Biography of Pharaoh Ramses II

24 Feb

Pharaoh Ramses (Ramesses) II;

Ramses “The Great” of Egypt

Greek name: Ozymandias

Born: 1303 B.C.

Appearance: light-skinned, ~about 5 ft 7 inches tall (170 cm), red-haired

Mother: Queen Tuya

Father: Pharaoh Seti I

Siblings: Nebchasetnebet (brother, died in an age around 16), Tia (sister) 

Period: 3rd Pharaoh in the 19th Dynasty/New Kingdom

Started reign: 1279 B.C. (probably on the 20th May)

Wives: Nefertari, Isetnofret, Maathorneferure, Meritamen, Bintanath, Nebettawy, Henutmire,…

Children: Amun-her-khepsef, Prince Ramesesse, Pareherwenemef, Khaemweset, Merneptah, Meryatum, Bintanath, Meritamen, Nebettawy, … (about 81 other children as well)

Ruled: 66 years and 2 months

Horusname: Ka-nechet-meri-maat; Ka-nechet-meri-Re

Nebtiname: Wer-schefit-mek-kemet

Goldname: Aa-chepesch-meri-taui

Thronename: User-maat-Re;User-maat-Re-setep-en-Re

Propername: Ramesisumeriamun; Sessu; Sesu

Death: 1213 B.C. (~90 years old)


Ramses II as kid and regent

Ramses II was born in the year 1303 B.C. as the youngest son of Sethi I and his great royal wife Tuya. He had an older brother with name Nebchasetnebe who was original suppose to be Pharaoh after Sethi I but he died during his education. The first really important event in the life of Ramses was probably as his grandfather Ramses I became crowned in the year 1291 B.C. (Ramses was probably 5 years old at that point). Than two years later, after his grandfather died, his own father Sethi I became Pharaoh ( in the year 1290 B.C.).

~Pharaoh Ramses I

 ~Pharaoh Sethi I

When Ramses II was 10 years old his father gave him the honorary title “First Commander of the Army”. Two years later he experienced his first battle as Sethi I fought against the Tjehenu and Meschwesch in the Nile delta. One year after that, Ramses accompanied his father in a battle close to the boarders to Syria where the Egyptian army fought against Hittites, and tried to gain back control over the city Kadesh. When Ramses was 14 his older brother, the original Prince Regent died and so Sethi ennobled his younger son to this title. With 15 Ramses II was officially the Prince Regent of Egypt, and there for the one who would follow Sethi I as Pharaoh.   

~Ramses II as kid

With 15 he also got married to two of his great royal wifes, Nefertari and Isetnofret. Today we still little over their background:

Nefertari (Nefertirimeritenmut) was maybe the grandchild from Pharaoh Ay. She was the most important royal wife of Ramses and completely coequal to her husband. That was very unusual in the ancient Egypt and we only two other cases were it happened too (Queen Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten, and Queen Tiye and her husband Amenhotep III). Ramses and she had nine (known, maybe they had more) children together; the sons Amun-her-khepeshef, Pareherwenemef, Meryatum,  and Merire, and the daughters Meritamen, Henuttawy, Bak(et)mut, Nefertari, and Nebettawy. She became only 45 years old and her death was caused by an illness. She died some time after the great temple of Abu Simbel was inaugurated.

 Over Isetnofret we known nearly nothing. She might have been a Syrian princess because her first daughter with Ramses had a Syrian goodness (Anat) in her name. However, we know that she and Ramses had at least three sons and one daughter together; the sons Ramsesses, Khaemwaset, and Merneptah (he became Ramses final heir after he outlived 12 of his brothers), and the daughter Bintanath.

~Great royal wife Nefertari

~Queen Isetnofret

In the year 1287 B.C. (Ramses was 16 years old at that point) Sethi I had success to ax a revolt in one of the provinces. When Ramses was 22 he fought his first battle (sea battle) against the Sherden without the help of his father. 3 years later Sethi I died and Ramses II took over the throne of Egypt on the 20th May 1279 B.C. Around the 7th of August Sethi I got buried (it was a tradition to wait 70 days before a Pharaoh was buried to give his soul time to ascend into heaven; and the mummify process took that long too) and later Ramses became officially crowned Pharaoh. As he got crowned his five title name were given to him, the Horusname,the Nebtiname, the Goldname, the Thronename, and his Propernames (all five names are listed at the very beginning of this post).


