Friday, May 09, 2008

Today In History: Armageddon.

Thutmose III was a Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt. He ascended to the throne as a very young boy. Unfortunately, Hatshepsut was his co-Pharaoh. Also, his aunt and bummer of a stepmom, plus she was ambitious, shrewd, and smart as a whip. In other words, she wore a fake beard and ran the country while young Thutmose sulked in the wings.

To make matters worse, young Thutty Trey was hardly allowed to do anything fun. Aunt Hattie had silly notions about running a kingdom based on trade, diplomacy, skullduggery, and exploration, instead of the way young Thutmose wanted, which mostly involved galloping around in chariots and killing barbarians. One can imagine that this caused some sniggering among his friends: "Hey, Thut! C'mon and lets take a couple of chariot squadrons and go shoot up some Libyans."
"Nah. Can't. Mom won't let me play with the army. She says wars of expansion cost too much money."

In due time, however, Hatshepsut went the way of all flesh. With the old battleaxe gone, Egypt's vassals and client states in Canaan wasted no time in telling the Kingdom of the Nile to take their tribute demands and go piss up a rope, figuring that the boy who had spent the last twenty years as Junior King-In-Training in his stepmom's shadow would aquiesce meekly.

Seeing the chance he'd been waiting for all his life, Thutmose wrote back "Yeah. Me and my army, that's who." Coalescing around the king of the oasis city of Kadesh, the Canaanites challenged the Egyptians to battle on the plain in front of the walled city of Megiddo.

Thut mustered the Egyptian army, which consisted of three crack corps of charioteers and a mob of men good for not much other than standing around the baggage train with spears and who could be called "infantry" only in the sense that they were armed and on foot, and set off for Megiddo at the (for the time) breakneck pace of fifteen miles a day. They reached the last pass before the fortified city and made camp, and the next morning, May 9th, 1457 BC, Thutty Trey deployed his three chariot corps in an L-shaped formation, two to the west and one to the south of the city, leaving his spear-carriers to guard the camp.

The Canaanites had drawn up their chariot forces along the top of a shallow rise along the edge of the elevated plain and behind a shallow stream to await the Egyptian attack. For some unknown reason, as the Egyptians advanced, the rebels abandoned their positions and rolled forward to meet them, and their chariots were scattered by the onrushing Egyptians. Unit cohesion couldn't have been too good amongst the Canaanite charioteers, since their force was allegedly combined from the retinues of over three hundred princelings and chieftains. For whatever reason, they rushed back towards Megiddo, where they had left their own mob of footsoldiers.

Seeing their social betters in headlong flight before the enemy, the Canaanite footsloggers understandably panicked and slammed the city's gates right in their retreating faces. Their charioteers were forced to abandon their vehicles and be hauled over the town walls on ropes and bedsheets. Fortunately for them, the Egyptian advance had turned into a disorganized mob, looting the abandoned war cars after the owners had bailed. The city fell after a lengthy siege, and Thutmose went home feeling more manly than he ever had before.

This is the first actual organized battle in history for which we have any records with which to fix it in time and place, and therefore it marks the dawn of military history. One reason the records we do have are so sketchy is that they all come from the Egyptians, and if they are taken literally, one would think that Thutty himself wiped out most of the foe while his army gaped in slack-jawed wonder at their leader's prowess. Thus the battle of Megiddo also marks the dawn of military propaganda.

And what of our hero, young Thutmose III? Well, he set about spending the rest of his reign occupied with one glorious military campaign after another, whooping about the ancient Near East in his chariot, killing barbarians. And tearing down every statue of Hatshepsut he could find.


Vinnie said...

You need:

I think amazon has it, if you don't already.

ibex said...

I wish I'd had you as my history teacher.

angus lincoln said...

I love a good bedtime story, thanks!

Ed Foster said...

Actually, 15 miles a day was pretty much standard up until the Romans. That's as far as you can push cattle in a day without turning them into inedible skin and bones.
It's called the 2 pound rule. You can't load a soldier up with half his own weight in impedimenta and march him all day without feeding him 2 pounds of meat per diem, a figure that stood the test until trains and canned bully beef appeared in the American Civil War.
The Romans got around it by overrunning every source of salt production from Saudi Arabia and Austria to Portugal and Yorkshire. Without salt you die.
Want some? Sell meat to the Roman soldiers. Half a Roman's pay while in the field was in salt, so he could buy his own meat and booze. This "Salarius" was the origin of our word salary.
You might not like the buggers, but trading with them was better than dieing, and you also got rich reselling the white stuff to tribes farther away from the Roman road network.

Tam said...

That is correct.

jed said...


You ever considered writing the condensed history of the world? I'm sure it'd be way more fun to read than "Ancient Times" (James Henry Breasted, 1916, which was, I'm not kidding, the text used for my freshman history class in 1974-75).

The professor was bullish on enunciation, and I can still hear him over-emphasizing the names of the various Pharoahs, and other characters. And I wish I remembered more of what I learned in that class -- Ur of the Chaldees, and all that other stuff.