Pharaoh Thutmose III pushed his 12,000-strong army towards the banks of the Orontes River. His scribe, Tjaneni, kept a daily journal in order to have the Pharaoh’s military exploits inscribed by his artisans on the walls of Amun-Re’s temple at Karnak. The men lay siege to the coalition of Canaanites led by the King of Kadesh. What lay in store for the citizens of Megiddo?
Thutmose decided to take the direct route that the King of Kadesh would not expect—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 he had gone on another road “because he is afraid of us?’ So they will say.”
Upholding Oaths and Leading Men into Danger
Some of the Egyptian officials became concerned with this. The direct route to Megiddo was not the best plan of action and his officers and men grew so wary of the endeavor that Thutmose stated: “Your valiant lord will guide your steps on this road which becomes narrow.” For his majesty had taken an oath, saying: “I shall not let my valiant army go before me from this place!” Afterwards, Thutmose, before his army, showed strength by leading the forces himself for every “man was informed of his order of march, horse following horse, with his majesty at the head of his army.”
Bust of Thutmosis III (Public Domain)
On day 19, the Egyptian army came out of the pass. Thutmose was still leading the way at the head of his army, which was “grouped in many battalions, without meeting a single enemy”. Their southern wing was at Taanach, and their northern wing on the north side of the Qlna valley. Then his majesty called to them: “——— they are fallen! The wretched enemy —— Amun——–. Give praise to him, extol the might of his majesty, for his strength is greater than ——-.” There was much concern, and rightfully so, concerning the rear (since that is where much of the supplies are located) as it was slowly making its way forward with the army. After confirming that the rear was secured, the elite vanguard came into the Qina valley and stated: “Lo, his majesty has come out with his valiant troops and they fill the valley. May our valiant lord listen to us this time. May our lord watch for us the rearguard of his army with its people. When the rearguard has come out to us in the open, then we shall fight against those foreigners; then we shall not be concerned about the rearguard of our army!” Thutmose III halted in the open.
Afterwards, the Pharaoh watched his troops march into camp until all had arrived. Thutmose and his forces sat south of Megiddo, on the shore of the Qina brook. After the camp had been prepared, Thutmose sent word to his officers to inform the troops that they should prepare. “Make your weapons ready! For one will engage in combat with that wretched foe in the morning; for one ———.” He rested in the royal camp, giving provisions to the officers, rations to the attendants. He said to the watch of the army: “Steadfast, steadfast! Vigilant, vigilant!” Finally, one came to tell his majesty: “The region is safe, and so are the troops of the south and the north.”
The Fierce Battle: ‘The fear of his majesty had entered their bodies’
On day 21, the Egyptians were celebrating by feasting during the new moon. However, the feasting would soon end as Thutmose appeared and gave instruction. “An order was given to the whole army to pass —. His majesty set out on a chariot of fine gold, decked in his shining armor like strong-armed Horus, lord of action, like Mont of Thebes, his father Amun strengthening his arm.”
Thutmose had the southern wing of his forces on a hill south of the Qina brook, and the northern wing to the northwest of Megiddo, while Thutmose himself was in the center.
What can be made of this battle from recorded details is that at dawn the Egyptian forces pushed out with the infantry on the right to stand their ground behind the steep banks of the Kina Brook, while the rest of the army struck the center and left. By doing this, Thutmose pinned the Canaanite forces against their own camp. One could say that he cut them in half in order to effectively deal with them.
Egyptian driving chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit (CC BY 2.0)
Understand that when Thutmose attacked the center, he drove a wedge down the middle; this allowed his left wing to push that portion of the enemy’s left wing right into jaws of Thutmose’s center. This, in turn, allowed both the center and left wing to go ahead and push on into the right wing of the enemy, causing total mayhem throughout the ranks.
The Egyptians in their attack used a steady barrage of arrows as the left wing of the Egyptian infantry made their way in, being protected by archers and the devastating charge of Thutmose’s chariots. The Egyptian chariots during this battle acted as ancient tanks due to their weight, speed, and that they carried an archer who could fire arrows from a platform that gave him 360 degrees.
The enemy had stood at the most likely paths of attack, leaving their middle exposed. This led to a quick routing.
In the end, the Egyptian army did not pursue the fleeing Canaanite soldiers. Those who survived fled behind the safe walls of Megiddo. Thutmose and his forces decide that enough was enough and that it was time to celebrate on the enemy’s dime.
Diorama of Egyptian in Chariot, Crossroads of Civilization exhibit (CC BY 2.0)
“Then his majesty overwhelmed them at the head of his army. When they saw his majesty overwhelming them, they fled headlong to Megiddo with faces of fear, abandoning their horses, their chariots of gold and silver, so as to be hoisted up into the town by pulling at their garments. For the people had shut the town behind them, and they now lowered garments to hoist them up into the town. Now if his majesty’s troops had not set their hearts to plundering the possessions of the enemies, they would have captured Megiddo at this moment, when the wretched foe of Kadesh and the wretched foe of this town were being pulled up hurriedly so as to admit them into their town. For the fear of his majesty had entered their bodies, and their arms sank as his diadem overwhelmed them.”
