Steven L. Ossad

Award-winning Historian and Biographer, One-time Wall Street Technology Analyst, and Company Board Adviser on Leadership

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The only American armored division commander to die in battle, Maurice Rose was the son and grandson of rabbis who rose from private to general to lead the premier American armored force to victory over the Nazi empire.
Winner, 2003 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award
Martin Blumenson spent his life writing the history of an institution he respected greatly and knew intimately, the United States Army. He inspired generations of his students and successors to the highest standard of excellence.
The Battle of Kadesh, the greatest chariot clash in all recorded history - and the arche-type for maneuver warfare - pitted the war-hardened Hittites against a young, untested Pharaoh. The struggle that followed shaped the destinies of the two dominant empires of the early Iron Age. Recorded by Rameses as a great Egyptian victory, it is a case study of how a brilliant and well-executed public relations campaign can trump performance - and reality.

The Battle of Kadesh, 1300 BC
Public Relations Trumps Performance

Ramesses The Great

Ramesses II, son of Seti I and his favorite Queen Tuya, was the third Pharaoh of the XIX Dynasty and dominated the 13th Century BC. Called “Ramesses the Great” even during antiquity, he was a man whose character and deeds elicit exaggerated adjectives; he lived for nearly a century and ruled for 67 years, the second longest reign of any Pharaoh (only Pepi II of the Sixth Dynasty @​ 2300 BC ruled longer). He had 200 wives and consorts, and fathered nearly one hundred sons and sixty daughters, many of whom he outlived. He was an innovator in government, military affairs and diplomacy, and was the greatest “builder” of all the Pharaohs, especially of monuments to his own glory. Finally, there is general agreement that he was most likely the Pharaoh who “presided” over the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage.

By 1300 BC the empires of Egypt and the Hatti, better known as the Hittites, had been locked in a vast geopolitical struggle for more than two centuries. The young pharaoh Ramesses II - a man in his mid twenties and at the beginning of what would be seven decades of rule - decided to move early to consolidate his power following a long and fractious internal struggle. Simultaneously, the long-simmering rivalry with the Hittites exploded into open warfare as the network of local Canaananite kings sensed the opportunity to capitalize on the perceived weakeness of the new Pharoah. They believed they could benefit from the fragmentation of the old system that had maintained the fragile balance of power between the Hittites and Egyptians.

As Seti I approached death, the King of Kadesh, long an Egyptian ally, switched his allegiance to the Hittites forcing an Egyptian response. Deep in what is now modern Syria, Kadesh marked the mid boundary of the traditional buffer zone that had separated the two superpowers and now threatened to fracture. Sety's successor, the young Ramesses II had no choice. He mustered his forces and marched north.

Ramesses II in his Chariot at Kadesh (Abu Simbel)

The Egyptian Army

Egypt's army, organized into four combined arms field divisions - each named for a god - and numbering some 20,000 men boasted 2,500 chariots,the lightest and most maneuverable combat vehicles of the time and each bearing a two-man crew comprising the cream of Egyptian manhood. The chariots were especially adaptable to a broad range of terrain and with their higly skilled archers wielding composite bows, were capable of delivering a devastating attack against infantry and other chariots.

For more than a month, the Pharaoh's army - the largest assembled since Pharoah Thutmose III conquered the Canaanites - marched along the coastal Sinai road, subduing the rebellious strongholds guarding the approaches to Kadesh. Facing the brash, overly confident and relatively untested Ramesses was the tough, battle-hardened and wily Hittite King Muwatalli II, a man skilled in diplomacy and statecraft, ably assisted by his younger brother Prince Hattasuli, Commander of the Chariot host, a combat veteran of many battles, fiercely loyal, and a skilled coalition commander.

The Hittite Army

King Muwatalli commanded an equivalent number of men and mustered half again as many heavily armed, and superbly trained chariot crews as his foe. Enjoying advantages in horsemanship, and technology, each Hittite vehicle was larger and heavier, mounted its axle in mid cab, and was thus more more stable (though slower and less maneuverable), and able to absorb more punishment.

Each chariot was drawn by two specially bred, fed, and and trained teams of horses - the result of a legendary horse-breader, whose training manual was one of the great treasures of antquity. In addition, each chariot carried a crew of three, including a driver and shield bearer, as well as a spear-bearing warrior, also armed with a comosite bow who was able to fight dismounted as well.

