The Life and Death of Ramesses II

The Life and Death of Ramesses II

Ramesses II is arguably one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and also one of its most well-known. Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the 19 th Dynasty, ascended the throne of Egypt during his late teens in 1279 BC following the death of his father, Seti I. He is known to have ruled ancient Egypt for a total of 66 years, outliving many of his sons in the process – although he is believed to have fathered more than 100 children. As a result of his long and prosperous reign, Ramesses II was able to undertake numerous military campaigns against neighbouring regions, as well as build monuments to the gods, and of course, to himself.

Ancient statue of Ramesses II. Source: BigStockPhoto

One of the victories of Ramesses II’s reign was the Battle of Kadesh. This was a battle fought between the Egyptians, led by Ramesses II and the Hittites under Muwatalli for the control of Syria. The battle took place in the spring of the 5 th year of the reign of Ramesses II, and was caused by the defection of the Amurru from the Hittites to Egypt. This defection resulted in a Hittite attempt to bring the Amurru back into their sphere of influence. Ramesses II would have none of that and decided to protect his new vassal by marching his army north. The pharaoh’s campaign against the Hittites was also aimed at driving the Hittites, who have been causing trouble for the Egyptians since the time of the pharaoh Thutmose III, back beyond their borders.

Pharaoh Ramesses II with bow and arrow. Source: BigStockPhoto

According to the Egyptian accounts, the Hittites were defeated by them, and Ramesses II had gained a great victory. The story of this victory is most famously monumentalised on the inside of the temple of Abu Simbel. In this relief, the larger than life pharaoh is shown riding on a chariot and striking down his Hittite enemies. Indeed, this image succeeds in conveying the sense of power and triumph that Ramesses II aspired to achieve. Nevertheless, according to the Hittite accounts, it seems that the Egyptian victory was not so great after all, and that it was exaggerated by Ramesses II for the purpose of propaganda. What is clear, however, is that power relations in the ancient Near East were significantly changed after this battle. The first known peace treaty was signed between the Egyptians and the Hittites, and the Hittites were recognised as one of the region’s superpowers. This treaty would also set the stage for Egyptian-Hittite relations for the next 70 years or so.

Abu Simbel Temple of King Ramses II, a masterpiece of pharaonic arts and buildings in Old Egypt. Source: BigStockPhoto

Despite being the one of the most powerful men on earth during his life, Ramesses II did not have much control over his physical remains after his death. While his mummified body was originally buried in the tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings, looting by grave robbers prompted the Egyptian priests to move his body to a safer resting place. The actions of these priests have rescued the mummy of Ramesses II from the looters, only to have it fall into the hands of archaeologists. In 1881, the mummy of Ramesses II, along with those of more than 50 other rulers and nobles were discovered in a secret royal cache at Dier el-Bahri. Ramesses II’s mummy was identified based on the hieroglyphics, which detailed the relocation of his mummy by the priests, on the linen covering the body of the pharaoh. About a hundred years after his mummy was discovered, archaeologists noticed the deteriorating condition of Ramesses II’s mummy and decided to fly it to Paris to be treated for a fungal infection. Interestingly, the pharaoh was issued an Egyptian passport, in which his occupation was listed as ‘King (deceased)’. Today, the mummy of this great pharaoh rests in the Cairo Museum in Egypt.

The mummy of Ramesses II. Photo source .

Featured image: A statue of Ramesses II . Photo source: BigStockPhoto.

By Ḏḥwty


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    Ramesses II is the most famous of the Pharaohs, and there is no doubt that he intended this to be so. In astronomical terms, he is the Jupiter of the Pharaonic system, and for once the superlative is appropriate, since the giant planet shines brilliantly at a distance, but on close inspection turns out to be a ball of gas. Ramesses II, or at least the version of him which he chose to feature in his inscriptions, is the hieroglyphic equivalent of hot air.

    Nowadays this ruler's name is known to every knickknack-seller in the Nile Valley, a posterity which would not have embarrassed him in the least. Ramesses has gained a multimedia afterlife: his mummy is flown from Cairo to Paris to be exhibited and re-autopsied, and a series of airport-lounge best-sellers by a French writer, Christian Jacq, gives a soap-opera version of his life.

    Ramesses II. is the hieroglyphic equivalent of hot air.

    Yul Brynner captured the essence of his personality in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments, and in popular imagination Ramesses II has become the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The history behind this is much debated, but it is safe to say that the character of Ramesses fits the picture of the overweening ruler who refuses divine demands. The king's battle against the Hittites at Qadesh in Syria was a near defeat, caused by an elementary failure of military intelligence, and saved only by the last-minute arrival of reinforcements from the Lebanese coast. In Ramesses' account, which occupies whole walls on many of his monuments, this goalless draw turns into the mother of all victories, won single-handedly by himself.

    One of the best guides to Egypt ever compiled was the work of James Baikie (1866-1931), who wrote his detailed account of the country without ever seeing the place. Baikie's down-to-earth reaction to the interminable accounts of this battle reads as follows:


    Early Life and Reign

    Little is known about Ramses’ early life. His exact year of birth is not confirmed but is widely believed to be 1303 BC. His father was Seti I, the second pharaoh of the 19 th Dynasty, founded by Ramses I, the grandfather of Ramses II. Most likely, Ramses II came to the throne in 1279 BC, when he was approximately 24 years old. At some point prior to this, he married his future queen consort, Nefertari. Over the course of their marriage, they had at least four sons and two daughters, and possibly more, although historians have uncertain evidence of children beyond the six who are clearly mentioned in documents and on carvings.

    In the first few years of his reign, Ramses foreshadowed his later power with battles against sea pirates and the beginning of major building projects. His earliest known major victory came in the second year of his reign, probably 1277 BC, when he defeated the Sherden pirates. The Sherden, who most likely originated from Ionia or Sardinia, were a fleet of pirates who kept attacking cargo ships en route to Egypt, damaging or outright crippling Egyptian sea trade.

