Published: August 17 2007 on Helium
Apart from the many structures, still standing today, bearing the name of Rameses, there are a few extra "surprises" built into Rameses' amazing Egyptian legacy from the 12th century B.C. The boy king (he possibly came to the throne at 15, though some sources say 25) from a common military family, was the last great pharaoh to rule a mighty Egypt. He was Rameses the Great!
Rameses II, of the 19th Dynasty, ruled Egypt for 67 years. He was a master of strategy and propaganda; strong-willed and a visionary. He was an entrepreneur, a military leader, a man of peace, a builder of flamboyant structures and a great lover. He was brazen enough to establish a new capital for Egypt, far from the traditional aristocratic Thebes. This new capital, in the Nile Delta, was called Per Rameses meaning "House of Rameses". He even looked different from the average Egyptian; of taller build (about 5 feet 8-10 inches) topped with a mane of flaming red hair.
At first glance, looking at the many buildings bearing Rameses' name, it would seem he must have been the only great builder in the whole history of ancient Egypt. But some great temples existed before his time. Rameses simply re-invented them. He wanted his name well-stamped on Egyptian history.
An existing temple at Luxor suffered the Rameses make-over. He added a new entrance with 4 statues of himself. If this sounds audacious, Rameses managed more. In fact, almost every temple in every Egyptian town was revamped and given the Rameses "stamp". One temple dedicated to himself and one to his loved wife Nefartari are actually two mountains, side by side, converted into temples. So, is this the legacy of a self-opiniated madman or a genius?
Rameses can't take all the glory for being an inspired builder. He modeled himself on Thutmose III, the "Warrior Pharaoh" who initiated the new Egyptian Empire and Amenhotep III who first initiated the "big is beautiful" idea. Both pharaohs were of the previous 18th Dynasty. Rameses may have surpassed Amenhotep in number of temples and monuments, but he sacrificed quality. His legacy is not a representation of the best ancient Egyptian building, especially when it came to the detail of relief carvings. Admittedly, inside decoration was reported as "exquisite", a testament to Rameses' enormous wealth.
Another dimension of Rameses' legacy involves his remarkable treaty with the warring, territory hungry Hittites from Anatolia (Turkey). At first, this would seem to be the most complete ancient record in existence of a treaty between ancient peoples. But, just prior to signing this treaty, he led a campaign known as the Battle of Kadesh. It was not a glorious battle for the Egyptians. Only last minute reinforcements pushed the Hittites back. But the Rameses' records don't tell quite the same story. Some records claim Rameses defeated the Hittites single-handedly because his men took flight. He alone was in control of Hittite submission and could control the terms of the treaty. As part of the treaty, he accepted a Babylonian princess as a wife. But in truth, he lost claims of territory in Syria. The glorious victory depicted on historical records was just an incredible propaganda exercise.
Rameses' inscriptions attest to Rameses the great lover. They claim he fathered 80 sons and 60 daughters. Indeed, in his own lifetime, Rameses was ensuring he left an enduring legacy of his lifetime. (He groomed 12 heirs, but they died in Rameses' own lifetime! His succeeding son began his rule in his 60's!)
So far, evidence points to a legacy of extravagance. But there is a possible, darker side to Rameses' legacy. Many experts wonder if Rameses has connections with Biblical records. Was he the pharaoh of Egypt in the Biblical Exodus story who banished Moses and the Hebrews? If so, it is clear that Rameses must has achieved his building frenzy utilizing not just a wealth of money, but a wealth of slaves! Probably Hebrew slaves! But if Rameses was so keen on winning more territorial claim in Western Asia, as evident with the Hittite clashes, why does he not mention people in his own Egyptian kingdom who have connections there?
The legacy of Rameses the Great is a cocktail of fact and fiction; much of the fiction generated by Rameses himself. Rameses was a paradox of contradictions in his own lifetime. And experts still wonder what is the REAL legacy of Rameses the Great. Did he, in fact, spark a new wave of history of Biblical proportion? Whatever the answer to this question, one fact remains. Rameses is part of the great Egyptian era which still fires and fascinates the imagination today!