July 28, 2017

The Life and Times of Pharaoh Thutmose III: The Battle of Megiddo

The battle of Mediddo, one of the ancient world’s most epic clash of kings. It was also one of the earliest and greatest triumphs of Pharaoh Thutmose II, not to mention in the history of ancient Egypt. The result was the great expanse of one empire and the subjugation of another.

The Egyptian World in 1800 BCE

Ancient Egypt has always been regarded as one of the most powerful civilizations in human history. However in the early 1800s BCE, the kingdom and its people were going through some hard times. The power of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom was politically and economically on the decline. To make things more complicated, a nomadic people from Palestine known as the Hyksos, were encroaching on their wealthy and fertile kingdom. Having superior weapons such as the chariot and the compound bow, the Hyksos eventually made their move and by 1786 BCE had conquered much of Egypt and established their own dynasty. They would go on to rule the Egyptians for almost two centuries.
Depiction of the Hyksos
The Egyptians though were a proud people and hated being ruled by foreigners. In 1575 BCE after a series of revolts and rebellions, the Egyptians reasserted control over their country and under a new pharoah, Ahmose. This began what has become to be known as Egypt’s New Kingdom era. Ahmose’s ambitions spread further than Egypt. In an effort to prevent future invasions from Asia as well as control trade into Africa, Ahmose decided to create some sort of buffer zone between the two continents. Ahmose’s new policy extended Egyptian authority not only along the eastern Mediterranean but also to the south into Nubia, what is today the country of Sudan.

Rebuilding Egypt as a Regional Power

Depiction of Pharaoh Ahmose I

Ahmose’s grandson, Thutmose I, established control over Palestine and Syria. Unfortunately for the Egyptians, Thutmose I died in 1510 and daughter, Hatshepsut, became Egypt’s new ruler. Hatshepsut she also happened to be both the stepsister and primary wife of Thutmose II (talk about keeping power in the family). The boy who would eventually become Thutmose III was actually the son of Thutmose II’s secondary wife, Iset. This essentially made Hatshepsut Thutmose III’s aunt and stepmother. Yes, it is a bit confusing.
Anyway, the junior Thutmose and heir apparent was just a boy when his father died in 1490 BCE. Because he was too young to rule, Hatshepsut took over as regent until the new Thutmose came to age.

Hatshepsut’s regency didn’t last too long, not because she was incompetent or overthrown, but because she decided to crown herself as pharaoh. She actually ruled for over 20 years (1490–1468 BCE) and presided over a country that was both powerful and prosperous. Under Hatshepsut, Egypt enjoyed over 20 years of peace and went on a temple and mega-monument building spree.

While many credited Hatshepsut with ushering in a new era of peace and stability, other saw her passive foreign policy as sign of complacency and weakness. Some of the kings in Palestine, who were also vassals of Egypt, saw this as an opportunity to if not claim their independence, at least switch sides and serve the powerful Hittites, the other great military power in the region. The king of the city of Kadesh took the lead of a confederation of other rulers and compelled the kingdom of Mitanni to support him. Kadesh breaking away from Egypt could only aid the Mitanni with their own regional ambitions.

In 1458 BCE, Hatshepsut died. Some scholars have speculated that she could have been assassinated Thutmose, though this has never been proven. What is known is that upon her death and his ascension to becoming pharaoh, Thutmose III erased Hatshepsut’s name from public buildings and wasted little time with his plans to make Egypt a greater power. He set about rebuilding the Egyptian army and began focusing on the now rebellious client kings to the northeast.

Into to Battle

On April 19th, 1479 BCE, Thutmose III departed the Nile delta and headed east with an army of perhaps 10-20,000 men (exact numbers aren’t known). Consisting of mostly of infantry, archers and selected nobles on chariots (something the Egyptians learned to use from the Hyksos), Thutmose and his army took nine days to arrive to what is now present-day Gaza. Ironically, this day was the second-year anniversary of his coronation as Pharaoh of Egypt. Thutmose however didn’t stop to celebrate and kept marching on, reaching an area called Yehem twelve days later and roughly 16 miles southwest of the city of Megiddo.

