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Battle of Kadesh
It is difficult for us to understand the concept of war in ancient days. In our era of modern warfare, computer guided munitions and instant communication with troops on the other side of a city of on the other side of the globe; our ideas of war have significantly changed over the past few decades. Even a war such as World War Two will likely never be fought again. During WWII, it was possible to hide troop movements, and move faster than enemy intelligence. However, today, the presence of airborne and waterborne weapon platforms allows individual nations to be positioned in the event of battle before the first shot is fired.
However, such was not the case in ancient times. Armies of stronger forces and overwhelming numbers could be defeated because of simple tactical mistakes. A single unknown troop could distract a superior force long enough to shift the momentum of a battle which could turn the tide of the entire war.
This is an effective description of the Battle of Kadesh in which two nations fought for control over a land route which leads from Asia and Egypt to the continent of Europe. The Hittites, the Egyptian forces of Ramses II and the rogue tribe of Amarru, which was in the process of defecting from the Hittites to the protection of the Egyptians, fought a decisive battle at Kadesh in the middle of the second century BC.
The political setting leading up to the war can be described thus. The Hittites and the Egyptians were the most significantly powerful tribes of this time. Egypt controlled the land south of the Mediterranean, leasing into Canaan, and up the isthmus which lead into Europe. The Hittites resided at the north end of the isthmus in the areas know known as Turkey and Syria. Their interests lied in maintaining control over this important trade route while Egypt's between Egypt and the north along the eastern Mediterranean coast while Egypt's goals resided in expanding their influence in order to control the trade routes. Control over this region could mean access to goods which were beyond Egypt's ability to travel. They could also, theoretically use the commerce trades as a source of revenue. Thus the two parties, with equally commercial and political interest in the region, wanted to expand their own balance of power.
The catalyst for the battle may have been Amarru's decision to defect to Egypt's control and protection. A Hittite tribe of considerable force, for the Hittites loosing Amarru meant loosing a powerful ally which could mean gaining a powerful enemy. For the Egyptians, gaining Amarru meant gaining a foot hood in the region with a tribe which was familiar with the territory, and with the Hittite forces. AS a result of the potential shift in power, the Hittites under Muwatalli and the Egyptians under Ramses II prepared for war.
The war between the Egyptians and the Hittites for the control over Syria took place in the fifth year of Ramses II's reign. While the Hittites wanted to bring Amarru back into the fold, the Egyptians wanted to protect their new vassal. Using Karkemish, an area just north of Kadesh, as a base for their operations, the Hittites decided Kadesh offered the best opportunities for the coming battle. Muwatalli had called on his allies, among them Rimisharrinaa, king of Aleppo, and the country of Kizwadna into battle with him.
Similar treaties had been engaged with most of Hittites neighbors, resulting in a roughly structured alliance in the region. However, this was not the most reliable kind of army a king could lead into battle, especially against the organized and mechanized Egyptian chariot army.
The army of Ramses consisted mostly of Egyptians, with a few Nubian contingents and some Sherden mercenaries and recruits from Amarru. The chariots were manned exclusively by experienced Egyptian noblemen. This is the first recorded ancient battle in which the results were significantly affected by the tactics of the individual forces.
Kadesh was a fortified city which rested in the fork of a river. The river Orontos flowed from north to south, and Kadesh rested in between two branched of the river which split just to the north. The Egyptian army had entered the region from the south, from the south-west of Kadesh and stayed on the far side of the river. They set up camps at Re and Amen, which were also on the western side of the river fork, and the west of Kadesh. The Hittite army on the other hand was hiding on the north ease side of Kadesh, out of sight and out of scout range of the Egyptians. Ramses had heard, and believed false rumors that his enemy was still near Haleb which is still farther to the north. Ancient records record that the Egyptians captured two Hittite troops, and after beating the truth out of them, he held a council of war. He immediately sent out word to his divisions which were reinforcing from the south to hasten their progress of and join the rest of the troops.
What Ramses did not know was that the two captured troops were plants, and they offered the king false information. The deserters told Ramses that they were deserters of the Hittite army, and that a frightened Muwatallish had retreated farther to the north. Ramses, arrogantly flattered as pharaohs are known to be, divided his forces, and took one group, constituting only one quarter of his army, across the Orontes River ahead of the main body of his troops. His goal was to capture the city before Muwatallish's forces could return to stop them. The Re Corps followed at a significant distance, thought to be about a mile and a half, while the Sutekh and Ptah Corps remained on the southern bank of the Orontes (Ceram 173).
Muwatallish, king of the Hittite armies, was not in northern Aleppo as the Bedouin deceivers had said. The entire Hittite army was camped across the river, and was now mobilizing forces near the thick vegetation around the city of Kadesh ("Kadesh"). Muwatallish had summoned contingents from every ally possible, composing the largest and strongest force ever assembled by the Hittite kings. Ramses II had led his men into a trap, and that night, unaware of the impending danger Ramses dispatched soldiers to bring the Ptah and Re Corps to his aid.
Undermanned and with poor intelligence, the Egyptians were vulnerable for attack, and they while the Amen division was setting up camp, 2500 Hittite chariots attacked the marching Re division in two waves. The Egyptian record of the battle described the event this way.
They came forth from the southern side of Kadesh, and they cut through the division of Re in its middle, while they were marching without knowing and without being drawn up for battle. The infantry and chariots of his majesty (the Egyptians) retreated before them (the Hittites). Now, his majesty had halted on the north of the city of Kadesh, on the western side of the Orontes. Then came one to tell it to his majesty.
His majesty shone like his father Montu, when he took the adornments of war; as he seized his coat of mail, he was like Baal in his hour. The great span which bore his majesty called: "Victory-in-Tebes," from the great stables of Ramses II, was in the midst of the leaders. His majesty halted in the rout; then he charged into the foe, the vanquished of Kheta, being alone by himself and none other with him. When his majesty went to look behind him, he found 2,500 chariotry surrounding him, in his way out, being all the youth of the wretched Kheta, together with its numerous allied countries" (Breasted, 1906, as cited at (http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/)
As can be seen from the above quotes much of the military history of battles is recorded by the victor with pomp and circumstance. The attack of the Hittites caught Ramses completely off guard, and the Hittites were able to push the Egyptians completely out of their camp at Re. The Egyptians fled north and south, and attempted to regroup for a counter attack.
Muwatallish did not waste any time and sent a chariot force across the river from the eastern side of Kadesh into the now divided Egyptian army. In the field the principal weapon of the ancient civilizations was the horse-drawn chariot. Consisting of a wooden frame covered with leather mounted on a wide axle with wooden six-spoked wheels, the chariot could scatter an army, and create confusion which prevented the opposition from mounting an organized attack. The Hittite chariot was more massive than the Egyptian, and as a result, the tactical nature of the Hittite attack on the battlefield involved putting the massive "tanks" at the front of the attack force which sent the opposing forces into confusion. The chariots were followed by infantry to clean up what was left of the scattered enemies ("Kadesh"). Though the Hittites…[continue]
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