Battle of Megiddo (15th century BC)
gigatos | June 9, 2022
The battle of Megiddo, which took place on April 26greg. (21st Shemu I) 1457 B.C. in the 23rd year of the reign of king Thutmosis III northwest of Megiddo, is probably the most detailed depicted warlike conflict from ancient Egypt. The most important source about the campaign are the so called Annals, which Thutmosis III had written in hieroglyphic script on the temple walls of the Annals Hall in the Karnak temple. This annal text is a revised abridged form of a diary that scribes kept during the campaign and that was preserved in the temple archives after the return.
Under the reign of Hatshepsut probably important territories in the Near East fell away from Egypt and the supremacy in this area was lost. When a coalition of Syrian princes united in the Near East under the leadership of the prince of Kadesh, the Egyptian king Thutmosis III prepared for a campaign in the first months of his sole rule, perhaps as a preemptive strike out of fear of an imminent conquest of Egypt.
The opponents around the prince of Kadesh gathered at the fortress of Megiddo. Thutmosis III decided to take a risky route through the Carmel Mountains to take advantage of the surprise effect. Completely surprised, the opponents retreated into the fortress after the Egyptian attack. Apparently, the Egyptians made the mistake of looting too early, so that the princes were able to save themselves in the fortress and they were forced to surrender only after several months of siege.
The battle of Megiddo was the prelude to almost annual campaigns in the Near East. Apart from the 1st campaign, only the 8th and 10th campaigns were real battles; the others were probably smaller undertakings to collect tribute and create the basis for a more extensive presence. From this developed an Egyptian imperialism in the Near East.
In the second intermediate period, the so-called Hyksos (“rulers of foreigners”), a group of immigrants from the Near East, ruled over a large area of Egypt. Finally, a Theban princely dynasty (corresponding to the 17th dynasty) succeeded in driving the Hyksos out of Egypt: After Seqenenre and Kamose had already undertaken several campaigns against the Hyksos, it was Ahmose who captured Auaris and was able to finally drive out the Hyksos. Thus he founded the New Kingdom. Ahmose then moved on to besiege Sharuhen, a southern Palestinian city about 25 km south of Gaza, which was probably the capital in the Hyksos” core area. The successors Amenophis I and Thutmose I also continued Egyptian efforts into the Near East. Nicholas Reeves refers to Thutmose I as the architect of the Egyptian empire abroad. Under Thutmosis II Egypt”s supremacy in the Near East was still present. In the time of Hatshepsut one finds only few mentions of Asia. Presumably, important territories fell away from Egypt during their reign, and Egypt”s sphere of influence extended, if at all, to the southern part of Palestine.
In the Near East, a coalition of Syrian princes united under the leadership of the prince of Kadesh. Altogether Thutmosis III mentions the (probably rather symbolic) number of 330 princes and kings. According to Wolfgang Helck the first campaign of Thutmosis III was an “offensive defense”. In his opinion the passive attitude of Hatshepsut led to ever more stretched plans of the Mitanni king. The deployment of the troops around the prince of Kadesh could therefore only have had the goal to conquer Egypt. Thomas Schneider doubts, however, that it was a threatening reconquest of Egypt by the great power Mitanni, as a link to the rule of the Hyksos. Francis Breyer notes, however, that after the foreign rule of the Hyksos the need for security in the Near East was obviously very great in Egypt. While in the following campaigns of Thutmosis III the opponent was Mitanni alone, the opponent of the battle of Megiddo was still called Kadesch: From about 1550 on there were increasing contacts of Qadeš to the north into the Transjordan region, i.e. for a short time after the collapse of the old power structure and the rise of Mitanni, Qadeš had set out to fill the resulting vacuum himself. Christian Langer considers the justification of an attack as a preemptive strike problematic. This could also have served as a cover for a war of aggression.
The fact that only two months passed between the fighting and the death of Hatshepsut, Helck interpreted as an indication that Hatshepsut had been murdered by Thutmosis III. The threat to Egypt was the triggering moment for the change of government, since Thutmosis III in contrast to Hatshepsut could meet the threat only offensively. Donald B. Redford calculated that this short time was not sufficient for the preparation of such an enterprise and thus, they were already planned under Hatshepsut.
