written Kdš(w) in ancient Egyptian, means “sanctuary” (qadosh) in Semitic; it is associated with a number of sites in Palestine, such as Kadesh-barnea (at the eastern end of the Sinai) and another Kadesh located northeast of Lake Hulah in Galilee. The Kadesh that is called both “Kidshu” and “Kinza” in the Amarna Letters of the late eighteenth dynasty, however, is certainly Tell Neby Mend in Syria. Excavations there have unearthed letters on cuneiform tablets referring to a king of “Kinza,” a member of the ruling family, attested in the Amarna Letters and other diplomatic records of the Late Bronze Age. These and its location also identify Tell Neby Mend as the “Kadesh-on-the-Orontes,” where Ramesses II (r. 1304–1237 BCE) met the Hittites in battle (c.1274 BCE). The name Qedes was still connected with localities in the area early in the modern period. While some scholars question the identity of Tell Neby Mend as the Kadesh that opposed Egypt in the mid-eighteenth dynasty, there is no compelling reason to think the Egyptians ever associated “that wretched enemy of Kadesh” with any other place.
The strategic importance of Kadesh-on-the-Orontes lay in its position at the northern end of a broad inland plain (called Coele [“hollow”]-Syria in classical antiquity, and later the biqáʿa, or “valley,” in Arabic); through it, armies had to pass on their way north to inland Syria. The city makes its first appearance in ancient Egyptian records as the ringleader of about 330 Canaanite and Syrian city states allied against Thutmose III (r.1504–1452 BCE). After that coalition's defeat at Megiddo (c.1457 BCE), Kadesh continued to resist. It was still fending off Egyptian control during Thutmose III's last attested campaign (c.1438 BCE), but by the reign of his successor it had been forced to yield: when Amenhotpe II (r. 1454–1419 BCE) approached the city on his “first campaign of victory” (c.1422 BCE), the ruler of Kadesh swore fealty, using a formula that implies a purging of past guilt (see Scott Morschauser's “The End of the sḏfʒ-tryt ‘Oath’” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 25 , pp. 93–103). A generation later, when Egypt under Thutmose IV (r. 1419–1410 BCE) made peace with the Kingdom of Mitanni, vassals on both sides were locked into their allegiances, and Kadesh remained under Egyptian overlordship.
The situation changed drastically during the reign of Akhenaten (Amenhotpe IV, r. 1372–1355 BCE), when the Hittite king Suppiluliumas I precipitated the collapse of Mitanni and replaced it with Hatti as the northern superpower in the Near East. The Hittites had planned (Suppiluliumas wrote) to eliminate their opposition without fighting against Kadesh: but the city's king, Shutatarra, joined the Hittites' enemies and was caught up in their defeat. He was deported to Hatti along with his son (and coregent?) Aitakama, though the latter was eventually allowed to return to Kadesh. In the only letter of Aitakama preserved in the cuneiform archive of Amarna Letters (EA 189), he portrays himself as one of the pharaoh's aggrieved and misunderstood vassals; but in the report of others he emerges less sympathetically—joining another of the pharaoh's vassals in attacking a third, and even encouraging his neighbors to exchange their Egyptian overlord for the Hittite king. Belatedly recognizing Kadesh's defection, the Egyptians twice sent an army to recover it; and twice they were not only defeated but punished with a Hittite raid on neighboring Egyptian vassal territory. Hatti's reluctance to relinquish its serendipitous prize emerged in subsequent negotiations with Egypt, when Suppiluliumas disingenuously claimed that he had taken the city, not from the pharaoh but from the Mitannian king. The all-out war that finally erupted between the two powers ruled out any settlement of differences, leaving Kadesh and other erstwhile Egyptian vassals in Hatti's orbit for the rest of the eighteenth dynasty.
