The Battle of Kadesh & the First Peace Treaty

The Battle of Kadesh & the First Peace Treaty

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Ramesses II (The Great, 1279-1213 BCE) ruled Egypt for 67 years and, today, the Egyptian landscape still bears testimony to the prosperity of his reign in the many temples and monuments he had built in honor of his conquests and accomplishments. There is virtually no ancient site in Egypt which does not mention the name of Ramesses II and his account of his victory at The Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE is legendary. Among his greatest moments as pharaoh, however, is not an act of war but one of peace: the signing of the first peace treaty in history.

While there does exist an earlier treaty, known as the Treaty of Mesilim, between the Mesopotamian cities of Umma and Lagash, dated to 2550 BCE, scholarly consensus rejects this as an actual peace treaty and defines it as a Treaty of Delimitation (meaning a treaty which sets borders or boundaries). Further, as the Treaty of Mesilim is actually a written agreement between the gods of Umma and Lagash, and not between the rulers of the city or those rulers' representatives, it cannot be considered an actual peace treaty. The Treaty of Kadesh of 1258 BCE, then, holds the distinction as the world's first peace treaty.

The HittiTe Threat

In the fifth year of his reign, young Pharaoah Ramesses II marched from his city of Per-Ramesses ("House of Ramesses") toward Syria to secure the city of Kadesh, a valuable stop on the trade routes of the day. The Hittite king Muwatalli II (1295-1272 BCE) had been making regular incursions into Egyptian territory for some time and, having now fortified Kadesh, had become more of a threat than a nuisance to Ramesses II.

The Hittites of Anatolia had been growing in power since the 2nd millenium BCE until, around 1530 BCE, they had replaced Babylonia as a kingdom of note and began testing the strength of their neighbor-country Egypt. Letters of intent had been sent to the pharaoh Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE) of the 18th dynasty but he had failed to ever reply or take any notice of Hittite activity along his borders. Akhenaten's general Horemheb (who would reign as pharaoh 1320-1292 BCE) had campaigned unsuccessfully against the Hittites and, by the time of the rule of Tutankhamun (Akhenaten's successor in 1336 BCE) they had grown even more powerful and were bold enough to fortify regions on or near Egypt's borders.

When Horemheb became pharaoh in 1320 BCE he initiated a more aggressive policy against the Hittites and secured Egypt's borders but never conclusively resolved the problem of Hittite incursions. Seti I (c. 1290-1279 BCE) had secured Palestine and Kadesh for Egypt but, content with the victory, had made no provision for holding the city. Now Ramesses II, of the 19th dynasty, had to deal with the problem of Hittite invasion and, in 1274 BCE, assembled his forces at Per-Ramesses to drive the Hittites from Kadesh and break the strength of their army.

Ramesses on the March

Riding in his chariot at the head of four divisions (20,000 men) Ramesses II, completely confident of victory, marched his first division in such haste that he soon outdistanced the other three. Nearing Kadesh, two bedouins were taken prisoner and interrogated as to the whereabouts of Muwatalli II and his army, answering that the army was no where near Kadesh and that Muwatalli II feared the might of Egypt and the young pharaoh. The bedouins were actually spies, however, planted by the Hittites, and Muwatalli II had already fortified Kadesh and his chariots (3,500 of them) and infantry (37,000 men) were waiting just over the next hill.

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Ramesses rode in his chariot at the head of 20,000 men, completely confident of victory.

According to some reports of the battle, Ramesses II captured some other spies who revealed the unpleasant truth of his situation but the intelligence came too late. In his zeal to capture Kadesh and conquer the Hittite king, Ramesses II had cut himself off from the rest of his army. He hastily sent messengers to the other three divisions just before the Hittite chariots crashed into his camp. Ramesses II describes his situation in the Poem of Pentaur which, along with the Bulletin, gives the Egyptian account of the battle:

Not one of my princes, of my chief men and my great, Was with me, not a captain, not a knight; For my warriors and chariots had left me to my fate, Not one was there to take his part in fight…Here I stand, All alone; There is no one at my side, My warriors and chariots afeared, Have deserted me, none heard My voice, when to the cravens I, their king, for succor, cried. But I find that Amun's grace Is better far to me than a million fighting men and ten thousand chariots be.

The Ptah Division arrived in time to prevent a complete rout of the Egyptian army and Ramesses II personally led the remains of the Amun division repeatedly into battle, driving the Hittite forces back to the Orontes river where many drowned. At this point Muwatalli II only needed to march from the walls of Kadesh to trap Ramesses II's forces between his army by the river and his advance but, for reasons unknown, he decided to remain in the city and never committed his reserve troops to battle.

Egyptian Victory

Ramesses II claimed a great victory at Kadesh and had a scribe take down his account of the glorious battle; Muwatalli II's account differed considerably, most notably in that he set down Kadesh as a Hittite victory. While Ramesses II failed to achieve his objective of capturing the city, he did break the Hittite army on the field and, while Muwatalli II retained control of Kadesh, he failed to crush the Egyptians as he hoped to. One reason for this failure, aside from his strange unwillingness to commit his reserve troops, was the faster and more agile two-man Egyptian chariot as compared with the three-man, heavier, Hittite vehicle.

After the death of Muwatalli II, Hattusili III (died 1237 BCE) took the throne of the Hittite Empire and it was under his reign that the world's first peace treaty was signed in 1258 BCE reading, in part,

Ramesses, the great king, the king of the country of Egypt, shall never attack the country of Hatti to take possession of a part (of this country). And Hattusili, the great king, the king of the country of Hatti, shall never attack the country of Egypt to take possession of a part (of that country).

The Battle of Kadesh, today considered a draw for both sides, was the beginning of the end of hostilities between the two nations in that, eventually, the two kings came to realize neither could substantially gain advantage of the other and the best course to choose was the path of peace. The Hittites and Egyptians then entered into a new relationship with each other in which they shared their knowledge and experience instead of exchanging blows on the battlefield.

The Hittities were skilled in metalwork and taught the Egyptians how to make superior weapons and tools while the Egyptians, masters of agriculture, shared their knowledge with the Hittites. The two nations would continue a mutually beneficial relationship until the fall of the Hittite Empire c. 1200 BCE through the combined, and relentless, attacks by the Sea Peoples, the Assyrians, and the tribe known as the Kaska. The peaceful and productive relationship between the two nations, however, enabled both to improve the lives of their people and the economies of the country instead of wasting their resources on war.

Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty

The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, also known as the Eternal Treaty or the Silver Treaty, is the only Ancient Near Eastern treaty for which the versions of both sides have survived. It is also the earliest known surviving peace treaty. It is sometimes called the Treaty of Kadesh, after the well-documented Battle of Kadesh that had been fought some 16 years earlier, although Kadesh is not mentioned in the text. Both sides of the treaty have been the subject of intensive scholarly study. [A] The treaty itself did not bring about a peace in fact, "an atmosphere of enmity between Hatti and Egypt lasted many years" until the eventual treaty of alliance was signed. [1]

The Egyptian Kadesh inscriptions were displayed on large temple inscriptions since antiquity they were first translated by Champollion, but it was not until 1858 that they were identified with the Hittites mentioned in the Bible. [2] In 1906, Hugo Winckler's excavations in Anatolia identified cuneiform tablets which corresponded with the Egyptian text. [B]

Translation of the texts revealed that this engraving was originally translated from silver tablets given to each side, which have since been lost.

The Egyptian version of the peace treaty was engraved in hieroglyphics on the walls of two temples belonging to Pharaoh Ramesses II in Thebes: the Ramesseum and the Precinct of Amun-Re at the Temple of Karnak. [C] The scribes who engraved the Egyptian version of the treaty included descriptions of the figures and seals that were on the tablet that the Hittites delivered. [3]

The Hittite version was found in the Hittite capital of Hattusa, now in Turkey, and is preserved on baked clay tablets uncovered among the Hittite royal palace's sizable archives. Two of the Hittite tablets are displayed at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, while the third is displayed in the Berlin State Museums in Germany. [4] A copy of the treaty is prominently displayed on a wall in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. [5] [6]


The New Kingdom of Egypt was formed in around 1550 BC after the Egyptians managed to expel the foreign Hyksos rulers. This era was to last for almost 500 years and was arguably the most prosperous period in Egyptian history. Although the Eighteenth Dynasty had some famous rulers, Egypt started to lose territory in northern Syria. The first rulers of the Nineteenth Dynasty, Ramses I and Seti I, attempted to restore Egypt&rsquos empire to the great days of the Thutmosis pharaohs.

While Seti captured Kadesh, it lapsed back into Hittite control as that kingdom continued the incursions into Egyptian territory that had begun back in the 15th century BC. Ramses II, son of Seti, became pharaoh in 1279 BC and vowed to regain Kadesh.

Great Pillared Hall at Ramses II Temple Abu Simnel. Ancient Origins

His main goal was to permanently drive the Hittites away from Egyptian borders and believed the capture of Kadesh would help him achieve his ambition. Kadesh was known as a great center of commerce at the time and if Egypt could reclaim it, the empire would benefit from increased trade and would also increase its borders.

Ramses II statue in British Museum. Wikipedia Commons

The main reason why the Battle of Kadesh is such a momentous conflict is that it was the largest chariot battle of all time and became part of the legend of Ramses II. Egypt had expanded its territory significantly during the New Kingdom and was arguably at its greatest extent during the reign of Thutmose III. Much of its success was based on the skill of its charioteers.

When used correctly, the chariot was a phenomenal weapon at the time. It was used to transport an army&rsquos elite warriors, fire weaponry on the move, charge enemy positions, and polish off the remnants of a fleeing army. Egyptian chariots were fast, versatile and easy to maneuver. They were normally pulled by two horses and had one driver. In some cases, one or two soldiers with bows and up to 100 arrows would also be on board.

Soldiers may also have been armed with javelins and curved swords, so they were effective at a distance or close range. At Kadesh, the Egyptians faced a formidable enemy. While Ramses had approximately 2,000 chariots at his disposal, the Hittites had anywhere from 2,500 to 3,700. Overall, there were probably over 5,000 chariots on the battlefield and anywhere between 40,000 and 70,000 soldiers.

Just history.

Egypt and the Hittites had been warring over the area around Kadesh for years. The last major battle was in 1274 BCE and Pharaoh Ramesses II and Hittite emperor Muwatallis fought to a draw. Both sides sustained heavy losses, but neither side could claim total victory. However, both sides did claim victory in their various propaganda.

There were skirmishes south by the Hittites against the Egyptians over the next fifteen years, but neither side gained a distinct advantage. These were finally decided by a treaty signed by both Ramesses II and Hattusili III, the new king of the Hittites. Historians place the signing of the treaty around 1259 BCE. This was the first known peace treaty in the Near East and the first written peace treaty to survive.

This treaty outlined peaceful relations between the two superpowers. Ramesses II’s acceptance along with the terms were inscribed on a silver tablet. In Egypt, the treaty was written in hieroglyphics on the walls of the temples. In Hatti, the treaty was written in cuneiform and preserved in the royal archives.

A copy of the treaty was found in the village of Hattusas in the early 1900s. Two of these are displayed Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul. The third is on display at the Berlin State Museum. A copy of the treaty hangs in the halls of the UN.

The Peace Treaty of Kadesh

King Muwatalli II chooses to retreat to the city of Kadesh. Both parties claimed to be victorious, King Ramses II was able to outsmart the Hittite army and saw himself as the winner and King Muwatalli was able to safeguard the city of Kadesh so he viewed himself as the winner. Many historians claim the battle of Kadesh was a draw between the two parties and after fifteen years of the battle of Kadesh and the two nations agreed that the path of peace was the ideal choice.

During the year of 1258 BCE, the throne of the Hittite empire was passed from Muwatalli II to his son Hattuslili III who chooses to sign a peace & delimitation treaty with Ramses II. Based on the newly signed treaty both the Egyptians and the Hittites opened trade relations and exchanged technological and agricultural expertise as the Hittites taught the Egyptians how to make more superior weapons and tools as they were skilled in metalwork and the Egyptians taught them the art of agriculture which improved the economical & livelihood of the people of both nations for many centuries to come.

More than three thousand years ago, Ramses II, the Egyptian pharaoh, and the Emperor Hattusilis III concluded one of the oldest peace treaties in the history of the world. The peace treaty ended the Egyptian Hittite war that lasted more than 80 years. The two ancient superpowers finally ended the war with the treaty in 1276 BC. While the treaty was not the first in the history of the world, it is the oldest known that was concluded between two independent states with equal power and status. A bronze replica of the treaty can be seen in the United Nations building in New York, reflecting the milestone document. It is considered one of the prime examples in diplomatic history.

The Battle for Syria

The Egyptian Hittite Treaty ended the long war between the two empires. In the center of the war was the land that both the Egyptians and the Hittite wanted to rule. The land is nowadays known as Syria, and the war shows the geopolitical value of the country even three centuries ago. For more than two centuries, the empires fought for supremacy over Syria. However, the conflict culminated with the Egyptian invasion on Syria in 1274 BC.