Ramses II as Pharaoh


In his first few years as Pharaoh Ramses became a lot backup from his mother Queen Tuya, as well from his two great royal wives Nefertari and Isetnofret. But Tuya died 1258 B.C. and so Ramses made his daughter Bintanat another great royal wife, and as Nefertari died three years later, their daughter Meritamen became that title too. His main royal wife Isetnofret died 1246 B.C. and for political reasons Ramses married a Hittite princess which was renamed as Maathorneferure. Five years later he married another Hittite princess but her name is not known anymore today. 1225 B.C. his son Merneptah was named as throne successor.

~Queen Tuya

 ~Pharaoh Merneptah




Military campaigns & Peace politic

During his time as Pharaoh Ramses II had to fight three main enemies, the Syrian vassal states, the Lybian tribes and the Hittite Empire. The Syrian vassal states already rebelled under Sethi I against the Egyptian authority and four years after Ramses took over the throne they tried again to become independent from the Egyptian Empire. The Lybian tribes were a very similar case. They tried to become independent from Egypt but they were even more aggressive tha the Syrian vassal states. Even in time of “peace” and the “acceptance of the Egyptian authority” they descend Egyptian caravans. The Hittite Empire was probably the biggest enemy and Ramses had to fight more than one big battle against it to stop its spreading in the way of the Egyptian boarders.

His first campaign against a Syrian kingdom was already in the fourth year of his reign. This was a very provocation move and it was an obviouse challenge for the Hittite Empire to fight for the ascendancy over Syria. Ramses II had an army which was about 20000 men strong, and the Hittite Empire under king Muwatalli II came up with an army which was about 40000 men strong. At the 12th of May 1274 B.C. it came to a decisive battle at the city of Kadesh (this battle is the best documented fight in the ancient world). In the end the campaign did not bring any advantages for both sides. Ramses made a tactical error by dividing his forces and one of his divisions got sweep away. But also the Hittite did a couple of mistakes and it is very likely that nobody won the fight and Ramses had to retreat for logistic difficulties.  Back in Egypt he let the battle announced as a huge victory and the course of the fight became documented in many of his temples and buildings.

~Papurys, showing Ramses II at the battle of Kadesh

~Mural in Abu Simbel, showing Ramses II fighting the Hittite by Kadesh

But even so Ramses was not able to gain victory in this important battle he was a military genius. During his military campaign he was able to make the boarders of Egypt secure from pirates invading and he also fought back invasion of Lybian people. He gained a lot of land back hat was lost under Pharaoh Akhenaten and he sign a couple a peace treaties with neighboring countries. Even with the Hittite he made a peace treaty because the Hittite had a new enemy come up, the Assyrians, and they could not effort to fight on two places at the same time. Ramses himself married three Hittite princess to tightening the peace treaty, which should last for about 50 years before the Hittite Empire perish.




During Ramses II reign umpteen buildings were created. Ramses enlarged and completed a bunch of temple and buildings his father had started to creat, but he also gave the order to build a whole bunch of new constructions. There only will be named a few of them here:

-Pi-Ramesses: Shortly after the death of his father, Ramses declared the old Hyksos capital to his new capital city. Soon, the city expanded till it finally had an area of 12 square miles (30 square kilometers). But in the 20th dynasty the Nile creek started silt up and the harbour of the city became useless.  The city is also mentioned in the bible as the city where Israelites were forced to work for the Pharaoh (Exodus).

~Drawing of Pi-Ramesses

-Abu Simbel: It is the most famous of Ramses II temples/buildings and it is located in the formal Nubia. The temple of Abu Simbel are actually two massive temples, one of them was devoted Ramses reign, and the smaller temple was devoted for Ramses first Queen Nefertari. The entrance of the great temple is bordered by four giant statues of Ramses, ech of them about 66 feet high (20 meters), while the small temple has six colossal figures (4 times Ramses and 2 times Nefertari) each about 33 feet high (10 meters). The construction started around the year 1244 B.C. and it ended probably in the year 1224 B.C.

~Big temple of Abu Simbel (Ramses temple)

~Small temple of Abu Simbel (Nefertari temple)

-Ramesseum: The Ramesseum was a shrine built by Ramses fathers Sethi I, and Ramses let expand it when it was time for to prepare for his cult of the death. It was built-in West-Thebes and it was also a temple for the God Amun and his family (his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu). The temple itself looks like a fort and the temple complex spreads over an area of 9927 square feet (8300 square meters).

