How a Pharaoh Became a Legend in the Biggest Chariot Battle in History
How a Pharaoh Became a Legend in the Biggest Chariot Battle in History

How a Pharaoh Became a Legend in the Biggest Chariot Battle in History

Patrick Lynch - November 3, 2017

How a Pharaoh Became a Legend in the Biggest Chariot Battle in History
Ramses II on charioyt at Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC. Dreams of the Great Earth Changes

A Fast & Furious Conclusion

Ramses took over the Ptah division and attacked the Hittites. After half a dozen charges, the Hittites were effectively pinned against the river, and a number of them drowned as they tried to flee. Even at this stage, the Egyptians could have been defeated because they were caught up between enemy forces at the river and the Hittite reserves stationed in Kadesh. For reasons historians are unable to explain, Muwatalli decided not to send out his reserves to try and hem the Egyptians in.

Perhaps he was concerned that it would represent a final throw of the dice and defeat would mean his death and the end of Hittite influence in the region? Instead, he watched as his men abandoned their chariots and were cut down; his brother died in the battle. Ramses launched one final assault and used his light and fast chariots to drive the enemy from the battlefield.

How a Pharaoh Became a Legend in the Biggest Chariot Battle in History
Remains of enormous Ramses II statue believed to be 30 foot high found at Marariya, Cairo.

Success or Stalemate?

Some of the Hittites managed to swim across their river and make their way to Kadesh where they remained holed up behind the walls. Ramses did not have the manpower or inclination to launch a siege, so he retreated to Damascus and eventually back to Egypt. He claimed a victory because he had forced the enemy from the battlefield. In ancient times, the amount of plunder an army could muster was another sign of success. After Kadesh, the Egyptians captured 1,000 Hittite chariots which were probably coated in precious metals.

Meanwhile, the Hittites claimed victory because they managed to keep hold of Kadesh. This little fact didn’t stop Ramses from declaring the battle as a great personal achievement. In many ways, it was a success for Ramses because he had recovered from a disastrous early blunder which almost resulted in total defeat and his death. It was also a success because the Egyptians used their new lighter two-man chariots to great effect. These lightning-fast chariots were able to take down the larger three-man versions from behind.

The fighting between the Egyptians and Hittites lasted for another 16 years. Soon after Kadesh, Muwatalli went south and captured Upi, an Egyptian province. After handling revolts in Canaan, Ramses resumed his military campaign against the Hittites and captured the cities of Tunip and Dapur. However, he lost both cities within a year, and even another victory at Dapur was meaningless as he was unable to defeat the Hittites decisively.

It was becoming clear to both sides that the long and draining war was unlikely to come to a clear conclusion one way or the other. In the end, the two sides signed a peace treaty at Kadesh in 1258 BC, the first known treaty of its kind in history. The original treaty was engraved on a silver tablet, and a clay copy is currently on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Although Ramses didn’t ‘win’ the Battle of Kadesh, his supposed heroics became part of his legend, and he was to rule Egypt for an incredible 66 years. In the modern era, he is regarded as one of the greatest and most powerful pharaohs in Egyptian history.