No other Pharaoh has conjured up a more powerful figure in the ancient world. Ramesses II Usermaatre Setepenre,third ruler of the 19th Dynasty,was born around 1303 B.C in the Eastern Nile Delta. He reigned 67 years (roughly from 1290 to 1224 B.C) and outlived most of his family. 

Before Ramesses II became pharaoh, his father, Seti I, had been dealing with massive social disorder from the aftermath of Akhenaten, Horemheb, and Ramesses I respective reigns. In addition, his father had to continually reaffirm Egypt’s sovereignty over Canaan and Syria and had to constantly deal with the ever increasing Hittite attacks which caused pressures on the Pharaoh to protect the kingdom. But sadly his father’s efforts were to no avail and unrest was becoming increasingly apparent. In particular, during Ramesses’ reign was the people’s hatred towards his chief wife Nefertari who was a direct decendant of ‘The Heretic King’ Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. Her family believed in Aten ( one god ) as opposed to the many Gods that Egyptians revered. What would follow would become the greatest ancient love story in all eternity.

Raised together as children, Ramesses paid no heed to the treacherous warnings that his advisors dispensed; she was his best friend. Soon the friendship turned into something more but his mother Tuya was not pleased, preferring the beautiful but frivolous Isis the daughter of a harem woman (and later his chief wife after his beloved Nefertari’s death). She claimed that the people could not love a heretic, too blind to see that Nefertari was not her mother’s daughter. Although she possessed Nefertiti’s strength, and an intelligence equal to Ramesses, she negotiated with religion and patriarchy rather than defy it like her mother had.

Their marriage was a happy one and gradually the people grew to love her and upon her death, Ramesses erected the most magnificient tomb seen in the Valley of the Queens. Today the tomb is not open to the public due to restoration issues but more of Ramesses’ legacy can be seen throughout Egypt, in architectural constructions such as the Ramesseum and the temples of Abu Simbel.

But this incredibly complex individual was more than just a pharaoh, more than just a lover and an architect but a fighter too. As a tactician, his most notable battle was at the battle of Kadesh in 1274. On a sweltering hot day he charged forth, leading a 10,000 strong army into the heart of Hittite territory. Yet Ramesses made a tactical error in that fight by dividing his forces, causing one of his divisions to be swept away. The Pharaoh summoned up his courage, called upon his God Amun, and fought courageously to save himself. Ramesses personally led several charges into the Hittite ranks together with his personal guard, some of the chariots from his Amun division and survivors from the routed division of Re,and using the superior maneuverability of their chariots and the power and range of Egyptian composite bows, deployed and attacked the overextended and tired Hittite chariotry.

Eventually none of the parties gained victory and Ramesses had to retreat because of logistic difficulties. His later campaigns were far more successful and his military genius helped to secure Egypt’s borders from foreign invaders and pirates along the Mediterranean and in Libya. He managed to fend off invasions from the Hittites and Nubians. In addition, his campaigns restored land to Egypt that had been previously lost to these empires. By forming peace treaties with these empires after warring with them, Ramesses II helped to solidify Egypt’s borders on all sides, allowing for increased internal stability.

Many of these campaigns were completed in the first twenty years of Ramesses’ reign.  His influence in the 19th dynasty stretched far beyond warfare too, he was also considered a great advocator of the ‘true’ Egyptian religion.  As mentioned previously, Ramesses and his father sought to erase any lingering evidence  from the heretic Kings’ legacy with vigorous aplomb. Known as the Armana period, he sought to deliberately deface the Armana monuments, change the entire religious structure, and reorganise the Priesthood. A pharaoh must not feel as though the past undermines them and this was clearly an act of defiance to show the world the true ruler of the realm.

He created a solidified Egypt that returned to its pagan beliefs once again, but this fragile religion would not last much longer. Later invasions from Greece and Rome transformed Ancient Egypt into a Coptic realm, a variant of Christianity. During the height of Ramesses’ power though, the realm was lulled into a false sense of security  and the crushing revelation was something that could not be foreseen.

While the period of glory lasted however, religion often served as the centerpiece through celebrations such as the ‘Sed festivals’, the first of which was held on Ramesses’ thirtieth birthday. Sed festivals were where the king was ritually transformed into a God. By being transformed into a God, Ramesses II drastically changed his role as a ruler of Egypt, and as the firstborn son of Amun-Her-Khepsef. Since the people of Egypt now worshiped him as a deity, it also helped to ensure that his son, who at that point commanded the army, would rise to power following his death without anyone trying to seize the throne.

Ramesses was truly the great, a man who conquered religion, a man who would not be ground into dust and forgotten by the sands of time, who ensured that he erected images of himself in every statue, every painting, every monument that attested to his greatness. Only halfway through what would be a 67-year reign, Ramesses II had already far surpassed but a few of the greatest kings, in his achievements. He had brought peace, maintained Egyptian borders, and built many great monumnets across the entirity of the empire. His land was more prosperous and powerful than it had ever been in nearly a century. He truly was the greatest Egyptian Pharaoh.