The Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II (green) bordering on the Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its power in c. 1279 BC.
The Hittite chariots attack the Ra division.
Final phase of the battle
At this juncture there are a series of imponderables. Was the second group of Hittite chariots, fewer in number than the first, a strategic reserve or only the remaining ones that Muwatallis had? We do not know. In addition, what happened to the division of Pre? If most of the Hittite chariots sped quickly upon the Egyptian camp, then it would appear that they did not bother to wipe out that division. For if they did, the time element would have been squandered. From the pictorial evidence we must conclude that the enemy burst through the marching column of Egyptians, sped north, and although killing some of the soldiers, did not bother to stop. It was sufficient to give them a mauling; the aim was not to liquidate the vast majority of the second division. Strategically, Muwatallis’ goal remained focused upon the camp of Ramesses.
The attack of the enemy chariotry upon the second division of Pre took place south of Kadesh. Major Burne assumed that these men were, at most, about 2.4 km from Ramesses’ camp. This might be discounted as it is based on his analysis of the size of the king’s main army (20,000 soldiers). More useful, however, is his argument that the enemy crossed a ford south of Kadesh. This seems reasonable; otherwise the chariotry could not have easily gotten through the waters. But should we argue that the front of the Hittite chariot line was relatively small because of the width of the ford? Most certainly, the scenes of later carnage at the Orontes as well as those of the Hittite attack indicate that the passage was not difficult.
The number of Hittite chariots that reached Ramesses’ camp also remains a thorny issue. Most certainly, the Pharaoh was able to dispatch some of his high officials south in order to warn the remaining divisions of what was transpiring. Actually, only the third division (Ptah) is specifically mentioned; the situation of the fourth (Seth) is left aside. Allowing the distances assumed by previous historical research, one interesting question is whether those men reached the actual melee at the Orontes or not. One additional remark indicates that the enemy forces reached Ramesses with Hittites and peoples from Arzawa, Masa, and Pidassa (P 85-6). Can we assume that at some point the enemy had organized itself into four groups?
Yet they were repulsed. Subsequently Muwatallis sent another, albeit smaller, wave of chariots westward, and we must credit Ramesses for being able to repel all of them. This might have appeared impossible. But the Pharaoh, with the troops of the first division and the relief support given to him by the arrival of the contingents of the Na`arn, found his resources sufficient to repulse the advancing enemy chariots. His success must have depended upon three factors. The first was the number of Hittite chariots that reached the camp, the second the presumed destruction of the division of Pre, and the third the possibility that many Hittite chariots were still fighting against those Egyptian troops. Indeed, one relief caption notes that the Hittite king had also sent forward some of his infantry. The latter would have arrived at the battlefield somewhat later than the faster-moving chariots, and they may have ended up only on the immediate west side of the Orontes.
The type of combat appears to have been mainly based upon chariots. Else, Ramesses could not have repelled the attacks of his enemy. The roles of the Pharaoh’s footsoldiers and those of Muwatallis are not described. Because the reliefs show the king’s attack in a chariot, a common theme of New Kingdom war representations, we cannot evaluate the service that the Egyptian infantry performed at Kadesh. All that we are left with is an assumption of the size of both armies, and that is based upon the evidence of the texts (Hittite chariotry and teher footsoldiers) and the probable size of an Egyptian division (5,000). All of these figures are open to question.
If Muwatallis sent 2,500 chariots and if Ramesses had the same number in his first division, then unless the former were held up by the carnage of Pre, the Pharaoh’s immediate success makes sense. With an additional 1,000 chariots on the enemy side, and the lack of reinforcements from the third division of Ptah, the Hittites would have had a numerical advantage. Moreover, the relief captions note the presence of Hittite infantry. All in all, unless we argue that the second division was not massacred, or that it held up the Hittite charge, one is thrown back upon the role of the Na`arn in the fifth division. Earlier Egyptologists had noted their crucial presence, and we cannot but follow their analyses.
One lengthy caption in five versions refers to a pictorial representation of arriving infantry and chariotry. These are the Na`arn, and with them the king was able to charge into the foe. Although they might have been tired from marching, by no means were they exhausted. In fact, they were ready to fight like Pickett’s men. Unlike General Lee, Ramesses immediately used them, and with this advantage in chariots – we assume double that which he first had – the enemy was repulsed. Did Muwatallis have some idea that the Na`arn were nearby, and thereby decided to attack the Egyptians as quickly as possible before these reinforcements could have come into play?
