Ramses II Research Paper

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Ramses II, also known as “Ramses the Great,” was one of the most famous pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty of Egypt (1570–1070 BCE). He established numerous building projects, conducted aggressive war campaigns, and created international ties that are still discussed today.

The Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II was born to Seti I and Queen Tuya in 1279 BCE. He is most often remembered for the ambitious building projects and aggressive war campaigns he conducted, and for solidifying Egypt’s legacy in the world. But it is possible that Ramses II may have had some connection with the exodus of the biblical text, as there is some discussion among scholars whether Ramses or his father was the reigning pharaoh at the time of the event. Although most agree that Seti I was pharaoh, no Egyptian texts mention any accounts of the Hebrew exodus. The stela of Merneptah, son of Ramses, however, does include the name “Israel” in a list of peoples conquered.

Ramses II began his reign at the age of twenty-five. In contrast to his grandfather Ramses I’s brief period on the throne (1293–1291 BCE), Ramses II led Egypt successfully for sixty-seven years. Not only did the king solidify Egypt’s legacy throughout the world, he secured his family legacy by fathering many children. As a result of his marriages and of relationships with women in his harem, Ramses sired more than one hundred sons and daughters.

Two of his wives, Nefertari and Istonfret, are known in Egyptian history, but there is not much information available regarding the background of either queen. Nefertari was Ramses’ first wife, and she gave birth to their initial child, the crown prince Amenhirkhopshef. Their family also included two daughters, and three more sons. Nefertari died during the twenty-fourth year of his reign, and Istonfret became queen shortly thereafter. Istonfret also bore three sons, one of whom, Merneptah, would be the king’s successor. Primarily for political reasons, Ramses made international connections by marrying women from surrounding nations or having them become a part of his harem.

The powerful pharaoh was also a great military strategist, a trait associated with his grandfather, who was also a successful army officer. During his time on the throne, Ramses II battled several enemies, but among the most notable Egyptian foes were the Hittites to the north. Seti I had success in maintaining peace with them, particularly at Egypt’s volatile Syrian border near the city of Kadesh. However, a revolt near Kadesh in 1275 BCE forced Ramses to take action against the Hittites. What followed is known as the “battle at Kadesh.” As the Egyptian forces slowly moved north to the city, it appeared that they would have little difficulty with the Hittites. They even captured two spies who divulged the Hittites’ attack plans, but the men were designated plants who purposely gave false information to the Egyptians. Consequently, Ramses’ men marched into a waiting ambush. However, by employing his cunning military skill, Ramses was able to maneuver his troops and eventually forced the Hittites to retreat. Within days the Egyptians and Hittites battled again to what most scholars interpret as a draw. Nevertheless, the inscriptions on the walls of the Ramesseum mortuary temple and the temples at Karnak, Abydos, Abu Simbel, and Derr show iconographic depictions of a triumphant Egyptian army slaughtering its Hittite enemies, and the writings sing the praises of Ramses’ bravery and skill on the battlefield.

In addition to the ruler’s military brilliance, the reign of Ramses II is further defined by colossal architecture and detailed sculptures found throughout Egypt. One of his greatest architectural marvels is the Great Temple at Abu Simbel. The facade of the structure has four seated figures of Ramses II. Each stands about 20 meters high, and they have been sculpted directly from the mountain where the edifice is located. The temple also demonstrates a unique feat of engineering in that when the sun rises on 22 February and 22 October the light shines through the entrance and illuminates three of the four gods seated inside. Like the statues of Ramses, the gods have also been carved directly from the mountain.

Ramses II’s reign ended in 1237 BCE. Not only did the king lead the Egyptians successfully during his tenure as king, he lived more than ninety years. Sadly, the contents of Ramses’s tomb, like those of many others, fell into the hands of robbers. Items such as bronze and wooden ushabtis (figures shaped like mummies) and a statue of the king survived and are housed in museums throughout Europe. Excavators also discovered the pharaoh’s mummified body, which now lies in the Louvre. Ramses II’s magnificent accomplishments are firmly etched in Egyptian history.


  1. Clayton, P. (1994). Chronicle of the pharaohs. New York: Thames and Hudson.
  2. Gardiner, S. A. (1961). Egypt of the pharaohs. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
  3. Grimal, N. (1992). A history of ancient Egypt. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell Publishers.
  4. Quirke, S. (1990). Who were the pharaohs? A history of their names with a list of cartouches. London: British Museum.

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