Friday, September 14, 2018

R is for Ramses the Great (Blogging through the Alphabet)

Just who exactly is the son of Seti I? Was Ramses the Great an altruistic ruler, a mighty warrior, or the living god of Ancient Egypt? Because the rulers of Ancient Egypt often changed history, appropriated the deeds of past Pharaohs, and spread their own propaganda, Egyptologists need to examine the history of individuals carefully.

From the mummy of Ramses the Great we know that he was tall for a dynastic Egyptian – about 5 foot 7 inches – had a prominent nose, high cheek-bones, a squarish chin, and almond-shaped eyes. He also had red hair and probably suffered from teeth and gum decay in his later years. Even with all these specific details about his person, we know very little about the private life of Ramses except those few glimpses he afforded us. He depicted himself as a family man, a devout son, and a friend to animals who cared for his pets (including a lion).

At the age of ten, Ramses was promoted to the rank of First King's Son or Crown Prince and learned the trade of his father – ruling Egypt. In 1279 BC, he started his rule as the sole ruler of Egypt upon the death of his father.

Military Hero 

One of the historical events that Ramses is most known for is the battle at Kadesh (Qadesh) in 1274 BC. The Egyptians and the Hittites were at war. Muwatallis was in charge of the Hittites, while Ramses led the Egyptians.

The majority of the Hittite army was on the east bank of the Orontes River to take out Ramses' divided army. Just in time for the Egyptians, an elite group of troops arrived and reinforced the Egyptian forces. The next day the Hittites moved their army across the river. The two great armies faced each other. Both sides had previously suffered losses.

Here is where history is different to a degree – depending on who recorded the information. The Hittite records state that Ramses was defeated and there was no peace treaty signed. The Egyptians recorded that the Hittite king sent a letter pleading for peace. The victory at Kadesh is depicted on many Egyptian temples and palaces including those at Karnak, Ramesseum, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Derr, and Abydos.

Depiction of prisoners of war

At the temple entrance at Luxor, Ramses is depicted as taking on the entire Hittite Army and triumphing over them. In the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, the triumph over the Hittites and the peace treaty are recorded on the outer walls. The victory was also recorded  at Abu Simbel even going so far as to show two Hittite spies being beaten to reveal the whereabouts of Muwatallis.


There are several important details to note in terms of a Pharaoh's role as a husband (and father). The Egyptian palaces did maintain a harem but it was not just a place to provide the Pharaoh with female companions. In Egypt, it was a home for all unattached women of the court – unmarried or widowed sisters, aunts, daughters, unwanted foreign wives, secondary wives, and disabled women. It was a place for the women to be cared for and for women to provide goods and services for the state. In fact, the Palace of Mer Wer was home to a thriving textile industry due to the ladies of the harem. Only a few women would actually travel when Ramses moved between palaces and courts.

The first wife of Ramses was Nefertari. They married prior to his ascending the throne as Pharaoh but – unlike royal weddings of today – their marriage and the birth of their children was not recorded for history. Nefertari – also known as the Lady of the Two Lands and the Mistress of the North and South – was mother to as many as ten children. Three of these children were favorites of Ramses including:
  • Amenhirwenemef (his eldest son) 
  • Prehirwenemf (third-born son) 
  • Meritamen (a favorite daughter) 
Unfortunately, none of his favorite children outlived him. 

Unlike many of the royal wives, Nefertari might not have been a member of the immediate royal family. As the queen of Egypt, she was the extension of her husband and was needed to participate in religious ceremonies. After her death, Nefertari was buried in the Valley of the Queens. 


Ramses was very proud of all his children. And historians believe he fathered between 85 to 100 children. Some of the children may be his biological children while others may have been adopted into the royal family. Ramses had the names of his children recorded on the walls of his temples. Some of his sons are even buried in the Valley of the Kings.


One of the most famous temples of Ramses the Great is that of Abu Simbel. It was first rediscovered in 1813 and cleared four years later by historians. Perhaps one of the reasons why it is still famous today is due to the moving of the temple when the High Dam was built.

If you are looking for more history of Ancient Egypt, please check out my other blog posts!


Image Credits 

Abu Simbul © Ramblingman | Stock Free Images

Karnak © Yulianquan | Stock Free Images

Prisoners © Gfassera | Stock Free Images

Ramses Statue © A Mom's Quest to Teach


  1. We just thought there were large families today! He had his hands full with so many different roles. This was interesting to read. Thanks.