Ancient Egypt Wiki

The Battle of Kadesh in Year 5 of the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II was the climactic engagement in Syria between the Egyptian army and Hittite army of Muwatalli. The pharaoh wanted a victory at Kadesh both to expand Egypt's frontiers into Syria, and to emulate his father Seti I's triumphal entry into the city just a decade or so earlier. He also constructed his new capital, Pi-Ramesses. There he built factories to manufacture weapons, chariots, and shields, supposedly producing some 1,000 weapons in a week, about 250 chariots in two weeks, and 1,000 shields in a week and a half. After these preparations, Ramesses moved to attack territory in the Levant, which belonged to a more substantial enemy than any he had ever faced in war: the Hittite Empire.[1]

At the Battle of Kadesh in May 1274 BC towards the end of Year 4 of his reign, Egyptian forces under his leadership marched through the coastal road through Canaan and south Syria through the Beqaa Valley and approached Kadesh from the south.[2] Ramesses planned to seize the citadel of Kadesh which belonged to king Muwatalli of the Hittite Empire. The battle almost turned into a disaster as Ramesses was initially tricked by 2 Bedouin spies in the pay of the Hittites to believe that Muwatallis and his massive army were still 120 miles north of Kadesh. Ramesses II only learned of the true nature of his dire predicament when a subsequent pair of Hittite spies were captured, beaten and forced to reveal the truth before him:

"When they had been brought before Pharaoh, His Majesty asked, 'Who are you?' They replied 'We belong to the king of Hatti. He has sent us to spy on you.' Then His Majesty said to them, 'Where is he, the enemy from Hatti? I had heard that he was in the land of Khaleb, north of Tunip.' They replied to His Majesty, 'Lo, the king of Hatti has already arrived, together with the many countries who are supporting him... They are armed with their infantry and their chariots. They have their weapons of war at the ready. They are more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. Behold, they stand equipped and ready for battle behind the old city of Kadesh."[3]

Ramesses had fallen into a well-laid trap by Muwatalli whose thousands of infantry and chariotry were hidden well behind the eastern bank of the Orontes river under the command of the king's brother, Ḫattušili III. The Egyptian army itself had been divided into two main forces – the Re and Amun brigades with Ramesses and the Ptah and Seth brigades – separated from each other by forests and the far side of the Orontes river.[4] The Re brigade was almost totally destroyed by the surprise initial Hittite chariot attack and Ramesses II had barely enough time to rally his own Amun brigade and secure reinforcements from the Ptah Army Brigade (who were just arriving upon the scene of battle) to turn the tide of battle against the Hittites. While Ramesses II had in theory 'won' the battle, Muwatallis had effectively won the war. Ramesses was compelled to retreat south with the Hittite commander Hattusili III relentlessly harrying the Egyptian forces through the Bekaa Valley; the Egyptian province of Upi was also captured according to the Hittite records at Boghazkoy.[5]


Egypt's sphere of influence was now restricted to Canaan while Syria fell into Hittite hands. Over the ensuing years, Ramesses II would return to campaign against the Hittites and even achieved several spectacular victories (at a time of Hittite weakness due to a dispute over Muwatallis' succession) to briefly capture the cities of Tunip, where no Egyptian soldier had been seen since the time of Thutmose III almost 120 years previously and even Kadesh in his 8th and 9th Years.[6] However, neither power could decisively defeat the other in battle. Consequently, in the twenty-first year of his reign (1258 BC), Ramses decided to conclude an agreement with the new Hittite king at Kadesh, Hattusili III, to end the conflict. The ensuing document is the earliest known peace treaty in world history.

See also[]


  1. Tyldesley 2000, p. 68.
  2. Tyldesley 2000, p. 68.
  3. Tyldesley 2000, p. 70-71.
  4. Tyldesley 2000, p. 70-73.
  5. Tyldesley 2000, p. 73.
  6. Grimal 1992, p. 256.


  • Grimal, N., 1992: A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Tyldesley, J., 2000: Ramesses: Egypt's Greatest Pharaoh. London: Viking/Penguin Books.