THE BATTLE OF KADESH
The November lecture was presented by Dr. Anthony Spalinger,of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, currently a visiting professorat the University of California, Los Angeles.
Dr. Spalinger opened his lecture by noting thatthe Battle of Kadesh is a history that revolves around the city by thatname which is located in mid/southern Syria. Control of Kadesh was keyto control of the Levant in ancient times. The Battle of Kadesh, whichwas recorded on the walls of five different temples by Ramses II, was,in fact, a strategic defeat for the Egyptians.
One section of the record of the Battle of Kadesh wasreferred to by the Egyptians themselves as “literature” - i.e. a poem,and gives us a picture of the ancient‘s perception of the battle. It alsogives us a window into how the ancient Egyptians thought of their own past.
Dr. Spalinger‘s particular interest is in the poem, ratherthan the pictorial representations of the Battle of Kadesh. He did, however,show his audience several pictorial versions of the battle, in which theramparts of the city are shown beside the Orantes River.
The Battle of Kadesh occurred in the 5th Regnal year ofKing Ramses II. Neither Ramses nor his army ever entered the city. Thebattle resolved the question of control of the region, but not the antagonismbetween Egypt and the Hittite empire.
Soon after the “strategic withdrawal” of the Egyptianarmy from Kadesh, renditions of the events of the battle and the Egyptiancamp appeared. At Abu Simbel, the Egyptian army‘s camp is clearly depictedon the wall inside the large temple, and is juxtaposed to an inscriptionreferred to as the “poem”. This same inscription and pictorial record werealso carved at Abydos, Karnak, Luxor and in the king's mortuary temple,the Ramesseum between Ramses II’s 5th and 10th regnal years.
The scenes are often traditional. Typical of that tradition,there are 4-5 main events of the battle displayed following a tried andtrue pattern as if templates or matrices were being used.
The organization of the pictorial depictions is formaland traditional. This is not so, however, on the literary side. Beforethe inscriptions were placed on the walls, there were papyri, already drawnup and approved by the king. The king defined the record as he wanted itto be related, and we see that these depictions became something akin to“religious” documents. Those that are known can be dated to the 9th regnalyear of the king.
The “poem” would have circulated in the Nile Valley apartfrom the pictorial representation. It would have circulated among thosewho wanted to hear and read about the king and his successes. Thus thewritten and the pictorial depictions co-existed and the pictorial inscriptionseven carry tags from the written version, which can be seen in the reliefs.
During the reign of Merneptah, Ramses II’s successor,a treasury scribe in the north, by the name of Pen-ta-wer-it, copied theentire poem of the Battle of Kadesh for himself, or perhaps for his superior. He clearly was interested in it for its own sake as he also copied otherpapyri with the same theme military events in which the kingdefends himself against his enemies. The stress seems to be on the king’sheroic deeds when faced with chaos. Pen-ta-wer-it changed the deityreferred to in some of the papyri (e.g., Amun-Re) to his northern deities,even though he says he copied them without change. At the end of the papyrus,Pen-ta-wer-it has inscribed his own name as the copyist, and the name ofhis superior.
One major papyrus - Papyrus Sallier III - contains Pen-ta-wer-it’scopy of the Battle of Kadesh. It is in the collection of the British Museumin London, two pages of which can be seen on display there. The papyruswas originally made up of 13 pages. One page is in the Louvre, one pageis lost and pages 3-13 are in the British Museum.
Papyrus and scribes had their own tradition. The smallcircle of scribes to which Pen-ta-wer-it belonged seems to have had aninterest in deeds of kings - and was a circle in which literary texts circulated. The papyrus itself seems to have been placed in a tomb - Pen-ta-wer-it’sor his superior’s, perhaps as a gift - as part of the grave goods, copiesbeing put into a library or other repository such as the House of Life. Dr. Spalinger noted that we don’t normally think of individuals keepingbooks and being buried with them (save purely religious books such as theBook of the Dead), but clearly this circle of scribes circulated thesepapyri, and they were valued enough to be placed among the owner‘s possessionsin his tomb.
Papyrus Sallier III was probably acquired in the early19th century AD about the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Aman named Anastasi came to Egypt to sell food and provisions to the Frencharmy. He became a friend of the Egyptian ruler, Mohammed Ali, andfound that he could make money in other ways once the army was no longera source of income; i.e., he could sell objects from Egypt to Europeans. He sent agents to Memphis/Saqqara and Upper Egypt to collect objects tosell. They found large numbers of papyri, which he collected in Alexandria.One batch was sold to a Frenchman named Sallier between 1820 and 1823,which were known to have come from tombs at Saqqara, and were taken toFrance. Jean Francois Champollion saw and translated them in about1828. The British Museum bought the Anastasi collection for a large sum,and when Sallier died, his family sold his collections to the museum aswell. In 1842 the British Museum published all of the Sallier and Anastasipapyri as a group.
Papyri are often “monuments” in book form. In the NewKingdom a standard “book” had 20 sheets of papyrus sold as a unit. Thetext was written from right to left. The scribe held his reed pen verticallywhile writing and the letters themselves were formed from left to rightto avoid smudging the ink. Papyrus is usually tan in color. Literarypapyri were only written on the inside of the roll. Dr. Spalinger notedthat we now know that it was much more arduous to write in hieratic thanwas previously thought. It took weeks of work to copy a documentsuch as the Battle of Kadesh.
Pen-ta-wer-it’s hieratic writing on P. Sallier III istotally clear and distinct. He used only black ink. As a rule 10-11 linesof text were inscribed on each page. Dr. Spalinger has found, afterlooking at other papyri inscribed by Pen-ta-wer-it, that his script isvery identifiable. He also noted that Pen-ta-wer-it did something ratherstrange. The sheets of papyrus in P. Sallier III average about 26 centimeterswide. Normally, papyrus makers sold books with a standard page size of15 to 20 centimeters. Thus it is clear that Pen-ta-wer-it did not acquirethe papyrus for his book of the Battle of Kadesh from a maker of ready-madepapyrus rolls! Dr. Spalinger suggested that he probably piecedtogether irregular sheets from his office!
Other texts copied by Pen-ta-wer-it include a text ofSeqenenre-Tao, dealing with the military action against the Hyksos (knownas The Quarrel of Apophis and Seqenenre) and a copy of the Teachings ofAmenemhat I, which tells of the rebels who assassinated the pharaoh. Knowingthat these texts were among the collection of Pen-ta-wer-it helps us understandthis group of men who had a special interest in military texts.
Dr. Spalinger noted that all the pictorial forms and representationsof the Battle of Kadesh scenes are of the same type and follow a formula.We can easily determine who fought against who, where they fought, etc.,but we receive no idea of the mental outlook of the Egyptians who livedat the time of the event. We can analyze the motives of the literary artist.Archives within the bureaucracy preserved these literary records.Individuals seem very attached to their copies of these literary papyri.
He closed his lecture by saying that new strands of scholarshipwhich are literature as history have emer-ged within the past decade. Suchdocuments as Papy-rus Sallier III persisted throughout Egyptian historyand military literature circulated in the land, but many are lost so onlyon the Battle of Kadesh can a scholar such as Dr. Spalinger truly focus.Transmission of the battle over time has come to us through the papyrusof Pen-ta-wer-it.
Dr. Spalinger urged all his listeners to stop by the papyruscollection in the British Museum and see P. Sallier III when next in London.
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