A detailed History of Dynasty 19New Kingdom Period - Egypt Through Time - What is Ancient Egypt?
New Kingdom Period 1550 BC to 1069 BC
18th to 20th Pharaonic Dynasties
The Bronze Age and the height of Ancient Egyptian power
Pharaoh Ramses I ascended to the Throne after the heirless Pharaoh Horemheb as the first logical choice. Previously, the now Pharaoh was Horemheb’s High Priest of Set, Vizier and had been placed in the Army as his Noble Military heritage provided. Therefore, Pharaoh Ramses I held the unique position of governmental, military, and religious power, as well as being married and having an heir who also had his own family. In fact, it is quite possible that he would have played a large part in assisting Pharaoh Horemheb with settling the nation after the turmoil caused by Pharaoh Akhenaten and his move to Amarna.
Unfortunately, Pharaoh Ramses I was an elderly man and only reigned for approximately 2 years before peacefully handing the Crowns of Egypt down to his son Pharaoh Seti I. This would have been seen as a relief to those who remembered the upheaval of the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten and then the removal of his policies under the reigns of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, Pharaoh Ay and Pharaoh Horemheb. Regrettably during his short reign, he failed to erect his own Mortuary Temple so his son, Pharaoh Seti I built him a Mortuary Temple next to his Great Temple at Abydos.
Pharaoh Seti I’s greatness was and is only eclipsed by that of his own son! On attaining the Throne, his primary Task was to reassert Egypt’s presence as an Empire through the Foreign Policy and a rejuvenated Military. Militarily, in Regnal Year 1, Pharaoh took his military along the Horus Military Road from the north-eastern corner of the Nile Delta to Canaan. During this Campaign the Army fought local Shasu Bedouins; then in Canaan he captured the City States of Yenoam and Beth Shan; and on into Lebanon where the local Chieftains handed Pharaoh valuable Cedar Wood as a tribute to him. His main foe in this regard was that of the Hittite Empire and concentrating the attack on the now Syrian town of Kadesh. His Military Campaign was successful in reclaiming the city and with his son, Crown Prince Ramses II, they entered the city triumphantly. He of course took on further Military Campaigns which regularly included bouts against Libya, and sending his heir, Crown Prince Ramses, with the Egyptian Army to put down a revolt in Nubia.
When Pharaoh Seti I died in Regnal Year 11, he left behind a stable Kingdom militarily, financially, and governmentally. He also left behind his wife, an adult aged married heir and very capable. His legacy was solid.
Pharaoh Ramses II ascended the Throne at 24 years old and raised his wife Nefertari to be his Queen and Great Royal Wife. Reportedly their first Royal Act was to visit Thebes for the Opet Festival to witness the Theban Triad visiting the Temple of Luxor from their homes at the Temple of Karnak. On their return journey they visited Ramses late father’s Temple which was being constructed at Abydos. As could be expected from a Pharaoh that is now labelled “great”, Ramses commenced his reign with the same vigour that he would carry throughout by not only initiating Military Campaigns but also by carrying out massive Building Campaigns.
Ground was broken at the site, which was to become his new Capital City, Pi Ramses. The location of which was ideally located to ensure that the military could respond to all Northern Border incursions swiftly and to make sure all the Trade Routes were secure. At the same time, Pharaoh ordered that the work was finished on his father’s Hypostyle Hall additions at Karnak Temple, and he added his own commissions to the Temple with the special touch of ensuring that the carvings of his names in their Cartouche were etched extra deeply dissuading most future Pharaohs from dislodging his name from his building achievements.
At the same time as Ramses II’s ascension the Hittite’s took advantage of the perceived lack of strength in the Throne and began their invasions, capturing the border Canaan city of Kadesh. Whilst in Regnal year 2 Pharaoh is known to have repelled an attack on the Nile Delta borders of Egypt by the Sea Peoples. Pharaoh Ramses II saw a usefulness in co-opting these Pirates and bound them into the Egyptian Army. By Regnal Year 4 Ramses was ready to venture north to recover the lost lands since his father’s death, but this expedition was not just about this but also a mission to setup the trade and military routes he would need to face his strongest foe, the Hittites. He was successful in this campaign and ceased his ventures at the Al-Kalb River which today is near Beirut, Lebanon.
The next year, Pharaoh Ramses II marched out of Pi Ramses with about 20,000 men, he was betrayed by 2 Hittite spies and nearly lost the Battle. He prevailed in beating back the Hittite’s into a retreat inside Kadesh. After this neither army could continue without risking an all-out defeat for themselves due to heavy casualties so both sides retreated. After 16 years of continual military incursions by both sides a Peace Treaty was concluded in Pharaoh’s 21st Regnal year. This World’s First Peace Treaty was to last between the two powers for nearly 100 years! A copy of this Peace Treaty now graces the entrance to the Security Council UN building in New York, USA.
