The Battle of Megiddo—Part I


With the death of the famous female Pharaoh – Hatshepsut – Thutmose III rose to power and knew there would be trouble. On the banks of the Orontes River, a revolt was brewing. Amassing a huge army and heading out on a forced march, the Egyptian king prepared for battle.

The Battle of Megiddo pitted the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III on one side, against a coalition of Canaanites led by the King of Kadesh. Megiddo is a battle of firsts, such as a recorded body count and the first use of the composite bow. Moreover, Megiddo is considered the first recorded battle due to the reliable detail provided by the Egyptians. Details of the battle come from the 42 year of Thutmose’s reign, as he instructed his scribe, Tjaneni, to keep a daily journal, in order to have his military exploits, particularly the 14 campaigns that took place in the Levant (Canaan), inscribed by his artisans on the walls of Amun-Re’s temple at Karnak.

The Battle of Megiddo is regarded to have taken place 16 April 1457 BCE.

A Battle for Position and Goods

Power-shifts taking place in the strategic location— on the Great Bend of the Euphrates River north of Egypt— was the beginning of the conflict. The Asiatic kingdom that Thutmose was concerned about was the city-state of Kadesh on the Orontes River, which was under the protection of the Kingdom of Mitanni.

Main cities of Syria in the second millennium BCE. Kadesh, or Qadesh, is to the west.

Main cities of Syria in the second millennium BCE. Kadesh, or Qadesh, is to the west. (Public Domain)

This protection allowed Kadesh to expand southward into Canaan and to confiscate many of the mini-states and expand its influence as far south as the city of Megiddo. Kadesh understood the geographical strategic importance of Megiddo, for whoever controls the city effectively controlled the Esdraelon Plain in Galilee. More important was that Megiddo controlled the main trade routes that flowed east into the Trans-Jordan as well as to the north leading to the city-state of Kadesh. If Kadesh, along with their protectorate, Mitanni, controlled the trade routes leading east and north, it also would affect the trade flowing from Egypt to the south. Therefore, Egypt could not fully partake in the lucrative trade flowing from the rich lands of Mesopotamia. As 19th-century French Liberal economist Frederic Bastiat was to have said, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” It seems evident that goods did not cross or if they did, they were next to none.

Egyptian relief depicting Kadesh garrisoned by Hittites and surrounded by the Orontes River, Reign of Ramesses II, 19th dynasty.

Egyptian relief depicting Kadesh garrisoned by Hittites and surrounded by the Orontes River, Reign of Ramesses II, 19th dynasty. (Public Domain)

Pharaoh Thutmose Strikes

Understand that before Pharaoh Thutmose III was sole ruler, he shared that power with his stepmother and aunt, Hatshepsut, for twenty-two years. However, Pharaoh Hatshepsut held much of that power. During this co-rule, Hatshepsut did little to stem the powers from the north from taking the Levant both politically and physically. When Hatshepsut died, Thutmose took action. Seeing the encroachment of northern foreign powers into lands considered under the sphere of Egyptian influence, Thutmose began to build his political and military powerbase to thwart any further regression in the nearby lands of the Levant.

Seated statue of Thutmose/Thutmosis III

Seated statue of Thutmose/Thutmosis III (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Time was of the essence, for the Asian coalition to the north controlled Megiddo, and who controls Megiddo could cross the Carmel Ridge into the southern Canaanite plain. This was problematic, for Thutmose had few troops stationed in the garrisons that dotted the plain. If this northern Asiatic coalition broke through Egypt’s garrisons, there would be no natural obstacles or physical (garrisons/fortresses) to hinder the enemy forces in Egypt if they passed Gaza and Sharuhen.

In order to prevent further Asiatic expansion south, Thutmose held a meeting with his military advisors during the winter to plan his campaign to come. While Thutmose was in talks with his military advisors, he would have sent messengers to the four corners of his kingdom to muster the forces and acquire the supplies needed at Sile, which served as an important stop en route from Egypt to Canaan. Furthermore, Sile was located on the coastal road near the Nile River and ten kilometers (6.2 miles) north-northeast of modern Qantara. From this location, Thutmose could assemble his military forces behind a series of forts that controlled the roads leading to Canaan and south into the Sinai.

