I traveled from the town of Haifa in the northern region of Israel, embarking on a southeastern journey towards the inland. The terrain gradually ascended from the relatively lush plains along the seaside, and the verdant trees began to disperse. The encompassing low hills consisted solely of yellow-brown rocks and sand. As far as the eye could perceive, the climate grew increasingly arid. Nevertheless, it merely required half an hour and approximately 30 kilometers to reach Megiddo, the legendary inaugural and ultimate battleground in the annals of human history.
The Genesis of the Initial and Ultimate Battlefields
War predates the advent of recorded history, conceivably even predating humanity itself, rendering any pursuit of tracing primitive man’s initial conflicts futile. Nonetheless, the earliest recorded battle in world history, replete with meticulous accounts of time, location, and the number of participating soldiers, was the northern incursion led by Thutmose III, the pharaoh of Ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, into various parts of Canaan—the Battle of Megiddo. The battle took place in present-day Megiddo, located within the interior of northern Israel. The precise date of the battle is indelibly inscribed on the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak: “The 3rd season of the 23rd year of the reign of Pharaoh (Thutmose), the 23rd of the first month.” As ancient Egypt possessed a comprehensive record of its pharaohs, this date was definitively confirmed as April 16, 1457 BC.
The inaugural chapter of British military scholar Fuller’s authoritative opus, “Military History of the Western World,” commences with the Battle of Megiddo. Conversely, the earliest conflict in Chinese history with a relatively certain chronology and locale was the Battle of Muye, wherein King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty vanquished the Shang Dynasty. Historical texts document a unique astronomical phenomenon preceding the battle, allowing for an estimation of its occurrence around 1046 BC. In truth, the Battle of Mingtiao, wherein Shang Tang overthrew the Xia Dynasty, predates the Battle of Megiddo, but its precise chronology remains elusive, with only a vague estimation placing it in the 16th century BC. Consequently, the Battle of Megiddo’s status as the initial clash can be definitively ascertained. Yet, the origin of the moniker “Last Fight” warrants exploration.
Naturally, humankind lacks the capacity to foretell the conclusion of its historical trajectory. The so-called “last war” exists solely within the realm of religious beliefs. The final chapter of the “Bible New Testament,” the “Revelation,” depicts the apocalypse, which Christians envision as the culmination of human existence: A confrontation of forces will transpire at “Armageddon,” where the army of Christ shall engage in the ultimate battle between good and evil. In this definitive clash, Christ shall emerge triumphant, heralding God’s final judgment upon humanity. The term “Armageddon” derives from the ancient Greek word for Megiddo.
Contemporary Megiddo stands atop a hill, surpassing the surrounding plains by approximately 30 meters. The archaeological remains of the ancient city grace its summit, commanding a vantage point amidst the encompassing expanse.
In truth, the hill itself is not a natural formation but an artificial mound created by successive generations of settlers who continously constructed cities at the same location throughout antiquity to the present day. The parking lot rests at the foot of the hill, while stone steps ascend to its apex. Numerous ruins adorn the hill, including visible mounds of city walls, and several tunnels grant passage to observe the scattered bricks and tiles within. The entire mound constitutes a vast archaeological excavation site, bereft of substantial vegetation. During my visit in the cool month of December, one can imagine the scorching heat that prevails under the summer sun.
Thutmose III: The Ancient Egyptian Napoleon
Directly north of the ruins of Megiddo, in proximity to the hill’s base, one encounters dense forests and clusters of dwellings that form a village. This Israeli village is a kibbutz bearing the same name as this ancient city. Within the verdant environs of the kibbutz, cash crops flourish. Further southward, beyond the hills, lie distant mountains, concealed from my current vantage point. These mountains constitute a narrow valley, stretching 20 kilometers in length, known as Wadi Ara—an appellation derived from the local language, signifying “canyon.” According to accounts, the terrain proved perilous, permitting the passage of a mere military vehicle through the narrowest point in ancient times. This canyon veers south and subsequently southwest, leading to the coastal plain. Southward from the plain lies the revered city of Jerusalem, extending further through the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.
In antiquity, this thoroughfare served as the sole trade route connecting the two ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotam.
Meridian Valley of Thutmose
Not long after the 24-year-old Pharaoh Thutmose III came into power, the city-states of Canaan and Mesopotamia in the northern territory of the empire conspired to take advantage of the iteration of the Egyptian court’s regime to start an uprising in an attempt to resist and break away from the rule of the Egyptian empire. Thutmose III led the army north to quell the rebellion, exited Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, crossed Israel, and marched along the traditional trade route from southwest to northeast. Dozens of rebellious city-states formed a coalition, headed by the lord of Kadesh (located in today’s Syria). The coalition forces went south to resist the city of Megiddo and block the Wadi Ara Gap. The two armies faced each other, and the Battle of Megiddo began.
