Ancient Egyptian Enemies

 The Traditional Enemies of Ancient Egypt

The earliest depictions we have of Egyptian kings portray the motif of prostrate foreigners as a symbol of Egyptian supremacy over the rest of mankind. For example, the Narmer Palette shows the king in his efforts to rid the world of such aberrations as the "vile Asiatic". Here, we find the trampling of the "Nine Bows", as the Egyptian referred to their enemies, as a vivid embodiment of the king's supremacy over foreigners (and sometimes even other Egyptians). The figure "nine" represented three times three, which was the "plurality of Pluralities", thus designating the entirety of all enemies. And later, during the New Kingdom, the Sphinx Stele of Amenhotep II provides a striking textual description of the Egyptian King smiting his enemies:

"He bound the heads of the Nine Bows... He has gathered them all into his fist, his mace has crashed upon their heads..."

Hence, the visual image of the king slaughtering foreigners was an important, as well as constantly repeated element of Egyptian iconography throughout the empires ancient history.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

With the cane from the tomb of Tutankhamun now in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, we find a very symbolic reference to Egypt's traditional enemies. Carved on its handle are the heads of a Nubian and an Asiatic, and indeed, these embody the Egyptian air of symmetry. Egyptians saw the Asiatics and the Nubians as the two opposite poles of a hostile world outside the Nile valley. In fact, they sometimes simply referred to these enemies as the North and the South. Actually, just about everyone outside the Nile Valley was considered enemies of Egypt, for those were the lands of chaos.  The visual depiction of Egypt's enemies and their role became so prevalent that it is difficult to distinguish in the archaeological and textual sources between purely ritualistic and rhetorical references to foreigners and genuine historical records. Repeatedly, we find examples of battles, and king's smiting enemies that in fact, did not take place, but were mere copies of earlier scenes.

 Ancient Egyptian Enemies

The Execration Texts, which dates from the Old and Middle Kingdoms, is one of the most important souses for information on the specific names of Egypt's enemies. They were discovered near tombs at Thebes and Saqqara, as well as in the "ritual site" at Mirgissa in Nubia. Those found in Nubia even included one example of such text inscribed on a human skull. Written in the hieratic script on small pottery vessels and clay figures of bound captives, these text listed the hostile foreigners, places, groups of people or individuals that the Egyptians wished thought to be inherently evil and wished to destroy. The objects were then deliberately broken and buried, inflicting a magical victory over these enemies. The names listed in these texts include deceased Egyptians, as well as foreign princes and peoples mostly in Nubia and Syria-Palestine. However, it is clear that these lists name both old and new enemies, which were mixed together, forming a powerful universal statement about the way in which Egypt viewed the outside world.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

Factually, Egypt had two forms of enemies. The first type of enemy was held valuable resources that the Egyptians sought. Except for the Nubians, they were usually not a threat to Egypt as invaders. These enemies included the empires such as Mitanni, Hatti. Other enemies mostly possessed little that Egypt wished to have, but were a direct threat to Egypt as an invading force. These enemies included the Libyans and the Sea People.

The Nubians

During almost the entire Dynastic Period of Egypt's history, the Nubians (or Nehesyw) were considered by the Egyptians to be "vile" and "wretched". The official view of the Nubians was clear from a Middle Kingdom boundary stele of Senusret III from Smna which denounces them:

"They are not people one respects; they are wretches, craven hearted. My majesty has seen it, it is not an untruth. I have captured their women, I have carried off their dependents..."

Ancient Egyptian EnemiesAncient Egyptian Enemies

Military campaigns and trading expeditions were sent to Nubia at regular intervals in order to sustain a regular supply of prisoners, herds of cattle and exotic products from the south such as ivory, ostrich feathers and ebony. And of course there were also the mining operations in Nubia, where the Egyptian's obtained much of their gold. Many of these expeditions were recorded in the tombs of the nobles at Elephantine (at modern Aswan). However, by the New Kingdom, Nubia had effectively become a province of Egypt, at least between Aswan and Napata, under the control of a viceroy known as "King's Son of Kush". Yet even then, the iconography of the Nubian as a defeated enemy never lost its popularity as a symbol of Egyptian supremacy. Even during the Meroitic Period, when the Nubian's controlled Egypt with A Nubian as Pharaoh, this motif of the defeated Nubian was still depicted in the royal regalia, with no apparent sense of contradiction.

The Libyans

The Libyans were known to the Egyptians as the Tjehenu or Tjemehu, though they may have been composed of more than one race of people. They were depicted by the Egyptians mostly as dark skinned and bearded, though occasionally with fair hair and blue eyes. A semi nomadic people, the Libyans occupied the lands to the northwest of the Nile Valley. Even during the predynastic period, temple reliefs frequently show them as a defeated enemy, and there are records from the reigns of the Old Kingdom pharaohs Snefru and Sahure of specific campaigns against them.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

The Libyans, like the Nubians, were by the time of the Old Kingdom, a symbol of the King's military prowess. The reliefs in the Old Kingdom mortuary temples of Sahure at Abusir and Pepi II at Saqqara, as well as the Late Period temple of Taharqa at Kawa, include stock scenes of a Libyan chief being smitten by the pharaoh, while the victim's wife and children beg for mercy. However, the personal names for the Libyans in all three scenes are repetitions and therefore suggest that these reliefs did not actually record historical events, but were rather an elaborate icon of Kingship. However, it is also clear that at intervals, the Egyptians had to undertake punitive campaigns against the Libyans. In fact, during the New Kingdom reigns of Merneptah and Ramesses III, the Egyptians had to stave off major invasions from Libyans.

However, the Libyans, as well as other foreign captives, were often being settled in military colonies by the late New Kingdom, and these people, known as Meshwesh, eventually became an influential group within Egyptian society. In fact, by the 22nd Dynasty, they even gained temporary control of Egypt.

