Ramses the Great (ruled 1279 to 1213 B.C.)

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Ramses II Colossal statue
Ramses the Great, also known as Ramses II, was perhaps the greatest of all the Egyptian pharaohs. He became Pharaoh in 1279 B.C. when he was in his twenties and the pyramids were already 1,300 years old. He ruled ancient Egypt for 67 years during the golden age of the civilization. He raised more temples, obelisks and colossal monuments that any other Pharaoh and ruled an empire that stretched from present-day Libya and Sudan to Iraq and Turkey. The Bible refers to him simply as "Pharaoh." [Source: Rick Gore, National Geographic, April 1991 [♣]

Ramses, which means "Son of Ra," was five feet eight inches — tall by ancient Egyptian standards. "He had a strong jaw; a beaked nose, a long thin face," says James Harris of the University of Michigan, who X-rayed the Pharaoh's mummy, "That was not typical of earlier pharaohs. He probably looked more like the people of the eastern Mediterranean. Which is not surprising, because he came from the Nile delta, which had been invaded in the past by peoples from the east."♣

The mummy of Ramses the Great has Great has a shock of soft reddish-blonde hair with the texture of peach fuzz. CT scans and studies of tissue material from Ramses II’s body in the 2000s indicate that the Pharaoh had blackheads, arthritis and hardening of the arteries. X-rays of the mummy done in the 20th show he had arthritis of the hip, which forced him to stoop, and gum disease.

Ramses died at the age of 92 or 96. Having outlived many of his older sons, his 13th son ascended to the throne upon his death in 1298 B.C. Within 150 years after he was buried Ramses tomb was looted and the mummy was desecrated. In 1150 B.C., a grave robber confessed under torture to plundering the tombs of Ramses and his sons. Today Ramses unwrapped red-haired body lies today in the Cairo Museum.

Kenneth Kitchen, professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, is author of an authoritative book on Ramses the Great.

Does Ramses II Deserve to Be Called Great

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Although he is probably the most famous king in Egyptian history, his actual deeds and achievements cannot be compared with the great kings of the 18th dynasty. He is, in my opinion, unworthy of the title ‘Great’. A show-off and propagandist, he made his mark by having his name, like a graffiti artist, inscribed on every possible stone. Whereas kings such as Thutmose III left a stronger and more dynamic Egypt, after Ramses death Egypt fell into decline. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

John Ray of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC:“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. [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“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. |::|

“The architectural history of Ramesses' reign must now be rewritten, in the light of recent discoveries made in Tomb 5 of the Valley of the Kings. This tomb was long believed to have been a mere false start for the king's own burial place, but it is now known to contain more than 100 chambers, arranged on varying levels and destined to receive the bodies of most of the king's sons. The monument is uniquely intriguing. |::|

“Ramesses outlived many of his sons, and was succeeded by the thirteenth, a prince named Merneptah who was already advanced in years. One of this king's first acts was to call for an inventory of the wealth of the temples, and one gains the impression that the excesses of the previous reign had left the throne close to bankruptcy. This conclusion is supported by the history of the rest of the dynasty, which is disfigured by a series of feuds between rival branches of the over-extended family. Ramesses may well deserve the epithet, 'the Great', but, like some others who are honoured with the same distinction, he left a mixed legacy. |::|

Ramses' Grandfather and Father: Ramses I and Set I

Ramesses II on chariot
Ramses I was a commoner named Pramesse and leading bureaucrat when Pharaoh Horemheb died with no heir. He was the first pharaoh of Dynasty XIX, which lasted only 16 months. Seti I, Ramses I's successor, was a "vigorous warrior." He expanded the Egyptian empire to include Cyprus and parts of Mesopotamia. Seti I lives on as one of the best-preserved mummies. His face is on display at the Egyptians Museum. The Egyptologist Methew Addams told the New York Times, “people have been influenced by that face in their interpretation of Seti as having been a good, wise king, We are really projecting our own esthetic on him.”

