The Hittites' fast war chariots threatened mighty Egypt

Rolling over enemies, the Hittite fleet looked unstoppable when they fought Egypt in the biggest chariot battle ever.

A stone relief depicts a chariot crushing an enemy. It was created in the tenth to eighth centuries B.C. in the neo-Hittite kingdom of Karkemish, Syria. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey.
PETER HORREE/ALAMY/ACI

For an Egyptian noble, living in or just after the time of Ramses II, the truth must have seemed clear and simple: In a heroic push to regain their former imperial lands in Syria, their great pharaoh had waged war against the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1275 B.C., where he had won a resounding victory.

Ramses was as much a master of public relations as he was of war, and historians now know that the Battle of Kadesh was not a definitive victory over the Hittites. It was almost certainly a draw. As masters of an empire that stretched through much of modern Turkey to parts of Syria, the Hittites were a worthy, formidable opponent. Based in their fortified capital of Hattusa (about 130 miles east of Ankara, Turkey, today), they rose to regional dominance in part because of their mastery of the chariot. Facing ranks of thousands of their chariots at Kadesh was certainly something for Ramses the Great to boast about.

The official Egyptian record of the “victory,” the Poem of Pentaur, was inscribed on Ramses’ temples, including Abu Simbel in southern Egypt. The poem recounts how the Hittite king Muwatallis II “had sent men and horses, multitudinous as the sands … The charioteers of His Majesty [Ramses] were discomfited before them, but His Majesty stood firm.”

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