Egyptian chariot, accompanied by a cheetah and archer (Public Domain)
“Then their horses were captured, and their chariots of gold and silver became an easy prey. Their ranks were lying stretched out on their backs like fish in the bight of a net, while his majesty’s valiant army counted their possessions. Captured was the tent of that wretched foe, which was worked with silver ——–. Then the entire army jubilated and gave praise to Amun for the victory he had given to his son on that day. They lauded his majesty and extolled his victory. Then they presented the plunder they had taken: hands, living prisoners, horses, chariots of gold and silver and of painted work.”
The Plunder of Megiddo
Aerial view of Megiddo (Tel Megiddo, Levant) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
While Thutmose and his forces celebrated, he knew that his opportunity to crush the Canaanite coalition was not going to happen unless he besieged and took Megiddo. After the drinking and eating were over, Thutmose surrounded Megiddo. Thutmose made it clear to his officers that “the capture of Megiddo is the capture of a thousand towns! Grasp firmly, firmly!” Thutmose understood the economic and military benefits that Megiddo would award the Egyptians. Once the siege began, Thutmose made it clear to his officers that they “provide for their soldiers and to let every man know his place. They measured the town, surrounded (it) with a ditch, and walled (it) up with fresh timber from all their fruit trees.” Not a sole could escape the wall built by the Egyptians. The siege lasted for seven months before the people of Megiddo surrendered.
While the city and citizens were spared, for the most part, it was open season on possessions— the spoils of war. The defeated enemy leaders were forced to send a son to Egypt, where they were raised and educated as Egyptians. Once they were returned, they governed with Egyptian background and sympathies. The victory at Megiddo was the beginning of several battles which crushed the rebellion.
Model of Megiddo, 1457 BCE (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Now the princes of this foreign land came on their bellies to kiss the ground to the might of his majesty, and to beg breath for their nostrils, because of the greatness of his strength and the extent of the power of Amun over all foreign lands. ——–, all the princes captured by his majesty’s might bearing their tribute of silver, gold, lapis lazuli, and turquoise, and carrying grain, wine, and large and small cattle for his majesty’s army; one group among them bore tribute on the journey south. Then his majesty appointed the rulers anew for every town ——.
Replica of Canaanite Temple at Megiddo (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The amount of booty brought forth to Thutmose was staggering. The Annals list:
Living prisoners: 340
Stallions: 6. Colts: —
One chariot of that foe worked in gold, with a pole of gold
One fine chariot of the prince of Megiddo, worked in gold
Chariots of the allied princes: 30
Chariots of his wretched army: 892, Total: 924
One fine bronze coat of mail belonging to that enemy
One fine bronze coat of mail belonging to the prince of Megiddo
Leather-coats of mail belonging to his wretched army: 200
Poles of mry-wood worked with silver from the tent of that enemy: 7
And the army of his majesty had captured cattle belonging to this town —— : 387
Victory stela of pharaoh Thutmose III, from Jebel Barkal, temple of Amen. Made of granite, from the 18th dynasty, circa 1490-1436 B.C. Erected during his 47th regnal year (roughly 1443 BC) marking his kingdom’s southern boundary. 50 lines of hieroglyphs mark his campaigns in Naharin, the Battle of Megiddo, an elephant hunt, a royal speech, and more. (CC BY 3.0)
But wait there’s more. Here’s a list of what was carried off afterward by Thutmose:
The household goods of the enemy of Yanoam, Inuges, and Herenkeru, together with the property of’the towns that had been loyal to him which were captured by the might of his majesty ——-
Maryan-warriors belonging to them: 38
Children of that enemy and of the princes with him: 84
Maryan-warriors belonging to them: 5
Male and female slaves and their children: 1,796
Pardoned persons who had come out from that enemy because of hunger: 103, Total: 2,503
As for the expensive bowls of costly stone and gold, and various vessels:
One large Jay of Syrian workmanship. Jars, bowls, plates, various drinking vessels, large kettles, knives: [x+] 17, making 1,784 deben
Gold in disks skillfully crafted, and many silver disks, making 966 deben and 1 kite
A silver statue ——. ——- with a head of gold
Walking sticks with human heads: 3
Carrying chairs of that enemy of ivory, ebony, and ssndm-wood worked with gold: 6
Footstools belonging to them: 6
Large tables of ivory and ssndm-wood: 6
One bed of ssndm-wood worked with gold and all costly stones in the manner of a krkr, belonging to that enemy, worked with gold throughout
A statue of ebony of that enemy worked with gold with a head of lapis lazuli. ——–, bronze vessels and much clothing of that enemy
Moreover, if that was not enough, many of the fields were “made into plots and assigned to royal inspectors in order to reap their harvest.”
Thutmose III’s exploits are recorded in the Annals, inscribed into stone at Karnak. Thutmose III smiting his enemies. (Public Domain)
Overall, the Battle of Megiddo secured Egypt the right to control and dictate southern Canaan and extended its frontier to the Orontes River in Syria. Furthermore, they now had a safe passage from which their troops could run up and down the land bridge that connected Asia with Africa and control the flow of trade that was both being imported and exported.
Thutmose III was indeed Egypt’s Napoleon.
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.