Chapter 21 of J H Brested's A History of the Ancient Egyptians

which features Brested's reconstruction of the Battle of Kadesh

This is from the 1908 edition and the sections are linkable - eg

297 We have seen that the Nineteenth Dynasty had inherited a very dangerous situation in Syria. When Ramses II ascended the throne the Hittites had remained in undisputed possession of their Syrian conquests for probably more than twenty years since the only attempt by Seti I to dislodge them. The long peace probably concluded with Seti gave their king, Metella(cuneiform Mutttalu), an opportunity, of which he made good use, to render their position in Syria impregnable by pushing southward, and seizing Kadesh, the key to Orontes valley and the strongest fortress in Syria.

298 Ramses's plan for the war was like that of his great ancestor, Thutmose III : he first gained the coast, that he might use one of its harbours as a base, enjoying quick and easy communication with Egypt by water. An illegible limestone stela cut into the face of the rocks overlooking the Nahr el-Kelb (Dog River) near Berut, our only source for this event, shows that it took place in "year four". Meantime Metella was collecting probably the largest force that Egypt had ever met, containing probably not less than twenty thousand men. We find among them the old enemies of Egypt in Syria : the kings of Naharin, Arvad, Carchemish, Kode, Kadesh, Nuges, Ekereth ( Ugarit ) and Aleppo. Besides these, Mettella's subject kingdoms in Asia Minor, like Kezweden and Pedes, were drawn upon; and not content with the army thus collected, he emptied his treasury to tempt the mercenaries of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean islands: Lycian pirates, Mysians, Cilicians, and Dardanians took service in the Hittite ranks.

299. Ramses on his part had not been less active in securing mercenary support. Nubian levies, not unknown in the Egyptian army since the remote days of the old Kingdom, and especially the "Sherden" or Sardinians, long ago employed in the Pharaoh's Syrian garrisons (p. 252), were now a recognized contingent. Thus Ramses likewise commanded a force of not less than twenty thousand men all told. He divided these troops into four divisions, each named after one of the great gods: Amon, Re, Ptah and Sutekh; and himself took personal command of the division of Amon (BAR, III, 297; 306 f.; 491).

300. About the end of April of his fifth year (1288 B. C.), when the rains of Syria had ceased, Ramses marched out of Tharu, on his northeastern frontier, at the head of these troops. The division of Amon, with whom the Pharaoh was, formed the advance, and the other divisions, Re, Ptah and Sutekh, followed in the order mentioned. A month later we find him marching down the Orontes, northward, till he camped on a height overlooking the vast plain in which lay Kadesh, only a day's march distant, with its battlements probably visible on the northern horizon, toward which the Orontes wound its way across the plain (BAR, III, 491 ; BK).

Re to the southwest of Kadesh, Hittites to the east of Kadesh across the Orontes

301. Day after day Ramses' officers had reported to him their inability to find any trace of the enemy, and had added their impression that he was still far in the north. At this juncture two Beduin of the region appeared and stated that they had deserted from the Hittite ranks, and that the Hittite king had retreated northward to the district of Aleppo, north of Tunip. In view of the failure of his scouting parties to find the enemy, Ramses readily believed this story, broke camp early, crossed the river with the division of Amon and pushed rapidly on to Kadesh, which he reached by noon, while the divisions of Re, Ptah and Sutekh, marching in the order named, straggled far behind. Meantime the crafty Metella, seeing that the story of his two Beduin, whom he has sent out for the very purpose of deceiving Ramses, has been implicitly accepted, quickly transfers his entire army from the northwest ot the city to the east side of the river, and while Ramses passes northward along the west side of Kadesh, Metella deftly dodges him, moving southward along the east side of the city, always keeping it between him and the Egyptians to prevent his troops from being seen. As he draws in on the east and southeast of the city he has secured a position on Ramses' flank. from which he can completely isolate the Pharaoh from his southern divisions, threatening the destruction of Ramses and his army. The Egyptian forces were now roughly divided into two groups: near Kadesh were the two divisions of Amon and Re, while far southward the divisions of Ptah and Sutekh have not yet crossed at the ford of Shabtuna. The division_ of Sutekh was so far away that nothing more was heard of it and it took no part in the day's action. Ramses halted on the northwest of the city, not far from and perhaps on the very ground occupied by the Asiatic army a short time before.