Unlike the foot soldiers supporting the Egyptians, who ran alongside the chariots, the bulk of the Hittite light infantry arrived on the battlefield transported by chariot and thus fresh and ready for combat. This was a tremendous advantage. The Hittite forces also included large contingents of infantry and chariots supplied by the Hatti's many allies. Finally, the Hittites enjoyed a major morale advantage - they had never been defeated.

Old Kadesh

Near the old battlefield near Tell Nebi Mend southwest of Lake Homs along the southern bank of the Orontes River in modern northern Syria, the destinies of the two greatest empires of the age was determined near the ancient fortress city of Kadesh. There, the wills of two great kings - each motivated by by both dynastic and geopolitical considerations - met in a titanic struggle.

Site of the Battle and its Environs

Battle Overview (Source: K.A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant)

Kadesh is the first military campaign in recorded history about which we have comprehensive contemporary documentation describing leadership, organization of forces, overall operations, field tactics, and weapons,and in the end we are left with two very different vesrions of the actual outcome. Indeed, more than three thousand years later, we still cannot give a simple answer to the question, "Who won?". The implication of that simple truth is a lesson worth pondering when wars rage all over the globe and the outcomes remain as confusing as they were after Kadesh.

Phase One - With Egyptian forces widely dispersed, 2 "beduins" are "suddenly" captured and report the main enemy force is far to the North. Ramesses naively accepts the report and prepares his camp.

Ramesses II leads his personal bodyguard & Amun Division.

Phase Two - Suddenly, with no warning 2,500 Hittite chariots strike the Re Division on the eastern flank isolating it from the Amum division now setting up the Egyptian base camp to the north.

The Hittites Attack (Brian Palmer).

Phase Three - After destroying the Re Division the Hittites strike the Egyptian camp from the west, scattering the Amun Division

Ramesses and Menes fight for their lives (David Pentland).

Phase Four - With his Amun and Re Divisions shattered, and seemingly on the verge of disaster, Ramesses and his shield-bearer Menes lead a few survivors in a ferocious counterattack


Phase Five - As the Hittites pause to loot the Egyptian camp, the Ne'Arim reinforcements arrive from Amurru and rout the Hittites who flee back across the Orontes as the rest of the Egyptian forces reach the battlefield.

Note on dates, names, and other military details. Three dates are usually given for the battle, depending on the various techniques employed by scholars in dating the rulers of the Egyptian XIXth Dynasty: 1300 BC, 1285/​4 BC, and 1275/​1274 BC. There is universal agreement, however, that the clash took place in the fifth year of Ramesses II’s rule, during the 5th month, or late April, early May.

There is also considerable variation in the spelling of the names of Egyptian and Hittite rulers, geographical locations. Kadesh is typically used in English-based scholarship, although Qadesh is also used, especially by scholars working in French. Considerable variation also exists with respect to the designation, size and composition of military units, especially Egyptian formations. Many other details remain the subject of active discussion even more than a century after the initial discoveries of the Egyptians sources of descriptions of the battle were published by the pioneering University of Chicago Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in 1903.

I have adopted the dates and usage found in Antonio Santosuosso’s Mondavo Award-winning essay, “Kadesh Revised: Reconstructing the Battle Between the Egyptians and the Hittites”, Journal of Military History, Vol. 60, No. 3 (July 1996), pp. 423-444 (available on the world-wide-web via JSTOR). Santasuosso, one of the few scholars to approach the battle as a military historian, reviews the details of the battle and presents the best summary in English of the generally accepted outline of what happened, as well as persuasive arguments about those details that remain in dispute.

The Sources

Note on Sources.The most important Egyptian contemporary archeological and literary evidence for reconstruction of the battle consists of two literary texts and a series of reliefs with captions. The Hittite sources include two cuneiform texts - the famous Peace Treaty and a historical account - both written in the reign of a later king. Some scholars claim that the so-called "Letter of the General" written by a contemporary subordinate of the city of Ugarit to an unknown king is also a source for the battle.

The sources include:

• The “Poem” - Two papyri versions survive, the P. Sallier III (British Museum), including the single page P. Raifé (Louvre) and the P. Chester Beatty III (British Museum). Eight hieratic "copies" of the Poem have been identified, all based on sculpted hieroglyphics on Temple walls.