Ramses I was Ramses' grandfather. Seti I, Ramses's father, took his son on military campaigns to Libya when he was 14 and later to Syria to battle the Hittites. John Ray of Cambridge University wrote: Ramesses I was "a solid figure, but essentially a provincial bureaucrat who had had greatness thrust upon him. This was not inspirational. When Ramesses II turned his attention to recent history, he would have seen the upheavals of the Amarna period, an episode which needed to be purged from the record. Before this, however, lay the family of the Tuthmosids, a dynasty which was associated with prosperity, elegance, and the growth of empire. |::|

“Another figure that loomed over the king was his father, Seti I, whose reign saw military success as well as achieving one of the high points of Egyptian art, marked by sensitivity, balance and restraint. These were the hard acts which it was Ramesses' destiny to follow, and one way of doing this would be to upstage the past by ostentation, thereby eclipsing it. Ramesses II was well suited to this kind of role, and the gods gave him a reign of 67 years in which to perfect his act. [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

In October 2003, the mummy of a pharaoh was returned too Egypt by the Michael Carlos Museum at Atlanta’s Emory University. Much fanfare was made bout the return of the mummy, which some believe in Ramses I based on the way the arms are crossed high over the chest, as was the custom with royal mummies in Ramses time and the resembled of face to faces of Seti I. Ramses II and Ramses VII. The mummy thought to be Ramses I was sold by dealers in the 19th century and ended yo in the Niagra Falls museum where at was displayed next to a two-headed and barrels used by daredevil go over the falls and were handed over to the museum at Emory after the Niagra museum was closed.

Ramses II's Wives and Children

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Nefertari and Ramses II
at Abu Simbel
Ramses had eight wives — including his younger sister and three daughters — and numerous concubines, which included several Hittite princesses. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen said: “If he got tired of hunting and shooting he could wander through the garden and blow a kiss at one of the ladies." In reliefs Ramses II is often pictured with a big dick and strong erection.

While Seti was still Pharaoh he selected a harem for his son. Ramses principal wife, the beautiful Nefertari, quickly produced a son. And not long afterwards his second favorite wife, Isntnofret, delivered another. More and more children followed. "Nefertari had the looks," Kitchen told National Geographic, "He was obviously proud of her, showing her off all the time. But I think Istnofert had the brains. It was her offspring that wielded the most power as Ramses aged."♣

Ramses fathered more than 100 children, including 52 known sons. According to some accounts he sired 162 children. By one count he had 96 sons and 60 daughters, with 200 or more wives and concubines, some of whom were his relatives. According to another reckoning he had 111 sons and 51 daughters.

His father started his harem when he was 10. When he ascended to the throne at 25 he had already fathered ten sons and as many daughters. Kitchen said: "Ramses's house must have resounded with the gurgles, yelps and whimpers of each year's crop or bouncing royal babies."♣

At the age of 20, Ramses took of his sons with him to campaign to quell down a minor revolt and lets them take part in a chariot charge. Ramses outlived 12 of his heirs and when he died his 13th son, Merneptah, took the throne in his sixties. Merneptah was a son of an Istnofret.

Nefertari and Isinofre: Ramses II's Principal Queens

Nefertari was Ramses first and favorite wife. He raised many statues to honor her. She often appeared with him at state and religious ceremonies. She may have traveled with Ramses on diplomatic missions and given him important advise.

It is Nefertari — of equal size — who sits side by side with Ramses at Abu Simbel and Luxor. A dedication for Nefertari's statue at Abu Simbel reads, "Nefertari, for whose sake her very sun does shine!" In contrast, wives of other pharaohs were usually depicted as diminutive figures at the feet of their husbands.

Little is known about Nefertari's early life. She is believed to have come from southern Egypt and may have been related to Queen Nefertiti. Nefertari bore Ramses five or seven children before she died in 1255 B.C. One painting of her shows her with cobras for earnings. In another Ramses callers her the "Possessor of charm, sweetness, and love."♣

When Nefertari died during Year 24 of Ramses II’s reign the Pharaoh produced the most beautiful tomb yet discovered in the Valley of the Queens. More or less intact today, the tomb features paintings of Nefertari in a sexy linen gown.

