The Battle of Kadesh

Sidebar to: The Divine Warrior in His Tent

It was one of antiquity’s most famous battles. Reprised in numerous Egyptian inscriptions, illustrated in monumental reliefs, commemorated in poetry and copied out on papyrus by schoolboys and scribes, the story of the Battle of Kadesh (Qadesh) has survived more than three millennia to give modern historians a detailed glimpse of military tactics in the ancient Near East. Drawing on the many extant versions of the story, scholars can trace the sequence of events from the initial call to arms all the way to the truce that concluded the confrontation.

The battle, which was fought just outside the city of Kadesh, on the banks of the Orontes River in southern Syria, pitted the Egyptian troops of Pharaoh Ramesses II against the forces allied with the Hittite king, Muwatallis. Spurred on by rumors of trouble along Egypt’s Syrian frontier, Ramesses assembled an army of 20,000 troops in 1275 B.C.E. This host he divided into four divisions, each of them roughly 5,000 men strong. With the pharaoh’s Amun division leading the way, the Egyptian troops marched north along Canaan’s Mediterranean coast, then turned inland and approached Kadesh by way of the Beq’a Valley. The sight of this massive military force must have been every bit as awe inspiring as the inscriptions carved into the walls of Ramesses’ temples boast:

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