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Pi-Ramses

Capital Cities

The Legendary Capital of Pharaoh Ramses II

What: The House of Ramses or Great of Victories; Capital City of Egypt

When: The Capital City was constructed in the 13th Century and abandoned in approx. 1,060BC. It appears that Pharaoh Seti I had a Summer Palace very near to the location which his son, Pharaoh Ramses II, would later build his own Capital City. The young Crown Prince would have lived in his father’s Summer Palace and would have been encouraged to explore enough of the area to have known about the future location for his Capital of Pi-Ramses

Where: Now the Town is called Qantir in the Eastern Delta region and is found near the Capital City of Avaris

Who: For Pharaoh Ramses II of the 19th Dynasty, the New Kingdom Period

Why: Pharaoh seems to have moved the Capital City here for political and defensive reasons as it is located in the Nile Delta so closer to political allies and enemy territory. Pharaoh Ramses II’s greatest Battle was launched from Pi-Ramses, The Battle of Kadesh

Built on the Banks of the Pelusiac Branch of the River Nile, Pi-Ramses was one of largest cities of ancient Egypt with a population of over 300,000, spread over 18 squared kilometres. Geographically the city was closer than others to the North of Egypt’s territories and crucially closer to their bonded states and to their main rivals, the Hittite’s. With the main detachment of the Army stationed within the capital city, troops would be available to move with speed and fluidity to defend themselves and their allies when and if needed; or ready to attack. The area was well established for trade which was crucial for any town or city to succeed as it was adjacent to the highly popular trading, and now defunct, capital city of Avaris. For more information about Avaris, click here. 

The evidence for this stems in part from knowing that Pi-Ramses the city continued to prosper after the death of Pharaoh Ramses II.

What was in Pi-Ramses?

Discovered by interpreting the data found from using Ground Penetrating Radar, Egyptologists believe that there was:

  • Laid out on a Grid System of Roads and Canals, it has been referred to as the Egyptian Venice when the Nile Flood appeared each year
  • At its centre was a substantial Temple. Dedicated to the God Amun and featuring Pharaoh in his divine entity
  • 4 other large Temples at the outreaches of the Compass point. North was the Temple of Wadjet; East was the Temple of Astarte; South was the Temple of Set; and West was the Temple of Amun which was home to his Heb Sed Festival’s Commemorative Hall. For more information about the Heb Sed Festival, please click here
  • To the West was the Royal District, including the Royal Palace and the Mansion homes, which were laid out against the backdrop of the River Nile. The administrative buildings were also to be found here, alongside the Temple
  • In the South, Pi-Ramses had its Military Core; the Chariot Corps, Artillery Corps and the Quarters of the Army; 2 harbours; Stables for an estimated 460 horses and Exercise Grounds for Military use only
  • In the East were an undisciplined assemblage of the Residential Area and Workshops. The Workshops included but were not limited to: Bronze smelting factory for armaments; Furnaces for smelting Shields and Swords; Clothing; Leather Goods; and Pottery
  • To the North was the remainder of the Residential Area

Why did people leave Pi-Ramses?

In short, the Nile dried up in its Pelusiac Branch. Without water, the remaining inhabitants had no real option but to move to a new city around 1060BC, in the 20th Dynasty.  That city became a capital in its own right, Tanis. Click here for further information about Tanis.

What is left on the site of Pi-Ramses?

Very little, apart from what is buried under the modern remains in Pi-Ramses. It was not robbed away, it was not stolen, it was moved. The Pharaohs of the 21st Dynasty recognised the value of the buildings and works that Pharaoh Ramses II had taken in Pi-Ramses.  Once they had established their new capital of Tanis, on the Tanitic Branch of the Nile, they moved Temples, Obelisks, Statues and Sphinx; weighing up to 200 tons; and reused the already cut and formed stone, 26km to their new Capital.

How do we know this?

1884
Archaeologist Flinders Petrie undertook a dig at Tanis and believed the city to be Pharaoh Ramses II’s Capital

1930s
Egyptologist Pierre Montet excavated much of the ruins left at Tanis and again believed the city to be Pharaoh Ramses II’s Capital

1960s
Archaeologist Manfred Bietak mapped all the branches of the Nile Delta back into antiquity. His work firmly established that during the life of Pharaoh Ramses II the Tanitic Branch of the Nile did not exist, but the Pelusiac Branch of the Nile did and was the farthest east

Digging in the modern areas along this now dried up Branch, Bietak identified the Capital City of the Hyksos settlers of Avaris and then went on to Qantir and identified that as Pharaoh Ramses II’s Capital City. Avaris is 2km south of Pi-Ramses; for more information about Avaris, click here

2017 onwards
Archaeologists are continuing to discover more pieces from Pi-Ramses