John Ray of Cambridge University wrote: “Nefertari is best known for her exquisitely decorated tomb in the Valley of the Queens at Luxor... one of the finest sights in Egypt. Nefertari owed her place in the king's affections partly to her charms, but also to the fact that she was the mother of several princes and princesses, including the eldest son and heir, who was given the snappy name Amenhiwenimmef, 'Amun is on his right hand'. Nefertari seems to have died before the thirtieth year of her husband's reign. [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The second principal wife is Isinofre, who is less well known. The influence of this queen is more detectable in the north of the country. She was a contemporary of her rival, and she could boast that she had borne the king his second son, diplomatically named Ramesses, and a favourite daughter, who was given the Canaanite name Bintanath, 'Daughter of the goddess Anath'. Isinofre was also the mother of the fourth in line to the throne,a prince named Khaemwise, who pursued a career in the priesthood of Memphis, and devoted himself to the study of hieroglyphs and antiquities. He also designed the Serapeum, the catacomb for the sacred Apis bulls in the desert at Saqqara. As a result of his interests and activities, Khaemwise has been described as the first Egyptologist in history. |::|

Ramses the Great as Pharaoh

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Ramses II pectoral
In the seventh year of Seti I’s reign, his son Ramses II became co-ruler of Egypt. Seti died at about age 50 and Ramses became pharaoh at the age of 24. One of first duties as the new Pharaoh was to participate in the festival of Opet in Thebes. During the festival a golden statue of the supreme god Amun was carried from the Temple of Karnak by barge and by foot on a two mile journey to the temple of Luxor where Amun-Min, the phallic god of fertility, resided. The statue stayed at Luxor for about two weeks while the Pharaoh presided over an annual secret renewal ceremony that also was intended to breath new life into the Pharaoh himself.♣

Ramses was very conservative. He discouraged innovation and reform and saw his amain duty as upholding traditional Egyptian customs. Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, More than anyone else, this great king would work to erase from history all traces of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and the other "heretics" of the Amarna period.”

Ramses was also considered to be very humane. He went against custom by featuring his children and wives in his monuments and reportedly was well liked by his subjects, who appeared to have been more than happy to toil and raise great monuments in his honor. In one stelae, Ramses boasted his workers "work for me with full hearts."

Early in his life, Ramses II went on numerous campaigns, one of which — the Battle of Kadesh — has been detailed in the poem of Pentaur, the son of Ramses III. In that poem, Ramses II is exalted as a great warrior and leader. Ramess II fought the Hittites and signed the world's first official peace treaty. He oversaw a massive building campaign.

Ramses II’s Building Campaign

Ramses II and his father Seti began many restoration and building projects. These included the building of several temples and the restoration of other shrines and complexes throughout Egypt. He built a mortuary complex at Abydos in honor of Osiris and the famed Ramesseum.

John Ray of Cambridge University wrote: “The traditional capitals, Memphis and Thebes, were not enough for” Ramesses II, he added his own in the Delta, modestly named Pi-Ramesse, one rendering of which would be Ramessopolis. Not even the heretic Akhenaten had dared to name his city after himself. Ramesses, however, thinks large. Previous Pharaohs had followed the rule that, in temple design, incised relief was used on the exterior walls, where it could cast strong shadows. Inside the temples, however, bas-relief was employed, since it does not produce such contrasts and creates a serene effect in the semi-dark. Unfortunately, bas-relief takes time, since the background to every detail needs to be cut away. Ramesses decided to double the rate of temple-building, by seeing to it that the work was done in fast, and cheap, incised relief. Akhenaten had sometimes resorted to the same shortcut, but he was in a genuine hurry, since he had abandoned traditional religion and needed a new home for his god. Ramesses II does not have this excuse. [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The temple-building programme instigated by Ramesses may have been rushed, but it turned out to be the most extensive ever achieved by a single Pharaoh in all Ancient Egypt's 30 dynasties, and some of the king's monuments, such as the delicate temple built at Abydos next to the larger complex of his father, show refinement and even understatement. The twin temples of Abu Simbel in Nubia, though by no means understated, are masterpieces of land-and river-scaping, as well as being political propaganda skilfully translated into stone. |::|

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: Ramses II spent much of “his life bolstering his image with huge building projects. His name is found everywhere on monuments and buildings in Egypt and he frequently usurped the works of his predecessors and inscribed his own name on statues which do not represent him. The smallest repair of a sanctuary was sufficient excuse for him to have his name inscribed on every prominent part of the building. His greatest works were the rock-hewn temple of Abu Simbel.. He also added to the temple of Amenhotep III at Luxor and completed the hall of columns at Karnak – still the largest columned room of any building in the world.

[Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Monuments and Art Produced Under Ramses the Great

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Ramses II at the Louvre
Under Seti and Ramses many large monuments were built, and the Pharaohs seemed intent on asserting their god-like omnipotence. Many scholars assert this was not just an expression but also a way of maintaining control over the empire's large army and bureaucracy.♣

The monument raised on Ramses were distinguished by their immense size not their artistic skill. The greatest monument created during the reign of Ramses the Great was Abu Simbel. Among the dozens of other temples built during his reign were number temples at Luxor and Karnak, including the magnificent forecourts at Luxor Temple, the Hall of Columns at Karnak, the city of Pi-Ramses, and the giant broken statue of Ramses the Great that inspired Shelley's Ozymandias.

John Ray of Cambridge University wrote: Good art can be found in Ramesses' reign, especially in the earlier years, and it continued to flourish when not subjected to the dead weight of the king's ego. [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Ramsesseum and Oozaymandias

Ramsesseum is the mortuary temple of Ramses II. Built as an expression to his greatness, it has been desecrated and was scavenged for materials over the years and now lies mostly in ruins. It features painting of the pharaoh depicted as Osiris, the god of the afterlife, and murals of the Battle of Kadesh. The head of the multi-ton, 57-foot-high colossi of Ramses II that inspired the Shelley poem “Ozymandias” and guarded the temple were hauled away in 1817 by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni. He hired scores of Egyptians to drag the seven-ton heads to a boat that carried the heads up the Nile and eventually to London. The bust and other Belzoni "conquests" now form the core of the Egyptian collection at the British museum.

In his poem “Oozaymandias” , about a colossal statue of Ramses, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelly wrote:

” Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and Despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of the that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

John Ray of Cambridge University wrote: “A form of the king's throne-name passed into Classical tradition as Ozymandias, and was immortalised as a symbol of ostentatious tyranny by the poet Shelley. Ozymandias and vulgarity were made for each other. Such is the case for the prosecution. Nevertheless, a defence lawyer, although faced with a daunting task, can still find points to make in Ozymandias' favour. An “abstract point in the king's defence is that modesty was never considered to be a Pharaonic virtue. If kings of Egypt were great by definition, there could be nothing wrong in going out of one's way to be the greatest: this was simply the logic of Pharaonic kingship.” |[Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Abu Simbel

Ramesseum plan
Abu Simbel (170 miles south of Aswan) is a monumental temple in southern Egypt with four colossal seated statues — two of Ramses the Great (Ramses II) and two of his wife Neferteri — and two main temples — one dedicated to the sun god Ra-Harakhte, Amun, Ra-Harmachis and Ptah, built into the cliff behind the colossal statues, and another dedicated to Hathor built into a cliff on an adjacent hill.

Abu Simbel is 185 feet long and 90 feet high. The four colossal statues are cut from the living rock and are 60 feet high.The rock-hewn "grotto" temples at Abu Simbel are somewhat unique. The style is more associated more with the Nubians and other Middle Eastern cultures than with the ancient Egyptians. Unlike many other Pharonic temples, Abu Simbel was never taken over by the Romans or turned into a church by Christians.

Abu Simbel was rediscovered in 1813 by John Lewis Burckhardt. In 1817, after weeks of digging, the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni cleared away enough sand to penetrate the temple. Two years later when the Nefertari’s shrine was uncovered tourists starting venturing down the Nile to visit the site and have been coming every since. The statues are best seen at sunrise.

The Colossal Statues at Abu Simbel are each 67 feet high and weigh 1,200 tons. Each eye is nearly three feet across. The statues were commissioned by Ramses and finished about 1260 B.C., coinciding more or less with Ramses 30 year jubilee when the pharaoh was 45. The statues were chiseled out of the mountainside, and, like the Sphinx and most other Egyptian temples, they were originally painted with bright colors. Scientist have been a able to ascertain from minute paint fragments left behind that the pharaohs headdresses were blue and gold, their skin was pink and the background was painted white.

Abu Simbel Temple

Abu Simbel Temple (behind the statues) is dedicated to the sun god Ra-Harakhte, and the gods Amun, Ptaj and a deified Ramses II. It is inside the cliff behind the statues and is 160 feet deep. Archaeologists have long wondered why Ramses built this temple so far to south of major Egyptian cities. Most believe it was a statement to the Nubians of the power of the pharaoh.

The original temple was built on a site where twice a year — on February 22nd (Ramses II’s birthday) and October 22nd (the anniversary of Ramses II’s coronation) — the morning sun penetrated into the temple's deepest chamber. The timing is probably connected to the symbolic unification, via the rays of the sun, of the statue of Ra-Rorakhty and the statue of Ramses II.

