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Monday, February 23, 2009

THE FIRST BATTLE

I might call Thutmose III a mummy’s boy. His official mother was his aunt, Hatshepsut (above). She had been the Great Royal God Wife of Thutmose II, Thutmose III’s father and Hatshepsut’s own half brother - Egyptian royal family trees tend to be a little "Byzantine". After Thutmose II died in 1479 B.C. Hatshepsut ran the two Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt successfully for twenty years as Pharaoh, while Thutmose III remained the Pharaoh-in-waiting, since his actual birth mother, Iset, had been a "lesser" wife. And living with Hatshepsut for all those years must have been a difficult.

Examination of her mummy in the Cairo museum reveals that besides menopause (she was in her mid-fifties) Hatshepsut suffered from arthritis, diabetes, liver and bone cancer, and really bad teeth. Of course everyone in ancient Egypt had bad teeth, a by-product of chewing sand in every mouth full of food, but what finally killed Hatshepsut, on March 10th, 1459 B.C., was blood poisoning caused by an abscess in her gums. And immediately after her death, Thutmose felt the need to invade somebody: a clear case of overcompensation.So within days of ascending to the Throne of Horus, Thutmose III (above) ordered the head of his army, Thanuny, to gather troops and supplies at the border fortress of Tjaru by the last week August, 1458 B.C. Clearly Thutmose intended to march into Canaan, and that meant trouble for the kingdom of Kadesh, a Canaaite kingdom in what is today western Syria, which had paid homage to Egypt for the last century. But while Hatshepsut was slowly dying the kings of Kadesh had taken the opportunity to realign themselves with Mittani, a kingdom to their north. And the Mittani kingdom paid homage to the powerful Hittites, centered in Turkey. So in reality this was a high stakes poker game between the Hittite and Egyptian super powers, using the client states of Canaan and Mittani as chips. And Thutmose intended to show the Hittites that he was not bluffing. There was a delay in gathering the army, and Thutmose did not leave Tjaru until February of 1457 B.C. His Egyptian army was mostly infantry, perhaps 10,000 men, divided into platoons of six to ten men each, consisting of bowmen and lancers. The mobile force of two-horse chariots were not built for long distance travel, and on the march the chariots had to be light enough for each to be carried by their shield men. On this march across the Sinai (the Red Deseret) skirmishers advanced to the front while raiding parties ranged along the flanks, gathering cattle, grain and water for each night’s camp. Behind came the baggage train of ox carts carrying supplies, repair tents and blacksmiths, soothsayers, priests and musicians.These people were used to walking, and never rode on horseback, so the army reached the Philistine fortress of Gaza (“The key to Syria”) by mid-March. After another 11 days marching up the coastal plain Thutmose’s army entered the port of Jamnia, near present day Tel Aviv. Here he rested his men and scouts brought word that the Canaanite armies were awaiting him on the Plain of Esdraelon, in front of the hill fortress of Megiddo. So in early May, with his communications back to Egypt secured by his navy, Thutmose swung inland, to the small village of Yaham.In front of him now rose a line of low hills, stretching from the northwest (Mt. Carmel at 1,740 feet) to the southeast (Mts Tabor & Gilboa, 1,929 feet). Megiddo and the Canaanite army were on the northern flank of these hills, and his generals told Thutmose there were only two roads. The most direct route headed due north from Yaham and then turned northwestward on the Via Maris (sea route) to the village of Taanakha, before reaching Megiddo. The longer path headed northwest from Yaham along the flank of the mountains before crossing the hills to reach the Via Maris at the village of Yokneam. From there it was an easy backtrack southeastward to Megiddo. The Canaanite army had divided their infantry, with almost half guarding Taanakha and the other half Yokneam. Stationed at Megiddo (in the center) were the Canaanite chariots with some infantry support, ready to fall upon either approach the Egyptians made.However there was also a third choice. On the road north toward Yokneam there was a cutoff, a path less traveled, that ran through the village of Aruna and then through a narrow defile, so narrow that the army could pass through only single file, before debauching onto the Plain directly in front of Megiddo. It was the most direct route, but Thutmose’s men would arrive piecemeal, where they could be destroyed “in detail”, one unit at a time. But this route also offered an opportunity.It seems that Thanuny feinted toward the two main roads, using perhaps two thirds of the army. But before dawn Thutmose sent his spearmen and shield men through the pass, single file; perhaps 3,000 men in all. When they stepped out of the pass it was about 1:00 p.m., May 9th , 1457 B.C. The Canaanite chariots, surprised at their enemies sudden appearance, hastily charged at the Egyptian spearmen, and let loose a barrage of arrows. But defended by their shield men, the Egyptian formations stood firm. And then, as the Canaanites withdrew to reform and attack again, the Egyptian ranks opened up and from the defile appeared Egyptian chariots, carried through the pass and reassembled. Now like a whirlwind they fell upon the Canaanite chariots.“Even when moving at a slow pace, …(the Egyptian war chariot) shook terribly, and when driven at full speed it was only by a miracle of skill that the occupants could maintain their equilibrium…the charioteer would stand astride the front panels, keeping his right foot only inside the vehicle…the reins tied around his body so he could by throwing his weight either to the right or left…pull up or start his horses by a simple movement of the loins…he went into battle with bent bow, the string drawn back to his ear…while the shield-bearer, clinging to the body of the chariot with one hand, held out his buckler with the other to shelter his comrade.” (History of Egypt Chakdea, etc. G. Maspero. Groilier Society)The Canaanites panicked at the sudden Egyptian charge, and their causalities tell the story; just 83 killed, but 240 taken prisoner and 924 chariots and 2,132 horses captured. The Canaanite infantry on the wings, now divided by the Egyptian army, abandoned Megiddo and scattered in retreat. And although the fortress held out for seven months before finally surrendering, from the moment Thutmose III reached the Plain of Esdraelon, he had ensured his capture of the hill fort of Megiddo, or, in the Canaanite language, Armageddon. And thus ended the first battle recorded in detail in history.


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