ANCIENT EGYPTIAN MILITARY
Mesehti soldiers All and all, ancient Egypt wasn’t very warlike. The Egyptians seemed relatively content living in their unchanged world and did not embark on many campaigns of conquest and when they did their efforts seemed relatively half hearted. One reason Egypt was able to build such large temples and pyramids was that was relatively untroubled by wars and could devotes its manpower to construction projects rather than an army.
Compared to Mesopotamia, Egypt was not very advanced militarily. This was due in part to Egypt's relatively protected geographical position. Armies could not approach Egypt without passing through narrow corridors (the Nile Valley, north and south, and site of the present-day Suez canal) that were relatively easy to defend.
Ancient Egypt's primary enemies were the Libyans, Hittites and Nubians. The Philistines, who the Egyptians called the People from the Sea, were defeated by the armies of Ramses III in the 12th century B.C. and later hired out as mercenaries.
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Ancient Egyptian Armed Forces
During the Middle Kingdom period (1991-1785 BC), when cultures elsewhere were using bronze weapons and armor, Egyptian soldier battled half-naked with clubs and flint spears. Regular armies were not formed until the New Kingdom (1540-1070). Fortresses were set up to hold off the Nubians. Sesostris III established a series of forts that were with signaling distance of one another. The first represented naval battle, pitting the forces of Pharaoh Ramses III against the Sea peoples in the Nile delta, took place in 1186 B.C. with sailing ships, which are much are harder to maneuver that oared vessels. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]
Heidi Köpp-Junk of Universität Trier wrote: “The members of the army consisted of various professions—from scribes to generals and soldiers of the lower ranks—all of whom could exhibit mobility: they could be assigned to war campaigns, or stationed far from home, sent on expeditions, or sent to perform corvée labor. Numerical data for the Egyptian army are rare and their interpretation is controversial. Nevertheless, the biggest contingent of an army consisted of soldiers of the lower ranks, constituting the infantry for the most part.” [Source: Heidi Köpp-Junk, Universität Trier, Germany, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]
The text on the stele of Taharqa of the 25th Dynasty (684 B.C.) “states that the route from Memphis to the Fayum, a distance of about 50 kilometers, was covered by soldiers at a speed of 9.2 kilometers/hour to 14.6 kilometers/hour. From the Megiddo campaign of Thutmose III, an average daily travel rate for large troops is attested to be 20 kilometers or even 24 kilometers. The daily rate of marching by a Medjai soldier on patrol was 42 kilometers per day.”<>
Military Use of Boats in Ancient Egypt
Steve Vinson of the University of Indiana wrote: “The connection of boats with warfare can be traced back to the Predynastic Period. Possibly the earliest image of boats connected to combat in Egyptian art is the Gebel el- Arak knife handle, an ivory knife handle apparently of Naqada II/Gerzean date, which shows two rows of boats of contrasting designs underneath two registers of men fighting. Because the boats in the upper of the two rows shows hulls that strongly resemble craft depicted on contemporaneous representations from Mesopotamia, the Gebel el-Arak knife handle was once thought to provide strong evidence for the theory of the infiltration into Egypt around 3100 B.C. of a “Dynastic Race,” perhaps from in or near the region of Sumer. Supposedly, the maritime invaders of this “Dynastic Race” will have sailed southeast (!) down the Persian Gulf, circumnavigated Arabia, entered Egypt on the western Red Sea coast, portaged their boats through the Eastern Desert (where numerous allegedly “foreign” boat petroglyphs were found), and then, over time, come to dominate the indigenous, Predynastic Egyptians and imposed on them a centralized, literate state. [Source: Steve Vinson, University of Indiana, Bloomington, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2013, escholarship.org <>]
“However, the “Dynastic Race” model, first proposed in the late nineteenth century (in the hey-day of the highly-racially-conscious British imperial project in Egypt, see Vinson 2004), has long been abandoned on multiple grounds. It is therefore hard to know exactly what to make of the Mesopotamian-looking vessels on the knife handle, which are quite unparalleled in other known examples of Predynastic Egyptian nautical art. It seems likely that the Mesopotamian imagery seen here is the result of a range of Mesopotamian cultural importations into late Predynastic Egypt, probably via Syria, reached by Sumerians during the Uruk Expansion of the late fourth millennium B.C.. Military conflict between fleets commanded by Predynastic Egyptians and invading Uruk-era Mesopotamians is probably not the explanation. On the other hand, whoever executed the Gebel el-Arak image was certainly familiar with the notion that boats could be used in warfare. <>
“In the 1st Dynasty, a petroglyph connected to king Djer at the site Gebel Sheikh Suliman appears to show Nubian captives or slain surrounding a boat, which perhaps indicates a water-borne expedition into Nubia. The 6th Dynasty autobiography of Weni reports the use of boats to launch a sea-borne attack somewhere off the coast of Syria-Palestine at a place he calls “Antelope Nose”. Boats must have been used frequently for military operations, but depictions of such are surprisingly scarce. One excellent, but rare, example is a group of three rowed river boats shown in a wall painting from the 11th Dynasty Theban tomb of an official of Mentuhotep I named Intef. Aside from the rowers, the boats also carry archers and soldiers armed with shields and battle-axes. Who the enemy is, however, is unfortunately unclear. <>
“At the end of the First Intermediate Period, the Kamose Stela describes Egyptian troops under the Theban king Kamose moving northward in a battle fleet from Thebes to attack the Hyksos at Avaris. From the very early 18th Dynasty, the autobiography of Ahmose, son of Ebana, who had made his career in the military serving aboard combat vessels, describes fighting from Nile boats both at Avaris (under the command of Kamose’s younger brother Ahmose, who finally defeated the Hyksos and reestablished centralized rule in Egypt as first king of the 18th Dynasty) and two invasions of Nubia in which Nile boats were used to convey Egyptian armies (under the commands of Amenhotep I and Thutmose I).
“The only naval engagement actually portrayed in Egyptian art is the great battle against the People of the Sea in the funerary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, which appears to have taken place in the Nile Delta, not in the open sea. It is not, however, clear that any of the vessels involved are actually “Egyptian,” if by that we mean a vessel built, crewed, and commanded by Egyptians. It is notable that the ships on both sides of the battle are rigged with a new, non-Egyptian technology called “brails” (Venetian-blind-like cords that permitted rapid shortening and easy reshaping of sails), and the attire of the great majority of “Egyptian” marines suggests that they could be ethnically or culturally connected to the invading Sea Peoples. If so, it could be that the “Egyptian” fleet is actually a mercenary fleet. <>
“With the demise of the New Kingdom, boats certainly continued to be used for military purposes on the Nile. The great stela of the Nubian king Piankhy describes the fleet used to move his troops against his Libyan enemies in the Egyptian Delta, and the Libyan fleet that tried to stop Piankhy. In the Saite Period, Egyptians along with Greek and Carian mercenary soldiers sailed south for a campaign against the Nubians; one expedition is commemorated by Greek and Carian graffiti on the colossal statues of Ramesses II at the rock-cut temple of Abu Simbel.” <>
Ancient Egyptian Weapons
During the Middle Kingdom period (1991-1785 BC), when cultures elsewhere were using bronze weapons and armor, Egyptian soldier battled half-naked with clubs and flint spears. Regular armies were not formed until the New Kingdom (1540-1070). Fortresses were set up to hold off the Nubians. Sesostris III established a series of forts that were with signaling distance of one another.
