The power of the kings of the Middle Kingdom have been failing for some time, having lost control of the Nile Delta to a series of Canaanite kings who ruled from the northern city of Avaris.
Into this mix came the Kings of Amurri, Lebanon and Syria bent on subduing the whole of Egypt. These kings were known as the Hyksos, and they dealt a devastating blow to the peoples of the Nile Delta and Valley.
War breaks out between the Hyksos invaders and native Egyptians determined to rid themselves of their presence. King Seqenenre Tao launches an attack on King Apophis but the Hyksos strike back savagely. It is only when his sons Kamose and Ahmose carry the war to the Hyksos that the Egyptians really start to hope they can succeed.
Kamose battles fiercely, but only when his younger brother Ahmose assumes the throne is there real success. Faced with an ignominious defeat, a Hyksos general overthrows Apophis and becomes king, but then he faces a resurgent Egyptian king determined to rid his land of the Hyksos invader…
Genre: Historical: Ancient Egypt Word Count: 132, 996
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Sand and dust picked up by the strong westerly wind stung the watcher’s face. Grains worked their way through the fine linen cloth bound about his mouth and nostrils, making him cough and lift the cloth from time to time to spit. He blinked repeatedly, using one hand to shelter his eyes, but continued to stare down onto the plain from his vantage point on a low hill.
“The sand will be troubling them as much as us, father.”
The watcher glanced at the man standing muffled beside him. “I am counting on it.” He gestured toward a body of men moving slowly southward in the sandstorm, their banners whipped to shreds in the abrasive blast. “How many are they?”
The younger man grimaced and brushed the dust away from his eyes. “A hundred foot soldiers? Two? Maybe fifty chariots.”
The watcher nodded. “Very good, Commander Nebmaatre. And our forces?”
“One hundred and twenty chariots, Son of Re.”
“More than enough, Son of Re. We shall trample them into the dust.”
“That was my thought. Let us gather our men and do so.”
“Should we not wait for the storm to pass, father? It will be difficult to fight in this.”
“Didn’t you say the sand would trouble them as much as us? I will not wait, for all Kemet cries out to be liberated from these heqa khasut. Come, it is time.”
The two men scrambled down the side of the hillock, relieved to be out of the stinging blast of the storm, even if only for a few moments. Men saluted them as they approached the two chariot squadrons sheltering at the base of the hill, and the officers among them crowded close, the conditions allowing a proximity to the king that would normally be discouraged.
“We attack,” Nebmaatre told them. “No more than two hundred men and fifty chariots. They cannot stand before us, and their deaths will signal the first of many victories for Senakhtenre Ahmose over the accursed Amurrans.”
The men within earshot cheered, though the wind swept away their voices. Prince Nebmaatre rapped out orders and the men ran to their chariots and mounted up, waiting for the signal to advance. Ahmose and Nebmaatre took their positions at the head of the two small squadrons, and urged their teams forward. The squadrons passed round each side of the hill and started across the plain toward the enemy.
“Keep close order,” the king yelled. “Do not breach the line.”
The storm whipped away his words and each charioteer urged his own chariot onward, wanting to close with the enemy, and the squadron rapidly lost cohesion. Nebmaatre’s squadron was experiencing similar difficulties and rather than two solid lines of chariots bearing down on the enemy, the charge disintegrated into a rabble of chariots. The squadrons were still a formidable force, however, and cries of alarm rang out from the marching Amurrans as they spied the Kemetu squadrons emerging from the blinding sandstorm.
The Amurran chariots turned ponderously to face the danger, while the marching men scurried to achieve some semblance of order in the face of impending death. Arrows were nearly useless in the conditions, but most were armed with spears, shields and axes. They formed up in rough lines, grounding the base of their spears in the soil and hoisting their shields.
Ahmose was no longer in the lead when his squadron crashed into the Amurran line, his initially tight formation unravelling and colliding piecemeal instead of as a concerted blow. The chariots broke through, smashing screaming men aside or trampling them under hooves and wheels, but the soldiers scrambled to reform and attacked the Kemetu chariots with axes as they poured through the line. Spears had taken their toll too. Several horses were impaled and added to the confusion, rearing and stumbling, screaming in agony, the men in their chariots thrown to the ground where they died beneath spear blade and axe.
Nebmaatre’s ragged squadron met the Amurran chariots, but as the Amurrans were still in relative cohesion, they suffered less damage, and the sturdier build of their chariots offered some protection. The howling wind and blasts of sand interfered with both forces and after some ineffectual fighting, they were forced apart. Arrows proved almost useless in the storm, and as Nebmaatre withdrew, the Amurrans followed, preventing him from coming to the assistance of his father. His squadron fell apart into individual chariot manoeuvres, where neither side could gain the ascendancy.