Even though much ink has been spilled in analyzing the battle, some details can be reconstructed. The account of the second day, however, has left everyone in suspense. It is only given in the account of the Poem, but the high-blown verbiage is impenetrable, or not of any use to the military historian. I believe that further combat took place, “prearranged,” so to speak. The king was able to marshal his ranks. Hence, at daybreak of the following day the two armies met once more. Granted that this section of the Poem is short, it nonetheless provides some support for my contention that often battles were fought on plains, normally soon after dawn, with the tacit agreement of both war leaders.
When we turn to the scenes of this battle, many useful military details can be ascertained. We see the Na`arn arriving. They are Egyptians, and hold their long shields in the same manner as the natives, whether on foot on in a chariot. The third men in the enemy chariots hold spears or javelins. Sherden are present acting as a guard around Ramesses on the occasion when he ordered the Hittite scouts to be beaten. Clearly, these men served as an elite guard whose duty was primarily to their liege lord. The Hittite parallel is the group of teher warriors who surrounded Muwatallis. The same set-up was carved for Ramesses’ camp except here more specific details are conveyed, even to the point of indicating the relaxed mood of the Egyptian troops. In the enemy camp pack animals are shown. The oxen of the Hittites pull wagons with six spokes; donkeys are also laden with provisions. The similarity to the Egyptian camp is self-evident.
Returning to the Egyptian army, a series of significant military aspects can be noted. The army of the Na`arn marched as follows: first a line of chariots, then soldiers, and then another line of chariots. This point, hitherto unnoticed, provides a useful estimate for the size of a brigade. In particular, three chariots lead the force. Behind each of them are two columns of ten men. There are thus forty footsoldiers and twelve men on the chariots, making a grand total of fifty-two. Was this the way that Egyptian armies were organized when marching, or do the reliefs follow artistic license? Whatever are our conclusions, it appears from the Kadesh scenes, but not from the literary narrative of the Megiddo battle, that the Egyptian army used oblong squares.
At Abydos we see a column of fifteen men proceeding in front of one chariot. Further to the forward position there is another group of chariots. Clearly, the arrangement is different. Can we assume that the artists worked to a specific pattern, one that depended upon a predetermined artistic interpretation rather than solely upon the actual events? Furthermore, in these reliefs there is a bottom row of marching chariots, apparently serving as a protective wing for the footsoldiers. But when we survey the approach to battle, the system alters. Abydos shows the following. When marching in normal order, normally two men are placed on the side of, or within the protection of, one chariot. But as we near the expected danger zone the two footsoldiers are now depicted with shields, and they have raised them for protection. Finally, there is the charge of the chariots, and, as may be expected, the infantry disappear because the rapidly moving vehicles have outpaced them. The onslaught is also indicated by the upward direction of the horses: a true charge into the fray is present.
Version L1 at Luxor reveals the same pattern but also with a contrast. The number of Na`arn footsoldiers appears to be six or seven. R1, one of the Ramesseum variants, has ten men between the two sections of chariots, yet they are marching with at least seventy footsoldiers. Its companion (R2) does not help us very much. But all accounts indicate that the Egyptian counterattack was made up of chariots; the soldiers on foot must have followed soon after. The precise if limited pictorial subsections dealing with the army of Ptah likewise are useful for our analysis of Egyptian marching order. Two speedy officials reach this division, and at Abu Simbel we see two distinct sectors of the group. One is composed of archers and the others of spearmen. The latter are identical to the marching Na`arn at Abydos. In a Luxor version (L1) the lagging division is led by five standard-bearers and the division leader. Behind all of them are three footsoldiers preceding a chariot.
Other subtle contrasts among these pictorial representations show that a hard and fast rule concerning the number of combat soldiers per subsection in a division is impossible to determine. Yet we can notice the variances in tactics. When marching, for example, the footsoldiers were protected by chariots. This is most clearly seen with the Na`arn. The advancing division of Ptah, for example, is shown in a more relaxed mode. Because the footsoldiers and the standard-bearers are at the head of the division with the division leader in front of them, it is evident that they did not expect any danger. So we must separate out those representations that indicate a relaxed but careful march from the advance to combat, the immediate attack, and the actual melee.
The mopping up of the Hittite attack is not recorded. Instead, the oversized figure of Ramesses on his chariot plunges into the Hittite host of chariots. But there are many ancillary points worthwhile indicating. Above all is the repulse to the Orontes. This is most evident by the specific details of Hittite dead in the river and the figure of the luckless prince of Aleppo rescued from the waters. Evidently, Ramesses’ charge pushed the chariot divisions of the enemy backward. If the full power of the first chariot wave had reached the Egyptian camp I feel that this would have been impossible. It would have taken some time for the Pharaoh to recover from his initial surprise and to prepare his troops for combat. But with the arrival of the Na`arn Ramesses had on hand an additional chariot force ready for battle. They must have seen the attack of the Hittites, and we believe that not many of the enemy’s chariots had attained their desired aim. In other words, the king’s division of Amun plus the Na`arn first blunted and then ended the tactical superiority of Muwatallis. Hence, Muwatallis had to send another wave of chariots forward in order to hold his own lines.
