Ramesses III – Corruption, Conquests and Conspiracies
Before King Ramesses III took over the throne of Egypt, there had been a lot of turmoil. And although his time as king did have a few years of peace, most of his reign was riddled with many challenges including invasions, worker strikes and assassination attempts.
His story reads like a thriller at times.
King Merenptah was the surviving heir of Ramesses II and was quite old by the time he was crowned. He ruled Egypt for a few years, and even won a battle against foreign invasion. When he died, hi son Seti II, was meant to take over but there was trouble with the succession.
His rival, King Amenmessu, began to rule in the south and tried to outmaneuver Seti, which didn’t work out in the end and Seti was able to rule on his own for a few years.
When Seti died, his son King Saptah was too young to rule. So the power was left to Queen Tausret, who was Saptah’s stepmother. She acted as regent until the young king died. She then became pharaoh.
She was the third woman of the New Kingdom to become pharaoh (the other two are Hatshepsut and Nefertiti).
Still, it seems that Tausret was being advised by a very powerful official named Bay, who was actually Syrian.
Although what happened after is not known for certain, it seems that Bay may have tried to rule Egypt after the death of Tausret, and he and his accomplices exploited the country’s riches and brought about a state of disorder.
At this point, a man by the name of Sethnakht decided it was time to put Egypt back into the hands of an Egyptian.
He managed to expel the Syrian rulers – a victory he was celebrated for.
This was the beginning of the 20th Dynasty in the New Kingdom.
But he died shortly after and his son, Ramesses III, took over sometime around 1186 BCE.
A few years into this new peaceful reign, challenges with foreigners began to sprout. Egyptians had accepted immigrants for a while although this had caused problems before, and now once more there was unrest…
…Libyan immigrants in Egypt revolted against Ramesses after he tried to interfere with their internal politics.
He managed to quell this uprising. But that was just the beginning of his problems with the Libyans and foreigners in general. His greatest foreign foe would prove to be the deeply feared Sea Peoples.
No one is really sure who the Sea Peoples are exactly, but from the many descriptions of them in ancient Egyptian records, they seem to have been extraordinarily skilled seafarers and fighters. They had posed a threat to many pharaohs before Ramesses III and had invaded several other lands in the surrounding area at the time.
And although they had ransacked and destroyed many empires and cultures, such as the Hittites and the Cypriots, Ramesses was ready for them.
He beat them and they never entered Egypt again…
His preparedness and skills won him several years of peace, which he spent on building many monuments. But all the troubles before and during his reign had led to a lot of internal problems.
Corruption had begun to affect the administration of resources, and Ramesses had to give many generous donations to the temples, especially that of Amun. The priesthood thus began to become more and more powerful once again as they had done before. The power struggle and loss of control brought about a financial crisis…
Other contributing factors were the costliness of the previous battles and an issue with craps. The economy was shot.
Grain prices rose so high that the state treasury could not afford to pay the workers of Deir El Medina, which were building the king’s mortuary temple. This led to a labor strike, which is now called the first organized strike in recorded history.
All of this, plus more destabilization by Libyans and other foreigners within the country in the form of raids and exploitation, caused the inevitable decline of security. The country was a total mess. And at its head was a greatly weakened pharaoh.
The Harem Conspiracy Against Ramesses III
This scandal is one of the most famous of ancient Egyptian assassination attempts. And it is called the Harem Conspiracy because it seems to have been organized at the royal harem by one of Ramesses’s queens…
Queen Tiye was not the Great Royal Wife, and her son Pentaweret was not next in line to inherit the throne. That honor was given to another son, Ramesses IV.
Banking on the king’s decreased popularity with the public after so much instability, Queen Tiye began to plot with other women of the harem as well as government officials. They planned to murder the king and his heir during the Opet Festival in Thebes.
To prepare they began to smuggle materials into the harem, including wax figurines and other black magic tools.
That, along with inciting the public to overthrow their king, was meant to help them make the assassination and the subsequent succession of Pentaweret successful.
The plot, however, was fount out. The accused were brought to trial and most of them were given death sentences, many by
suicide. The details of the trial, crimes and punishments were later recorded in what is now called the Judicial Turin Papyrus.
The mummy of Ramesses III was only recently shown to have signs of a violent death and deep knife wounds to the throat, signifying that the plot almost succeeded, but not fully.
His son Ramesses IV did in fact end up succeeding him and most of the conspirators were put to death.
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