RAMSES II

 

By name RAMSES THE GREAT also called USERMARE RAMSES (13th century

 

BC), third king of the 19th dynasty of Egypt whose reign (1304-1237 BC) was

the second longest in Egyptian history. In addition to his wars with the

Hittites and Libyans, he is known for his extensive building programs and for

the many colossal statues of him found all over Egypt.

 

Background and early years of reign.

 

Ramse's  family of  non royal origin, came to power after the reign of the

religious reformer, Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV,1379-62BC),and set about

restoring Egyptian power in Asia which declined under Akhenaton and his

successor Tutankhamen. Ramses father,Seti I subdued a number of rebellious

princes in Palestine and southern Syria and waged war on the Hittites  of

Anatolia in order to recover those provinces in the north that during the

recent troubles had passed from Egyptian to Hittite control. Seti achieved

some success against the Hittite at first but his gains were only

temporary for at the end of his reign the enemy was firmly established at

Kadesh on the Orontes River,a strong fortress defended by the river which

became the key to their southern frontier.

Early in his reign Seti made the crown prince Ramses the future Ramses

II co-regent with him, giving him a kingly household and harem, and the

young prince accompanied his father on his campaigns, so that when he came

to sole rule he had already had experience of kingship and  war. It would

appear however  that Ramses was not the eldest son, for in a relief at

Karnak of his father's Libyan war, the figure of a prince whose name is not

preserved was inserted into the scene after it had been completed, but the

figure was later erased and that of Ramses substituted for it. What lay

behind these events is not known, but it is noteworthy that Ramses was

crowned co-regent at an unusually early 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 may well have been receiving military training.

Because his family's home was in the Nile Delta and in order to have a

convenient base for campaigns in Asia, Ramses built for himself a full scale

residence city called  Pi-Ramesse (House of Ramses; biblical Ramses) which

was famous for its beautiful layout, with gardens orchards, and pleasant

waters. Each of its four quarters had its own presiding deity: Amon in the

west, Seth in the south, the royal cobra goddess Buto, in the north, and,

significantly, the Syrian goddess Astarte in the east. A vogue for Asian

deities had grown in Egypt, and Ramses himself had distinct leanings in that

direction.

 

The first public act of Ramses after his accession to sole rule was to visit

Thebes, the southern capital, for the great religious festival of Taurt when

the god Amon of Karnak made a state in his ceremonial barge to the temple of

Luxor. When returning to his home in the north, the King broke his journy at

Abydos to worship Osiris and to arrange for the resumption of work on the

great temple founded there by his father, which had been interrupted by the

old king's death. He also took the opportunity to appoint as the new high

priest of Amon at Thebes a man named Nebwenenef,  high priest of Anhur at

nearby Thinis.

 

Military exploits.

 

It seems that, apart from his extensive building activities and his famous

residence city, Ramses reputation as a great king in the eyes of his

subjects rested largely on his fame as a soldier.

In the fourth year of his reign, he led an army north to recover the lost

provinces his father had been unable to conquer permanently. The first

expedition was to subdue rebellious local dynasts in southern Syria, to

ensure a secure springboard for further advances. He halted at the Nahr

al-Kalb near Beirut  where he set up an inscription to record the events of

the campaign; today nothing remains of it except his name and the date; all

the rest has weathered away.

 

The next year the main expedition set out its objective was the Hittite

Stronghold at Kadesh. Following the coastal road through Palestine and

Lebanon, the army halted on reaching the south of the land of Amour, perhaps

in the neighborhood of Tripoli. Here Ramses detached a special task force,

the duty of which seems to have been to secure the seaport of Simyra and

thence to march up the valley of the Eleutherus River (Nahr el-Kebir) to

rejoin the main army at Kadesh. The main force then resumed its march to the

River Orontes, the army being organized in four divisions of chariot and

infantry, each consisting of perhaps 5000 men.

Crossing the river from east to west at the ford of Shabtuna, about eight

miles from Kadesh, the army passed through a wood to emerge on the plain in

front of the city. Two captured Hittite spies gave Ramses the false

information that the main Hittite army was at Aleppo, some distance to the

north, so that it appeared to the King as if he had only the garrison of

Kadesh to deal with. It was not until the army had begun to arrive at the

camping site before Kadesh that Ramses learned that the main Hittite army

was in fact concealed behind the city. Ramses at once sent off messengers to

hasten the remainder of his forces, but before any further action could be

taken, the Hittites struck with a force of 2500 chariots, with three men to

a chariot as against the Egyptian two. The leading divisions taken entirely

by surprisebroke and fled in disorder, leaving Ramses and his small corps

of household chariot entirely surrounded by the enemy and fighting

desperately.

Fortunately for the King, at the crisis of the battle, the Simyra task force

appeared on the scene to make its junction with the main army and thus saved

the situation. The result of the battle was a tactical victory for the

Egyptians, in that they remained masters of the stricken field, but a

strategic defeat in that they did not and could not take Kadesh. Neither

army was in a fit state to continue action the next day, so an armistice was

agreed and the Egyptians returned home. This battle is one of the very few

from Pharaonic times of which there are real details, and that is because of

the King's pride in his stand against great oddspictures and accounts of

the campaign, and official record and a long poem on the subject were carved

on temple walls in Egypt and Nubian, and the poem is also extend on papyrus.

