What happened at the Battle of Kadesh in the 13th Century BC?

The Battle of Kadesh took place in the 13th century BC and is one of the most well-known military encounters of the ancient world. It occurred around 1274 BC and involved the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II (also known as Ramesses the Great) of the New Kingdom and the Hittite Empire, which was centered in present-day Anatolia (modern-day Turkey).

The Hittite Empire was a powerful rival to Egypt, and both nations sought to control territory in the region of Kadesh, located in present-day Syria. The battle occurred during the reign of Muwatalli II, the Hittite king.

The Battle of Kadesh took place in the 13th century BC, specifically around 1274 BC, during the late Bronze Age. It was a significant military encounter between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II and the Hittite King Muwatalli II in the region of Kadesh, located in present-day Syria. Image: Kadesh, location within modern-day Syria

Egyptian Army

During the Battle of Kadesh, Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt led a substantial army divided into four main divisions, each named after a prominent deity in the Egyptian pantheon. These divisions were organized strategically to maximize the effectiveness of the Egyptian forces on the battlefield. The four divisions were: Amun, Set, Re (pRe), and Ptah.

RELATED: List of Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

One notable aspect of the Egyptian army was the presence of Sherden troops. The Sherden were a group of people who are believed to have originated from the region of Sardinia in the western Mediterranean. They were known as skilled and fierce warriors and were often sought after as mercenaries by various ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians.

The Battle of Kadesh marked the first historical appearance of the Sherden as mercenaries within the Egyptian army. These foreign fighters were likely hired by Ramesses II to bolster his forces and provide specialized combat skills and expertise.

Hittite Army

Hittite Empire assembled a coalition of allies to support his military campaign against Egypt. One of his prominent allies was Rimisharrinaa, the king of Aleppo. Muwatalli’s ability to gather a significant number of allies from various regions demonstrated the extent of Hittite influence and diplomatic relations in the Late Bronze Age.

Pharaoh Ramesses II’s historians documented a long list of 19 Hittite allies who joined the Hittite forces at Kadesh. Some of those allies included: Hatti (Ht), Arzawa (Irtw), Masa (Ms), and Carchemis (Krkmš). The presence of a diverse group of allies from different regions on the Hittite side provides valuable insights into the political and military dynamics of the time.

Key events of the battle

Here’s an overview of the key events and outcome of the Battle of Kadesh:

Initial Egyptian Advance

Ramesses II led a large Egyptian army, consisting of infantry, chariots, and mercenaries, into the region of Kadesh with the intention of capturing the city. The Egyptian forces split into two divisions, with one division following the Orontes River and the other following a more inland route.

The original relief depicting the Battle of Kadesh – from the Ramesseum

Hittite Ambush

The Hittites had been monitoring the Egyptian movements and were aware of their approach. They set a trap by luring the Egyptian forces into a false sense of security, making them believe that the Hittite army was far away.

The Egyptian Encirclement

As the Egyptian forces advanced near the city of Kadesh, they were suddenly ambushed by the Hittite army, which emerged from hiding. The Hittites surrounded and attacked the Egyptians, putting them at a severe disadvantage.

Egyptian Struggle

Rameses II in the Battle of Kadesh

The initial Hittite assault caught the Egyptian forces off guard, and they found themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed. It is even said that Pharaoh Ramesses II was nearly captured during the battle, but he managed to escape and was eventually rescued by his personal bodyguard.

Counterattack and Stalemate

Despite the initial setback, Ramesses II managed to rally his troops and launch a counterattack. He managed to stabilize his position and hold the Hittites at bay. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, and the battle reached a stalemate.

Treaty of Kadesh: the world’s first recorded peace accord

After the intense fighting, both the Hittites and Egyptians claimed victory, and neither side was able to decisively defeat the other.

Rather than continuing the conflict, both empires opted for a peace treaty, which was one of the earliest recorded peace treaties in history.

Known as the Treaty of Kadesh or the Egyptian-Hittite Peace Treaty, the treaty established a mutual non-aggression pact and paved the way for future diplomatic exchanges and trade between the two great powers in the Near East.

Did you know…?

Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty

  • The peace treaty between Ramesses II of Egypt and Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire was concluded approximately 15 years after the battle, in the 21st year of Ramesses II’s reign, around 1258 BC in conventional chronology.
  • The peace accord was inscribed on a silver tablet, which was an exceptional material for such agreements in ancient times. While the original silver tablet has not survived, a clay copy of the treaty was preserved in the Hittite capital of Hattusa (modern-day Boğazkale, Turkey).
  • Today, this clay copy of the treaty can be seen on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in Turkey, offering a valuable glimpse into the diplomatic relations between the Egyptian and Hittite empires during the Late Bronze Age.
  • An enlarged replica of the peace treaty hangs on a wall at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, United States. The display highlights the treaty’s historical significance as a symbol of early efforts to promote peace and resolve conflicts through negotiation and diplomacy.
Replica of the Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty

Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, presented a replica of the Treaty of Kadesh to the Secretary-General, U Thant, in 1970. The replica was placed on a wall on the second floor of the Conference building, in the delegates’ corridor outside the north entrance to the Security Council Chamber.


The Battle of Kadesh didn’t result in a clear military triumph for either side, but it had significant implications for the ancient Near East. The peace treaty helped stabilize the region and allowed both empires to focus on other internal and external matters without engaging in further destructive warfare.

While both sides claimed success, the Battle of Kadesh is generally remembered for its diplomatic significance rather than a clear military triumph for either power.

Questions and Answers

Who were the main commanders and leaders during the Battle of Kadesh?

