|The upper half of a black granite|
seated statue of Ramses II wearing
the Blue or War Crown (khepresh).
Discovered by Drovetti, it is probably
the finest existing portrait of the king.
As a young prince, Ramses was imbued with the military tradition established by his grandfather, after whom he was named. From his earliest years all hopes for the new dynasty were pinned on him. At the age of ten he was recognized as 'Eldest King's Son' by title (despite there being no other, his elder brother having died long before), and by his mid-teens he is found associated with Seti as a diminutive figure in the reliefs of the Libyan campaigns at Karnak. Ramses was allowed to participate in Seti's subsequent campaigns against the Hittites in Syria. The young prince rode well in harness alongside his experienced father, learning his trade of statecraft. Ramses is often found referred to in inscriptions, overseeing the cutting of obelisks from the granite quarries at Aswan, involved in Seti's great building projects, and also inaugurating his own (smaller) temple to Osiris at Abydos. Many inscriptions of up-and-coming young men attest to Seti's keen and acute eye in spotting the high flyers, who were to grow up alongside Ramses and serve him well in his turn (although he outlived most of them).
This beautiful painted limestone
bust of Ramesside queen found
in the Ramesseum has long been
unidentified. Recently, an identical
but colossal representation was
found at Akhmin with the name
Meryetamun on it, a daughter
of Ramses II who became the
"Great Royal Wife" after the
death of her mother Nefertari.
The youthful Ramses took his two principal wives, Nefertari and Istnofret, at least ten years before Seti's death. The old king thus saw his grandchildren around him - at least sons and daughters by them, as well as possibly another 10 to 15 children from other ladies of the harem. No wonder that in later years and after further marriages, Ramses could boast of over sons and daughters that simply were not numbered.
Virtually nothing is known of the background of either Nefertari or Istnofret except that Nefertari was always the Chief Queen until her death in about Year of the reign. Her recently restored tomb in the Valley of the Queens (QV ) is one of the wonders of ancient Thebes. Istnofret took Nefertari's place, but only for some ten years as she seems to have died about Year . Nefertari bore Ramses' first son, the Crown Prince Amenhirkhopshef, and at least three other sons and two daughters. Istnofret bore a son named Ramses, plus two other important sons, Khaemwaset and Merneptah (the king's eventual successor). Khaemwaset later became famous as a 'magician', and is often referred to today as the first archaeologist thanks to his interest in
ancient monuments and their restoration. The 5th Dynasty pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, for example, bears his inscription high up on the south face.
Following royal custom, Ramses took many of his other and subsequent wives from his immediate family. They included Henutmire, his younger sister, and three of his daughters: Meryetamun, Bint-Anath (a distinctly Syrian name meaning 'Daughter of Anath', which is curious since her mother was Istnofret) and Nebettawy. After peace had been concluded with the Hittites, Ramses cemented the new alliance by taking a Hittite princess as his bride, given the Egyptian name Maathorneferure. Seven years later, in BC, a second Hittite princess joined the court. In his old age, Ramses' harem was nothing if not cosmopolitan, numbering another Hittite princess together with Syrian and Babylonian royal ladies.
The Queens of Ramses II
During his long reign Ramses took eight principal wives, but Nefertari was his first and favorite among them. Her tomb is the finest in the Valley of the Queens. Everywhere there is superb drawing and color, recently restored to much of its pristine original condition by a team of international conservationists backed by the J.Paul Getty Museum, Malibu. Details are shown here. The queen, described in the hieroglyphs as 'The deceased Great Royal Wife Nefertari', being greeted by the goddess Hathor, identified by her name before her rather than by her usual iconography of a woman with cow's ears. Maat, the goddess of truth, kneels with her protective outstretched wings above the entrance to Nefertari's burial chamber. The queen's royal canouches appear on the lintel and door jambs.
Ramses II as a Builder
As a monument builder Ramses II stands pre-eminent amongst the pharaohs of Egypt. Although Khufu had created the Great Pyramid, Ramses' hand layover the whole land. True, he thought nothing of adding his name to other kings' monuments and statues right back to the Middle Kingdom, so that nowadays the majority of cartouches seen on almost any monument proclaim his throne name - User-maat-re ('the Justice of Re is strong'). Yet his genuine building achievements are on a Herculean scale. He added to the great temples at Karnak and Luxor, completed his father Seti's mortuary temple at Gourna (Thebes) and also his Abydos temple, and built his own temple nearby at Abydos. On the west bank at Thebes he constructed a giant mortuary temple, the Ramesseum. Inscriptions in the sandstone quarries at Gebel el Silsila record at least workmen employed there cutting stone for the Ramesseum alone. Other major mortuary temples rose in Nubia at Beit el-Wali, Gerf Hussein, Wadi es Sebua, Derr and even as far south as Napata.
Ramses' greatest building feat must be counted not one of these, but the carving out of the mountainside of the two temples at Abu Simbel in Nubia. The grandeur of the larger, the Great Temple, is overwhelming, fronted as it is by four colossal -ft (-m) high seated figures of the king that flank the entrance in two pairs. It is strange to reflect that whilst the smaller temple, dedicated to Hathor andRamses' favourite queen Nefertari, has lain open for centuries, the Great Temple was only rediscovered in by the Swiss explorer' Jean Louis Burckhardt and first entered by Giovanni Belzoni on August . A miracle of ancient engineering, its orientation was so exact that the rising sun at the equinox on 22 February and 22 October flooded directly through the great entrance to illuminate three of the four gods carved seated in the sanctuary over ft ( m) inside the mountains (the fourth of the seated gods, Ptah, does not become illuminated as appropriately, he is a god associated with the underworld).
Nefertari was probably present at the dedication of the two Abu Simbel temples in Year (1256/55 BC) and apparently died the following year, so at least she saw herself associated with her husband in his greatest work and lived to see the dedication of her temple.
One of Ramesses' preoccupations in all this building work was obviously the payment for it, and that meant gold. The precious metal is represented as being brought as 'tribute' in many Theban nobles' tombs of the 18th and 19th Dynasties, and a papyrus in the Turin Museum from the reign of Seti I actually shows a map of goldmines in the eastern desert.
Death and Burial of Ramses II
In Year ( BC) Ramses II, perhaps years of age, was called to the west to join the gods. His tomb had long been prepared in the Valley of the Kings (KV ), and was as large, if not larger in area, than that of
his father Seti I, although not so well decorated. Now it is much damaged and virtually inaccessible. The splendour of the contents of the tomb must have been incredible, if only by comparison with that of the
tomb of the short-lived Tutankhamun. Few items, however, survive that can be associated with the burial: a wooden statuette of the king (British Museum), four pseudo-canopic jars (Louvre), the upper half of a hollow-cast, flattened bronze Ushabti (Berlin), and two large wooden usbabtis (Brooklyn and British Museum).
The mummy of ramses was found in the great cache of royal mummies at Deir el-Bahari in (DB ). A docket written in hieratic on the coffin in which it lay recorded that the body was moved in Year (c. BC) of Smendes from its previous resting place to the tomb of his father, Seti I, whence it was taken to its last secret hiding place. In the mummy was flown to Paris where a great ramses II exhibition was staged. Deterioration had been noticed on the body and the journey was also for ramses to receive the best conservation treatment available. The mummy was examined by xero-radiography which revealed that Ramses' distinctly aquiline nose had retained its shape because the ancient embalmers had packed it full of peppercorns (other noses on mummies tend to be flattened by the bandaging around them). As befitted visiting royalty, although he had been dead for nearly years, ramses was greeted at the Paris airport by a full Presidential Guard of Honour.