THE failure to capture Kadesh had repercussions on Egyptian prestige abroad,

and some of the petty states of South Syria and northern Palestine under

Egyptian suzerainty rebelled, so that Ramses had to strengthen the northern

edge of Egypt's Asiatic realm before again challenging the Hittites. In the

eighth or ninth year of his reign, he took a number of towns in Galilee and

Amor, and the next year he was again on the Nahr al-Kalb. It may have been

in the 10th year that he broke through the Hittite defenses and conquered

Katna and Tunip_where, in a surprise attack by the Hittites, he went into

battle without his armour and held them long enough for a statue of himself

as overlord to be erected in Tunip. In a further advance he invaded Kode,

perhaps the region between Alexandretta and Carchemish. Nevertheless, like

his father before him, he found that he could not permanently hold territory

so far from base against continual pressure, and, after 16 years of

intermittent hostilities, a treaty of peace were concluded in 1283 BC. As

between equal great powers, and its provisions were reciprocal.

The wars once, the two nations established friendly ties. Letters on

diplomatic matters were regularly exchanged; in 1270 Ramses contracted a

marriage with the eldest daughter of the Hittite King, and it is possible

that a later date he married a second Hittite princess. Apart from the

struggle against the Hittites, there were punitive expeditions against Edom,

Moab, and Negeb and amore serious war against Libyans, who were constantly

trying to invade and settle in the delta; it is propable that Ramses took a

personal part in the Libyan war but not in the minor expeditions. The latter

part of the reign seems to have been free from wars.

 

Prosperity during his reign.

 

One measure of Egypt's prosperity is the amount of temple building the kings

could afford and carry out, and on that basis the reign of Ramses II is the

most notable in history, even making allowance for its great length. It was

that, combined with his prowess in war as depicted in the temples, that led

the Egyptologists of the 19th century to dub him "the Great" and that, in

effect, is how his subjects and posterity viewed him; to them was the king

par excellence. All the nine kings of the 20th dynasty called themselves by

his name; even in the period of decline that followed, it was an honor to

be able to claim descent from him, and his subjects called him by the

affectionate abbreviation Sese.

In Egypt he completed the great hypostyle hall at Karnak (thebes) and the

temple built by Seti I at Abydos, both of which were left incomplete at the

latter's death. Ramses also completed his father's funerary temple on the

west bank of the Nile at Luxor(Thebes) and built one for himself, which is

now known as the Ramesseum. At Abydos he built a temple on his own not far

from that of his father; there were also the four major temples in his

residence city, not to mention lesser shrines.

In Nubia (Nilotic Sudan) he constructed no fewer than six temples, of which

the two carved out of a Cliffside at Abu Simbel, with their four colossal

statues of the King, are the most magnificent and the best known. The larger

of the two was begun under Seti I but was largely executed by Ramses, while

the other was entirely due to Ramses. In the Wadi Tumilat, one of the

eastern entries into Egypt, he built the town of Per-Atum (biblical Pithom),

which the Bible calls a store city(Exodus 1:11), but which probably was

a fortified frontier town and customs station. In fact, there can have been

few sites of any importance that originally did not exhibit at least the

name of Ramses, for apart from his own work, he did not hesitate to inscribe

it on the monuments of his predecessors. Apart from the construction of

Pi-Ramesse and Pithom, his most notable secular work, so far as is known,

was the sinking of a well in the eastern desert on the route to the Nubian

gold mines.

 

Of Ramses personal life virtually nothing is known. His first and perhaps

favorite queen was Nefertari; the fact that, at Abu Simbel, the smaller

temple was dedicated to her and to the goddess of love points to real

affection between them. She seams to have died comparatively early in the

reign, and here tomb in the Valley of the Tombs of the Queens at Thebes is

well known. Other queens whose names are preserved were Isinofre who bore

the King four sons, among whom was Ramses' eventual successor, Merneptah;

Merytamun; and Matnefrure, the Hittite princess. In addition to the official

queen or queens, the King, as was customary, possessed a large harem, and he

took pride in his great family of well over 100 children. The best portrait

of Ramses II is a fine statue of him as a young man, now in the Turin

museum; his mummy, preserved in a mausoleum at Cairo, is that of a very old

man with along narrow face, prominent nose, and massive jaw.

The reign of Ramses II marks the last peak of Egypt's imperial power. After

his death Egypt was forced on the defensive but managed to maintain its

suzerainty over Palestine and the adjacent territories until the later part

of the 20th dynasty, when, under the weak kings who followed Ramses III,

internal decay ended its power beyond its borders. Ramses II must have been

a good soldier, despite the fiasco of Kadesh, or else  he would not have

been able to penetrate so far into the Hittite Empire as he did in the

following years; he appears to have been a competent administrator, since

the country was prosperous, and he was certainly a popular king. Some of his

fame, however, must surely be put down to his flair for publicity: his name

and the record of his feats on the field of battle were found everywhere

in Egypt and Nubia. It is easy to see why, in the eyes both of his subjects

and of later generations, he was looked on as a model of what a king should

be.

 

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