• The “Report" or "Bulletin”, also called the "Official Report or Bulletin" based on seven hieroglyphic copies which have been identified on Temple Walls.

• Carved "Reliefs" and captions inscribed at the Temple of Amun at Thebes (Karnak complex), at the Abu Simbel Temple, and carvings and wall paintings at the "Ramesseum" also at Thebes (Luxor).

Egyptian chariot, 14th Century BC

The Poem

Papyrus Sallier III + P. Raifé Version of the Poem. During the reign of Merneptah, Ramses II’s successor, a treasury scribe in the north named Pen-ta-wer-it, copied the entire poem of the Battle of Kadesh for himself, or perhaps for his superior. He clearly was interested in it for its own sake as he also copied other papyri with the same theme, i.e., military events ­in which the king defends himself against his enemies. The emphasis appears to be on the king’s heroic deeds when faced with disaster. Pen-ta-wer-it changed the names of the deities referred to in some of the papyri (e.g., Amun-Re) to the northern gods, even though he says he copied the poem without making changes. At the end of the papyrus, Pen-ta-wer-it signed the document as copyist also including the name of his superior.

Most of the pages of the text are in the collection of the British Museum, London (ESA 10181). One page, the P. Raifé, is in the Louvre and another page is believed lost. The papyrus was placed in a tomb - Pen-ta-wer-it’s or his superior’s, perhaps as a gift - as part of the grave goods, copies being put into a library or other repository such as the House of Life.

Papyrus Sallier III was probably acquired in the early 19th century AD about the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. A man named Anastasi came to Egypt to sell food and provisions to the French army. He became a friend of the Egyptian ruler, Mohammed Ali, and found that he could make money in other ways once the army was no longer a source of income; i.e., selling Egyptian antiquities to Europeans. He sent agents to Memphis/​Saqqara and Upper Egypt to collect such materials, including large numbers of papyri, which he collected in Alexandria. One batch was sold to a Frenchman named Sallier between 1820 and 1823, which were known to have come from tombs at Saqqara, and were taken to France. Jean Francois Champollion saw and translated them in about 1828. The British Museum bought the Anastasi collection for a large sum, and when Sallier died, his family sold his collections to the museum as well. In 1842 the British Museum published all of the Sallier and Anastasi papyri as a group.

The Chester Beatty III version of the Poem. The papyrus had several owners before it was deposited in the cemetery at Deir el-Medina. It is uncertain who the original owner was, but it passed into the hands of the scribe Qeniherkhepshef; on the other side of the papyrus, the scribe copied a poem about the Battle of Kadesh, which took place in the Fifth Year of the reign of Ramesses II (@​1300 BC). Called the Dream Book, it passed to Khaemamen, Qeniherkhepshef's wife's second husband, and then to his son Amennakht (both added their name to the papyrus). The Dream Book was part of an archive, including a wide variety of literary, magical and documentary material, which passed down through the family for more than a century.

The Bulletin

The Reliefs

The Inscriptions and Captions at the Temple of Amun, Thebes (Luxor)

The Inscriptions at Abu Simbel

North Wall, Great Hall, Ramesses II in his Chariot

North Wall, Great Hall, Chariots Battling

Ramesses and his Shield-Bearer Menes charge the Hittites

Wall Decorations at the Ramesseum

Inner Wall of the Hypo Style Hall

Second Pylon, West Side of the North Jamb

History's Earliest Recorded Peace Treaty

The Battle in Popular Culture


Contemporary Images

Recreation of The Battle of Kadesh (University of Quebec)

The Hittite Empire

Hittite Empire @1300 BC

Chronology of the Hittite Empire (2000 BC- 1200 BC)

@​2000 Rise of the Hittites

@​1650 Establishment of the New Kingdom under King Hattushili (tr. 'the man from the Hattushi'). The Hittites were also called the 'Hatti'

@​1590 Reign of King Murshilish.

---After destroying the Old Babylonian Empire, Murshilish marched south, capturing Aleppo and establishing the empire's southern frontier deep in Syria.

---For the next two centuries the Hittites were preoccupied with internal disputes, as well as the incursions of the Mittani - a people to the east who ruled Mesopotamia - and the Egyptians expanding their borders northward.

@​1457 Pharaoh Thutmosis III (r1504-1450)

---Late in his reign, Thutmosis III - called 'the Napoleon of Egypt' - led his army against a coalition of rebellious Canaanite warlords under the hegemony of the King of Kadesh. The Battle of Megiddo - also called Armegeddon - is the first recorded battle in history.

