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The Battle of Kadesh

Part 1
The Disinformation Campaign

tr. M. M. Bishop
In this paper I attempt a translation of the first 13 lines of the record
of the battle as inscribed on the temple of Rameses II at Abu Simbel.
The text starts at the top right in the figure below and reads down the
columns from right to left. The transcription used is that published by
Desroches-Noblecourt et al.[1971]

Kadesh, a town on the Orontes River, was the location for an extraordinary
battle fought between Rameses II (the Great) and the Hittites. It is the first battle in the
ancient world about which there is enough known to reconstruct the tactics and the
course of the engegement.
Classical scholars would surely give a selection of bodily parts to have the same
documentation about the Trojan War as we have about the Battle of Kadesh. Not
only is there an epic poem known from fragments of papyri [see Gardiner, 1960], but
official records are carved on five extant temples.[Ockinga, 1987]
Why the account should be so extensively distributed is something of a mystery
but given how close to disaster Rameses came (he and his bodyguard had to hold off
all the Hittite cavalry for some four hours) perhaps Rameses made a vow to Amun
when things looked darkest and perhaps he thought he had better keep his side of the
bargain. Undoubtedly too it served as a lesson to the Egyptians about the duty they
owed to the King, as he owed a duty to Amun.[Ockinga, 1987]
Egyptian vocabulary is difficult because of the many different writings used. Still,
one cannot expect a standardised spelling without widely disseminated dictionaries
especially when words may have to be incorporated into a work of art; nor are we
speakers of English in a strong position to demand logical spelling.

Part of the official record of the Battle of Kadesh recorded in the great temple at Abu Simbel
[C. Desroches-Noblecourt, 1971, Plate XIII]
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Egyptian verbs are worse. They indicate only relative tense, not absolute tense
as English verbs do; they also have aspect, mood and voice. There are 8 rootclasses plus a further seven causative classes as well as irregular and defective verbs.
The endings, especially weak consonants, are often left out in writings.
The task of translation is made easier by the frequent occurrence of readily
recognisable groups like His Majesty, Pharaoh, The Enemy of Khatti and place
names (obvious from their determinatives), all of which cut the block of text into bitesized chunks.

Hsbt 5

Abd 3 Smw sww 9 xr Hm n

sA ra ra-mss-mry-imn di anx

Dt

Hrw kA-nxt-mr(y)-mAat

ist

Hm=f

(n)swt bit(y) wsr-mAat-ra-stp-n-ra

Hr

Regnal year 5 month 3 Innundation day 9 under the majesty2 of 3Horus bull-mighty-belovedMaat King of Upper and Lower Egypt4 <wsr-maat-Ra-stp-n-Ra> Son of Ra <Ra-mss-mry-imn>
given life lo his majesty5 in
1.

2.

3.

4.
5.

Like an episode of Star Trek the account starts with a date line. The date is precisely given
but unfortunately the date at which Rameses assumed the crown is not known nearly so
accurately but is thought to be 1279BC [Ockinga, 1987]. The year was divided into three
seasons of four months each. [Allen, 2000, 9.8,9]
Hm refers to the individual in whom the divine power of kingship is incarnated, nswt is the
person who issues decrees appoints officials and represents Egypt before the Gods. [Allen,
2000, 3]
Three of the five royal names are used here, the Horus name, prenomen (throne name) and
nomen. The prenomen and nomen are not usually translated (Power-is-the-truth-of-Ra and
Ra-created-him-beloved-of-Amun), and indeed the Hittites did not translate them either in
their documents. This is particularly interesting as the Hittites, writing in Babylonian,
included the vowels in their words as the Egyptians did not, so that we have a good idea of
how the names were pronounced (Wamuaria atepnaria, Riamaea-maiAmana).[Langdon, 1920] The Egyptians used the prenomen when referring to the Pharaoh
by just one name, we use the nomen.
Lit. He of the sedge and the bee, symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Possessive pronoun follows the noun Hm=f majesty=his

DAh(y)

Hm=f

wDyt=f

Hr Tst

2 nwt nt nxt

rsy

rs

nfr m anx (w)DA s(nb) m iAm

nt

Dahy1 with his military expedition second of victory awakening perfect with life prosperity
health2 in the tent of his majesty on the ridge south of
1.
2.

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Syria/Phoenicia.
These three signs constitute a standard abbreviation more usually encountered (see below)
expressing a wish after the name of a king and other words referring to a king. It is often
abbreviated lph in translations. [Allen, 2000, 17.20]

Kaleidoscope Eyes

qdS

xa(i) Hm=f

wDA

nb

mi wbn

ra

Ssp.n=f

Xkrw nw (i)t=f mnTw

Kadesh appears in glory his majesty like rising Ra acquired he the ornaments of his father
Mont1 sets out the lord in2
1.
2.

The falcon-headed God of Thebes


m + infinitive of a verb of motion (on the next line) indicates concomitant circumstance and
is best translated by the progressive. Infinitive is a bit of a misnomer it is really a noun
form of the verb called infinitive because of historical accident.

xd (i)

spr

in SAsw(y) 2

Hm=f r

Dd

rsy

dmi

SAbtwn

iit

travelling north approaches his majesty to south town of Shabtwn a coming1 by Shasw2 two to
say to
1.
2.

The infinitive (narrative infinitive) was also used to indicate a new part of the story, a sort
of paragraph marker or section break.
Bedouin from the desert NE of Egypt

Hm=f

m nAnw

snw

nty

m Aaw

n(w) mhwt

pA

his majesty from those brethren who as1 great ones of2 the household with the3
1.
2.
3.

xtA

m of predication. The Egyptians did not say The man is a servant but rather the man is as
a servant.
The genitive adjective n is supposed to agree in number and gender with the noun preceding it, but the endings are often omitted.
pA is really a relative pronoun but is used as a definite article.

di

iw=n

Hm=f r

Dd

iw=n

irt

bAkw

Khatti1 cause us to come to his majesty to say it is the case that2 we will3 act as servants
1.
2.
3.