High on the facade there is a of carved baboons, smiling at the sunrise. On the door of the temple there is a beautiful inscription of the kings name. Above the door is the falcon-headed deity, Re-Harakhti. Between the legs of the colossal statues on the facade are statues of Ramses family, his mother "Mut-tuy," his wife "Nefertari" and his sons and daughters.

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Abu Simbel

The temple itself was made up of chambers, storerooms, square painted pillars and two halls with yet more statues of Ramses and a few of the gods. Specialist who worked at the City of the Dead completed most of the subterranean temple with bronze tools.

There are also a number of dedications. Important among these is one of Ramses II's marriage to the daughter of a Hittite king. Beyond the entrance is the Great Hall of Pillars, with eight 32-foot-high pillars of Ramses defied as the God Osiris. The walls have inscriptions recording the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites. The smaller Hall of Nobles contains four square pillars. The sacred central sanctuary contains a shrine pierced by the sun on Ramses’s birthday, February 21, and his coronation day, October 22.

Temple of Nefertari and Hathor at Abu Simbel (on a hill adjacent to the hill with the colossal statues and the main temple) is a smaller temple fronted by more Ramses stature with two statues of Nefertari, sandwiched in between. Dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of Love and Beauty, and Nefertari, the temple is chiseled into the cliff behind the statues and is thought to have been completed before the Ramses temple. The two temples have similar designs.

The four facade statues of Ramses and two of Nefertari are 33 feet tall. The statues of the queen are smiling. The upper portion of the second statue on the Ramses temple is believed to have fallen off during the Pharaoh's time from stresses in the rock. Queen Nefertari is portrayed with cows horns of the goddess Hathor. The entrance of the Temple of Hathor leads to a hall containing six pillars bearing the head of the goddess Hathor. The eastern wall bears inscriptions depicting Ramses striking some enemies before the gods Ra and Amum. Other wall scenes show Ramses and Nefertari offering sacrifices to the gods and performing religious rituals. There are also superb reliefs of the Battle of Kadesh. Beyond this is another wall with similar scenes and paintings. In the sacred central shrine there is a statue of Hathor.

Karnak Temple Under Ramesses II

Elaine Sullivan of UCLA wrote: “Ramesses II completed and altered Sety I’s unfinished decorative program on the walls and columns of the hypostyle hall. Battle scenes of the king were added to the hall’s southern exterior wall, paralleling the military decoration of his father on the north wall. The girdle wall enclosing the temple on its southern and eastern ends, built by Thutmose III, was now adorned with deeply carved relief scenes and inscriptions. [Source: Elaine Sullivan, UCLA, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ] “In the eastern section of Karnak, the king added a small shrine to the “unique” obelisk of Thutmose IV. The shrine, called “the temple of Amun-Ra, Ramesses, who hears prayers,” consisted of a gateway and pillared hall with a central false door. Two lateral doors led to the object of veneration, the “unique” obelisk. A number of the column drums used for the hall were clearly taken from an earlier Thutmoside structure, and there is some evidence that there had been a shrine in this location previously. The chapel seems to have functioned similarly to a contra-temple, as it was accessible to the public who visited for oracular judgments. Further east, along the temple’s east-west axis, Ramesses II added an entrance to eastern Karnak, marked by two red granite obelisks and a pair of red granite sphinxes.

“To the west of the Amun-Ra Temple’s main gate, the second pylon, Pinedjem may have placed a line of 100 or more criosphinxes on stone pedestals. This sphinx avenue is traditionally assigned to Ramesses II, whose titles are inscribed on the small statuettes between the animals’ paws. A new theory, however, argues that the sphinxes, which stylistically appear to have been carved under Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, stood at Luxor Temple in the 18th and 19th Dynasties. When Ramesses II modified that temple, he usurped the statues and rearranged them before his new court at Luxor. According to the theory, they were only moved to Karnak in the 21st Dynasty, when Pinedjem added his own name and inscriptions to the socles. The exact length and terminus of this avenue remain unknown, as it was later reorganized when new constructions changed the front of the temple in the 25th Dynasty, but it likely extended up to the (later) first pylon, or to a quay beyond.”

