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Ancient Battles

Battle of Kadesh – The Greatest Chariot Battle

In May of 1274 B.C., on the banks of river Orontes in Syria, the young ruler of Egypt Ramesses II, rode at the head of vast Egyptian army and was on the verge of leading them in to battle against his archenemy, King Muwatalli of the Hittites’. Ramesses confidently anticipated winning a victory that would catapult him in to the ranks of the greatest among Egyptians long line of glorious pharaohs. Unknowingly, however the eager pharaoh was riding in to a trap. The resultant clash would become known as the battle of Kadesh. 

There were several reasons for this battle, the main reason was the main challenger to Egypt for supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean was the powerful Hettite Empire based in Anatolia, a region that roughly corresponds to modern Turkey. Also a minor kingdom in this region usually controlled by the key fortified city of Kadesh and played the Hettites and Egyptians against each other. As this battle was one of the largest chariot battles in the history it affected the course of ancient Near Eastern history for centuries.

Ramesses II, Who was the son of Seti was 29 year old and had ascended to the throne of Egypt during the period known as the New Kingdom, when Egypt became an imperialist power that sought to extend its sphere of influence south along to the upper Nile in to Africa and east and north along the Mediterranean coast. Muwattali, the ruler of Hittite was not originally intended to inherit the Hittite throne. He became the king after older brother died .Muwatalli’s father had fought against Seti thus the ongoing conflict between Egypt and the Hittites had something of a gradational aspect.

The strength of Egyptian army was great because the army consisted of four divisions of infantry, each composed of 5000 men and several thousand chariots. By the time of Ramesses, Egyptian chariots were highly refined war machines. The three components necessary for an effective chariot are the spoke wheel, horses and a powerful bow. They emphasized speed and mobility and favored a light weight design with six spoked wheels with narrow rims, a D- shaped cab made of ox hide stretched over a light wooden frame with raw hide strips for floor, and a single long pole to which the horses were yoked.

Muwatalli also had a different but powerful army.it contained estimated size of 400000 men and several thousand chariots. Hittite chariots were significantly different from the Egyptian version.it had much heavier design, with a larger and more solid rectangular wooden cab.

Ramesses and the Egyptian army approached Kadesh in separate four divisions. Ramesses accompanied the lead division. But he was unaware that Hettite army was nearby. There were two Hettite spies who appeared to be Bedoiuin locals. They told Ramesses that Muwatalli had been frightened and fled to the north. Ramesses accepted the story and evidently made no attempt to confirm the information. Unfortunately the two spies were coughed by the camp guards and knew Muwatalli was not fleeing in terror but was hiding just on the other side and ready for battle. Ramesses immediately messaged to his forces to converge at maximum speed. As huge advantage of Hettite’s was gone Muwatalli sent forward a strong army to attack Ramesses’s divisions. The heavy Hittite chariots swept through the protective screen of lighter Egyptian chariots, slammed into the lines of marching infantry, and carved a path through the center of the Egyptian formation. The surviving troops panicked, broke formation, and ran.

Ramesses collected all his survived chariots and launched well organized and well planned counter attack towards the Hettite army. The survived Egyptian chariots were clever enough to attack the enemy. Both sides fought very well and the day after the battle Ramesses signed a truce with Muwatalli and returned with his army to Egypt. Muwatalli retained control of Kadesh.

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