Flourished Circa 1279-1213 b.c.e.
King, dynasty 19
Progeny. Ramesses II (the Great) successfully ruled Egypt for sixty-six years in spite of military setbacks. He was the son of Sety I, the previous king, and his wife Queen Tuya. Evidently reacting to the lack of heirs at the end of the previous Dynasty 18 (circa 1539-1295/1292 b.c.e.), Ramesses II began his reign with two principal wives, Nefertary and Isetnefret. Two Hittite princesses also became his wives, one in Year 34 and one about Year 44. Four of Ramesses II’s daughters also held this title. They were among approximately forty daughters and forty-five sons born by various royal women. Many of the sons were buried in the Valley of the Kings (Tomb number KV 5) in an unusual tomb designed for multiple burials. Four of the daughters—Henutmira, Bintanat, Merytamun, and Nebettawy—had decorated tombs in the Valley of the Queens. His thirteenth son, Merneptah. followed Ramesses II on the throne.
Foreign Relations. The earlier part of Ramesses II’s reign included largely unsuccessful wars with the Hittites and more successful wars in Nubia. An initial campaign in Year 4 secured the Palestinian coast for Egypt, but the Battle of Qadesh in the following year (1274 b.c.e.) failed to win the town back for Egypt. The propaganda campaign that followed the battle, however, was a great success. By emphasizing Ramesses II’s personal bravery, the king succeeded in presenting the battle in the best possible light. He reached a wide public through carving scenes of the battle at temples throughout Egypt. Minor campaigns in modern Jordan and Syria occurred in Years 7, 8, and 10. Ramesses II avoided another Qadesh in all of these battles.
Negotiated Peace. A further strain in Ramesses II’s relations with the Hittites occurred in Year 18. Ramesses II gave sanctuary to the former Hittite king Mursili III (Urhi-Teshub), whose uncle Hattusili III had deposed him two years earlier. Though Hattusili III threatened to invade Egypt because Ramesses II helped Mursili III, the Hittite king was unable to execute his threats. The Assyrians attacked the Hittites’ eastern border that same year, giving Hattusili III more important problems to solve. By Year 21, Hattusili III and Ramesses II negotiated a peace treaty that ended hostilities between Egypt and the Hittites.
Frontier Forts. Ramesses II turned his attention to the western border with Libya, the new trouble spot for Egyptian defense. A series of forts kept this frontier quiet through Ramesses II’s reign, though Libyans would be ruling Egypt by Dynasty 21 (circa 1075-945 b.c.e.).
Internal Developments. Ramesses II carried out a vast building program, adding monumental rooms at Luxor and Karnak, a new temple at Abydos, and the now famous temple at Abu Simbel. He also built a new capital in the eastern Delta called Pi-Ramesses (the House of Ramesses.) In fact, almost every site in Egypt witnessed new building activity during Ramesses II’s reign. Perhaps he was continuing the temple restoration needed after Akhenaten’s closing of the old temples; or perhaps his long reign followed by a period of relative poverty in Egypt meant that Ramesses II was simply the last king to follow such a large-scale building program. Thus, his buildings remain the last on a site. Whatever the cause, the architecture of Ramesses II’s reign remained the most plentiful from any period in Egyptian history.
Deification. Among the temples that Ramesses II built were chapels dedicated to the king himself as a god. Colossal statues of Ramesses II were erected in front of many temples with cults dedicated to the divine Ramesses II. Chapels in temples depicted Ramesses II making offerings to himself as a god. Ramesses II had deified himself to a much greater extent than previous kings of the New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.).
Legacy. Ramesses II outlived the first twelve sons he designated as his successor. Merneptah, his fourth son by Isetnefret, followed him on the throne after his death in about 1213 b.c.e. Even though he had lost a major battle with the Hittites at Qadesh, his reign was remembered as one of the greatest in Egyptian history.
Kenneth A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt (Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips, 1982).
William MacQuitty, Ramesses the Great: Master of the World (New York: Crown, 1978).
Charles L. Nichols, The Library of Rameses the Great (Berkeley, Cal.: Peacock, 1964).
Kent R. Weeks, The Lost Tomb (New York: Morrow, 1998).