Ramses, the Hittites and the Battle of Kadesh

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Treaty of Kadesh
The Egyptians and Hittites challenged one another for control of the eastern Mediterranean. The Hittites had iron weapons, the Egyptians didn’t. In 1288 B.C., the fifth year of his reign, Ramses and his young sons mounted chariots and led an army of 20,000 men — a huge number at that time — to Syria for a "superpower showdown" against the Hittite king Muwatallis, whose a force was nearly twice as big as the Egyptian force. ♣

At stake was Kadesh, a fortress town in Syria that guarded the trade routes to the east (the Egyptians, and probably, the Hittites imported silk from China). Seti I, Ramses father, had captured the city, but when he returned to Egypt, the Hittites recaptured it.

Ramses's army was surprised by an ambush from the Hittites outside of Kadesh and the Egyptian army scattered. According to an inscription of dubious merit, Ramses found himself abandoned but nevertheless mounted his chariot and led a charge and Egyptian reinforcements arrived and this time the Hittites were on the run. In reality the Egyptians were routed but neither side was able to gain territory on the other, so Ramses went home and raised a monument to declare his great victory.

Ramses led military campaigns against the Hittites until he was in his 40s. After 15 years of fighting the Egyptians and Hittites signed a peace treaty that proved to be so cordial that the Hittite king Hattusilis III sent his eldest daughter,Maat-Hor-Nefersure to wed Ramses II in 1246 B.C. The marriage almost didn't come off because of a last minute argument between Ramses II and Hattusilis over the dowry.

The marriage between Ramses and Maat-Hor-Nefersure ushered in a long period of peace and prosperity that lasted until Ramses' death. Ramses later married another one of Hattusilis's daughters. The Hitittes may have even sent craftsman to Egypt to make iron shields and weapons for the Egyptians.♣

Herodotus on Senusret (Ramses II)

Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “Leaving the latter aside, then, I shall speak of the king who came after them, whose name was Senusret44. This king, the priests said, set out with a fleet of long ships45 from the Arabian Gulf and subjugated all those living by the Red Sea, until he came to a sea which was too shallow for his vessels. After returning from there back to Egypt, he gathered a great army (according to the account of the priests) and marched over the mainland, subjugating every nation to which he came. When those that he met were valiant men and strove hard for freedom, he set up pillars in their land, the inscription on which showed his own name and his country's, and how he had overcome them with his own power; but when the cities had made no resistance and been easily taken, then he put an inscription on the pillars just as he had done where the nations were brave; but he also drew on them the private parts of a woman, wishing to show clearly that the people were cowardly. 103. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“He marched over the country doing this until he had crossed over from Asia to Europe and defeated the Scythians and Thracians. Thus far and no farther, I think, the Egyptian army went; for the pillars can be seen standing in their country, but in none beyond it. From there, he turned around and went back home; and when he came to the Phasis river, that King, Senusret, may have detached some part of his army and left it there to live in the country (for I cannot speak with exact knowledge), or it may be that some of his soldiers grew weary of his wanderings, and stayed by the Phasis.

Ramses II's mummy head
T“Now when this Egyptian Senusret (so the priests said) reached Daphnae of Pelusium on his way home, leading many captives from the peoples whose lands he had subjugated, his brother, whom he had left in charge in Egypt, invited him and his sons to a banquet and then piled wood around the house and set it on fire. When Senusret was aware of this, he at once consulted his wife, whom (it was said) he had with him; and she advised him to lay two of his six sons on the fire and make a bridge over the burning so that they could walk over the bodies of the two and escape. This Senusret did; two of his sons were thus burnt but the rest escaped alive with their father.

“After returning to Egypt, and avenging himself on his brother, Senusret found work for the multitude which he brought with him from the countries which he had subdued. It was these who dragged the great and long blocks of stone which were brought in this king's reign to the temple of Hephaestus; and it was they who were compelled to dig all the canals which are now in Egypt, and involuntarily made what had been a land of horses and carts empty of these. For from this time Egypt, although a level land, could use no horses or carts, because there were so many canals going every which way. The reason why the king thus intersected the country was this: those Egyptians whose towns were not on the Nile, but inland from it, lacked water whenever the flood left their land, and drank only brackish water from wells.

“For this reason Egypt was intersected. This king also (they said) divided the country among all the Egyptians by giving each an equal parcel of land, and made this his source of revenue, assessing the payment of a yearly tax. And any man who was robbed by the river of part of his land could come to Senusret and declare what had happened; then the king would send men to look into it and calculate the part by which the land was diminished, so that thereafter it should pay in proportion to the tax originally imposed. From this, in my opinion, the Greeks learned the art of measuring land; the sunclock and the sundial, and the twelve divisions of the day, came to Hellas from Babylonia and not from Egypt.

