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Ramsses II : a legendary pharaoh with an uncomparable legacy

Ramsses II was unquestionably the greatest pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty and one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful rulers. This opulent pharaoh is most known for his exploits during the Battle of Kadesh, his architectural legacy, and his role in leading Egypt into its Golden Age. He had his name and achievements engraved from one end of Egypt to the other, and there is almost no ancient Egyptian site that does not reference Ramesses the Great. 

In this article, we will provide you with a thorough history of King Ramsses II and his legendary legacy.

Ramesses II_at_Luxor

Who is Ramses II?

Born in 1302 B.C., Ramses II (alternatively transcribed as Ramses and Rameses) is one of the most famous Egyptian kings who ruled Egypt in its golden age. He is the mightiest third pharaoh of the 19th dynasty of Egypt and the second son of pharaoh Seti I and his queen Tuya.

When Ramses II was fourteen years old, his father made him Prince Regent. King Seti I gave the crown to Prince Ramsses, who later turned into Ramsses II. He gave him a house and harem and let him participate in military campaigns with him so he could gain solid military and kingship experience before he became a king. He is believed to have ascended to the throne in his early 20 and governed Egypt for 66 years and two months, from 1279 BC to 1213 BC.

He led several expeditions and focused on accomplishing his goals. This reflected his vision of a great nation and got him the title of “ruler of rulers.” This is the reason why he is admired as “Ramses the Great” by history buffs. Also, Egypt was at its height of power and glory during his reign.

Ramesses lived to be ninety-six years old and had over 200 wives and concubines, 101 sons, and 51 daughters, most of whom he outlived. The most memorable of Ramesses’ wives was Nefertari. Among the earlier wives of this king were Isetnofret and Maathorneferure, Princess of Hatti. His children include Bintanath and Meritamen (princesses and their father’s wives), Sethnakhte, Amun-her-khepeshef (the first-born son), Merneptah (Ramesses’ 13th son who would eventually succeed him), Prince Khaemweset (the second-born son), and Ramesses B (Ramesses Junior), who became the crown prince from Year 25 to Year 50 of his father’s reign after the death of Amen-her-khepesh.

Rameses II

The Legacy of Ramses II

The reign of Ramesses II has become somewhat controversial over the last century, with some scholars claiming he was more of a showman and a propagandist than an effective king and others arguing the opposite. The records of his reign, however—both the written and the physical evidence of the temples and monuments—argue for a very stable and prosperous reign. He was one of the few rulers to live and rule long enough to take part in two Heb Sed festivals, which were held every thirty years to rejuvenate the pharaoh. He secured the country’s borders, increased its wealth, and widened its scope of trade, and, if he boasted of his accomplishments in his inscriptions and monuments, it is because he had good reason to be proud.

As the second-longest ruling king of ancient Egypt, he contributed to the flourishing and prosperity of the Egyptian culture in every way.Some of his subsequent pharaohs are considered better rulers than he was; none of them, however, would surpass the grand achievements and glory of Ramesses the Great in the minds and hearts of the ancient Egyptians.

He was one of the rare kings who had lived and reigned long enough to participate in two Heb Sed festivals, which were performed every thirty years to rejuvenate the pharaoh.

Despite Ramses II’s efforts to ensure his legacy lived on, there was one evidence to his power that he could not have anticipated. After his death, nine subsequent pharaohs took his regnal name upon ascending the throne, solidifying his stature as “the great” among Egypt’s rulers.

Ramses II-at-the-Luxor

The Great Architectural Endeavors of Ramsses II

Ramses II’s magnificent construction campaign, the biggest undertaken by any pharaoh, reflects the opulence of his reign. Ramses II’s interest in architecture resulted in the creation of more monuments than any of the other ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Perhaps the best-known achievements of Ramses II are his architectural endeavors, most notably the Ramesseum. The vast tomb complex known as the Ramesseum at Thebes contains a massive library of some 10,000 papyrus scrolls. In addition to the temples at Karnak and Abu Simbel, which are among Egypt’s greatest wonders, Ramesses II built the temples at Abydos to honor both himself and his father.

At some point prior to the year 1275 BCE, he began construction of his great city, Per-Ramesses (“House of Ramesses”), in the Eastern Delta region near the older city of Avaris. Per-Ramesses would be his capital (and remain an important urban center throughout the Ramesside Period), a pleasure palace, and a military compound from which he would launch campaigns into neighboring regions. It was not only an armory, military stable, and training ground but was so beautifully constructed that it rivaled the magnificence of the ancient city of Thebes.

Many historians consider his reign the pinnacle of Egyptian art and culture, and the famous Tomb of Nefertari with its wall paintings is often cited as clear evidence of the truth of this claim. Ramses II is credited with a significant number of architectural tributes that still significantly shape Egypt’s landscape.

Ramses II-Abu-Simbel

The military achievements of Ramsses II

Ramsses II knew that diplomacy and a thorough public relations strategy might compensate for any military weaknesses. He was well-known for his exceptional command of the Egyptian army. As a result, he was able to fight brutal wars to protect Egypt’s boundaries against Nubians, Syrians, Libyans, and Hittites.

In the second year of his reign (1281 BC, in particular), Ramesses II effectively fought the Shardana or Sherden sea pirates who were creating chaos along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast by assaulting cargo-laden vessels crossing the sea routes to Egypt  Sherden Sea pirates were a major danger to Ancient Egypt’s maritime trade. With remarkable chivalry and a brilliant strategic plan, Ramsses vowed to put a stop to this.

