the misinformation prompted Ramses to divide his army.
The battle was fought near the city, not in Kadesh itself. Muwatallis made a bold and wise decision, choosing to fight in the open, rather than cramping his army’s mobility in the city or risking a siege.
The Hittites swept in, attacking marching divisions and headed for the Egyptian camp. Ramses led a counter-attack. Muwatallis pushed more chariots and infantry into the fight, only to have them crushed by Ramses’s arriving divisions. Interestingly, the Hittite reserve army never engaged. The Hittites took refuge in Kadesh, but the battered Egyptian army couldn’t begin a seige.
Who won? That is a question for the centuries!
Propaganda (Sore Losers?)
Both Egyptian and Hittite engravings claim that their side won the battle. But…there usually aren’t two winners.
This is a classic example of both sides – both rulers – enhancing their own image to their people and ensure that history was written the way they wanted it written.
The original Treaty of Kadesh (By Iocanus (talk) – taken by Iocanus (talk), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11355194)
So, Ramses and Muwatallis both won the battle? Hmm…
Most historians conclude (after comparing various ancient sources) that the Egyptians won the battlefield fight, but the Hittites won the conflict. In other words, Ramses gets the tactical victory – Muwatallis gets the strategic victory. And technically, the battle itself is a draw (neither side wins decisively).
In the end, the Egyptians and the Hittites signed a peace treaty, establishing a border and diplomatic relations between the kingdoms. It’s significant because this is the first recorded, successful peace treaty in World History. (So maybe something good came out of the battle?) The treaty lasted until the collapse of the Hittite Kingdom around 1200 B.C.
With historians declaring the battle a draw, perhaps both kings were right in their engravings? Either way, they searched and fought for glory and remembrance, and the Battle of Kadesh stands out in World History for its tactical genius and the prelude to a peace treaty.
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An Old Testament KnoWhy[i] relating to the reading assignment for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13: Bondage, Passover, and Exodus (Exodus 1-3 5-6 11-14) (JBOTL013C)
Question: Most of the evidence for the historical Exodus comes indirectly from general archaeological findings and analysis of biblical texts. Is there any specific evidence for the reality and timing of the Exodus that can be corroborated from Egyptian sources?
Summary: Very possibly, but only indirectly. Although the Egyptians, like other ancient (and modern!) peoples, were understandably loathe themselves to truthfully advertise a military defeat, the Israelites had no qualms about publicizing such an event on their behalf. According to Hebrew Bible scholar Joshua Berman, the author of the “Sea Account,”[iii] the oldest description of Israel’s final escape in the book of Exodus, may have intentionally imitated the structure and vocabulary of Egyptian propaganda trumpeting a claimed victory at the Battle of Kadesh in order to mock the pharaoh’s failure to stop the flight of the Israelites. Berman makes the case that the Israelite “Sea Account” must have been authored within a reasonable period of time after the battle of Kadesh by someone personally acquainted with the Egyptian inscriptions that reported it.
[Ramesses II’s] army crossed the Egyptian border in the spring of year five of his reign and, after a month’s march, reached the area of Kadesh from the south.
The Hittite king Muwatalli … had positioned his troops behind “Old Kadesh,” but Ramesses, misled by two spies whom the Egyptians had captured, thought the Hittite forces were still far off, at Aleppo, and ordered his forces to set up camp.
The ensuing battle “is believed to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving between 5,000 and 6,000 chariots in total.”[v]
Although the battle is well-documented, the several accounts telling of Egyptian victory are written by the Egyptians themselves and contain the usual exaggerations of phraraonic propaganda.[vi] “Hittite records from Boghazkoy … tell of a very different conclusion to the greater campaign, where a chastened Ramesses was forced to depart from Kadesh in defeat.”[vii]
Was the “Sea Account” of Exodus written in a style that mocks Egypt’s victory at Kadesh? According to Joshua Berman,[ix] the answer is “yes.” He has argued that the Bible’s oldest version of the story of the Israelites’ final escape from the Egyptians,[x] like the story of the ten plagues highlighted in a previous article in this series, was written as a sort of parody. Unlike more common sorts of parodies, the imitation was not intended for comic effect.[xi] Rather, if Berman’s arguments hold, the purpose of the imitation may have been to highlight the contrast between the leaders of Egypt and Israel, undermining the supposed supremacy of pharaoh and his gods and showing how the God of Israel, at every turn of events, can be seen as shattering false Egyptian pretensions while revealing Jehovah’s true greatness and glory. Specifically, whereas monumental accounts of the battle of Kadesh portray Ramesses II as a godlike figure leading a counterattack against the Hittites, the book of Exodus turns the table mockingly on the Egyptians by describing the Israelites’ divinely led victory against them using similar descriptions.
