Ramses II (1303–1213 BC), also spelled “Ramesses” or “Rameses” and pronounced variously, was the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt.
His reign was the second-longest in Egyptian history. Find out about the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom.
Who Was Ramses II?
Ramses II was a child to his father, Seti I, and mother, Tuya, before he took the lead as the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt. However, Ramses II belonged to a commoner class until his grandfather, Ramses I, who elevated their family to the ranks of royalty.
– Milestones at a Young Age
Ramses II was designated prince regent by his father at the early age of 14. He was provided with a kingly household and harem, and he accompanied his father on campaigns. Hence, when he came to rule, he already had the experience of kingship and of war.
It is notable that he was appointed as a descendant at a very young age as if to ensure that he would in fact succeed to the throne. He ranked as a captain of the army while still only 10 years old. At that age, his rank must surely have been honorific, though he might have been receiving military training.
According to his known succession date of day 27 in the Third Season of the Harvest, most scholars nowadays assumed that he was seated on the throne on 31 May 1279 BC. He was also recognized as Ramses the Great. Later, Egyptians and his successors named him the “Great Ancestor.”
The initial part of his sovereignty was fixated on constructing temples, monuments, and cities. He is known for his numerous colossal monuments that exist throughout Egypt. He built the main headquarters for his campaigns in Syria, where he also established the city of Pi-Rameses or Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning “Domain of Ramesses, Great in Victory,” in the Nile Delta, his new capital.
He conducted various military campaigns into the Levant with the intention of reestablishing Egyptian authority over Canaan. He was also celebrated in writings at Gerf Hussein and Beit el-Wali when he led expeditions to the south, into Nubia. Among many other pharaohs, he commemorated the most Sed festivals, with a remarkable number of 13 or 14 times during his reign.
– The Army
In his early life, Ramses the Second commenced multiple campaigns with the aims of recovering the ownership of previously owned regions invaded by Hittites and Nubians and protecting Egypt’s borders. He also subdued some Nubian rebellions and accomplished an expedition in Libya.
He took pleasure in his victories over Egypt’s enemies. It was estimated that he had 100,000 men under him during his reign that helped fortify Egyptians’ influence through the intimidating force of the Egyptian army.
In year two, he initiated a battle against sea pirates called Sherden who were creating chaos across Egypt’s Mediterranean seashore by assaulting cargo vessels navigating the shipping lane to Egypt. The Sherden group traveled from Southwest Anatolia from the coastal region of Ionia or from the island of Sardinia.
Pharaoh Ramses II startled them in a naval battle and captured them all by posting armies and ships at tactical points across the coast and enduringly allowing the pirates to attack their targeted victims. In this sea encounter, the pharaoh also conquered the Lukka, who are perhaps the people later described as the Lycians, as well as the Shekelesh people.
– First Defeat
In the fourth year of his reign, King Ramses II’s first campaign took place where he captured the Hittite vassals’ state of Amurru in Syria. This was also celebrated by the beginning of what turned out to be the inception of the Nahr el-Kalb’s Commemorative stelae.
Described as a rock-cut relief carved into the limestone rocks consisting of over 20 inscriptions throughout the firth of Nahr al-Kalb (Dog River) in Lebanon, in the north of Beirut. Nevertheless, the writing is almost indecipherable owing to weather conditions.
These early campaigns of Pharaoh Ramses II were also the early antecedents to the Battle of Kadesh. This battle took place in the fifth year of his reign.
This was the ultimate moment during which Ramses II attacked Syria in opposition to the Hittite armies of Muwatallis.
He wanted to win over Kadesh to extend Egypt’s border into Syria, where he constructed the new capital of his kingdom from Thebes in the Nile valley to a new site in the eastern Delta, Pi-Ramesses.
– Growing Stronger
Pi-Ramesses was dominated by enormous temples and his vast residential palace, complete with its own zoo. There he constructed factories to build shields, weapons, and chariots, supposedly producing about 250 chariots, 2,000 weapons, and 1,250 shields, all in two weeks. After putting these up together, Ramesses and his armies attacked the Levant’s territory that was held by his more substantial rival, the Hittite Empire.
At Kadesh, Ramses II’s armies were captured in a surprise attack by Hittites and were outnumbered when they counterattacked and routed them. Those who survived abandoned their chariots and swam across the Orontes River until they set foot to the safe city boundary. The pharaoh returned to Egypt for he could no longer support a long siege.
Hittites got ahold of Syria, while Egypt’s authority now revolved only to Canaan. Canaanite princes began rebelling against Egypt as they were seemingly stirred up by the Egyptian inability to force their will and were egged on by the Hittites. In year seven, the pharaoh reestablished Egypt’s former sphere of influence by returning to Syria once more for another expedition.
