Ramesses II (also written as Rameses II, or Ramses II) was the third Egyptian pharaoh (reigned 1279 BC – 1213 BC) of the Nineteenth dynasty. Referred to as Ramesses the Great, he is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire.

Tomb KV5 is a subterranean, rock-cut tomb in the Valley of the Kings. It belonged to the sons of Ramesses II.

Though KV5 was partially excavated as early as 1825, its true extent was discovered by Dr Kent R. Weeks and his exploration team, in 1995. The tomb is now known to be the largest in the Valley of the Kings.

Dr Weeks’ discovery is widely considered the most dramatic in the valley, since the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Ramesses, the Warrior King

At age fourteen, Ramesses was appointed Prince Regent by his father Seti I.

He is believed to have taken the throne in his late teens and is known to have ruled Egypt from 1279 BC to 1213 BC – for 66 years and 2 months, according to both Manetho and Egypt’s contemporary historical records.

Early on, Ramesses II embarked upon numerous campaigns to regain previously held territories from Nubian and Hittite hands, and to secure Egypt’s borders. He was also responsible for suppressing some Nubian revolts and carrying out a campaign in Libya.

During Ramesses II’s reign, the Egyptian army is estimated to have totaled about 100,000 men – a formidable force that he used to strengthen Egyptian influence.

The Battle of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh in his fifth year as king was the climactic engagement in a campaign that Ramesses fought in Syria, against the resurgent Hittite forces of Muwatallis. The pharaoh wanted a victory at Kadesh both to expand Egypt’s frontiers into Syria and to emulate his father Seti I’s triumphal entry into the city, a decade or so earlier.

Although Ramesses’s forces were caught in a Hittite ambush and outnumbered at Kadesh, the pharaoh fought the battle to a stalemate, and returned home a hero.

Once back in Egypt, Ramesses proclaimed that he had won a great victory.

In truth, Ramesses II’s forces suffered major losses – particularly among the ‘Ra’ division which was routed by the initial charge of the Hittite chariots during the battle. Many historians regard the battle as a strategic defeat for the Egyptians, as they were unable to occupy the city or territory around Kadesh.

Nonetheless, the Battle of Kadesh was a personal triumph for Ramesses. He decorated his monuments with reliefs and inscriptions describing the campaign as a whole, and the battle in particular as a major victory. Inscriptions of his victory decorate the Ramesseum, Abydos, Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel.

Ramesses, the Peace-maker

The deposed Hittite king, Mursili III fled to Egypt, the land of his country’s enemy, after the failure of his plots to oust his uncle from the throne. Hattusili III responded by demanding that Ramesses II extradite his nephew back to Hatti.

This demand precipitated a crisis in relations between Egypt and Hatti when Ramesses denied any knowledge of Mursili’s whereabouts in his country, and the two Empires came dangerously close to war.

Eventually, in the twenty-first year of his reign (1258 BC), Ramesses decided to conclude an agreement with the new Hittite king at Kadesh (Hattusili III), to end the conflict. The resulting document is the earliest known peace treaty in world history.

The peace treaty was recorded in two versions: one in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the other in Akkadian, using cuneiform script; both versions survive.

Such dual-language recording is common to many subsequent treaties. This treaty differs from others, though, in that the two language versions are differently worded.

Although the majority of the text is identical, the Hittite version claims that the Egyptians came suing for peace, while the Egyptian version claims the reverse.

The treaty was given to the Egyptians in the form of a silver plaque, and this “pocket-book” version was taken back to Egypt and carved into the Temple of Karnak.

The Sed Festival

After reigning for 30 years, Ramesses joined a select group that included only a handful of Egypt’s longest-lived kings.

By tradition, in the 30th year of his reign Ramesses celebrated a jubilee called the Sed festival, during which the king was ritually transformed into a god. He was only halfway through what would be a 66-year reign.

By becoming a god, Ramesses dramatically changed not only his role as ruler of Egypt, but also the role of his firstborn son, Amun-her-khepsef. As the chosen heir and commander-in-chief of Egyptian armies, his son effectively became ruler in all but name.

Ramesses, the Builder

Ramesses built extensively throughout Egypt and Nubia, and his cartouches are prominently displayed even in buildings that he did not actually construct.

He also founded a new capital city in the Delta during his reign called Pi-Ramesses. It had previously served as a summer palace during Seti I’s reign. The city was dominated by huge temples and the king’s vast residential palace, complete with its own zoo.

In the third year of his reign, Ramesses started the most ambitious building project after the pyramids – which were built 1,500 years earlier.

The population was put to work on changing the face of Egypt.