The Amurrans surrounded Ahmose’s squadron, hacking and stabbing, and the initial advantage his charge had given the Kemetu, now dissipated. Unable to see his son’s squadron through the murky air, he believed him to have not pushed home the attack and ordered the rams’ horns sound, calling him to the battle. The wind whipped the sound away and Ahmose scowled.
“Sound a withdrawal,” he ordered.
Again the horn sounded, but only those close by heard the signal. Others saw the king withdrawing and disengaged from battle as best they could, and followed. The Amurrans saw them withdraw, and let them. They were too thankful to see the enemy leave to worry about pursuing them. Ahmose sought shelter in the lea of the hillock once more to gauge his losses, and worried that his son’s squadron was not there. He climbed to the top of the rise once more, and saw the Amurrans retreating to the north, but there was no sign of Nebmaatre or his chariots. Returning to his men, he ordered a slow withdrawal in the direction of Waset.
The sandstorm blew itself out the next day, and it was only then that Ahmose could take stock of his losses. Nearly a quarter of his chariots were lost, either because of damage to their structure or because of the death of horses and men. Nebmaatre’s squadron turned up, and though they had lost fewer men and chariots, it was disheartening to see how depleted the squadrons were after what was only a simple skirmish.
The king was in a foul mood when he convened his Council the next day, but was determined to put a good face on the situation.
“It was a victory,” he declared.
“Does that mean you know how many of the enemy you destroyed, father?” Prince Tao said.
“It does not matter how many,” Ahmose said stiffly. “The Amurrans retreated.”
“It is my understanding that you had to withdraw also, father, after losing twenty chariots and thirty men.”
“That is enough, Tao. You were not there.”
“Nebmaatre was, though. What do you say, brother?”
“I say that father is right,” Nebmaatre said. “We won a victory today; the first of many that will lead to the liberation of all Kemet.”
The other Councillors nodded sagely or murmured their agreement, but Tao sneered. “You are all blind to reality. At last we have a king who is prepared to fight the Amurrans, and you immediately assume the fight is over.” He turned from the other men and stood facing the king, a determined expression on his face. “Father, you know I love and respect you, but I must stand up to you on this. We gain nothing by pretending to have won when, at the very best, we have achieved a draw.”
“You are very outspoken for a man who has not faced the enemy on the battlefield,” Ahmose said.
“You denied me that privilege, father, while granting it to my brother…”
“I am the heir,” Nebmaatre interjected. “It is my right to stand beside the king.”
“Peace, brother,” Tao said, holding up a hand. “I have no argument with you or our father. We all have limited experience with warfare, having been at peace for nearly a generation. I only urge caution when it comes to claiming an ascendancy over our enemies.”
“Do you deny I inflicted a defeat on the enemy?”
“Regretfully, father, yes, I do,” Tao replied, earning himself hisses of disapproval from the other Councillors. He shrugged. “I am willing to be proved wrong, but what evidence is there that we inflicted this defeat? We lost twenty chariots; how many did the enemy lose? We lost thirty men; what were the enemy casualties?”
“How can we know that?” Nebmaatre asked. “The sandstorm prevented us finding out.”
“And of course, we did not stay on the field of battle to find out after the storm passed.”
“The enemy withdrew,” Ahmose said, glowering at his younger son.
“As did we,” Tao reminded him. “If neither army claims the field of battle, then who has won?”
Ahmose stared at his son, anger written on his face, but he forced back biting words and smiled. “What then, learned one, would you have done differently? How would you have snatched a victory from this encounter?”
Tao flushed at the sarcasm in his father’s voice. “I do not pretend expertise in these matters, Son of Re,” he said, “but I have talked to men who were there, and it seems to me that things could have been handled better.”
“Please enlighten us,” Ahmose said softly.
“We are not disciplined enough,” Tao said. “An attack by our foot soldiers sees them charge forward in a mass, without regard for tactics.”
“One could say that they show an enthusiasm in confronting the enemy,” Nebmaatre said. “That is no bad thing.”
“I do not think badly of our men for their desire to fight, but rather in how they are managed. Our officers seem to have limited control over their men. They command them to attack, or they order a withdrawal, and that is about all they do. Where is the control that enables a king or commander to vary their tactics within a battle?”
