The Makings of an Event: Encountering the Battle of Kadesh through Time
This dissertation examines the packaging and presentation of the Battle of Kadesh as a meaningful Event to both a local Egyptian and a wider Near Eastern audience at pivotal moments in time. In 1275 BCE the Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II, faced off against the Hittite king, Muwatalli, at the northern Levantine citadel of Kadesh along the border between the two great empires. This confrontation remains one of the most well studied battles of pre-classical times as a result of the lavish attention with which Ramses II commemorated it upon his temple walls in Egypt. Still visible today at Abu Simbel, Abydos, Karnak, Luxor, and the Ramesseum are the monumental reliefs depicting Ramses II charging into the chaotic fray of combat on his chariot. All around him Egyptian troops attack the Hittite army beside the Orontes River, which circumscribes the fortified citadel of Kadesh.
Event is capitalized in this dissertation to refer to the ongoing construction and understanding of the Battle of Kadesh as embedded within specific social contexts. Such an approach emphasizes the temporal duration of Events, arguing that a crucial component of Events is their continued resonance in the material (archaeological and/or historical) record. This dissertation focuses upon three encounters with the Battle of Kadesh reliefs through time to demonstrate the Battle’s Event-status: The initial carving of the Battle of Kadesh reliefs on the temple walls of the Ramesseum during the reign of Ramses II; the later addition to the Ramesseum of the Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty negotiated in the twenty-first year of Ramses II’s reign; and lastly, the Neo-Assyrian army’s encounter with this corpus on their campaign in the Theban region during the seventh century BCE.
This dissertation argues that the physicality of the reliefs has the effect of creating (as opposed to reflecting) the Battle of Kadesh. In asking how the internal elements of the reliefs communicate with one another and how the reliefs communicate with their surrounding environment, this study demonstrates that meaning is constantly negotiated through the broader social, ideological, and physical world. In so doing, it recognizes the role the reliefs play as active participants in various social and temporal settings, and it evaluates their efficacy as imperialistic and diplomatic tools utilized during the reign of Ramses II and the reigns of the Neo-Assyrian kings in constructing royal ideologies.
Chapters 5-7 of this dissertation landscape the reliefs at the aforementioned moments in time in order to examine their shifting resonances. This includes a description of the permanent changes to the physical landscape of the Ramesseum (such as the addition of the Silver Tablet Treaty to the temple walls or the weathering of the stone surfaces), as well as the appearance of temporary objects (such as festival accouterment) that would impact how the reliefs mean to different audiences. Likewise each chapter describes the cultural and political expectations of each audience in order to demonstrate that Events comprise the encounter between both the landscape of the relief corpus and the different audiences that visit them. These diverse encounters reveal precisely how much an Event’s meaning can change through time, highlighting how modern historical reconstructions of the Battle of Kadesh are just one more stage in the Event’s making.