Kadesh - Ancient History Encyclopedia

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Kadesh was a  city in the region of Syria and an important center of trade in the ancient world. It is probably best known as the site of the famous battle between Pharaoh Rameses II (The Great, 1279-1213 BCE) of Egypt and King Muwatalli II (1295-1272 BCE) of the Hittite Empire in 1274 BCE.

The Battle of Kadesh is the most thoroughly documented military engagement of ancient times in the Middle East with both antagonists claiming a decisive victory. For centuries the account given by Rameses II in his Poem of Pentaur and Bulletin (the two Egyptian sources we have for the battle) of a great Egyptian victory at Kadesh was taken as literal truth. Today, however, most historians regard these sources as more propaganda than an honest account of the events and the Battle of Kadesh is believed to have ended in a draw.

The Hittites had long been making incursions into Egypt and had caused considerable trouble for the Pharaoh Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE). Kadesh had been taken and held by the Egyptians under Seti I but the Hittites had reclaimed and fortified it. Ramesses II resolved to take lasting measures against the Hittites and drive them from his borders. A central advantage to be achieved in this campaign was the capture of Kadesh which, as noted, was a great center of commerce at the time. Reclaiming Kadesh would not only give Egypt free access to a hub of trade but would also enlarge the borders of Egypt's empire which had been greatly expanded under Thutmose III.

Ramesses II (or, according to some scholars, his father Seti I) had commissioned a great city to be built in the Eastern Delta which Ramesses II named Per-Ramesses ("House of Ramesses" but also given as "City of Ramesses") which was part pleasure palace and part military industrial complex. The city had a number of factories manufacturing weapons, training grounds for men, horses, and chariots, and other industries producing necessary supplies for military expeditions.

In 1275 BCE, Ramesses II prepared his army to move and waited only for the interpretation of omens as auspicious to launch his forces. In 1274 BCE, the omens received, he drove his chariot through the gates of Per-Ramesses at the head of over 20,000 men divided into four divisions. He led the Amun division himself with the Re, Ptah, and Set divisions following.

In his haste to engage the enemy, Ramesses II drove his division so quickly that he soon outdistanced the rest of his army. He made a further mistake in believing the reports of two captured bedouins who told him that the Hittite king feared the might of the young pharaoh and had withdrawn from the area.