[xii] The image recalls the accusations of spying leveled by Joseph at his brothers (Genesis 42:9-16)
Berman summarizes similarities between the Egyptian and Exodus accounts as follows:[xiii]
The protagonist army breaks ranks at the sight of the enemy chariot force. A plea for divine help is answered with encouragement to move forward, and victory is assured. On the battlefield itself, the protagonist king encounters the enemy chariots with fire. The enemy chariotry seeks to flee and recognizes, by name, the divine force that attacks it. Many meet their death in water, and there are no survivors. The king’s troops return to survey the enemy corpses and are amazed at the king’s accomplishment. They offer the king a victory hymn. It includes praise of his name, references to his strong arms, and notes that he is their source of strength and the source of their salvation. The enemy is compared to chaff, while the king is deemed without peer in battle. He leads his troops peacefully home, intimidating foreign lands along the way. The king arrives at his palace, and is granted eternal rule. This is the story of Ramesses II in the Kadesh Poem, and this is the story of YHWH [Jehovah] in the account of the sea in Exodus 14–15.
Remarking on the common element in both accounts where “the enemy sinks into the water and perishes,” Berman writes:[xv]
This, of course, is central to the sea account of Exodus 14–15. The sinking or submerging of the enemy is emphasized in the Song at [Exodus] 15:4, 5, and 10. To be sure, the Kadesh Poem does not tell of wind-swept seas overpowering the Hittites but they do submerge into a body of water — the Orontes River — and many perish there. Ramesses claims (P138–140) that in their haste to escape his onslaught, the Hittites “plunged” into the river, seeking refuge “like crocodiles.” Ramesses claims that he slaughtered them there in the water. The reliefs draw attention to the drowning of the Hittites in vivid fashion.
Both texts underscore that there were no survivors in the water. The Poem states, (P141) “None looked behind him, no other turned around. (P142) Whoever of them fell, he did not rise again.” Exod 14:28 states, “The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen … not one of them remained.”
Victory through a “mighty arm.” In addition to similar structure and story themes, Berman points to specific terms common in the two accounts but rare elsewhere in scripture. As one example, he points out the use of “mighty arm”:[xvii]
In [both the Egyptian and Israelite accounts], the timid troops see evidence of the king’s “mighty arm,” review the enemy corpses, and, amazed by the sovereign’s achievement, are impelled to sing a hymn of praise. In the Kadesh poem we read:
Then when my troops and chariotry saw me, that I was like Montu , my arm strong, . . . then they presented themselves one by one, to approach the camp at evening time. They found all the foreign lands, among which I had gone, lying overthrown in their blood . … I had made white [with their corpses] the countryside of the land of Kadesh. Then my army came to praise me, their faces [amazed/averted] at seeing what I had done.
Exodus 14:30-31 is remarkably similar, and in two cases identical:
Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. And when Israel saw the great hand which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord.
As I noted earlier, “great hand” here and “great arm” in 15:16 are used exclusively in the Hebrew Bible with regard to the exodus, a trope found elsewhere only within Egyptian propaganda, especially during the late second-millennium New Kingdom.
After the great conquest, in both accounts, the troops offer a paean to the king. In each, the opening stanza comprises three elements. The troops laud the king’s name as a warrior credit him with stiffening their morale and exalt him for securing their salvation. In the Kadesh poem we read:
My officers came to extol my strong arm and likewise my chariotry, boasting of my name thus: “What a fine warrior, who strengthens the heart/That you should rescue your troops and chariotry!”
And here are the same motifs in the opening verses of the Song at the Sea:[xviii]
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. . … “The Lord is my strength and might He is become my salvation … the Lord, the Warrior — Lord is His name!”
In both the poem and in Exodus, praise of the victorious sovereign continues in a double strophe extolling his powerful hand or arm. The poem: “You are the son of Amun, achieving with his arms, you devastate the land of Hatti by your valiant arm.” The Song:[xix] “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the foe!”
[Also note that] the Hebrew root for the right hand (ymn) is common to a variety of other ancient Near Eastern languages. Yet in those other cultures, the right hand is linked exclusively with holding or grasping. In Egyptian literature, however, we find depictions of the right hand that match those in the Song. Perhaps the most ubiquitous motif of Egyptian narrative art is the pharaoh raising his right hand to shatter the heads of enemy captives.