The most important source about the campaign are the so-called annals which Thutmosis III had written in hieroglyphics on the temple walls of the Annals Hall in the Karnak temple, namely in the gallery around the granite actuary, in the eastern Annals Hall, on the north wall. This annal text is a revised abridged form of a diary kept by scribes during the campaign and preserved in the temple archives after the return. Although Egyptian sources tend to exaggerate for ideological reasons in order to portray their own superiority over foreigners, the annals of Thutmose III are widely regarded as a reliable source of events. Thutmosis gave in his 40th year of reign the order to compile the events chronologically, ordered by years of reign.
Nevertheless, Martin Noth points out that the diary excerpts with exact dates and places form only an outer framework. From this it is necessary to separate those narrations, in which processes are interpreted or even created, which did not happen in such a way, but which must be described in this way, in order to produce the internal “truthfulness” of the course of events. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the historical facts and the reality developed from the Egyptian worldview. For a distinction, stylistic criteria are used in addition to content criteria. In general, infinitive constructions give possible clues to the origin from annals (“annal style”).
The sources for Thutmosis” campaigns are in any case more detailed than for all comparable others in Egyptian history. J. B. Bury noted that we know more about these campaigns of Thutmose III from the 15th century BC than about those of Stilicho or Flavius Aëtius in the 4th-5th century.
Place name lists
A secondary tradition of the events are the lists of place names (also toponym lists) which Thutmosis III had attached to the pylons 6 and 7 in the temple of Karnak. For a long time they were considered an important source for Near Eastern demography and the history of the Egyptian conquests. By these lists, which allegedly “enumerate the lands of Upper Retjenu, which His Majesty included in Megiddo” make according to Helck the progress of the advance recognizable.
However, the interpretation of these toponym lists is problematic. It is unclear how the scribes were informed about the place names. They probably knew them before the campaign. The lists are not arranged chronologically by campaign. The least likely interpretation for Redford is that of a list of defeated towns. Nor is there a hierarchical arrangement of cities by importance. There are different interpretations of the so-called “Syllabic writing”.
From the fact that in some sequences the places are actually in a row, Redford concludes that various itineraries served as a template. Helck, on the other hand, assumed that the names were taken from the war diaries.
Gebel Barkal Stele
Another important source of the events is a stele which Thutmosis III had erected in the far away Napata (Gebel Barkal). This also provides important details of the campaigns. However, it has a completely different relation to the events than the annals. They are part of a summary of the achievements that the king accomplished during the 25 years of his autocracy and are reported in honor of Amun in the Holy Mountain (i.e. Gebel Barkal).
The stele made of rose granite was found rebuilt in Armant in a Coptic dwelling house. It contains a summary of the highlights of Thutmose”s reign. It is a eulogy to the king, a literary genre that focuses on praising the king. An outside narrator summarized the events from a certain distance. Nevertheless, he knew the annals and made reference to them.
Other mentions about the campaign are:
Departure of the Egyptian army
The actual departure of the Egyptian army from Memphis is not mentioned in the annals, but on the Armant stele. There it dates to the second half of the 4th Peret of the 22nd year of the reign.
The annals begin with the passing of the frontier fortress of Sile on 31 Marchgreg. (25 Peret IV) 1457 BC in his 22nd year of reign. Nine days later, on the 9th of Aprilgreg. they reached the city of Gaza. This day was at the same time the day of the feast of the accession of Thutmosis III and thus the first day in the 23rd regnal year. Thutmosis III noted on arrival in Gaza: Victory in Gaza to put down the wretched enemy and expand the borders of Egypt.
War Council in Jehem
On April 21, 1457 BC Thutmosis III reached the city of Jehem (Chirbet Jimma). Here a camp was set up and the situation was reconnoitered. In the following consultation he was informed that the king of Kadesh had conquered the provinces loyal to Egypt as far as Naharina (area of upper Euphrates), Chor (Palestine-Syria) and Qedu
Thutmosis called his advisors together and discussed the further tactical procedure. Between Jehem and Megiddo rises the Carmel Mountains. There were three possibilities for the approach route:
Thutmosis, against the advice of his advisors, chose the dangerous path over the mountains to take advantage of the surprise effect and to get behind the enemy lines. Had the enemy positioned themselves on the ridge of the pass, the Egyptians would have been easy prey. Even if they had been able to pass through the pass, there was a great danger of being immediately engaged in combat while a large part of the army was still in the pass gorge. For understandable reasons, the advisors advised against this route:
Thutmosis III gave the advisors the choice to follow him:
So the consultants agreed to the proposal:
March through the Carmel Mountains and battle preparations
The force was able to cross the gorge without any problems. When the Egyptians stepped out of the pass at noon, no enemy was to be seen. Whether the prince of Kadesh actually received no news of the Egyptians” advance remains an open question. According to the war diary, the troops stopped at the admonition of the advisors to bring up the rear.