The Hyksos

During the Old and Middle Kingdoms there seem to have been little military contact of any significance with Western Asia. However, after the Middle Kingdom, during the Second Intermediate Period, Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Asiatic kings known as the Hyksos. The term Hyksos really refers simply to the "rulers of foreign lands". They came to Egypt with horses, chariots and copper weapons, which the Egyptians would later adapt for their own armies. 

 Ancient Egyptian Enemies

 Ancient Egyptian Enemies
The were expelled from Egypt by King Ahmose, but this interlude of foreign rule in Egypt resulted in a new, aggressive policy of imperialism in Syria-Palestine. This would eventually bring Egypt's New Kingdom pharaohs into direct confrontation with the great powers beyond the Levant, including first Mitanni and then Hatti and Assyria.

Ancient Egyptian Enemies

Mitanni, Hatti and Assyria

Most of Egypt's conflicts with the Asiatic enemies revolved around Egypt's attempted control the Syrian area of Canaan, and the various city states of that region along the Mediterranean coast north of the Sinai. At first, it would seem that the conflicts within Syria with these various enemies of Egypt were to provide a buffer zone for Egypt's defense. However, like Mitanni and Hittites, Egypt's prolonged interest in the region derived from their desire to dominate and exploit the economic resources and trade. During the New Kingdom, Syria was the crossroads of world commerce, with goods from the Aegean and beyond entering the Near East by way of ports such as Ugarit. When one considers the inherent fertility and richness in natural resources, Syria obviously offered much to the predatory powers who sought to use this wealth for their own purposes. Hence, some thirty-thee centuries ago, "world power" was synonymous with the control of Syria, so it is not surprising that for nearly two hundred years, the great powers of Egypt, Mitanni and Hatti expended much blood and treasure in wars designed to ensure their respective control of this vitally strategic region.

The Sea People

Even as Egypt was vying for a powerful position in Syria, there was apparently a disturbance along the Mediterranean coast that displaced whole nations of people. This disturbance was to effect all of the powers of the region, as these people moved about the lands. They became collectively known as the "People of the Sea", who today we simply call the Sea People. As they invaded the lands of the Levant, the bought with them their families, cattle and household possessions, with the clear intent to settle Some of these people have been identified as the Sherden, Sheklesh, Lukka, Tursha and Akawasha.

There were several waves of these people,  invading Egypt. At first, they reached as far south as the Farafra Oasis and the Canopic branch of the Nile. They advanced on Egypt by both land and sea, and represented a desperate threat to the Egyptians and other powers of the region.

Persia and the End of the Dynastic Period

As Egypt's Dynastic Period drew to an end, it was not the traditional enemies that finally brought down this great empire, but rather a succession of new enemies. It was first the Persians, who were so offensive to the Egyptians that when Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt, he seems to have been welcomed as a liberator. While Egypt would carry on a dynastic tradition with the arrival of the Ptolomies, there would never again be a true Egyptian Pharaoh  with his own enemies to smite.

Massage in Ancient Egypt

The Ancient Egyptians were the first to codify and study essential oils and their therapeutic benefits. As well as concocting beautiful perfumes and fragrant incense for personal and ritual use they applied this knowledge to develop massage and reflexology as therapeutic tools. The god Nefertum could reasonably be considered the world's fist aromatherapist and the goddess Isis is reputed to have used therapeutic massage as a cure for a number of ailments.

 Massage in Ancient Egypt
 Massage in Ancient Egypt

An early reference to massage and reflexology in Ancient Egypt can be found in the decorations of the tomb of Ptahhotep (a Vizier during the reign of Djedkare during the fifth dynasty in the Old Kingdom). Ptahhotep is depicted having a manicure and pedicure and having his legs massages by a servant. Some authorities consider this the earliest positive record of reflexology.
The sun temple of the sixth dynasty (Old Kingdom)Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Niuserre features depictions of the king enjoying a foot massage and scenes on the temple walls depict the preparation of oils. Another reference to massage therapy during the sixth dynasty of Ancient Egypt can be found in the tomb of Ankhmahor (also known as "The Tomb of the Physician").

In this tomb two men are depicted having work done on their feet and hands. There has been a great deal of debate regarding the nature of the therapy being depicted: is it surgery, reflexology, massage or simply manicure and pedicure? In the accompanying text on patient pleads "Do not let it be painful" to which the practitioner answers cryptically "I do it so that you will praise it, King". This conversation has been taken by some to indicate that it is a surgical procedure, but others remain convinced that the scene depicts massage or reflexology.
A later detailed reference to massage can be found in the Kahun Medical Papyrus (dated to the reign of Amenhotep III, twelfth dynasty during the Middle Kingdom):
Examination of a woman aching in her legs and her calves after walking. You should say of it "it is discharges of the womb". You should treat it with a massage of her legs and calves with mud until she is well. Massage in particular remained popular in later times. During the New Kingdom depictions of the battle of Kadesh (Qadesh) show the soldiers of Ramesses II receiving a much needed massage treatment following their long march and the Roman Emperor Octavian complained about Mark Anthony's devotion to Cleopatra by noting "he even massages her feet at dinner parties".

The Battle of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh

The story of the Battle of Kadesh begins with the army of Ramesses II advancing upon the city of Kadesh in four corps. Ramesses II himself was with the lead element of the corps, known as Amun. While crossing the River Orontes (Arnath) to begin the approach to the city from the south, two Bedouin tribesmen, secretly in the employ of the Hittite king, led what appears to have been a gullible Ramesses the Great into believing that the Hittite army was many miles away to the north. Ramesses II, believing he had stolen a strategic advantage, having arrived on the battle grounds early, ordered the army of Amun onward without delay.