This Egyptian royal image endured from the third millennium down into the Christian era. In no other ancient Near Eastern culture do we encounter such portrayals of the right hand, which resonate closely with the Song and particularly with [Exodus] 15:6: “Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.”
If Berman’s conclusion about the dependence of Exodus Sea Account on the Egyptian battle of Kadesh inscriptions holds true, it may provide clues both to the dating of the earliest account of the Exodus and also to the timeframe of the Exodus itself. The significance of this finding is best described by Berman himself:[xx]
One possibility might be that the poem reached Israel in a period of amicable relations with Egypt, perhaps during the reign of Solomon in the 10th century or, still later, of Hezekiah in the 8th. Counting against this, though, is that the latest copies of the Kadesh poem in our possession are from the 13th century, and there are no explicit references to it, or any clear attempts to imitate it, in later Egyptian literature. Moreover, we have no epigraphic evidence that any historical inscriptions from ancient Egypt ever reached Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah, either in the Egyptian language or in translation. And this leaves aside the puzzle of what, in a period of entente, would have motivated an Israelite scribe to pen an explicitly anti-Egyptian work in the first place.
To determine a plausible date of transmission, we should be guided by the epigraphic evidence at hand. Egyptologists note that in addition to copies of the monumental version of the Kadesh poem, a papyrus copy was found in a village of workmen and artisans who built the great monuments at Thebes. As we saw earlier, visual accounts of the battle were also produced. This has led many scholars of ancient Egypt to argue that the Kadesh poem was a widely disseminated “little red book,”[xxi] aimed at stirring public adoration of the valor and salvific grace of Ramesses the Great, and that it would have been widely known, particularly during the reign of Ramesses himself, beyond royal and temple precincts. …
Some might conclude that the plot line of the Kadesh poem reached Israel under conditions hidden to us and, for reasons we cannot know, became incorporated into the text of Exodus many centuries down the line. Others will regard the parallels as one big coincidence. But my own conclusion is otherwise: the evidence adduced here can be reasonably taken as indicating that the poem was transmitted during the period of its greatest diffusion, which is the only period when anyone in Egypt seems to have paid much attention to it: namely, during the reign of Ramesses II himself. In my view, the evidence suggests that the Exodus text preserves the memory of a moment when the earliest Israelites reached for language with which to extol the mighty virtues of God, and found the raw material in the terms and tropes of an Egyptian text well-known to them. In appropriating and “transvaluing” that material, they put forward the claim that the God of Israel had far outdone the greatest achievement of the greatest earthly potentate.
As always, I appreciate the love, support, and advice of Kathleen M. Bradshaw on this article. Thanks also to Stephen T. Whitlock for allowing me to include his photograph of Horus and for other valuable suggestions.
For an insightful exploration of how the Exodus served as a type for Book of Mormon stories of deliverance, see S. K. Brown, Exodus Pattern.
I first became acquainted with Joshua Berman’s remarkable findings on the possibile appropriation of official Egyptian accounts of the battle of Kadesh in Exodus through one of a series of lectures he gave at Brigham Young University on October 8, 2015. Unfortunately, the lecture, entitled “The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II and the Exodus Sea Account,” appears not to have been recorded. However, he presents a three-minute synopsis of his ideas in “A Passover Story: Archaeology and the Exodus,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGeusWwI-g. For more extensive, written versions of his arguments, see J. A. Berman, Was There an Exodus? J. A. Berman, Inconsistency.
For a video describing the historical context and weapon technology of the battle of Kadesh, see Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare (History Channel), Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare (History Channel), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS3eQbQG5mA.
For other scripture resources relating to this lesson, see The Interpreter Foundation Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Index (https://interpreterfoundation.org/gospel-doctrine-resource-index/ot-gospel-doctrine-resource-index/) and the Book of Mormon Central Old Testament KnoWhy list (https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/tags/old-testament).
Ancient Discoveries: Egyptian Warfare (History Channel). 2006. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS3eQbQG5mA. (accessed April 14, 2018).
Berman, Joshua A. 2015. Searching for the historical Exodus (2 April 2015). In The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/joshua-berman-searching-for-the-historical-exodus-1428019901. (accessed March 29, 2018).
———. 2015. Was there an Exodus? In Mosaic Magazine. https://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/03/was-there-an-exodus/. (accessed June 27, 2015).
———. Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Brown, S. Kent. “The Exodus pattern in the Book of Mormon.” In From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon, edited by S. Kent Brown, 75-98. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/jerusalem-zarahemla-literary-and-historical-studies-book-mormon/exodus-pattern-book-mormon. (accessed April 7, 2018).
Homan, Michael M. “The divine warrior in his tent: A military model for Yahweh’s tabernacle.” Bible Review 16, no. 6 (December 2000). https://members.bib-arch.org/bible-review/16/6/8. (accessed March 31, 2018).
Nibley, Hugh W. 1975. The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005.
[i] Used with permission of Book of Mormon Central. See https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/reference-knowhy.
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Treaty_of_Kadesh.jpg (accessed April 14, 2018). According to Wikipedia, the copy of the treaty shown in the photograph was “discovered at Boğazköy, Turkey. Museum of the Ancient Orient, one of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.” For more information on the treaty, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian–Hittite_peace_treaty (accessed April 14, 2018).
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kadesh (accessed April 14, 2018).
[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kadesh (accessed April 14, 2018).
[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kadesh (accessed April 14, 2018).
[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kadesh (accessed April 14, 2018). “There is no consensus about the outcome or what took place, with views ranging from an Egyptian victory to a draw, or, in the view of Iranian Egyptologist Mehdi Yarahmadi, an Egyptian defeat (with the Egyptian accounts simply propaganda). The Hittite army was ultimately forced to retreat, but the Egyptians were unsuccessful in capturing Kadesh. … Modern historians essentially conclude the battle was a draw, a great moral victory for the Egyptians, who had developed new technologies and rearmed before pushing back against the years-long steady incursions by the Hittites.”
[viii] Photograph by Ange Ortega, as published in M. M. Homan, Divine Warrior.
[ix] J. A. Berman, Inconsistency, Kindle Edition, pp. 17-34 J. A. Berman, Was There an Exodus J. A. Berman, Searching.
[xi] It is in a similar sense of the word that Hugh Nibley called the Egyptian temple rites a parody (H. W. Nibley, Message (2005)): “But what about the Egyptian rites? What are they to us? They are a parody, an imitation, but, as such, not to be despised.”
Interesting resemblances of “imitation” Egyptian temple architecture and rites to their authentic equivalents will be discussed in the next article in this series.
[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ancient_carving_-_Shasu_spies_being_beaten_by_Egyptians.png (accessed April 14, 2018).
[xiii] J. A. Berman, Inconsistency, Kindle Edition, p. 47. Details of Berman’s comparative study are found on pp. 35-52.
[xiv] James Henry Breasted, The Battle of Kadesh: A Study in the Earliest Known Military Strategy (Chicago University Pres, 1903), pl. III, as republished in J. A. Berman, Was There an Exodus? The image is depicted on the Second Pylon at the Ramesseum.
[xv] J. A. Berman, Inconsistency, Kindle Edition, pp. 41-42.
[xvi] From The Epigraphic Survey, The Battle Reliefs of King Seti I (Chicago, 1986), pl. 15a. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, as republished in J. A. Berman, Was There an Exodus?.
[xx] J. A. Berman, Was There an Exodus? Berman’s extensive discussion of how the possible appropriation of the inscriptions of the battle of Kadesh by Exodus might contribute to the problem of the composition of the Exodus Sea Account with reference to source-critical scholarship can be found in J. A. Berman, Inconsistency, Kindle Edition, pp. 52-60.
[xxi] Referring to the famous small-format book Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung that was widely distributed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotations_from_Chairman_Mao_Tse-tung).
Jeffrey M. Bradshaw April 16, 2018
Great question. Unfortunately, I had to leave out much that could have been said in this brief article. The first part of the answer has to do with the conclusions one reaches about the likelihood of the Exodus having taken place before the well-documented timing of the battle of Kadesh. Article JBOTL13A summarized the arguments of Rendsburg of the likelihood that the Exodus itself did not take place till the time of Ramesses III (although the Israelite oppression and the building of the pharaoh's cities almost certainly took place under Ramesses II). The second part of the answer has to do with detailed analyses of the two texts and their provenance--if you are really interested in this question, I would heartily recommend going directly to Berman's 2017 book.
Karen April 16, 2018
I didn't see any reference indicating why the Exodus account followed the Battle of Kadesh account. It seems to me that it could have been the other way around with the Battle of Kadesh account echoing an earlier, embarrassing defeat of the Egyptian army by the Israelites. Maybe I missed something in this article but it seems very likely to me that the Egyptians were the ones who copied an earlier event.