~The remains of the Ramesseum

-Abydos (temple): Here the history of his reign was recorded.

-Akscha-Temple: Temple for the God Amun-Re, today only one wall is conserved 

-Amara (temple): Amara West was founded by Sethi I (the original name was: per-Menmaatre) and after his death Ramses renamed the city into  Per-Ramses-meri-Amun and built a temple.

-Neit el-Wali (temple): A temple build to worship the Gods Amun-Re, Re-Horakhit, Khnum, Anuket in  Nubia.

-ad-Derr (temple)

-Gebel el-Silsila (rock-cut shrine): Ramses built-in this stone pit a shrine for the Nile God Hapi.   

-Gerf Hussein (temple): The temple was built by the Viceroy of Nubia, Setau,  for Ramses and it was house for the Gods Ptah, Ptah-Tatenen, and Hathor. The temple is also known as “Per Ptah” or ‘House of Ptah”.

-Heliopolis (enlarging of the temple of Re, obelisks): The temple of Re was in-built in the Old Kingdom era and Ramses II let the temple enlarging during his reign and add several statues of Gods.

-Herakleopolis Magna (Sanctuary of  Heryshaf): In the 18th dynasty the temple became enlarged but Ramses II let it renovate anyways.

-Hermopolis Magna (Temple of Thoth): Ramses let built an enclosing wall around the temple, several pylons, and also a small temple for Amun in the south of the city.

-Precinct of Amun-Re (one of the biggest temple in ancient egypt): The Amun cult started during the Middle Kingdom and gained more and more influence through the dynasty. In the New Kingdom is was one of the most important cults and there for nearly ever pharaoh (including Ramses) let enlarge, built something new, or added pylons to it.

-Luxor temple (temple for Amun and his family): Here Ramses added pylons and obelisks in the first corona.

-Memphis (augment the temple of Ptah): In the city itself Ramses let build several temples for different Gods, but also pylons, obelisks and steles.

-Serapeum (graves for the Apis-bull): As Sethi I ruled he built single graves for the holy Apis-bulls, while Ramses built a gallery of graves for it.

-Wadi es-Sebua (temple for Amun): Here Ramses created a whole new temple for the God Amun, which replenish together the Amun temple that was built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III.




Ramses had a massive impact on religion too (so here will be listed only a few of the things he did). Under his command the country turned completely back to the religion cult that was practiced before the heretic king Akhenaton came to power and established the Aton cult as religion (Aton was then the only God). After 30 years of ruling Ramses II celebrated the Sed festival, where a Pharaoh was officially turned into a complete God. With this step he also helped to set up the power of his follower on the throne. Ramses was worshiped as God, so as Merneptah took over as Pharaoh nobody tried to seize the throne.


Death, Mummifying, &Rediscovery

The last 20 years of his life Ramses had to deal with severe health problems. He had dental problems resulting from an abscesses tooth and a hunched back. He was suffering from arthritis, and he had several inflammations in his spine.

In the year 1213 B.C. on June the 27th Ramses finally died in the age of 90 (or maybe 91). His 13th son Merneptah took over the throne one day later, and for Ramses the mummifying began. The process took 70 days and was buried in the Vally of Kings. But in the 21st dynasty his body had to be moved to protect it from grave robbers. The mummy and its treasures were moved several times until  finally a safe grave was found located near Deir el-Bahri. Ramses original grave lies at a very disadvantageous place in the Vally of Kings. It is located very low and at least 10 torrents damaged its structure and its reliefs.

The first time it was mention in “modern” times again was 1798 from some French researchers, who said that the grave was completely blocked up. Later on some other people were doing research in that area, such as Henry Salt and Karl Richard Lepsuis. At the beginning of the 20th century the grave sloped up again and at the moment Christina Leblanc is working on clearing it again, so it can be visit.

At the 5th of July 1881 Emil Brugsch discovered together with an indicted tomb raider the mummies of multiple Pharaohs from the 18th – 20th dynasties in a grave of a high priest. The mummies were sent to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and on the 1st of June 1886 the mummy of Ramses got disburden in 15 minutes. During the process the mummy caught serious damage!

On the 26th of September 1976 the mummy was transported to Paris because it needed treatment for a fungal infection. In Paris it was detailed examined and restored and on the 10th of May 1977 the mummy was sent back to the Egyptian Museum where it has an outstanding place in the collection.

~The mummy of Ramses II

~Mural in Ramses II grave in the Vally of Kings




Posted by on 24/02/2011 in Egypt


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