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Pharaoh Ramses III

The Pharaohs - The People

The Ma’at of Ra is strong, Beloved of Amun

Born: Approx. 1217BC
Died: Approx. 1156BC in Thebes
Reigned: From approx. 1187–1156 BC
Throne Name: Usermaatre Meryamun; “The Ma’at of Ra is strong, Beloved of Amun”

Family

Ramses parents were Pharaoh Setnakhte, who founded the 20th Dynasty in Egypt, and Queen Tiye-Merenese. It is believed that Pharaoh Setnakhte may have been a grandson of Pharaoh Ramses II, or Ramses the Great. To learn more about the life and reign of Pharaoh Ramses II, click here.

Pharaoh Setnakhte is credited with having fought for his reign and the commencement of the new Dynasty with Female Pharaoh Tausret. Although his reign was short, no more than around 4 years, he managed to stabilise the previous political and administrative upheaval that the end of the 19th Dynasty had caused. Having a short reign meant that Pharaoh Setnakhte perhaps did not complete all the work he would have wished, however, he did manage to:-

  • Commence work on his Tomb in the Valley of the Kings, before this had to be abandoned as the Workers accidentally knocked into a previously used Tomb, so Pharaoh usurped his predecessor’s Tomb, KV14
  • Begin the construction of the Temple of Amun Ra in Karnak Temple, Thebes

 

Marriage

As was the custom, Pharaoh Ramses III, married more than once. It appears that he had 2 chief wives, Queen Iset Ta-Hemdjert and Queen Titi, although we are not currently aware who was his Great Royal Wife. His minor wife included Queen Tiy.

Children

Their children included:

  • Crown Prince Amunherkhepeshef; named after one of Pharaoh Ramses II’s sons. Regrettably the Crown Prince died before his father
  • Crown Prince Pareherwenemef; again, named after one of Pharaoh Ramses II’s sons. Regrettably the Crown Prince died before his father
  • Crown Prince Khaemwaset; yet again, named after one of Pharaoh Ramses II’s sons. Regrettably the Crown Prince died before his father
  • The Princes: Meryatum, Montuherkhopshef, Pentawere and Meryamun
  • Pharaoh Ramses IV; son of Queen Titi
  • Pharaoh Ramses VI; son of Queen Iset Ta-Hemdjert
  • Pharaoh Ramses VIII; we do not know which Queen was this Pharaoh’s mother

Royal Grandchildren

  • Pharaoh Ramses V, son of Pharaoh Ramses IV
  • Pharaoh Ramses VII, son of Pharaoh Ramses VI

His Reign

It commenced with Pharaoh Ramses III continuing his late father’s ideals with the reuniting of the previously divided Egypt. His reign was considered to be successful and remained Militarily and Administratively peaceful until Regnal Year 5.

Regnal Year 5

The Libyans attack!

Seemingly for the first time since Pharaoh Merneptah had defeated them during the 19th Dynasty, a group of unified Libyan Tribes joined with the Mshwesh and Seped and Tribes, invaded the west of Egypt’s Nile Delta. Allegedly, the pretext for this affiliation and then incursion was that Egypt’s new Pharaoh had obstructed in the succession of their Chief. Pharaoh Ramses III and the Egyptian Army defeated them swiftly, killing many and enslaving the remainder.

Regnal Year 8

During this regnal year Pharaoh and the Court heard the news of the Trojan War and the Fall of the Mycenae of Greece. To compound this, they would have soon been aware of the uniquely named “Sea Peoples” who were devouring the late Bronze Age Civilisations around them. To find out who the Sea Peoples were and how they became such a threat, click here.

“The foreign countries conspired in their islands, and the lands were dislodged and scattered in battle together; no land could stand before their arms: the land of the Hittites, Qode, Carchemesh, Arzawa and Cyprus were wasted, and they set up a camp in southern Syria. They desolated its people and made its land as if non-existent. They bore fore before them as they came forward towards Egypt.” 

To wipe out Hattusa, the Hittite Capital City, and then the whole Hittite Empire and the southern Syrians must have rocked the Egyptian Court to its core. Even the great Pharaoh Ramses II had been unable to completely rout the Hittites!

The Sea Peoples’ Army, with all the families, goods and housing, began to march from their newly routed City in Syria towards Egypt’s eastern land border, whilst its Sea Fleet aimed for Egypt’s Mediterranean Sea border. They intended to invade, conquer and settle.

Pharaoh Ramses III and his first wave of Military were ready for this incursion and formed their First Line Defences in Southern Palestine to cease the advance of the Sea People’s land Army. We know these details from the orders which were sent out to Egypt’s Frontier Posts which were guarded by Egypt’s Military. Whilst the Fleet of the Egyptian Army was not large or known for its prowess, the Sailors were highly skilled from their Nile River experience. Pharaoh commandeered local ships to prop up the Navy in the northern and eastern Delta regions. To learn more about Egypt’s Military and defences, click here.  