– The Triumphs of Ramses II
During this period, he demonstrated triumph against his Hittite enemies. He divided his forces into two units. One unit was accompanied by Amun-her-khepeshef, his son, and they ran after the soldiers from the tribe of Shasu along Negev up to the Dead Sea.
They conquered Edom-Seir and soon captured Moab. The other unit, led by Ramses II, attacked Jericho and Jerusalem. He also set foot in Moab, where he reunited with his son and other armies. They again conquered Upi (the land around Damascus) as they moved on to Hesbon, Damascus, and Kumidi.
Ramses II lengthened his military success during the eighth and ninth years of his reign. He navigated the Dog River (Nahr al-Kalb) and traveled north into Amurru. Together with his armies, they headed as far north as Dapur, where he raised his own statue. Ramesses II surrounded the place in the city before capturing the northern Amurru in Tunip, where no Egyptian army had been noted since the rule of Thutmose III, almost 120 years back.
In his 10th year, King Ramses II erected a stele at Beth-Shan. After reestablishing his authority over Canaan, he joined his army on the northern part. Nonetheless, within a year, they had to go back to the Hittite region. Thus, Ramesses II had to travel to Dapur once again in his year 10.
– Different Tactics During Attacks
This time, he stated that he faced combat without having to wear on his armor until two hours after the fighting began. Six of Ramses’ young sons participated in this conquest while they were still wearing their side locks or the side braid.
Ramses II took hold of the cities in Retjenu and Tunip in Naharin, which was depicted on the walls of Ramesseum. This other accomplishment at the site was as hallow as his first, as they both could conquer each other in combat.
After failing to dethrone his uncle from the royal seat, Mursili III, the dethroned Hittite ruler, ran away to Egypt, the territory of his country’s enemy. Ḫattušili III answered by challenging Egypt’s pharaoh to let his nephew return to Hatti. When Ramesses stated that he was not aware of Mursili’s location inside his country, the two kingdoms came alarmingly on the verge of war.
– First Peace Treaty
In his 21st year, Ramses II decided to end the conflict by concluding an arrangement at Kadesh with the newly enthroned Hittite ruler, Ḫattušili III. This record was the first peace treaty in world history.
This was written in two different types, one in Egyptian hieroglyphics and the other in Hittite, using cuneiform script. While most of the writings were similar, the Hittite one stated that the Egyptians approached appealing for peace, and the Egyptian one stated the opposite.
The treaty was inscribed on a silver plaque and was given to the Egyptians. This version, known as the “pocketbook,” was retracted back to Egypt and inscribed into the Karnak Temple. It contained 18 articles calling for peace between the two countries and indicating that their personal deities also call for peace.
The borders were not written down in this treaty but may be concluded from other records. The Papyrus Anastasi I is an Egyptian papyrus that particularizes and names the Phoenician coastal cities under Egyptian authority in Canaan during the latter part of the reign of Ramesses II.
After the conclusion of the peace treaty, no further Egyptian expeditions in Canaan were recorded. The rule of the pharaoh was indestructible until his death and the diminishing of the empire, as the treaty made the north border peaceful and secure.
– Attacking the Nubians
When Ramses II was about 22, he campaigned south into Nubia, and his two sons went along with him in one of those expeditions. At that moment, Nubia appeared to be colonized for 200 years, and its defeat was inscribed in one of the temples Ramses II constructed at Gerf Hussein, Beit el-Wali, and Kalabsha in the northern part of Nubia.
In the southern part of the Beit el-Wali temple’s wall, Ramses II is represented charging into war against clans in the southern part of Egypt together with his two sons, Khaemwaset and Amun-her-khepsef, while riding a war chariot. Another wall in the temple depicted that he had to fight a battle with those clans without aid from his armies.
– Known Through Records
There are generalized records of Ramses II conquering and defeating Libyans, but there are no comprehensive reports of him establishing a substantial military agreement with them. This cannot be referred to a particular event that may have otherwise been unreported.
There are some records recalling Ramses II’s presence in his father’s Libyan expeditions on his second year’s Aswan Stele. Possibly, the one who accomplished this assumed authority over the country and who arranged to build the defensive system was his father, Seti I, in a manner identical to how he reestablished the Horus Military Road in Northern Sinai.
Aside from building Pi-Rameses and erecting stelae, Ramses II showed his obsession with buildings, monuments, and cartouches in Egypt and Nubia throughout his reign.
– Construction of Temples
For instance, he built a memorial temple between Qurna and the desert, which has been called “Ramesseum,” in the 19th century. It consisted of two courts with a huge pylon built before the first court, a royal palace at the left, and the enormous monument of the king towering up at the back.
The triumph over the Hittite forces of the great pharaoh and his forces and the enemy’s fleeing from Kadesh were embellished on the pylon. Scenes of battles and the alleged retreat of the Hittites at Kadesh were repeatedly inscribed on the walls.
