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Ramesses II facts for kids

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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.

Early life

Ramesses II was born a civilian. His grandfather, Ramesses I, was a civilian military officer during the reign of pharaoh Horemheb, who appointed Ramesses I as his successor. Ramesses was approximately eleven years old at the time of his father's accession.

Ramesses II as child
Ramesses II as a child embraced by Hauron (Egyptian Museum, Cairo)

After Ramesses I died, his son, Seti I became king, who designated his son, Ramesses II, as Egypt's prince regent by his father. Ramesses II was approximately fourteen years of age at the time. Today, most Egyptologists believe that Ramesses formally assumed the throne on 31 May 1279 BC, based on his known accession date: III Season of the Harvest, day 27.

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

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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.

Building projects and monuments

In the third year of his reign, Ramesses started the most ambitious building project after the pyramids, which were built almost 1,500 years earlier. The population was put to work changing the face of Egypt. Ramesses built extensively from the Delta to Nubia, "covering the land with buildings in a way no monarch before him had."

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Colossal Statue of Ramesses II in the first peristyle court at Luxor

Some of the activities undertaken were focused on remodeling or usurping existing works, improving masonry techniques, and using art as propaganda.

  • In Thebes, the ancient temples were transformed, so that each one of them reflected honour to Ramesses as a symbol of his putative divine nature and power.
  • The elegant but shallow reliefs of previous pharaohs were easily transformed, and so their images and words could easily be obliterated by their successors. Ramesses insisted that his carvings be deeply engraved into the stone, which made them not only less susceptible to later alteration, but also made them more prominent in the Egyptian sun, reflecting his relationship with the sun deity, Ra.
  • Ramesses used art as a means of propaganda for his victories over foreigners, which are depicted on numerous temple reliefs.
  • His cartouches are prominently displayed even in buildings that he did not construct.
  • He founded a new capital city in the Delta during his reign, called Pi-Ramesses. It previously had served as a summer palace during Seti I's reign.
  • Ramesses II expanded gold mining operations in Akuyati (modern day Wadi Allaqi).

Ramesses also undertook many new construction projects. Two of his biggest works, besides Pi-Ramesses, were the temple complex of Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum, a mortuary temple in western Thebes.


Ramesses II moved the capital of his kingdom from Thebes in the Nile valley to a new site in the eastern Delta. His motives are uncertain, although he possibly wished to be closer to his territories in Canaan and Syria. The new city of Pi-Ramesses (or to give the full name, Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning "Domain of Ramesses, Great in Victory") was dominated by huge temples and his vast residential palace, complete with its own zoo. In the 10th century AD, the Bible exegete Rabbi Saadia Gaon believed that the biblical site of Ramesses had to be identified with Ain Shams. For a time, during the early 20th century, the site was misidentified as that of Tanis, due to the amount of statuary and other material from Pi-Ramesses found there, but it now is recognized that the Ramesside remains at Tanis were brought there from elsewhere, and the real Pi-Ramesses lies about 30 km (18.6 mi) south, near modern Qantir. The colossal feet of the statue of Ramesses are almost all that remains above ground today. The rest is buried in the fields.


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The remains of the Ramesseum in aerial view

The temple complex built by Ramesses II between Qurna and the desert has been known as the Ramesseum since the 19th century. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus marveled at the gigantic temple, now no more than a few ruins.

Oriented northwest and southeast, the temple was preceded by two courts. An enormous pylon stood before the first court, with the royal palace at the left and the gigantic statue of the king looming up at the back. Only fragments of the base and torso remain of the syenite statue of the enthroned pharaoh, 17 metres (56 ft) high and weighing more than 1,000 tonnes (980 long tons; 1,100 short tons). Scenes of the great pharaoh and his army triumphing over the Hittite forces fleeing before Kadesh are represented on the pylon. Remains of the second court include part of the internal facade of the pylon and a portion of the Osiride portico on the right. Scenes of war and the alleged rout of the Hittites at Kadesh are repeated on the walls. In the upper registers, feast and honor of Min, god of fertility.

