The Multitalented Ramesses II

Ramesses II was called the Great. He could as well have been called the Builder, the Warlord or the Peacemaker.

The third monarch of the 19th Dynasty, he reined from 1279 to 1213 BC, which is 66 years an two months, longer than must Egyptians of the time lived. Ramesses had eight Great Royal Wives, including two Hittite princesses, but his favorites were Nefertari and Isetnofret. However while she lived Nefertari was the most beloved of the Pharaoh, so much so that upon her death she was buried in a most opulent tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Temples and Monuments

The son of Seti, Ramesses used his far-reaching building program to promote himself. His construction projects reached all the way into Nubia (Northern Sudan). He constructed temples, erected statues and even took credit for the building of already existing sites by just adding his cartouche to it. Ramesses added to the temple complex at Karnak, put up the fabulous complex at Abu Simbel and, most of all, created the Ramesseum, his memorial or mortuary temple, located across the Nile from the modern day city of Luxor. The Abu Simbel temple became rather notorious in the 1960s when it was dismantled and moved to higher ground to save it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, a manmade lake created by the Aswan Dam on the Nile.

Ramesses at War

Ramesses II was consumed with regaining Egyptian territory and securing Egypt’s borders. He fought pirates, the Nubians and the Hittites to recover land, put down uprisings in Nubia and invaded Syria at least five times.

His first great victory took place during the second year of his rule. On a combine sea and land battle the Egyptians routed the Shardana pirates who were raiding the country’s Mediterranean’s port’s and sea lanes.

The Pharaoh’s military fame, however, rose out of a battle he didn’t win. In 1274 BC, the fifth yea r of his reign, Ramesses s Ii was in the mist of his second Syrian campaign, when the Hittites ambushed him at Kadesh. Badly outnumbered in what turned out to be the largest chariot battle ever – anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 chariots were involved – Ramesses managed something of a draw. Returning to Egypt, he proclaimed it a great victory, but even as a tie, he had proven his military skills.

First Known Peace Treaty

After at least three more times of trying to vanquish the Hittites in Syria, Ramesses II realized that he didn’t have enough power to do it. On the other hand, the Hittites realized the Egyptian Pharaoh would not go away and a peace treaty was arranged. The 18 articles document set a clear border between the warring states and granted each other free access to trading routes and ports. In addition, it created something of an alliance for the hitherto enemies. The only point of contention in the two existing versions of the document – one in hieroglyphic and one in Akaddian – is the introduction or overture. In the Hittite account, Ramesses suit for peace, while in the Egyptian it was the Hittite king.

Is Ramesses II the Pharaoh of Exodus?

Many experts belief he was the Pharaoh in the biblical story of Exodus. But, since there is no archeological evidence of a Hebrew emigration during his rule – or at any other time – it is difficult to ascertain for sure. Furthermore, Ramesses II did no drown in the Red Sea but probably die of old age. His mummy was found at the Valley of the Kings and now rests in a museum in Cairo. However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that Pharaoh drowned with his troops. It will take some time, it seems, before we know for sure if Ramesses II let the Hebrews go.

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