The Hittites and Assyrians began using iron weapons and amour in Mesopotamia around 1200 B.C. with deadly results, but the Egyptians did not utilize the metal until the later pharaohs. The Egyptians began using chariots and composite bows long after their rivals.
The first represented naval battle, pitting the forces of Pharaoh Ramses III against the Sea peoples in the Nile delta, took place in 1186 B.C. with sailing ships, which are much are harder to maneuver that oared vessels. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]
According to ancientmilitary.com: “Over its long history the Egyptians employed a wide variety of ancient weapons. During the earliest periods stone and wood weapons were used, these early Egyptian weapons included slings, clubs, throwing sticks, stone maces and stone tipped spears. Horn and wooden bows were also constructed and used with stone tipped arrows. By 4000 BC the Egyptians had started importing obsidian from the Eastern Red Sea areas for their weapons. This glass like stone has properties that allow it to have a sharper point than the sharpest metals; these almost molecularly thin blades are used even today for scalpels. [Source: ancientmilitary.com/egyptian-weapons ++]
“By the time upper and lower Egypt were first united and their society coalesced around 3150 BC, the Egyptians had already been using bronze weapons. They used bronze for spearheads, axes and maces. It was also during this period that the composite bow came into use, made with horn and wood. Over the following centuries as the Pharaoh’s dominated ancient Egyptian society they began to standardize weapons, stock pile arsenals and borrow weapons systems from invading peoples.” ++
Stone Weapons in Ancient Egypt
James Harrell of the University of Toledo wrote: “Chert was the most commonly used stone for weapons requiring a sharp edge, including arrow and spear points, and axe blades. It was, however, rarely employed for the mace, a stick with a heavy, well-rounded (ovoid, discoidal or pear-shaped) stone mass at one end. Maceheads, which were perforated to hold the stick, were carved from other hard, but easier- to-work, stones. These include most of the ornamental stones used from the late Predynastic Period to the Old Kingdom, and especially limestone, one of the principal building stones of ancient Egypt. Maceheads of the late Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods were sometimes decorated with carved scenes and apparently served as ceremonial weapons. A good example of this is the famous 1st Dynasty limestone macehead of King Scorpion from Hierakonpolis, now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. [Source: James Harrell, University of Toledo, OH, Environmental Sciences, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org <>]
“Most weapons were of stone until well into the Old Kingdom when metal became more common. Stone maceheads and chert arrow points, at least, continued to be made until the end of the Dynastic Period, but the maceheads were largely ceremonial and the chert points served as a less expensive but still effective alternative to the superior metal arrowheads. For example, many of the arrows in the 18th Dynasty tomb of King Tutankhamen had chert points
Types of Ancient Egyptian Weapons
According to ancientmilitary.com: “The Bow: The bow long remained the main armament of Egyptian forces throughout Egypt’s long military history; perhaps due to the lack of armor worn by Egyptian warriors and their enemies in the hot climate where they operated. The ancient Egyptian’s continued to use both long bows and composite bows throughout their history. Arrowheads switched from stone to obsidian during the pre-dynastic period. Obsidian was exchanged for bronze around 2000BC, and finally, domestically produced iron arrow heads began to appear around 1000BC. Most archers were foot soldiers however Egyptian chariots also carried them. Archers provided range to the chariot warriors, and when range and speed were combined the chariot mounted archers became dominate figures on the ancient battlefields. Nubian mercenaries often served as foot archers and are said to have been their best bowmen. [Source: ancientmilitary.com/egyptian-weapons ++]
“Egyptian Swords – The Sickle Sword or Khopesh: The khopesh is probably the most iconic of the Egyptian weapons. It features a curved, thick blade and measured about two feet long. A khopessh has a thick, crescent shaped blade that is used for slashing. There are several styles of this wicked weapon, and one very well designed style that combines the advantages of both of them. Basically one style has a hook on the end that is used for grabbing people, their weapons or shields and the other variety has a point on the end that can be used for stabbing. The hybrid type has both a point and a hook on it, and this can be used to pull an opponent’s shield down then thrust (stab) the end of the khopesh into their face. There is nothing nice about a Khopesh, it leaves nasty wounds and looks vicious. ++
“Egyptian Axes: Another weapon that the Egyptians developed with a uniquely Egyptian style was the battle axe. The first Egyptian battleaxes were produced during the Old Kingdom period, around 2000 BC, and were constructed of bronze. Their crescent shaped blades were affixed into grooves on long handles. This was a weaker connection than the axes made by their contemporaries that featured a hole through the axe head that the handle fit through, but it served their purpose of slashing unarmored troops and hacking through the hide covered, wood framed shields used at the time. However, once they met the Sea-peoples and the Hyskos they found their axes to be inadequate and changed their design. Egyptian axes could be used for hacking or be thrown. Another, interesting and all Egyptian weapon is a fan like axe. This weapon had a fan shaped head used for slashing, mounted on a pole. However, this weapon isn't a true axe and may have been for ceremonial uses only. ++
“Spears: The second largest contingent in an Egyptian army (after the bowmen) was the spearmen. Spears are cheap and it takes little training for levy soldiers to figure out how to use them. Charioteers also carried spears as secondary weapons and to keep enemy infantry from getting to close. Similar to arrowheads Egyptian spears progressed through stone, obsidian, copper and finally iron stages. ++
“Egyptian Throwing Sticks: The Egyptians must have had a place in their heart for this weak little weapon (weak compared to bows and slings, both of which the Egyptian’s used). A throwing stick was essentially a boomerang that didn’t come back. Perhaps it stuck around as long as it did because it was a cheap secondary weapon for infantry troops. Although a throwing stick was unlikely to kill anyone it could have also been used to distract an enemy during melee combat. While one guy throws a stick at your face another guy would stab you in the gut, that kind of thing. Famously, they were also used for hunting waterfowl along the Nile, even by Pharaohs.”
