THE BATTLE OF QADESH
Brian E. Colless
The Title of the Text
(1) Here begins The Victory of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usimarey-Setpenrey (Ramesses II), Son of Rey, Ramesse-Miamon, given life for ever, which victory he achieved in the land of Hatti, Nahrin*, in the land of Arzawa, in Pidasa, in that of Dardany, the land of Masa, in the land of Qarqisha, and Luka, in Karkemish, Qedy, the land of Qadesh, in the land of Ugarit, and Mushanet. * Naharina, Mitanni, the Hurrians
The Character of King Ramesses II
(2) Now His Majesty was a youthful lord, vigorous and peerless,
powerful of arm and stout of heart, his strength like Mont* at his peak moment; *god of war
goodly of form like Atum*, rejoicing the beholder of his beauty; *sun-god
great in victory over all foreign countries, cunning at launching an attack;
a strong wall about his army, their shield on the day of battle;
a bowman without equal, braver than hundreds and thousands put together;
charging head on into whole multitudes, his heart trusting in his strength;
stalwart of heart in the hour of close combat; like fire at its time of consuming;
firm of heart like a bull ready for battle, not perturbed by all lands combined;
a thousand men cannot withstand him, a hundred thousand collapse at the sight of him;
inspiring fear, with loud roaring, in the hearts of all lands;
great in majesty and mighty in renown, like Sutekh* on his mountain; *or Seth,god of the desert and storm
terrifying the hearts of foreigners, like a savage lion in a valley of goats;
advancing valiantly and returning triumphantly, yet not speaking boastfully;
effective in counsel and good in planning, his first response is always the right one;
saving his army on the day of battle, great protector of his chariotry;
bringing home his followers and rescuing his soldiers, his heart like a mountain of copper;
the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usimarey-Setpenrey,
Son of Rey, Ramesse-Miamon, given life for ever like Rey.
The Army's March Northwards
(3) Now His Majesty had equipped his infantry and his chariotry, as also the Sherden mercenaries captured and brought back from victorious campaigns of his strong arm; they had been supplied with all their weapons and given the plan of battle. His Majesty then proceeded northward accompanied by his infantry and his chariotry. He set out on the march in fine fashion in Year 5, second month of the third season (Summer), day 9. His Majesty passed the fortress of Tjel*, mighty in his going forth like the god Mont, every foreign land trembling before him and their chiefs bringing their gifts; all the rebellious ones were coming, bowed down in fear of His Majesty's might. *(Sile, on the eastern frontier of the Delta)
(4) His army went along the narrow defiles as if upon the highways of Egypt. After the passing of many days His Majesty was in Ramesse-Miamon (Ramesses-Beloved-of Amon), the town in the Valley of Cedars. And His Majesty continued northward. After His Majesty reached the hill country of Qadesh, then His Majesty went forward like his father Mont, lord of Thebes; he crossed the ford of the Orontes with the first army, Amon-gives-victory-to-Usimarey-Setpenrey, and arrived at the town of Qadesh. *(in the Lebanon).
The Coalition under the Hittite King
(5) Now the wretched antagonist from Hatti (the land of the Hittites) had come, having gathered together all the foreign countries as far as the end of the sea; the whole land of Hatti had come, that of Nahrin likewise, that of Arzawa, Dardany,that of Keshkesh, those of Masa, those of Pidasa, that of Irun that of Qarqisha, Luka, Kizzuwadna, Karkemish, Ugarit, Qedy, the entire land of Nukhashshe, Mushanet, Qadesh; of all those distant lands there was no country left which had not been brought with him; all their chiefs were there with him, all having their infantry and chariotry with them, an exceeding great multitude, without equal. They covered the mountains and the valleys; they were like locusts in their multitude. He had left no silver in his land, having stripped it of all its possessions and given them to all the foreign countries in order to bring them with him to fight.