---The successful Egyptian campaign curtailed Hittite influence in Syria, forcing the payment of tribute by the Hatti, as well as establishing a strategic buffer zone between the northern frontiers of Egypt and the southern gateway to the Hittite empire. Maintaining a balance of power in the buffer zone through a web of military alliance, trade, and intermarriage with the local rulers was the foreign policy goal of both empires - until there was an opportunity for domination.

Thutmoses III

1450-1300 For a century and a half following the Battle of Megiddo internal political and religious pressures, as well as prolonged dynastic succession struggles, weakened Egyptian control over the strategic buffer zone. During this period, the kings of Kadesh gradually shifted their allegiance to the Hittites, threatening the balance of power of the entire region.

1370 Hittite King Suppiluliuma (r. 1380-1330 BC) consolidated Hittite rule over all of Anatolia and then destroyed the kingdom of Mitanni, capturing Kadesh and reasserting Hittite control of buffer zone.

Tutankhamun's gold chariot, XVIII Dynasty, Cairo Museum

--- 1353 Following the death of young Pharaoh Tutankhamen, his widow Anikankamun petitioned King Suppiluliuma for a royal marriage to insure her power in Egypt. Suppiluliuma, suspicious of the request, dispatched his Chamberlain to investigate. Eventually, Suppiluliuma agreed and a royal wedding was approved, but the delay proved fatal as rivals moved against Anikankumun. The young Hittite prince and his escort were killed en-route to the wedding, leading to conflict.

--- Egypt, reeling from its internal religious and political conflicts, fell into decline. As its internal security weakened, it military power also eroded; weapons technology lagged, army morale sank, and the diplomatic balance shifted towards the Hittites. Egypt remained on the defensive until Horemheb seized power, took command of the army, and restored order, and established the XIX Dynasty.

1320 Pharaoh Sety I, second ruler of the new dynasty, reorganizes the Egyptian Army, defeats the rebellious Canaanite kings, and recaptures Kadesh, later relinquishing the city under a treaty with the Hittites.

1300 THE BATTLE OF KADESH - April-May of the fifth year of the reign of Ramesses II.

1270 Pharaoh Ramesses II and Muwatalli's brother and successor King Hattushilish III sign the first recorded Peace Treaty in history. Ramesses marries the Hittite king's daughter and the Hittites agree to Egyptian control over Canaan in exchange for Hittite control of Kadesh and Syria.

1200 Just 100 years after the Battle of Kadesh, the Hittite Empire - torn apart by external pressures - possibly invasions of the Sea Peoples and the rise of new powers in Mesopotamia - and undermined by internal pressures declined rapidly. The capital at Hattusa was deserted for mysterious reasons and except for a few citations - notably the biblical story of Bathsheba's murdered husband - the Hittites disappeared from history until the late 19th century AD.

Hattusa: The Hatti's Capital City

Hattusa, capital of the Hittite Empire, called Boğazköy today, is in Çorum Province, about 75 miles northeast of Ankara.

History of Excavations

From 1893-1894, Prof. Ernest Chantre, deputy director of the Museum of Natural History in Lyon carried out the first excavations at Hattusa, followed a decade later in 1905 by Theodore Makridi Bey (Istanbul Univ) and Hugo Winckler Univ Berlin) who continued to dig until 1917. Systematic work on the site followed in 1932 under the direction of Kurt Bittel of the German Archaeological Institute (GAI). Work was suspended during WWII and did not resume again until 1978 when Dr. Peter Neve of the GAI took over. He managed the dig until 1993, when Dr. Jurgen Seer assumed the directorship.

History of the City

Sometime around 1650 B.C. the city of Hattusha was established by King Hattushili I (literally, "the man from Hattusa") as the Hittite capital. Covering almost two square kilometres, and situated on a plateau, Hattusha was heavily fortified over time with elaborate defensive walls and gateways. From this secure base, Hattushili led his armies south onto the plains of Syria. His son, Murshili I, continued these advances by raiding the important city of Halab (Aleppo) and plundering Babylon far to the south in Mesopotamia. On his return to Anatolia, however, the king was assassinated and there followed a succession of weak rulers and a long period of inactivity.