The Reason for War

The battle and conflict between the Hittite and the Egyptian empire lasted for two centuries before even Ramses II become a pharaoh. However, the conflict escalated in the fifth year of the young pharaoh’s reign. Ramses II wanted to take control of the city of Kadesh, located near the Orontes River. It was strategic target for Ramses, as Kadesh was an important stop for all trade routes in the region. The city was under control of the Hittite Empire, and Ramses II was afraid that by holding the city, the Hittite present a threat to his empire. The Hittite Empire was growing in power, and had already replaced Babylonia as a kingdom. The Battle of Kadesh is the last direct and official military confrontation between the two empires. After the battle, which was considered a draw for both sides, since both suffered enormous amount of casualties, the two sides started negotiating. The conflict lasted for 15 more years, and the period is nowadays considered as “cold war between the Hittite and the Egyptian empire”.

The Battle of Kadesh

Ramses II attacked the city with four divisions and used his resources to brag that he achieved victory in the battle. However, the Hittite King at the time gathered troops from his allies and was able to withstand ground. Ramses II made a crucial mistake, outdistancing his troops, after hearing reports that Hittite forces were far behind. However, the Hittite army, hidden behind the town, managed to launch a surprise attack and destroy one of Ramses strongest divisions. Ramses rallied his troops, and with the help from the Amurru troops he managed to rally. The next day, Ramses failed to gain ground, and he headed back to Egypt, bragging about his individual achievement. Back in the time, the battle was considered won by the Egyptian empire, but Ramses lost the war. Nowadays, the battle is considered a draw in which both sides sustained heavy losses.

The treaty was ratified in Year 21 of Ramses II ruling, and therefore, the Egyptian version starts with the words “Year 21, first month of the second season, twenty-first day, under the majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Usermare-Setepnere, Son of Re: Ramses-Meriamon, given life, forever and ever, beloved of Amon-Re-Harakhte, Ptah-South-of-His-Wall, lord of "Life-of-the-Two-Lands," Mut, mistress of Ishru, and Khonsu-Neferhotep shining upon the Horus-throne of the living, like his father, Harakhte, forever and ever”.

The next paragraph shows how Ramses II pleased everyone with the signing of the treaty, stating “On this day, lo, his majesty was at the city (called): "House-of-Ramses-Meriamon," performing the pleasing ceremonies of his father, Amon-Re-Harakhte-Atum, lord of the Two Lands of Heliopolis Amon of Ramses-Meriamon, Ptah of Ramses-Meriamon, "/// great in strength, son of Mut," according as they gave to him eternity in jubilees, everlastingness in peaceful years, all lands, and all countries being prostrate beneath his sandals forever. There came the king's messenger, the deputy and butler, together with the king's messenger[bringing to the king] Ramses of [Kheta, Ter]teseb and the [second messenger (?)] of Kheta [bearing (?) a silver tablet] which the great chief of the Kheta, Khetasar (xtAsrA) [caused] to be brought to Pharaoh, L. P. H., to crave peace [fro]m [the majesty] of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ramses II, given life, forever and ever, like his father, Re, every day.

Key Points from the Treaty

The treaty itself contains more than 20 principles and obligations for both sides. However, some of the key points are the following.

The third obligation is that neither side will attack the other, and is in force till the end of time. Neither the Egyptians, nor the Hittite should and could pass the land of the other nation: “There shall be no hostilities between them, forever. The great chief of Kheta shall not pass over into the land of Egypt, forever, to take anything therefrom. Ramses-Meriamon, the great ruler of Egypt, shall not pass over into the land of Kheta, to take anything] therefrom, forever

Aside from ending the war between the two empires, the treaty also forged an alliance between the two sides in future wars with a third enemy. Obligation No.5 from the treaty states “If another enemy come against the lands of Usermare-Setepnere (Ramses II), the great ruler of Egypt, and he shall send to the great chief of Kheta, saying "Come with me as reinforcement against him," the great chief of Kheta shall [come], and the great chief of Kheta shall slay his enemy. But if it be not the desire of the great chief of Kheta to come, be shall send his infantry and his chariotry, and shall slay his enemy

The treaty also regulates whether prisoners from the one country could ask for exile in the other country. According to the treaty, no man could flee from Egypt to the land of the Kheta (Hittite territory) and vice versa. This obligation is No.11 and it states “Or if any great man shall flee from the land of Kheta, [and he shall come to] Usermare-Setepnere, the great ruler of Egypt, (from) either a town or a district, or [any region of] those belonging to the land of Kheta, and they shall come to Ramses-Meriamon, the great ruler of Egypt, then Usermare-Setepnere, the great ruler of Egypt, shall not receive them, (but) Ramses-Meriamon, the great ruler of Egypt, shall cause them to be brought to the great chief of Kheta. They shall not be settled”.

Interesting Facts

While the treaty has huge historic value, there are many interesting facts that make the treaty special.

- The treaty is often referred as the Treaty of Kadesh. However, the word Kadesh and the battle of Kadesh is never mentioned in the treaty. One assumption for the reference is that the battle was the turning point after which the parties started negotiating

- The two emperors, Ramses II and Hattusilis III never met in person. The whole treaty was negotiated between intermediaries

- The treaty was in force for just eight years. Eight years after the treaty was signed, the Hittite Empire collapsed, thus ending the treaty

- The negotiations started after the battle of Kadesh, but the conflict lasted for 15 more years. The treaty was finally ratified by both sides in 1258 BC.

The Kadesh Peace Treaty and Translating Peace: A Conversation with Anthony Spalinger and Veysel Donbaz

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This year marks the centenary of the Paris Peace Conference and the Versailles Peace Treaty signed between the Allied nations and Germany. We do not know if the signatories or architects of the Versailles Peace Treaty knew about the world’s first international peace treaty, the Kadesh Peace Treaty. The Egyptian and Akkadian versions were discovered in the decades before the war, and the full text of the tablets was published after 1912. Today, this three-thousand-year-old treaty can enlighten us about what it means for nations to agree on and craft a language of peace, in this case migrating between Hittite, Akkadian, and Egyptian, to make peace. To get some insight into the world’s first international peace treaty, written in Egyptian and Akkadian, I asked Egyptologist Anthony Spalinger and Assyriologist Veysel Donbaz about Kadesh and the language of peacemaking in the Late Bronze Age .

Iclal Vanwesenbeeck : We call this treaty the Kadesh Peace Treaty today. Did the Hittites or the Egyptians name the treaty?

Veysel Donbaz: The text is named rikilti—“treaty, pact” (between states)—from the Akkadian verb rakāsu—“to bind”—and kešda in Sumerian. The Egyptian copy also attests to it as a treaty.

Anthony Spalinger: There’s no official title, I am afraid, outside of the definition of what the agreement was—namely a “treaty.” But no additional nomenclature was given. But a parity treaty: a treaty between two equal parties. The remaining extant Hittite treaties, despite individual clauses, are all unequal—that is, the Hittite king is superior to the other country/person (land, vassal, etc.).

Vanwesenbeeck : Is this what we’d call today an international peace treaty? I am asking because the Hittites and the Egyptians were the superpowers of the Late Bronze Age, and the Kadesh treaty is, in that regard, a parity treaty between two of the most powerful empires in international politics.

