Ramesses II Biography

Ramesses the Great, also known as Ramesses II, was the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. He is considered to be the greatest and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire, renowned for his military prowess and conquests. Born into a non-royal family, Ramesses rose to power at a young age and had the second longest reign in Egyptian history. He was known for his extensive building programs and successful military campaigns, including the famous Battle of Kadesh.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Ramesses the Great, Ozymandias
  • Died At Age: 90
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Bintanath, Henutmire, Isetnofret, Maathorneferure, Nebettawy, Nefertari, حاتّي
    • Father: Seti I
    • Mother: Tuya
    • Siblings: Henutmire, Tia
    • Children: Amun-her-khepeshef, Bintanath, Henuttawy, Khaemweset, Meritamen, Merneptah, Meryatum, Nebettawy, Pareherwenemef, Ramesses
  • Died on: 1213 BC
  • Place of death: Pi-Ramesses, Egypt

Childhood & Early Life

Ramesses II was born in c. 1303 BC to Seti I and Queen Tuya in ancient Egypt. Seti I, a pharaoh of the New Kingdom Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, was considered to be a brave warrior and a great king. Ramesses was groomed for succeeding his father from a young age. He was ranked as a captain of the army when he was just ten years old. Though it is obvious that his rank would have been honorific given his tender age, it is believed that he had started receiving military training by then. When Ramesses was 14, his father made him the Prince Regent. The young prince started accompanying his father on his military campaigns and had gained some experience of kingship and war by the time he reached his late teens.

Accession & Reign

Seti I died in 1279 BC and Ramesses ascended to the throne. During the initial years of his reign he immersed himself in extensive building projects. He supervised the building of a large number of cities, temples and monuments. He also established the city of Pi-Ramesses in the Nile Delta as his new capital. The young pharaoh matured into a brave warrior and led numerous campaigns to conquer those territories which his father had been unable to do so and secure Egypt’s borders.

In 1274 BC, the Battle of Kadesh broke out between the forces of the Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River. It was a chariot battle fought with thousands of chariots. Ramesses’ army crossed the Egyptian border and reached the area of Kadesh from the South. The pharaoh personally led several charges into the Hittite ranks together with his personal guard and using the superior maneuverability of their chariots, attacked the Hittite chariotry. The heavier Hittite chariots were easily overtaken and dispatched by the lighter, faster, Egyptian chariots. However, as the battle progressed, both the Egyptians and the Hittites suffered heavy casualties. The Egyptian army failed to break Kadesh’s defenses while the Hittite army failed to defeat the Egyptians and gain a complete victory. The following years were marked with intermittent wars and hostility though neither army was able to register a definite victory. Finally Ramesses concluded a treaty of peace with the Hittites in 1258 BC, becoming the first king in history to sign a peace treaty with his enemies. Years of hostility between the warring armies ended and the two nations established friendly ties. The Egyptians and the Hittites regularly exchanged diplomatic letters and Ramesses contracted a marriage with the eldest daughter of the Hittite king in 1245 BC. It is also suggested that he married another Hittite princess at a later date. Peace mostly prevailed during the later years of Ramesses’ reign. There are some accounts which describe Ramesses’ undertaking large military actions against the Libyans, though no detailed accounts of such expeditions exist. Over the course of his long reign which spanned around 66 years, Ramesses fought great battles, brought peace, built great monuments across the empire, and maintained Egyptian borders. Egypt became a very prosperous nation during his reign and in the 30th year of his rule, Ramesses was ritually transformed into a god during the Sed festival.

Major Battles

The Battle of the Kadesh which was fought between the forces of the Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II was the battle Ramesses was most famous for. The battle, which is believed to be the largest chariot battle ever fought, involved around 5000-6000 chariots. The battle continued for years with neither of the armies achieving a definite victory and was finally concluded with a treaty of peace between the two armies.

Personal Life & Legacy

Ramesses had several wives and concubines. His first and most favorite queen was Nefertari, who probably died comparatively early in the reign. She was very beautiful as well as intelligent. Highly educated, she was able to both read and write hieroglyphs, a very rare skill at the time. Some of his other queens were Isetnofret, Maathorneferure, Meritamen, Bintanath, Nebettawy, and Henutmire. In addition to his wives he had a large harem of concubines. Ramesses is believed to have fathered over a 100 children through his numerous wives and concubines. He lived a long life and reigned over his country for 66 years. He suffered from several health problems during his last years and died at the age of around 90 in 1213 BC. He was mummified upon his death and his mummy is now preserved in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo. Ramesses was succeeded by his son Merneptah.

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