Ramses II

Ramses II (reigned 1304-1237 B.C.) was the third ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. A great warrior, he was also the builder of some of Egypt's most famous monuments.

Ramses, or Ramesses, was the son of Seti I. Prior to his accession as sole ruler in 1304 B.C., Ramses had been coregent with his father. During the last years of Seti I the reins of government had slackened, and the first 3 years of Ramses' reign seem to have been occupied with setting in order the internal affairs of Egypt. Early in his reign he undertook the task of securing an adequate water supply for the gold-mining expeditions to and from the Wadi el-Allaqi in Lower Nubia.

Ramses' royal residence, known as Per-Ramesse, the "House of Ramses," was situated in the Delta. Its site is still a matter of debate; various scholars have identified it with the cities of Tanis and Qantir in the eastern half of the Delta. The situation of the residence in this area was convenient for a pharaoh so concerned with events in Palestine and Syria.


Hittite Campaigns

The outstanding feature of Ramses II's reign was his protracted struggle with the Hittites. An inscription of year 4 of his reign, at the Nahr el-Kalb near Beirut, records his first Asiatic campaign. In year 5 he launched a major attack on the Hittite Empire from his base in northern Palestine and Phoenicia. During the course of this offensive, Ramses at Qadesh fought the greatest battle of his career. Although neither side could claim victory, Ramses never ceased to boast on his monuments of his own part in the battle. Strategically, however, the result was a defeat for the Egyptians, who were obliged to retire homeward. The sight of the Pharaoh's army retreating encouraged many of the petty states of Palestine to revolt, and in year 6 or 7 and in year 8 Ramses was obliged to suppress uprisings in the area.

By year 10 Ramses was again on the Nahr el-Kalb, and the next year he broke the Hittite defenses and invaded Syria. Although he penetrated deep into Hittite territory, he found it impossible to hold indefinitely against Hittite pressure territories so far away from base, and in year 21 a treaty was concluded which terminated 16 years of hostilities between Egypt and the Hittites. After the restoration of peace, relations between the two powers became friendly, and a regular exchange of diplomatic correspondence ensued. In year 34 Ramses married the eldest daughter of the Hittite king. In addition to his wars in Palestine and Syria, Ramses vigorously combated Libyan incursions into the Delta.

No pharaoh ever surpassed the building achievements of Ramses II. Among the most famous of his constructions are his temple at Abydos, his funerary temple, known as the Ramesseum, at Thebes, and the great rockcut temple at Abu Simbel in Nubia.


Further Reading on Ramses II

An excellent account of Ramses II's reign is given by R. O. Faulkner in volume 2 of The Cambridge Ancient History (12 vols., 1924; 2d rev. ed. 1966). See also A. H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (1961).