Ramesses II

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Ancient History, Classical History and Mythology

Preceded by:
Seti I
Pharaoh of Egypt
19th Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Ramesses II
Ramesses the Great
alternatively transcribed as Ramses and Rameses
Ramesses II:  one of four external seated statues at Abu Simbel.
Ramesses II: one of four external seated statues at Abu Simbel.
Reign 66 years
1279 BC to 1213 BC
ra wsr mAat ra stp

The Justice of Re is Powerful,
Chosen of Re
i mn
ms s sw

Ramesses (meryamun)
Born of Re, (Beloved of Amun)
Horus name Kanakht Merymaa
Nebty name Mekkemetwafkhasut
Golden Horus Userrenput-aanehktu
Consort(s) Isetnofret, Nefertari
Issues Bintanath, Khaemweset,
Merneptah, Amun-her-khepsef
Father Seti I
Mother Queen Tuya
Born 1302 BC
Died 1213 BC
Burial KV7
Abu Simbel, Ramesseum,

Ramesses II (also known as Ramesses the Great and alternatively transcribed as Ramses and Rameses *Riʕmīsisu) was an Egyptian pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. He was born ca. 1302 BC. At age fourteen, Ramses II was appointed Prince Regent by his father. He is believed to have taken the throne in his early 20s and to have ruled Egypt from 1279 BC to 1213 BC for a total of 66 years and 2 months. He was once said to have lived to be 99 years old, but it is more likely that he died in his 90th or 92nd year. Ancient Greek writers such as Herodotus attributed his accomplishments to the semi-mythical Sesostris, and he is traditionally believed to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus due to a tradition started by Eusebius of Caesarea. If he became king in 1279 BC as most Egyptologists today believe, he would have assumed the throne on May 31, 1279 BC based on his known accession date of III Shemu day 27.


As with most pharaohs, Ramesses had a number of royal names. The two most important, his prenomen (regnal name) and nomen (birth name) are shown in Egyptian hieroglyphs above to the right. These names are transliterated as wsr-m3‘t-r‘–stp-n-r‘ r‘-ms-sw–mry-ỉ-mn, which is usually written as Usermaatra-setepenra Ramessu-meryamen. It translates as "Powerful one of Ma'at, the Justice of Ra is Powerful, chosen of Ra, Ra bore him, beloved of Amun". In the Hittite copy of the above-mentioned peace treaty with Hattusilis, the Pharaoh's name appears as Washmuaria Shatepnaria Riamashesha Maiamana. Some scholars believe this is possibly a closer approximation of the actual vocalization of the Egyptian king's name.


Tablet of treaty between Hattusili III of Hatti and Ramesses II of Egypt, at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
Tablet of treaty between Hattusili III of Hatti and Ramesses II of Egypt, at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Ramesses II was the third king of the 19th dynasty, and the second son of Seti I and his Queen Tuya. Ramesses' older brother (perhaps Neb-en-khaset-neb) predeceased him before adulthood. The most memorable of Ramesses' wives was Nefertari. Earlier wives, among others, of this king were Isetnofret and Maathorneferure, Princess of Hatti. The writer Terence Gray stated in 1923 that Ramesses II had as many as 20 sons and 20 daughters but scholars today believe his offspring numbered almost a hundred in total. In 2004, Dodson and Hilton noted that the monumental evidence "seems to indicate that Ramesses II had around 100 children--[with] 48-50 sons and 40-53 daughters." His children include Bintanath and Meritamen (princesses and their father's wives), Sethnakhte, Amun-her-khepeshef the king's first born son, Merneptah (who would eventually succeed him as Ramesses' 13th son), and Prince Khaemweset. Ramesses II's second born son, Ramesses B--sometimes called Ramesses Junior--became the crown prince from Year 25 to Year 50 of his father's reign after the death of Amen-her-khepesh.