    Ramses also began his major building projects within the first three years of his reign. On his orders, the ancient temples in Thebes were completely renovated, specifically to honor Ramses and his power, revered as nearly divine. The stone carving methods used by past pharaohs resulted in shallow carvings which could easily be remade by their successors. In place of this, Ramses ordered much deeper carvings that would be harder to undo or alter in the future.


    Prosperity during the reign of Ramses II

    One measure of Egypt’s prosperity is the amount of temple building the kings could afford to carry out, and on that basis the reign of Ramses II is the most notable in Egyptian history, even making allowance for its great length. It was that, combined with his prowess in war as depicted in the temples, that led the Egyptologists of the 19th century to dub him “the Great,” and that, in effect, is how his subjects and posterity viewed him to them he was the king par excellence. Nine kings of the 20th dynasty (1190–1075 bce ) called themselves by his name even in the period of decline that followed, it was an honour to be able to claim descent from him, and his subjects called him by the affectionate abbreviation Sese.

    In Egypt he completed the great hypostyle hall at Karnak (Thebes) and continued work on the temple built by Seti I at Abydos, both of which were left incomplete at the latter’s death. Ramses also completed his father’s funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor (Thebes) and built one for himself, which is now known as the Ramesseum. At Abydos he built a temple of his own not far from that of his father there were also the four major temples in his residence city, not to mention lesser shrines.

    In Nubia (Nilotic Sudan) he constructed no fewer than six temples, of which the two carved out of a cliffside at Abu Simbel, with their four colossal statues of the king, are the most magnificent and the best known. The larger of the two was begun under Seti I but was largely executed by Ramses, while the other was entirely due to Ramses. In addition to the construction of Per Ramessu, his most notable secular work so far as is known included the sinking of a well in the eastern desert on the route to the Nubian gold mines.

    Of Ramses’ personal life virtually nothing is known. His first and perhaps favourite queen was Nefertari the smaller temple at Abu Simbel was dedicated to her. She seems to have died comparatively early in the reign, and her fine tomb in the Valley of the Queens at Thebes is well known. Other queens whose names are preserved were Isinofre, who bore the king four sons, among whom was Ramses’ eventual successor, Merneptah Merytamun and Matnefrure, the Hittite princess. In addition to the official queen or queens, the king possessed a large harem, as was customary, and he took pride in his great family of well over 100 children. The best portrait of Ramses II is a fine statue of him as a young man, now in the Egyptian Museum of Turin his mummy, preserved in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo, is that of a very old man with a long narrow face, prominent nose, and massive jaw.

    The reign of Ramses II marks the last peak of Egypt’s imperial power. After his death Egypt was forced on the defensive but managed to maintain its suzerainty over Palestine and the adjacent territories until the later part of the 20th dynasty, when the migration of militant Sea Peoples into the Levant ended Egypt’s power beyond its borders. Ramses II must have been a good soldier, despite the fiasco of Kadesh, or else he would not have been able to penetrate so far into the Hittite empire as he did in the following years he appears to have been a competent administrator, since the country was prosperous, and he was certainly a popular king. Some of his fame, however, must surely be put down to his flair for publicity: his name and the record of his feats on the field of battle were found everywhere in Egypt and Nubia.


    Life and death of Ramesses II

    Ramesses II is arguably one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and also one of its most well-known. Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, ascended the throne of Egypt during his late teens in 1279 BC following the death of his father, Seti I. He is known to have ruled ancient Egypt for a total of 66 years, outliving many of his sons in the process – although he is believed to have fathered more than 100 children. As a result of his long and prosperous reign, Ramesses II was able to undertake numerous military campaigns against neighbouring regions, as well as build monuments to the gods, and of course, to himself.

    One of the victories of Ramesses II’s reign was the Battle of Kadesh. This was a battle fought between the Egyptians, led by Ramesses II and the Hittites under Muwatalli for the control of Syria. The battle took place in the spring of the 5th year of the reign of Ramesses II, and was caused by the defection of the Amurru from the Hittites to Egypt. This defection resulted in a Hittite attempt to bring the Amurru back into their sphere of influence. Ramesses II would have none of that and decided to protect his new vassal by marching his army north. The pharaoh’s campaign against the Hittites was also aimed at driving the Hittites, who have been causing trouble for the Egyptians since the time of the pharaoh Thutmose III, back beyond their borders.

    According to the Egyptian accounts, the Hittites were defeated by them, and Ramesses II had gained a great victory. The story of this victory is most famously monumentalised on the inside of the temple of Abu Simbel. In this relief, the larger than life pharaoh is shown riding on a chariot and striking down his Hittite enemies. Indeed, this image succeeds in conveying the sense of power and triumph that Ramesses II aspired to achieve. Nevertheless, according to the Hittite accounts, it seems that the Egyptian victory was not so great after all, and that it was exaggerated by Ramesses II for the purpose of propaganda. What is clear, however, is that power relations in the ancient Near East were significantly changed after this battle. The first known peace treaty was signed between the Egyptians and the Hittites, and the Hittites were recognised as one of the region’s superpowers. This treaty would also set the stage for Egyptian-Hittite relations for the next 70 years or so

    Despite being the one of the most powerful men on earth during his life, Ramesses II did not have much control over his physical remains after his death. While his mummified body was originally buried in the tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings, looting by grave robbers prompted the Egyptian priests to move his body to a safer resting place. The actions of these priests have rescued the mummy of Ramesses II from the looters, only to have it fall into the hands of archaeologists. In 1881, the mummy of Ramesses II, along with those of more than 50 other rulers and nobles were discovered in a secret royal cache at Dier el-Bahri. Ramesses II’s mummy was identified based on the hieroglyphics, which detailed the relocation of his mummy by the priests, on the linen covering the body of the pharaoh. About a hundred years after his mummy was discovered, archaeologists noticed the deteriorating condition of Ramesses II’s mummy and decided to fly it to Paris to be treated for a fungal infection. Interestingly, the pharaoh was issued an Egyptian passport, in which his occupation was listed as ‘King (deceased)’. Today, the mummy of this great pharaoh rests in the Cairo Museum in Egypt.