Thutmose’s Impressive Forces

The armies of Thutmose III were much better off under his rule than under previous pharaohs’.  Thutmose’s forces were truly professional. Military families were given land grants as long as they sent a son into the officer corps. Moreover, the army was transformed into a national force based on conscription, while the militia was allowed to exist. Not only did Thutmose transform the structure of the military into a national force, he also passed a decree that the levy of men required would be ‘one man in ten’ instead on one in a hundred. Non-commissioned and professional officers trained the men for war.

Thutmose also changed the look and tactics of his army by adopting the arms and armaments of the Hyksos, such as the chariot, composite bow, axe, and sickle sword. Furthermore, he took the design of the Hyksos chariot and improved upon it by positioning the axle to the rear of the carrying platform, expanding the spokes in the wheel from four to six, and connecting the U-shaped joint to the yoke pole under the chariot was designed to slide left and right allowing the driver smooth rotation when on the move.

The Hyksos of Ancient Egypt drove chariots.

The Hyksos of Ancient Egypt drove chariots. (Public Domain)

The size of Thutmose’s army at Megiddo is unknown, as the Annals are silent. Estimates suggest that his army was between 5,000-20,000 troops. The Annals do indicate that when Thutmose’s army arrived at the battlefield that its rearguard was still in camp. The distance between the campsite and the rearguard was 14.4 km (nine miles). If one considers an American infantry brigade during World War I, one might have an idea as to the size of the Egyptian army; According to Richard Gabriel, “An American infantry brigade comprised 6,310 men and 1,021 animals and occupied a road space of 8,385 yards or approximately 4.8 miles.” Therefore, the Egyptian forces would have numbered roughly 12,000 men if the army was occupying a road space of nine miles. If so, one could speculate that 10,000 of the 12,000-strong army would have comprised mostly of Infantry, while the remaining 2,000 were primarily chariot units comprised of 1,000 chariots divided in two to support each infantry corps.

The Egyptian army under Thutmose III would have been something along these lines: Pharaoh (Thutmose III) was the Commander-in-Chief, his vizier was Minister of War, his council would comprise of senior officers who would advise the pharaoh before, and once in the field. When it came to the military organization, divisions organized the Egyptian forces. Egypt would have had a corps in Upper and Lower Egypt. Each division consisted of 5,000 men of combined arms consisting of infantry and chariots. Thutmose would muster his forces from Lower Egypt forces. Of the 12,000 soldiers, most were your standard infantry while elite troops and chariot warriors reinforced other units.

A diorama of Egyptian soldiers.

A diorama of Egyptian soldiers. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Eating on the March: Supplying the Forces

To supply his forces and pack animals, Thutmose had much to draw from due to the numerous places located between Sile and Raphina. These places and the castles/fortress in between provided rest stops to the army to recuperate and to draw fresh supplies of water, food, and feed for their animals. Each soldier carried roughly 10 days’ worth of rations.

The next issue was the amount of food needed. However, the problem is there is no information one can draw from concerning Thutmose’s army but we’re not at a total loss. The typical Egyptian meal would have been emmer cereal grain, which was flat bread. The soldier would have been given eight small loaves that would last him ten days. He would place these in his backpack and bake them on the march. Once he was able to rest, he would build a three-foot cone-shaped mud dome. Once complete, he would take his moist dough and slap it on the side of the oven. He would have few to no twigs at all to use as fuel. Instead, to heat the oven he would have burned horse dung to cook his meals. Besides flatbread, the Egyptian warrior would have enjoyed such meats as smoked goose flesh, beef jerky, and smoked or salted fish. As for vegetables, he had beans, lentils, cabbage, and onions. For fruit, he had chickpeas, cucumbers, and other. To wash this fine meal down, he was provided milk sometimes, but his main drink was beer. The beer was so important to the soldiers on the move that traveling breweries sometimes accompanied them.

Wooden brewery model (Middle Kingdom. Barley beer is being brewed, with the men on the left mashing the yeast starter in a bowl for fermenting, while the ones on the right are bottling. The rightmost figure with a tablet tucked under his arm is a scribe, counting the bottles.

