Tel an Nabi Mindu, Syria (c. 1274 BC)
The Battle of Kadesh has the distinction of being the first well-documented military engagement in history. Fought between the expanding empires of Egypt under Rameses II and the Hittites under Muwatalli, there are surviving accounts from both sides, including extensive if one-sided details from the famous Egyptian Pharoah himself. Long accounted an Egyptian victory, it was more likely a draw which left both sides battered and bloodied. Kadesh is also believed to have been the largest chariot battle in history, with perhaps over five thousand of the war vehicles engaged during the fighting. The battle was also renowned for early recorded efforts of spying and espionage which played a role in the outcome of the engagement.
The two first truly great empires in world history, at least west of India, were the Egyptians in the Nile River Valley and the Hittites in what is now Central Turkey. Throughout the 14th century BC these to major powers clashed with each, as well as local Canaanite and Syrian tribes, vying for control of the region. For a while the Egyptians gained the upper hand, controlling much of the region. But by the beginning of the 13th century BC their power waned and control of the region lapsed.
Sometime in the 1290s or 1280s BC, the Egyptians under the Pharoah Seti I had reorganized and rebuilt their armies and began to reassert their control over the Levant. Campaigning likely began around 1280 BC. Under Rameses II, son of Seti I, Egypt conquered Canaan as far north as Amurru in what is now Lebanon. Under the threat of this Egyptian expansion, the Hittites raised a large army, including considerable forces from its vassal states in Syria.
The armies were very large for the era. The Egyptians fielded a force of twenty thousand, including an estimate two thousand chariots; against fifty thousand Hittites with over three thousand chariots. In one of the world’s first major efforts of strategic deception, Muwatalli successfully misled Rameses into the location of the Hittite army. As a result, the Egyptians divided their forces, and by the time they learned of their mistake, their advance division was almost completely annihilated in the first phase of the battle.
However, thanks to Rameses’ personal heroism and tactical genius, he stopped the battle from becoming a complete rout. When the Hittites stopped to loot the battlefield, the Egyptians counterattacked with their remaining forces. The Hittite chariots, separated from infantry support by the Orontes River, was largely destroyed. This left the two armies separated by the river; the Hittites with a very large infantry force, and the Egyptians with a smaller army but with most of their chariots intact. The result was a tactical stalemate, with both sides eventually withdrawing to fight another day.
The exact location of the Kadesh Battlefield is uncertain, but the historical and archaeological evidence points strongly to the rocky plain immediately southwest of Lake Hims. This rugged area looks much as it did in ancient times, offering a near-pristine view of the site as it might have appeared to Rameses II. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of archaeological evidence of the battle, and due to lack of information the area is not well documented by either markers or monuments.
While the exact sites of the battle are not known with certainty, the Kadesh Battlefield is located just north of the village of Tel an Nabi Minu, approximately twelve miles southwest of Homs and 70 miles north of Damascus. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.visit-syria.com (official tourism website of Syria).