Around 1420 B.C., a new line of more energetic kings came to power in Hattusha. Nonetheless, the Hittites seem to have suffered considerable problems in the early fourteenth century B.C.: the so-called Gashga people, who lived in the Pontic Alps to the north of Hittite territory, launched raids and may even have destroyed Hattusha; the dominant power of Egypt under Amenhotep III (r. 1390–1352 B.C.) attempted to undermine the Hittites by establishing diplomatic relations with the powerful state of Arzawa in western Anatolia; and raids against Cyprus (claimed by the Hittites as their territory) were undertaken by Ahhiyawa (perhaps Achaean Greeks).

However, under Tudhaliya III (r. 1380–1360 B.C.) and his son Shuppiluliuma I (r. 1360–1330 B.C.), the situation was reversed. Shuppiluliuma consolidated the empire in the north and Hattusha was reconquered and strongly fortified. He then advanced into Syria, establishing Carchemish as a royal center. Egypt now seems to have recognized the Hittites as an equal power: indeed, a later Hittite text refers to an Egyptian queen (perhaps the widow of Tutankhamun) writing to Shuppiluliuma to request marriage with one of his sons. Plague, brought back to Anatolia from the Levant by Hittite soldiers and prisoners of war, cut short the achievements of Shuppiluliuma. However, his conquests were consolidated and expanded by his son Murshili II, whose greatest success was against Arzawa in the west, which was reduced to the status of a subject-state.

Under Muwatalli II (@​1325–1275 B.C.), the Hittite capital temporarily moved south to Tarhuntasha, perhaps because of the continuing threat from the rebellious Gashga people. However, control of western Anatolia was maintained through a treaty between the Hittites and a possible vassal of Troy.

In the Levant, Hittite power was also enhanced when the young Ramesses II's attempts to re-establish Egyptian hegemony over Kadesh were rebuffed. Muwatalli's succesful resistance to the young Pharoah's bold - some might say reckless - attack on Kadesh extended Hittite control as far south as modern Damascus. Diplomacy, however, proved to be more important than strength of arms. Prompted perhaps by the growing and mutual threat of Assyrian power at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in northern Mesopotamia. Peace between Egypt and the Hittites was eventually established under Hattushili III (r. 1275–1245 B.C.),

Under Tudhaliya IV (r. 1245–1215 B.C.), Hattusha was further strengthened and the king completed the construction of a nearby religious sanctuary, known today as Yazilikaya (Turkish: "inscribed rock"). However, during his reign, the empire began to suffer setbacks. The Assyrians launched attacks against the eastern borders of the empire as well as in Syria, reducing Hittite territory in these regions. At the same time, Hittite dependencies in the west were being lost. Sometime around 1200 B.C., Hattusha was violently destroyed and never recovered. Who destroyed the capital remains a mystery but it was clesrly a part of the wider collapse of Hittite power. That, too, remains unexplained. However, Hittite traditions were maintained in some cities of northern Syria, eg. Carchemish, which continued to flourish through the early centuries of the first millennium B.C.


Among the ruins, first excavated in 1906, are a number of temples, as well as the state's diplomatic archives. This repository, holding more than 10,000 cuneiform tablets, provides valuable information on all aspects of the Hittite culture. There are several documents that relate directly to the battle, including the text of the "Peace Treaty" signed a decade after the event, and a “Letter from a General” also written afterwards.

Museum Resources

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The British Museum

The Louvre

The Corum Museum at Boğazköy

Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn

The Egyptians

Hittite Chariot

Bronze Age Weapons

Chariot Warfare, @​1300 BC

2-man Light Egyptian Chariot

Often described as the forerunner of the modern armored fighting vehicle (AFV), chariots were probably introduced by the Sumerians in 2,500 BC and dominated warfare in the Ancient Near East from 1700-1200 BC. They combine speed, striking power, and mobility, if not armored protection for the crew.

The Egyptian chariot – essentially a two-wheeled cart with the wheel axle at the rear of the cab for greater speed - held two men, a driver and an archer and functioned as a mobile firing platform. In the hands of a skilled archer the composite bow, firing a deadly armor-piercing arrow, was highly effective at ranges exceeding 200 meters. Light enough to be carried over rivers and other terrain obstacles, the Egyptian chariot was basically a long-range striking weapon and closed with the enemy only when they were on the verge of breaking, or were already in flight.

3-man Heavy Hittite Chariot