In Thebes, the ancient temples were transformed, so that each of them reflected honor to Ramesses as a symbol of his divine nature and power.

Ramesses decided to immortalize himself in stone, so he ordered changes to the methods used by his masons. The elegant but shallow reliefs of previous pharaohs were vulnerable to the elements, and their images and words could be easily obliterated by their successors.

Ramesses insisted that his own carvings be deeply engraved in the stone – which made them not only less susceptible to later alteration, but also more prominent in the Egyptian sun. This reflected his relationship with the sun god, Ra.

Ramesses constructed many large monuments, including the archeological complex of Abu Simbel, and the Mortuary temple known as the Ramesseum. He built on a monumental scale to ensure that his legacy would survive the ravages of time.

Ramesses II also erected more colossal statues of himself than any other pharaoh – art as rhetoric, or propaganda.

Death and Legacy

By the time of his death, aged about 90 years, Ramesses was suffering from severe dental problems and was plagued by arthritis and hardening of the arteries.

He had made Egypt rich from all the supplies and riches he had collected from other empires. He had outlived many of his wives and children and left great memorials all over Egypt, especially to his beloved first queen Nefertari.

Nearly all of his subjects had been born during his reign.

His ultimate successor was his thirteenth son, Merneptah.

Nine more pharaohs took the name Ramesses in his honor.

Of these, Ramesses II himself is one of the preferred candidates for the Pharaoh who oversaw the Biblical Exodus of the people of Israel, under the leadership of the prophet Moses..

Yet, less than 150 years after Ramesses died, the Egyptian empire fell and the New Kingdom came to an end.

Burial Rites

Ramesses II was originally buried in the tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings but, because of looting, priests later transferred the body to a holding area, re-wrapped it, and placed it inside the tomb of queen Inhapy. 72 hours later it was again moved, to the tomb of the high priest Pinudjem II. All of this is recorded in hieroglyphics on the linen covering the body.

His mummy lies today in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.

The pharaoh’s mummy reveals a hooked nose and strong jaw, and stands at some 1.7 meters (5 ft 7 in).

Microscopic inspection of the roots of Ramesses II’s hair proved that the king’s hair was originally red, which suggests that he came from a family of redheads.

In ancient Egypt people with red hair were associated with the god Seth, the slayer of Osiris, and the name of Ramesses II’s father, Seti I, means “follower of Seth.”

What About The Children?


Ramesses outlived the majority of his own offspring.

It is estimated that he had at least 52 sons, and a comparable number of daughters.

It was only recently however, that the final resting place of these royal children was rediscovered.

Tomb KV5

In 1995, Professor Kent Weeks, head of the Theban Mapping Project rediscovered Tomb KV5.

Standing near the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, over the centuries it had suffered the fate of other low-lying tombs – which was to be filled with rubble washed down in the flash floods that accompany thunderstorms over the Valley. In addition, it was robbed in antiquity.

The tomb was examined several times once exploration of the Valley began in relatively modern times – first in 1825 (by James Burton), and later in 1902 (by Howard Carter, discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun, who used KV5 only as a dumping ground!). However, they were not able to penetrate past the first few rooms, and thus saw nothing unusual about the tomb.

It was not until the Theban Mapping Project, under Kent R. Weeks, decided to clear the tomb (in part to see if it would be damaged by proposed building works nearby, and in part so that it could be mapped) that the stage was set for the discovery of its true nature.

During the initial stages of their work, from 1987 to 1994, the team was unaware of the vast scope of the tomb.

It was only in 1995, after doing substantial clearing in the outer chambers, that they were stunned to discover the long corridors, lined with rooms (approximately seventy in all ), running back into the hillside.

Finds so far have included thousands of potsherds, ushabiti, faience beads, hieratic ostraca, glass vials, inlays and even a large statue of Osiris, the god of the afterlife. This statue is believed to have been carved to resemble Ramessess II, himself – standing watch over the tombs of his children.

The skull fragments of Amun-her-khepeshef, among others, were found inside and reconstituted.

It is believed that at least 4 of Ramesses’s sons including Meryatum, Sety, Amun-her-khepeshef (Ramesses’s first born son) and “the King’s Principal Son of His Body, the Generalissimo Ramesses, justified” (i.e.: deceased) were buried there – from inscriptions, ostracas or canopic jars discovered in the tomb.

Further excavations have revealed that the tomb is even larger than was first thought, as it contains more corridors, with more rooms, running off from other parts of the tomb. At least 130 rooms or chambers have been discovered as of 2006 (only about 7% of which have been cleared), and work is still continuing on clearing the rest of tomb.

It has proven to be the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

And it was only discovered, really, by accident.

Food for thought.

Till next time.