The First Recorded Battle
The Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III commemorated his victory at the Battle of Megiddo with an inscription and pictorial reliefs at Karnak. The battle took place in the twenty-second year of his reign, around 1460 BC. There were many other battles preceding Megiddo, no doubt, but it was the first, for which any account exists, making it the first battle recorded in history. Reviewing what is known about the battle and considering its implications offers an introduction to the state of warfare at the time and the evolution of warfare to that point.
Thutmose led his army out of Egypt into what is now Israel to establish (or
reestablish) control over the Levant. In opposition were several Canaanite
kingdoms under the leadership of the king of Kadesh. When the pharaoh’s army
learned that the Canaanites were massed near Megiddo, aides urged caution, lest
they be attacked while deployed in column along the road of approach. Thutmose
ignored their advice and put himself at the head of the advancing column. Once
in the Qina Valley, the army was deployed across its breadth. The pharaoh
paused, however, delaying the attack against Megiddo until the next day.
At dawn the pharaoh deployed his battle line of chariots in the valley, with his
own chariot in the center. Historians estimate he had at least 1000 chariots,
which could have extended two miles if deployed in a single rank. It is presumed
that the Canaanites charged out with their own chariots but nothing is known of
the engagement. The inscriptions report that the Canaanite army broke and fled
back to Megiddo. Chariot crews were lifted back into the city over the walls by
ropes after the city gates were shut. Thutmose built a fort outside the city and
besieged the town.
Megiddo surrendered after seven months of starvation. The military booty from
the battle and siege was over 350 living prisoners, 900 chariots (two partially
made of gold), two fine suits of bronze mail armor belonging to leaders, 200
leather coats of armor, over 2000 horses, and 502 bows.
The Egyptians were able to march an army very quickly into hostile territory
(150 miles from the Nile delta border to Gaza in 9 days) and keep themselves
supplied throughout a seven-month siege. This implies a sophisticated system of
supply, supplemented probably by local sources. The army consisted of an
estimated 1000 chariots (2000 horses minimum) and a contingent of infantry that
must have carried out the siege. The existence of so many chariots would require
an advanced industry for making them, plus a system for obtaining and training
horses. The deployment and attack of chariots required training in battlefield
maneuvers. The battle itself was a chariot engagement. All of the captured war
booty is chariot equipment.
The chariots were probably used as mobile platforms for composite bow archers.
The composite bow was more powerful than the simple bow but much more difficult
to construct. Use of the composite bow was an additional indication of an
advanced weapons manufacturing capability.
It is clear from the pharaoh’s accounts that military affairs had advanced
significantly by the time of this first recorded battle. We see already evidence
of logistics, leadership, strategy, battle tactics, the military/industrial
complex, and weapons technology.