Spalinger: Yes, absolutely. It was a result of the lengthy Egyptian-Hittite conflict that began under Ramesses II’s father, Seti I, and was prolonged for fifteen years or so in the later reign of his son, Ramesses II.

Donbaz: In a sense, yes, because it was prepared exactly like modern treaties giving priority to the country of origin to be mentioned first. This tradition did not start with the Kadesh Treaty much earlier than this particular era, there were at least fourteen treaties known drawn up beginning with Šuppiluliuma I with the neighboring countries Kizzuwatna, Hayasa, Ugarit, Amurru, Mitanni with Muršili Ugarit, Hapalla, Kupanta-Kurunta, Manapa-Kurunta with Muwatalli II, Wiluša, and Aleppo then comes the treaty between Hattušili III of Hatti and Ramesses II of Egypt.

Vanwesenbeeck : Can we talk about a shared spoken language between the Egyptians and the Hittites that is perhaps analogous to English today? How did they carry out their diplomatic relations, for instance?

The treaty is in the lingua franca of the age—Akkadian—and written on silver (and also on clay tablets—the extant Hittite copies)

Spalinger: Good question. The treaty is in the lingua franca of the age—Akkadian—and written on silver (and also on clay tablets—the extant Hittite copies). In Egypt there were for a long time resident foreigners, scribes we might call them, but better considered to be resident foreigners working in the Egyptian chancellery. At the time of Ramesses II they would be at the Egyptian capital in the north (Avaris = Tell el Dab’a). I suspect that they were partly intermarried with Egyptians, but we have no proof of this. The use of cuneiform for the royal chancellery of Egypt can be confidently dated to the reign of Thutmose III (ca. mid-Dynasty XVIII). And the script (ductus) was not Akkadian. So these residents appear to have come from Asia Minor. I always consider them to be like a “foreign guild” or a “clan of ex-patriots,” permanently living in Egypt at the capital with rather close connections to the royal residence.

Donbaz: The Hittites were in frequent contact with Egypt (for medicine and treatment especially) they had their contact with the help of a foreign language, and it is therefore a well-known fact that they had adopted the Babylonian script in their diplomatic and diverse relations, despite the fact that at that time the Old Assyrian script was very well known and was in usage in Kültepe, Alişar, and Boğazköy .

Vanwesenbeeck : Is there such a genre as peace treaty writing in the ancient Near East? In other words, is the Kadesh treaty, linguistically and structurally speaking, separate from other diplomatic writings?

Spalinger: Yes. It is a parity treaty. Some things are common with other Hittite treaties (fugitives and what to do with them), but the equality makes it unique. And although there are Hittite treaties with Eastern peoples (Syria, for example), writing in Akkadian is typically expected. It is the norm and the lingua franca.

Vanwesenbeeck : The preamble of the Kadesh Peace Treaty mentions the word peace. What do they really mean by peace? And did the treaty bring peace?

Spalinger: It meant the end of any hostility. No cold war as well. Respect of each other’s limits. For eternity (as expected!). It was a very effective peace treaty. We have new correspondence between the Hittite queens and Egyptians in the post-Kadesh period, for instance.

Donbaz: In general, the main aim of making peace with another country lies in the fact that they accept nonaggression, reinforcements, to aid each other when requested, and to recognize the rights of refugees belonging to friendly states (with equal lands). Peacemaking cannot always be in the same tendency and resolution. It depends on the conditions agreed upon and with whom it has been concluded.

Peacemaking cannot always be in the same tendency and resolution. It depends on the conditions agreed upon and with whom it has been concluded.

Vanwesenbeeck : What does it mean for two different peoples with different languages to make peace? Did kings use translators in those times? Did Egyptians and Hittites need translators in negotiating peace?

Donbaz: Certainly, they used translators like today. When we look at the texts we also see a great deal of diplomatic correspondence between the kings as well as queens of the relevant countries, for example letters from Queen Naptera (Nefertari) of Egypt to Queen Pudu ḫ epa of Hatti.

Spalinger: Yes, for sure. But the Egyptian diplomats to the Hittites would have had to have been bilingual in some sense. Actually, I always wonder about the linguistic abilities of the two sides’ representatives! Here, I suspect it meant people, not necessarily “pure Egyptian,” who could deal with Akkadian. I doubt if any person in Egypt understood Hittite, but with international relations—who were the Egyptian representatives at the Hittite capital? In addition, written documents require different linguistic abilities than spoken conversation between two foreigners.

Vanwesenbeeck : Who is the audience for the Kadesh Peace Treaty? Would common people be able to read or understand the texts? I am trying to understand why it might have been translated if not intended for dissemination.

Donbaz: The Hittite nation had a state archive system keeping everything in the palace at the capital. Therefore the audience was the people who were in the service of the government, having been authorized to deal with the documents under the control of the king and his subordinates. I am afraid no one could see them beside the authorized officials. Common people were supposed to be illiterate in this respect, and actually they were. For the very important matters the Hittites used the colossal hieroglyphic inscriptions out in the open air written on the stelae or rocks, for everyone to see. But how they were informed we do not know. But there was a tendency of reading out the treaties now and then in public in the open air in front of the king until he learned the conditions of the treaty. On these occasions the people must have heard of them and also been informed. Although this was mainly applied for the vassals, protectorates, and sons, nevertheless the oral communications must have had an essential role for gaining information.

Spalinger: Ah! You must mean—the present, extant hieroglyphic versions. Not the original at the capital of the Egyptians.

Donbaz: I cannot answer. At Karnak we rely on the accepted scholarly opinion that one was not allowed within all sectors of the Amun temple. But for the more public frontal areas (and no roofs!), high-level persons could go, and probably middle-level ones as well. There are no reliefs—that is, no pictures accompanying the treaty save the standard ones on the top. Yet the space given to it is large indeed. Certainly not “public” in our sense.

Vanwesenbeeck : Would common people be able to read or understand the texts?

Spalinger: Never.

Vanwesenbeeck : For instance, the refugees are a big part of the treaty. Would they have read the text in their respective languages?

Spalinger: No. Actually, how they would be personally affected is a very important question. If belonging to the “state”—that is, as administrators—they might have known about the specific clause stipulations that would affect them, but I suspect not.

Vanwesenbeeck : The cuneiform tablet in the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology is quite incomplete. How is it with the hieroglyphics? What does it mean for the text to be incomplete in a peace treaty, as you translate it?

Spalinger: The original versions were two (of course), and both in silver. We possess hieroglyphic versions of the treaty as well as cuneiform ones. None of them is an “original.” Indeed, the Egyptian version has a prologue that is not part and parcel of the original item. The Egyptian copies are set within Egyptian temples. And before that prologue the Egyptian version has a date plus the name of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Finally, the Egyptian version at the end refers to the Hittite messenger who came to Egypt with the treaty.