302.Here he camped in the early afternoon, and the division of Amon, coming up shortly afterward, bivouacked around his tent. The weary troops were relaxing, feeding their horses and preparing their own meal, when two Asiatic spies were brought in by Ramses' scouts and taken to the royal tent. Brought before Ramses after a merciless beating, they confessed that Metella and his entire army were concealed behind the city. Thoroughly alarmed, the young Pharaoh hastily summoned his commanders and officials, chided them bitterly, and commanded the vizier to bring up the division of Ptah with all speed, supposing that Re was almost within call. He therefore at this juncture little dreamed of the desperate situation into which he had been betrayed, nor of the catastrophe which at that very moment was overtaking the unfortunate division of Re. Already Metella's chariotry had issued from the south side of Kadesh and quickly crossing the river struck the unsuspecting division of Re while on the march, cut it in two and scattered the two portions far and wide. Some fled northward toward Ramses' camp in a wild rout, and the first intimation received by the Pharaoh of the appalling disaster which now faced him was the headlong flight of these fugitives of the annihilated division, among whom were two of his own sons. As they burst over the barricade into the astonished camp, with the Hittite chariotry in hot pursuit close upon their heels, they inevitably swept along with them northward the surprised and defenseless division of Amon. The bulk of Ramses' available force was thus in flight, his southern divisions were miles away and separated from him by the whole mass of twenty-five hundred of the enemy's chariotry, whose wings now rapidly swelled out on either hand and enfolded the camp. The disaster was complete.

303. Taken with but short shrift for preparation, the young Pharaoh hesitated not a moment in attempting to cut his way out and to reach his southern columns. With only his household troops, his immediate followers and the officers, who happened to be at his side, he mounted his waiting chariot and boldly charged into the advance of the Hittite pursuit as it poured into his camp on the west side; but perceiving how heavily the enemy was massed before him, immediately understood that further onset in that direction was hopeless. Retiring into the camp again, he must have noted how thin was the eastern wing of the surrounding chariots along the river where there had not yet been time for the enemy to strengthen their line. As a forlorn hope he charged this line with an impetuosity that hurled the Asiatics in his immediate front pell-mell into the river. Again and again Ramses renewed the charge, finally producing serious discomfiture in the enemy's line at this point. Had the mass of the Hittite chariotry now swept in upon his rear from the west and south he must certainly have been lost. But to his great good fortune his camp had fallen into the hands of these troops and, dismounting from their chariots, they had thrown disciple to the winds as they gave themselves up to the rich plunder. Thus engaged, they were suddenly fallen upon by a body of Ramses' "recruits" who may possibly have marched in from the coast to join his army at Kadesh. At any rate, they did not belong to either of the southern divisions. They completely surprised the plundering Asitics in the camp and slew them to a man.

304. The sudden offensive of, Ramses along the river and the unexpected onslaught of the "recruits" must have considerably dampened the ardour of the Hittite attack giving the Pharaoh an opportunity to recover himself. These newly arrived "recruits," together with the returning fugitives from the, unharmed but scattered division of Amon, so augmented his power, that even though Metella now sent in his reserves of a thousand chariots, the Pharaoh, by prodigies. of personal valour, still kept his scanty forces together, till the belated division of Ptah arrived on the field as evening drew on. Caught between the opposing lines, the Hittite chariotry was driven into the city, probably with considerable loss, and Ramses was saved. What made the issue a success for Ramses was his salvation from utter destruction, and that he eventually held possession of the field added little practical advantage. His losses were doubtless much heavier than those of the enemy, and he was glad enough to lead his shattered forces back to Egypt. None of his records makes any claim that he captured Kadesh, as is so frequently stated in the current histories (BAR, III, 298-351; BK).

305. Once safely extricated from the perilous position into which his rashness had betrayed him, Ramses was very proud of his exploit at Kadesh. On the temple walls at Abu Simbel, at the Ramesseum, his mortuary temple at Thebes, at Luxor, Karnak, Abydos and probably on other buildings now perished, his artists executed a vast series of vivacious reliefs depicting Ramses' camp, the flight of his sons, the Pharaoh's furious charge down to the river, and the arrival of the recruits who rescued the camp, all accompanied by numerous explanatory inscriptions. These sculptures are better known to modern travellers in Egypt than any other like monuments in the country. They are twice accompanied by a report on the battle which reads like an official document. There early arose a poem on the battle, of which we shall later have more to say. These sources have enabled us to trace with certainty the manoeuvres which led up to the battle of Kadesh, the first battle in history which can be so studied. We see that already in the thirteenth century B.C. the commanders of the time understood the value of placing troops advantageously before battle. The immense superiority to be gained by clever manoeuvres masked, from the enemy, was clearly comprehended by the Hittite. king when he executed the first flank movement of which we hear in the early orient; and the plains of Syria, already at that remote epoch, witnessed notable examples of that supposedly modern science, which was brought to such perfection by Napoleon,-the science of winning the victory before the battle (BAR, III, 298-351; BK)