The terrain of Megiddo today has not changed much from the terrain of the battlefield in the spring of 1457 BC. According to Egyptian temple records, there were two main roads, one north and one south, from the flat area west of the city of Megiddo. Now Israel has built a traffic artery, Route 65, in the canyon of the third road. In 1457 BC, Thutmose’s march route was from the southwest to the north. If he had chosen two very flat roads in the north and south to march, his enemies would have blocked them heavily on these two roads, and the third in the canyon The three roads are too narrow and cannot be opened by one man and ten thousand others. If the large troops encounter an ambush here, they will be trapped. Therefore, the coalition forces have no defenses on this road. So Thutmose, who was leading an army for the first time at the age of 25, decided to send out surprise troops and attack the city of Megiddo directly through the valley paths. If we apply an allusion from “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, Wei Yan once suggested to Zhuge Liang that he send out surprise troops to attack Cao Wei’s rear through Ziwu Valley. The cautious Zhuge Liang did not adopt it because of the dangerous terrain of Wu Valley. This canyon is the Meridian Valley of Thutmose.
At the military meeting before the war, the Egyptian generals indeed suggested that the Pharaoh march by the main road. But the young Thutmose III showed his adventurous and extremely stubborn nature, insisting on taking the risk and marching through the canyon against all opinions. Historical records do not say whether the Egyptian army conducted pre-war reconnaissance of the canyon at that time. Even if the pre-war intelligence showed that the canyon was undefended, it would have required considerable courage and confidence to personally lead the troops into the Jedi without listening to the advice of all subordinates. In “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, Zhuge Liang during the first Northern Expedition could not bet his entire army. Thutmose III, who was 1,700 years earlier than Zhuge Liang, made a decision and adopted the desperate Ziwu Valley conspiracy, and the bet was successful: Egypt The army marched from the Jedi, attacked the coalition forces on the plains outside Megiddo from behind, and won a complete victory. Then they pursued the defeated soldiers who fled the battlefield to the city. At this time, the city of Megiddo lost the main force defending the city. Although it had a condescending geographical advantage, it was no longer interested in fighting. Egypt forced the city of Megiddo to surrender after a short siege. After this battle, all the rebellious city-states gradually returned to Egypt. Thutmose III won the first and most important battle among the 26 expeditions in his life.
The city walls and mounds on Mount Megiddo are now a popular tourist attraction.
There are only one-sided Egyptian historical data on the Battle of Megiddo, and these historical data come from temple carvings and are intended to praise the pharaoh. It can hardly be called objective. Fortunately, today’s Megiddo battlefield is one of the few ancient and modern geographical changes that have not changed. As a big example, from today’s topography, we can still confirm the battle process recorded in ancient books. Combined with the historical facts we know, we can also outline the character traits of the protagonist Thutmose III. Thutmose III lived to be 56 years old. He became pharaoh at the age of 2 and lived in the shadow of Queen Hatshepsut for the next 22 years. However, he won a complete victory in his first foreign war after taking office. It can be seen that he had great influence on military affairs. He is not an outsider. It can be speculated that during those years in name only, he should have been tolerant while seriously studying many political and military strategies.
Judging from the hatred that Thutmose III later showed when he deliberately obliterated the queen’s political achievements during her lifetime, he should be a type who is good at disguise and scheming. If he is really as independent as recorded, we can imagine that he has strong self-confidence, even a little willful, and this self-confidence is likely to come from the concept of the divine right of kings that “the destiny of heaven belongs to me”. At the same time, his impatience is also obvious, because there is no evidence that the Egyptian army is numerically weaker than its opponent. If they take the high road and engage in a head-on battle, they may not lose. The more likely result is to “defeat the army under a fortified city” and the war will be protracted. The Ziwu Valley Adventure is a risky way to win quickly. Even if you may not lose, you have to bet on quick victory. It can be seen that the young Thutmose III was actually a bit young and aggressive, eager for success. It’s just that Thutmose III’s military adventure was successful. This result does not disprove the correctness of taking risks, but is more attributable to luck. But one adventure can be a fluke, and 26 expeditions in a lifetime without failure means there is no chance of a fluke every time. From this fact, we can infer that Thutmose III should be a person who is good at learning and summarizing experience, and constantly improving.