Thutmose was now faced with three options: he could take a direct route through a narrow pass or a slightly longer but safer routes from the south south of the city. His advisers counseled him to take one of the two latter routes because the more direct route would put the Egyptians in a precarious situation should they be ambushed by the enemy. Thutmose however refused to take the safer route because he believed that this would show the King of Kadesh that he feared him. Thus, his army reluctantly followed his orders and marched along the more dangerous route.

It seems that Thutmose’s gamble paid off. Reports surfaced that the King of Kadesh had anticipated that the Egyptians would have come from the safer southern routes. Consequently, he positioned his troops there. He had no idea that Thutmose would do the opposite. Thus the Egyptians met only token resistance as they advanced towards Megiddo.

The bewildered King of Kadesh retreated back to Megiddo and prepared for battle, but Thutmose did not attack. Instead, he waited several days and finally on the dawn of May 15th (1479 BCE), attacked his enemy, most of whom were encamped outside the city nearby.

The Battle of Megiddo

Battle of Megiddo
Though we don’t know have all of the details, we do know that Thutmose’s forces gained the upper hand, and the Kadeshan forces fled the battlefield for the protection of the their city’s walls. This proved to be a both a blessing and a curse for the Egyptians. While Kadesh’s forces were able to retreat, they left behind a lot of supplies and treasure. The Egyptian soldiers attention turned from the retreating enemy to the prospect of loot and pillage, allowing the King of Kadesh and his forces to escape. Thutmose though was not pleased and apparently chastened his men. He believed that had his men focused on the enemy, they would not have been allowed to escape. Fortunately for them, the area outside the city’s walls contained more than enough resources to sustain a long siege, which is what the Egyptians eventually did.

The Results of the Campaign

After several months (it could have been anywhere from 3-7 according to most scholars) the city of Megiddo surrendered to Thutmose and his forces. Though a number of minor kings were taken captive, their leader, the King of Kadesh, had managed to escape. Thutmose’s forces however had captured Kadesh’s son, who was later sent to Egypt as a hostage along with other members of the king’s family. In addition, Thutmose captured a lot of treasure and valuable resources from the Megiddo including 924 chariots, 2,238 horses, 200 suits of armor and large amounts of gold and silver.

With the rebellious kings defeated at Megiddo, Thutmose marched his men northward toward Lebanon and captured the cities of Yenoam, Nuges, and Hernkeru. Like in Megiddo, the Pharaoh here also took the sons of these city’s kings back to Egypt as hostages. This not only ensured their cooperation and loyalty, but also allowed the hostages, who would eventually return to their native lands, to be Egyptianized. This helped them to make them more pliable client kings when the came for them to succeed their respective fathers as rulers. In October of that year, Thutmose returned to capital city of Thebes to great celebration. Not only had he removed a threat to Egypt, but by pacifying the outlying regions, he created greater stability as well.

Thutmose III’s Legacy

Statue of Pharaoh Thutmose III
The Megiddo and affiliated campaigns would not be Thutmose’s last. In fact, the Pharaoh led at least another fifteen campaigns northeast of Egypt to quell new rebellions and as well as more powerful foes such as the Mitanni. In fact, Thutmose III extended Egypt’s rule all the way to the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria. The tribute that was paid from these regions provided so much wealth that like Hatshepsut before him, Thutmose also went on a building spree. Many of new temples and public buildings were built, some of them being the greatest in all of ancient Egyptian history. In 1425 BCE, Thutmose III passed away. He was 56. His son, Amenhotep II continued many of the same policies as his father.

While the Old and Middle Egyptian Kingdoms had remained relatively isolated from their neighbors, the arrival and conquest of the realm by the Hyksos changed all of that. The New Kingdom by contrast, with its increased commerce with foreign excursions, changed all of that. New wealth coming from outside of Egypt touched up on and improved nearly all Egyptian institutions from creating a larger bureaucracy and army to greater temples and public buildings. This was all due to the leadership and vision of Thutmose III. In fact, only Rameses II, ruling nearly 200 years later, would preside over a more prosperous Egyptian empire. After Rames II, the golden age of Egyptian civilization would slowly come to an end.

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