The Positions of the Two Armies
(6) Now the wretched antagonist from Hatti and the many allied nations were stationed in battle array and in concealment to the north-east of the town of Qadesh, while His Majesty was all alone but for his attendants. The army of Amon was marching behind him; the army of Prey was crossing the ford on the south side of the town of Shabtuna, at a distance of one iter from where His Majesty was; the army of Ptah was south of the town of Ironama; and the army of Sutekh* was marching along the road; His Majesty had made the first battle-force out of all the best of his army, and they were upon the shore of the land of Amor. * (or: Seth; storm-god)
(7) The wretched chief of Hatti was stationed in the midst of the army that was with him and he did not come out to fight, through fear of His Majesty. But he had sent men and horses, exceedingly numerous and multitudinous like the sand; they were three men to a chariot and equipped with every kind of war weapon. They had been stationed in concealment behind the town of Qadesh.
The Attack of the Hittite Army
(8) And now they came forth from the southern side of Qadesh and broke into the midst of the army of Prey as it marched along all unaware and unprepared for battle. The infantry and chariotry of His Majesty retreated before them. Meanwhile His Majesty had halted to the north of the town of Qadesh, on the western side of the Orontes River. Then they came and reported this to His Majesty, Life! Prosperity! Health!
The Counter-attack by Ramesses
(9) Then His Majesty appeared in glory like his father Mont. After donning the accoutrement of battle and girding on his coat of mail, he was like Ba‘al in his finest hour. The great horse which bore His Majesty (and his chariot) was called Victory-in-Thebes, from the great stable of Usimarey-Setpenrey (Ramesses), beloved of Amon.
(10) His Majesty set off at a gallop and charged into the doomed host of the Hatti antagonist, all alone, having no one else with him. When His Majesty came to look behind him he found two thousand five hundred chariots hemming him in all round, consisting of all the doughty warriors of the Hatti antagonist, with the many allied countries, from Arzawa, Masa, and Pidasa, Keshkesh, Irun, Kizzuwadna, Haleb, Ugarit, Qadesh, and Luka, they being three men to a chariot, acting as a unit.
The Plight and Prayer of Ramesses
(11) No high officer was with me, no charioteer,
no soldier of the army, no shield-bearer,
my infantry and chariotry gave way before them,
not one of them stood firm to fight them.
Then said His Majesty: What is wrong, my father Amon*? *god of Thebes and supreme deity
Is it right for a father to neglect his son?
Have I ever done anything without you?
Do I not come and go according to your word?
I have not disobeyed anything you commanded.
How great the Lord of Egypt is:
too great to allow foreign peoples to cross his path.
O Amon, what do you care for these Asiatics,
wretches who do not know God?
Have I not made for you many great monuments,
filled your temple with my spoils of war,
built for you my Mansion of Millions-of-Years,
given you all my wealth as endowment?
I have presented to you all lands together
to enrich your offerings,
I have sacrificed to you myriads of cattle
with all manner of sweet-scented herbs.
No good deeds have I left undone in your sanctuary.
I have built great pylons for you,
I myself setting up their flagstaffs;
I have brought you obelisks from Yebu*, *(Elephantine island, Assam)
I myself being the stone-carrier.
I have brought ships over the great green sea for you,
conveying the produce of foreign lands to you.
What will men say if misfortune befalls
one who bends himself to your will?
Do good to one who counts on you,
then he will serve you with a loving heart.
I have called to you, my father Amon,
in the midst of multitudes that I do not know.
All lands are combined against me,
and I am alone, no one else is with me;
my many soldiers have forsaken me,
not one of my charioteers looks round for me;
I keep on shouting to them,
yet not one of them pays heed to my call.
But I have found Amon of more avail
than a million troops, than a hundred thousand chariotry,
than ten thousand brothers and sons united with one heart.
The work of many men is nothing;
Amon is of more avail than they are.
I have come thus far by counsels of your mouth;
O Amon, I have not swerved from your will.
The Response of Amon
(12) Though I prayed at the end of the world,
my voice reached On* in Upper Egypt. *Thebes; On in Lower Egypt is Heliopolis
I found that Amon came when I cried to him;
he gave me his hand and I rejoiced.