The enemy had positioned their main force near the village of Taanach and had deployed smaller units to secure the road leading from Djefti to the plain of Megiddo. This road was easily visible from the fortress. The path through the mountains, however, had been ignored by the coalition. Thutmosis III realized on April 24 (19th Pachon) 1457 B.C. while leaving the gorge that he had got between the northern and southern flank of his opponents. By the end of the morning, the entire force had left the gorge and reached the village of Qen (Qn) at the 7th hour of the day (around 12:00). Now the whole army was ordered to prepare for the coming battle: Prepare for battle with the wretched enemy.
Thutmosis III had camped at the foot of the mountain. The next day the last preparations for the battle were made: Providing the food for the great and the provisions for the followers, the army was given the order for the following night Stand firm! Stand firm! Vigilant! Vigilant! At the same time, during the night, parts of the army were moved to the south and north of Megiddo in order to cut off the fortress from the enemy army.
Course of battle
On 21 Shemu I (26 April) the scribe reports: Day of the new moon festival. Appearance of the king in the early morning. Order to leave. This entry contains at the same time one of the rare mentions of the new moon festival date. The southern wing of the army of Thutmosis III was south of the brook Ken, while the northern wing was in the northwest of Megiddo. Thutmosis describes in the annals how he led the attack at the front line:
Completely surprised by the sudden attack the enemies of Thutmosis III retreated into the fortress. According to the report the fleeing Syrians were pulled up over the walls by ropes and knotted clothes because of the too early closed gates. Helck, however, doubts the historicity of this statement. Apparently, the precious items left behind led to looting. It is interesting that this failure is also officially admitted on the Egyptian side:
Siege of the fortress of Megiddo
Since the princes could entrench themselves behind the fortress, the city had to be besieged. A huge wall of 315 m × 230 m and a height of about 10 m and thickness of 6 m made the city impregnable. Only starvation promised success. A siege ring was built around the fortress. Thutmosis III followed and controlled the events in the fortress Men-Cheper-Re, east of Megiddo, which was built for the siege: The fortress was surrounded with earthworks and fresh wooden beams from all kinds of fruit trees. In the months that followed, no city dweller managed to escape from Megiddo.
The exact circumstances of the siege are not reported in the annals. The inscription refers to a leather scroll, which was kept in the archives of the temple of Karnak. Part of the army certainly constantly guarded the entrance to the fortress, while other parts subdued the surrounding countryside.
The annals do not provide any information about the duration of the siege. The only mention is contained in the Gebel Barkal stele: My majesty besieged it for seven months. Many Egyptologists followed this statement. Hans Goedicke, however, does not consider it probable that the Egyptians were still fighting in the Near East in the month of December and Thutmosis III could not return to Egypt for such a long time. Moreover, the king celebrated his victory at Karnak already five months after the beginning of the siege, therefore he suggests a reading of the passage as “one month and seven days”.
Surrender of the Near Eastern Princes
When the food in the fortress gradually ran out, the Near Eastern princes capitulated. Thutmosis III demanded tribute payments and loyalty to Egypt, in return the princes were allowed to keep their positions.
The Egyptians captured: 340 captives, 2041 horses, 191 foals, 6 stallions, some young horses, 2 chariots with gold fittings, 922 other chariots, 1 bronze armor shirt, 200 leather armor shirts, 502 bows, 7 tent poles with silver fittings made of Meria wood from the king of Kadesh, 1,929 head of cattle, 2,000 goats, 20,500 sheep, and 207,300 sacks of wheat from the Valley of Jezdraelon (now Jezreel).
The outcome of the battle of Megiddo can be interpreted in different ways. On the one hand, it can be assumed that it was won only with great effort and that the Egyptian king therefore refrained from a move further northward into Syria, even though southern Syrian places appear on the lists of place names. On the other hand, assuming a preemptive strike, the enterprise was very successful: so successful that from now on the enemy is no longer called Qadeš, but Mitanni.
