Ancient Egypt - The Battle of Megiddo


When Hatshepsut died, Tuthmosis III became pharaoh and immediately set his eyes on the Levant and opened up his Near Eastern Campaign.


The Egyptian Army

The military was now, since the Middle Kingdom, a standing army. It consisted of three components. At the top was the chariot corps, the elite military unit. Introduced by the Hyksos, these chariots were light, maneuverable, and pulled by two horses. The chariots were basically platforms for archers and were the main weapon of battle. Each carried a driver and an archer. Unfortunately, they broke down often.


The second component of the army was another elite corp, the archers. They marched with the infantry and were sometimes Nubian mercenaries. As noted before, Nubians were highly skilled bowmen.



The third component was the infantry. They made up the largest body of the army and set the pace of campaigning, about 15 miles a day. Roughly every 100 miles equaled about a week's worth of travel. Every infantryman had a rough-topped shield – basically a piece of wood with an animal hide over it and a sword or spear, sometimes both. The men of the infantry were considered the lower class of the army and many were illiterate. A high estimate of literacy at this time was about 20%.


The pharaoh was not a general who stood back behind the army and called the shots. He was at the front of the army, in a chariot, leading his men into the heart of the battle. This was the Egyptian army.


The Battle of Megiddo

Palestine and Syria had been slipping away from Egyptian control during the reign of Hatshepsut, and Tuthmosis III planned to do something about it soon after he became king. He would make 16 raids in 20 years and conquer much of the Near East from the Euphrates to Nubia, during 17 known military campaigns.


The first campaign began in Year 2 of his independent reign. Known as the Battle of Megiddo, this was the first battle in history that was recorded in relatively reliable detail. These military exploits are recorded on the walls of Amun-Ra's Temple at Karnak. They were originally produced on parchment in a journal by Tuthmosis III's scribe, Thanuny, who became the world's first war correspondent.


Attempting to block Tuthmosis III's expansion into the Levant, the king of Kadesh, Durusha, mustered an army of about 10-15 thousand men and advanced to Megiddo where they constructed a defense to await the Egyptian army. With about the same number, Tuthmosis III marched to the loyal city of Gaza in 10-days. After a day of rest, he pressed on and reached Yehem in 11-days. Here, he sent out scouts and had to make a vital decision on how to reach Megiddo. There were three possible routes: two were straightforward and would bring the army out to the north of the town; the third was through a narrow pass, which the officers were quick to point out would be dangerous and open to ambush, since it was really only wide enough for single file. Tuthmosis believed that if his generals advised him to take the easy route, then his enemies would assume he would do the same. He decided on the unexpected and took the narrow pass.


Tuthmosis III marched at the head of the army with almost total disregard for his own personal safety. The gamble paid off. Emerging from the mouth of the Wadi, he saw that his enemies had wrongly anticipated his moves. He had, in fact, come out between the north and south wings of their army. The next morning, they attacked. It is unknown if the surprised king of Kadesh had managed to fully prepare for battle. Even if he did, it wasn't good enough. Both the Egyptians and the Canaanites were

estimated to have around 1,000 chariots and 10,000 infantry. Even though King Durusha had the high ground, adjacent to the fortress, the Egyptian line was arranged in a concave formation, consisting of three wings, that threatened both Canaanite flanks. The Pharaoh led the attack from the center. The combination of position, numbers, superior maneuverability of their left wing, along with an early, bold attack, collapsed the enemy line. Those near the city fled into it, closing the gates behind them. The Egyptian soldiers plundered the enemy camp and captured 924 chariots and 200 suits of armor.


Unfortunately for the Egyptians, during the confusion of the scattered Canaanite forces, the kings of Kadesh and Megiddo were able to rejoin the defenders inside the city. The men inside lowered tied together clothing to the men and chariots in the field and pulled them over the walls. Through this, the opportunity of a quick capture of the city was lost.



Tuthmosis III besieged the city for seven months, during which time, the king of Kadesh escaped. Tuthmosis built a moat and a wooden palisade around the city that eventually forced the occupants to surrender. The city and citizens were spared. A number of other cities along the Syrian coast were captured and Egyptian authority in the area was eventually restored. Tuthmosis required the defeated kings to send a son to the Egyptian court. There, they received an Egyptian education. When they returned to their homelands, they governed with Egyptian sympathies. Nevertheless, the victory at Megiddo was only the beginning of the pacification of the Levant. A campaign was launched against Syria every summer for the next 18 years, with the Egyptian navy being used extensively for troop movements up the coast.


The battle of Megiddo was first recorded use of the composite bow. The main advantage of composite bows over self bows (which were only made from a single piece of wood) was their combination of smaller size and high power. They were, therefore, more convenient than self bows when the archer was mobile, as from horseback, or from a chariot.

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