    LIVING UP TO HIS GREATNESS

    As a sign of diplomatic good faith, Ramses II married the eldest daughter of the Hittite king. She joined him, Nefertari (his chief queen), and his enormous family—he sired more than a hundred children—at his new capital, Per Ramessu, aptly, though audaciously, named after himself. (See inside the wedding of Ramses II and the Hittite princess.)

    The wealth of Ramses II’s reign is evident in his opulent building campaign, the largest undertaken by any pharaoh. The temples at Karnak and Abu Simbel are among Egypt’s greatest wonders. His funerary temple, the Ramesseum, contained a massive library of some 10,000 papyrus scrolls. He honored both his father and himself by completing temples at Abydos.

    For all of Ramses II’s efforts to ensure his legacy would live on, there was one testament to his power he could not have foreseen. After his death, nine subsequent pharaohs took his name upon ascending the throne, solidifying his stature as “the great” among Egypt’s rulers. (Read why the mummy of Ramses II was issued a modern passport.)

    Abu Simbel, monumental temple

    Ramses II wanted there to be absolutely no question which pharaoh had built the magnificent temple at Abu Simbel. At its entrance, four 60-plus-foot-tall seated statues of him serve as sentries. Dedicated to the sun gods, the temple extends 185 feet into its cliff via a series of three towering halls. Scenes depict Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh as well as the pharaoh and his principal wife, Nefertari, making offerings to the sun gods. Ramses ordered a second, smaller temple built nearby for Nefertari.

    Because of its remote location, Abu Simbel went undiscovered until 1813. In 1959, when the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to flood the site, UNESCO embarked on an unprecedented, 20-year rescue effort that relocated both Abu Simbel temples—stone by stone—to higher ground some 200 feet farther up the cliff.

    Prince Khaemwaset

    Among the more than 100-plus offspring of Ramses II, Prince Khaemwaset truly stands apart. He held the prestigious post of high priest of Ptah, the patron god of Memphis. Bas-reliefs depict him in his important duty of tending the tomb of Ptah’s sacred Apis bulls in the underground complex known as the Serapeum.

    Khaemwaset’s larger legacy is his groundbreaking role as one of the first known archaeologists. He was entranced by the thousand-year-old landmarks from the Old Kingdom that surrounded him in Memphis. He inspected and restored several temples and pyramids. At each restoration, he inscribed the names and titles of the building’s original “owners,” as well as his and his father’s names. A millennium after his death, he was revered as a scholar and featured in a series of stories about his accomplishments.


    The life and Achievements of Ramesses II

    By the end of the reign of the eighteenth dynasty, the political situation in ancient Egypt was deteriorating. Due to the poor mismanagement, Amenhotep had never considered the foreign and domestic policy, focusing solely on religious reform. His death did not help to improve the political circumstances however, he was replaced by Ramesses, the founder of the new dynasty. Before Ramesses II came to power, Egypt waged wars against the Libyans, Nubians, and Hittites. The latter posed the greatest threat. When Seti I came to the throne, Egyptian civilization partly revived, creating the prerequisites for further development. Later Seti I gave way to his son Ramesses II, who reached prosperity and wealth during his reign. The goal of this paper is to consider the life of Ramesses II, his main achievements, as a pharaoh.

    As an Egyptian pharaoh in the New Kingdom, the Head of State was responsible to ensure the prosperity and sustainability of the land and his people. To do this, he needed to maintain Ma&rsquoat, which means to honor religion. Also, he had to have a strong military. Ramesses II ruled during the 19th dynasty. Generally, Ramesses II lived 97 years, of which he ruled the most of his life. After his death, Egypt went into havoc, so most historians claimed that he was a famous and successful king. One can note among his many achievements that made Ramesses II one of the most famous pharaohs in the history that he had 100 children (Brand, 2016). At the moment, historians know more about his children than about all the kings of the eighteenth dynasty (Brand, 2016). Indeed, the numbers of royal children that appear in the lists make one wonder that many of those people were his grandchildren.

    To start from the beginning, Ramesses II was the third pharaoh of his dynasty he born in the family of Seti I and his wife Tuya in c. 1303 BC and at 10, the young boy was ranked as a captain of the army (&ldquoRamesses II. Biography&rdquo). A few years later Ramesses II had become the Prince Regent (&ldquoRamesses II. Biography&rdquo). By that time, the young pharaoh had already begun to participate in the military companies with his father. Ramesses ascended to the throne after the death of Seti I in 1279 BC, in his late 20s. (&ldquoRamesses II. Biography&rdquo).

    Firstly, he focused on various building projects. The first years of his reign marked by the building of cities, monuments, and temples. He also established the new capital in the Nile Delta, that was located in the northeast region of the country a few thousand years ago. The location of this new capital was not coincidental, as the new capital had become the best strategic point for the defense of neighbor countries (Brand, 2016). Despite Ramesses II&rsquo traveling across the country, all managerial decisions came from Memphis or Pi-Ramesses. The city was divided into four parts each was dedicated to a separate deity. In Egypt, Asian deities became more and more popular, while Ramesses II also had a passion for them.

    Later the young pharaoh tried to secure Egypt&rsquos borders and conquer new territories. The reign of the pharaoh was marked by the battles with Libyans and Nubians. The uprising in Nubia became especially significant, so the pharaoh had to put it down. Here his victory against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh was one of the best known. This battle broke out between the Hittite and Egyptian Empires. It was named after the city Kadesh, where the events took place. This story started when Ramesses II invaded the Hittites and attacked the Hittite chariotry, reaching Kadesh from the South (&ldquoRamesses II. Biography&rdquo). The Hittites won, as the Egyptians were unable to occupy Kadesh and defeat the Hittite army, which led to the failure of the invasion. As a result, both sides attributed the victory to themselves. Modern historians have concluded that there were no winners in this battle, with the moral victory of the Egyptians, who developed new technologies, united their army and turned the tide of war, escaping the death and captivity. Marino referred to the different sources, writing that Ramesses II killed two thousand enemies alone (Marino, 2017). The author doubted the truth of this story however, he noted, that pharaoh likely showed excellent leadership skills (Marino, 2017). Everyone except Pharaoh gave up when their actual lives were in danger (Marino, 2017). When historians managed to interpret the true happenings of that day, they figured out, why Ramesses II concluded a peace treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites. The pharaoh knew that the Hittites posed a threat, as they had a strong line of defense. The peace treaty was the only way to ensure public security, and Ramesses II was the first king, who managed to negotiate with his enemies. Both sides established diplomatic relations, and pharaoh married the eldest daughter of the Hittite king. Historians also supposed that later he took another Hittite princess like a queen (&ldquoRamesses II. Biography&rdquo).