Commander Ptahmose, one of the King’s Council, raised an objection. “My lord Prince, it is difficult for a commander to make his desires known to the soldiers above the din of battle. We use rams’ horns, of course, and banners, but not always successfully.”
Tao frowned, thinking hard. “Perhaps we need more officers…”
“We have plenty of officers,” Nebmaatre said. “That is not the problem. It is getting the men to pay heed to the orders.”
“Then have officers closer to the men. If you had an officer responsible for say, ten men, and above him an officer whose responsibility was to convey orders to ten of those lower officers…he would effectively command a hundred men. That would be enough to alter the course of a skirmish, and if you needed more men, then place another tier of officers above them.”
“I don’t see how that will help,” Nebmaatre complained.
“I cannot be certain either, without trying it out,” Tao said. “But it seems reasonable to me. Look, imaging Ptahmose here has an army of a thousand men. He has ten officers beneath him…call them captains…each of them controls a hundred men and has ten lower officers…call them ‘Tenners’…each with ten men under him. Now, in a battle, the ten captains look to Commander Ptahmose for instruction…”
“They cannot all be looking at me rather than at their men,” Ptahmose objected.
“So we have a few men, fleet of foot, whose sole duty is to carry commands to the captains. They in turn send instructions to their…what did I call them? Tenners? That way, the commander can order men around by the hundred or by the ten, depending on his need.”
“It sounds unnecessarily complex,” Commander Djedhor said. “Things are chaotic enough in a battle without having men running hither and thither carrying additional instructions.”
“How would it work with chariots?” Commander Setau asked.
“I don’t know,” Tao admitted, “but perhaps you could still have swift chariots to carry messages.”
“Or just plain discipline,” Commander Panhesy said. “From what I have heard, the initial intent of the chariot charge was to advance in line abreast so that the entire enemy line was hit at once. Instead, the line lost cohesion and engaged the enemy piecemeal.”
“That was because of the sandstorm,” Nebmaatre said.
“Maybe, but if the squadrons were trained in specific manoeuvres, that should hold up in a storm.”
Voices were raised as the commanders put forward other objections, or gave their support for one or other of the princes. Ahmose listened to them all, and as the arguments grew bitter, called for silence.
“I have heard many good arguments voiced here today, and others that were not. What my son Tao proposes is a completely different way of organising our army, but such a change will take time to implement, even if it was deemed advisable, and the enemy may not allow us the necessary time…”
“So we do nothing?” Tao interrupted.
Nebmaatre smirked at his brother’s breach of protocol, and the king glared at him. Ahmose’s reply was calm though.
“I agree that our army must be the best we can arrange,” the king said. “It may be that some reorganisation is needed, but that is not something for the whole Council. I will set three members the task of quickly discussing what things might benefit us most, and implementing them under one commander.” He looked at his commanders thoughtfully. “Commander Ptahmose, your men will be experimented upon. My son Tao and Commander Hornakht will work with you on this.”
The Amurran force that limped home after the attack also came in for some criticism from its commanders. Aliyan, the general in charge of the southern army, at least until King Apophis took over, was also the governor of Ankh-Tawy. He had various small groups of men scouting the land south of Henen-nesut on both the western and eastern banks of the river, and it was one of these that Ahmose attacked.
“What happened?” Aliyan demanded of Captain Artuk, who had led the scouting party. “You had two hundred men and chariots besides, yet you were attacked by a smaller force of Kemetu.”
“I dispute it was a smaller force, sir,” Artuk replied. He rubbed at one reddened and swollen eye. “Three hundred chariots, at least. Maybe more. And there was a sandstorm.”
Aliyan glanced at his son Zuma, standing to one side, before returning his attention to the captain. “No more than fifty of the enemy attacked your foot soldiers,” Aliyan said. “Do you mean to tell me that your fifty chariots held off five times that number of theirs?”
“My men fought well, sir. At least fifty of their chariots were destroyed, and many horses and men. I counted at least fifty dead men.”
“So you claim this as a victory?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
Aliyan looked at the captain for several minutes, until the man squirmed beneath his gaze. The governor suspected the skirmish had been less a victory and more a stalemate, but he lacked evidence with which to confront Artuk.
“Very well, dismissed. Return to your unit and make sure it is ready for action.”
Artuk saluted and left, leaving Aliyan to consider Artuk’s report and compare it to others received from other scouting parties.
“He is lying,” Zuma commented. “Or at the very least inflating the figures.”
“That was my thought too.”
“You will punish him then? Or at least reprimand him?”