The First offensive arrived by land in the very south of Palestine. The Egyptians routed and scattered them.

The Second offensive arrived by Sea and can be considered the more dangerous of the two. Pharaoh and his Generals had planned to entrap the Sea Peoples by luring them into the Nile Delta’s smaller waterway’s banks. This plan worked and after attacking the Egyptian Navy in the Nile’s tributaries the Sea Peoples were all but helpless when the shore-based Archers, that Pharaoh had positioned precisely, with the Navy’s own archers, sent volley after volley of arrows flying into the Sea People’s Ships preventing them from gaining any territory.

The Egyptian Military finished the invasion by drawing the Sea People’s vessels to them with grappling hooks and fighting them in hand-to-hand combat, which is what the Egyptians were superior at. The Sea Peoples were left decimated. The stragglers eventually regrouped and then settled in Palestine between Gaza and Mount Carmel; they are now known as the Philistines.

We have all these details courtesy of Pharaoh Ramses III who portrayed the Battle in the longest detail ever recorded on the Exterior Wall of his Second Pylon at Medinet Habu, his Mortuary Temple on the Theban Necropolis. To see Medinet Habu today, click here.

Regnal Year 11

During this year a group of 5 tribes, the Meshwesh and led by the Libyans invaded the Western, Canopic Branch of the Nile Delta. Pharaoh reacted and dashed the Libyans hopes by killing approx. 2,000 warriors and executing the Battle’s leaders. He swept up the goods that the enemy had brought into Egypt and sent them to the Treasury of Amun in Karnak, Thebes. Again, we know about this battle today through the Exterior Wall of his First Pylon at Medinet Habu, his Mortuary Temple on the Theban Necropolis. To see Medinet Habu today, click here.

The incursions appear to have ceased after this point and Pharaoh Ramses III could make his mark on the country by stamping his reign in stone, following the example of his idolised ancestor, Pharaoh Ramses II.

His Building Projects

Pharaoh commissioned among others:

  • Palace Complex which was attached to his Mortuary Temple at Medinet Habu
  • Town Complex which went with his Palace Complex at Medinet Habu
  • Additions to the Temple of Amun at Karnak in the form of Reliefs and 2 smaller Temples including one to the God Khonsu
  • Works in the former capital cities of Pi-Ramses, Heliopolis, Memphis and Abydos
  • Introduced Tree Planting programs including one at Medinet Habu

Trade and Industry

He thoroughly encouraged both areas and through his tenacity managed to:

  • Send a trading expedition to Punt which succeeded with reviving a trading contract with them which may have lapsed since the rule of Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the 18th Dynasty
  • Exploit the Copper Mines in the Sinai. Reliefs recorded: “I sent my emissaries to the land of Atika, to the great copper mines which are there. Their ships carried them along and others went overland on their donkeys. It had not been heard of since the [time of any earlier] king. Their mines were found and [they] yielded copper which was loaded by tens of thousands into their ships, they being sent in their care to Egypt, and arriving safely.”
  • Exploit the Gold Mines in Nubia

Pharaoh also ensured that after the corruption of the 19th Dynasty the Temples were rewarded for their loyalty to his reign, and he made very considerable gifts of land to the Priesthood. It is noted, via the Harris Papyrus, that by the end of his reign, Pharaoh had allowed the Temples to own one third of all of Egypt’s arable land, and that three quarters of that belonged to the Amun Priesthood at Karnak Temple, Thebes.

Regnal Year 28

The Vizier of Lower Egypt ruined Pharaoh’s latterly peaceful reign. He had to be ousted from his post due to proven corruption.

 

Regnal Year 29: The Strike

The corruption issues were still being resolved when the Artisans in the Village of Deir el Medina, in the Theban Necropolis, failed to receive their salaried rations. As a consequence, they marched from their Village and staged their Strike in the Ramesseum, the Mortuary Temple of Pharaoh Ramses II. The First Strike to ever be recorded. To find out more details, click here.

Regnal Year 32: The Harem Conspiracy

All Royal Palaces had rooms within them for the use of the Royal Harem. During the time of this conspiracy, the Harem Palace was lodged inside the Palace at the Capital City of Pi-Ramses. To learn more about Pi-Ramses, click here.

Inside the Harem lived the majority of the Royal women and children with a strict hierarchy in place. We have no records of any problems being caused inside the Harem, unlike some stories that have illuminated Historians to the devious ministrations of the Court in Istanbul. But one of the wives was not content, a plot was being hatched.

