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6.2.8 The Battle of Qadesh — An Egyptian Account

This excerpt comes from an Egyptian account of the Battle of Qadesh, fought about 1274 BCE between the Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh Ramses II, and the Hittite army, led by King Mutwatalli I. The Hittite kingdom was in central Anatolia and claimed Syria. The Egyptians were trying to extend their control into Syria. They met in battle at the town of Qadesh. The battle might have been the largest chariot battle ever fought.

Unknown Egyptian writer, edited and translated by James Henry Breasted. Text modernized by Shennan Hutton.
circa 1274 BCE
Book

Unknown Egyptian writer. "Egyptian Account of the Battle of Qadesh (ca. 1274 BCE)." Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest, vol. 3, edited and translated by James Henry Breasted (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906), 136 – 41, 143 – 47. Text modernized by Shennan Hutton.

This excerpt comes from an Egyptian account of the Battle of Qadesh, fought about 1274 BCE between the Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh Ramses II, and the Hittite army, led by King Mutwatalli I. The Hittite kingdom was in central Anatolia and claimed Syria. The Egyptians were trying to extend their control into Syria. They met in battle at the town of Qadesh. The battle might have been the largest chariot battle ever fought. The document contains a lot of propaganda. What words did the scribe use to describe the Hittite king? What words did he use to describe the Egyptian pharaoh?

Vocabulary

the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta: the Hittite King Mutwatalli I; wretched = pitiful, weak; vanquished = defeated, beaten

Kheta: Hatti, the land of the Hittites

mail: armor

Baal: a powerful god

Sutekh: the Egyptian god of destruction (Seth)

Orontes: a river in Syria

This and the following source offer evidence about two important forms of contact between the Egyptian New Kingdom and the powerful Hittite kingdom of central Anatolia. The first and most common form of contact between states in this period was war, represented here by the Battle of Qadesh. Many videos about ancient Egypt have recreations of this battle and other achievements of Ramses II. While no Hittite accounts of the battle survive, historians conclude that the battle was large but indecisive, on the basis of the peace treaty that is the next source. The scribe uses words such as chief, wretched, and vanquished for the Hittite king and adds that the king did not come out to fight. In contrast, the scribe compares the pharaoh to the gods Baal and Sutekh and claims that he single-handedly won the battle. This is an excellent opportunity to point out perspective, propagandistic rhetoric, and use of loaded words.

The Battle of Qadesh — An Egyptian Account
Every country trembled before him [the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II]; fear was in their hearts; all the rebels came bowing down for fear of the fame of his majesty.… When his majesty reached the city, behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta had come, having gathered together all countries from the ends of the sea to the land of Kheta … every man bringing his chariots, a huge number of people, like no other army. They covered the mountains and the valleys; they were like grasshoppers with their numbers….His majesty [of Egypt] had formed the first rank of all the leaders of his army… [but] the wretched vanquished chief of Kheta was stationed in the middle of the infantry that was with him, and he did not come out to fight, for fear of his majesty. Then he sent out the chariot forces, a huge number, like the sand….

…[The Hittites] surrounded the bodyguard of his majesty, who were by his side. When his majesty saw them, he was enraged against them…. He put on his coat of mail. He was like Baal in his hour. Then he went to his horses [and chariot] and led quickly on, being alone by himself. He charged into the foes of the vanquished chief of Kheta.… His majesty was like Sutekh, the great in strength, smiting and slaying among them; his majesty hurled them headlong, one upon another into the water of the Orontes.