In the upper registers, feast and honor of the phallic deity Min, god of fertility, were demonstrated. Ramses II’s children also appeared in the decoration of the walls. Furthermore, traces of a school for scribes were found among the ruins.
Another great temple Ramses II built together with his first wife, Queen Nefertari, in 1255 BC was Abu Simbel. In 1813, Swiss Orientalist and traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered this temple. Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a Paduan explorer, reached its internal part on August 4, 1817.
– Other Constructions
The Karnak Temple Complex consisted of a diverse mix of decayed chapels, pylons, temples, as well as other buildings. It was about 230 feet (70 meters) by 88 feet (27 meters), and it was also constructed by King Ramses II.
The colossal statue of Ramesses II dates back 3,200 years and was originally discovered in six pieces in a temple near Memphis. It was transported, rebuilt, and raised in 1955 on Ramesses Square in Cairo. To save it from deterioration due to exhaust fumes, contractors relocated it in August 2006. The new site is near the future Grand Egyptian Museum.
Death and Legacy
King Ramses II’s 66 years of sovereignty had made Egypt wealthy from all the supplies and bounty he had acquired from other empires. His age of death is estimated to vary between 90 and 91.
He had over 200 wives and concubines and over 100 children. He had outlived many of his wives and children and left impressive monuments all throughout Egypt. Nine more pharaohs took the name “Ramesses” in his honor.
– Ramses II Tomb
Originally, Ramses II tomb was in the Valley of the Kings. However, because of some attempts of burglary, the priests later relocated the body to a holding area, rewrapped it, and placed it inside Queen Ahmose Inhapy’s tomb.
After three days, it was again transferred to the tomb of the high priest Pinedjem II. The linen covering the body of the coffin of Ramses II has all of this information recorded in hieroglyphics.
– Ramses II Mummy
Ramses II mummy now rests in Cairo’s National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. It was first discovered inside an ordinary wooden coffin in TT320. On April 3, 2021, the mummy was moved to the Egyptian Museum.
Ramses II’s mummy displays a curved nose and chiseled jawline. “On the temples, there are a few sparse hairs, but at the poll, the hair is quite thick, forming smooth, straight locks about five centimeters in length. White at the time of death and possibly auburn during life, the hair has been dyed a light red by the spices (henna) used in embalming.
The mustache and beard are thin. The hairs are white, like those of the head and eyebrows; the skin is of earthy brown, splotched with black. The face of the mummy gives a fair idea of the face of the living king,” stated Gaston Maspero, who first unwrapped the mummy of the deceased pharaoh.
– Recent Discoveries
The mummy was examined in 1975 by a French doctor, Maurice Bucaille, at the Cairo Museum. The French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing persuaded the Egyptian jurisdiction to transfer the mummy to France for treatment as it was found in a deprived condition. It was welcomed with full military honors at Paris–Le Bourget Airport in September 1976 and then moved to a laboratory at the Musée de l’Homme.
At the Criminal Identification Laboratory of Paris, Professor Pierre-Fernand Ceccaldi, the chief forensic scientist, was the one who forensically examined King Ramses II’s mummy. He discovered that “Hair, astonishingly preserved, showed some complementary data—especially about pigmentation: Ramses II was a ginger-haired ‘cymnotriche leucoderma’.” The description stated refers to a light-complexioned person with wavy auburn or ginger hair.
The following microscopic examination of Ramesses II’s hair roots confirmed that the king’s hair was basically red, which implied that he was from a clan of redheads. Aside from cosmetic significance, in ancient Egypt, people who had red hair were linked with Set, a deity and the slayer of Osiris. The name of Ramses II’s father, Seti I, which means “follower of Seth,” was inspired by this deity.
The scientific investigation exposed arthritis, some battle wounds, old fractures, and poor circulation. He was believed to have walked with a hunched back for the last years of his existence due to his arthritis. They detected a serious hole in Ramses II’s mandible and noticed an abscess by his teeth, which was significant enough to have caused death by infection, although this was just considered a theory.
In May 1977, the mummy was successfully sent back from Paris to Egypt after being irradiated.
Ramses II is destined for power as if he was born to rise above and beyond to rule his kingdom. A reign fruitful as it is amazing, Ramses II is one of the most celebrated leaders of his time that transcended hundreds of years beyond him.
- Ramses II had been destined to be a king since his youth, and he proved his greatness through the test of time.
- He is the greatest, most famous, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, which itself was the most influential era of ancient Egypt.
- He embarked on numerous victorious campaigns that demonstrated his strength as a leader.
- He left great memorials throughout his empire, and the remains make Egypt admired up to this day.
When you are a great leader and got the wits to pursue it, you will surely go far. This is how Ramses II defined his world and made it an awesome one.