The name of the chief plotter was a minor queen named Tiy. She wished to put her son Prince Pentawere on the Throne, assassinating the Pharaoh, her husband and father of her son, and grabbing the power of ruling all Egypt. The Plot unfolded with her co-conspirators preparing to kill Pharaoh at the annual Opet Festival which took place in Thebes, by stirring up an insurrection using Egyptian Magic waxed images and poisons which Tiy had smuggled into the Harem. One of the Conspirators was a Palace Servant who was involved in the handling of Pharaoh’s food so conjecture allows us to assume that the Pharaoh may have been poisoned with a snake’s venom at the very least to weaken him before the fatal attack was due to take place.

The Conspiracy is recorded to have failed and the 40 named Traitors were arrested. These Traitors to the State included Harem Officials and Officials that were close to the Pharaoh in their proximity and favour; these included Pharaoh’s Chief of the Chamber called Pebekkamen, 7 Royal Butlers, 2 Army Standard Bearers, 2 Scribes, 2 Treasury Overseers and a Herald. The Conspirators were tried in three Groups and in the recording papyrus, the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, the Traitors are given names to depict the heinous nature of their Plot in accordance with the rule of Ma’at. One such was named “Mesedsure” meaning “Re hates him”.  

The First Group of Conspirators had 28 individuals and included those closest and in the centre of the Plot. The Second Group of Traitors was made up of 6 people and the Third Group of Conspirators had 4 individuals in the group, one of whom we know was Prince Pentawere. All the Traitors, but one, were found guilty and enforced by law to commit suicide, endangering their Ka or Soul. For more details on the importance of the Egyptian Ka, click here.  

The now deceased queen Tiye and prince Pentawere were buried in impure Sheep skins, un-mummified and then condemned in their Afterlives by their names being thoroughly erased from their Tombs and from all official documents. Historians only know of their names from the Trial documents that have survived. To understand how burying them un-mummified in impure skins would not allow the deceased Ka (Soul) to reunite and removing their names would condemn them to live their Afterlife in the Duat, click here.

The Mummy of prince Pentawere has recently been identified. He is the, “Mummy of the Screaming Man” which was found in the Royal Mummy Cache at Deir el Bahri, Thebes. This has been proven by Dr Zahi Hawass and the scientific team of the Egyptian Mummy Project, using CT scans and DNA. Perhaps a fitting way for the traitorous prince to be depicted as and known as in modern times.

What was not made clear in the Judicial Papyrus of Turin was that Pharaoh Ramses III was almost certainly killed in the Conspiracy Plot, and that the Plot was only considered unsuccessful because, firstly, the succession passed to Pharaoh’s chosen Crown Prince, who became Pharaoh Ramses IV, son of Queen Titi; and secondly, the conspirators were all caught, tried and sentenced to death.

As Pharaoh Ramses III was deceased by the time of the Trials, it is almost certain that it was his son, and the new Pharaoh, Ramses IV who was the Pharaoh in charge of ensuring justice was carried out during these trials and to emphasise this point it appears that there were questionable relationships between the chosen Judges for the Trials and some of the female conspirators involved. Pharaoh Ramses IV therefore set up a Fourth Trial during which 3 Judges and 2 Officers were charged. 1 Judge was found innocent and the others were sentenced to having their nose and ears amputated.

Death

2012 heralded the scanning of Pharaoh Ramses III’s Mummy by Dr Zahi Hawass and Dr Sahar Saleem. The discovery, Pharaoh’s oesophagus and trachea were deeply cut, almost through to his spine at the very rear of his neck, and this would have killed him instantaneously. But not only had this awful fate ended Pharaoh’s life. It appears from the scan that Pharaoh was attacked by multiple attackers who inflicted multiple wounds simultaneously. The main other injury was that they had managed to hack off one of Pharaoh’s toes.

His Mummy showed that Embalmers had:

  • Added a prosthetic toe to replace his missing one and placed Amulets around the Feet and Ankles to allow the healing process to continue for Pharaoh
  • Packed the wound at his throat so his wound was not seen or noticeable for his journey to the Afterlife
  • Included Amulets to protect Pharaoh from Snakes. As Embalmers never added anything to the deceased’s body that they would not need in the Afterlife, we can safely conclude that Pharaoh was poisoned as well with snake venom.

Remember, the body that the Embalmers produced was the one which the deceased’s Ka (Soul) needed to recognise to allow their reuniting. The Embalmers were hugely and highly skilled at ensuring that any missing or irregular marks on the body, as in this case, were not prevalent enough to prevent this recognition.

Pharaoh Ramses III was buried with the highest care and attention in King’s Valley Tomb KV11 which is one of the largest Tombs in the Valley.

Pharaoh’s death almost prophetically ended the better times for Egypt and with the commencement of the Iron Age Egypt began to suffer from economic issues as they had no iron to export. Pharaoh Ramses III’s 31-year reign became known as the last reign of the great Egyptian Pharaohs.