The Battle of Kadesh is a battle that occurred nearly three thousand years ago and helped shape the strategic position of the Hittite Empire.
The Battle of Kadesh was fought around 1274 BC between the two leading empires of the age, these being the Egyptian Empire of North Eastern Africa and the Hittite Empire to its north. Evidence of the battle suggests that around five thousand or more chariots were used making it one of the largest chariot battles ever fought.
One of the interesting historical facts about the Battle of Kadesh is that it was actually three separate battles; these are called the Battle of Kadesh, the Battle of Kadesh II and battle of Kadesh III.
The Battle of Kadesh was fought just outside of Kadesh at the river of Orontes, a river that today flows through Turkey into Lebanon and Syria. Kadesh is found in present day Syria.
How did the battle occur?
The Egyptian Empire had lost a lot of land over time and decided they wanted to reclaim lost lands. This move took a lot of time and encompassed the lives of three separate rulers. During this time the Egyptian Empire moved north claiming lands as they went, the issue was that the Hittite Empire was found to the north and they were not happy about losing lands to the Egyptians.
Over time the Egyptians had battled all the way to the Orontes River and it was here that the Hittites saw an opportunity to try and inflict a decisive blow against the Egyptians at Kadesh.
The Battle of Kadesh
The two commanders of the battle were Ramesses II of Egypt against Muwatalli II of the Hittite Empire.
Reports suggest that on the Egyptian side there were 20,000 men of which only half engaged in battle, these were broken down as 16,000 infantry and 4,000 men along with 2,000 chariots. On the Hittite side it is said there were 50,000 men made up of 11,000 men, and 40,000 infantry (not engaged in battle) along with 3,700 chariots.
At the beginning the Hittites used a great element of surprise to help them in battle, this came in the form of two Nomads that the Egyptians spoke to outside Kadesh. The Nomads said that the Hittite army were some 200 kilometres away and were scared of engaging in battle with the Egyptians, the truth was they were only 11 kilometres away and were waiting to engage the enemy.
After this ruse the Egyptians set up camp and sent out a group of scouts, the scouts came back later with two Hittite prisoners and it was at this point that Ramesses II saw the bad situation his army found itself in. All that separated Ramesses army from the Hittites was the river Orontes and 11 kilometres.
Unfortunately from finding the predicament he was in Ramesses made a major battle fault in splitting up one of his divisions from the other three. This meant that when the Hittites attacked the divisions were split and although the Egyptians sent out men to call other divisions to arms it was too late.
The Hittites attack came in the form of many chariots that literally decimated the attacking forces of the Re division, the battle then moved to the Amun division that was in camp and routed most of them. Unfortunately the Hittites thought this was all the forces of the Egyptians so stopped battle to loot the dead allowing for the Egyptians to form a counter attack that pushed the Hittites back to the river.
A short while later the Battle of Kadesh II started, this was formed of 1,000 chariots that started their attacked. Ramesses had bought his forces back together in a solid formation and the chariots of the Hittites were overrun by the Egyptians with most killed and a small number escaping by swimming back across the Orontes River to the rest of the Hittite Army.
The third and final instalment of the battle occurred on the second day when the Hittite reserve army launched an attack. This attack was unsuccessful with both army’s suffering losses and the Hittite army moving back to their positions of the previous day.
Both the Hittites and the Egyptians lost many men and the Egyptians were unable to break down the Hittites to gain more land. The outcome of the Battle of Kadesh is disputed with some old text saying the Egyptians won and others saying the Hittites won.
You can say that tactically it was a Pyrrhic victory to Egypt because of the significant losses to the Hittites. Egyptian propaganda said that it was a decisive victory for Egypt but this was not the case.
Overall though the battle was clearly seen as a Hittite victory as the Egyptians did not manage to gain ground over the Orontes River and had to retreat because of not having the logistics to continue a siege of Kadesh.