Donbaz: Incomplete means in cuneiform written texts that “it is broken, some parts are missing, broken away on the obverse, reverse, etc.” Sometimes the tablet and the inscription can be complete structurally but the crust could have been badly deteriorated. We can hardly speak about a shared spoken language but a shared written language that was Akkadian-dialect Babylonian. When we look at the Hittite treaties, out of thirty-four of them, nineteen were written in Hittite. Sixteen were written in Akkadian, and nine were written bilingually in the Hittite and Akkadian languages.

Vanwesenbeeck : US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, recently sponsored the Women, Peace, and Security bill that passed in 2017, and the law now requires that women be included in the peacemaking process. So, I am curious, were any women involved in the making, drafting, and translating, of this treaty, 3,278 years ago?

More than a hundred letters are known to have been exchanged between Queen Pudu ḫ epa and Ḫ attušili of Hatti and Ramesses II of Egypt (including their legitimate sons), mostly written in Akkadian.

Donbaz: More than a hundred letters are known to have been exchanged between Queen Pudu ḫ epa and Ḫ attušili of Hatti and Ramesses II of Egypt (including their legitimate sons), mostly written in Akkadian. Very few documents have come to light from the Boğazköy archives, which were most likely draft copies written in Hittite. The Hittite queen Pudu ḫ epa is well known to have had direct correspondence with Ramesses II, exchanging letters between them. In a letter from Queen Pudu ḫ epa of Hatti to Ramesses II of Egypt, she calls him her brother, and in one place in her letter (lines 7–16 of reverse) she informs him that “when the messengers traveled to visit the daughter of Babylonia who had been given to Egypt, they were left standing outside Enlil-bēl-nīše, messenger of the King of Babylonia, told [me] this information—should I not have written of it to my brother. . . . Because I already know, I certainly will not do anything displeasing to my brother. Now I know that Egypt and Hatti will become a single country. Even if there is not [now] a treaty with Egypt, the Queen knows thereby how [you] will conclude it out of consideration for my dignity.” [i]

Ramesses II writes her back, saying, “The Sun-god and the Storm-god will give us brotherhood and peace, even in this good relationship in which we find ourselves forever. And our messengers will travel continuously between us forever, fostering brotherhood and peace.” [ii] Line 62 mentions a fact that is mostly gone on the document, mentioning a name of an interpreter: “And [——]-ri, the interpreter, also said the same thing about this situation.” Obviously, it is clear that these letters have been exchanged before the drawing up of the treaty in 1276 BCE. These passages show clearly that there were traveling envoys, messengers, and interpreters between them. One may see the big role of the women in the preparation of the treaty, even if they were not closely involved in the making, drafting, and translating of this treaty, beyond Queen Pudu ḫ epa. She must have had invested a lot of time, effort, and energy in this respect, for she has put her seal on the reverse of the document as the princess of the land of Hatti along with her other epithets.


In the 15th century BCE, the two heavyweight powers in Mesopotamia were the Hittite Empire and the Egyptian New Kingdom. After consolidating control of Egypt the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt aggressively pressed out to firm up and expand their borders. These military efforts pushed Egypt’s armies north along the Mediterranean coast through the Levant and into modern day Syria.

This aggressive military push put Egypt in direct conflict with the powerful Hittites who did not respect Egypt’s authority or borders, especially to the point where it had grown. During this period, towns and cities along the new Egypt and Hittite border often exchanged hands. Kadesh was one such city, a trading hub, which lay between the grips of the hungry hands of the New Kingdom and the fierce Hittites.

After a period of skirmish and territorial exchange, it was decided by the Egyptian ruler Ramses II that Egypt would make a definitive push to recapture Kadesh once and for all and shore up the porous border with the Hittites.

Unlike previous campaigns, the pharaoh made for this one to be a decisive blow and amassed a great as force as he was able to march on Kadesh and seize it permanently for Egypt.

On the other side, the Hittite king Muwatallis had no intentions of letting the strategic city fall into Egyptian hands and allowing the upstart New Kingdom from solidifying their power on the Hittite border.

Success or Stalemate?

Some of the Hittites managed to swim across their river and make their way to Kadesh where they remained holed up behind the walls. Ramses did not have the manpower or inclination to launch a siege, so he retreated to Damascus and eventually back to Egypt. He claimed a victory because he had forced the enemy from the battlefield. In ancient times, the amount of plunder an army could muster was another sign of success. After Kadesh, the Egyptians captured 1,000 Hittite chariots which were probably coated in precious metals.

Meanwhile, the Hittites claimed victory because they managed to keep hold of Kadesh. This little fact didn&rsquot stop Ramses from declaring the battle as a great personal achievement. In many ways, it was a success for Ramses because he had recovered from a disastrous early blunder which almost resulted in total defeat and his death. It was also a success because the Egyptians used their new lighter two-man chariots to great effect. These lightning-fast chariots were able to take down the larger three-man versions from behind.

The fighting between the Egyptians and Hittites lasted for another 16 years. Soon after Kadesh, Muwatalli went south and captured Upi, an Egyptian province. After handling revolts in Canaan, Ramses resumed his military campaign against the Hittites and captured the cities of Tunip and Dapur. However, he lost both cities within a year, and even another victory at Dapur was meaningless as he was unable to defeat the Hittites decisively.

It was becoming clear to both sides that the long and draining war was unlikely to come to a clear conclusion one way or the other. In the end, the two sides signed a peace treaty at Kadesh in 1258 BC, the first known treaty of its kind in history. The original treaty was engraved on a silver tablet, and a clay copy is currently on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Although Ramses didn&rsquot ‘win&rsquo the Battle of Kadesh, his supposed heroics became part of his legend, and he was to rule Egypt for an incredible 66 years. In the modern era, he is regarded as one of the greatest and most powerful pharaohs in Egyptian history.

Battle of Kadesh

Thirty-three hundred years ago, below the sun-drenched walls of Kadesh, the Egyptian and Hittite empires fought for control of the land now known as Syria in the first battle about which modern man has detailed contemporary accounts.

For the first 100 generations of its recorded history, the kingdom of Egypt had been very nonmilitant. Except for the occasional civil war and skirmishing for control of Nubia, Egypt experienced little military action. At one point during the Middle Kingdom, the king felt so secure that he sent his personal bodyguard to Nubia on semipermanent garrison duty.

Egypt had no need for a strong military because the deserts to the east and west, and the Mediterranean to the north, protected her from invasion. To the south, the Egyptians ruled Nubia as a conquered province. The Egyptians believed they already possessed the richest lands in the known world, so they had no desire for conquest.

That era of peace and tranquility ended with what historians call the ‘Second Intermediate Period.’ By 1700 bc the Hyksos (‘Rulers from Foreign Lands’) had conquered Lower Egypt and extended their influence up the Nile from their capital at Avaris in the eastern delta. A vassal prince ruled Nubia, while the kings of Upper Egypt at Thebes paid tribute to the Hyksos.