306. Arrived in Thebes, Ramses enjoyed the usual triumph in the state temple, but the moral effect of his return to Egypt immediately after the battle without. even laying siege to Kadesh, was immediately evident, among the dynasts of Syria and Palestine, who now revolted. The rising spread southward to the very gates of Ramses' frontier forts in the northeastern Delta. We see him, therefore, obliged to begin again at the very bottom to rebuild the Egyptian empire in Asia and recover by weary campaigns even the territory which his father had won. It was not until his eighth year, after three years spent in recovering Palestine, that, Ramses was again pushing down the valley of the Orontes, where he must have finally succeeded in dislodging the Hittites. In Naharin he conquered the country as far as Tunip, which he also reduced and placed a statue of himself there. But the Hittites soon stirred the region to further revolt, and Ramses again, found them in Tunip, which he retook by storm. His lists credit him with having subdued Naharin, lower Retenu (North Syria), Arvad, the Keftyew, and Ketne in the Orontes valley. It is thus evident that Ramses' ability and tenacity as a soldier had now really endangered the Hittite empire in Syria, although it is very uncertain whether he succeeded in holding these northern conquests (BAR, III, 355-360; 364-366).

307.When he had been thus campaigning probably some fifteen years, Metella, the Hittite king, either died in battle or at the hands of a rival, and his brother, Khetasar (cuneiform Hattusil), who succeeded him, proposed to the Pharaoh a permanent peace and a treaty of alliance. In Ramses' twenty-first year (1272 B. C.) Khetasar's messengers bearing the treaty reached the Egyptian court, now in the Delta. Having been drafted in advance and accepted by representatives of the two countries, it was now in its final form, in eighteen paragraphs inscribed on a silver tablet. It then proceeded to review the former relations between the two countries, passed then to a general definition of the present pact, and thus to its special stipulations. Of these the most important were: the renunciation by both rulers of all projects of conquest against the other, the reaffirmation of the former treaties existing between the two countries, a defensive alliance involving the assistance of each against the other's foes; co-operation in the chastisement of delinquent subjects, probably in Syria; and the extradition of political fugitives and immigrants. A codicil provides for the humane treatment of these last. Two transcripts of the treaty have been found at Thebes, engraved upon temple walls, and last summer (1906) the Hittite copy in Babylonian cuneiform on a clay tablet, was found at Boghaz-Koi in Asia Minor (Note X; BAR, III, 375, 1. 10; 373; 367-391).

308. It will be noticed that the treaty nowhere refers to the boundary recognized by both countries in Syria. It is difficult to form any idea of the location of this boundary. It is not safe to affirm that Ramses had permanently advanced the boundary of his father's kingdom in Asia, save probably on the coast, where he carved two more stelae on the rocks near Berut, beside that of his fourth year (p. 303). Thirteen years later (1259 B. C.) the Hittite king himself visited Egypt to consummate the marriage of his eldest daughter as the wife of Ramses. His visit was depicted before Ramses' temple at Abu Simbel, with accompanying narrative inscriptions, while the Hittite princess was given a prominent position at court and a statue beside her royal husband in Tanis. Court poets celebrated the event and pictured the Hittite king as sending to the king of Kode and summoning him to join in the journey to Egypt that they might do honour to the Pharaoh. The occurrence made a popular impression also, and a tale, which was not put into writing, so far as we know, until Greek times, began with the marriage and told how afterward, at the request of her father, an image of the Theban Khonsu was sent to the land of the princess, that the god's power might drive forth the evil spirits' from her afflicted sister. The friendly relations between the two kingdoms prospered, and it is even probable that Ramses received a second daughter of Khetasar in marriage. Throughout Ramses' long reign the treaty remained unbroken and the peace continued at least into the reign of his successor, Merneptah (BAR, III, 392; 394-424; 416 f.; 425 ; 427 f.; 429-447).

309. From the day of the peace compact with Khetasar, Ramses was never called upon to enter the field again. Unimportant revolts in Nubia, and a Libyan campaign, often vaguely referred to on his monuments, did not require the Pharaoh's personal leadership.

310. With the Asiatic campaigns of Ramses II the military aggressiveness of Egypt which had been awakened under Ahmose I in the expulsion of the Hyksos was completely exhausted. Nor did it ever revive, Henceforward for a long time the Pharaoh's army is but a weapon of defense against foreign aggression; a Weapon, however, which he was himself unable to control,-and before which the venerable line of Re Was finally to disappear (BAR, III, 448-491).