In his Year 2, Ramesses II decisively defeated the Shardana or Sherden sea pirates who were wreaking havoc along Egypt's Mediterranean coast by attacking cargo-ladden vessels travelling the sea routes to Egypt. The Sherden people came from the coast of Ionia or south-west Turkey. Ramesses posted troops and ships at strategic points along the coast and patiently allowed the pirates to attack their prey before skillfully catching them by surprise in a sea battle and capturing them all in one fell swoop. Ramesses would soon incorporate these skilled mercenaries into his army where they were to play a pivotal role at the battle of Kadesh. As king, Ramesses II led several expeditions north into the lands east of the Mediterranean (the location of the modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria).

Battle of Kadesh

Ramses atop chariot, at the Battle of Kadesh, in a relief inside his Abu Simbel temple.
Ramses atop chariot, at the Battle of Kadesh, in a relief inside his Abu Simbel temple.

After some preparations, Ramesses decided to attack territory in the Levant which belonged to a more substantial enemy: the Hittite Empire. At the Second Battle of Kadesh in May 1274 BC towards the end of the Fourth year of his reign, Egyptian forces under his leadership marched through the coastal road through Canaan and south Syria through the Bekaa Valley and approached Kadesh from the south.. Ramesses planned to seize the citadel of Kadesh which belonged to king Muwatallis of the Hittite Empire. The battle almost turned into a disaster as Ramesses was initially tricked by two Bedouin spies in the pay of the Hittites to believe that Muwatallis and his massive army were still 120 miles north of Kadesh. Ramesses II only learned of the true nature of his dire predicament when a subsequent pair of Hittite spies were captured, beaten and forced to reveal the truth before him:

Ramesses II
When they had been brought before Pharaoh, His Majesty asked, 'Who are you?' They replied 'We belong to the king of Hatti. He has sent us to spy on you.' Then His Majesty said to them, 'Where is he, the enemy from Hatti? I had heard that he was in the land of Khaleb, north of Tunip.' They replied to His Majesty, 'Lo, the king of Hatti has already arrived, together with the many countries who are supporting him... They are armed with their infantry and their chariots. They have their weapons of war at the ready. They are more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. Behold, they stand equipped and ready for battle behind the old city of Kadesh.'
Ramesses II

Ramesses had fallen into a well-laid trap by Muwatallis whose thousands of infantry and chariotry were hidden well behind the eastern bank of the Orontes river under the command of the king's brother, Hattusili III. The Egyptian army itself had been divided into two main forces – the Re and Amun brigades with Ramesses and the Ptah and Seth brigades – separated from each other by forests and the far side of the Orontes river. The Re brigade was almost totally destroyed by the surprise initial Hittite chariot attack and Ramesses II had barely enough time to rally his own Amun brigade and secure reinforcements from the Ptah Army Brigade (who were just arriving upon the scene of battle) to turn the tide of battle against the Hittites. While Ramesses II had in theory 'won' the battle, Muwatallis had effectively won the war. Ramesses was compelled to retreat south with the Hittite commander Hattusili III relentlessly harrying the Egyptian forces through the Bekaa Valley; the Egyptian province of Upi was also captured according to the Hittite records at Boghazkoy.


Egypt's sphere of influence was now restricted to Canaan while Syria fell into Hittite hands. Over the ensuing years, Rameses II would return to campaign against the Hittites and even achieved several spectacular victories (at a time of Hittite weakness due to a dispute over Muwatallis' succession) to briefly capture the cities of Tunip, where no Egyptian soldier had been seen since the time of Thutmose III almost 120 years previously and even Kadesh in his 8th and 9th Years. However, neither power could decisively defeat the other in battle. Consequently, in the twenty-first year of his reign ( 1258 BC), Ramses decided to conclude an agreement with the new Hittite king at Kadesh, Hattusili III, to end the conflict. The ensuing document is the earliest known peace treaty in world history.