The battle of Megiddo initiated the prelude for almost yearly campaigns to the Near East. In this procedure Thutmosis III oriented himself at “glorious models”, like campaigns of Sesostris III to Nubia: By the annual presence in the region every budding rebellion is stopped and by means of depots and garrisons the basis for further presence can be created.
Apart from the 1st campaign, only the 8th and 10th campaigns involved real field battles; the others were probably smaller undertakings. Francis Breyer assumes that the smaller campaigns were rather purposeful “raids”, with relatively few soldiers. Their presence allowed the collection of gifts. If this was not complied with, those concerned were called “rebels” and the surrounding area was plundered. From this developed an Egyptian imperialism in the Near East.
At the time of Thutmosis III the army was in a transitional phase. On the one hand it consisted of recruited militias, which had been drawn from the temple staff, on the other hand there was an expansion of the professional military. A turn from a recruit army to a professional army is emerging. Depending on the mission, the troop strength may have varied greatly. According to Papyrus Anastasi I it can be assumed that a division consisted of 4500 to 5000 men. Often in the Bronze Age an army consisted of 5000 men or a multiple of this number. However, troop strengths of over 30,000 men were very rare.
Redford made a projection for Egyptian troop strength at the Battle of Megiddo: In crossing the narrow pass, where troops had to go single file, it took six hours from the first man to emerge from the gorge to the last. If one man emerged every two seconds, it would come to a total of 10,800 men. This number is amazingly close to 10,000, which would be an expected army size at that time.
Redford calculated a similar figure for the enemy”s troop strength by extrapolating the average consumption of a soldier from the captured animals. Such calorie calculations are problematic, however.
The distance between Sile (Tel Hebwa) and Gaza via the ancient North Sinai route is about 220 kilometers. From the marching time of nine days for this distance, it follows that about 24 kilometers were covered per day. This is considerably slower than the 45 to 50 kilometers per day required for the Sinai route in Greco-Roman times. It should be noted, however, that the troops were loaded not only with weapons but also with food for the journey. In addition, there were probably only a few supply stations and they were not yet familiar with the route. From Gaza on, the pace of the walk was slowed even more. The troops covered the approximately 115 kilometer distance to Jehem in eleven days, an average of 10.5 kilometers per day. This was certainly due to the lack of familiarity with the terrain, caution in enemy territory and the forested area around Joppe.
At these distances, the army must have already reached its logistical limits. A soldier can only carry the ration of a few days: “It probably consisted of about 10 loaves of bread per day and two jugs of beer”. The beer for 10,000 men could be transported by about 1000 donkeys. In view of the marching performance it might have been a starvation ration. Presumably, looting was also carried out in Syria in order to obtain further food.
Absolute dating of the battle
The account of the campaign in the Annals contains a lunar date that is of great importance for the absolute chronology of the Egyptian New Kingdom. It is one of the rare astronomical dates that can be associated with an exact reign date of an Egyptian king.
Another lunar date from the reign of Thutmosis III dates one and a half years later: In the regnal year 24, on 30. VI the foundation of the festival temple at Karnak took place, namely on the day before the beginning of the new lunar month. The possible dates for the new moon can be calculated astronomically. This results in the possible date pairs 16. May 1482
It is disputed on which day exactly the battle took place. Although the annals mention that the battle lines formed on day 21 in the 1st month of the harvest season, Aruna was already abandoned on the 19th day and the army probably reached the end of the gorge during the day, whereupon the soldiers were ordered to get ready for the battle on the next day. This raises the question of what happened on the 20th day. Faulkner considers it impossible for the two armies to have sat idle for an entire day. From this he concludes that the sculptor who put the texts on the temple walls made a mistake, and instead we should read day 20 for the day of the battle.
In contrast, Helck is of the opinion that the advance from Megiddo to the position south of Megiddo took place only on day 20. He considers the translation of the corresponding place on the 19th day of marching off in the city of Aruna to be wrong and suggests to the city of Aruna, according to which the army thus reached Aruna only on this day. Thus the battle is secured from the sequence of the events for the 21st day.
Another suggestion was made again by Lello. Since the text says that Thutmosis III got up very early on the 19th day, he means, so early that it was before sunrise. Since the new day in the old Egypt began only with the sunrise, the writer would have estimated thereby this event still for the 19th day. Of course, daybreak began about two hours later, and thus the 20th day, with which the army thus set out from Aruna on that day. In the night of this day the king then gave the order to prepare for the battle, which then consequently took place on the 21st day.