Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt
Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt

Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt

Patrick Lynch - November 14, 2016

Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt
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3 – Battle of Djahy – 1178 BC?

This battle took place in the eighth year of the reign of Rameses III and occurred at Djahy which is in modern day Lebanon. While the battle is said to have taken place in 1178 BC; this date is in dispute which some historians claiming it happened in 1175 BC. A seafaring confederation of groups known as the Sea Peoples was making incursions into Egyptian territory by the beginning of the 12th century BC.

It was an extremely difficult time for the Pharaoh who also had to contend with crop failures, drought, and a reduction in population among other things. Three years before Djahy, Rameses had defeated Libyan enemies on Egypt’s border but the Sea Peoples were a much more dangerous threat. It was a dark period as several Mediterranean civilizations such as the kingdoms of Ugarit and Cyprus and the Hittites and Mycenaeans were destroyed by the Sea Peoples and other invaders.

The Egyptians were helped by the fact that the Sea Peoples had already sacked the Hittite territory of Amurru which was on the Egyptian border. This gave Rameses time to prepare for the inevitable attack. Details of the battle are sketchy and we are relying on the account of the Pharaoh which would obviously be biased. Rameses spoke of how his fearless troops stood ready to crush the invaders.

While the details of the battle aren’t clear (Rameses suggests his chariots saved the day), we do know that the Egyptians managed to defeat the Sea Peoples at Djahy. Yet this was far from being the end of the war. The Sea Peoples continued to attack with their naval fleet and Rameses had to defeat them at sea in order to end their threat.

Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt
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4 – Battle of the Delta – 1175 BC?

After managing to fend off the Sea Peoples with victory at Djahy, Rameses used this breathing space to create a plan to end the threat of this dangerous enemy. According to the ancient Medinet Habu inscriptions, the Pharaoh looked at the sea and saw thousands of enemies. He knew the Sea Peoples were a great threat to his empire so he began preparations for a huge sea battle.

His first step was to line the Nile Delta shores with archers ready to shoot thousands of arrows at any enemy ships that came close to land. Rather than engaging with the Sea Peoples on the open water (which would spell almost certain defeat), Rameses cleverly lured their ships into the Nile’s mouth where he had an ambush waiting. This trap consisted of numerous Egyptian ships which pushed their enemy’s vessels towards the shore and the waiting archers.

These men, along with the archers located on the ships, let off volley after volley of arrows and utterly destroyed the enemy. The Sea Peoples were only armed with swords and spears so there was no way for them to counterattack. Their ships were overturned; many of their men drowned and most of those that survived the initial attack were either captured or killed on the shore.

The Battle of the Delta was unquestionably one of the most crucial battles in the history of ancient Egypt. Had Rameses III been defeated, it is almost certain that the empire would have met the same fate as destroyed civilizations such as the Hittites. Yet the victory came at a heavy cost. The Egyptian Treasury was completely drained and its army was severely depleted. While immediate destruction was prevented; the empire began a steady decline in any case. Once Rameses died, things got worse as the Philistines took all of Egypt’s territory in the East.

Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt
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5 – Battle of Carchemish – 605 BC

This significant battle involved an alliance of Egypt and Assyria against the Babylonians who were aided by the Scythians, Persians and Medes. Carchemish was to be Egypt’s last attempt to take control of the Middle East. Seven years previously, Assyria lost its capital Nineveh to the Babylonians (and their allies) and was forced to change its capital to Harran. In 609 B.C., the Babylonian alliance also captured Harran so the Assyrians moved their capital to Carchemish.

In the same year, the Egyptians under Pharaoh Necho II defeated King Josiah, the ruler of the kingdom of Judah, at Megiddo. Then the Egyptians joined the Assyrians in an unsuccessful attempt to retake Harran. In 605 BC, the Babylonian alliance, led by Nebuchadnezzar II, faced the Egyptian alliance at Carchemish.

It is difficult to ascertain the precise army sizes at Carchemish but we do know that the Egyptians lost a reasonable share of its army at Megiddo. The Assyrians had also suffered numerous casualties during the losses of Nineveh and Harran. Yet ancient sources suggest the Egyptians had up to 40,000 men against the 18,000 men of the Babylonian alliance.

According to the Chronicle of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian commander quickly crossed the Euphrates River and attacked the Egyptian army in what became a bloody battle. Necho’s men were the first to leave the field and the remaining soldiers were massacred. The fleeing Egyptians left their weapons behind and were easy prey for the Babylonians as Nebuchadnezzar conquered the entire Hamath area. Nebuchadnezzar ended up on the Babylonian throne soon after the battle and began an empire that stretched from Egypt to Persia.

Ancient World Conflict- 6 Battles that Changed Ancient Egypt
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6 – Battle of Pelusium – 525 BC

This battle took place near the eastern edge of Egypt’s Nile Delta in 525 BC between Pharaoh Psamtik III and Achaemenid king Cambyses II of Persia. It was the first big battle between the ancient Egyptian and Achaemenid Empires. The Persian ruler was furious that the Egyptian Pharaoh’s father (Amasis) had sent him a ‘fake’ daughter and decided to invade Egypt as retribution. By the time Cambyses was ready to invade, Amasis had died which meant his son had to deal with the invaders.

Psamtik was prepared for the attack and strengthened his position at Pelusium. While he believed his forces could repel attacks and withstand a siege, he was unprepared for his crafty enemy. At that time, Bastet was one of Egypt’s most popular goddesses and was known to be a loving and kind deity unless she was offended. In this case, she would become her wicked and spiteful alter ego Sekhmet. In ancient Egypt, you could be executed for the crime of killing a cat such was the reverence the Egyptians showed for this animal.

On the day of the Battle of Pelusium, it is said that Cambyses ordered his men to paint the image of Bastet on their shields. Another source suggests he told his army to pin cats to their shields as a means of psychologically paralyzing the Egyptians. 2nd Century AD Macedonian writer Polyaenus claimed the Persians placed various animals sacred to the Egyptians on their front line including cats, sheep and dogs. We will never know the precise story but it does appear as if Cambyses used some cunning strategy to win the day.

The Egyptians suffered a terrible defeat and up to 50,000 of them died on the battlefield compared to approximately 7,000 Persians. Once again, it is claimed that the Egyptians surrendered their position due to the sight of cats/Bastet on enemy shields (or clothing). Retreating Egyptians fled to the city of Memphis and a siege ensued. Cambyses finally lifted the siege and killed an estimated 2,000 of his enemies. Egypt was annexed by the Persians and Cambyses became the new Pharaoh. While Psamtik III was initially spared, he attempted a rebellion and was promptly executed.

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