Ramesses II - Greatest pharaoh or master propogandist?

There is no doubt that Ramesses II achieved greatness, if not purely through longevity. But was there substance behind the theatrics?

Quick facts:

* Time of rule - 19th Dynasty (1279 BC to 1213 BC)

* Length of rule - 66 years.

* Father - Seti I

* Mother - Queen Tuya

* Successor - Merneptah

Talk about making your mark on the world. Ramesses II, or Ramesses the great as he became later known, ascended the throne at around thirty years old, quickly made an impression, and held respect for the entirety of his long reign.

Towering statues cast long shadows of his legacy, as does carved hieroglyphic history on the high stone walls of temples and other monuments.

The writings appear biased toward the greatness of this Pharaoh and his conquests. There is no mention of misfortune in Egypt or defeat on the battleground.

It is not unusual, but rather, very typical of Egyptian royalty to only portray the might and power of their rule.

The Battle of Kadesh - Victory or defeat?

Well, neither it seems.

Ramesses II wanted to prove his greatness through conquest. Five years or so into his reign he decided to go after the powerful Hittite empire to the north. The area now known as Syria.

The town of Kadesh was supposed to crumble under the might of a well organized assault, but the Hittites were well aware of his impending attack and well prepared. They took the King by surprise and sent his particular brigade fleeing. He was left to cut a swathe through the Hittite army with only the aid of his personal bodyguard contingent.

To survive such odds seems to be nothing short of miraculous. Scratching and clawing his way to survival showed he was not short of bravery and skills.

Returning bloody and battle weary he was able to reorganize his divisions and stave off the hordes of Hittites that were bearing down on them. The Hittites scrambled back to where they came, but it was by no means a victory.

The mighty pharaoh had it decreed as victory for Egypt because he had sent the Hittites whimpering home with their tails between their legs. Did the people of Egypt truly buy into it? After all, no new territory was acquired, which was the Pharaoh's purpose for the whole exercise.

Another campaign north proved more successful and the King did secure more territory stretching into Syria as well as the famous Biblical sites of Jerusalem and Jericho. This hold was tenuous. Eventually he lost his butter-fingered grip on those sites and was forced to relinquish them.

Eventually the Hittites and Egyptians created what is believed to be the first recorded peace treaty in history. The treaty was literally an agreement carved in stone. The Egyptians would not attempt to invade Hittite territory and vise versa.

This treaty clearly shows that the pharaoh was content to let sleeping dogs lie. His thirst for territorial conquest was no match for his desire to build bigger and better monuments celebrating his kingship.

Is Ramesses II the pharaoh of the biblical Exodus?

If the Exodus is placed in the 13th century BCE then, he could have been the pharaoh that enslaved the Hebrews. This theory stands on shaky ground in modern times.

In the first instance there is no definitive evidence of Hebrews as slaves in Egypt.

On the one hand you have the thorough written texts of Ancient Egypt, which of course would never mention Moses victory over them even if it really did happen. Defeat by slaves would never be recorded under Ramesses II, nor any other pharaoh for that matter.

On the other hand you have a Biblical account which would have been passed over generations orally before being written many years later. What are the chances of these stories arriving in the hands of the scribe exactly as they happened?

Discovery Channel ran a documentary that raised the question over the discovery of the possible remains of the Pharaoh's first born son, Amun-Her-Khepeshef. Was he killed by the wrath of God or man?

If biblical accounts are accurate, God killed all the first born males in Egypt as part of his ten deadly plagues.

The evidence presented on the show suggested that the remains belonged to a thirty something male, possibly killed in battle.

Was he aboard a chariot chasing the fleeing Moses?

Other interweaving discoveries and theories suggest that the King would have been a frail ninety year old, too old to ride a chariot into a miraculously parted red sea.

As yet there is still no irrefutable evidence to link Ramesses II to Moses, but more and more questions are being asked of the events probability.

Points of interest.

He is believed to have fathered over one hundred children.

He was responsible for the building of the famous archaeological complex of Abu Simbel.

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