He called out close behind me:
Forward! I am with you, I your father, my hand is with you;
of more avail than a hundred thousand men,
I am the valour-loving lord of victory.
The Renewed Attack of Ramesses
(13) I found my heart strong and my breast swelling with joy;
everything I did met with success; I was like Mont*. * (god of war)
I shot with my right hand, grappled on my left;
I was to them like Sutekh at his peak moment.
The twenty-five hundred chariots surrounding me,
I found sprawling before my steeds.
No one found his hand to fight,
their hearts failed in their bodies from fear of me;
all their arms became weak, powerless to shoot;
they had no heart for wielding spears.
I made them plunge into the water like diving crocodiles.
They stumbled over one another, and I slew among them at will.
Not one of them looked behind him,
nor was there one who turned around.
If one of them fell, he did not raise himself again.
The Hittite King's Reinforcements
(14) The wretched Chief of Khatti stood in the midst of his infantry and his chariotry watching how His Majesty fought all alone without infantry or chariotry; he stood with his face turned away in fright, then he brought in many chieftains, each of them with his chariotry, equipped with all their weapons of war. There were the chiefs of Arzawa, Masa, Irun, Luka, Dardany, Karkemish, Qarqisha, Haleb, and the brothers of the chief of Hatti.
The Panic of the Enemy
(15) A thousand chariots in all, they came straight on into the fire.
I moved against them, like Mont, letting them taste my hand in a full moment.
I wreaked havoc among them, slaying them where they stood.
They cried out one to another: This is no man in our midst,
it is Sutekh, great of strength, Ba‘al* in person. *'Lord', the Semitic god of rain and storm, Haddu
The things he is doing are super-human: he is on his own,
overcoming a hundred thousand, without infantry and chariotry.
Come on, quickly, let us flee from him,
seek life for ourselves, and again breathe freely;
see, anyone trying to approach him gets his hands paralysed, and all his limbs;
you cannot grasp a bow or a javelin when you see him coming at you so hard.
My Majesty was after them like a griffin, I killed among them without ceasing.
The Address to his Army
(16) I lifted up my voice to call to my army:
Stand firm, steady your hearts, my soldiers; see my victory, all alone;
for Amon is my protector, his hand is with me.
How faint-hearted you are, my chariotry; it is useless to trust in you any more.
Yet there is not one among you who did not receive good from me in my land.
Did I not arise as Lord when you were poor
and make you into high officers enjoying my sustenance (ka) every day?
I placed the son over the possessions of his father, abolishing all corruption in the land.
Not only did I forgo my right to commandeer your servants
but I also gave back to you others who had been taken from you.
Whoever brought a petition to me always received the answer Yes.
Never has a lord done for his army the things that My Majesty has done for your sakes.
I let you dwell in your towns without doing military service.
My chariotry likewise, I dismissed them to their villages,
thinking that they would be ready when the hour of battle came.
But just look at you; with one consent you have done a cowardly thing;
not one man among you has stood firm to give me his hand while I have been fighting.
By the eternal soul (ka) of my father Amon, I wish I were back in Egypt ,
like the father of my fathers having never seen Syrians, nor fought with them at all,
and not one of you had returned to the land of Egypt to talk about his service.
What a fine thing it would be, establishing many monuments for Thebes, the city of Amon.
The enormous crime my infantry and chariotry committed is beyond words.
(17) Nevertheless, Amon gave me his strength, without infantry and chariotry.
He let every distant land see the victory I won with my strong arm,
all alone, with no high officer following me, no charioteer, no foot soldier, no captain.
The countries that saw me will speak my name as far as distant lands yet unknown.
Whoever escaped from my hand among them stood looking back to see what I had done.
If I attacked millions of them their feet did not stand firm, and they fled.
Any who shot at me found their arrows diverted as they reached me.
The Final Victory of Ramesses
(18) Now when Menna my shield-bearer saw that a great multitude of chariots hemmed me in,
he was dismayed and his heart failed him, great fear having invaded his body.
