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Ramesses II
"Ramesses the Great"
Bust of one of the four external seated statues
of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel
Pharaoh of Egypt
Reign 1279–1213 BC, 19th Dynasty
Previous pharaoh Seti I
Next pharaoh Merneptah
Consort(s) Nefertari, Isetnofret, Maathorneferure, Meritamen, Bintanath, Nebettawy, Henutmire
Children Amun-her-khepsef, Ramesses, Pareherwenemef, Khaemwaset, Merneptah, Meryatum, Bintanath, Meritamen, Nebettawy, Henuttawy (List of children of Ramesses II)
Father Seti I
Mother Tuya
Born c. 1303 BC
Died 1213 BC (aged c. 90)
Burial KV7
Monuments Abu Simbel, Abydos, Ramesseum, Luxor, Karnak
Cartouches of Ramesses II. The central one reads: "Ram'ses, Rê made him, beloved of Amun.

Ramesses II was one of the greatest Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. He was the third Pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. His successors and later Egyptians called him the "Great Ancestor".

When he was 14, Ramesses was appointed successor by his father Seti I. He ruled Egypt from 1279 BC to 1213 BC. This is a total of 66 years and 2 months. It is likely that he died in his 90th or 91st year. On his death, he was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings; his body was later moved to a royal cache (hidden wall slot) where it was discovered in 1881. It is now on display in the Cairo Museum.

Ramesses II led several expeditions north into the lands east of the Mediterranean (the location of the modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria). He also led expeditions to the south, into Nubia.

The early part of his reign was focused on building cities, temples and monuments. He established the city of Pi-Ramesses in the Nile Delta as his new capital and main base for his campaigns in Syria.

Campaigns and battles

Early in his life, Ramesses went on campaigns to get land back from Nubian and Hittite hands, and to secure Egypt's borders. He also stopped Nubian revolts and ran a campaign in Libya. During Ramesses's reign, the Egyptian army may have included about 100,000 men, a force that he used to strengthen Egyptian influence over neighbouring lands.

Battle against Sherden sea pirates

RamessesII-ColoredRelief BrooklynMuseum
Relief of Ramesses II on limestone, still with its original colour.

In his second year, Ramesses defeated the Sherden sea pirates. They were causing problems along Egypt's Mediterranean coast by attacking cargo-laden vessels on the sea routes to Egypt. Ramesses posted troops and ships at strategic points along the coast, and allowed the pirates to attack their prey. He then caught them by surprise in a sea battle, capturing them all in a single action. A stele says they came "in their war-ships from the midst of the sea, and none were able to stand before them". Shortly afterwards Sherden are seen in the Pharaoh's body-guard with their horned helmets, round shields and the great Naue II swords.

Peace treaty with the Hittites

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

The Hittite Mursili III fled to Egypt, after he failed to take his uncle's throne. The uncle, Hattusili III, demanded that Ramesses extradite (send back) his nephew back to Hatti.

This caused a crisis between Egypt and Hatti, when Ramesses said he did not know where Mursili was. The two empires came close to war. Eventually, in the twenty-first year of his reign (1258 BC), Ramesses decided to make an agreement with Hattusili III, to end the conflict. The document they agreed is the earliest known peace treaty in world history.

The peace treaty was recorded in two versions, one in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the other in Akkadian, using cuneiform script; both versions survive. Such dual-language recording is common to many treaties. This treaty differs from others in that the two language versions are differently worded. Although the majority of the text is identical, the Hittite version claims that the Egyptians came suing for peace, while the Egyptian version claims the reverse. The treaty was given to the Egyptians in the form of a silver plaque. This 'pocket-book' version was taken back to Egypt, and a copy carved into the Temple of Karnak.

Tomb of Nefertari

Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 004
Tomb wall depicting Nefertari

The most important and famous of Ramesses' Queen consorts was discovered in 1904. The tomb of Nefertari is extremely important, because its magnificent wall painting is regarded as one of the greatest examples of ancient Egyptian art.

A flight of steps cut out of the rock makes it possible to go to the antechamber. This is decorated with paintings based on chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead. The astronomical ceiling represents the heavens and is painted in dark blue, with many golden five-pointed stars. The east wall of the antechamber is interrupted by a large opening with paintings of Osiris and Anubis. This leads to the side chamber, decorated with offering scenes. A vestibule with paintings shows Nefertari being presented to the gods, who welcome her. On the north wall of the antechamber is the stairway that goes down to the burial chamber. This is a vast quadrangular room covering a surface area of about 90 square metres (970 sq ft), the astronomical ceiling of which is supported by four pillars entirely covered with decoration.

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