The Semitic Hyksos who briefly ruled Egypt introduced the horse and chariot around 1700 B.C. When hooked up to a pair of horses, an Egyptian chariot, weighing only 17 pounds, could easily reach speeds of 20 miles-per-hour (compared to two miles-per-hour with oxen). The chariots enabled the Egyptians to expand their empire.
According to ancientmilitary.com: “C hariots became indispensable to the Egyptian armies. The Egyptians built fast, light chariots and would use them to race into position shower their enemies with arrows and retreat before a counter attack could be launched. These strikes would demoralize an enemy army, making them feel helpless against further attacks. Egyptian chariots carried a driver and an archer and were assembled at the battlefield. At the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, 5,000 – 6,000 chariots slugged it out. Kadesh was probably the largest chariot battle in history, pitting the heavier Hittite three man chariots (they added a spearman) against the quicker Egyptian two man chariots. In the end both sides claimed victory and one of the first known international peace treaties was signed. [Source: ancientmilitary.com/egyptian-weapons ++]
Ramesses II on a chariot
Khusobek; An Ancient Egyptian Soldier
John Ray of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: ““The life of the soldier Khusobek is known only from his funerary stela, a short autobiography which he composed for posterity. The inscription was found at the site of Abydos in Upper Egypt. It would have stood either in his tomb, or in some form of cenotaph: Abydos was the supposed burial-place of the god Osiris, and Egyptians who could not afford to be buried near the resting-place of this god sometimes built small chapels by the processional way leading to his sanctuary. The stela is now in the Manchester Museum. | [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“Khusobek says he was born around 1880 B.C. The lack of details about his family suggests that he was of humble birth, but he managed to attract the attention of the new king, Senusret III, who made him a royal escort, perhaps a bodyguard. He was given command of a squad of 60 men, and took part in the campaigns into Nubia. |::|
“Egyptian interest in Nubia at this period is well documented, but the news that the king also conducted a campaign into Palestine comes as a surprise, since it had been assumed that the Middle Kingdom left this area to its own devices. The army, accompanied by the veteran Khusobek, penetrates as far as Sekemem, perhaps the modern Nablus on the West Bank. Khusobek had the dangerous task of protecting the rear of the Egyptian army, and he again distinguished. |::|
War Imagery from Ancient Egypt: Piles of Hands, Arms and Penises
In 1300 B.C., King Menephta meted out revenge on the Libyan army by severing their penises. A monument at Karnak read: "Phalluses of Libyan generals---6. Phalluses cut off Libyans---6,359. Sirculians killed, phalluses cut off---222. Etruscans killed, phalluses cut off---542. Greeks killed, phalluses presented to the king---6,111.
Pharaohs returning from naval campaigns sometimes displaying the dead bodies of enemy princes on the bows of their boats. One of the remaining walls at the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak contains an inscriptions reads: "His Majesty exults at the beginning of battle, he delights to enter it; his heart is gratified at the sight of blood. He lops off the heads of his dissidents...His majesty slays them at one stroke---he leaves them no heir, and whoever escapes his hand is brought prisoner to Egypt."
Kerry Muhlestein of Brigham Young University wrote: “ Smiting scenes occur on a variety of media, from vases to signet rings to funerary equipment. War scenes were also ubiquitous displays of violence from at least the early New Kingdom. Scenes depicting prisoners bound with cords or symbolic plants are also a standard component of official ideology. Foreigners are invariably the victims of violence in these contexts. While we cannot know how accurate the portrayals are, the images present an iconography of domination, subjugation, and humiliation. If there is some degree of accuracy in depictions of how prisoners were bound, then often the binding was done in a way, which would have caused severe and painful damage to muscles and joints . Depictions frequently portrayed positions possibly leading to asphyxiation. Elbows, knees, necks, and ankles particularly were portrayed in awkward and painful positions.[Source: Kerry Muhlestein, Brigham Young University, 2015, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]
“Frequently the violence portrayed was compounded by violence done to the image. Some images were broken, mutilated, or decapitated. Another class of bound prisoner images was continually placed where they would be wal ked on, such as tiles of a palace floor, the sill of the window of appearance, on sandals or on footstools. An Early Dynastic tomb has a bound prisoner as the pivot point for a door, so that each time the door moved it ground on the prisoner’s back. New Kingdom chariot wheels could be constructed so that each revolution furthered the torture of an iconographic enemy. Tutankhamen’s bow was decorated with prisoners whose necks were bound by the bow string, thus further strangling them with each arrow shot. Enemy heads formed the oar stops on a barque of Amun, causing the enemies to be struck with each stroke. Thus an ongoing kinetic violence was often a component of violent iconography. War and Aftermath Iconography also highlights the violence of war. Besides the gruesome violence that was part of the fighting itself, the binding and smiting of prisoners demonstrates the continuation of violence after the battle was over. The taking of a hand or an arm wa s often attested as a battle trophy. <>
“Depictions show piles of hands, arms, or penises as a part of battle aftermath. Amenhotep II slew a number of prisoners, hung their bodies from the prow of his boat (it is not clear if the killing was before o r after the hanging), and then displayed them in Egypt and Nubia. Thutmose I did the same, although again it is not clear if the prisoner he displayed had been killed during or after the battle. Various finds and depictions imply that such practices were common over most of Egypt’s long history. Moreover, Akhenaten is said to have impaled 225 Nubian prisoners of war after the battle. Merenptah impaled a great number of Libyan prisoners after one battle, and burned many more after a Nubian campaign. Ramesses III slew captives on more than one occasion. Osorkon burned captive rebels. The end of a battle did not end the violence inflicted on Egypt’s enemies. Violence done to real foreigners and to inanimate representations was aimed at defeating forces of chaos. These were two prongs in the s ame weapon wielded by the servants of order against chaos.” <>
Hyksos Invade Ancient Egypt
Around 1700 B.C., the Hyksos---a mysterious Semitic tribe from Caucasia in the northeast---invaded Egypt from Canaan and routed the Egyptians. The Hyksos were a chariot people. They and the Hittites were the first people to use chariots in the Middle East, an advancement that gave them an advantage over the people they conquered. The Hyksos introduced the horse and chariot to the Egyptians, who later used them to expand their empire. In Egyptian the word Hyksos means “ruler of foreign lands”.
Hyksos rule over Egypt was relatively brief. They established themselves for a while in Memphis and exactly how they came to power is not clear. Later they established a capital in Avaris, along the Mediterranean in the Nile Delta. During the Second Intermediate Period they ruled northern Egypt while Thebes-based Egyptians ruled southern Egypt. In the 2nd Intermediate Period, the four rulers during 15 and 16 dynasties were Hyksos. The Hyksos were thrown out of Egypt in 1567 B.C.
