Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Carchemish

605 B.C.

The opponents

Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC)

Second king of the Neo-Babylonian empire, succeeded his father Nabopolassar during the campaign against the Assyrians and brought the state to the maximum power. He distinguished himself as a brave general, defeating the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish (605). Ascended the throne, continued the campaigns of war against the West, subjecting Palestine and conquered Jerusalem in 586. On the other hand, with a clever policy of friendship towards the Medes, whose daughter married a king, he secured the peace on eastern borders. With regard to domestic policy, he became famous for a series of architectural works, he built a monumental defense system around Babylon, raised a magnificent palace, built or rebuilt temples, adorning the city with precious gifts. The inscriptions of the time are mostly dedicated to his works in peace, in accordance with the tradition of the Babylonian kings.


Pharaoh of Egypt, reigned 609-595 a.C. His reign was characterized by a burning fight against the Babylonian power for control of Syria and Palestine. At the Battle of Megiddo, he beat the king Josias of Judea, to whom just success his son Ioachim. But in the 605 he was in turn defeated in Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar II, and after this defeat was forced to cede Syria. For his initiative, Phoenician mariners had done the circumnavigation of Africa, and to him is also given a plan for communicating the Nile with the Red Sea.

The genesis

When the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was invaded by the Babylonians in 612 BC, the Assyrians moved their capital to Harran. But when even Harran was captured by the Babylonians in 610 BC, the capital was moved again, this time at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and the Assyrian king Ashur-uballit II required the help of his ally, the powerful Egypt, which army began in 609 BC, the march to aid him against the Babylonians.

The march of the Egyptian army under the command of Pharaoh Necho II at Megiddo, however, was delayed by the forces of King Josiah of Judah. Josiah was killed and his army was defeated. The corpse of Josiah was delivered to Jerusalem and immediately buried according to the customs of the kings of Judah, near the tomb of King David. But his sacrifice was not in vain. The allied forces in Egypt had probably lost the human resources that would prove decisive in the battle against the main enemy: the Babylonian army that already pressed the Assyrians in front of their "new" capital.

The battle

The sources do not report the exact numbers and dynamics of the conflict. We just know that, a part of the Allied forces of Egypt had been lost in the clash with Josiah at Megiddo, and the Assyrians had long been outnumbered (having regard to the loss of Nineveh and Harran). The Babylonians also not deployed up the whole military force at their disposal in Carchemish. We know for certain, from the chronicles, that Nabopolassar sent his son Nebuchadnezzar with a "great army" to the west of Harran, towards the future place of the battle.

The Babylonian king was accompanied by his son throughout all his campaign, and on the field he had realized his son's skills as a leader. This qualities will be even more obvious at the time of his accession to the throne. But at Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar could not rely on a great numerical advantage, since the arrival of the Egyptians, he have to refer on other deciding factors. The morale of his troops was definitely having regard to the high number of victories they came from, the knowledge of the tactics and the nature of part of the Assyrian army ally (the Assyrians had ruled over Babylon for a significant period), and finally the most important, numerically speaking, mercenary component of the Egyptian army, on which it could count for the professionalism, but not for the extreme resistance.

The battle, as described in the chronicle of Nebuchadnezzar, now preserved in the British Museum, shows that Nebuchadnezzar himself took the enemy by surprise by attacking quickly from west: "after crossing the Euphrates River, he attacked the Egyptian army that was in Karchemis". The battle was bloody and were the men of Neco to give up to for first and retire from the field. Their hasty escape led to a great massacre, as reported in the same chronicle: "the rest of the Egyptian army had escaped from the defeat so quickly to not bring any weapons, so, when they were joined by the Babylonians to Hamath they were again defeated, but this time in such a way that not a single man was able to return to his country. Later, Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of Hamath".

The battle of Carchemish is also mentioned and described in the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah.

The aftermath

Nebuchadnezzar, after the victory at Carchemish, succeeded to the throne and founded an empire stretching from Egypt to Persia, through Palestine and Syria, from Lydia (Asia Minor) to the Persian Gulf. He control Media, as husband of the daughter of the king Ciassarre and, as a guarantor of a peace agreement between this latter and Lydia, even the same Lydia was under his control. This kingdom will be rich and famous for its culture and science. Moreover, the Babylonian king did not subjected the conquered peoples, but left to the local kings to control the people and their customs and traditions.