Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great)

Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great)

Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great), is regarded as the most powerful pharaoh in Egyptian History. He was the third pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. Ramesses II reigned for 67 years (1279-1213 BC) and used a massive building program, diplomacy, and propaganda to become the greatest ruler of Egypt’s Golden Age. If it is true that he ascended to the throne of Egypt in 1279 as believed, then he became pharaoh May 31, 1279 BC.

Hittite Problem
With a young pharoah on the throne of Egypt, the Hittites invaded and captured the important town of Kadesh. Ramesses gathered an army together and led them to battle against the Hittites. The Hittites quickly gained the advantage after ambushing the Egyptians and devastating the ‘Ra’ division which took the initial charge of the Hittite chariots. It appeared the Egyptians would be defeated. However, as reinforcements arrived, Ramesses was able to rally the soldiers and battle to a stalemate. Amazed by Ramesses ability to turn a losing battle into a stalemate, the battle was considered a triumph for Ramesses.

Propoganda Ramps Up
Ramesses would use his propaganda machine to proclaim his victory to the Egyptians. For example, on the temple walls of Luxor, his stalemate is described as follows:

His majesty slaughtered the armed forces of the Hittites in their entirety, their great rulers and all their brothers … their infantry and chariot troops fell prostrate, one on top of the other. His majesty killed them … and they lay stretched out in front of their horses. But his majesty was alone, nobody accompanied him …

Ramesses realized the need for diplomacy with the Hittites and was able to negotiate the earliest known peace treaty in history. His propaganda is again demonstrated in the agreement. Both the Egyptian hieroglyphic and cuneiform versions of the document survive. Most of the text is identical between the two versions, but the Hittite version claims that the Egyptians were suing for peace and the Egyptian version claims the opposite.

Building Projects
Having established peace with the Hittites, Ramesses II would focus on major construction projects.

The most well known of these projects are:

  • The Ramesseum (across the Nile from the modern city of Luxor) which contained a library called the House of Life. The library contained approximately 10,000 scrolls creating an official image of Ramesses’ greatness.
  • The Temples at Abu Simbel to his queen Nefertari, and to himself, commemorating his ‘victory’ in the Battle of Kadesh.
  • Nefertari

    Ramesses Chief Queen Nefertari

    Sed Festival
    Once a pharoah had reigned for 30 years (and every three years after that), a Sed festival would be held. The primary purpose of the Sed festival was to rejuvenate the pharoah’s strength and stamina while still on the throne. Based on surviving inscriptions, the most lavish of these festivals were held by Ramesses II and Amenhotep III. Due to the length of Ramesses reign, he celebrated at least 13 Sed festivals.

    Ramesses would die at the age of 93, being the only ruler most of his subjects had ever known. After his death, new enemies would attack the empire and less than 150 years later the New Kingdom would come to an end.

    Continued Royal Treatment
    Egyptologists visiting Ramesses’s tomb in 1974 noticed rapid deterioration of the mummy. The mummy would need to be flown to Paris for examination. Ramesses II was issued an Egyptian passport on which his occupation was listed as “King (deceased)”. Upon arrival at Le Bourget airport, the mummy of Ramesses II received full military honors. It was determined that the mummy was being attacked by fungus, which was treated. Scientific analysis from the examination revealed battle wounds as well as arthritis, poor circulation, and red hair.

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