Ramses II
Birth name:
Ramses Meryamun ("Re Has Fashioned Him, Beloved of Amun")
Throne name: Usermaatre Setepenre("The Justice of Re is Powerful, Chosen of Re")
Rule: 1279 - 1212 BC (3rd king of the 19th dynasty, New Kingdom)
Noteworthy relatives: Seti I (father), Nefertari (queen)

You've probably heard Ramses II's nick-name "Ramses the Great," a title he certainly deserved. Everything he did was bigger than life! He reigned for 67 years, until his death at a ripe old age of about 96 (he even outlived 13 of his heirs!). He had somewhere around 200 wives, almost 100 sons, and about 60 daughters. Ramses is also known for his military might. Even as a boy he was fighting in battles. During his lifetime, he raided the Libyans and Nubians and attacked the Syrians nearly half a dozen times. He battled the Hittites and then formed a treaty with them, even marrying two princesses to further bind the Egyptian/Hittite peace treaty. Ramses had eight main queens during his lifetime (two of which were the Hittite princesses), but Nefertari was his favorite queen of all. Not much about her is known although she is the owner of the most beautifully decorated tomb in the Valley of the Queens. Its bright, colorful tomb paintings had been flaking off in pieces, but the tomb has recently been restored to its original condition.

Ramses built more temples and monuments than any other pharaoh. He added on to the temples at Luxor and Karnak, he finished some of his father's building projects, and had several mortuary temples for himself constructed. His most impressive project was his temple at Abu Simbel in northern Nubia. This huge temple was carved right into the face of a cliff. Its most noticeable feature is the four colossal statues of Ramses II on the front. Each one is 60 feet tall-- and they are sitting down, not standing up! Thanks to some very clever engineering, the sun would shine directly through the entrance at sunrise on the equinox of February 22nd and October 22nd. The rays would reach all the way to the rear of the temple and light up the group of statues of Egyptian gods that were positioned there. When the Aswan High Dam was built in the late 1960's, the artificial lake that was to form behind it would have submerged the temple at Abu Simbel forever. To save it, the temple was sliced into layers and reassembled at a higher level, safe from the rising water.

During the New Kingdom, royal tombs were built high in the cliffs of Upper Egypt in a spot commonly called "The Valley of the Kings." The intention was to make the tombs as inaccessible to grave robbers as possible... although they got robbed anyway. Around 1000 BC, a group of priests gathered up all the royal mummies and stored them in two secret "mummy caches" (one near Deir el-Bahari, and the other in the tomb of Amenhotep II) to keep them safe. These hidden royals were nowhere to be found for almost 2,000 years: in 1881, the 40 mummies in the Deir el-Bahari location were found; then in 1898 the tomb of Amenhotep II with its additional 16 mummies was discovered. Ramses II was in the 1881 cache. His mummy was found inside a wooden mummiform coffin and was in excellent condition. The mummy was examined with X-rays in the 1970's during a conservation treatment. This is when it was realized that his distinctive hooked nose managed to keep its shape by being stuffed with peppercorns- usually mummy noses are flattened by the bandaging over the face. Ramses II is now on display at the museum in Cairo.

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