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Egyptian military campaigns - 19th Dynasty

Seti I

Seti I, founder of the 19th dynasty, campaigned through parts of Canaan in his first year of rule. This was in response to two pieces of news: Shasu (Sutu or bedouin) tribes from the southern parts of transJordan (Biblical Moab or Edom) had entered the Sinai and parts of the Negev and were threatening the trade routes to Asia, and the towns of Beth-shean and Rehob were under attack from Pella and Hamath. The unrest may well be seen as a continuation of the general swell of disobedience and disturbance following the Amarna period.

These two threats were countered relatively easily, after which Seti continued northwards along the coast past Tyre, Sidon and Byblos to Amurru. The details of his actions there are obscure and may be combined with those of a subsequent campaign directed more specifically against the Hittites.

Rameses II

Route march map - Rameses 2 and Shoshenk 1 - boustrephedon interpretation Rameses II conducted a campaign through Judah into Moab and Ammon during the early part of his reign. Often stated as taking place in his year 7-8, current thinking places it slightly later but not in any certain year - probably between 10 and 20. The description can be found in relief work at various sites including Karnak. After capturing Gaza, he sent a detachment towards the Negev to drive the Shosu east and out of Canaan (I). His senior prince Amen-hir-khopshef led his forces through the Negev hills, south of the Dead Sea through Edom-Seir, then north through Moab to reach Butatu (II). Rameses himself took his forces into Judah, plundered Shalem (Jerusalem) and crossed the river Jordan near Jericho before swinging south through Ammon to Dibon (III). The two forces then recombined at the Arnon stream.

Although Rameses II campaigned north through Canaan most years in his first decade of rule, almost all of these followed the coastal road to Phoenicia before striking into Amurru, and so are not pertinent to the main area of Israelite control. At about the same time as the attack on Moab and Ammon, probably in his year 8/9, he also campaigned around Megiddo into the Galilee area (marked IV on the chart).

In conventional terms, these campaigns were within the Judges era. Neither Jerusalem nor Megiddo were under Israelite control until the monarchy period, and so these campaigns would have little effect on the slowly-emerging Israelite nation.

In the New Chronology, these two campaigns occur in the early years of the divided monarchy, during the reigns of Rehoboam (Judah, south) and Jeroboam (Israel, north). Each of the two parts of the nation would have been adversely affected. Jeroboam is said to have taken refuge with Shishak during Solomon's reign so the purpose of the northern campaign, directed against Jeroboam's land, is unclear. This is of course true regardless of who is identified as Shishak, and is perhaps best interpreted as a show of strength and reminder of loyalty owed.

There are New Chronology claims that Shoshenk's campaign provides a poorer fit than Rameses' to the account in 2 Chronicles 12 and 1 Kings 14, because of the focus around the northern parts of the country. However, this is not strictly accurate. Rameses also campaigned around Megiddo, and Shoshenk devoted considerable effort to the southern regions of the Negev and hill country towards Hebron. If Shoshenk's list is considerably inflated by borrowing from earlier Egyptian campaign descriptions, then the apparent better fit of the Rameses campaign may be illusory.


Merenptah took the Egyptian throne after the death of Rameses 2, but was himself at least 60 years old. He acted swiftly to ensure that potential adversaries were not able to take advantage of the situation, and sent a military expedition into Canaan in either his first or second year, led probably by the crown prince who was later to rule as Seti 2. The campaign is alluded to in poetic form on the Merenptah or Israel stela, which provides the first nonBiblical use of the word Israel (a companion page discusses the evaluation of the stela from a comparative perspective between conventional and New chronologies). However, the great majority of this stela deals with Libyan campaigning, and fighting in Canaan is only addressed in the last few lines.

Merenptah captured Ashkelon and Gezer, apparently defeated Israel in some manner - with no reference to a city being attacked or captured, so probably in the hill country - and also refers to desolating Yanoam, a town in the Galilee area.

During his reign Merenptah also established three main fortified centres - on a ridge north-west of Jerusalem at Lifta, on the coast between Mt Carmel and Tyre (probably at Selaim), and on the river Beqa'a between Damascus and Beirut at Kumidi. Royal messengers linked these three with the border region between the Nile Delta and Sinai. Another centre, called the "Wells of Merenptah" is often located inland from Gezer. It has been suggested that this name is the same as (Me)Nephtoah of Josh. 15:9 and 18:15, though the connection is somewhat tenuous.

General chronology