The Hyksos are sometimes referred to as the Shepherd Kings or Desert Princes. In the A.D. 1st century The Roman-Jewish historian Josephus described the Hyksos as sacrilegious invaders who despoiled the land. One ancient text on the Hyksos reads: “Hear ye all people and the folk as many as they may be, I have done these things through the counsel of my heart. I have not slept forgetfully, (but) I have restored that which has been ruined. I have raise up that which has gone to pieces formerly, since the Asiatics were in the midst of Avaris of the Northland, and vagabonds were in the midst of them, overthrowing that which had been made. They ruled without Re, and he did not act by divine command down to (the reign of) my majesty. (Now) I am established upon the thrones of Re....” [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” Princeton, 1969, web.archive.org, p. 231]
Chronicles that portray Hyksos rule as cruel and repressive were probably Egyptian propaganda. More likely they came to power within the existing system rather than conquering it and ruled by respecting the local culture and keeping political and administrative systems intact. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “The Hyksos presented themselves as Egyptian kings and appear to have been accepted as such. They tolerated other lines of kings within the country, both those of the 17th dynasty and the various minor Hyksos who made up the 16th dynasty.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
“The Hyksos brought many innovations to the Egyptians: looms, new methods of bronze working, irrigation and pottery as well as new musical instruments and musical styles. New breeds of animals and crops were introduced. But the most important changes were in the area of warfare; composite bows, new types of daggers and scimitars, and above all the horse and chariot were all introduced by the Hyksos. It has been said that the Hyksos modernized Egypt and ultimately the Egyptians themselves benefited from their rule. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
Military Campaigns of Thutmose III
In a 19 year period of his rule Thutmose III (ruled 1479-1425) led military campaigns at a rate of almost one a year, including a victory over the Canaanites at Megiddo in present-day Israel. There are lengthy descriptions of his battles on the rock walls of Karnak. They include tales of soldiers hiding in baskets delivered to enemy cities and boats hauled 250 miles overland for a surprise attack. In the reliefs Thutmose himself is depicted as a sphinx trampling Nubians and a warrior smiting an Asiatic lion.
One of Thutmose’s greatest military victory occurred in Joppa (present-day Jaffa, Israel) in 1450 B.C. According to a rare papyrus text, the Egyptians secured victory after employing Trojan-horse-like deception. After the city failed to fall during a siege, the commanding general Djehuty sent baskets to the city that were said to contain plundered goods. At night Egyptian soldiers emerged from the baskets and opened the city gates.
Thutmose III drive towards the Euphrates claimed new lands for Egypt and brought in tributes. Wall paintings from the period show Babylonians, Syrians, Nubians and Canaanites offering presents to the pharaoh and bowing in subservient positions. The military campaign is also blamed for triggering a series of conflicts that would ultimately would deal the Egyptians a costly defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Thutmose II’s and Hatshepsut’s reigns were peaceful and saw very little warfare. But when Thutmose III took over power things were already starting to change. Unrest started to occur in many areas of Africa, Syria, and elsewhere. The first of seventeen successful campaigns happened only a few months into his reign, at the city of Megiddo. This attack from the rear gave the Egyptians an upper hand and played a big part in their victory. The battle lasted more than seven months and when it was over Thutmose III let the enemy leaders go so that they could tell everyone who the new leader of Egypt was. This victory not only gained Thutmose III the respect of the people of Egypt but also the respect of leaders and kings of other nations as the rightful pharaoh and a very skilled and intelligent general. Through the rest of his reign, Thutmose III engaged in sixteen more campaigns and won every one of them. Because of his undefeated record, Thutmose III is often referred to as “The Napoleon of Egypt”. Some of his biggest victories came against the Mitannian empire. He captured and gained control of many Mitannian territories, which expanded his power over northern Palestine and Phoenicia. He erected a stele at he Euphrates River to mark the boundary of the Egyptian Empire. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com \+\]
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Thutmose III had spent the long years of his aunt Hatshepsut’s reign training in the army. This kept him away from court politics but nevertheless prepared him well for his own role as pharaoh because great ability in war was considered a desirable quality in the ancient world. Egyptian pharaohs were expected to lead their armies into foreign lands and demonstrate their bravery on the field in person. After a few victorious battles, a king might return home in triumph, loaded with plunder and a promise of annual tribute from the defeated cities. But during Hatshepsut’s reign, there were no wars and Egypt’s soldiers had little practice in warfare. The result was that Egypt’s neighbors were gradually becoming independent and when this new, unknown pharaoh came to the throne; these other kings were inclined to test his resolve.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
“Thutmose III is often compared to Napoleon, but unlike Napoleon he never lost a battle. He conducted sixteen campaigns in Palestine, Syria and Nubia and his treatment of the conquered was always humane. He established a sort of “Pax Egyptica” over his empire. Syria and Palestine were obliged to keep the peace and the region as a whole experienced an unprecedented degree of prosperity.” ^^^
Thutmose III and the Battle of Mediggo
Thutmose III’s first great military victory was at the Battle of Mediggo. According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “This campaign, which is recorded in great detail on the walls of the temple he built in Karnak, revealed Thutmose III as a military genius. Thutmose III used the element of surprise attack when he invaded Mediggo, using the least expecting route. This route was narrow, hilly, and difficult to pass, and it took over twelve hours to reach the valley on the other side. Thutmose III lead his men through the hills and when he made it to the valley he waited until the last man made it through safely. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com \+\]
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: In the second year of his reign, Thutmose found himself faced with a coalition of the princes from Kadesh and Megiddo, who had mobilized a large army. What’s more, the Mesopotamians and their kinsmen living in Syria refused to pay tribute and declared themselves free of Egypt. Undaunted, Thutmose immediately set out with his army. He crossed the Sinai desert and marched to the city of Gaza which had remained loyal to Egypt. The events of the campaign are well documented because Thutmose’s private secretary, Tjaneni, kept a record which was later copied and engraved onto the walls of the temple of Karnak. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
“This first campaign revealed Thutmose to be the military genius of his time. He understood the value of logistics and lines of supply, the necessity of rapid movement, and the sudden surprise attack. He led by example and was probably the first person in history to take full advantage of sea power to support his campaigns. Megiddo was Thutmose’s first objective because it was a key point strategically. It had to be taken at all costs. When he reached Aruna, Thutmose held a council with all his generals. There were three routes to Megiddo: two long, easy, and level roads around the hills, which the enemy expected Thutmose to take, and a narrow, difficult route that cut through the hills. ^^^
“His generals advised him to go the easy way, saying of the alternative, “Horse must follow behind horse and man behind man also, and our vanguard will be engaged while our rearguard is at Aruna without fighting.” But Thutmose’s reply to this was, “As I live, as I am the beloved of Ra and praised by my father Amun, I will go on the narrow road. Let those who will, go on the roads you have mentioned; and let anyone who will, follow my Majesty.” When the soldiers heard this bold speech they shouted in one voice, “We follow thy Majesty whithersoever thy Majesty goes.” ^^^
“Thutmose led his men on foot through the hills “horse behind Horse and man behind man, his Majesty showing the way by his own footsteps.” It took about twelve hours for the vanguard to reach the valley on the other side, and another seven hours before the last troops emerged. Thutmose, himself, waited at the head of the pass till the last man was safely through. The sudden and unexpected appearance of Egyptians at their rear forced the allies to make a hasty redeployment of their troops. There were over three hundred allied kings, each with his own army; an immense force. However, Thutmose was determined and when the allies saw him at the head of his men leading them forward, they lost heart for the fight and fled for the city of Megiddo, “as if terrified by spirits: they left their horse and chariots of silver and gold.” ^^^