Ramesses set a trap for them by stationing a small naval force at the entrance of the Nile to lure the Sherdan ships. He positioned ships and troops at strategic spots around the coast and patiently waited for the pirates to strike. As their boats got closer, they were caught off guard in a fierce sea battle. Ramesses had soon incorporated the competent Shreden troops who had survived the battle into his army, where they would play a crucial role in the battle of Kadesh and even serve as his elite bodyguard.

The Battle of Kadesh and the First-Ever Peace Treaty

Ramses II is regarded as a great warrior who fought many battles. His victory at the Battle of Kadesh over the Hittites strengthened his reputation as a warrior. The Hittites saw an opportunity to probe Ramses II’s northern border while he was just 14 years old and had just taken the throne. They invaded and occupied Kadesh, a significant commerce town in present-day Syria.

In May 1274 B.C.E., at the close of his fourth year in rule, Ramses launched a military campaign to restore the lost provinces of the north. When Ramses II led his army to Kadesh, spies misled him into believing the Hittites were distant from the Egyptian camp. Instead, they waited nearby before attacking. The Egyptians were about to be defeated when backup arrived just in the nick of time. Although Ramses II won the battle, he did not win the war.

Because the Battle of Kadesh did not end in a decisive victory, two countries remained on the edge of war for several years. Ramses II claimed that the Battle of Kadesh was a success because he defeated his enemy. But Muwatalli II, the Hittite king, insisted that his people had won. While the outcome of the Battle of Kadesh appears to have been controversial, the battle did result in Ramses II and Hattusili III, Muwatalli II’s successors, signing the world’s first known peace treaty in 1258 BC. As a result, he was the world’s first ruler to sign a peace treaty. Additionally, he was successful in establishing a peaceful northern frontier that lasted the whole of Ramses’ reign.

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Is Ramsses the Pharaoh of Exodus?

Although Ramesses has often been connected with the biblical Book of Exodus’ pharaoh, there is no evidence to back up this assumption. Following the popularity of Cecil B. DeMille’s movie The Ten Commandments in 1956, the association of the name “Ramesses” with the nameless king of Egypt in the Bible became fairly prevalent.

Exodus 1:11 and 12:37, as well as Numbers 33:3 and 33:5, all cite Per-Ramesses as one of the places in which the Israelite slaves worked, as well as the city from which they escaped Egypt. There is no indication of a huge migration from the city, or from any other city in Egyptian history, and no evidence to support the theory that Per-Ramesses was built using slave labor.

Furthermore, Ramesses was known for writing histories of his achievements and embellishing the events when they did not match the narrative he wanted to maintain. It is exceedingly doubtful that such a ruler would fail to record the reported plagues that fell on Egypt or the departure of the Hebrew slaves. However, one should not depend simply on the inscriptions ordered by Ramesses; the Egyptians kept comprehensive records from the moment they learned writing, around 3200 BCE, and none of them even hint to a huge community of Hebrew slaves in Egypt, let alone their exodus.

Additionally, the Egyptian literary works from the Middle Kingdom to the Late Period contain various themes, motifs, and actual events that were used by the later scribes who produced the Biblical texts. Ramesses’ association with the cruel, rebellious pharaoh of Exodus is undesirable since it overlooks the character of a great and honorable ruler.

Ramses II-at-Memphis

When and how did Ramses II die?

Ramses the Great was a true leader and a mighty king who earned worldwide acclaim for extending and sustaining the Egyptian kingdom’s territory. Contrary to the popular belief of death by drowning as mentioned in the Quran and Bible, while in pursuit of Moses, Ramesses II died a natural death at the age of 90 (most likely of old age or heart failure).

Ramesses II’s mummy shows that the great pharaoh had sharp features complemented by a pointed nose and a strong, chiseled jaw line. Standing about 6 feet high, it was also claimed that he was a redhead with a tall, muscular figure. At the time of his death, he was suffering from severe dental problems and was plagued by arthritis and hardening of the arteries. He was proven to have ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammation of the spine’s joints that might have caused him to walk with a hunch back in old age.

Ramses had a spectacular burial chamber, similar to Queen Nefertari’s tomb, which is one of the most recognized architectural wonders of Ancient Egypt. Ramesses II was originally buried in the tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings, on the western bank of Thebes, Egypt. However, because of looters, priests had to move his body to a safer holding area, where he was rewrapped and placed inside the tomb of Queen Inapha.

In 1881, it was rediscovered in a hidden royal storehouse in Deir el-Bahri. Later in 1885, the mummy of the great pharaoh was placed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, where it remains as of 2007. Today, his mummy is laid in the Grand Egyptian Museum.

One statue of the pharaoh Ramesses II, called the Younger Memnon, is housed in the British Museum, London. This statue, which dates back to around 1250 BC, shows him as a benevolent king and mighty warrior of all time.


Ramsses II’s mummy still stands the time!

The Cairo Museum’s Egyptologists observed Ramses II’s mummy was fast decaying in 1974. It was decided to fly his mummy to Paris for thorough research and medical examination. Ramesses the Great was issued an Egyptian passport, which listed his occupation as King of Egypt (deceased).

His mummy was received at Le Bourget airport, just outside Paris, with the full military honours befitting a king.  The mummy was then transported to the Paris Ethnological Museum, where it was examined. The researchers discovered that the deterioration of the mummy was caused by a fungal infestation, and it was treated to mitigate the threat of detrioration.

The bottom line

Hailed in history for signing the first-ever peace treaty, Ramses II is one of the most powerful and influential pharaohs to have ruled Egypt in its golden age. The Egyptian landscape still bears testimony to the prosperity of his reign in the many temples and monuments he had built in honor of his conquests and accomplishments. There is virtually no ancient site in Egypt that does not mention the name of Ramesses II. If you want to experience Ramses II’s magnificent legacy, make sure to book one of our Egypt tour packages.

The-colossus-of-Rameses II

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