He fought alongside his sons and heirs during some Military Campaigns to the south in Egyptianized Nubia. In fact, the Temples at Abu Simbel, one of the farthest southern remains of ancient Egyptian culture, are thought to have been built here, in part, by Pharaoh Ramses II to awe the local Nubian communities into obedience. Especially considering the artwork and reliefs inside his Great Temple are all to commemorate his great military victories!
Personally, Pharaoh Ramses II would lose his mother Queen Tuya who had continued as a solid influence at Court and had worked often on Pharaoh’s behalf as Regent in Regnal Year 22. By Regnal Year 30 he lost his Great Royal Wife, Queen Nefertari, which we know was a huge personal loss as they had the unusual pleasure of marrying for love rather than for a political necessity. After she died, Pharaoh understood that his regal, secular, administrative, diplomatic, political, visual, and religious positions need to come before his personal loss.
He appointed his secondary long-term wife, Isetnofret, to be his Great Royal Wife. Sadly, for Ramses, Queen Isetnofret, also soon passed away so Pharaoh then turned to family. He appointed more than one of his own daughters as Great Royal Wives. Dividing the role between more than one wife with the Egyptian state forever growing in power and territory seems to be a clever strategic move. But why choose his own daughters as his Great Royal Wives? Although it may seem unorthodox today, the Pharaohs found the marriage of a daughter to her father to continue a Great Royal Wife’s role as keeping within the religious and moral roles as well as offering continuity to Egypt as a whole.
Logically, a family member was better than an outside wife to be entrusted with this highly visual role. A daughter would be bound not just through marriage but as a child to a parent and be honour bound to follow the Pharaoh’s directions.
Pharaoh reigned for 66 years and in that time his building achievements included: additions to Karnak and Luxor Temple, additions at Abydos, the creation of his Capital City at Pi Ramses, additions at many of the other Capital Cities and repairs to the Necropoli at Saqqara and Giza, the magnificent Temples at Abu Simbel and Tombs for himself and his family in the Theban Necropolis, and his Theban Mortuary Temple called the Ramesseum.
When Pharaoh died, aged about 90, he was buried in Tomb KV7 in the King’s Valley with at least 52 of his own children interred beside him. His own people named him the Great Ancestor and he was revered through Egypt and beyond where he had garnered a strong reputation as a stable King on the Throne.
Pharaoh Ramses II was succeeded by his 13th male heir, Pharaoh Merneptah who was aged about 60 years old, already married to Princess Isetnofret who was also the full sister of her husband. Together they had at least 3 male children of their own, namely, future Pharaoh Seti II, Prince Merenptah and Prince Khaemwaset. His father had prepared him for the Throne by making him Head of the Army when he was approximately 40 years old and he was made Crown Prince and heir 8 years later, in Pharaoh Ramses’ 55th Regnal Year and 88th birth year. It could be considered that Pharaoh and his Crown Prince would have worked very closely at this point, mainly due to Pharaoh’s advancing age and ongoing health complications at this juncture.
During his sovereignty Pharaoh Merneptah moved the Capital City away from his father’s beloved Pi-Ramses in Egypt’s Delta and back to the ancient Capital City of Memphis in Lower Egypt. Pharaoh’s Military prowess was equal to his fathers. Soon into his reign he undertook a Military Campaign to put down a revolt from the people of the Levant and Syrian areas who owed tribute to Egypt. He recorded this victory in Reliefs at the Temple of Karnak in Thebes.
His next challenge and perhaps the greatest he faced, in Regnal Year 5, was a serious incursion from Libya who had joined forces with the displaced Sea Peoples and had together infiltrated the west of the Egyptian Delta. The joint effort was plotting to attack the Capital City of Memphis and the great religious city of Heliopolis. Pharaoh acted swiftly meeting with the insurgents in the field and hailing them with arrows whilst holding back his chariotry and infantry to save their lives. The Libyan leadership fled, and the incursion was halted. The Nubians took the opportunity to revolt in Egypt’s south. But they had not accounted for the speed with which Pharaoh subdued the northern incursion and so he could immediately move his troops to the south and put down their rebellion.
His reign was about more than his Military Exploits and he proved to be adept at diplomatic relations as well. One event that was recorded was when the Hittite King of northern Syria was challenged by an invasion from the north of his country at a time when they were suffering from famine. The Hittite King called on his Egyptian counterpart to uphold the details of the Peace Treaty. Pharaoh Merneptah upheld the treaty provided the Hittites with grain to ease their famine conditions showing that he was the very equal of his famous father.
