Ramses II


Ramses II was the son of the great pharaoh Seti I. He ruled for 67 years and died at the age of 92, a phenomenal age for ancient times. He left his stamp on Egypt, building numerous temples, and carving his name on almost every monument, whether he had built it or not.



Ramses II is famous for having one of the biggest families in history. He had eight wives, including his own sister Henutmire, two of his own daughters, and two foreign princesses (Hittites, from modern Syria). His favourite wife was Nefertari, who had her own temple built for her at Abu Simbel, and whose tomb in the Valley of the Queens is one of the most beautiful in all Egypt. Ramses also boasted of fathering over 100 children. Many of these died before he did. His 13th son, Merneptah, became pharaoh after he died in about 1212BC.



Like Thutmose III, and his own father Seti I, Ramses was a warrior king. In the 4th year of his reign (about 1275BC), he fought the Battle of Kadesh (in Syria), part of his campaign against the Hittites. The battle was a stalemate, but young Ramses portrayed it as a magnificent victory. The tale of the battle was carved on the walls of no less than six temples! In fact in the Temple of Amun at Luxor, there were three versions of it.



Ramses' egotism was not unusual for a pharaoh, but he took it to great lengths. He built lots of temples, including his own mortuary temple, the Ramesseum, on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes. He also added major parts to existing temples, like the Luxor temple and the Karnak temple. At the front of the Luxor temple he raised a pair of obelisks to Amun, and two giant statues of himself.


Ramses' greatest monument, however was at Abu Simbel, in the south of Egypt. There were two buildings, one to Nefertari, and one to himself and the gods Amun, Re-Horakhty, and Ptah. At the front are four enormous statues of Ramses, 18m high. When the sun rose on the two equinoxes of the year (the day when night and day are the same length - Feb 22 and Oct 22), the light reached 60m right into the back of the temple, illuminating the statues (except Ptah, because he was a god of the underworld).


In 1960, construction began on the Aswan Dam, which caused flooding of a large area of southern Egypt (creating Lake Nasser). The UN saved Abu Simbel temple by cutting it up into blocks and moving it to higher ground. Many other temples were lost forever.



When Ramses died at 92 he was buried in the Valley of the Kings in tomb KV7. His tomb was very large and must have contained unimaginable treasures, far greater than Tutankhamun's. Almost all of this was robbed, however, and very little remains to be seen in museums - just a few shabtis and statues, and four canopic jars. The king's mummy however, was found and can be seen along with his father's in the Cairo Museum. The embalmers had noticed mummies' noses got flattened by the bandages. They stuffed Ramses' nose with peppercorns and so it has kept its shape.



Nefertari - from her tomb


Abu Simbel temple entrance


Inside Abu Simbel temple. Statues of Ramses flank the hall, with Amun-Ra and Ramses at the end.


Ramses II's mummy