The Battle of Megiddo

The Battle of Megiddo

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Troy Fox

Tuthmosis III

In 1479 BC, Tuthmosis III moved against the king of Kadesh in Palestine, who had instigated other cities in the region to join him in revolt against Egypt, and who was undoubtedly backed by the military might of the Mitanni empire. Mitanni had created a network of vassal city-states in this region during the early 15th century BC.

The king of Kadesh and his allies occupied Megiddo, a fortress which controlled the major military and trade road north to Lebanon and east to the Euphrates. Megiddo sat on a height where the road emerged from the constriction of the Aruna Pass into the Plain of Esdraelon. From the time of Tuthmosis III, when Megiddo enters the historical record, down to the 20th Century, this site has been one of the world's major battle grounds, and in the Book of Revelations of the Christian Bible (John 16:14-16) it is the place where the forces of evil will fight against the forces of God at the end of the world. "Armageddon" means "the mount of Megiddo." In World War I, British Field Marshall Edmund Allenby led Australian cavalry and Indian infantry up the Aruna Pass, surprising and defeating Turks on the tell (mound) of ancient Megiddo. Recent scholarship has proven that the 20th Century British warrior had very much in mind the tactics of Tuthmosis III over 3,000 years earlier.

Most of what we know about Tuthmosis III's Battle for Megiddo was compiled by the military scribe, Tjaneni, and inscribed on the walls of the Hall of Annals in the Temple of Amun at Karnak in ancient Thebes (modern Luxor).

In order to suppress the Canaanite coalition, less than a year after assuming sole rule of Egypt Tuthmosis III marched his army in nine days from his border fortress of Sileh along the Sinai road known as the "Ways of Horus" to Gaza, the main Egyptian stronghold in Canaan. They maintained a marching rate of about fifteen miles per day along this road, but thereafter slowed to about eight miles per day until they reached Yaham eleven days later in mid May. Perhaps this indicates fatigue, or simply caution as they traveled through territory that could be considered potentially or actually hostile. In fact, along the way Tuthmosis III detached units commanded by general Djehuty in order to place the stronghold of Jaffa under siege so that his line of communications and possible retreat could be protected, an indication that the Canaanite alliance was significant within southern Canaan.

At Yaham, they stopped to hold a war council concerning the route they would take onto the Plain of Esdraelon, where Megiddo was located. It was known that the Canaanites had concentrated their forces near Megiddo across the Carmel Ridge to which there were three access routes. The northern and southern routes were longer than the central route through Aruna, but were less easily defendable. Furthermore, the Aruna road was through a narrow and difficult pass over a ridge that was presumed (particularly by the enemy coalition) to be too difficult for an army to use. Taking that route meant that "horse must follow horse, and man after man", and to be strung out in such a manner was a recipe for disaster. Hence, Tuthmosis III's generals counseled the pharaoh to take the more conservative Yokneam or Taanakh routes.

'Now two (other) roads are here. One of the roads ( behold, it is [to the east of] us, so that it comes out at Taanakh. The other ( behold, it is to the north side of Djefti, and we will come out to the north of Megiddo. Let our victorious lord proceed on the one of [them] which is [satisfactory to] his heart, (but) do not make us go on that difficult road!' Inscription from the Amen Temple at Karnak. J. B.

Pritchard Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1969: p. 234.

Map of the route to Megiddo

However, the advantage of the Aruna route was that it would allow the Egyptian army to debouch onto the Plain of Esdraelon less than a mile from the city of Megiddo. Also, many modern commentators, and perhaps the Canaanite collation as well, seem to forget the major virtues of the Egyptian Chariots. They were light vehicles, and it was certainly conceivable that many could be carried through the pass, while the horses were led separately. Furthermore, Tuthmosis III and his generals must have known, through reconnaissance, that the coalition forces, and particularly their chariotry, were deployed to cover the approaches of the two easier routes to Megiddo (particularly the one from Taanakh). The Canaanite alliance would have been ideally positioned to attack the Egyptian forces had they entered the plain along the Taanakh approach, first by mass chariot attacks and then with a process of attrition of the Egyptian infantry by long range archery. Thus, even before the Egyptian army was finally able to deploy for battle, they would have already inflicted very heavy losses.

Therefore, Tuthmosis III rejected the arguments of his generals and set out on the Aruna route. Notwithstanding the continued doubts of his officers, Tuthmosis announced his decision in a manner that gives some insight into his grasp of psychology, telling his officers that

"...My majesty shall proceed upon this Aruna road! Let him of you who wishes come in the following of my majesty! Whatever their doubts about this plan, their loyalty to their lord, as he very well knew, was not in doubt!"

He reached the river Qinah south of Megiddo without encountering any opposition. This segment of the march took three days. Two days were spent approaching the Aruna road through the hills and finally the road was accessed in the early hours of the third day. It took an additional twelve hours for the whole Egyptian army to make the passage along the Aruna road, and it was not until late in the evening that they finally set camp on the plain.