This has been rendered Kheta, but the Hittite documents indicate that it should be Khatti
(Ka-at-ti).[Langdon, 1920]
iw is really a emphatic form of the verb to be; it can be translated as it is the case that
[Ockinga, 1998] but that is a bit cumbersome.
r + infinitive indicates futurity of purpose.

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pr-aA anx wDA s(nb) im tw n

(i)wi=n

m di

pA-xrw-n-xtA

xr

of Pharaoh life prosperity health as we will we come from the enemy of Khatti further
1.

2.

Pharaoh is the Hebrew pronunciation of the Egyptian pr aA. It means literally great house
and used to refer to the royal estate but came to be used of the king himself, as the White
House can refer to the President of the USA.[Allen, 2000, 3]
I am puzzled by this phrase im twn, and have been unable to find anything else like it. This
is the best I can do.

pA-xrw-n-xtA

Hms(i)

xy-r-b-w

Hr mHtt

twn[]i

snDw=f n

pr-aA anx(w)-(w)DA(w)-s(nbw) r iit


the enemy of Khatti1 sitting in Khyrbw to north Twni fears he of Pharaoh life prosperity health
concerning2 coming
1.
2.

Usually the subject follows the verb but in this construction, called pseudoverbal, it
doesnt. [Gardiner, 1978, 322]
r is a comparative here. Literally it means concerning, in respect of thus: he fears pharaoh
concerning coming south.

xntw

DA

ist

Dd

nAy

SAsw

nAy

mdwt Dd=sn

Hm=f

southwards lo said the Shasw those words said they to his majesty with wrongdoing

iw

pA(-xrw-n-)xtA di

nw n tm

iwt=sn

ptr

pA

nty

Hm=f

im

dit

it is the case that the (enemy of) Khatti causes to come them to see that which his majesty
within that1 not to cause
1.

i.e. where His Majesty is [Gardiner, 1978, 200]

Hr=sw

ist

pA

mSAw nw

Hm=f r

aHA Hna

pA-xrw-n-xtA

pA-xrw-n-xtA

to prepare one the soldiers of his majesty to fight with the enemy of Khatti lo the enemy of Khatti

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Kaleidoscope Eyes

iw(t) Hna

sr(w) nb(w) n xAswt nb(t) mSAw (t)-nT-Htrw

in.n=f

fm

nxtw

ahaw grgw
coming with nobles all of foreign lands all infantry chariotry brought he with him in strength
standing established

Hr. n

HA

qdS

tA

isft

nn

rx

Hm=f

im

prepared behind Kadesh the evil-doer1 not know his majesty there
1.

This is used as an epithet for Kadesh throughout the text.

Translation

It was the ninth day of the third month of the inundation season in the fifth year under
the majesty of Rameses II, given life. And His Majesty was in Syria with his second
victorious military expedition.
There was a perfect awakening with life, prosperity and health in the tent of his
Majesty on the ridge south of Kadesh and His Majesty appeared in splendour like
Ra rising. He assumed the panoply of his father Mont and the lord set out, proceeding northwards. His Majesty approached the south of the town of Shabtwn.
Two Bedouin came to say to His Majesty from those brethren who were great men
in the households of the land of Khatti: We are sent to say to His Majesty We will
act as the servants of Pharaoh (alive, prosperous and healthy) and when we do we
will depart from The Enemy of Khatti. Further, The Enemy of Khatti is sitting in
Khyrbw to the north of Twni and he is too afraid of Pharaoh (alive, prosperous and
healthy) to come southwards.
But the Bedouin falsely spoke those words they spoke to His Majesty for He of
Khatti had caused them to come to see where His Majesty was and to prevent the
preparation of His Majestys soldiers for fighting against The Enemy of Khatti. In
fact, The Enemy of Khatti had come with all the nobles of all the foreign lands and all
the infantry and chariotry he had brought with him in strength and stood drawn up
and prepared behind Kadesh the evil. And His Majesty did not know they were
there.
May 2001

17

Acknowledgement
My thanks to Mr F. Amati for proof-reading this paper and for his helpful suggestions.

References:
Allen J. P., 2000, Middle Egyptian, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
J. H. Breasted, 1988, Ancient Records of Egypt:Historical Documents Volume3, Histories and
Mysteries of Man Ltd, London pp122-157
Clayton P. A., 1999, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, London
Collier M. and Manley, B., 1998, How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs, British Museum Press
Desroches-Noblecourt C. et al.,1971, Grand Temple dAbou-Simbel: la bataille de Qadech:
descriptions et inscriptions et photographies, Le Caire: Centre de documentation et dtudes sur
lancienne Egypte
Gardiner A. H., 1978, Egyptian Grammar (3rd Ed), Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Gardiner A. H., 1960, The Kadesh inscriptions of Rameses II, Oxford University Press, UK
Langdon S. and Gardiner A. H., 1920, The treaty of alliance between Hattusili, King of the
Hittites, and the Pharaoh Rameses II of Egypt, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology VI pp173-205
Montet P. 1968, Lives of the Pharaohs, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London
Ockinga B. G., 1987, On the Interpretation of the Kadesh Record, Chronique dEgypte, 62, pp38-48
Ockinga B. G., 1998, A Concise Grammar of Middle Egyptian, Phillip von Zabern, Mainz

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Kaleidoscope Eyes