29. The Great Ramesses’ greatest battle
In 1274 BC, Ramesses II fought the Battle of Kadesh, the earliest battle in recorded history for which details such as tactics and formations are known. It was also the largest chariot battle ever fought, with up to 6000 chariots taking part. It occurred against a backdrop of a generations-long rivalry between Egypt and the Hittite Empire of Anatolia, as they jockeyed to control the lands of Canaan between them. Early in his reign (1279 – 1213 BC), Ramesses II decided to finish off the Hittites, and spent years gathering up a powerful army and building up supply depots.
Ramesses marched north from Egypt into Canaan with four divisions. First was the Amon Division, led by Ramesses in person, followed by the divisions of Re, Ptah, and Sutekh. Upon hearing the news, the Hittite King Muwatalli II marched south from Anatolia into Canaan, with 3000 heavy chariots and 8000 infantry. In late spring, 1274 BC, Ramesses emerged from the hills above the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, near today’s Lebanon-Syria border, without having spotted the Hittites. They were closer than he thought.