The rise of Egyptian militarism coincided with the advent of the New Kingdom. Around 1650 bc, Queen Kamose defeated the Hyksos, driving them down the Nile toward the delta. Her grandson Ahmose completed the task of driving the Hyksos from Egypt when he took Avaris in 1590 bc, then pursued them to Sharuhen, in Palestine, which he besieged and destroyed.

The war against the Hyksos whetted the Egyptian appetite for battle. Around 1500 bc, Thutmose I marched as far north as Syria. Later, after winning a resounding victory at the Battle of Megiddo in 1483, Thutmose III established the Egyptian empire with a border in southern Syria.

Thutmose III was ancient Egypt’s greatest military leader. His immediate successors, though less brilliant, were capable enough to maintain the borders of the empire. During the reigns of the succeeding kings, Egypt’s enemies either seized lands adjacent to those borders or weakened the bonds between the Egyptian king and his vassal rulers. Egypt’s reigning monarch was identified by his palace, the High House, or Peron, which evolved into the modern term ‘pharaoh.’

Historians tout the reign of Akhenaten (1372-1354 bc) for the advances made in the concept of monotheism. For the Egyptian empire, however, his reign was a disaster. At the same time that Akhenaten was concentrating on religious reform — and virtually ignoring international affairs — a threat to Egypt’s empire arose from the Anatolian plateau of modern Turkey.

About 1740 bc Tudhaliyas I had re-established the city of Hattusas (near modern Boghazköy, Turkey). Despite the fact that King Anittas of Kussara had destroyed the town about 1900 bc and had placed a curse on the site, the Hittite kings traced their ancestry back to him.

Less than 100 years later, King Labarnas united neighboring city-states to form the Hittite empire. At first the king was answerable to a council of nobles, the Pankus, but civil war later led to the concentration of power in the king’s hands.

Early in the 14th century bc, Suppiluliumas I (1375-1355 bc) created a new Hittite empire by defeating Kaska and Arxawa and eventually absorbing the Mitanni, an Asiatic people of whom little is known, save that they had constituted the backbone of resistance to Egyptians during the reigns of Thutmose I and III. As the Mitanni fought the Egyptians to the south, the Hittites advanced against the Mitanni from the north. The Mitanni threw back the initial Hittite advance, but increasing pressure from the north eventually pushed the Mitanni into an alliance with the Egyptians. A daughter of the Mitanni king even became one of Thutmose III’s wives.

The Egyptian-Mitanni alliance maintained the balance of power in Asia Minor for 30 years, but all that changed during the reign of Akhenaten. The assassination of Mitanni King Tushratta resulted in civil war among aspirants to his throne. Hittite King Suppiluliumas quickly took advantage of the situation when the Mitanni crown prince, Mattiwaza, fled to the Hittites for protection. Suppiluliumas married his daughter to Mattiwaza, then forced the remainder of the Mitanni kingdom to accept him as king. That change put the Mitanni into the Hittite sphere of influence and tilted the balance of power.

With Hittite influence in the area growing, other vassal states of Egypt revolted, forcing the second king of the 19th Dynasty, Seti I, to make a foray into Syria to try to re-establish Egyptian influence. His success was only temporary. As soon as Seti I returned to Egypt, the Hittite king, Mursilis II, marched south to take the town of Kadesh on the Orontes River. Once taken, Kadesh became the strongpoint of the Hittite defenses in Syria, although the Hittites ruled through a viceroy in Carchemish.

In spite of their aggressive activities in expanding their political influence in Asia Minor, the Hittite kings actually tried to avoid a direct confrontation with the Egyptians. They paid tribute to the Egyptian king, and avoided attacking Egyptians lands.

Nevertheless, the two powers were on a collision course, and war finally erupted as the result of the political maneuvering of Ramses II, who succeeded his father, Seti, in 1301 bc, at age 20. Early in his reign, Ramses convinced Prince Bentesina of Amurru to switch alliances. To protect (and to expand) that new influence, Ramses planned to invade Syria. As those plans were implemented, both Ramses and the Hittite king, Muwutallis, began raising large armies.

The bulk of the Egyptian army was infantry, raised by press gangs that roamed the Nile River valley. The principal infantry weapons were the javelin and the short sword. Every fifth man (probably an officer) carried a baton. For protection, the Egyptians wore close-fitting helmets and mailed tunics made from matting. Each man carried a shield of oxhide over a wooden frame, square at the bottom and rounded at the top. While it protected him, this heavy shield also limited the infantryman’s mobility on the battlefield.

Although Ramses’ infantrymen were mostly Egyptian — supplemented by Sardian mercenaries hired specifically for this campaign — his bowmen were almost exclusively Nubian, armed with composite bows made of laminated layers of bone and wood.

The most powerful weapon of the Bronze Age was the chariot, and the Egyptians had a small, permanent chariot force. The chariots were relatively small and light, each carrying two men — a driver and a warrior. The Egyptians viewed chariots as mobile firing platforms the driver would maneuver it about on the battlefield, while the warrior showered the enemy formation with arrows.

While the bulk of the Egyptian army was infantry, the Hittite strength lay in its own chariotry. The Hittites’ acumen in battle was the result of their rigorous training, plus their success in horse breeding and horse training. Those factors combined to give the Hittite commander more maneuverability with which to exploit opportunities as they arose on the battlefield.

The regular Hittite army was small — just a king’s bodyguard and a small force to patrol the frontiers and to put down rebellions. In time of a major conflict, however, the king was able to draw upon troops from the local population and from his vassals. Suppiluliumas I began the policy of turning conquered lands into vassal states. That practice precluded the need for large Hittite garrisons, and at the same time it allowed the king to call upon the native population for troops.

As Ramses had done, Muwutallis also filled out his ranks with mercenaries, including a group of Lycian pirates.

Muwutallis organized his army into groups of 10. One officer commanded a 10-man unit, 10 of those units formed a group, and then 10 groups formed an even larger group, and so on. The Hittite warriors wore pointed helmets and long robes.

The Hittite chariot had a body made of leather mounted on a wooden frame. That frame in turn was mounted between two spoked wheels, with the axle positioned farther forward than on an Egyptian chariot in order to support the weight of three men: a driver, a warrior and a shield-bearer. Although the warrior carried a curved sword, his principal weapon was the spear. The Hittites used their chariots in mass formation as a shock force to break the enemy’s infantry lines, after which the chariots, joined by the infantry, would exploit the resulting confusion to rout the enemy force.

Ramses opened his campaign in the summer of 1296 bc by seizing a port in southern Lebanon. A small Hittite army under Muwutallis advanced on the town, but Ramses drove it off.