However, after making camp to the northwest of Kadesh, Ramesses II was rather unnerved to discover from captured enemy scouts that the Hittite army had already arrived. Located behind the Kadesh tell, they were even now ready for battle. Hearing this news, Ramesses II sent his vizier to the army (really, more of a division) of Re some miles back to hurry them forward. However, they were ambushed by 2,500 Hittite chariots as they crossed the plain of Kadesh and so were overcome. This force then wheeled north and attacked Ramesses II's encampment, overrunning them as well. Though many of Amun's troops panicked and abandoned Ramesses to his fate, the Pharaoh donned his armor and from his chariot, almost single handedly held off the Hittite chariotry inflicting heavy losses on them. However, Ramesses II may really have been saved by the vision of booty within his camp, which seems to have occupied the enemy troops.

Overseeing the battle and observing the fate of his original chariot attack, the Hittite king ordered a further 1,000 chariots into the battle arena. However, just as these additional warriors reached the battle front, Ramesses II was saved by the arrival of the Ne'arin. This was a second body of troops that Ramesses II had detached from the main campaign and ordered to approach Kadesh from the north. With the aid of these troops, Ramesses II was able to fend off the Hittite attack and win the battle, leaving many of the enemy dead on the battle field and the survivors faced with the humiliation of having to swim back across the Orontes River to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh.

Some accounts of the battle have the two warring parties facing off once again the next day, but the ultimate results of the contest was a truce, after which the Egyptians and Hittites withdrew to their respective homelands (Ramesses II, having crushed his enemies).

The above is basically the Egyptian account of the Battle of Kadesh, and it probably does provide a framework for the overall action, though over the years, hardly any detail has escaped the attention of analysts. Though the battle may indeed be the earliest military action recorded in detail, there are many specifics that are either missing or are subject to considerable debate. In fact, Ramesses II certainly presented the battle with an obvious prejudice, particularly towards his own actions and deeds, but indeed, even the main three sources that we have of the battle, consisting of a poem, bulletin and reliefs, even disagree on some of the facts, and the scattered information derived from Hittite sources only confuse the matter additionally.

Prelude to the Battle of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh fought by Ramesses II was a long time in the making, and not the first to be fought between the Hattities and Egyptians over this small, but strategically located vassal state. Ramesses II had probably accompanied his father, Seti I on one similar campaign prior to his ascending the throne of Egypt. However, though Seti I may have taken Kadesh, by the time of Ramesses II's reign, it was back in the hands of the Hattities.

From the onset of Ramesses II's reign, it is apparent that he intended to renew the struggle for domination in southern Syria, and so almost immediately he began preparing for the coming hostilities. He added a fourth field army to his military establishment, and expanded the eastern Delta city of Pi-Ramasses, his new capital, to act as a staging point for operations in the Levant.

In his fourth year, during the spring of 1301 BC, Ramesses led his army into southern Syria for the first time as king, reaching as far as Simyra and succeeding in returning the Amurru kingdom to the Egyptian fold.

Map of the General Region

It soon became evident to the Hittite king, Muwatallish, that in order to protect his holdings in Syria, he would have to confront the Egyptians in a major military campaign. The venue of this coming battle was never in doubt by either party. They would meet beneath the walls of Kadesh in order to settle once and for all the future of their respective empires in Syria.

In fact, it is likely that the Hittites and the Egyptians agreed on the site, as well as the time of battle in advance. Certainly, there is an inference of this considering that the two sides arrived on the scene of Kadesh at about the same time during the month of May, 1300 BC. It should be noted however that this was not an ideal battleground for the Egyptians. The Hittites were operating in a region that was under their control where their supply lines were short. They probably staged their campaign out of Carchemish, not far from Kadesh at all. Furthermore, the city of Kadesh, currently under their command, was large enough to accommodate the Hittite army should matters go awry. It provided a good defensive position, surrounded by both a mote and the Orontes River itself.

Ramesses II would also have to contend with one of the largest armies ever assembled by the kingdom of Hatti. Though no substantiating sources have ever been unearthed, Ramesses speaks of the Hittites having eighteen allied and vassal states providing some 3,700 chariots and 37,000 infantry. We know that these included Aleppo, Khatti, Naharin, Arzawa, Dardany, Keshkesh, Masa, Pidassa, Arwen (?), Karkisha, Luke, Carchemish, Ugarit, Dedy, Nuhashshe, Mushanet, Kadesh as well as the country of Kizwadna (Kizzuwadna), whom he commissioned to:

"...send one hundred horses equipped (with chariots) and a thousand foot soldiers to the army of the Sun, who will provide for them."

Throughout the months of March and April, Pi-Ramasses must have been a beehive of activity, as individual units were mustered into the four field armies (also sometimes referred to as divisions in some texts). One sign of times to come was the notable increase in the number of foreign troops in the regular Egyptian army. These included Nubians, Sherden, Libyans and Canaanites. The four armies were each made up of about 5,000 troops, for a total of 20,000 combatants. While no mention is actually made of the army's chariot strength, by this date the Egyptians should have been able to muster a significant force.

Ramesses left Egypt in April, probably taking the coast road to Gaza. It was there that Ramesses sent the Ne'arin, probably an elite unit, northward from Gaza along the coast road to Canaan, probably to secure the loyalty of the Canaanite coastal cities. On a specific day, they were probably ordered to arrive at Kadesh by way of the Eleutheros Valley in Amurru. The main body of his forces followed the route inland through Canaan, traversing the eastern side of Lake Galilee afterwards entering the Bekaa Valley in order to reach Kumidi.


Ramesses II had arrived near Kadesh and was encamped with the army of Amun about one day's march south from Kadesh. The location of their camp has been identified as a high, conspicuous mound known as Kamuat el-Harmel. We are actually not certain about the day that Ramesses II arrived at this location, but rather that he was at the camp on the ninth day of the month of Shemu (late May). The other three armies, named P'Re (Re), Ptah and Sutekh (Set), lay to the rear of the army of Amun, each separated by a distance of about 10.5 kilometers (one iter). While Ramesses II has been criticized for this division of his forces, it was standard operating procedure to distance the armies in this manner.