    Contents

    In antiquity, Ozymandias ( Ὀσυμανδύας ) was a Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II.

    Shelley began writing his poem in 1817, soon after the British Museum's announcement that they had acquired a large fragment of a statue of Ramesses II from the 13th century BCE some scholars [ who? ] believe Shelley was inspired by the acquisition. The 7.25-short-ton (6.58 t 6,580 kg) fragment of the statue's head and torso had been removed in 1816 from the mortuary temple of Ramesses (the Ramesseum) at Thebes by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Battista Belzoni. The statue's repute in Western Europe preceded its arrival: Napoleon had tried to acquire it for France after his 1798 expedition to Egypt. [5]

    The statue had been expected to arrive in London in 1818, but did not arrive until 1821. [6] [7] The poems were published before the statue arrived in Britain. [7]

    The book Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791) by Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney (1757-1820), first published in an English translation as The Ruins, or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires (London: Joseph Johnson, 1792) by James Marshall, was an influence on Shelley. [8] Shelley had explored similar themes in his 1813 work Queen Mab.

    Shelley typically published his works anonymously or using a pseudonym. He published the poem under the name "Glirastes," created by combining the Latin glīs (genetive glīris), meaning "dormouse", with the Greek suffix ἐραστής (erastēs, "lover"). [9] The name was a reference to his wife Mary, whose nickname was "do[o]rmouse". [10]

    Publication history Edit

    The banker and political writer Horace Smith spent the Christmas season of 1817–1818 with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. At this time, members of the Shelleys' literary circle would sometimes challenge each other to write competing sonnets on a common subject: Shelley, John Keats and Leigh Hunt wrote competing sonnets about the Nile around the same time. Shelley and Smith both chose a passage from the writings of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus in Bibliotheca historica, which described a massive Egyptian statue and quoted its inscription: "King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work." In Shelley's poem, Diodorus becomes "a traveller from an antique land." [11] [12] [13] [14]

    The poem was printed in The Examiner, [2] a weekly paper published by Leigh's brother John Hunt in London. Hunt admired Shelley's poetry and many of his other works, such as The Revolt of Islam, were published in The Examiner. [15]


    Ramesses II: History and Reconstruction of the Warrior Pharaoh Who Lived Till 90

    Illustration by Angus McBride

    Ramesses II (also called Ramses, Ancient Egyptian: rꜥ-ms-sw or riʕmīsisu, meaning ‘Ra is the one who bore him’) is considered as one of the most powerful and influential ancient Egyptian Pharaohs – known for both his military and domestic achievements during the New Kingdom era. Born in circa 1303 BC (or 1302 BC), as the royal member of the Nineteenth Dynasty, he ascended the throne in 1279 BC and reigned for 67 years. Ramesses II was also known as Ozymandias in Greek sources, with the first part of the moniker derived from Ramesses’ regnal name, Usermaatre Setepenre, meaning – ‘The Maat of Ra is powerful, Chosen of Ra’.

    The Young Warrior King –

    Source: Civilization Wiki

    The son of Pharaoh Seti I and Queen Tuya, Ramesses II was known to have taken part in the battles and campaigns of his father from the tender age of 14 (after being chosen as the Prince Regent). Now to provide some context as to why such a young teenager (and that too a member of royalty) participated in potentially dangerous martial scenarios, we must understand that this very epoch – circa 15th-13th century BC, was fueled by Egyptian imperialistic policies initiated by a succession of powerful Pharaohs. And the Nineteenth Dynasty rulers were even portrayed as incarnations of the god of war and valor Montu (falcon-god) or as personifications of Egypt itself.

    Suffice it to say, within this scope of symbolism and imperialism, the Pharaoh and his male line were the most important figures in the state machinery of Ancient Egypt. Thus the royal family members were provided with military education befitting the commanders of an emergent empire. This training for warfare, often imparted by state-appointed veterans, not only included physical regimens and weapons handling but also entailed lessons in tactical and strategic planning (with the latter being far more important for military campaigns). And as documented events had proven, the Pharaoh and his royal retinues epitomized the spearhead of the Egyptian army with their elite chariot corps. Thus figures like Amenophis II and Ramesses II took particular pride in maneuvering chariots, handling bows (perceived as a weapon of esteem), and personally leading their armies in battles.

    The Early Military Successes of Ramesses II –

    Nubian Medjay in the foreground and Sherden in the background. Illustration by Angus McBride.

    As we mentioned earlier, the Nineteenth Dynasty, like its predecessor (the Eighteenth Dynasty) pursued a policy of military campaigns and conquests beyond the traditional borders of ancient Egypt. Thus their armies frequently clashed with neighboring kingdoms and polities, including the Hittites, Libyans, and Nubians. However, after Ramesses II took the throne, on the death of his father Seti I, in circa 1279 BC, the young Pharaoh (still in his early 20s) turned his attention towards a new enemy. This enemy pertained to the Sherden sea-pirates (one of the mysterious Sea People) responsible for ravaging the Mediterranean coast of ancient Egypt by prying on the precious cargo-laden ships that traveled along this strategic trade route (connecting to the Levant and Syria).