His Building Achievements included additions to the Osirion at Abydos, additions to the Temple in Dendera, monuments in Pi-Ramses and Heliopolis, Rock Shrines in Gebel el Silsila, and although still lost to us today, it is believed that he also constructed a new Royal Palace next to the principal Temple of Ptah in Memphis. Of course, he had his Mortuary Temple built on the West Bank of the River Nile at Thebes, next to his father’s Mortuary Temple, the Ramesseum, and his rock hewn tomb, KV8, in the Valley of the Kings. His Tomb is the second largest found to date in the Valley of the Kings so we may presume that he began to have the Tomb constructed before he reached the Throne. It may well be that it the latter years of his father’s reign, the then Crown Prince Merneptah ruled jointly with his father which would have garnered him the opportunity to begin his Tomb before he succeeded to the Throne.
Perhaps if he had inherited the Throne at a younger age, we may today also be called Pharaoh Merneptah, Merneptah the Great!
His son with Queen Isetnofret II, Pharaoh Seti II inherited the Throne. No more than 2 years into his reign and probably while he was out of the country undertaking a Military Campaign in Asia, his half-brother, Prince Amenmesse, seized Upper Egypt and Nubia, and crowned himself as a rival Pharaoh.
Pharaoh Seti II defeated his half-brother and, we can presume, killed him for his usurpation. As a form of revenge, Pharaoh Seti II removed all his half-brother’s monuments and any references to this rival court including that of his Vizier, Noble Khaemter, a former Viceroy of Kush for Pharaoh Seti II. As the final punishment which was to be enacted to reach the false Pharaoh in his Afterlife, Pharaoh Seti II had the Spells and Texts were removed from Pharaoh Amenmesse’s Tomb.
As with all Pharaohs of his Age, he commissioned Monuments and carved his own Reliefs. Two of the most recognisable are an Obelisk which is outside the First Pylon and a Barque Shrine inside the First Pylon’s Courtyard in the Precinct of Amun Ra at Karnak Temple. Pharaoh built 3 Tombs in the King’s Valley; one for himself, KV15; one for his Great Royal Wife, Queen Twosret, KV14; and one for his Chancellor, the Noble Bay, KV13. It was highly unusual for a Chancellor of non-Royal blood and obviously shows the strong trust and relationship that the Pharaoh and Chancellor had between them.
Pharaoh Seti II ruled for 5 years and 10 months. Due to the brevity of his reign the Tomb that he had started, which the usurper Amenmesse had damaged, and Pharaoh’s Artisans had repaired, was not finished. We can assume that his family continued with his Tomb after his death and eventually he was laid to rest inside. In the interim it is believed that he may have been interred in the Tomb for his Great Royal Wife, Queen Twosret.
Pharaoh Seti II left no eligible and old enough son as heir and so Pharaoh Siptah, who inherited the Throne, was probably the half-brother of Pharaoh Seti II. Pharaoh Siptah was a young child of around 10 years old and only ruled for roughly 6 years. But why? By examining his mummy, it has been learnt that he had a severely damaged left foot which would have hindered his ability to walk and move smoothly and suffered from Polio which may well have been the disease that ended of his life. The main event of his reign was the fall from grace of the formerly trusted Chancellor Bay, who we know that the then 15-year-old Pharaoh had executed for being a traitor which he announced on a Stela to the Artisan community at Deir el Medina. Pharaoh Siptah was buried by his successor, female Pharaoh Twosret, in KV47 in the Valley of the Kings.
Female Pharaoh Twosret was married to her half-brother, Pharaoh Seti II, who had died before Pharaoh Siptah took the Throne. On his death and initially Pharaoh Twosret may well have acted as Regent for her young son with Pharaoh Seti II, Crown Prince Seti-Merenptah. Regrettably for Twosret, her son died when he was approximately 5 years old. She reigned for between 2 and a half to 3 and a half years, but Pharaoh assumed the Regnal Years of her predecessor and made her own officially regarded Reign seem to be a total of 7 years.
During her reign we know that she commissioned expeditions to the Sinai’s turquoise mines and those in Palestine, erected Statues in Thebes and Heliopolis, completed works in Qantir, Abydos, Sebennytos, Memphis, modern day Jordan, Nubia and Hermopolis, and commissioned the erection of her Mortuary Temple next to her grandfather’s Mortuary Temple at the Ramesseum.
She was buried in the Tomb which her husband had commissioned for her in the Valley of the Kings, KV14. Her successor, Pharaoh Setnakhte, emerged victorious after a power struggle within the Court, on the death of Pharaoh. It may well be that this power struggle began before her death but with little to no secure records for the period, to date, it is almost impossible to confirm. But surely if there had been an all-out civil war more records would have survived.