Wooden brewery model (Middle Kingdom. Barley beer is being brewed, with the men on the left mashing the yeast starter in a bowl for fermenting, while the ones on the right are bottling. The rightmost figure with a tablet tucked under his arm is a scribe, counting the bottles. (© BrokenSphere /Wikimedia Commons /CC BY-SA 3.0)

When comes down to the Egyptian warriors’ caloric intake, a man would be required roughly 3,400 calories due to the rigorous activity. However, this depends on the height and weight of the soldier. An ancient Egypt soldier would have stood roughly 5-foot-2-inches (157) and weighed between 100-120 lbs (45-54 kg). Because of this, his caloric intake would have been between 2544-2716 calories along with nine quarts of water in skins. Moreover, given the amount of food choices he had, there is no doubt that he was able to sustain his health. When it comes to water, as briefly mentioned, the Thutmose and his advisors would have known about the water storage sites since many of the wells along the coast were stale, foul, or salty. As for the animals, each one would roughly need eight gallons of water per day.

Once the army and their animals had reached Gaza, food and water supply became less of a problem due to the number of cisterns in the area, and since many of the towns would have granaries from which they could draw from, particularly during the months of April and May. Given the amount of water needed by the men, which was eight or nine quarts a day or roughly two gallons, an army of 12,000 men would require 24,000 gallons of water. With 2,000 horses on hand, it comes to 16,000 gallons of water each day to support these animals! This does not take into account the amount of feed brought along that would be needed due to an absence of ample pastures for the horses to graze at times. This also does not take into account the number of mules and donkeys used to pull the wagons loaded with additional supplies.

The Push towards Megiddo

Once winter ended, Thutmose moved out with his forces and into the lands of Canaan. In the first summer of the 23 year of his reign on day four, Thutmose celebrated his coronation as he arrived at the town of “Conquest-of-the-Ruler”—the Syrian name for Gaza. On day five, he departed from the location with the aim to extend the borders of Egypt.

Depiction of Tuthmoses III at Karnak holding a Hedj Club and a Sekhem Scepter standing before two obelisks he had erected there.

Depiction of Tuthmoses III at Karnak holding a Hedj Club and a Sekhem Scepter standing before two obelisks he had erected there. (Public Domain)

Eleven days later, Thutmose arrived at the town of Yehem. Afterwards, he commanded that his forces meet him so he could discuss what was about to take place, stating:

“That wretched foe of Kadesh has come and entered into Megiddo and is there at this moment. He has gathered to him the princes of all the foreign lands that had been loyal to Egypt, as well as those from as far as Nahrin, consisting of —, Khor and Kedy, their horses, their armies, their people. And he says–it is reported–‘I shall wait and fight his majesty here in Megiddo. (Now) tell me what you think.”

The soldiers responded to their pharaoh:

“How will it be to go on this road which becomes narrow, when it is reported that the enemies are waiting there beyond and they are numerous? Will not horse go behind horse and soldiers and people too? Shall our vanguard be fighting while the rearguard waits here in Aruna, unable to fight? There are two (other) roads here. One of the roads is to our east and comes out at Taanach. The other is on the north side of Djefti, so that we come out to the north of Megiddo. May our valiant lord proceed on whichever of these seems best to him. Do not make us go on that difficult road!”

Thutmose, along with his advisors, knew that the King of Kadesh was expecting them to take the easiest routes to Megiddo. Therefore, Thutmose decided to take the direct route that the King of Kadesh would not expect since it was the main road. While Canaanite scouts waited to report back after seeing the Egyptian army, Thutmose knew that if he did not take these routes, the advisors of the King of Kadesh would think that Thutmose had gone on another road “because he is afraid of us?’ So they will say.”

Top Image: Thutmosis III statue (Public Domain) and Wooden figures found in the tomb of Mesehti: Egyptian army of the 11th Dynasty (CC BY-SA 3.0); Deriv.

By: Cam Rea


Carey, Brian Todd, Joshua B. Allfree, and John Cairns. Warfare in the Ancient World. 2013.

Gabriel, Richard A. Thutmose III: A Military Biography of Egypt’s Greatest Warrior King. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2009.

Pritchard, James B., and William Foxwell Albright. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. [Princeton]: Princeton University Press, 1958.

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