“The Egyptian army, being young and inexperienced, simply lacked the control to take the city immediately. Thutmose was angry. He said to them, “If only the troops of his Majesty had not given their hearts to spoiling the things of the enemy, they would have taken Megiddo at that moment. For the ruler of every northern country is in Megiddo and its capture is as the capture of a thousand cities.” ^^^
“Megiddo was besieged. A moat was dug around the city walls and a strong wooden palisade erected. The king gave orders to let nobody through except those who signaled at the gate that they wished to give themselves up. Eventually the vanquished kings sent out their sons and daughters to negotiate peace. According to Thutmose, “All those things with which they had come to fight against my Majesty, now they brought them as tribute to my Majesty, while they themselves stood upon their walls giving praise to my Majesty, and begging that the Breath of Life be given to their nostrils.” They received good terms for surrender. An oath of allegiance was imposed upon them: “We will not again do evil against Menkheper Ra, our good Lord, in our lifetime, for we have seen his might, and he has deigned to give us breath.” ^^^
Armant Stela: Asiatic Campaigns of Thutmose III
The Armant Stela from the 15th century B.C. describes the Asiatic Campaigns of Thutmose III: It reads: “Live the Horus: Mighty Bull, Appearing in Thebes; the Two Goddesses: Enduring of Kingship, like Re in Heaven; the Horus of Gold: Majestic of Appearances, Mighty of Strength; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of Making Offerings: Men-kheper-Re; the Son of Re, of his Body: Thut-mose Heqa-Maat, beloved of Montu, Lord of Thebes, Residing in Hermonthis, living forever. [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts” (ANET) Princeton, 1969, web.archive.org, p. 234]
“Year 22, 2nd month of the second season, day 10. Summary of the deeds of valor and victory which this good god performed, being every effective deed of heroism, beginning from the first generation; that which the Lord of the Gods, the Lord of Hermonthis, did for him: the magnification of his victories, to cause that his deeds of valor be related for millions of years to come, apart from the deeds of heroism which his majesty did at all times. If (they) were to be related all together by their names, they would be (too) numerous to put them into writing
“His majesty made no delay in proceeding to the land of Djahi, to kill the treacherous ones who were in it and to give things to those who were loyal to him; witness, indeed, [their] names, each [country] according to its time. His majesty returned on each occasion, when his attack had been effected in valor and victory, so that he caused Egypt to be in its condition as (it was) when Re was in it as king. [Year 22, 4th month of the second season, day... Proceeding] from Memphis, to slay the countries of the wretched Retenu, on the first occasion of victory. It was his majesty who opened its roads and foxed its every way for his army, after it had made [rebellion, gathered in Megid]do. His majesty entered upon that road which becomes very narrow,' as the first of his entire army, while every country had gathered, standing prepared at its mouth. ... The enemy quailed, fleeing headlong to their town, together with the prince who was in... (15)... to them, beseeching [breath], their goods upon their backs. His majesty returned in gladness of heart, with this entire land as vassal... [Asia]tics, coming at one time, bear-ing [their] tribute.”
For a fuller description from the Temple of Karnak and similar type of description from the Barkal stela see ANET., pp. 234-238. Almost all subsequent campaigns were directed against rebellious cities in Upper Retenu (that is, Syria) and not Lower Retenu, Djahi. The city of Kadesh and the kingdom of Mitanni were generally the focus of the king's military campaigns. See: ANET., pp. 238-242.
Battle of Kadesh
Ramses II desired northern Syria because of vital routes linking the Caucasus and Anatolia with Mesopotamia. The region was controlled by the Hittites, whose power and prosperity was mostly dependent on control of these routes and metal sources. Although Ramses II inscriptions proclaim victory at the key battle of Kadesh (Qadesh), it seems more likely that Ramses was turned back by the Hittite king Muwatalli. Many historians view the battle at Kadesh as a disaster for the Egyptians — a near defeat caused poor military intelligence on the part of the Egyptians and salvaged only with the help of last-minute arrival of reinforcements from the Lebanese coast. In Ramses II' accounts of the event, which, cover entire walls of some of his monuments, the battle was a dramatic and glorious Egyptian victory achieved single-handedly by Ramses himself. This battle took place in the 5th year of Ramses (c 1275 B.C. by the most commonly used chronology).” [Source: Crystal Links]
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “As was usual in those days, the threat of foreign aggression against Egypt was always at its greatest on the ascension of a new Pharaoh. Subject kings no doubt saw it as their duty to test the resolve of a new king in Egypt. Likewise, it was incumbent on the new Pharaoh it make a display of force if he was to keep the peace during his reign.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
“On his second campaign against the Hittites, Ramses found got himself in trouble attacking “the deceitful city of Kadesh”. “He had divided his army into four sections: the Amun, Ra, Ptah and Setekh divisions. Ramses himself was in the van, leading the Amon division with the Ra division about a mile and a half behind. He had decided to camp outside the city – but unknown to him, the Hittite army was hidden and waiting. They attacked and routed the Ra division as it was crossing a ford. With the chariots of the Hittites in pursuit, Ra fled in disorder – spreading panic as they went. They ran straight into the unsuspecting Amun division. With half his army in flight, Ramses found himself alone. With only his bodyguard to assist him, he was surrounded by two thousand five hundred Hittite chariots. ^^^
“The king, realising his desperate position, charged the enemy with his small band of men. He cut his way through, slaying large numbers as he escaped. “I was,” said Ramses, “by myself, for my soldiers and my horsemen had forsaken me, and not one of them was bold enough to come to my aid.” At this point, the Hittites stopped to plunder the Egyptian camp – giving the Egyptians time to regroup with their other two divisions. They then fought for four hours, at the end of which time both sides were exhausted and Ramses was able to withdraw his troops.” ^^^
Account of the Battle of Kadesh and Other Hittite Campaigns
"The Asiatic Campaigning of Ramses II", a text that describes the Battle of Kadesh found on the wall of several buildings associated with Ramses II, reads: “Now then, his majesty had prepared his infantry, his chariotry, and the Sherden of his majesty's cap-turing, whom he had carried off by the victories of his arm, equipped with all their weapons, to whom the orders of combat had been given. His majesty journeyed northward, his infantry and chariotry with him. He began to march on the good way in the year 5, 2nd month of the third season, day 9, (when) his majesty passed the fortress of Sile. [He] was mighty like Montu when he goes forth, (so that) every foreign country was trembling before him, their chiefs were presenting their tribute, and all the rebels were coming, bowing down through fear of the glory of his majesty. His infantry went on the narrow passes as if on the highways of Egypt. Now after days had passed after this, then his majesty was in Ramses Meri-Amon, the town which is in the Valley of the Cedar. [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts” (ANET), Princeton, 1969, pp.255-256 web.archive.org]
“His majesty proceeded northward. After his majesty reached the mountain range of Kadesh, then his majesty went forward like his father Montu, Lord of Thebes, and he crossed the ford of the Orontes, with the first division of Amon (named) "He Gives Victory to User-maat-Re Setep-en-Re.'' His majesty reached the town of Kadesh ....Now the wretched foe belonging to Hatti, with the numerous foreign countries which were with him, was waiting hidden and ready on the northeast of the town of Kadesh, while his majesty was alone by himself with his retinue. The division of Amon was on the march behind him; the division of Re was crossing the ford in a district south of the town of Shabtuna, at the dis-stance of one iter from the place where his majesty was ; the division of Ptah was on the south of the town of Arnaim; and the division of Seth was marching on the road. His majesty had formed the first ranks of battle of all the leaders of his army, while they were (still) on the shore in the land of Amurru ....
