This is the first post in a brand new series, which aims to introduce you to some of the faces of ancient Egypt. And what better place to start, than with one of the most famous faces!
Ramesses II, or Ramesses the Great, is undoubtedly one of the best known names in ancient Egyptian history. He was the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. According to historical records, Ramesses II ruled for over 66 years, lived into his nineties (an amazing feat in a civilisation in which many people did not live past their thirties), and had over 80 children.
Ramesses II is known for his military prowess and his vast building programme. During his reign, Ramesses II attempted to regain Egyptian territory from the Nubians and the Hittites by embarking upon numerous military campaigns. He also carried out many campaigns into Syria, Libya, and Nubia. One of his aims was to secure Egypt’s borders, and a peace treaty with the Hittites assisted with this. This seems to have been a success as the northern border appears to have been secure and safe throughout the pharaoh’s rule.
His building programme was extensive, and his cartouche appears on a vast number of monuments throughout Egypt, from the Delta and even into Nubia. He founded a new capital in the Delta, named Per-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning “House of Ramesses, Great of Victories”, known as Pi-Ramesses.
His mortuary temple, the Ramesseum, originally named The house of millions of years of Usermaatra-setepenra that unites with Thebes-the-city in the domain of Amun, was a huge project, as were the great rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel.
The tomb of Nefertari (Ramesses II chief wife), QV66, is one of the most beautiful achievements in ancient Egyptian art. KV5, the largest known tomb in the Valley of the Kings, originally contained the mummified remains of at least four of the king’s sons although no intact burials have been found. KV5 is believed to have perhaps as many 200 corridors and chambers.
Ramesses II was originally buried in KV7, however his mummified body was moved by priests several times in antiquity. It was re-wrapped and moved to the tomb of Queen Inhapy due to looting, and then moved again, 72 hours later, to the tomb of the high priest Pinudjem II. The moves are recorded on the mummy wrappings.
In 1974, the mummy was flown to Paris for examination due to rapid deterioration caused by fungus. Ramesses II was issued with his own Egyptian passport which listed his occupation as ‘King (deceased)’, and was welcomed at Le Bourget airport with full military honours. During the examination, old battle wounds and fractures were discovered, revealing his active participation in his military campaigns. It is also believed, due to microscopic inspection of the hair root, that Ramesses II was a redhead, and came from of red-haired family. This is very significant in terms of ancient Egyptian religion: people with red hair were associated with the god, Seth. The name of Ramesses II’s father, Seti I, actually means ‘follower of Seth’.
The mummy of Ramesses II now resides in the Cairo Museum.
Dodson, A., and Hilton D. 2004. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson.
Kitchen, K. 1983. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt. London: Aris & Phillips.
Tyldesley, J. 2000. Ramesses: Egypt’s Greatest Pharaoh. London: Viking/Penguin Books.