    So in the second year of his reign, Ramesses II decided to end the threat in a single action. Consequently, after meticulous planning, the Sherden were trapped by the combined efforts of the Egyptian army and navy – as the latter tactfully waited for the pirates to approach the ports and then surrounded them from the rear angles. These pirate bands were then probably defeated in a decisive engagement fought near the mouth of the Nile. Interestingly enough, afterward, some of the Sherden, known for their fighting prowess, were inducted into the royal guard units of Ramesses II. Additionally, the young pharaoh also defeated other Sea People groups like the Lukka (L’kkw, possibly the later Lycians), and the Šqrsšw (Shekelesh).

    On the southern front, Ramesses II was known to have marched against the revolting Nubians, whose lands had been colonized by the Egyptians (by circa 15th century BC). In that regard, one of the famous allied troops entailed the Medjay, who were basically Nubian desert scouts of the Ancient Egyptian military deployed as an elite paramilitary police force during the New Kingdom period. And on a controversial note, Ramesses II may have also fought against the semi-nomadic Libyan tribes on the west (who were attested as the Libu or R’bw in Egyptian).

    Now the controversy in itself arises from the fact of how Egyptian accounts tend to glorify Ramesses II’s feat in conquering and crushing these nomads. However, recent archaeological evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians peacefully practiced their crop harvesting and raising of cattle herds inside a territory that was traditionally considered Libyan (or at least under the influence of the local Libyan nomads). Simply put, there is a chance that such accounts were possibly propaganda measures or records that juxtaposed (or confused) the feats of the renowned Pharaoh with that of his predecessor (and his father) Seti I.

    The Asian Adventures –

    Illustration by Johnny Shumate

    However, beyond the scope of Nubia and Libya, it was Syria that brought forth a complicated geopolitical tussle between Egypt and another ascendant empire – the Hittites (of Asia Minor). Now from the military perspective, by the time of Ramesses II, there were four military headquarters spread across the burgeoning Egyptian empire, each named after the god of the region, while being commanded by the chosen senior officers of the army. These massive military complexes were used for training new recruits, creating supply and reinforcements points, and providing royal escorts and even parade troops during triumphal occasions.

    Bolstered by such a massive network and encouraged by the homegrown military power, the young Pharaoh marched into Canaan (southern Levant), a vassal state of the Hittites, in circa 1275 AD. The subsequent campaign was probably successful, with records mentioning the capturing of Canaanite (and possibly even Hittite) royal members who were brought back to Egypt, along with a fair share of assorted plunder. Other records also allude to how Ramesses II defeated a Canaanite army by routing it after its leader was killed by an Egyptian archer.

    The Clash of the Superpowers at Kadesh –

    Opposing forces at the Battle of Kadesh, circa 1274 BC. Source: Pinterest

    Consequently, Ramesses II, following up on his predecessors’ steps, secured a foothold in the southern section of the Levant. On the other hand, the Hittites (Hatti – as called by Egyptians) had already established themselves along the northern reaches of the Levant. Suffice it to say, this momentary standoff hinted at a greater power struggle that would pit the two (Late) Bronze Age empires against one another. According to historian Susan Wise Bauer –

    He [Ramesses II] did not wait long before picking up the fight against the Hittite enemy. In 1275, only three years or so after taking the throne, he began to plan a campaign to get Kadesh back. The city had become more than a battlefront it was a symbolic football kicked back and forth between empires. Kadesh was too far north for easy control by the Egyptians, too far south for easy administration by the Hittites. Whichever empire claimed it could boast of superior strength.

    Unfortunately, for Ramesses II, his army, divided into four brigades, marched uninterrupted almost up to the vicinity of Kadesh – unaware of the Hittite army in proximity (possibly hidden by the very walls of Kadesh). The trap was laid by the Hittite king Muwatallis II who paid two Bedouin spies to intentionally misdirect Ramesses II. According to the Egyptian account, these spies were ultimately caught, but the act was too late –

    When they had been brought before Pharaoh, His Majesty asked, ‘Who are you?’ They replied, ‘We belong to the king of Hatti. He has sent us to spy on you.’ Then His Majesty said to them, ‘Where is he, the enemy from Hatti? I had heard that he was in the land of Khaleb, north of Tunip.’ They replied to His Majesty, ‘Lo, the king of Hatti has already arrived, together with the many countries who are supporting him…. They are armed with their infantry and their chariots. They have their weapons of war at the ready. They are more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. Behold, they stand equipped and ready for battle behind the old city of Kadesh.’

    The predicament for Ramesses II was exacerbated since two (Ptah and Seth brigades) of his total four brigades were separated by forests and the Orontes River. The remaining two (Re and Amun brigades) were under his personal command. So in the initial phase, the Hittite chariot regiments successfully ran down the Re brigade – and their charge was only stymied by the valor of Ramesses II and his Amun brigade (according to Egyptian accounts). The counterattack by the Pharaoh’s own chariot regiments bought some time for the other Egyptian brigades to arrive on the battlefield. However, in his wrath and frustration, the ever-impulsive Ramesses II advanced too far from his army and was almost trapped between the remnant Hittite forces and the river.

    Fortuitously, the Hittite ruler Muwatallis didn’t pursue his apparent advantage, thus allowing Ramesses II and his personal forces to escape. In the aftermath of this incredible battle (in circa 1274 BC), the Egyptian Pharaoh declared a great victory for himself, although, in terms of practicality, the outcome was a stalemate at best. Even more intriguing is the fact that Ramesses II continued to persevere with his expansionist policies in the Levant and Syria. In the following years, the Egyptians captured Moab (in Jordan), Upi (around Damascus), Tunip (western Syria), and even attacked Jerusalem and Jericho. But given the autonomous nature of the realms in this region, along with the balancing power of the Hittites, most of these conquests were only temporary in nature.

    The Momentous Peace –

    The Treaty of Kadesh (inscribed in Akkadian), circa 1258 BC.

    As it turned out, it was once again Muwatallis’ family line that played its role in framing the geopolitics of the region. To that end, after Muwatallis death in circa 1272 BC, his eldest son Mursili III succeeded to the throne of the Hittites. But his reign (possibly 7 years) was cut short by his own uncle Ḫattušili III who took over the power. As a result, Mursili III fled to the court of Ramesses II, with the latter providing him with refuge. Unsurprisingly, Ḫattušili III demanded his nephew’s extradition from Egypt, But Ramesses II refused to even acknowledge the presence of Mursili III within his territories. And this turn of events almost resulted in yet another war between the empires.

