The Battle Of Kadesh: The War Of Two Ancient Superpowers In 1294 BCE

The Battle of Kadesh was a violent affair that took place between the Hittites and the Egyptians in 1294 BCE, the monumental battle occurred at Kadesh on the Orontes River in Syria.

Battle of Kadesh pictures
The Battle of Kadesh is one of the most famous military engagements of the ancient world

The Battle Of Kadesh pitted two of the ancient world's great powers, Egypt and the Hittites, against one another. Egypt's degree of control over Syria and Canaan varied over time. It was not possible to keep the large garrisons in the area that would be necessary to maintain close control, so instead, a series of military campaigns were fought to restore Egyptian sovereignty when it was challenged.

As the Hittites grew in power, they pushed into Syria and took control of the city of Kadesh. Determined to regain the city, Pharaoh Ramses II assembled an army of about 20,000 men organized into four divisions and marched northwards. The march was completed with impressive speed by the well-organized Egyptians, who established a fortified camp near their objective.

However, the Hittites were prepared. Their King, Muwatallis, concealed his army behind the city rather than taking refuge inside the walls. The illusion that the city was undefended was strengthened by placing two agents pretending to be Hittite soldiers where they would be easily captured by the Egyptians. These men told Ramses that the Hittite army was some distance away.

Ramses Advances

Ramses' army had marched with its four divisions somewhat separated for logistical reasons, and only part of the force was available. However, with his objective seemingly ripe for the taking he saw no point in waiting and advanced with two of his four divisions.

As the Egyptians approached Kadesh, the division of Rawas suddenly attacked by Hittite chariots, causing a panic that quickly spread. The division of Ra disintegrated, with many men fleeing towards the division of Amon, Ramses' personal command. They hoped to find safety in its ranks but only caused confusion at a time when order and discipline were of paramount importance.

Egyptian chariots
The Egyptian chariots were of a light construction and relied on speed to defeat the enemy

The desperation was alleviated somewhat as the Hittite troops plundered Ramses' camp instead of attacking his remaining division. Ramses was able to rally his force and launch a counter-attack. In an age before instantaneous long-distance communications, sometimes the only way subordinates could tell what their commander-in-chief wanted them to do was to observe his actions. Ramses' attack was not only the only real chance he had to escape the Hittite trap, it was also a clear signal to his subordinate commanders that he wanted them to launch an attack of their own.

Reinforcements Arrive

Ramses' remaining divisions, Ptah and Sutekh, were approaching Kadesh from the south as the counter-attack began. They rapidly advanced against the Hittite force and were joined by a mercenary contingent hired by Ramses, which had been marching to rendezvous with the main army.

With his full attention on Ramses' two divisions, Muwatallis had failed to watch his army's rear and was caught by surprise by the new arrivals. Thrown into confusion, the Hittite army was nevertheless able to retire into Kadesh and remained in fighting condition.

Both armies had suffered serious casualties and morale was shaken on both sides by near-defeat. It had become apparent that the Hittites' iron weapons were more effective than the bronze ones used by the Egyptians. However, the Egyptian chariots were superior, being faster and carrying archers instead of javelinmen. Neither side was sure of victory if the battle was resumed, so negotiations began.


The outcome was a peace treaty that allowed both rulers to return home claiming a great victory. In reality, neither side really won; The Egyptians could boast that they drove the enemy from the battlefield, indicating a tactical victory, but the strategic picture was unchanged. Ramses II had gone to the Kadesh to take it from the Hittites and in that he failed. However, the treaty was of benefit as it improved stability by preventing further conflict for a time.

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