Year 5, 3rd month of the third season, day 9, under the majesty of (Ramses II). When his majesty was in Djahi on his second victorious campaign, the goodly awakening in life, prosperity, and health was at the tent of his majesty on the mountain range south of Kadesh. After this, at the time of dawn, his majesty appeared like the rising of Re, and he took the adornments of his father Montu. The lord proceeded northward, and his majesty arrived at a vicinity south of the town of Shabtuna.... [add full text of battle here]
Another text related to later campaigning by Ramses II against the Hittites reads: “ The town which his majesty desolated in the year 8, Merom. The town which his majesty desolated in the year 8, Salem. The town which his majesty desolated on the mountain of Beth-Anath, Kerep (Palestine ?). The town which his majesty desolated in the land of Amurru, Deper (region of Tunip in Syria?). The town which his majesty desolated, Acre. The wretched town which his majesty took when it was wicked, Ashkelon. It says: "Happy is he who acts in fidelity to thee, (but) woe (to) him who transgresses. thy frontier! Leave over a heritage, so that we may relate thy strength to every ignorant foreign country!”
The Beth-Shan Stelae of Ramses reads: “Year 9, 4th month of the second season, day 1 ... When day had broken, he made to retreat the Asiatics .... They all come bowing down to him, to his palace of life and satisfaction, Per-Ramses-Meri-Amon-the-Great of Victories (the capital in Delta). [Source: II ANET., p.254. BASOR (1952): 24-32]
Poem on the Battle of Kadesh
The following poem was inscribed upon the walls of five temples, one of which was at Karnak, on orders of Ramses II. Accompanying poem on these walls were enormous engraved illustrations of the scenes of the poem. Many commemorate the exploits of Ramses II in his battle with the Hittites. In the poem the Khita is the Egyptian name foe the Hittites.
“Pen-ta-ur: Victory of Ramses II Over the Khita: (1326 B.C.) Reads
“THEN the king of Khita-land,
With his warriors made a stand,
But he durst not risk his hand
In battle with our Pharaoh;
So his chariots drew away,
Unnumbered as the sand,
And they stood, three men of war
On each car;
And gathered all in force
Was the flower of his army,
for the fight in full array,
But advance, he did not dare,
Foot or horse. [Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., “The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art,” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. III: Egypt, Africa, and Arabia, trans. W. K. Flinders Petrie, pp. 154-162]
“So in ambush there they lay,
Northwest of Kadesh town;
And while these were in their lair,
Others went forth south of Kadesh,
on our midst, their charge was thrown
With such weight, our men went down,
For they took us unaware,
And the legion of Pra-Hormakhu gave way.
“But at the western side
Of Arunatha's tide,
Near the city's northern wall,
our Pharaoh had his place.
And they came unto the king,
And they told him our disgrace;
Then Ramses uprose,
like his father, Montu in might,
All his weapons took in hand,
And his armor did he don,
Just like Baal, fit for fight;
And the noble pair of horses that carried Pharaoh on,
Lo! "Victory of Thebes" was their name,
And from out the royal stables of great Miamun they came.
Hittites Attack Ramses II in the Poem on the Battle of Kadesh
“Then the king he lashed each horse,
And they quickened up their course,
And he dashed into the middle of the hostile, Hittite host,
All alone, none other with him, for he counted not the cost.
Then he looked behind, and found
That the foe were all around,
Two thousand and five hundred of their chariots of war;
And the flower of the Hittites, and their helpers, in a ring---
Men of Masu, Keshkesh, Pidasa, Malunna, Arathu,
Qazauadana, Kadesh, Akerith, Leka and Khilibu---
Cut off the way behind, [Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., “The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art,” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. III: Egypt, Africa, and Arabia, trans. W. K. Flinders Petrie, pp. 154-162]
Retreat he could not find;
There were three men on each car,
And they gathered all together, and closed upon the king.
"Yea, and not one of my princes, of my chief men and my great,
Was with me, not a captain, not a knight;
For my warriors and chariots had left me to my fate,
Not one was there to take his part in fight."
“Then spake Pharaoh, and he cried:
"Father Ammon, where are you?
Shall a sire forget his son?
Is there anything without your knowledge I have done?
From the judgments of your mouth when have I gone?
Have I e'er transgressed your word?
Disobeyed, or broke a vow?
Is it right, who rules in Egypt, Egypt's lord,
Should e'er before the foreign peoples bow,
Or own their rod?
Whate'er may be the mind of this Hittite herdsman horde,
Ramses II Pleas for Help from the Gods the Poem in the Battle of Kadesh
Sure Ammon at should stand higher
than the wretch who knows no God?
Father Ammon, is it nought
That to you I dedicated noble monuments, and filled
Your temples with the prisoners of war?
That for you a thousand years shall stand the shrines
I dared to build?
The king, probably, is here identifying himself with Ammon.
