Ramses II (r. 1279-1213 BC) was undoubtedly the greatest pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty – and one of the most important leaders of ancient Egypt. The ostentatious pharaoh is best remembered for his exploits at the Battle of Kadesh, his architectural legacy, and for bringing Egypt into its golden age.
Under his rule, the Egyptian kingdom flourished and prospered. Here are 10 facts about the self-proclaimed “ruler of rulers”.
1. His family was of non-royal origin
Ramses II was born in 1303 BC to Pharaoh Seti I and his wife, Queen Toya. His family came to power decades after the rein of Akhenaten (1353-36 BC).
Ramses was named after his grandfather, the great pharaoh Ramses I, who brought their commoner family to the ranks of royalty through his military prowess.
Ramses II was 5 years old when his father took the throne. His elder brother was first in line to succeed, and it was not until his death at the age of 14 that Ramses was declared prince regent.
As a young crown prince, Ramses accompanied his father on his military campaigns, so that he would gain experience of leadership and war. By the age of 22, he was leading the Egyptian army as their commander.
2. He narrowly escaped death at Kadesh
In 1275 BC, Ramses II began a campaign to recover the lost provinces in the north. The last battle of this campaign was the Battle of Kadesh, fought in 1274 BC against the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II.
It is the earliest well-recorded battle in history and involved around 5,000 to 6,000 chariots, making it perhaps the largest chariot battle ever fought.
Ramses fought bravely, however he was vastly outnumbered and was caught in an ambush by the Hittite army and narrowly escaped death on the battlefield.
He personally led a counterattack to drive the Hittites away from the Egyptian army, and while the battle was inconclusive, he emerged as the hero of the hour.
3. He was known as Ramses the Great
As a young pharaoh, Ramses fought fierce battles to secure the borders of Egypt against the Hittites, Nubians, Libyans and Syrians.
He continued to lead military campaigns that saw many victories, and he is remembered for his bravery and effective leadership over the Egyptian army.
During his reign, the Egyptian army is estimated to have totalled some 100,000 men.
He was also an extremely popular leader. His successors and later Egyptians called him the “Great Ancestor”. So great was his legacy that 9 subsequent pharaohs took the name Ramses in his honour.
4. He declared himself a god
By tradition, sed festivals were jubilees celebrated in ancient Egypt after a pharaoh had ruled for 30 years, and then every three years after that.
In the 30th years of his reign, Ramses was ritually transformed into an Egyptian god. 14 sed festivals were held during his entire reign.
Upon being declared a god, Ramses established the new capital city, Pi-Ramesses, in the Nile Delta and used it as the main base for his campaigns in Syria.
5. Egyptian architecture flourished under his rule
Ramses erected more colossal statues of himself than any other pharaoh. He was also fascinated with architecture, building extensively throughout Egypt and Nubia.
His reign saw a great number of architectural achievements, and the building and reconstructing of many temples, monuments and structures.
Those included the gigantic temples of Abu Simbel, a rock monument to himself and his queen Nefertari and the Ramesseum, his mortuary temple. Both temples featured giant statues of Ramses himself.
He also honoured both his father and himself by completing temples at Abydos.
6. He signed the first international peace treaty
During the 8th and 9th years of his reign, Ramses led more military campaigns against the Hittites, successfully capturing Dapur and Tunip.
Skirmishes with the Hittites continued over these two cities until 1258 BC, when an official peace treaty was established between the Egyptian pharaoh and Hattusili III, the then king of the Hittites.
This treaty is the oldest recorded peace treaty in the world.
7. He fathered over 100 children
It is not known the exact number of children Ramses had in his lifetime, however the rough estimate is around 96 sons and 60 daughters.
Ramses outlived many of his children, and was eventually succeeded by his 13th son.
8. He had over 200 wives and concubines
Rameses had more than 200 wives and concubines, however his favourite queen was most likely Nefertari.
Queen Nefertari who went on to rule with her husband, and was referred to as the Royal Wife of the Pharaoh. She is thought to have died relatively early in his reign.
Her tomb QV66 is the most beautiful in the Valley of the Queens, containing wall paintings regarded as some of the greatest works of ancient Egyptian art.
9. He was one of the longest reigning Egyptian pharaohs
Ramses reigned from 1279 to 1213 BC, a total of 66 years and two months. He is considered the second longest reigning pharaoh of ancient Egypt, after Pepi II Neferkare (r. 2278-2184 BC).
Ramses was succeeded by his 13th son, Merneptah, who was nearly 60 years when he ascended to the throne.
10. He was plagued by arthritis
Towards the end of his life, Ramses was said to have suffered from arthritis and other diseases. He suffered from severe dental problems and the hardening of arteries.
He died at the age of 90. On his death, he was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Because of looting, his body was transferred to a holding area, re-wrapped and placed inside the tomb of queen Ahmose Inhapy, and then the tomb of the high priest Pinedjem II.
His mummy was eventually discovered inside an ordinary wooden coffin.