Unfortunately, we have no further specific references to time within the accounts of the battle, and many military analysts believe that the following events may have occurred over a broader length of time than what the fluid accounts of the battle might lead us to believe.

First Encounters with the Enemy

Ramesses II and the Army of Amun began to strike camp on the ninth day in order to cross the Orontes probably by the ford at Shabtuna (or nearby). It must have taken some considerable period of time for this to have been effected. Five thousand men, perhaps along with additional (and probably, considering the retinue that followed the King, substantial) support personnel, their equipment, including chariots, had to move down the ridge through the Labwi (Robawi) forest and ponderously cross the Orontes. This all probably took a great deal of time and even if the Army of Amun broke camp (a major undertaking in itself) early on the ninth day, they probably did not complete the crossing until at least mid-afternoon.

Shortly after the crossing, two Shasu Bedouin were encountered and brought before the pharaoh. It has been generally assumed that they were a deliberate plant by the Hittite king to misinform Ramesses II, and indeed, they informed him that the Hittite army was some distance to the north in the land of Aleppo.

In bronze age encounters, this would have given Ramesses II considerable advantage. One of the most important aspects of such a battle, after a long march by opposing armies, was a period of rest and reorganization for battle readiness. Ramesses obviously took considerable assurance that he was in a superior position to the Hittite forces, and even the Egyptian accounts of the campaign do not attempt to hide his gullibility on this matter. However, historians may be too quick to lay blame on Ramesses II. The king clearly followed normal army operating procedures, and it was common for a screening force of chariots or horsemen to move ahead of the marching army. This advanced element was either absent, or may have shared the overconfidence of the pharaoh, but in any event, it would not have been the task of the king to oversee every operation of his army, for he had senior officers for that purpose.

At any rate, the Army of Amun arrived in a somewhat casual manner at their campsite on the plains of Kadesh, northwest of the city, perhaps late on the ninth day, not realizing that the entire Hittite army was camped on the opposite side of the Kadesh mound. While we do not know the precise location of his camp, it is likely that he used the same site as that of Seti I some years before. The Egyptian's no doubt set up camp with the expectations of an extended stay, for at the center of the camp they erected a shrine to the god Amun, together with the great tent of the pharaoh where Ramesses II "took his seat on a throne of gold".

Certainly it seems that if reconnaissance of any manner was ordered previously it was ineffectual, but now the Egyptian scouts made good by returning with two prisoners found lurking near the Egyptian camp. Refusing at first to talk, they were beaten before being dragged before Rameses II. The historical documents record that:

"Then said His Majesty, 'What are you'? They replied, 'We belong to the ruler of Hatti! He sent us out to see where Your Majesty was.' Said His Majesty to them, 'Where is he, the Ruler of Hatti? See, I heard it said that he was in the land of Aleppo, north of Tunip.' They replied, 'Behold, the Ruler of Hatti has already come, together with many foreign lands that he brought as allies...See, they are poised armed and ready to fight behind Old Kadesh?'"

It must have been a great shock to Ramesses II, who, only moments before, had figured he held an advantage to his adversary, having arrived on the plain of Kadesh first. As the full implications of this new information sank in, Ramesses must have understood that he and his army stared absolute disaster in the face. Not only was the Hittite army rested and ready for battle, but he had arrived at Kadesh with only a small part of his overall forces.

A conference was quickly called with his senior staff, where the king revealed to them their dire predicament. This resulted in the realization that all would be lost unless their forces could be quickly consolidated, and therefore, the king's vizier was quickly sent south in order to implement a rapid advance by Egypt's other forces. However, at this point the events that follow become somewhat difficult to recount.

If indeed the Egyptian Army left their camp and crossed the Orontes River on the ninth day, then it must have been somewhat late that day that the Hittite scouts were discovered, and even later by the time they were handed over to Ramesses after being tortured. Some authorities believe therefore that the vizier would not have reached the closest forces to Ramesses, the Army of Re, until the morning of the tenth day. However, that army had probably advanced northward just as the Army of Amun had, camping perhaps in the same location that the Ramesses II had occupied previous to his crossing of the Orontes. Hence, it is very possible that the vizier did in fact reach the southern forces late on the day of the ninth.

The Forces Engage

We know that the Army of Re mustered their forces and, as soon as they could break camp, attempted to close ranks with the Army of Amun as the vizier continued south in order to warn Egypt's other forces. Soon the Army of Re was crossing the River Orontes but Ramesses II would be disappointed if he expected their timely arrival. However, whether this division of the Egyptian army crossed the River late on the nine day of the month of Shemu or early on the tenth day is open to speculation. regardless, what transpired next could not have been as much of a surprise as the ancient text makes of it.

As the Army of Re crossed the Orontes River, they were set upon by Hittite chariotry, who emerged from the tree line to the right of the column about three quarters of a mile distant. However, it should be noted that some time must have elapsed between the dispatch of the vizier and the Army of Re's crossing of the Orontes. They, along with the Army of Amun under the direct command of Ramesses, had some period of time to prepare themselves for the ensuing hostilities, for it must have taken time for the vizier to both have reached and warned the army of Re, as well for that division to have struck camp and crossed the Orontes.

Yet, this apparently did not prevent the destruction that followed. Having emerged from their cover the Hittite chariots crashed into the Army of Re, as they had been trained, causing widespread havoc. Many, if not most Egyptologists disagree with Ramesses stated figure of 2,500 chariots, for this would have been an overwhelming force that, first of all, would have required a significant time to cross over the Orontes but having succeeded, could have very likely decimated all of the Egyptian forces. For this reason, many analysts believe that the Hittite chariot forces that attacked the Army of Re were much smaller, perhaps only one fifth of the size documented by the Egyptians. This could explain much of what happened next. However, it must also be remembered that by this point, half of the Egyptian forces, consisting of some ten thousand men, along with half of the Egyptian chariotry were now on the plains of Kadesh, so the force of Hittite chariots may have been substantial given the initial destruction that was caused. Furthermore, the Hittite forces may not have had to cross over the Orontes proper, but rather a fairly small tributary.

