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Sunday, December 13, 2009

WHY WE FIGHT


I am  tempted to call Thutmose III a mummy’s boy. He had two. His actual birth mother, Iset, had been a "lesser" wife of Thutmose II, the boy's father. His official mother was actually his aunt, Hatshepsut. She had been the "Great Royal God Wife" of Thutmose II, who was her own half brother. Egyptian royal family trees tended to have very few branches. After Thutmose II died in 1479 B.C. Hatshepsut ran the two Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt successfully for twenty years. She was Pharaoh, while Thutmose III remained the Pharaoh-in-waiting. And living with Hatshepsut for all those years must have been  difficult, because I don't think she was a happy woman.

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, brought on by an abscess in her gums. It is shocking how often history has been influenced by bad teeth.

Immediately after the old ladies' death, Thutmose III felt the need to invade somebody. Evidentally the young man had been stiffling his anger for a few years, because within days of ascending to the Throne of Horus, Thutmose III ordered his general-in-chief, 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, which was in what is today western Syria. The Kadesh had been an Egyptian ally for over a century. But while Hatshepsut was slowly dying the kings of Kadesh had taken the opportunity to realign themselves with  the powerful Hittites, centered in Turkey. The Kings of Kadesh were playing a high stakes poker game, betting their kingdom that Thutmose was a pansy moma's boy who would rather hold court at home than suffer the deprevations of a campaign 300 miles from home.

There was a delay in gathering Thutmose's army, and the Egyptians did not leave Tjaru until February of 1457 B.C. They comprised about 10,000 infantrymen, divided into platoons of six to ten men each, divided between bowmen and lancers. There was no cavalry. Nobody in ancient Egypt rode a horse. The mobile force consisted of two-horse chariots, which, since there were no hard wood trees in Egypt to provide load bearing axles, were light and not built for long distance travel. The advantage was that the chariots could be easily carried by one of their own crewmen.

On this march across the northern Sinai (the Red Desert) skirmishers advanced to the front while raiding parties ranged along the flanks, stealing 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. Even Thutmose walked at least part of each day's 8 mile march.

The great column didn't reach their Philistine allies' fortress of Gaza (“The key to Syria”) until mid-March. After another 11 days of marching up the coastal plain (covering about 45 miles) Thutmose’s army entered the port of Jamnia, near present day Tel Aviv. Here Thutmose rested his men until the scouts brought word that the Kadeshite armies had advanced to meet him on the Plain of Esdraelon, at 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 (Mountains Tabor and Gilboa, 1,929 feet each). Megiddo and the Kadeshamite army were on the north side of these hills.

General Thanuny and his staff explained to Thutmose that there were only two roads to reach Megiddo. The most direct route headed due north from Yaham and then turned northwestward on the Via Maris (the sea route) to the village of Taanakha, before reaching Megiddo. The longer path immediatly headed northwest from Yaham along the southern flank of the mountains before crossing them to reach the Via Maris at the village of Yokneam. From there it was an easy backtrack southeastward to Megiddo.

The Kadeshamite army had divided their infantry, with almost half guarding Taanakha and the other half Yokneam. Stationed at Megiddo (in the center) were their chariots with some infantry support, ready to fall upon either approach the Egyptians made.

However there was also a third choice, which General Thanuny had not mentioned. 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. It was so constricted that at the time the army could only march through it in single file, before debauching onto the plain directly in front of Megiddo. It was the most direct route, the shortest route, but his men could only pass through it piecemeal, and they could be destroyed “in detail”, one unit at a time. But Thutmose had already decided to take this route.  And anything the Pharoh wanted, the Pharoh got.

Thanuny was able to convince Thutmose he should use 2/3 of the army by feinting an
attack along the two main roads, leaving a third of the force for the direct attack. This made sense since so few men would be able to deploy through the pass, a larger force would just jam things up. Luckily Thutmose agreed.  So,  before dawn, Thutmose sent perhaps 3,000 men through the pass, single file. They marched quickly and quietly, each man passing his God King Pharoh until they stepped out into view onto the plain at about 1:00 p.m., May 9th , 1457 B.C.

The Kadeshamite chariots, surprised at their enemie's sudden appearance, hastily charged 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 Kadeshamites  withdrew to reform and attack again, the Egyptian ranks opened up and from the defile appeared the Egyptian chariots, carried through the pass and now reassembled. They fell on the Kadeshamite soldiers like a whirlwind. Okay, a clumsy whirlwind.

“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 (were) tied around his body so he could by throwing his weight either to the right or left…pull up or start his horses…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 (shield) with the other to shelter his comrade.” (History of Egypt Chakdea, etc. G. Maspero. Groilier Society)

The Kadesh charioteers panicked at the sudden Egyptian charge, and their causalities tell the story; with just 83 killed, there must have been little fighting. But 240 Kadesh soldiers were taken prisoner, along with 924 chariots and 2,132 horses captured. It  would seem that the Kadesh army was largely overrun. The Kadeshite infantry on the wings, now divided by the Egyptian army, abandoned Megiddo and scattered in retreat, no doubt wondering where their Hittite allies were.

Of course the Egyptians had no siege equipmement. It had not yet been invented. So the fortress of Meggido held out for seven months before finally surrendering. The delay did not matter. From the moment Thutmose III spread his tiny force on the Plain of Esdraelon, he had ensured his capture of the hill fort of Megiddo, in Herbrew "har megiddon" (the mountain district of Megiddo), or, in the Canaanite language, Armageddon.

And thus ended the first battle recorded in history, fought largely to prove that Thutmose III was no longer a Mummy's boy.

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