Ramesses II is considered to be Egypt's greatest and most powerful pharaoh. Taking the throne in his twenties, Ramesses ruled Egypt for more than 60 years. Ramesses is remembered as a great military leader as well as for the extensive construction programs he instituted. He is also remembered for building a new capital city, Pi-Ramesses. Some historians believe that Ramesses is the pharaoh in the biblical story of Moses.
Egypt having recently emerged from a period of declining power and prestige, Ramesses' father, Seti I, spent a good deal of time subduing rebellious provinces in Asia. The Hittites, based in Asia Minor, were extending their power southward, and the two great civilizations were engaged in a protracted struggle for control of Syria and Palestine. The young Ramesses accompanied his father on some of these campaigns; by the age of 10 he was given the rank of captain – though this was almost certainly ceremonial, it does suggest that his military training began at an extremely young age. Ramesses assumed the throne in his early twenties, following his father's death.
Four years after becoming pharaoh, Ramesses led an army north to retake the rebellious provinces that his father had been unable to conquer. The campaign was apparently successful, and the army advanced as far as Beirut. In the following year Ramesses attacked the Hittite stronghold at Kadesh. The Battle of Kadesh <link to fun fact, below> is one of the few battles from that period of which we have records. Believing the citadel to be abandoned, Ramesses approached incautiously and was ambushed by a large Hittite chariot force hiding beyond the fort. Although Ramesses achieved a marginal victory in that battle, his army was so weakened that he had to retreat to Egypt, leaving the fort in Hittite hands. Ramesses continued to battle the Hittites for some twelve more years, attaining tactical victories, but unable to hold the contested land for any time.
In addition to his wars with the Hittites, Ramesses campaigned in Nubia and Libya, extending his rule to the west and south. However these were of much less importance as these enemies posed little threat to the survival of Egypt.
Peace with the HittitesEdit
Eventually realizing that further combat was pointless, in the twenty-first year of his reign, Ramesses agreed to a peace treaty with the Hittites. This is the earliest known peace treaty in recorded history. Interestingly, the treaty was written in two versions: the Egyptian version states that the Hittites sued for peace while the Hittite version states that it was the Egyptians who requested an end to hostilities.
This treaty appears to have stabilized the borders between the two great powers, and no further combat between Egypt and the Hittites occurred during Ramesses' reign.
Early in his reign Ramesses moved his capital from Thebes north to a city in the Nile Delta, which he renamed "Pi- Ramesses." The new location was near to his ancestral home, but more importantly it was far closer to the troublesome Northern provinces and the dangerous Hittite border. In a few short years the once-sleepy village was transformed into a major governmental center as well as an arms manufactory. The city was graced with a beautiful palace and many temples, as well as numerous statues and other ornaments.
Pi- Ramesses was abandoned long after Ramesses' reign. For many centuries the site was lost, but archeologists have recently discovered ruins that they believe belong to the ancient city.
During his reign Ramesses constructed many public works across Egypt. Many of these were temples and monuments, but he also constructed storehouses, government buildings, water works, and so forth. Evidently a tireless self-promoter, Ramesses covered Egypt with statues and carvings of himself, often recarving those of previous pharaohs with his name and image. (Ramesses ordered his masons to deeply engrave his image in the stone so that future pharaohs would have trouble doing the same to him.)
Many historians believe that Pi- Ramesses is the city "Raamses" mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, one of the "Treasure Cities" constructed by the Israelites during their Egyptian Captivity. Some believe that Ramesses is in fact the pharaoh of the Biblical story of the Exodus, the ruler who Moses forced to free his people. However, this is open to debate (particularly since Ramesses II lived a very long life and emphatically did not drown in the Red Sea).
Death and BurialEdit
Ramesses died at the age of 90. He was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but he was later moved to a secret location. His body was discovered in the late 19th century and is now on display in the Cairo Museum. It is difficult to guess whether the pharaoh would be outraged by the desecration or if he would enjoy the publicity.