Like others among Hatti's new vassals, Kadesh tried at times to better its situation by defecting to Egypt. One such attempt by King Aitakama was stopped when he was murdered by his own son, Niqmadu, whose rule in Kadesh was subsequently recognized by the Hittite king Mursilis (Murshili) II. A more significant reversal would occur, however, early in the nineteenth dynasty, under Sety I (r. 1314–1304 BCE): the pharaoh's attack on Kadesh is vividly represented at Karnak, where it was written of “the ascent that Pharaoh … made to destroy the land of Kadesh and the land of Amurru.” This claim is backed up by a stela of Sety I from Tell Neby Mend, indicating by its very presence that Kadesh was restored, willingly or not, to Egyptian control. Though a Hittite revanche later in Sety's reign came to nothing, Kadesh was back in the Hittite fold by the early reign of his son, Ramesses II (r. 1304–1237 BCE). Such a reversal—whether brought about by Hittite arms or the city's own political realignment—precipitated a widely publicized campaign to recover Kadesh. Egyptian records show that the critical encounter occurred late in May during Ramesses II's fifth regnal year. Ambiguities in these sources give rise to many obscurities (including details about topography, the battle's chronology, and the disposition of the forces). It seems, though, that Egyptian intelligence was deceived regarding the Hittite's movements, as a result, the pharaoh made camp to the west of Kadesh, without realizing that Hittite forces were concealed nearby. The four divisions of the Egyptian army were spread too far apart to be used effectively when the Hittites unexpectedly attacked. Fortunately, the pharaoh rallied his troops well enough to resist the Hittite onslaught, until relief forces providentially arrived on the scene. At the end of the second day, when it was clear that Egypt's fighting ability had not been broken by surprise, the Hittite king Muwatalli allowed the pharaoh to retire from the field with his army. This gesture (though portrayed as Hittite cravenness in Ramesses II's battle records) was neither cowardly nor humanitarian—merely prudent—since the Hittite king thus spared himself further casualties in an inconclusive engagement. Moreover, Hittite records show that Muwatalli's forces took advantage of Ramesses' retreat by recovering Amurru (the province west of Kadesh) and by occupying previously unconquered Egyptian territory in Upi (in southern Syria, near Damascus).
After that battle, Kadesh remained part of Hatti's empire, and only a few generalized references to that former vassal are to be found in Egyptian records. The city at Tell Neby Mend was destroyed in the twelfth century BCE, probably by the Sea Peoples, who are known from Egyptian sources to have occupied the adjoining territory of Amurru.
- Breasted, James Henry. The Battle of Kadesh: A Study in the Earliest Known Military Strategy. Chicago, 1903. This pioneering study, although outdated on a number of points, still has much to offer.
- Faulkner, Raymond O. “Egypt: From the Inception of the Nineteenth Dynasty to the Death of Ramesses III.” Cambridge Ancient History, edited by I. E. S. Edwards, 3d ed., vol. 2, pt. 2: History of the Middle East and the Aegean Region c. 1380–1000 B.C., pp. 226–229. Cambridge, 1975. Generally sound, though concise, narrative of events, with a useful survey of bibliography to date.
- Gardiner, Alan H. Ancient Egyptian Onomastica. Oxford, 1947. Summarizes evidence on the location of Kadesh (prior to modern excavations) and Egyptian activities in the area.
- Gardiner, Alan H. The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II. Oxford, 1960. A solid translation, with commentary, of the Egyptian texts that deal with the battle.
- Goedicke, Hans, ed. Perspectives on the Battle of Kadesh. Baltimore, 1985. Substantial, if occasionally controversial, studies of the battle.
- Kitchen, K. A. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II. Warminster, 1982. A good, if somewhat generalized, account of the battle and its aftermath.
- Klengel, Horst. Geschichte Syriens im 2. Jahrtausend V.U.Z. Berlin, 1966. The most thoroughly documented study of the history of Kadesh during the Late Bronze Age (although now somewhat dated).
- Klengel, Horst. Syria, 3000 to 300 B.C.: A Handbook of Political History. Berlin, 1992. More up-to-date but also more concise than the 1966 work.
- Murnane, William J. The Road to Kadesh. 2d rev. ed. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 42. Chicago, 1990. Discusses the background of interstate relations in the Near East leading up to the Battle of Kadesh.
- Schulman, Alan R. “The ‘Nʿrn’ at the Battle of Kadesh.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 1 (1962), 47–52.
- Schulman, Alan R. “The ‘Nʿrn’ at Kadesh Once Again.” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 11.1 (1981), 7–19. This and the 1962 article focus on the identity of the Egyptian relief force that arrived on the territory of Kadesh while the battle still raged.
- Vandersleyen, Cl. L'Égypte vol. 2: De la fin de l'Ancien Empire à la fin du Nouvel Empire, pp. 299–300; 325–327. Paris, 1995. This author opposes the identity of Tell Neby Mend as Kadesh in the mid-eighteenth dynasty.
William J. Murnane