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Military Campaigns

Ramses the Great - The Pharaohs - The People

The Infamous Pharaoh who built many of the best known Monuments that remain standing today

Military Campaigns

Background: During the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten (the father of Tutankhamun) it appears that his mother, King’s Mother Tiye, took responsibility for all of Egypt’s Foreign and Diplomatic Policies. She was well versed in this role as she had supported her husband, Pharaoh Amenhotep III, with Egypt’s Foreign and Diplomatic Policies during his reign. But during this period, she had all responsibility because her son was not interested in pursuing it at all. How do we know this?

After King Mother Tiye’s death it appears that Pharaoh Akhenaten simply could not or would not take on her long held Diplomatic role. For he disdained the previously strong adherence to Foreign Policy and allowed lands to be taken especially by the Hittites in Syria and Canaan. But he went further. He reduced the Military, the Defences and ceased Foreign Militaria Campaigns. Furthermore, he refused to support any of them with Gold or reinforcements.

This led to the ravaging of Egypt’s borders until Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s General, Horemheb, began to take back control after Akhenaten’s death. This legacy still held strongly with the Egyptian people which is why they turned to the army after Tutankhamun’s successor Ay died without a strong familial successor. General Horemheb became Pharaoh Horemheb and appointed his own Head of the Army as his Successor, Pharaoh Ramses I. Father of Pharaoh Seti I and grandfather of Pharaoh Ramses II. This explains why both Seti I and Ramses II were so keen to undertake, succeed and then display their numerous Military Campaigns on their Temples during their reigns.

Campaigns: Immediately on Ramses II’s ascension the Hittite’s took advantage of the perceived lack of strength in the Throne and began their invasions, capturing the border Canaan city of Kadesh. Ramses focus soon shifted to the restoration of the Northern and Southern borders of Egypt and to ensure that all Trade Routes were secure. To do this in the most efficient way, Ramses started building his new Capital City, Pi Ramses, in the Delta region of Egypt which gave him faster access to his Norther Borders.

In Regnal Year 2 Pharaoh is known to have repelled an attack on the Nile Delta borders of Egypt by the Sea Peoples who at the time were referred to as Pirates as they were consistently hijacking cargo ships which were en route with goods to Egypt. This group were well known within Egypt as they had been harassing most of the Mediterranean Coast for some time. Pharaoh Ramses II saw a usefulness in co-opting these Pirates and bound them into the Egyptian Army. They were sent to the outposts on the Hittite Frontier and were involved in the Battle of Kadesh. We know about these details from the Stela’s that Pharaoh Ramses II had created in Tanis and Aswan. The Tanis Stela states, “the unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them”. The Sherden was the name given to the Sea Peoples at the time as many of them came from Sardinia.

 

By Regnal Year 4 Ramses was ready to venture north to recover the lost lands, mainly in southern Canaan, that had been captured or rebelled against their agreements with Egypt since his father’s death. But this expedition was not only about recovering what he felt was his lost provinces. It was also a mission to setup the trade and military routes he would need to face his strongest foe, the Hittites. He was successful in this campaign and ceased his ventures at the Al-Kalb River which today is near Beirut, Lebanon. One story from this Campaigning Year involved Pharaoh personally fighting against a Prince of Canaan, beating him, and taking him back to Egypt as a high value Prisoner.

The infamous Battle of Kadesh took place in Regnal Year 5 and ended with the first Peace treaty in History being agreed upon, a copy of which now graces the entrance to the Security Council UN building in New York, USA. Pharaoh Ramses II’s copy was included in his building of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel. To learn more about the Peace Treaty, click here. To understand the full details of the Battle of Kadesh, click here, but my shortened version is as follows.

Pharaoh Ramses II marched out of Pi Ramses with about 20,000 men who were divided into 4 Divisions of the Infantry and the Chariotry, named after the Gods: Amun, Ra, Ptah and Set. Whilst leaving a section of his Army to secure their return route, the main Army marched on. About 13km from Kadesh the Army divided into 2 to scout round the City of Kadesh. Pharaoh’s 2 Divisions passed through a forest inside which their scouts captured 2 spies. The spies lied to the Egyptians telling them that the main body of the Hittite’s army was away from Kadesh, while really the Hittite army was hiding behind the city.

Ramses learned of this betrayal from the interrogation of a further 2 captured Hittite spies and sent out messengers to hurry his 2 diverted Divisions to his aid just before the Hittite’s attacked with the Pharaoh being isolated from much of his failing army.

The 2 Divisions managed to reach the battle and together the Hittite’s were forced to retreat inside Kadesh. After this neither army could continue without risking an all-out defeat for themselves due to heavy casualties so both sides retreated.

After 16 years of continual military incursions by both sides into the disputed middle and between their nations, a Peace Treaty was concluded in Pharaoh’s 21st Regnal year. This World’s First Peace Treaty was to last between the two powers for nearly 100 years!

However, Pharaoh was not only needed to protect his northern borders, he also spent time in Military Campaigns alongside his sons, especially in Nubia to the south which was colonised into the Egyptian borders but revolts and plots were frequent as the locals wished to gain their independence once more. The Temples at Abu Simbel, one of the farthest southern remains of ancient Egyptian culture, are thought to have been built here, in part, by Pharaoh Ramses II to awe the local Nubian communities into obedience. Especially considering the artwork and reliefs inside his Great Temple are all to commemorate his great military victories!