Monday, August 10, 2009

Ramses II and the Battle of Kadesh

The account of the Battle of Kadesh by Ramses II is really unprecedented in Kemetic historical annals on multiple levels. The event itself is certainly unique in the tension that is created by Ramses II frankly discussing the incompetence of certain troop commanders that did not relay pertinent information on troop movements of Hittite forces that ultimately left him cornered and isolated with dim prospects of being saved by Egyptian reinforcements. This tension is at the center of the narrative that creates the contextual backdrop for Ramses II to explain how the event changed from dire to success through the divine assistance and intervention from the God Amun. In my mind, this conjures up commonalities and continuities among African people who constantly attribute ultimate success in human endeavors to a higher divine power despite the human complexity existant in the causality of the event(s). When you hear African people talk about their success, God is more often than not praised and thanked as the ultimate author. This way of viewing the unfolding of events, both personal and impersonal, ripples in the deep recesses of African historical and cultural memory and meaning-making. In the case of the Battle of Kadesh, Egyptian troop reinforcements arrive in the nick of time to turn the tide of the battle and turn a certain Egyptian loss and allow Ramses II to exit the battlefield and return to Kemet with detente. I highlight this point initially because many Egyptologists will equate the divine causality attributed to Amun by Ramses II as mere political propaganda. In the West, particulary in the U.S. in the 20th century, we have imbibed a secular humanism in our education that detaches actions and events from having any link to sacred moorings. There is a sacred humanism at work in the unfurling of events in African conceptions of time and space and we see the deep imprint of this wherever African people are. The Battle of Kadesh is also interesting and unique because Ramses II disseminated the account of this event on numerous monuments and texts. You can not find another event in Egyptian historical annals that was published and disseminated in so many different ways. The scribes, artists, and craftsman collectively came together to construe and interpret the meaning of this event for the Egyptian population. The conscious intent to render this event in both visual and textual terms speaks to the importance that Ramses II himself attributed to the event. It is also important to note that the various accounts of the Battle of Kadesh were not all completed shortly after the battle, but dispersed over the reign of Ramses II, clearly suggesting a continous reflection on and communion with the meaning of this event. The Battle of Kadesh, of course, was not a complete military victory for Ramses II, but the event does raise important issues of how we narrate our own lives and the lives of African people.

In Maat,

Dr. Mario Beatty
Chair, African American Studies
Chicago State University

1 comment:


War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.