Certainly the Hittite chariots scattered the Army of Re, but probably did not actually decimate it. After crashing through the ranks of the Egyptian column, they wheeled to the north following the vanguard of this division as they rushed to the perceived safety of the Amun lines. The army of Amun had little time to secure a combat stance, but given the alarming information provided by the Hittite scouts, they must have been in a state of readiness to some extent. It is doubtful that the column of Re, which probably stretched on for some two and one half miles, was completely overcome by the Hittite attack. As the remnants of the Army of Re approached the camp of Amun, followed in hot pursuit by the Hittite chariotry, lookouts should have seen the advancing storm, signaled by the dust plume created by such a disturbance, and alerted at least some of the camp to the impending battle.

Nevertheless, the Hittite chariots very quickly crashed through the front lines of Ramesses II's camp, but were quickly slowed by the impending obstacles of such a large camp. Even so, they created widespread panic amongst these troops as well, scattering the forces as they had evidently done with the army of Re. Yet, pharaoh had been alerted by this time to the attack, and in what seems to have been a rather cool, collected effort on his part, first instructed his court, which probably included a few princes, on their defense, and then proceeded to dress himself in armor and prepare his immediate guard for a battle which he would heroically lead.

By this time, the Hittite chariotry forces were concentrated within the camp and perhaps at a point where they had become somewhat disorganized. They were probably also in a position where maneuverability of their much larger chariots was difficult because of obstacles within the camp. Further, after attacking the Re column and wheeling northward for the camp of Amun, their horses must have surely been exhausted. Doubtless, they had even lost a few of their kind in the running battle that was even now continuing.

Now, it was Ramesses II who:

":...appeared in glory like his father Montu, he assumed the accoutrements of battle, and he girded himself with his corslet"
However, before engaging in the battle, he sought safety for his family members that traveled with him, but thereafter, in a fit of valor, Ramesses II's, together with his personal guard, attacked the charging Hittite forces and, with the superior maneuverability of their chariots, wheeled about in successive attacks on the slower forces of the Hittites.

We are told by Ramesses II that:

"I found the 2,500 chariots, in whose midst I was, sprawling before my horse. Not one of them found his hand to fight...and they were unable to shoot. They found not their hearts to seize their javelins."

The results were that the Egyptians began to pick off the overextended Hittite chariotry. Of course, the fact that the Hittite forces could be dealt with at this point by what was apparently only a fairly small force of Egyptians is another reason why historians believe that there were less then 2,500 chariots in the Hittite attack. However, Ramesses II tells us that he:

"caused them to plunge into the water (of the River Orontes), even as crocodiles plunge, fallen upon their faces. I killed among them according as I willed".

However, there may have also been a somewhat larger number of Egyptian forces who stood against the Hittite forces rather than running in the cowardly manner that the reliefs depict. It is difficult to imagine, having been warned of their dire circumstances by the Hittite scouts, that the Amun camp was not highly alert and that the five thousand troops of that division were not in a state of battle readiness. It is more than somewhat likely, given his vanity on such matters, that Ramesses II empathized his own heroism on the walls of his temples at the expense of his armed forces.

Irregardless, the Hittite forces began to lose their initial advantage. Overlooking the battle scene along with the nobles and high officials who had accompanied the Hittite army, Muwatallish monarch appears to have been shaken by the Egyptian recovery that he witnessed within the running battle at Ramesses II's camp. In order to save his dwindling forces, he ordered another thousand chariots to the attack. This force appears to have consisted of the high nobles who surrounded the king. However, several pieces of information should be closely examined at this point.

First, it is argued that this second force could not have been as great as one thousand chariots, for the logistics of quickly sending that large of force immediately into battle would have been difficult, if not impossible. However, the fact that the nobility within the Hittite forces were now sent into battle also suggests that the initial commitment of Hittite chariotry must have been substantial. Though perhaps not as many as 2,500 chariots, it seems to have left the Hittites with only the elite nobility in reserve.

Secondly, it has been suggested by highly authoritative sources that the initial chariot attack was actually unintentional. Some scholars believe that the Hittite chariots may have simply been scouting the Egyptian forces, but when they broke from the scrub trees and saw the Army of Re, they had little choice other than crashing through the Egyptian column. These analysts argue that, had the attack been intentional with a force as large as 2,500 chariots, they could have and should have completely decimated the Egyptian forces.

However, the fact that Muwatallish was in fact observing the battle with forces ready to reinforce the initial chariot attack, seems to indicate that the battle was no accident, though many questions do remain on this matter. For example, during the entire event, no Hittite infantry seem to have ever been committed to the battle, which leaves us with an awkward gap in our understanding of the battle.

As the Hittite reinforcements entered the fray, the Egyptian forces must have themselves been exhausted from their initial encounter with the enemy forces. If they were aware of the second wave of Hittite chariotry as they charged the camp, the men surrounding Ramesses II must have surely felt doomed. However, Ramesses II seems to have been a lucky man throughout his long life, and now he was particularly fortuitous. As the Hittite forces approached the Egyptian camp, suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, the Ne'arin appeared, turning the impending disaster into a route of the Hittite forces.

It is probable that the Hittites did not know about the Ne'arin. This term means "young men" and infers that they were perhaps a crack Canaanite unit who's loyalty to Ramesses II was beyond reproach. It has been suggested that, rather than an elite unit, this may have actually been the Army of Set, though the reliefs indicate otherwise. It was probably no accident that they showed up at this point, though the exact timing was certainly lucky. These forces had probably been ordered to join up with the main body of the Egyptian army on a specific day.