“Senusret was the only Egyptian king who also ruled Ethiopia. To commemorate his name, he set before the temple of Hephaestus two stone statues, of himself and of his wife, each fifty feet high, and statues of his four sons, each thirty-three feet. Long afterwards, Darius the Persian would have set up his statue before these; but the priest of Hephaestus forbade him, saying that he had achieved nothing equal to the deeds of Senusret the Egyptian; for Senusret (he said) had subjugated the Scythians, besides as many nations as Darius had conquered, and Darius had not been able to overcome the Scythians; therefore, it was not just that Darius should set his statue before the statues of Senusret, whose achievements he had not equalled. Darius, it is said, let the priest have his way.

“As to the pillars that Senusret, king of Egypt, set up in the countries, most of them are no longer to be seen. But I myself saw them in the Palestine district of Syria, with the aforesaid writing and the women's private parts on them. Also, there are in Ionia two figures of this man carved in rock, one on the road from Ephesus to Phocaea, and the other on that from Sardis to Smyrna. In both places, the figure is over twenty feet high, with a spear in his right hand and a bow in his left, and the rest of his equipment proportional; for it is both Egyptian and Ethiopian; and right across the breast from one shoulder to the other a text is cut in the Egyptian sacred characters, saying: “I myself won this land with the strength of my shoulders.” There is nothing here to show who he is and whence he comes, but it is shown elsewhere. Some of those who have seen these figures guess they are Memnon, but they are far indeed from the truth. “

Tomb of Ramses Sons

On February 2, 1995, American archaeologist Ken Weeks discovered a huge tomb with at least 108 chambers in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. Archaeologists considered it the most significant discovery in Egyptology since the discovery of King Tut's tomb.

Known officially as KV5 (the 5th tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings) and located about 100 feet from the tomb of Ramses the Great, the tomb is believed to have been a burial place for many of Ramses the Great' sons.

KV5 is the largest and most complex Egyptian tomb every discovered and the only multiple tomb for pharaoh's children. Inscriptions on the walls mentions two of Ramses' sons, which is what led archaeologists to believed it may be a tomb for his sons.

Describing the sensation of being in the tomb, Douglas Preston wrote in the New Yorker, "Nothing in twenty years of archaeology has prepared me for this great wrecked corridor chiseled out of the living rock, with rows of shattered doorways opening into darkness, and ending in the faceless mummy of Osiris...As I stare at the walls ghostly figures and faint hieroglyphics; animal-headed gods performing mysterious rites. Through doorways I catch a glimpse of more rooms and doorways beyond."

After being the first person to enter one chamber, "I sit up and look around....There is three feet of space between the top of the debris and the ceiling, just enough for me to crawl around...The room is about nine feet square, the walls finely chiseled from the bedrock...In run my fingers along the ancient chisel marks...Their only source of light would have been the dim illumination from wicks burning in a bowl of oil salted to reduce smoke.

Book: “ The Lost Tomb” by Kent R. Weeks (William Morrow & Co.) is the story of the tomb of the children of Ramses II.

Details about the Tomb of Ramses Sons

KV5 has a T-floor plan and is made up of a series of boxcar-like chambers connected by corridors, and ending with a burial vault. There are a number of descending passageways and side chambers and suites and false doors. One of the largest chambers is sixty square feet. It is supported by four huge pillars arranged in four rows.

Ramses III and the Memphis gods

There are reliefs that show Ramses presenting various sons to the gods, with the names and tools recorded in hieroglyphics. Objects found include faince jewelry, fragments of furniture, pieces of coffin, humans and animal bones, mummified body parts, chunks of sarcophagi, remains of jars used for mummified organs — all debris left behind by looters.

The purpose of the tomb is a mysterious. Its design is radically different from other ancient Egyptian tombs. The rooms are not believed to have been burial chambers because the doorways are too narrow to admit sarcophagi. Instead they are believed to have been chapels where priest made offerings to the dead sons.

One corridors heads in the direction of the Tomb of Ramses and some scholars speculate that they might be connected. No two tombs are known to be connected. Some scholars believe Ramses's daughters might be buried in the tombs, others say that is unlikely. Archaeologists have found no evidence of Moses or the Exodus.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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