Ramesses II was the ruler of Egypt and the commander of the Egyptian army during the battle. He was one of Egypt’s most significant pharaohs and played a central role in the events leading up to and during the Battle of Kadesh.

Ramesses II

Ramesses II

Muwatalli II was the ruler of the Hittite Empire at the time of the battle. He led the Hittite army against his arch rivals, ancient Egypt.

Hattusili III

Hattušiliš III was a renowned as one of the prominent rulers of the Hittite Empire, lived during the 13th century BC. Image: Rock relief of Hattusili III, the king of the Hittite Empire

What triggered the conflict between Egypt and the Hittite Empire?

During the 13th century BC, the Hittite Empire emerged as a powerful and expanding force in the Near East, posing a significant threat to Egypt’s dominance in the region.

The Hittite rulers had begun encroaching into territories that were traditionally part of Egypt’s sphere of influence, including Kadesh and other cities in northern Syria. This territorial expansion and the growing military and political power of the Hittites were seen as a challenge to Egypt’s supremacy.

Previous pharaohs of Egypt, including Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Horemheb, and Ramesses I, attempted to counter the rising Hittite influence and reclaim territories, but their efforts were not successful.

Pharaoh Seti I, the father of Ramses II, made some significant gains in Egypt’s attempt to regain Kadesh, Amurru, and other northern Syrian cities from the Hittites.

However, these gains were not enduring, and the task of securing these territories permanently for Egypt fell upon Ramses II.

What was the size of both armies?

The Egyptian army, commanded by Ramses II, is believed to have consisted of around 20,000 men. This force was a well-equipped and formidable military, which included infantry, archers, and most notably, a significant number of chariots.

On the Hittite side, King Muwatalli II commanded a force of nearly 40,000 men. The Hittite army was also a formidable force, and like the Egyptians, they relied heavily on chariots in their military strategies.

What were the military tactics and strategies used by the Egyptians and Hittites in the battle?

The Egyptians heavily relied heavily on their chariot technology, which was one of the most dominant forces in their army. Chariots were used to provide mobility, harass enemy forces, and disrupt enemy formations.

The Egyptian army was divided into two main divisions during the battle. One division followed the Orontes River, and the other took an inland route. This division allowed them to approach Kadesh from different directions.

The Hittites executed a well-planned ambush on the Egyptian forces, surrounding them from multiple sides. This initial surprise attack put the Egyptians at a disadvantage.

The Hittites also utilized chariotry, but their army had a significant infantry component, which played a crucial role in the battle. The infantry engaged in close combat after the initial chariot charges.

Is the Battle of Kadesh considered a victory for either side, or was it a stalemate?

The Battle of Kadesh is often considered a strategic stalemate rather than a clear victory for either the Egyptian or Hittite side. Both sides claimed victory in their respective historical records and inscriptions, which were heavily propagandized to portray their rulers as heroic and successful leaders.

Why was a peace treaty signed?

Recognizing that a prolonged conflict would be detrimental to both empires, and facing exhaustion and depleted supplies, both Ramesses II and Muwatalli II agreed to negotiate a peace treaty. The peace treaty, known as the “Treaty of Kadesh,” established a diplomatic understanding and a mutual non-aggression pact between Egypt and the Hittite Empire. The treaty allowed both powers to focus on other internal and external matters without continuing the costly conflict.

The treaty set a defined boundary between Egypt and the Hittite Empire, roughly along the Orontes River. This helped to clarify territorial claims and reduce tensions over contested regions like Kadesh.

The peace treaty included a clause that called for mutual assistance if either empire was attacked by outside forces. This created a potential alliance against other regional powers, which contributed to a balance of power in the ancient Near East.

As the Hittite King Muwatalli II was dead at the time, the responsibility for signing the treaty fell to his successor King Hattusili III. Image: The Hittite version (above, at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums) and Egyptian (below, at the Precinct of Amun-Re in Karnak)

What was the significance of the Battle of Kadesh?

The battle and its aftermath led to the signing of one of the earliest recorded peace treaties in history. The peace treaty between Egypt and the Hittite Empire helped stabilize the region and established a framework for diplomatic exchanges and trade between the two powers.

The battle showcased the strength of both the Egyptian and Hittite empires. While neither side achieved a decisive victory, it highlighted the military prowess of both nations and set the stage for a balance of power in the ancient Near East.

The battle is also notable for its chariot warfare, as both Egyptian and Hittite forces heavily relied on chariots in their military strategies. It provided insights into the importance of chariots and their tactical use in ancient warfare.

For Ramesses II, the Battle of Kadesh became a major part of his propaganda and served to legitimize his rule as a strong and capable leader. Despite the lack of a clear victory, Ramesses presented the battle as a triumph and depicted himself as a heroic figure in his inscriptions.

Similarly, the Hittite side also had detailed accounts of the battle, albeit from their perspective, which have survived to this day.

Other interesting facts about the Battle of Kadesh

Location of the Battle of Kadesh in the 13th century BC

  • The battle is extensively documented in ancient Egyptian inscriptions, particularly on the walls of temples such as the Ramesseum and the Luxor Temple. These inscriptions offer valuable insights into the events and the propaganda surrounding Ramesses II’s reign.
  • Due to the extensive usage of chariots by both Egypt and the Hittite Empire, the battle is generally viewed as one of the largest chariot battles in ancient history. For example, Ramses II entered the battle with between 2000 and 2500 chariots, while his opponent had somewhere in the region of 3,000 chariots.
  • In addition to the Battle of Kadesh being known for producing the first recorded peace treaty, the battle is usually hailed as the earliest pitched battle in recorded history. Historians, on both sides, recorded the extensive details of the military tactics and formations used during the battle. However, there is no record of the number of lives that perished during the conflict.

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