29 November 2010

Real Life Heroes: Ramses

By Jean Adams

The war between the Egyptians and the Hittites for the control of Syria, took place in the spring of the fifth year of Ramses' reign. The battle of Kadesh was the result of Amurru defecting to Egypt. While the Hittites wanted to bring Amurru back into their fold, the Egyptians tried to protect their new vassal.

Ramses' army consisted mostly of Egyptians, with a few Nubian contingents and some mercenaries. Chariots were manned by Egyptian nobles, but records do not mention how many Egyptian soldiers there were. It is thought that an Egyptian division comprised of 5000 foot soldiers. Ramses set out with four divisions of 20,000.

The Hittite army of 37,000 foot soldiers and 3500 chariots was hiding behind the abandoned settlement of Kadesh. Unfortunately, Ramses believed false rumors, which were beaten out of two, very brave, captured Hittites spies. While one division was setting up camp, 2500 Hittite chariots attacked the marching Re division in two waves. Two other Egyptian divisions were still on the far side of the river Orontes.

After a time, Ramses, trapped behind enemy lines, was to face a desperate fight for his life. He summoned up his courage and called upon his god Amun for help, fighting valiantly to save himself.

Ramses leads his army at the Battle of Kadesh

During the battle, Ramses personally led several charges into the Hittite ranks together with his personal guard, some of the chariots from his Amun division and survivors from the routed Re division. Using the superior maneuverability of Egyptian chariots, he deployed and attacked the tired and overextended Hittite chariotry.

The Hittites, meanwhile, who believed their enemies to be routed, had stopped to loot the Egyptian camp and, in so doing, became easy targets for Ramses' counterattack. Ramses' action succeeded in driving the Hittites back towards the Orontes and away from the Egyptian camp. In the ensuing pursuit, the heavier Hittite chariots were easily overtaken and dispatched by the lighter, faster, Egyptian chariots.

Although they had suffered a significant reversal, the Hittites still commanded a large force of reserve chariotry and infantry. As their retreat reached the river, the king ordered another thousand chariots to attack the Egyptians. As the Hittite forces approached the Egyptian camp, a contingent from Amurru arrived, surprising the Hittites. Ramses also had time to regroup his forces.

After six charges, the Hittite forces were almost surrounded, and the survivors faced humiliation by having to swim back across the Orontes. Neither side gained total victory. There is no consensus about the outcome or what took place, with views ranging from an Egyptian victory, a draw, and an Egyptian defeat (with the Egyptian accounts simply propaganda).

Once back in Egypt, Ramses proclaimed that he had won a great victory, but all he had managed to do was to rescue his army. Hero or propogandist, the Battle of Kadesh was a personal triumph for Ramses since, after blundering into a devastating Hittite chariot ambush, he had courageously rallied his scattered troops to fight on the battlefield while escaping death or capture.

The conflicts finally ended fifteen years later, in 1258 BC, by an official peace treaty, in the 21st year of Ramses' reign. It is the first recorded peace treaty. An enlarged replica of the Kadesh agreement hangs on a wall at the headquarters of the United Nations, as the earliest known international peace treaty.

Jean Adams' latest contemporary romance, YESTERDAY'S DREAMS, is due out soon from The Wild Rose Press. It is the first in a two-book series set in the New Zealand seaside town of Patiki Bay. Her trilogy set in ancient Egypt is a work in progress, but her time travel Egyptian romance, ETERNAL HEARTS, is available now in print from Highland Press.