Ramesses II is perhaps best known for the battle of Kadesh fought against the Hittite
Empire over the city of Kadesh in Syria. Although a military failure, Kadesh was a
propaganda victory for Ramesses, and he displayed this "victory" prominently on the
walls of several temples throughout Egypt.
The Karnak Hypostyle Hall was intended as one of the venues for his Kadesh narrative
of texts and war scenes, but before work was finished, pharaoh changed his mind and
had scenes of his later wars in Syria and Palestine carved over top of the incomplete
|View of the south wall of the Hypostyle Hall showing the war scenes of Ramesses II.
Ramesses II campaigned in Palestine and Syria for the next fifteen years after Kadesh
and also commemorated these wars with panoramic war scenes on several temples including
the Hypostyle Hall. Egyptologists have not been as interested in these later war scenes,
so that the later part of Ramesses' career as a warrior is poorly understood.
|Plan of the war scenes of Ramesses II on the south exterior wall of the Hypostyle
Hall at Karnak. The battle episodes are highlighted in red. Non-battle episodes, such
as the return march after battle and presentation of prisoners to the god Amun are
shown in blue as are the two huge triumph scenes on either side of the central doorway.
|A giant triumphal scene of Ramesses II slaying enemy prisoners. Embedded in the image
are elements of the palimpsest version of the Battle of Kadesh. The heads of Egyptian
officials are enmeshed in the king's torso while a line of Egyptian soldiers marches
between the king's legs.
One reason for this scholarly neglect is that the scenes and text themselves are not
as interesting as the unique Kadesh record.
Another problem with Ramesses II's battle scenes on the Karnak Hypostyle Hall is the
erosion and random damage they have received over the centuries, making them hard
|A giant figure of Ramesses II attacks two fortified towns in Syria. Here the king
is on foot, but most war scenes show in his chariot. all the scenes have suffered
from erosion and other damage, making them hard to understand.
In some places on the wall, these later war scenes were carved over the Battle of
Kadesh inscriptions. The Kadesh reliefs were not completely erased however. Plaster
was used to cover them. After 1300 years, the plaster is almost gone, leaving the
two versions to be read-- with difficulty.
|Ramesses parading in his chariot escorting two files of Syrian and Hittite prisoners
back to Egypt after the battle.
|(Left) photo of a palimpsest showing an Egyptian soldier slaying a Hittite prisoner
from the Battle of Kadesh narrative. Superimposed over this image are the legs of
the god Amun seated on a throne. Wavy lines behind his feet represent the Orontes
river from the Battle of Kadesh. (Right) a drawing of the palimpsest.
This double set of inscriptions is called a palimpsest and is difficult to untangle.
Damage to the reliefs makes this even more difficult. After weeks of tedious work,
we were able to make some minor discoveries. The Kadesh palimpsest includes part of
a text known as the "Bulletin." Although better preserved elsewhere in several copies,
the Karnak version included some variant phrases not found elsewhere.
|A list of towns and countries in Syria and Palestine. Each name is enclosed in an
oval with the upper body of a bound Asiatic prisoner sprouting from it. The ovals
are not royal cartouches but the hieroglyphic sign for fortress. These are carved
over the Battle of Kadesh inscriptions.
Our study and recording of these later war scenes is also aimed at discovering some
of the names of places Ramesses II fought against. Two lists of place names are given
in giant triumph scenes on either side of the south gateway. Parts of these were copied
from earlier lists, others are original. All of them are damaged however.
We also hope to recover the names of the towns shown in the battle scenes themselves.
These are inscribed on the forts Ramesses attacks, but most are damaged and have never
been read. Many of these inscriptions are several meters off the ground and have never
been looked at closely.
By careful study of these reliefs, we hope to achieve a better understanding of Ramesses
II's wars in Western Asia. We will publish the war scenes in facsimile drawings which
are easier to read than photographs of these badly damaged scenes.
|A sketch of one of the name rings with the palimpsest of the "Battle of Kadesh" narrative
underneath. Unscrambling these two sets of inscriptions is a difficult task. Note
the "spikes" on the oval representing crenellations or towers of a fortress.
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