That to you my palace-substance I have brought,
That tribute unto you from afar
A whole land comes to pay,
That to you ten thousand oxen for sacrifice I fell,
And burn upon your altars the sweetest woods that smell;
That all your heart required, my hand did ne'er gainsay?
I have built for you tall gates and wondrous works beside the Nile,
I have raised you mast on mast,
For eternity to last, [Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., “The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art,” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. III: Egypt, Africa, and Arabia, trans. W. K. Flinders Petrie, pp. 154-162]
From Elephantin's isle
The obelisks for you I have conveyed,
It is I who brought alone
The everlasting stone,
It is I who sent for you,
The ships upon the sea,
To pour into your coffers the wealth of foreign trade;
Is it told that such a thing
By any other king,
At any other time, was done at all?
Let the wretch be put to shame
Who refuses your commands,
But honor to his name
Who to Ammon lifts his hands.
To the full of my endeavor,
With a willing heart forever,
I have acted unto you,
And to you, great God, I call;
For behold! now, Ammon, I,
In the midst of many peoples, all unknown,
Unnumbered as the sand,
Here I stand,
There is no one at my side,
My warriors and chariots afeared,
Have deserted me, none heard
My voice, when to the cravens I, their king, for succor, cried.
But I find that Ammon's grace
Is better far to me
Than a million fighting men and ten thousand chariots be.
Yea, better than ten thousand, be they brother, be they son,
When with hearts that beat like one,
Together for to help me they are gathered in one place.
The might of men is nothing, it is Ammon who is lord,
What has happened here to me is according to your word,
And I will not now trangress your command;
But alone, as here I stand,
To you my cry I send,
Unto earth's extremest end,
Saying, 'Help me, father Ammon, against the Hittite horde."'
“Then my voice it found an echo in Hermonthis' temple-hall,
Ammon heard it, and he came unto my call;
And for joy I gave a shout,
From behind, his voice cried out,
"I have hastened to you, Ramses Miamun,
Behold! I stand with you,
Behold! 'tis I am he,
Own father thine, the great god Ra, the sun.
Lo! mine hand with thine shall fight,
And mine arm is strong above
The hundreds of ten thousands, who against you do unite,
Of victory am I lord, and the brave heart do I love,
I have found in you a spirit that is right,
And my soul it does rejoice in your valor and your might."
Ramses II’s Escape for Hittites in the Poem on Kadesh
“Then all this came to pass, I was changed in my heart
Like Monthu, god of war, was I made,
With my left hand hurled the dart,
With my right I swung the blade,
Fierce as Baal in his time, before their sight.
Two thousand and five hundred pairs of horses were around,
And I flew into the middle of their ring,
By my horse-hoofs they were dashed all in pieces to the ground,
None raised his hand in fight,
For the courage in their breasts had sunken quite;
And their limbs were loosed for fear,
And they could not hurl the dart,
And they had not any heart
To use the spear;
And I cast them to the water,
Just as crocodiles fall in from the bank,
So they sank.
And they tumbled on their faces, one by one.
At my pleasure I made slaughter,
So that none
E'er had time to look behind, or backward fled;
Where he fell, did each one lay
On that day,
From the dust none ever lifted up his head.
“Then the wretched king of Khita, he stood still,
With his warriors and his chariots all about him in a ring,
Just to gaze upon the valor of our king
In the fray.
And the king was all alone,
Of his men and chariots none
To help him; but the Hittite of his gazing soon had fill,
For he turned his face in flight, and sped away.
Then his princes forth he sent,
To battle with our lord,
Well equipped with bow and sword
And all goodly armament,
Chiefs of Leka, Masa, Kings of Malunna, Arathu,
Qar-qa-mash, of the Dardani, of Keshkesh, Khilibu.
And the brothers of the king were all gathered in on place,
Two thousand and five hundred pairs of horse---
And they came right on in force,
The fury of their faces to the flaming of my face. [Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. III: Egypt, Africa, and Arabia, trans. W. K. Flinders Petrie, pp. 154-162]
“Then, like Monthu in his might,
I rushed on them apace,
And I let them taste my hand
In a twinkling moment's space.
Then cried one unto his mate,
"This is no man, this is he,
This is Sutek, god of hate,
With Baal in his blood;
Let us hasten, let us flee,
Let us save our souls from death,
Let us take to heel and try our lungs and breath."
And before the king's attack,
Lands fell, and limbs were slack,
They could neither aim the bow, nor thrust the spear,
But just looked at him who came
Charging on them, like a flame,
And the King was as a griffin in the rear.
Behold thus speaks the Pharaoh, let all know,
I struck them down, and there escaped me none
Then I lifted up my voice, and I spake,
Ho! my warriors, charioteers,
Away with craven fears,
Halt, stand, and courage take,
Behold I am alone,
Yet Ammon is my helper, and his hand is with me now."
“When my Menna, charioteer, beheld in his dismay,
How the horses swarmed around us, lo! his courage fled away,
And terror and affright
Took possession of him quite;
And straightway he cried out to me, and said,
“"Gracious lord and bravest king, savior-guard
Of Egypt in the battle, be our ward;
Behold we stand alone, in the hostile Hittite ring,
Save for us the breath of life,
Give deliverance from the strife,
Oh! protect us, Ramses Miamun!
Oh! save us, mighty King!"
“Then the King spake to his squire,
"Halt! take courage, charioteer,
As a sparrow-hawk swoops down upon his prey,
So I swoop upon the foe, and I will slay,
I will hew them into pieces, I will dash them into dust;
Have no fear,
Cast such evil thought away,
These godless men are wretches that in Ammon put no trust."
Then the king, he hurried forward, on the Hittite host he flew,
"For the sixth time that I charged them," says the king---and listen well,
"Like Baal in his strength, on their rearward, lo! I fell,
And I killed them, none escaped me, and I slew, and slew, and slew."