But this support failed. The evidence of Egyptian success may be read from the captions that accompany the figures of many Hittites. There is little doubt that the names and titles of these men were written down by the military scribes who accompanied the king. Enemy charioteers as well as troop-captains and a shieldbearer are listed together with two brothers of Muwatallis and two chiefs of the enemy’s teher. A dispatch-writer and a “chief of the suite” of Muwatallis may also be found. Note that these are all prominent men; none are mere footsoldiers. This befits the type of military action that took place in which high-ranking men were responsible for the carnage. We can assume that after the battle these men were identified, but their names and titles could only have been determined with the help of the enemy. Whether this list was drawn up with the aid of captured Hittites or, following the melee, with the assistance of Muwatallis, is unclear. Perhaps after the subsequent fighting on day two an official list of enemy dead on both sides was determined. As the dead Hittites were prominent men I cannot but conclude that their bodies were examined, their names recorded, and the corpses sent back to the camp of the foe.
On the second day the result of the carnage must have been clear to all. Ramesses had won the battle; his tactics were superb. On the other hand, he was forced to withdraw from the field because he was unable to dislodge the Hittites. Losing the strategic aim of the campaign, Ramesses left the field having failed to take Kadesh. No wonder, then, that the Egyptian monarch was forced to return to Asia soon thereafter. Hence, additional wars of Ramesses in Syria are known from various sources in Egypt. The accounts are mainly pictorial and their representations stereotypical. From the scanty data that is preserved it is clear that the Egyptian king personally went into Syria at least twice. He fought there in his eighth and tenth regnal years, but if the advances of the Egyptian army are impossible to determine, it is easy to conclude that Ramesses went by land. On one occasion we read that he fought without donning his armor at Dapur, a very heroic situation that further reinforces our opinion of the king as a doughty war leader. In addition, there appears to have been more fighting in the Trans-Jordan. Here as well the evidence is merely one of place names and generalized artistic representations. Whether or not a general uprising took place within Egyptian-held territory is a moot point. A war directed against incursions from the east does not provide automatic support for this hypothesis. The towns captured by the Pharaoh in year eight include Palestinian ones, but the presence of Yeno`am again indicates a zone in the east close to the Trans-Jordan. In year ten a stela was erected at the Nahr el Kelb, thus once more emphasizing Ramesses’ interest in Syria or at least at his northwest border. A further one erected in Beth Shan in the king’s eighteenth regnal year is purely rhetorical. By and large, the undated war scenes are hard to place into a chronological framework, although those referring to a Trans-Jordanian war can be securely set into the king’s early second decade.
Later in the reign of Ramesses II, most probably in his third decade as Pharaoh, the peaceful relations between Egypt and the Hittites had grown to such an extent that diplomatic marriages took place. On two occasions the Hittite monarch, Hattusilis III, sent one of his daughters to the Egyptian court. The intense political activity between the two states may be read on the various cuneiform tablets that are still preserved. But within Egypt, in particular at the Delta capital of Avaris, Egyptian-Hittite interconnections are overt. Recent archaeological discoveries at Qantir, located just opposite the capital of Avaris, have allowed us to reconstruct the military setting of this northeast Delta capital. Shield molds with Hittite motifs explicitly indicate that a foundry was established there for the production of these defensive weapons. Archaeologists have concluded that Hittites themselves were producing and repairing Hittite shields. This leads to the supposition that there were Hittite “mercenaries” or guards at Avaris. Tools of these foreigners were also discovered, further proving that the large site of Avaris-Qantir was the major military center in the northeast. Parts of chariots such as fittings, harness pieces, bronze foundries, javelins, arrow tips, horse bits, short swords, projectile tips, scales of coats of mail, and even stables indicate the warlike nature of the capital. A large number of vast buildings point to a chariot garrison that contained an exercise (or training) court, adjoining workshops, and horses’ stables. It has been estimated that, at the minimum, 350 horses could have been housed. But whether this was done for contingents within the entire Egyptian army, or solely for the foreigners, must remain an open question. None of the later battle reliefs of Merenptah or Ramesses III point to any Hittite sector of the native war machine.