Nevertheless, the Hittite forces were sent scurrying back across the Orontes river and we are told that many nobles and men of importance within the Hittite confederation lay dead on the battle field, or were swept away by the river in their panicked retreat.

The next day, there may have been some additional fighting according to some accounts, but this may have also referenced the lashing that Ramesses II would give his troops for their cowardly actions. In the reliefs documenting the battle, Ramesses II states that:

"None of you was there...None rose to lend me his hand in my fight...None of you came later to tell the story of his heroic deeds in Egypt...The foreigners who saw me, praise my name to the end of all lands where I was not known...Since ancient times a man was honored for his fighting abilities, but I will not reward any of you, as you have abandoned me when I was alone fighting my enemies."

It has even been suggested that, even as Muwatallish overlooked the scene, Ramesses II may have dispatched a number of his troops to the netherworld.

More importantly, what happened next almost negates the resounding victory claimed by Ramesses II. He agreed to a truce with the Hittite King, who we are told pleaded with Ramesses II stating:

"Suteh are you, Baal himself, your anger burns like fire in the land of Hatti... our servant speaks to you and announces that you are the son of Re. He put all the lands into your had, united as one. The land of Kemi, the land of Hatti, are at your service. They are under your feet. Re, your exalted father, gave them to you so you would rule us. It is good that you should kill your servants?... Look at what you have done yesterday. You have slaughtered thousands of your servants....You will not leave any inheritance. Do not rob yourself of your property, powerful king. glorious in battle, give us breath in our nostrils."

Of course, this text obviously offers a view by the Egyptians. It may be that both parties to the truce realized that additional battles might have decimated both armies to the extent that they may ver well have become vulnerable to other powers within the region. Furthermore, Ramesses II was obviously facing a crises within the ranks, so we are told that:

"His Majesty turned back in peace to Egypt, together with his infantry and his chariotry being with him"

Ramesses II later signed a peace treaty with the Hittites which would forever place Kadesh out of Egyptian hands. From this, it is evident that no real victory took place, or at least not one that gave Ramesses II an obvious edge over his enemies. In fact, it would seem that the Hittites army even shadowed the Egyptian forces as they headed home.

A drawing of the reliefs at the Temple of Luxor depicting the Battle of Kadesh.
The bottom register shows Ramesses II single-handedly charging the enemey

Eventually, what Ramesses II failed to do to the Hittites would be accomplished instead by the Sea People, who would infiltrate the Hittite lands and eventually cause that empire to collapse. But for now, the Hittites were no longer Egypt's great enemy, for later, Ramesses II would take perhaps several of Hattusilis III's (successor to Muwatallish) daughters as his queens and there would be much correspondence between the two courts.

Defensive Equipment of the Egyptian Army

Egyptian Army Equipment of Defensive

The ancient Egyptians used three forms of defensive military equipment, which included body armor and helmets, shields and siege shelters for Ultimately and outside of military architecture such as fortresses though most of these items were seen fairly late in the Dynastic period (with the exception of the shield, which may be dated back as for as the predynastic period.

It is perhaps obvious that defensive equipment often dictated the development and evolution of offensive weapons. For example, body armor and helmets worn by the enemies of Egypt forced the evolution of the blunt mace into cutting battle axe and finally into a piercing battle axe. On the other hand, since many of Egypt's enemies were in fact fairly lightly armored, the bow and arrow, which could be manufactured inexpensively and in large numbers, continued as a primary weapon despite the fact that heavier, more expensive spears had better penetrating power.


From the late Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom, the only real body protection used by Egyptian soldiers was supplied by a long, roughly rectangular shield made of cowhide stretched over a wooden frame. It was usually either one to one and a half meters high and tapered towards the top to a curved or pointed edge.

The shield was only used to any large extent since the 2nd millennium, perhaps because it restricted the warrior ability to use his weapons. Bows for instance had to be handled with both hands.  Thus sometimes a shield-bearer accompanied the archer: Shields were most often carried by soldiers with spears.

The shield's size was also dependent on the main weapon used by the soldier. In the 20th century BC, when Egyptians had not yet come into conflict with Asiatics, man-high shields behind which the whole body could be hidden gave good protection against showers of arrows.  When defending oneself against directed blows of battle axes or swords, smaller shields, which were more easily handled, were a better choice. Thus the tall shields disappeared during the 2nd millennium from the Egyptian armory.

The Hittite chariots Ramesses II fought at the Battle of Kadesh were manned by a driver, an archer and a shield-bearer. This in return required bigger, heavier and therefore slower and less maneuverable chariots.  Big shields were heavier, limiting the time they could be carried, the speed with which the soldiers could advance and their field of vision. Protection was paid for with the effectiveness of the attack. Hence, by the New Kingdom, shields became smaller with a tapered lower half.

During the New Kingdom bronze was sometimes used. Metal plate shields were heavier than leather shields with wooden frames, and did not necessarily afford better protection.  At Oxford University a leather covered wooden frame shield and a bronze shield were constructed similar to those used in ancient times and attempts were made to pierce them with both a sword and lance. While the bronze shield was split by the sword and pierced by the spear, the leather shield with its higher elasticity was not penetrated.

The shields was usually held by a handle or a leather strip fastened to the center of the frame. However, shields were also sometimes carried by a strap slung over the shoulder allowing the soldier to use both hands, though this reduced the shield to a passive piece of armor protecting only one side of the body.

The round shield was an import from the Aegean. The Sea Peoples were depicted using them in Egypt, at first against Ramesses III. This form doesn't seem to have had any intrinsic military value over other shields, but was rather a local tradition which spread over much of the eastern Mediterranean.


Just as in civilian life, Egyptians at war rarely covered their heads, the pharaohs being the exception. They often wore special headgear.  The mercenaries continued their own traditions, which, if they were Europeans like the Sherden or Philistines, or Asiatics, generally meant wearing helmets. The Sherden helmets were particularly interesting, with a pair of horns protruding from the helmet on either side of a disk.  Nubians on the other hand are never shown helmeted.