He said to His Majesty: My good Lord, strong Ruler, Egypt's great Saviour on battle day,
we stand alone in the midst of the combat; see how the infantry and chariotry have left us.
Why do you stay here to rescue them? Let us get clear. Save us, Usimarey-Setpenrey.
His Majesty replied to him: Stand firm, steady your heart, my shield-bearer.
I will move against them as a falcon pounces, killing, slaughtering, hurling to the ground.
Why do you worry about these weaklings? I am not concerned about their millions.
So saying His Majesty dashed forward, galloping into the enemy's midst for the sixth time.
I was after them like Ba‘al at his moment of power, killing among them without pause.
The Outcome of the Battle
(19) When my infantry and my chariotry saw that I was like Mont, mighty of arm,
that Amon my father was with me and making the foreign nations into chaff before me,
they started coming one by one, approaching the camp at eventide,
and found all the foreign peoples I had charged into were lying heaped up in their blood,
all the best warriors of Hatti, and the children and brothers of their chief; *(or: a ruin)
I had made the field of Qadesh shine*, with no place to tread amongst the mass of bodies.
The Army's Praise of their Saviour
(20) Then my army came to praise me, shamefaced after seeing what I had done;
my officers came to magnify my strong arm, likewise my chariotry to glorify my name:
What a fine warrior, steady of heart, you save your infantry and chariotry.
You are Amon's son, working with both arms, devastating Hatti with your mighty arm;
a fine warrior without equal, a king who fights for his army on the day of battle.
You are great of heart, first in the battle-line, heedless of all the nations combined.
You are victorious in your army's presence, in sight of the whole earth, without boasting.
Protector of Egypt, subduer of nations, you have broken the back of Hatti forever.
The Reply of Ramesses to His Army
(21) Then His Majesty replied to his infantry, his officers, and also his chariotry:
What is wrong with you, my officers, soldiers, and charioteers, that you cannot fight?
Does not a man magnify himself in his city when he has been brave in his Lord's presence?
A good name is achieved through fighting, a man is ever respected for his strong arm.
Have I not done good to any of you that you should leave me all alone in battle?
How lucky you are to be alive, who breathed freely while I was alone.
Did you not know in your hearts that I am your wall of iron?
What will men say when they hear that you left me all alone, and no one else with me,
no high officer, captain, or soldier to give me his hand while I was fighting?
I defeated a million nations by myself, with Victory-in-Thebes and Mut-is-content my steeds;
it was in them that I found support when I was alone fighting so many nations.
I will now let them eat their fodder in my presence every day when I am back in my palace;
them I found in the midst of battle, and also the charioteer Menna my shield-bearer;
and my household butlers, who were by my side witnessing my fighting, I found there too.
So my Majesty rested from valour and victory, with myriads overthrown by my strong arm.
The Second Day of Battle
(22) When day dawned I marshaled the ranks for battle, ready for the fray like an eager bull.
I appeared in glory against them like Mont, equipped with valour and victory;
I charged into their ranks fighting like a falcon pouncing.
The cobra-goddess Edjo on my head overthrew my enemies for me,
breathing forth her fire in the face of my foes.
Like Rey when he appears in glory at dawning, my rays burned the rebels' bodies.
They called out to one another: Watch out, take care, do not go near him.
See, great Sekhmet* is with him, by him there on his horses, her hand is with him. *lioness deity
If any one goes near him, a blast of fire comes and burns his body.
The Submission of the Hittites
(23) Then they took their stand at a distance and did obeisance with hands down in front of me. My Majesty had prevailed against them; I had made slaughter amongst them without pause; they were sprawling before my steeds and lying together stretched out in their blood.
(24) So the wretched Chief of Hatti sent and did homage to my name like that of Rey, saying: You are Sutekh, Ba‘al in person; terror of you burns in the land of Hatti. You have utterly broken the back of the Chief of Hatti.
