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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Was Ramesses II Really That Great?

Emma Slattery Williams considers whether the fêted pharaoh – master builder, war hero and peace broker – was actually a brilliant propagandist who knew how to curate his image

Ramesses II is often counted among Ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs. He certainly saw himself that way: he spent most of his reign covering his kingdom in dedicated to himself. The third ruler of the 19th Dynasty had an unusually long kingship, fathered hundreds of children and – if you believe his own press – was a mighty warrior who could hold his ground against an entire army “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley in his 1818 poem Ozymandias, adopting the name the Ancient Greeks used for Ramesses II. “Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!”

Ramesses II appears as a boy on reliefs at Seti I’s tomb in Abydos

Tough Shelley’s poem is written as a cautionary tale – his Ozymandias’s mighty empire is long gone, and where it once was, “the lone and level sands stretch far away” – the memory of the real Ozymandias lives on. Ramesses II, son of Pharaoh Seti I and grandson of 19th Dynasty founder Ramesses I, was the mastermind of such an extensive programme of building across Egypt that his presence is difficult to escape even now – from Abu Simbel to Karnak, you can still see colossal statues bearing his likeness.

But does that mean he deserves the epithet of ‘the Great’ that was later bestowed on him?

Ramesses II was born in c1303 BC to Seti’s consort Tuya. His first taste of battle came as a boy during one of his father’s campaigns, though how old he was is unclear. What is known is that he had been named Captain of the Army by the age of ten and, at 14, was appointed as prince regent and bestowed with a household.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

On 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the Moon – bringing the Space Race to an end. Half a century on, we examine this and 49 other great leaps in history, each of which has shaped the world as we know it today. Plus: Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II smites his foes, an Indian ‘princess’ becomes a WWII spy in occupied France, the hidden history of drug use in antiquity, plus we examine Chicago’s darkest days – the Red Summer race riot of 1919