No pharaoh can compare to King Ramesses IIin all his glory. He may not have built the Great Pyramids of Giza, had the military successes of King Thutmosis, or even the mysterious and artistic spirituality of King Akhenaten - but he made his stamp on Egypt like no other.
He is the 3rd Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, successor to the throne after King Seti I. He ruled Egypt from 1279-1212 BC, meaning he reigned for an unmatched 67 years!
He took over the throne at the strong age of 25 until his death at 92 years of age.
I guess if you are able to last that long it must mean you have great staying power!
And that is exactly what made him great more than anything else. In all these years, he managed to build so many temples, obelisks, monuments, and statues.
Back to those in a minute... first let's start at the beginning.
Before King Seti died, he had taught his son and heir a lot about military campaigns. Ramesses II was a skilled horse-back rider and learned the arts of statesmanship from his father at an early age. In fact, his father dedicated a stele in his temple explaining all of these wonderful father-son interactions.
Seti gave him many tasks, including the overseeing of granite extractions at the Aswan quarries for building monuments. He also took him along in his campaigns against the Hittite armies in Syria.
It seems that as far as "family" relations go, this was a strong one. Seti also got to enjoy seeing his heir's heirs himself, as Ramesses was married to his two main wives and had children with them while Seti was still alive.
Speaking of marriage and children, this is another thing that he was famous for. No other Egyptian had so many wives or so many children. His harem is the stuff of legends, with his ladies giving him over 100 children in total!
His principal wife is the famous Nefertari who was his favorite until her death in year 24 of his reign. After her death, his other main wife Istnofret became the principal wife until her death in year 34 of his reign.
He also had two Hittite princesses as wives, given to him as a show of "friendship" from the Hittite King whom he had made a peace treaty with. And it seems like that finally worked after so many battles and stalemates between Egypt and Syria. Neither side could keep up the campaigns, even though Egypt had the advantage a few times, the Hittites would come back stronger!
You see, from the time of Seti, Egypt had been engaged in battling the Hittites, especially over the city of Kadesh.
Other than these wars though, Ramesses II is most famous for his statues and temples. Abu Simbel is possibly the most overwhelming temple there is, with four colossal statues of the king sitting, two on each side of the entrance.
The architecture was so precise that the sun shone in on the statues of 3 gods inside - once on the equinox on February 22 and once on the equinox on October 22.
The fourth god was Ptah, who the sun did not reach as he is a god of the underworld. Does that not boggle your mind?!
Other than Abu Simbel, you have the temple at Karnak which he also added to, as well as his own temple near Abydos. All of these are a must for anyone in love with ancient Egyptian history!
He built so much that it really is impossible to name them all, and in fact you can pretty much be sure you'll see a lot of his stuff as he made sure to leave his mark all over Egypt.
You can probably see why he is called Ramesses the Great... After 67 years of unmatched power, he died leaving his son Merneptah (already in his 60's) to rule; he didn't last long.
Ramesses II was buried in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings but his mummy was later moved to the Great Royal Mummy Cache. His tomb had been looted of course but we assume it contained treasures beyond imagination.
Remember: King Tut's tomb is only spectacular because it was not robbed, otherwise it would have paled in comparison to other tombs of greater pharaohs such as Ramesses.
One thing I want to leave you with about this particular pharaoh is a story that I find so funny and so endearing that it makes me smile while writing it...
...in 1974, after noticing that his mummy had started showing signs of deterioration, Egypt decided to send him to France to be examined. So, as with any other Egyptian travelers, he was issued his very own Egyptian passport. That's not even the funny part! In his passport, he was listed as "King (deceased)" under occupation :-)
And deservedly, King Ramesses II was received with a full Presidential Guard of Honor in Paris at the airport. A welcome befitting the great king that he was, even after being dead for almost 3,200 years!
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