The pharaoh is often shown wearing the war helmet, otherwise known as the Blue Crown. This crown was made of cloth or leather but covered with golden discs.

Body armor

Because of the climate, very little armor was ever worn in Africa. In Egypt's Old and Middle Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers never wore armor. In the Old Kingdom they are usually depicted wearing only a belt and a small triangular loincloth. During the Middle Kingdom, their apparel was invariably the same short linen kilt as that worn by civilian workmen. Hence, from the late Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian soldiers at best only wore an occasional band of webbing across the shoulders and chest.


Sometimes broad leather bands covered part of the torso of charioteers, but generally soldiers are depicted without any body protection.  Again the pharaohs were, not surprisingly, the exception. Ramesses II fighting as a charioteer was portrayed wearing scale armor with sleeves, covering the whole torso. The scales were bronze, attached through holes to a skirt. His legs were of course protected by the chariot. However, even he is not always shown wearing armor. It might be presumed that other charioteers who could afford the expensive armor might also have worn it. Yet, even pharaohs, though they almost always are depicted wearing the blue crown, did not always wear armor. For example, portrayals of Seti I clearly show him without any body armor in battle.

Often the use of armor was symbolical or for ostentation. Golden corselets of mail with precious stones were made for members of the royal family and gods are at times depicted wearing armor. Hence, we find that:

"Amen is clad in red and green chain armor. The skirts of the goddesses are inconceivably scant; but they are rich in jewelry, and their headdresses, necklaces, and bracelets are full of minute and interesting detail."


Soldiers attempting to destroy walls or batter gates were especially vulnerable. As early as the 20th century BC, attempts were made to protect them by shielding them with portable shelters. A scene in the tomb of the 11th Dynasty noble, Khety shows a pair of Middle Kingdom soldiers apparently under the protection of a mobile roofed structure, advancing towards a fortress with a long pole which was perhaps an early battering ram.  Egyptian siege warfare was never very effective compared to that of Mesopotamia where battering rams on wheeled carriages, which protected sappers quite well, were developed.

Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Their Decipherment

Egyptian Hieroglyphics and their meanings 

 Egyptian Hieroglyphics and their meanings

Step into an Egyptian Exhibit at your favorite museum, or study a photograph of a coffin in a good book. Walk through a temple or tomb in Egypt itself and look at the walls and doorways. Chances are you will see hieroglyphics, the Greek words for sacred writings, what the Egyptians called medu netjer or divine words.

Examples of passages and groupings of hieroglyphics that may already be familiar to us are the hetep di nisu or "an offering which the king gives," most commonly seen on coffins and funerary texts, and in the cartouches bearing the names of the Kings. We may have already begun to recognize individual and increasingly familiar glyphs. Look at the accompanying photo of part of the beautiful Tomb of Nefertari, the favorite wife of Rameses II. How many hieroglyphs can you make out? Can you translate any of the signs? What was said here? To understand a people, understand their language as closely as possible.


Hieroglyphs developed from pictorial representations of flora, fauna, buildings, people and objects of daily use that were familiar to the people. Later developed the need to convey a spoken language, words or sentences, in a written form, and the pictographs then came to have specific meanings, and were used to convey a distinctive language. The Egyptians thus used a system that combined phonograms, that is, sound-signs that spelt out the word in an alphabetic system, and ideograms, sense-signs that were added to the spelled-out word to depict its meaning, and this language had its own syntax, grammar and vocabulary.

Hieroglyphs were primarily used for religious and formal secular purposes. Early in the historical period, a simpler cursive script was developed, in which each character was a simplified version of a hieroglyph. This script is today known as hieratic and was widely used until about 800 BCE for business, literary and religious texts. By about 700 BCE another script today called demotic had evolved from the hieratic. Business, legal and literary inscriptions were written in demotic.

The spread of Christianity in Egypt and the consequent development of the Coptic script sounded the death-knell for the medu netjer, which had been primarily used for official documents in both government and temple administration. By the end of the fifth century ACE, knowledge of how to read and write the old scripts was extinct. The hieroglyphs were fully surrendered to the larger myth of ancient Egypt, the land of strange customs ad esoteric wisdom nurtured in belief by classical writers.

The belief that the hieroglyphs were somehow symbolic and imbued with secret meaning, rather than simply being a popular script, had become well-rooted before Diodorus Siculus visited Egypt in the first centiry BCE. He wrote: "their writing does not express the intended concept by means of syllables joined to one another, but by means of the significance of the objects which have been copied, and by its figurative meaning which has been impressed upon the memory by practice." The influential philosopher Plotinus writing in the third century said the hieroglyphs were nothing less than Platonic ideas in visual form, "each picture…a kind of understanding and wisdom" revealing to the initiated true knowledge as to the essence and substance of things.


Such inaccuracies were hard to shake. The very scientific and pragmatically-minded Europe wanted to hold on to the thought that perhaps there were mysteries in the world if an initiate could just find the key. Hieroglyphics were a mystery all right, but not mysterious or mystical. And the key was found in the 18th and 19th centuries of the Common Era.

In the seventeenth century ACE the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher made a good beginning when he recognized the linguistic derivation of Coptic from the language of the hieroglyphics, though he took this to be a symbolic writing. A linguist of great ability, Kircher’s translations of hieroglyphics were based entirely on these preconceived notions as to their symbolic functioning. Kircher does however hold an honored place in Egyptological circles, since he authored the first Coptic grammar and vocabulary. Knowledge of Coptic, the spoken and written language of the Egyptian people at the time the Rosetta Stone was discovered, would prove to be a vital element in eventually deciphering the hieroglyphs. The ancient Egyptian language could not have been understood without knowledge of Coptic, which was written using Greek letters and a few signs derived from demotic, and was used in translations of the Bible, liturgies and other writings of Christianity.