The pharaoh's gamble had paid off, and a tactical surprise had been achieved, for even as the Egyptian army poured out of the pass, the leading elements could see the main enemy forces rushing back to cover the approaches to Megiddo. By the time night fell, this coalition army lay in front of the Egyptian lines in a hasty arrangement to guard their city.

Tuthmosis III Smiting his enemies

The Egyptians rested during the night, though perhaps not very well. From text, we know that Tuthmosis III suspected the possibility of a night attack, for he admonished his troops to " steadfast, be steadfast! Be vigilant, be vigilant!. He ordered his soldiers to "...make your weapons ready, since one (the pharaoh) will engage in combat with the wretched enemy in the morning". It is therefore likely that many of his men spend a sleepless night. Furthermore, this was Tuthmosis III first major battle in which he was in overall command and the army had not fought a major engagement for some 20 years, so there was perhaps not the confidence among the troops that later triumphant language might imply. Should the morning's battle go against them, there was no real means of a hasty retreat, with nothing but the difficult Aruna pass behind them.

The following morning, we are told that "Now a charge was laid upon the entire army to pass by...". The implication is that the army was ordered to parade past the pharaoh, resplendent in their full uniform with armor glittering, while horse plumes and flags fluttering in the breeze and standards were carried aloft amidst the sounding of war trumpets, the beating of drums and the thunderous shouts of acclaim. This theatrical display may have had the practical benefits of negatively impacting the morale of the enemy, and at the same time, buttressing the courage of the Egyptian men, many of whom would be seeing combat for the first time. It may thus have had a very real effect on the outcome of the ensuing battle.

Tuthmosis III, in his war chariot of fine gold and electum, and wearing the "blue" or war crown, is described as being "adorned with the accoutrements of combat, like Horus, the Might of Arm, a lord of action like Montu, the Theban, while his father Amun made strong his arms. Now ready for battle, he divided his army into three wings. The northern division was positioned to the northwest of Megiddo which would provide his troops with a possible retreat should that become necessary, while the southern troops were located on a hill to the south of "the brook of Qina". The Pharaoh himself commanded the center wing.

Opposed to the Egyptians, the enemy forces were described as vast, and while doubtless exaggerated, we are told that they numbered no fewer than 330 kings, each with his own army so that the Egyptians stood against "Millions of men, and hundreds of thousands of the chiefest of all the lands, standing in their chariots".

From the surviving text, the overwhelming impression is that the attacking Canaanites were completely routed so badly that a wave of panic swept through the coalition army. An Egyptian scribe reported that : "The king himself, he led the way of his army, mighty at its head like a flame of fire, the king who wrought with his sword. He went forth, none like him, slaying the barbarians, smiting Retenu, bringing their princes as living captives, their chariots wrought with gold, bound to their horses." Soon, the enemy abandoned their weapons, equipment, chariots and horses and turned to flight, but were so hotly pursued, that the defenders of Megiddo refused to open the gates of the city for their retreat. Rather, knotted sheets were lowered over the fortified walls so that at least the high and mighty among the defeated, including the king of Kadesh and the ruler of Megiddo could be saved.

However, instead of attacking the city the Egyptians began to loot the abandoned camps, which gave many more of the enemy a chance to escape and time to organize their defense of the city. Our ancient text explains that "...if only his majesty's army had not given their hearts to capturing the possessions of the enemy, they would have captured Megiddo at this time..." Thus, it was recognized even by the Egyptians of this time that a breakdown in discipline had robbed the pharaoh of a quick victory, since Megiddo could have probably been stormed and taken in the immediate panic of the initial battle.

However, the conquest of Megiddo and its inhabitants was vital, for "...the ruler of every northern country is in Megiddo, and its capture is the capture of a thousand cities". Therefore, the city was placed under siege. A moat was excavated around the city and beyond a wooden palisade was built to seal in the population. However, not until December of 1482 BC did the city finally surrender. While the booty from this battle was vast, the pharaoh seems to have been most proud of the capture of 2,041 horses that were taken and used to swell the breeding stock in Egypt. Other spoils of the battle included 894 chariots, including two that were covered with gold, 200 suits of armor, including two of bronze belonging to the chiefs of Megiddo and Kadesh, and over 25,000 animals other than horses.

Tuthmosis III led many more campaigns through Canaan and into Syria, and eight years after the battle of Megiddo he took Kadesh on the Orontes. However, his victory at Megiddo was of great importance, for it was sufficient to render the whole of Canaan quiescent for virtually the rest of his reign. Following the conquest of Retenu, he built a big navy, which was instrumental in his extending Egyptian influence over much of the Near East. His army could now reach any coastal town in Syria by ship in four to five days, while by foot the journey would take more than a fortnight. This would greatly aid Tuthmosis III in his campaigns over the next 20 years in his contest with Mitanni for the control of Syria.

See also:






Reference Number

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Healy, Mark


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ISBN 1 85532 939 5

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ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

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Grimal, Nicolas



None Stated

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt,

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011