Ramses II, or Ramesses II, ruled Egypt during 13th century B.C. and is regarded by many as the most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire due to which he is also known as Ramses the Great. He is famous for his exploits during the Battle of Kadesh, for building numerous monuments including Abu Simbel and for making Egypt prosperous and powerful during his reign. Know more about this great ancient Egyptian pharaoh through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 He was made Prince Regent when he was fourteen
Born around 1303 BC, Ramses II was the son of Pharaoh Seti I and his wife Queen Tuya. By the time Seti I became pharaoh, Egypt had lost several provinces in the north to the Hittites of Anatolia. To reclaim those provinces Seti I waged war against the Hittites and was partly successful. From an early age Ramses accompanied his father on his military campaigns and when he was fourteen he was appointed Prince Regent by his father. After the death of Seti I in 1279 BC, Ramses II ascended the throne becoming the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt.
#2 He decisively defeated the Sherden sea pirates
Egypt had been troubled by the Sherden sea pirates who were attacking cargo-laden vessels travelling the sea routes to Egypt. In the second year of his reign, Ramses II deployed a clever strategy to capture them. He posted troops and ships at strategic points on the coast and allowed the pirates to attack their prey. Then he caught them by surprise in a sea battle eventually defeating them decisively and capturing them all.
#3 Ramses II led Egypt in the famous Battle of Kadesh
In 1275 BC, Ramses II started a military campaign to recover the lost provinces in the north. The last battle of this campaign was the famous Battle of Kadesh fought against the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh in 1274 BC, the fifth regnal year of Ramses II. It was the earliest well-recorded battle in history and probably the largest chariot battle ever fought involving perhaps 5,000–6,000 chariots.
#4 He narrowly escaped death and fought valiantly at Kadesh
When the Egyptian army was around 11km from Kadesh, Ramses II was informed that the Hittite army was far away at Aleppo. The main Hittite army was in fact concealed behind the city. Caught in an ambush, vastly outnumbered and with death staring at his face, Ramses II personally led a counterattack to drive the Hittite away from the Egyptian camp. The Hittites were ultimately forced to return back to the safe city walls. Ramses’ army returned to Egypt after an inconclusive battle the following day.
#5 He signed the first known international peace treaty
In the eighth and ninth years of his reign, Ramses II again led military campaigns against the Hittite and successfully captured the cities of Dapur and Tunip, reaching where no Egyptian pharaoh had been since Thutmose III, almost 120 years ago. However Egypt couldn’t retain possession of the cities. Skirmishes with the Hittites continued till 1258 BC when an official peace treaty was established between Ramses II and Hattusili III, the then king of the Hittites. It is the earliest international peace treaty known to historians.
#6 He moved the capital city to Pi-Ramesses
Ramses II moved the capital of his kingdom from Thebes in the Nile valley to a new site in the eastern Delta called Pi-Ramesses. The reason for the shift in capital was most probably that it was much closer to the Egyptian vassal states in Asia and to the border with the hostile Hittite empire. Pi-Ramesses went on to become one of the largest cities in ancient Egypt and flourished for a century after the death of Ramses II. It had several huge temples and the lavish residential palace of the king. What remains today of this site is the colossal feet of the statue of Ramses II. The rest is buried under the fields.
#7 Many great monuments were built during his reign
Numerous monuments were constructed during the reign of Ramses II including Abu Simbel, a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari; and the mortuary temple Ramesseum, a place of worship dedicated to the pharaoh. Ramses II also erected more colossal statues of himself than any other pharaoh. It is to be noted that monuments of previous pharaohs were destroyed and their material was taken to complete projects of Ramses II. Also he had his own cartouche inscribed on many existing statues.
#8 Ramses II was one of the longest reigning pharaohs
Sed festivals were jubilees celebrated in ancient Egypt after a pharaoh had ruled for thirty years and then every three years after that. By tradition, Ramses was ritually transformed into a god in the Sed festival held in the 30th year of his reign. Unprecedented 14 sed festivals were held during the 66 year reign of Ramses II. He is considered the second longest reigning pharaoh of ancient Egypt after Pepi II Neferkare.
#9 He had over 200 wives and concubines; and over 100 children
Ramses II had more than 200 wives and concubines. His favourite queen was most likely his first Royal Wife Nefertari. Her tomb QV66 is the most spectacular in the Valley of the Queens with magnificent wall painting decoration, regarded as one of the greatest achievements of ancient Egyptian art. Ramses II had well over 100 children. His age at the time of his death was around 90. He was buried in tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings. His mummy is today in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. He was succeeded by his son Merneptah.
#10 He is known as Ramses the Great
Ramses II led several other military campaigns and enjoyed many outright victories. He was a famous warrior and popular ruler. He was able to secure peace with the Hittites and maintain Egyptian borders. Ramses II also built numerous monuments and Egypt became prosperous and powerful during his reign. Such was his impact that nine more pharaohs took the name Ramses in his honour. His name and his exploits on the battlefield were found everywhere in Egypt. He is thus known as Ramses the Great.
P. B. Shelley’s Ozymandias
In 1817, renowned English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith were involved in a friendly competition to write a sonnet on Ramses II. Both the poems were title Ozymandias, which was the Greek name for Ramses II. Ozymandias went on to become one of the most famous works of P. B. Shelley and has since been used in numerous creative works. The central theme of the poem is the inevitable decline of all emperors and their empire. The third-to-last episode of the famous American television series Breaking Bad is titled “Ozymandias” and is based on the poem’s theme of collapse following greatness.