Ramesses II also campaigned south of the first cataract into Nubia. He constructed many impressive monuments, including the renowned archeological complex of Abu Simbel, and the mortuary temple known as the Ramesseum. It is said that there are more statues of him in existence than of any other Egyptian pharaoh , not surprising as he was the second-longest-reigning Pharaoh of Egypt after Pepi II. A colossal statue of Ramesses II was reconstructed and erected on Ramses Square in Cairo in 1955.
In August 2006, contractors moved the 3,200-year-old statue of him from Ramesess Square to save it from exhaust fumes that were causing the 83-ton statue to deteriorate. The statue was originally taken from a temple in Memphis. The new site will be located near the future Grand_Egyptian_Museum.


He was buried in the Valley of the Kings, in KV7, but his mummy was later moved to the mummy cache at Deir el-Bahri, where it was found in 1881. In 1885 it was placed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum, where it remains as of 2006.

Ramesses' mummy features a hooked nose and strong jaw, and is of above average height for an ancient Egyptian, standing some five feet, seven inches. In his last years, he suffered from arthritis, tooth cavities and poor circulation. His successor was ultimately to be his thirteenth son; Merneptah.

In 1974, Cairo Museum Egyptologists noticed that the mummy's condition was rapidly deteriorating. They decided to fly Rameses II's mummy to Paris for examination. Ramses II was issued an Egyptian passport that listed his occupation as "King (deceased)."

In Paris, Ramses' mummy was diagnosed and treated for a fungal infection. During the examination, scientific analysis revealed battle wounds and old fractures, as well as the pharaoh's arthritis and poor circulation. After Ramesses' mummy had been returned to Egypt, it was visited by the late President Anwar Sadat and his wife.

Mummy of Ramesses II.
Mummy of Ramesses II.
President Sadat visiting Ramesses II's mummy.
President Sadat visiting Ramesses II's mummy.

Tomb KV5

In 1995, Professor Kent Weeks, head of the Theban Mapping Project rediscovered Tomb KV5. It has proven to be the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings which originally contained the mummified remains of some of this king's estimated 52 sons. Approximately 150 corridors and tomb chambers have been located in this tomb as of 2006 and the tomb may contain as many as 200 corridors and chambers. It is believed that at least 4 of Ramesses' sons including Meryatum, Sety, Amun-her-khepeshef (Ramesses' first born son) and "the King's Principal Son of His Body, the Generalissimo Ramesses, justified" (ie: deceased) were buried there from inscriptions, ostracas or canopic jars discovered in the tomb. Joyce Tyldesley writes that thus far

"no intact burials have been discovered and there have been little substantial funeral debris: thousands of potsherds, faience shabti figures, beads, amulets, fragments of Canopic jars, of wooden coffins...but no intact sarcophagi, mummies or mummy cases, suggesting that much of the tomb may have been unused. Those burials which were made in KV5 were thoroughly looted in antiquity, leaving little or no remains."

Pharaoh of Exodus?

At least as early as Eusebius of Caesarea, Ramesses II was identified with the pharaoh of whom the Biblical figure Moses demanded his people be released from slavery.

This identification has been occasionally disputed but the evidence for another solution is inconclusive:

  • Ramesses II was not drowned in the Sea and the biblical account makes no specific claim that the pharaoh was with his army when they were "swept ... into the sea." In fact, Jewish tradition appears to indicate that Pharaoh was the only Egyptian to survive the Red Sea, and later became the King of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah.
  • There is nothing in the archaeological records from the time of his reign to confirm the existence of the Plagues of Egypt. This is not surprising since few pharaohs wished to record natural disasters or military defeats (as documented in the Biblical narratives) in the same manner that their rivals documented these events. In addition, no reference to any setbacks were made in royal Egyptian textual records or within the large number of informal Egyptian texts still in existence. For instance, after the serious Egyptian setback at the Battle of Kadesh, Hittites archives uncovered in Boghazkoy, the capital of Hatti, reveal that "a humiliated Ramesses [was] forced to retreat from Kadesh in ignominious defeat" and abandon the border provinces of Amurru and Upi to the control of his Hittite rival without the benefit of a formal truce. Benteshina, the ruler of Amurru who had been Ramesses' ally at Kadesh was deposed and swiftly marched off to Boghazkoy to face an uncertain fate while the Hittite hold over Kadesh was reinforced. By contrast, in Ramesses II's version of events, the Pharaoh fictitiously states--just a day after his narrow escape from death in battle--that "the cowardly Hittite king sent a letter to the Egyptian camp pleading for peace. Negotiators were summoned and a truce was agreed, although Ramesses, still claiming an Egyptian victory...refused to sign a formal treaty. Ramesses returned home to enjoy his personal triumph, which was to be retold many times in prose, as an epic poem and in relief carving[s]." No inconvenient references to Ramesses' loss of Amurru or Upi are preserved in the Egyptian records.
  • The dates now ascribed to Ramesses's reign by most modern scholars might not match the dates when Moses was believed to be in Egypt.

In the 1960's and 1970's, several scholars such as George Mendenhall associated the Israelite's arrival in Palestine more closely with the Hapiru mentioned in the Amarna letters which date to the reign of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten and in the Hittite treaties with Ramesses II. Most scholars today, however, view the Hapiru instead as bandits who attacked the trade and royal caravans that travelled along the coastal roads of Canaan.

On the other hand, Ramesses' own stele erected in the late 13th century BC in the city known to the Bible as Bet-Shan mentions two conquered peoples who came to "make obeisance to him" in his city of Rameses but mentions neither the building of the city nor, as some have written, the Israelites or Hapiru .

The Bible states that the Israelites toiled in slavery and built "for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Ra'amses" in the Egyptian Delta. The latter is probably a reference to the city of Pi-Ramesse Aa-nakhtu or the "House of Ramesses, Great-of-Victories" (modern day Qantir) which had been Seti I's summer retreat. Ramesses II greatly enlarged this city both as his principal northern capital and as an important forward base for his military campaigns into the Levant and his control over Canaan. According to Kenneth Kitchen, Pi-Ramesses was largely abandoned from c. 1130 BC onwards; as was often the practice, later rulers removed much of the stone from the city to build the temples of their new capital: Tanis. Therefore, if the identification of the city is correct, it strengthens the case for identifying Ramesses II as the Pharaoh who reigned Egypt during Moses' lifetime. The fact that his son and successor Merneptah mentions in the so-called Merneptah Stele that the Ancient Israelites already lived in Canaan during his reign (indeed the Stele makes a point of declaring the supposed utter destruction of that people) supports the traditional identification of Rameses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Speculation that Ramesses II was the Biblical Pharaoh named Shishak who attacked Judah and seized war bounty from Jerusalem in Year 5 of Rehoboam is untenable because both Ramesses II and his 19th Dynasty successors (ie: Merneptah, Seti II, Siptah & Twosret) retained firm control over Canaan during their reigns. Neither Israel nor Judah could have existed as independent states during this time.


  • The life of Ramesses II has also inspired a large number of historical novels, including the five volume series, Ramsès, by the French writer Christian Jacq. (Translated editions are available for non-French readers.)
  • Norman Mailer's novel Ancient Evenings is largely concerned with the life of Ramesses II, though from the perspective of Egyptians living during the reign of Ramesses IX.
  • Ramesses was the main character in the Anne Rice book The Mummy or Ramses the Damned.
  • Ramesses was portrayed by Yul Brynner in the classic film The Ten Commandments (1956).
  • In the film " The Prince of Egypt" Ramesses (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) is portrayed as Moses' adoptive brother.
  • The song "User-Maat-Re" by death metal band Nile is about Ramesses II.
  • Ramesses is the inspiration for Percy Bysshe Shelley's famous poem Ozymandias.
  • Ramesses was the inspiration for the character Ozymandias in the award-winning graphic novel Watchmen.

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