    But all of that changed in the year 1258 BC when Ramesses II arranged for an official peace treaty – one of the first of its kind in the ancient world. The treaty, with its two versions recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs (that maintained how the Hittites sued for peace) and Akkadian – the lingua franca of the Near East (that maintained how the Egyptian caved in), contained 18 statutes. Related records from the time, like the Anastasy A papyrus, mention how the Egyptians still controlled some coastal Phoenician towns, with their northernmost border set at the Sumur harbor (in present-day Lebanon).

    However, as a consequence of this momentous accord, military campaigns into Canaan were stopped from Ramesses’ side – thereby leading to unexpected peace along the Levant frontier. Thus Syria conclusively passed into the Hittite hands. As for Mursili III, while there was a clause for his extradition in the peace agreement, the historical figure vanishes from the annals of history after the arrangement of the treaty.

    The Domestic Scope –

    Depictions on the Temple of Nefertari. Source: EgyptToday

    According to most ancient accounts and many modern-day estimates, Ramesses II probably lived till the ripe old age of 90 or 96. In fact, such was his influence in Egypt, buttressed by the length of his reign (67 years), that his death was thought to be the coming of end-times by many of his subjects – some of whom were born long after Ramesses II himself. Furthermore, in his domestic life, the Pharaoh had around 200 wives and concubines, and possibly over a hundred children (according to some accounts, he had 96 sons and 60 daughters) – and he outlived many of his scions.

    But among his numerous wives and companions, Ramesses II probably favored Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti) as his beloved queen and chief consort. And in spite of what might have been her early death (possibly during childbirth), Nefertari was depicted quite frequently by murals and statues – with one famous example pertaining to the glorious wall painting inside her tomb. In any case, after the demise of Nefertari, Ramesses’ secondary wife Isetnefret (or Isetnofret) was elevated to the position of the chief consort – and their son Merneptah (or Merenptah) was the successor to the throne (who was already 70 years old during the time of his ascension).

    And since we talked about the reign of Ramesses II, the Pharaoh celebrated his jubilee after 30 years of ruling Egypt by hosting the famous Sed festival. Named after the Egyptian wolf god Sed (or Wepwawet), the particular celebration symbolized the continued rule of the Pharaoh. The festival entailed opulent processions and elaborate temple rituals amidst much fanfare and concluded with the raising of the djed – the symbol representing the strength and potency of the king’s rule. Ramesses II himself celebrated around 13 or 14 Sed festivals, by breaking the protocol and sometimes hosting them at two-year intervals (instead of the traditional three years after the jubilee).

    Building Projects of Ramesses II –

    Abu Simbel. Source: WorldAtlas

    The balance of Late Bronze Age geopolitical powers in the Levant and Syria involving both the Egyptians and the Hittites and the resulting status quo ironically allowed for some ‘breathing space’ for Ramesses II to focus on his building projects back home – that ranged from magnificent complexes to massive military settlements. One of the latter pertained to the renowned Pi-Ramesses (or Per Ramessu – meaning ‘House or Domain of Ramesses’), the new capital built by the Pharaoh, situated in the north-eastern part of the Nile Delta in Egypt.

    The site already served as the summer palace of Seti I, but was later expanded upon by his son and successor Ramesses II. And while there are scant archaeological pieces of evidence for Pi-Ramesses, ground-penetrating radar has revealed arrangements of temple compounds, mansions, residences, stables, cisterns, and canals inside the city. Also, based on its strategic location, the settlement was possibly used as a staging ground for the military campaigns directed towards the Levant and Syria.

    As for magnificent temple complexes, Ramesseum served as the massive mortuary temple of Ramesses II. Constructed in a typical New Kingdom architectural style, the gargantuan project boasted its imposing pylons, courtyard, and the main structure with hypostyle walls – all complemented by statuary representations of Ramesses II, along with depictions of war scenes. One particular example portrays the scene of the Pharaoh defeating his Hittite foes at Kadesh, thereby cementing his status (albeit in form of propaganda) as the victorious warrior-king.

    Other incredible architectural and artistic building projects patronized by Ramesses II include the famous Abu Simbel temples and statues, along with other complexes, constructed in Nubia (as opposed to Egypt proper), the tomb of Nefertari, the colossal statues of himself at Karnak, and a range of monumental temples across Egypt (including Giza).

    Reconstruction of Ramesses II –

    Mummy of Ramesses II. Source: VintageEveryday

    After 67 years of long and undisputed reign, Ramesses II, who already outlived many of his wives and sons, breathed his last in circa 1213 BC, probably at the age of 90. Forensic analysis suggests that by this time, the old Pharaoh suffered from arthritis, dental problems, and possibly even hardening of the arteries. Interestingly enough, while his mummified remains were originally interred at the Valley of the Kings, they were later shifted to the mortuary complex at Deir el-Bahari (part of the Theban necropolis), so as to prevent the tomb from being looted by the ancient robbers. Discovered back in 1881, the remains revealed some facial characteristics of Ramesses II, like his aquiline (hooked) nose, strong jaw, and sparse red hair.

    YouTube channel JudeMaris has reconstructed the face of Ramesses II at his prime, taking into account the aforementioned characteristics – and the video is presented above.

    Conclusion – Character Profile of Ramesses II

    Source: HistoricalEve

    In terms of history, Ramesses II, without a doubt, is considered as one of the most powerful and celebrated Pharaohs of ancient Egypt – the warrior-king who epitomized the supremacy of the New Kingdom, so much so that his successors venerated him as the ‘Great Ancestor’. On the other hand, recent archaeological projects have revealed that on some occasions, the military achievements of Ramesses II have rather been exaggerated by his own state machinery, thereby almost alluding to an ancient personality cult.