Peace Treaty After the Battle of Kadesh
Neither the Egyptians nor the Hittites were able to get the upper hand, and finally — after 20 years of war — Ramses made a peace treaty with the Hittites. John Ray of Cambridge University wrote: “The empty victory of Qadesh was followed by a greater achievement, an international peace treaty with the Hittites, a copy of which is now on the wall of the General Assembly building of the United Nations. The treaty covers extradition, arbitration of disputes, and mutual economic aid, a clause which was later honoured by the Egyptians when their old enemies were afflicted with food shortage.” [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com:“It was agreed that Egypt was not to invade Hittite territory, and likewise the Hittites were not to invade Egyptian territory. They also agreed on a defence alliance to deter common enemies, mutual help in suppressing rebellions in Syria, and an extradition treaty. Thirteen years after the conclusion of this treaty in the thirty-fourth year of his reign, Ramses married the daughter of the Hittite prince. Her Egyptian name was Ueret-ma-a-neferu-Ra: meaning ” Great One who sees the Beauties of Ra”. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
Wars During the Reign of Ramses III
Pierre Grandet wrote: “Ramesses III fought three wars, all of them defensive campaigns against attempted invasions of Egypt: in year five, against the Libyans; in year eight, against the “Peoples of the Sea”; and in year eleven, against a second Libyan wave. The rapid succession of these attempts, the interaction between their actors, and their chronological connection to the destruction of Hatti and of other states in the ancient Near East generally lead to the conclusion that they were caused by some common factor, or factors, that have yet to be clearly identified. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]
First Libyan war (year 5): “In year five, the Libyans, who had already attempted to invade Egypt under Merenptah, moved against Egypt through Marmarica (the border region between Libya and Egypt). This wave consisted of the Libu , the Meshwesh , and the Seped peoples, with the Libu in a leadership role. According to our sources, they were defeated in a single battle northwest of Memphis, with enormous casualties: approxima tely 12,000 dead and 4,000 prisoners. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]
“Second Libyan War (year 11): Three years after the battle against the Peoples of the Sea, Ramesses III fought a second coalition of Libyan invaders, composed of seven tribes: the Meshwesh , Libu , and the lesser Isbetu , Qeyqeshu , Sheytepu , Hesu , and Beqenu. This time it was the Meshwesh and their chief, Mesher, son of Kaper, who played the leading role. Though armed with powerful Mycenaean swords, carefully represented in Medinet Habu’s pictorial record, the invaders, who had come all the way from Cyrenaica through Marmarica in the hope to settle in Egypt, were once again defeated in the desert northwest of Memphis.” A stelae depicting a review of booty and captives after the Second Libyan Campaign shows the counting of dead enemies’ hands. Their chief, Mesher, and two underlings are brought to the king before tables laden with Mycenaean swords.
“Although these wars were military successes in the conventional sense (and presented Egypt with a wealth of booty), they could not prevent the Pulasti and Sikala from settling in Canaan’s coastal plain, nor the Libyans from persistent ly raiding the western bank of the Nile until the end of the New Kingdom . The Pulasti would give their name to the Biblical “Philistines,” then to the land of “Palestine”, where their presence would, less than a century after Ramesses III, bring to an end all Egyptian control over the country. As for the Libyans, who would gradually become, by way of capture or mercenary enlistment, the largest ethnic group in th e Egyptian army, they would eventually seize political power by the end of the New Kingdom; thus all independent kings until the end of Pharaonic Egypt would be of Libyan descent.” <>
Invasion of Sea Peoples
The Sea Peoples annihilated the Hittite Empire and looked they might do the same to the Egyptians. The Great Harris Papyrus, the longest know papyrus, describes how many people throughout the region were made homeless. ‘The foreign countries plotted on their Islands and the people were scattered by battle all at one time and no land could stand before their arms.’
Pierre Grandet wrote: “In year eight, Egypt was faced with another threat of invasion—this time on its Mediterranean shore and its northeastern frontier—by a group of peoples of probable heterogeneous ethnicity, but whom the Egyptians clearly perceived as a kind of confederation of related tribes. This perception was mainly due to two features common to all these tribes: their being equipped with Mycenaean weaponry and their geographical origin being “their isles” or “the sea,” an Egyptian designation for the Aegean world, the confederation comprised two main peoples: the Pulasti and the Sikala, helped by the lesser Shakalusha , Danuna , and Washasha , Peleset, Shekelesh, Denen , and Weshesh ). [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]
“Less than one generation earlier, a group of peoples of the same origin (including the Shakalusha ), had been party to an attempted Libyan invasion of Egypt in year five of Merenptah, and had been dubbed “Peoples of the Sea” in the commemorative inscription of this king’s victory. Some of them had been known to the Egyptians as sea-raiders and mercenaries since the reign of Akhenaten, in the 18th Dynasty, and took to plundering the Nile Delta and other parts of the Mediterranean in the following centuries. When captured, they were often included in the Egyptian elite troops, as the Shardana of Ramesses II’s guard at the battle of Qadesh— a position that they still retained under Ramesses III.” <>
“Around 1200 BCE, these peoples began a large and destructive migration to the south and east of the Aegean. While the bulk of them proceeded by land, their advance was preceded by nautical raids against the coast and the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean. C ilicia, Cyprus, Ugarit, and even the Hatti fell to their attacks, which reached inland as far as Karkemish on the Euphrates. In year eight of Ramesses III, they invaded Amurru, whose territory adjoined Egypt’s, where they took the time to regroup their forces before moving south, allowing the pharaoh to mobilize his forces.” <>
Ramses III Defeats the Sea Peoples
The Sea Peoples This great movement of people was well armed and desperate. Mark Millmore wrote in iscoveringegypt.com: “The Sea Peoples were on the move. They had, by now, desolated much of the Late Bronze Age civilizations and were ready to make a move on Egypt. A vast horde was marching south with a huge fleet at sea supporting the progress on land. To counter this threat Ramses acted quickly. He established a defensive line in Southern Palestine and requisitioned every available ship to secure the mouth of the Nile. Dispatches were sent to frontier posts with orders to stand firm until the main army could be brought into action. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
“The clash, when it came was a complete success for the Egyptians. The Sea Peoples, on land, were defeated and scattered but their navy continued towards the eastern Nile delta. Their aim now, was to defeat the Egyptian navy and force an entry up the river. Although the Egyptians had a reputation as poor seamen they fought with the tenacity of those defending their homes. Ramses had lined the shores with ranks of archers who kept up continuous volleys of arrows into the enemy ships when they attempted to land. Then the Egyptian navy attacked using grappling hooks to haul in the enemy ships. In the brutal hand to hand fighting which ensued the Sea People are utterly defeated. ^^^
The advance of the Sea Peoples was finally stopped in the Nile delta and their power was broken. Some of the them, including the biblical Philistines and the Phoenicians — both of whom are regarded as descendants of the Sea Peoples — settled in Palestine and The Levant respectively. With the exception of the defense against the attack from the Libyans, the rest of Ramses III’s long reign was peaceful.
Pierre Grandet wrote: “Medinet Habu sources, both textual and iconographic, reduce this campaign to two main battles, addressing the twofold threat the Sea Peoples represented: first, the repelling of an attempted landing by a group of enemy ships, crushed between Egyptian warships coming from the high sea and Ramesses III’s infantry waiting for them on the shore; and second, an inland battle, fought against a migrating group of the same invaders, who possessed chariotry and were accompanied by carriages laden with their women, their children, and all their belongings . Although a precise localization of both these battles is impossible, our sources locate them on the shore of the Delta and in “Djahy,” an Egyptian name for Canaan. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018