Then 1785 ACE Jean Barthelemy suggested that the cartouches surrounding some hieroglyphs contained divine and royal names.

In July of 1799, Napoleon’s French army was encamped in the Delta region of Egypt, near the branch of the Nile called the Rosetta. As soldiers were digging, they hit upon a large stone of black basalt, measuring 3’9" high, 2’4"wide, and 11" thick. It has three styles of writing inscribed on its surface, but may be part of a larger piece perhaps 5 or 6 feet high. No other pieces have yet been found. The commander of the unit sent the stone on to Alexandria.

Napoleon had brought with him many scientists from all branches, botanists, geologists, artists, etc, to explore and take notes on the culture and monuments of Egypt. He soon realized the significance of this stone, and had two artists come in to make rubbing copies. These were sent to scholars all over Europe.

Meanwhile, the French lost their military position to Britain, and the Rosetta Stone was sent to London, where it still resides in the British Museum. The Stone is a commemorative stela from an Egyptian temple. It was incised on one side with an inscription dated to Year 9 of the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, in 196 BCE, a copy of a decree issued by a general council of priests recording the honors bestowed upon the king by the temples. While all three of the sections are damaged the hieroglyphs at the top were the most damaged.

The writing on the Stone is in Greek and Egyptian. After the Stone was transferred to the British, the Greek section was fully translated in 1802 by Rev Stephen Weston. The Egyptian is in both Hieroglyphic, part of which was missing on the Stone, and in Demotic writing. Demotic was the principal writing form at the time when the stone was carved, whereas hieroglyphics were used for formal inscription of documents and monuments, similar to our use today of Old English font instead of a more modern one where an impressive presentation is desired. Sylvestre de Sacy concentrated on the demotic section. He began with the Greek proper names and attempted to isolate their demotic versions and managed to successfully isolate the names for Ptolemy and Alexander, but could get no further.

A Swedish diplomat and student of de Sacy named Johan Akerblad made more progress. He identified the demotic proper names that corresponded in the Greek, among them, Arsinoe, Berenice and Aelos. He then built up a demotic alphabet of 29 letters, almost half of which were actually correct. He then demonstrated that the phonetic signs used to write the names were also used to spell ordinary words such as "temple," "love," "him," "his," "Egyptian," and "Greek," providing the first indication of the general phonetic character of demotic. He was also able to correlate these to their Coptic equivalents. Mistakenly, however, Akerblad then became convinced that the demotic was entirely phonetic or alphabetic, and could continue no further.

In 1814 fragments of a papyrus were submitted to Thomas Young for study. Young deduced that the demotic writing was not entirely alphabetic, as the Swede had incorrectly deduced twelve years before. He began with the demotic and within a few weeks isolated most of the graphic groups representing individual words and related them to their equivalents in the Greek. He also noticed that at least some of the demotic characters resembled the corresponding hieroglyphs and were adopted as verbal characters and mixed with letters of the alphabet.

Young drew on other material, such as the inscriptions newly published by the Napoleonic expedition in the volumes of Description de l’Egypte, as well as some unpublished papyri, funeral rolls, recently brought from Egypt and loaned to him. By comparing parallel texts in the funerary documents, Young was able to confirm the relationship among the scripts by tracing the progression from the sacred character through the hieratic into the demotic. He could now establish the equivalence of many of the demotic and hieroglyphic signs, leading him to firmly identify the only personal name that occurs in the hieroglyphic section, that of King Ptolemy. He then found that groups of hieroglyphs with ovals, or, as the ovals became called then cartouches, around them, were royal names. Since that name was expressed phonetically in demotic, it most likely would be in hieroglyph as well.

By 1815 Young had developed a vocabulary of 86 words associating the Greek with the demotic. He recognized the names of Cleopatra, Berenice and Ptolemy in this fashion. Young published the results of his four years of research in 1819 in an article entitled "Egypt" for the Supplement to the fourth edition of the Britannica.

This breakthrough smoothed the way for Jean Francois Champollion, who had been also hard at work on decipherment. He corrected and enlarged Young’s list of hieroglyphs, and deciphered the names and titles of most of the Roman emperors who had ruled Egypt. He also formulated a system for understanding the Egyptian grammar and evolved a method of decipherment that was used in the field long after.

Champollion realized that he must isolate a pair of already known names having several hieroglyphs in common, so they could act as independent checks on each other and serve in additional identifications. By chance, another bilingual inscription fell into his hands. An obelisk and its base block, which had stood in the temple of Philae near Aswan, was brought back to England by a traveler. On the base was a Greek inscription mentioning two royal names, Ptolemy and Cleopatra, while the obelisk contained two different cartouches which were inferred to belong to those Kings. Sure enough the hieroglyphs in the Ptolemy cartouche matched the Ptolemy glyphs from the Rosetta Stone identified by Young. A lithograph was made of both the Greek and hieroglyphic names, and Champollion received a copy of this lithograph.

Champollion also received copies of reliefs and inscriptions from Egyptian temples, one from the temple of Abu Simbel in Nubia. This contained cartouches enclosing a name repeated in a variety of ways. Using what he had already learned, he identified the names of Rameses and Tuthmosis. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of the French Academie Royale des Inscriptions, Baron Joseph Dacier, outlining this discovery. This Lettre a M. Dacier is regarded as the definitive document by which hieroglyphs could be translated. Champollion published his Precis du systeme hieroglyphique in 1824

When Champollion died unexpectedly of a stroke in 1832, his brother put together all his notes, edited them and published these and many other subsequent discoveries as Grammaire and Dictionnaire.

Work continues on decipherment and translation as more texts are found and understanding of the ancient Egyptian culture is expanded and enriched. Next time you walk by a museum coffin richly painted with symbols, or if you are in Karnak some day amidst the glyphs along the pillars, stop a moment and look. A story was written there.