    This has led to debates in the academic circles regarding the epithet of ‘Great’ when attached to the name of Ramesses II. Few have argued that Thutmose III of the Eighteenth Dynasty is probably more deserving of the ‘Great’ title, because of his hand in creating the largest Egyptian empire. However, even if we go by an objective assessment viewed through the lens of history, Ramesses II was regarded as a mighty and noble ruler, not only by his subjects but also foreign powers, even during his own lifetime.

    And while a case can be made for his ‘megalomaniac’ tendencies, the same character flaws can be attributed to many of his contemporaries (and later rulers), especially considering the very symbolic gravity of the Egyptian throne (that was fueled by its fair share of propaganda). Moreover, Ramesses II was probably not a keen commander or a resourceful strategist – but his larger-than-life aura was propelled by his courage and tenacity on the battlefield, as demonstrated at Kadesh. Added to that, in spite of the Pharaoh’s ambitious (and sometimes overambitious) military campaigns in Asia, Ramesses did agree to a momentous peace treaty – which suggests some form of sagacity that tempered the warrior inside him.

    As for the domestic scope, like many ancient Egyptian rulers, Ramesses II ‘advertised’ his achievements and legacy by patronizing massive architectural projects and propagandist depictions across Egypt and Nubia. But in contrast to such extravagant endeavors (that alluded to the larger-than-life image of the ruler), the Pharaoh possibly led a disciplined lifestyle focused on the Egyptian ideals of domesticity and family-oriented values. To that end, in spite of having so many wives, consorts, and concubines, Ramesses II was known to have treated most of them and their children with utmost respect and regard.

    Honorable Mention – The Exodus Angle

    Painting by Winifred Mabel Brunton. Source: Magnolia Box

    Ramesses II is popularly associated with the Pharaoh figure during the Biblical Exodus, and the first mention of this association can possibly be ascribed to Eusebius of Caesarea, the 4th century AD Christian historian. On an intriguing note, Ramesses II being depicted as the Exodus Pharaoh was rather reinforced by 20th century Hollywood productions, with the most famous ones pertaining to Cecil B. DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments (1956) and Disney’s The Prince of Egypt (1998).

    However, from the historical and archaeological perspectives, researchers have not found any evidence or record that could point to mass migration or exodus from Egyptian settlements like Per-Ramesses (although, the city is mentioned in the Bible as a center of Israelite laborers). In fact, the assessment of ancient Egyptian structures and sources suggest how the Egyptians didn’t make use of slave labor for their construction projects. On the contrary, they were keen to use skilled workers with experience along with volunteering civilians, so as to maintain high levels of precision and workmanship in their buildings and sculptures. In essence, the association of Ramesses II to the Exodus was probably a later invention for a narrative, as opposed to a historical event.

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    Why Was Ramesses II “Great” and How Did He Influence the History of the Ancient Near East?

    Ramesses II (ruled ca. 1290-1224 BC), commonly known today as Ramesses “the Great,” was arguably not only ancient Egypt’s greatest king to have the name Ramesses, but quite possibly the greatest king to rule the Nile Valley. Truly, Ramesses lived up to his nickname as his endeavors and achievements far surpassed those of his predecessors and continue to inspire modern scholars and amateur Egyptologists alike. During his exceptionally long rule, Ramesses II earned his nickname and profoundly influenced the history of Egypt and that of the adjoining kingdoms of the Near East. Empowered by the ancient gods Re and Seth – his name is translated into English as “He is born of Re” – the mighty pharaoh became known for being a warrior as well as a diplomat.

    Ramesses II made sure that his rule would be remembered for eternity by commissioning numerous temples and statues to be built in his name and he was equally prolific in his familial affairs, counting a plethora of wives in his royal harem and siring over 100 children! All of these factors influenced the course of ancient Near Eastern history and helped to make Ramesses II the greatest of all his namesakes and arguably of all kings in the ancient Near East.

    Ramesses the Warrior and Diplomat

    Ramesses was born into a life of privilege during the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt’s New Kingdom. The New Kingdom was a period when ancient Egypt was at the pinnacle of wealth and power, which was largely the result of military campaigns and colonization in Nubia and the Levant [1] Ramesses was the son of King Seti I (ruled ca. 1305-1290 BC) and his chief queen Tuy, making him the crown prince of Egypt. As a young crown prince, Ramesses was expected to learn the ways of the Egyptian government and religion, but also to be a fighting pharaoh. In that regard he truly excelled.

    When Ramesses II ascended to the Egyptian throne, he inherited a large empire that included a number of Canaanite colonies in the Levant, which was an area roughly congruent with the modern day nation-states of Israel, Lebanon, and part of Syria. The mighty Egyptian army easily ruled over the often quarrelling Canaanite city-states of the region, but had to contend with the equally powerful Hittite Empire known as Hatti for control over the northern Levant. The border dispute between the Egyptian and Hittite empires eventually came to a head during Ramesses II’s fifth year of rule when border skirmishes turned into full-scale war.

    Like all New Kingdom pharaohs, Ramesses II personally led his army north as the commander in chief of the army and head of the elite chariot corps. Not unlike modern armies, Ramesses’ army was divided into five divisions named for the most popular gods of the New Kingdom: Re, Ptah, Seth, and Amun for a total of around 20,000 men [2] The pharaoh led his troops out of Egypt and followed the coastline until they arrived near the northern Levantine city of Kadesh, which is about 120 miles south of the modern day city of Aleppo.

    Once the Egyptian forces came close to Kadesh, Ramesses received faulty intelligence reports that the Hittites were much further to the north than they really were. Demonstrating that confidence can quickly turn to hubris, the young pharaoh led the Amun division across the Orontes River where he was then surrounded by Hittite troops. Ramesses II was rescued when a contingent of Canaanite allies arrived, but the battle ended in a strategic defeat for the Egyptians, although the borders remained unchanged so it was a political stalemate. [3] Instead of seeing the results of the Battle of Kadesh as a failure, though, Ramesses II instead embarked on one of the earliest known propaganda campaigns in history.