(25) Next he dispatched his envoy bearing a letter in his hand, addressed to the great name of My Majesty, sending greetings to the Majesty of the Residence of Rey-Harakhti, the Strong Bull Beloved of Maat, Sovereign who protects his army, mighty on account of his strong arm, a wall for his soldiers on the day of fighting, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usimarey-Setpenrey, the Son of Rey, Lion Lord of the strong arm, Ramesse-miamun, given life eternally. Your servant speaks and acknowledges that you are the Son of Rey who came forth from his body; he has given you all lands united in one. As for the land of Egypt and the land of Hatti, they are your servants, lying under your feet; your august father Rey has given them to you. Do not overwhelm us; your prowess is great indeed, and your strength is heavy upon the land of Hatti. Is it right for you to slay your servants, your face savage towards them and having no pity? Yesterday you killed a hundred thousand, and today you come and leave us no heirs. Do not be harsh in your dealings, victorious king. Peace is better than fighting. Grant us breath.
(26) So My Majesty rested in life and dominion, like Mont at his peak, when his attack has been successful. My Majesty summoned together all the leaders of my infantry and my chariotry and all my high officers to let them hear what the wretched Chief of Hatti had written to me.
(27) They responded with one voice: It is absolutely right to make peace, our Sovereign Lord. There is no blame in bringing about reconciliation, for who would withstand you on the day of your wrath?
(28) So My Majesty commanded that his words be heeded, and I made a gesture of peace by marching southwards.
The Homeward March to Egypt
(29) His Majesty turned back in peace to Egypt together with his infantry and chariotry, all life, stability, and dominion going with him, and the gods and goddesses serving as talismans for his body and subduing for him all lands through the fear of him. The strength of His Majesty had protected his army, and all the foreign countries praised his fair countenance.
(30) When he arrived safely in Egypt and rested at Pi-Ramesse-Miamon-Great-of-Victories in his palace of life and dominion, like Rey on his horizon, the gods of this land came to him, hailing him and saying, Welcome, our beloved son, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usimarey Setpenrey, the Son of Rey, Ramesse-Miamon. They granted him millions of Sed-festivals* for eternity on the throne of Rey, all lands and all foreign countries lying prostrate beneath his sandals for ever and eternity. *(jubilees)
Qadesh, or Kadesh, was a walled city on the Orontes River in Syria. Its site (Tell Nebi Mend) has been the object of modern archaeological investigation. One of its claims to fame is the battle that took place near it in the thirteenth century B.C.E. The participants were the Egyptians under Pharaoh Ramesses II and the Hittites of Asia Minor under King Muwatallis. Since the time of Pharaoh Thutmose III in the fifteenth century B.C.E., Syria and Palestine had been encompassed in the Egyptian empire; but the Hittites had now moved in from the west and had taken many kings of the city-states of northern Syria into vassalship. Accordingly, in the fifth year of his long reign (1290-1224) Ramesses II led his troops against an allied army of Hittites and Syrians in an attempt to restore his control over northern Syria. He failed to do so, because the battle was not won decisively; but he gained through it a reputation for personal valour among his own people. There are three separate accounts of the battle: a record, a poem, and a set of pictorial reliefs with captions. It is the "poem" that is presented here, but it is a controversial question whether it is really in poetry. (Several sections have been set out here in poetic form.) It certainly waxes lyrical in praise of Ramesses as a divine warrior king, the saviour who rescues his people from their enemies, and provides an interesting parallel to the account of Yahweh saving his Israelite 'army' at the Exodus, likewise drowning the enemy (the Egyptians!) (Exodus 14-15). That Ramesses took on the whole Hittite army single-handed is not very credible. Rather, the sceptics assume that the Egyptian troops rallied and were relieved by a detachment of reinforcements (depicted in one of the illustrations) which arrived on the scene by a different route and in the nick of time.
Edition and Translations
K.A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, Historical and Biographical (Oxford 1969), II, 102-124.
Sir Alan Gardiner, The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II (Oxford 1960), 7-27.
J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, III, paragraphs 298-327 (excerpts).
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, II, 57-72.
Hittite charioteers being dragged out of the river.