Ramses, the arrogantly self-confident 25-year-old heir to a 1,000-year-old empire, intended to strike east from the Mediterranean to the Orontes River, which he would then follow north into Syria (in effect, emulating the successful strategy pursued by Thutmose III 100 years before). That was exactly what Muwutallis wanted Ramses to do, however. An experienced campaigner then into the 20th year of his reign, the Hittite king planned to draw the Egyptians as deep into his territory as he could before engaging them in battle.

Ramses organized his army into six distinct units. The majority of the men were in four divisions, each named after an Egyptian god: Amon, Re, Ptah, and Set. Each division was a combined arms unit of 9,000 men — chariots, infantry and bowmen. The fifth unit was made up of Ramses’ personal bodyguard. The last unit was a group of Canaanites (the Na’arum). Little is known about them, but they apparently were an auxiliary or reserve force.

The two armies were almost equal in size. Ramses had more than 35,000 men in his various units. Muwutallis had 3,500 chariots (10,500 men) and 17,000 infantry, for a total of 27,500. If the Egyptians had more men, the Hittites had many times more chariots.

Ramses sent the Na’arum up the coast to seize Sumura on the Mediterranean to give him a better line of communications with his navy. With the remainder of his army, he marched east to the Orontes. Less than one day’s march from Kadesh, Ramses camped at the high (i.e., southern) end of the Buka’a Valley. At that point, the Orontes flowed through a narrow rocky gorge several hundred feet deep. The river was not crossable until it reached Shabtuna, several miles to the north. At dawn, Ramses could see Kadesh in the distance through the haze. With his bodyguard in the van, the Egyptian monarch led his army north along the east bank of the river.

Before he reached Shabtuna, Ramses’ men brought in two Shosu (Bedouins) who claimed to have been loyal vassals of Egypt conscripted into the Hittite army. They told Ramses what he wanted to hear — that Muwutallis was afraid of him and had retreated with his army toward Aleppo, far to the north.

Without bothering to put scouts out in front, Ramses pressed on ahead with just his bodyguard. In his haste to besiege Kadesh, he left his army spread out behind him through the Buka’a Valley.

The Egyptians crossed the Orontes at Shabtuna, then passed through the forest of Robaui and the clearing that lay between it and Kadesh. West of the town, they crossed a brook, el-Mukadiyek, to reach the clear ground northwest of the city. When Ramses arrived there at about 2:30 p.m., the Division of Amon was still south of Kadesh, struggling to catch up. Once that division arrived, the Egyptians erected a fortified camp, its perimeter marked by a palisade formed with the shields of the infantry.

Ramses’ confidence was shaken when a liaison squadron then brought in a pair of Hittite spies it had captured. The Egyptians forced the two to talk by beating them with sticks. They told Ramses that he had just walked into a trap: ‘Behold, the prince…has many people with him, that he has victoriously brought with him from all the countries. They are armed. They have infantry, and chariots, and weapons, and are more in number than the sands of the sea. Behold, they are in fighting order hidden behind the town of Kadesh.’

Muwutallis had indeed lured Ramses into a trap. The two Shosu who had reported the Hittites to be far away actually had been sent by the Hittite king for the purpose of lulling Ramses into a false sense of security. Ramses then compounded his problem by allowing his army to become spread out.

Instead of being far to the north, the Hittites were within striking distance, just east of Kadesh. Only a few hours earlier, in fact, the entire Hittite force had been camped on the very ground where Ramses’ army now camped. Why the Egyptians had not noticed evidence of that encampment is not clear today.

Although Ramses called his princes together and berated them for failing to provide him with accurate intelligence, he still was not overly concerned over the situation. The Division of Amon had arrived and was going into camp. The Division of Re was just south of Kadesh, emerging from the Forest of Robaui. Ramses had half his army present. He ordered his vizier (chief of staff) to send a messenger to bring up the Division of Ptah. With three-quarters of his army at or within marching distance of Kadesh, he was confident there was little to worry about. What Ramses did not realize was that his divided army was, in fact, teetering on the brink of disaster.

Earlier in the day, the Hittites had withdrawn out of sight east of Kadesh. Then as Ramses arrived at the town, Muwutallis advanced in two sections. The Hittite king’s main force, including the majority of his chariots, swung left to cross the Orontes River south of Kadesh, to strike at the rear of the Egyptian army. Muwutallis himself, with the infantry and a reserve force of 1,000 three-man chariots, swung right — intending to block the Egyptian retreat across the Orontes to the north.

As the Egyptian Division of Re marched on Kadesh, there was no sense of urgency — the king’s orders had not reached it yet, and would not arrive until it was too late. The Egyptian officers were behind the troops, still in the Forest of Robaui, as the division slowly crawled across the plain, the infantrymen trudging along with their heavy shields slung across their backs.

West of the Orontes, meanwhile, the Hittite chariots quickly spread out into attack formation, then charged. Twenty-five hundred chariots ripped into the rear of the division. Some Egyptians were killed there, others were captured. Some of the survivors fled back into the forest, but most simply ran north toward Kadesh, spreading panic through the rest of the division and making it impossible for anyone to rally it. Within minutes, the Division of Re had ceased to exist as a fighting unit.

Ramses was still berating his officers when the first refugees (including two of his sons) arrived by chariot. At last the Egyptian king realized that he faced disaster. Turning to his vizier, Ramses ordered him to go after the Division of Ptah himself the Division of Set was so far back that Ramses ignored it.

As the refugees from the Division of Re poured into Ramses’ camp, their panic spread among the Division of Amon. Its soldiers, too, joined the flight from the Hittites, leaving Ramses and his bodyguard cut off. ‘Then the infantry and chariotry fled before them, northward, to the place where his majesty was,’ wrote Ramses’ poet-historian Penator. ‘Lo, the foe…surrounded the attendants of his majesty, who were by his side.’

The vanguard of Hittite chariots crashed through the wall of Egyptian shields, but the royal bodyguard proved to be more than a match for them. Throwing themselves at the horses, some of the bodyguard dragged the chariots to a stop. That allowed other Egyptians to swarm over them, killing many Hittites.

As the Hittite assault reached its high tide, however, only one chariot in the Egyptian camp had its horses in harness for a counterattack — Ramses’ own war chariot, drawn by horses named Victory in Thebes and Mut is Satisfied. Ramses summoned his driver, Mennu, but the man was too afraid to come.

At that point, according to Penator, a humbled Ramses prayed to the god Amon for the strength and courage to save his army, and perhaps the empire, from destruction. Then, wrapping the reins about his waist to control the horses so his hands were free, Ramses singlehandedly charged the Hittites, grimly determined to restore his fortunes or die trying.