    In true fashion befitting of a pharaoh who would later be known as “great,” Ramesses II had scribes record the Battle of Kadesh in inscriptions and pictorial reliefs on the walls of eight temples throughout Egypt. In the Kadesh inscriptions, not only does Ramesses II claim to have led Egypt to victory over the Hittites, but he also contended to have done so alone! In the text of the Battle of Kadesh known as the “poem,” Ramesses exclaimed:

    I call to you, my father Amun, I am among a host of strangers All countries are arrayed against me, I am alone, there’s none with me! My numerous troops have deserted me, Not one of my chariotry looks for me I keep shouting for them, But none of them heeds my call. I know Amun helps me more than a million troops. [4]


    After the Battle of Kadesh, the political situation in the Levant stabilized and in the twenty-first year of his reign, Ramesses II was able to try his hand at diplomacy. Ramesses II was able to affect a permanent peace treaty and alliance between Egypt and Hatti, which was further solidified when the Hittite king, Hattusili III, betrothed one of his daughters to the Egyptian king. [5] The alliance between the two Near Eastern kingdoms helped usher in an era of peace and prosperity that has not since been replicated in the region.

    The Prolific Builder

    Any visitor to modern Egypt cannot escape the presence of Ramesses the Great. He commissioned hundreds of statues to be made in his name and usurped many more that were made in the image of previous kings. Everything that Ramesses II had created was usually on a colossal scale, which probably says as much about the king’s ego as his influence on the history of ancient Egypt. Among the most impressive monuments that Ramesses had built were the several so-called “mortuary temples” where the spirit of the dead king was worshipped as a god.

    Ramesses II had more mortuary temples built than any other Egyptian king. [6] Among the mortuary temples that Ramesses II had built throughout Egypt were the “Ramesseum” on the west bank of the Nile River near Thebes, an addition to the massive Karnak Temple in Thebes, and the Luxor Temple also in Thebes. Construction of the Luxor Temple began during the reign of Amenhotep III (ruled ca. 1403-1364 BC), but later became known as Ramesses II’s temple due to the large amount of work he did there, which included a pylon and courtyard at the north end and several colossal statues of the king. [7] The Luxor Temple served as the national shrine for the cult of the deified Ramesses II throughout the remainder of pharaonic history.

    Ramesses II’s building activities also extended outside of the confines of Egypt proper. He built a number of mortuary temples between the First and Second Cataracts of the Nile River, which was the traditional boundary that separated Egypt from Nubia. The most impressive of all of the boundary temples was the one that is located near the modern town of Abu Simbel. The temple was cut into a sandstone cliff above the Nile River with four nearly seventy foot high seated statues of Ramesses II proudly keeping guard over all who enter his land. [8] Ramesses II was clearly prolific in his construction activities, which helped secure his legacy and influenced Egypt, but he was just as prolific in his familial affairs.

    The Many Loves of Ramesses II

    Because Ramesses II lived so long and because Egyptian kings practiced polygamy, he was able to collect a considerable number of wives and to produce a vast number of children that rivaled the number of his monuments. By the time he died, Ramesses II could count over 100 children, seven “Great Royal Wives” and scores of lesser wives and concubines as part of his royal family. Among the seven “Great Royal Wives” of Ramesses II, Nefertari was clearly his favorite. The marriage between Ramesses II and Nefertari was probably arranged while he was still the crown prince and by all accounts the two shared a definite affinity for each other. Nefertari probably accompanied her husband to the Battle of Kadesh along with some of their children. [9] For his part, Ramesses showed his admiration for his chief queen by constructing a mortuary temple for her at Abu Simbel yards away from his temple. Although he clearly loved his queen, Ramesses II could not let Nefertari have top billing even in her own temple as four of the colossal statues in the façade of the temple are of him but only two are of Nefertari. When Nefertari died, Ramesses had her buried in one of the finest tombs in the Valley of Queens on the west bank of the Nile River near Thebes. [10]

    Despite demonstrating a definite love for Nefertari, Ramesses II took several other wives and concubines. After Nefertari died, she was replaced by Isitnofret as the “Great Royal Wife.” Isitnofret gave Ramesses the Great many children, including Merenptah (ruled ca. 1224-1204 BC), who would eventually assume the kingship of Egypt when his father finally died [11] Isitnofret was also the mother of Khaemwese, who was a high-priest of Ptah and considered by many modern scholars to be the world’s first Egyptologist for his efforts to preserve the pyramids and other Old Kingdom monuments. [12]

    Ramesses the Great also married two of his daughters, Bitanata and Merytamun, which is difficult for modern sensibilities to grasp, but was an acceptable part of ancient Egyptian culture. Incestuous marriage among royal Egyptians was practiced but not especially common before Ramesses II. By marrying his two daughters, who he probably never would have seen before the marriage, Ramesses II hoped to start a tradition by which the Nineteenth Dynasty would keep the integrity of their noble blood lines. [13] Although the practice fell out of favor for quite some time, it was renewed when the Greek Ptolemies ruled Egypt from the fourth through first centuries BC.

    The Legacy of Ramesses the Great

    The legacy that Ramesses II created through his efforts as a warrior, diplomat, monument builder, and family man influenced the course of history in ancient Egypt and the Near East and continue to be felt today. After his death, nine other kings took the birth name “Ramesses” with the most famous being the second king of the Twentieth Dynasty, Ramesses III (ruled ca. 1184-1152 BC). Although Ramesses III was of no direct relation to Ramesses the Great, he attempted to emulate different aspects of his namesake’s career. Like Ramesses II, Ramesses III earned the reputation as a great warrior pharaoh and a prolific builder. In fact, Ramesses III even had a chapel built within the confines of his own mortuary temple at Medinet Habu to worship the spirit of the deceased Ramesses II.

    Due to a combination of his longevity, ambition, and confidence, Ramesses II was able to influence the course of ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern history in a way that few pharaohs were able to do before or after him. During his long career, Ramesses II was able to establish himself as both a warrior and peace maker while making sure that none would forget his name through his prolific building, propaganda efforts, and family life. Because of his endeavors, Ramesses II is one of the most recognizable pharaohs today proving that he truly was “Great.”


    Watch the video: Egypts Lost Queens - Nefertari