“For what? He claims a victory against the Kemetu. That is just what the army needs at the start of the final war. The king’s men have experience in the north, but most of the southern army have faced nothing more strenuous or dangerous than patrols or keeping the peace these last ten or fifteen years. If they are to fight and conquer Kemet, they need to believe they can do it. Artuk has just shown they can.”
“Even if he did not?” Zuma asked.
“It is a plausible fiction if nothing else.”
“Give me a command, father, and I will give you a real victory.”
Aliyan smiled. “You will have your chance soon enough, my son, and not just to lead a scouting party. When the war starts in earnest, I will make you one of my commanders.”
“Will it start soon?” Zuma asked. “Apophis announced the start of it two or three years ago, but we have seen nothing happen.”
“War takes time,” Aliyan said. “Remember we in the south have effectively been at peace for twenty years. You cannot just take a peace-time army and put them on a war footing overnight.”
“But three years, father?”
Aliyan nodded. “Things have been happening, though perhaps you were unaware of them. When the Kemetu king Ahmose came to the throne, it created unrest in many cities all the way up into the delta lands. Governors in those cities have been putting down incipient rebellion as well as raising levies for the king. We are nearly ready, which is just as well, as Apophis grows impatient.”
“And old,” Zuma said. “He is sixty years and one has to wonder if he is too old to lead an army. Perhaps Apepi should be doing that. He is the heir, after all.”
“Too old, you say? I am seventy-six and still in command of my faculties. Would you say I am incapable of governing Ankh-Tawy or leading the southern army?”
“Never let that be said, father, though I would gladly lead the army in your name.”
“You are but a puppy,” Aliyan said fondly. “You will have your chance at fame and advancement, never fear.”
“What of Apepi?”
“Apepi will do as his father bids. At the moment he resides in Amurru, and whether he will come south to join in the war has not been revealed to me.”
“He will not like that.”
“What he likes is neither here nor there; he will do as his father dictates.”
Apepi had been busy in Amurru. Left there when his father concluded the war of retribution against the Hurrians, he had applied himself to learning lessons of governance. Using his position as the king’s son, he took charge of the northern cities and provinces, ridding himself of any man who showed the slightest disagreement with the policies of Apophis. The only thing he regretted about his northern sojourn was missing the war against Kemet. The south was where reputations would be made, and to be stuck in Amurru while others earned fame and wealth was irksome.
Not that everything in the north annoyed him. Apepi was a young man of twenty-one with all of a young man’s appetites. Being in a position of power, he had the opportunity to slake his lust whenever his urges got the better of him, and over the last few years had fathered a number of children, none of whom he recognised. Children were a familiar if unlooked-for consequence of his recreation, but he felt he owed them nothing. An heir to the greatest empire on earth could not encumber himself with the claims of children born to women of low status. He was willing to recognise only the children that he fathered on a woman of high status, one worthy to be the mother of a future king.
Pashta was that woman. She was a daughter of Eridad, who in another time might have been a king of Ugarit. Apepi visited Ugarit and saw Pashta at a feast her father gave in honour of the heir of Apophis, and encouraged Apepi to spend time in her company. It was all very proper, as befitted men and women of their station, but Pashta was beautiful and Apepi hungered after her. She was willing, and her father could see the advantage of being related to the kings of Amurru–it was entirely possible that his grandson could be a future Great King. The marriage was arranged and took place amid great celebration and pageantry, both sides making the most of the union. Even Apophis in far-off Avaris did not object when he heard of the match, for Eridad of Ugarit was a rich and powerful nobleman, and it was better to have such a man within the family than as a possible future contender for the throne.
Pashta gave birth to a child in due course, but it was a daughter, which profoundly disappointed both Apepi and Eridad. A daughter was useful for creating ties with another family or kingdom, but only a son would succeed his father on the throne. Apepi’s chagrin was felt all the more keenly when he heard that his sister Herit, in distant Avaris, had produced a son, Abdi. Not only was it annoying that she had given birth to a son while all he could do was engender a girl, but also that Abdi was descended from kings on both sides. It was entirely possible that a son of the Kemetu king Sobekemsaf and grandson of Apophis might lay claim to the throne of Amurru in the future, and Apepi vowed that would never happen. He, Apepi, was a grown man and heir to Amurru, and a lot could happen before Abdi even came close to maturity.
The existence of his sister’s son made Apepi think though, and he knew it was important that he be in the south. Kemet was where things were happening, and if he were to make a name for himself, he would have to journey to Avaris, to Ankh-Tawy, and beyond. He would write to his father immediately and petition him for the right to join him as he waged war against the Kemetu.