The Egyptian account says Ramses managed to ride completely around the Hittite host, returning to his own camp unharmed. The account — which was written not as an objective work of history but as a flattering tribute to Ramses’ prowess as a leader and a warrior — neglected to mention that the Hittites, who understandably believed their enemies to be totally routed, had stopped to loot the Egyptian camp. Only two groups of Hittites remained in their chariots, one on the east and another on the west flank of the main force. By the time Ramses returned to his camp, a small group of Egyptian chariotry had formed, made up of his personal bodyguard and some of the chariots recovered from the broken Divisions of Amon and Re. Ramses rallied them to charge against the Hittite force to the west. The Egyptian king quickly decided the number of chariots there was too great, however, and chose to avoid a direct engagement. Retiring back to his camp, he immediately launched an attack against the Hittite force to the east. This time his counterstroke was successful, driving the Hittites back across the Orontes. In the first few minutes of battle, the Egyptian army had all but been destroyed. Now it was the Hittites’ turn to suffer a major disaster.

The main Hittite force was still on foot, looting the Egyptian camp, when the Na’arum arrived from the west — apparently the Hittite force on the western flank had fled at their approach.

Although the Na’arum had chariots, the bulk of their force was infantry. They were equipped and trained to fight on foot, whereas the Hittites were not. With swinging swords and flying spears, the Na’arum poured into the Egyptian camp, overwhelming the Hittites. The surviving Hittites fled toward Kadesh.

Muwutallis, who up to that point had seen the battle go entirely his way, suffered a staggering setback, but he still had his reserve chariotry and his infantry. For some reason, though, Muwutallis chose to dispatch only his 1,000 chariots against Ramses’ relative handful, while he and his infantry remained on the other side of the river, an action the Egyptians attributed to cowardice.

As the Hittite chariots crossed the Orontes, Ramses changed tactics. Instead of maintaining his distance, Ramses decided to close with the enemy, a form of battle seemingly favorable to the Hittites.

Actually, Ramses wanted to use the terrain as an ally. The Hittite chariots had to cross the river and mount the riverbank to reach the plain where the Egyptians were. The Hittite chariots were most effective at battle speed. Ramses wanted to close with them before they could reach that speed. Also, by fighting them close to the river, he kept the Hittites from deploying into formation. That protected Ramses’ flanks and allowed him to fight only a fraction of the Hittite force at one time.

The Hittite chariots splashed through the river and had started up the far bank when the Egyptians descended on them. The impact drove them back into the water. Muwutallis ordered another charge. Again, the Egyptians waited until the Hittite chariots forded the river, then charged and once again drove them back. Muwutallis reorganized his ranks before sending his chariots across the river a third time, but with the same, unsuccessful result.

For almost three hours Muwutallis threw his chariots across the river, and for three hours the Egyptians, led by Ramses, drove them back. ‘Then his majesty advanced swiftly and charged into the foe of the vanquished,’ said the Egyptian chronicle. ‘At the sixth charge among them, being like Baal [the Cannite equivalent of Set, the Egyptian god of war] behind them in the hour of his might, I made slaughter among them, and there was none that escaped me.’ (It is interesting to note that while most of the Egyptian account of the battle was written in the third person, the narrative abruptly changed to the first person in the description of the last Hittite attack.)

On the Hittite side, the casualties included high-ranking figures. Soldiers pulled the half-drowned prince of Charbu from the Orontes and had to revive him by holding him upside down. Less fortunate was Muwutallis’ brother Metarema, who was killed by an Egyptian arrow before he could reach the river. Also dead were Cherpaser, the royal scribe Tergannasa and Pays, Muwutallis’ charioteers Teedura, chief of the bodyguard Kamayta, a corps commander and Aagem, commander of the mercenaries.

The battle had begun about 4 p.m. At about 7, the lead elements of the Division of Ptah, with Ramses’ vizier in the lead, emerged from the Forest of Robaui. The arrival of that third Egyptian division threatened the Hittite rear.

The Egyptian account says the Hittites retreated inside Kadesh, but is is improbable that so many men could have stayed inside the city. More likely, Muwutallis retired toward Aleppo.

The next morning, Ramses proclaimed that he had won a great victory. In a sense, it had been. After blundering into a devastating ambush, the young king had escaped death or capture and, displaying courageous leadership, had rallied his scattered troops. Even so, the Egyptians had suffered heavy casualties, Kadesh’s defenses were unbroken, and Muwutallis’ army, though badly bloodied, was still intact, with more than 1,000 chariots still at his disposal. Chastened, Ramses prudently gathered the remnants of his army and marched toward Damascus.

Muwutallis, too, had had enough, although once safely back at Hattusas, he, too, proclaimed a great victory. Later, he tried to foment another revolt against the Egyptians, but he died while Ramses was preparing to crush the uprising. Among other successes, Ramses took Dapur, south of Aleppo, in 1290 bc.

The Battle of Kadesh holds great interest to scholars of military strategy but, as pointed out by Egyptian press attaché and Egyptologist Ahmed Nouby Moussa, its epilogue was equally historic in the realm of international diplomacy. After a dynastic struggle, Khattusilis III succeeded Muwutallis and subsequently invited Egyptian plenipotentiaries to Hattusas for what would amount to the first summit conference between two equally matched powers. In 1280 bc, Ramses and Khattusilis signed history’s oldest recorded international agreement, establishing a condominium between the two empires. After 13 years of peace, Ramses sealed the treaty by marrying one of Khattusilis’ daughters. With his northeastern borders secure, the Egyptian king ruled on until 1235 bc — a reign of 67 years, during which his name would be literally etched in stone as Ramses the Great.

This article was written by Robert Collins Suhr and originally appeared in the August 1995 issue of Military History magazine.

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The Battle of Kadesh

After many days, Ramses led his army to Usermare-Meriamon, the city of cedar. From here, he proceeded northward and arrived at the highland of Kadesh. Ramses, like his father, crossed over the channel of the Orontes, with the first division of Amon named: "Victory-of-King-Usermare-Setepnere."

When Ramses reached the city, he states in the battle of Kadesh account:

Behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta (Hittites) had come, having gathered together all countries from the ends of the sea to the land of Kheta, which came entire: the Naharin likewise, and Arvad, Mesa, Keshkesh, Kelekesh, Luka, Kezweden, Carchemish, Ekereth, Kode, the entire land of Nuges, Mesheneth, and Kadesh. He left not a country which was not brought together with their chiefs who were with him, every man bringing his chariotry, an exceeding great multitude, without its like. They covered the mountains and the valleys they were like grasshoppers with their multitudes. He left not silver nor gold in his land but he plundered it of all its possessions and gave to every country, in order to bring them with him to battle. Behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta, together with numerous allied countries, were stationed in battle array, concealed on the northwest of the city of Kadesh.

While Ramses was alone with his bodyguard, the division of Amon was marching behind him.

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Top Image: Ramses II at his chariot falls upon the Nubians ( CC BY 2.0 )

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