On the opposite side of the court the few Osiride pillars and columns still remaining may furnish an idea of the original grandeur. Scattered remains of the two statues of the seated king also may be seen, one in pink granite and the other in black granite, which once flanked the entrance to the temple. Thirty-nine out of the forty-eight columns in the great hypostyle hall (41 × 31 m) still stand in the central rows. They are decorated with the usual scenes of the king before various deities. Part of the ceiling, decorated with gold stars on a blue ground, also has been preserved. Ramesses's children appear in the procession on the few walls left. The sanctuary was composed of three consecutive rooms, with eight columns and the tetrastyle cell. Part of the first room, with the ceiling decorated with astral scenes, and few remains of the second room are all that is left. Vast storerooms built of mud bricks stretched out around the temple. Traces of a school for scribes were found among the ruins.

A temple of Seti I, of which nothing remains beside the foundations, once stood to the right of the hypostyle hall.

Abu Simbel

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Facade of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel

In 1255 BC, Ramesses and his queen Nefertari had traveled into Nubia to inaugurate a new temple, the great Abu Simbel. It is ego cast into stone; the man who built it intended not only to become Egypt's greatest pharaoh, but also one of its deities.

The great temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel was discovered in 1813 by the Swiss Orientalist and traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. An enormous pile of sand almost completely covered the facade and its colossal statues, blocking the entrance for four more years. The Paduan explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni reached the interior on 4 August 1817.

Other Nubian monuments

As well as the temples of Abu Simbel, Ramesses left other monuments to himself in Nubia. His early campaigns are illustrated on the walls of the Temple of Beit el-Wali (now relocated to New Kalabsha). Other temples dedicated to Ramesses are Derr and Gerf Hussein (also relocated to New Kalabsha). For the temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal, the temple's foundation probably occurred during the reign of Thutmose III, while the temple was shaped during his reign and that of Ramesses II.

Other archeological discoveries

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Granite statue of Ramesses II from Thebes. Currently on display at the Museo Egizio in Turin

The colossal statue of Ramesses II dates back 3,200 years, and was originally discovered in six pieces in a temple near Memphis. Weighing some 83-tonne (82-long-ton; 91-short-ton), it was transported, reconstructed, and erected in Ramesses Square in Cairo in 1955. In August 2006, contractors relocated it to save it from exhaust fumes that were causing it to deteriorate. The new site is near the future Grand Egyptian Museum.

In 2018, a group of archeologists in Cairo's Matariya neighborhood discovered pieces of a booth with a seat that, based on its structure and age, may have been used by Ramesses. "The royal compartment consists of four steps leading to a cubic platform, which is believed to be the base of the king's seat during celebrations or public gatherings," such as Ramesses' inauguration and Sed festivals. It may have also gone on to be used by others in the Ramesside Period, according to the mission's head. The excavation mission also unearthed "a collection of scarabs, amulets, clay pots and blocks engraved with hieroglyphic text."

In December 2019, a red granite royal bust of Ramesses II was unearthed by an Egyptian archaeological mission in the village of Mit Rahina in Giza. The bust depicted Ramesses II wearing a wig with the symbol "Ka" on his head. Its measurements were 55 cm (21.65 in) wide, 45 cm (17.71 in) thick and 105 cm (41.33 in) long. Alongside the bust, limestone blocks appeared showing Ramesses II during the Heb-Sed religious ritual. "This discovery is considered one of the rarest archaeological discoveries. It is the first-ever Ka statue made of granite to be discovered. The only Ka statue that was previously found is made of wood and it belongs to one of the kings of the 13th dynasty of ancient Egypt which is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square," said archaeologist Mostafa Waziri.

Death and burial

The Egyptian scholar Manetho (third century BC) attributed Ramesses a reign of 66 years and 2 months.

By the time of his death, aged about 90 years, Ramesses was suffering from severe dental problems and was plagued by arthritis and hardening of the arteries. He had made Egypt rich from all the supplies and bounty he had collected from other empires. He had outlived many of his wives and children and left great memorials all over Egypt. Nine more pharaohs took the name Ramesses in his honour.

Tomb of Nefertari

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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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See also

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