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Ramses the Great Proclaimed Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt

Image from National Geographic.

Today on May 31, 1279 BCE, Ramses the Great was proclaimed Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt following the death of his father.

Ramses the Great would rule over the vast Egyptian empire for more than 66 years -- making him one of the longest-reigning monarchs in world history. Surviving documents do not definitively state the date of his accession. But most egyptologists recognize May 31, 1279 BCE as the day he assumed the throne. While impossible to confirm, scholars suggest Ramses the Great represents the evil King of Egypt in Exodus. During his reign, Egypt reached the height of its power and glory. At the young age of 14, he inherited a mighty nation due to the groundwork laid by both his grandfather and father.

Ramses I, grandfather of Ramses the Great, established the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt — elevating his family from commoner status to the top echelons of Egyptian royalty. The 19th Dynasty is classified as the Second Dynasty of the New Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt. Ramses I reformed the army and used his military prowess to consolidate his power. Pharaoh Seti I, father of Ramses II, played a pivotal role in securing the state’s wealth through the development of mines and quarries. He subsequently fortified the empire’s northern border to deter future invasions from the ruthless Hittites.

Despite these defensive measures, the Hittites seized the opportunity to test the young pharaoh. They immediately launched an attack and captured the vital trading town of Kadesh (present-day Syria). Ramses the Great marched north with an army to expel the invaders. After winning the first battle, he would end up losing the war. Following years of negotiations, he eventually signed a peace treaty with the Hittites.

Nevertheless, the pharaoh ordered a series of propaganda campaigns to tell an entirely different story. Elaborate murals were painted across Egypt, depicting Ramses delivering a crushing defeat to the Hittite army. A replica of the Treaty of Kadesh is displayed at the United Nations headquarters in New York, highlighting the historical importance of the document.

Living to 90 years of age gave Ramses the Great ample opportunity to marry and father children. With over 200 wives and concubines, estimates suggest he sired more than a hundred children. Queen Nefertari was his first and favorite wife. Ramses had Nefertari depicted in several temples and public artworks. Egyptian art and culture truly flourished under the reign of Ramses. He has since been dubbed as ‘the great’ after funding the country’s most extensive and opulent building program. The temples at Karnak and Abu Simbel are among the most iconic wonders of Ancient Egypt. His funeral complex, named the Ramesseum, has a library containing ten thousand books. Colossal statues of Ramses the Great were erected across the vast empire.


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