RAMSES, RAMESSES (râ-ăm’sēz). The most common royal Egyptian name in the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties. Ramses I was the founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty, but the most illustrious of the bearers of this name was his grandson, Ramses II. He was ambitious and imperious. He made a determined effort to recover the Asiatic Empire, but his errors in judgment in the Hittite encounter at Kadesh on the Orontes brought about a stalemate, which later produced an Egyptian-Hittite treaty. Ramses established his capital at Tanis, in the Delta, but his building and rebuilding activities extended throughout the land and even beyond Egypt proper. Among his impressive constructions are the completion of the hypostyle hall at Karnak, his father’s funerary temple at Abydos, his own temple at Abydos, the forecourt and pylon of the Luxor temple, the Ramesseum at the Theban necropolis, and Abu Simbel in Nubia. Extensive building operations were supplemented by his usurpations of monuments of his predecessors, a practice that enhanced his reputation beyond his merits. This, plus the presence in the OT of the name Rameses for a city and district in the Delta, brought about the acclamation of Ramses II as the Pharaoh of the Oppression, in spite of chronological complications with OT data. Among the varying interpretations of the Exodus, this identification of Ramses II is not widely held at present. Ramses III was the second king of the Twentieth Dynasty; perhaps his most outstanding accomplishment was the repelling of an invasion of the Delta by the Sea Peoples. His best-known construction is his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, not far from the Ramesseum. At the end of his reign a serious harem conspiracy occurred. The other eight kings of this name, who followed in Dynasty Twenty, are relatively unimportant, though documents relating to the tomb robberies in the Theban necropolis in the reign of Ramses IX are of interest. Although certain of these kings, such as Ramses II and III, must have had at least indirect influence on Israelite life, none of them is mentioned in the OT.——CEDV

RAMSES răm’ səz (Egyp. R’-ms-sw, Ra [sungod] is the one who created him; cf. Heb. Ra’amses). Name of eleven pharaohs of Egypt and epithet of two others.

Nineteenth dynasty

Ramses I.

Founder of the nineteenth dynasty, from northern Egypt and of military family. Elderly at accession, he reigned only sixteen months and was notable as the father of the redoubtable Sethos I.

Ramses II.

Reigned sixty-six years (either 1304-1238 b.c., or 1290-1224 b.c.). Son of Sethos I and Queen Mut-tuy, both of military background (cf. Gaballa and Kitchen, Chronique d’Égypte, XLIII/85 [1968]); and like Queen Hatshepsut and Amenophis III, he used the myth of the divine birth of Pharaoh to emphasize the legitimacy of his kingship (data, Gaballa, Orientalia, XXXVI [1967], 299-304, plates 63-65).

Ramses II battled long against the Hittites in Syria. In his year 4, he prob. weaned the kingdom of Amurru from their sway. In year 5, he marched against Qadesh-on-Orontes—straight into a Hitt. trap, but extricated himself by remarkable personal valor and the timely arrival of auxiliaries. The famous battle received epic treatment in scenes and texts on temple walls; politically, it was a setback, but it was redeemed by Ramses’ personal heroism and by his subsequent campaigns (years 8, 10, etc.). His conquests also extended into Seir and Moab, including Dibon and (Raba)-Batora(?). The Hittites faced threats from Assyria and elsewhere, and both powers tired of the conflict. So, in his year 21, Ramses II and Hattusil III sagely made peace by a treaty of alliance faithfully honored thereafter. The peace was cemented by Ramses’ marrying in year 34 a daughter of Hattusil, and still later a second Hitt. princess. Summary references for Ramses II’s wars are in Kitchen, JEA, L (1964), 68, 69 (to which add Goedicke, JEA, LII [1966], 71-80), and in Moab, Kitchen, op. cit., 47-70. Peace treaty, see ANET, 199-203. First Hitt. marriage, Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, III, §§, 410, 415-424; second marriage, ibid., §§ 427, 428 and Kitchen and Gaballa, Ztsf., Aeg. Syr., XCVI [1969], 14-18.

In sheer quantity, the buildings of Ramses II surpass those of all other pharaohs. Suffice it to recall his ambitious Delta capital Pi-Ramessē, Biblical Raamses (q.v.), his completing the vast Hypostyle Hall (134 columns, nave 80 ft. high) at Thebes in the Karnak temple of the god Amun, the erection of the Ramesseum, his funerary temple containing a 1000-ton colossus (Shelley’s Ozymandias), on the Theban W bank, and finally in Nubia the two spectacular rock temples at Abu Simbel moved piecemeal to safety because of the new Nile high dam. Internally, Ramses’ reign was an era of peace and considerable prosperity; the impact of his image on later Egypt may be judged from the adoption of his name by almost a dozen later kings. On the intellectual plane, lit. flourished; besides stories, love lyrics, and the Qadesh battle poem, one may note the Satirical Letter (Papyrus Anastasi I) showing its author’s knowledge of Canaan (ANET, 475-479). Ramses II may have been the pharaoh of the Exodus (see Exodus); his proud self-confidence would fit the king of Exodus 5-12.


Reigned six years at the end of the dynasty, changing name to Mereneptah-Siptah; died young. Powers behind his throne were the dowager queen Tewosret and the chancellor Bay (of Syrian origin, with the powers of a Joseph). See Gardiner, JEA, XLIV (1958), 12-22.

Twentieth dynasty

Ramses III.

Son of Setnakht who founded the dynasty; reigned thirty-one years. He fought three epic battles to deliver Egypt from threats of invasion. In year 5, he fended off the Libyans, but indecisively. In year 8, he fought a remarkable amphibious action in S Pal. and the E Delta Nile mouths against the sea-peoples including the Philistines (first mention in history), repulsing their army and destroying their fleet. In year 11, he finally defeated the Libyans more effectively. He also found occasion to fight in Edom (Seir, cf. ANET, 262a). At first, as the last great pharaoh of the empire, he outwardly maintained its façade. The end of his reign saw the onset of internal administrative decay that grew apace under his successors, and his closing years were marred by an attempted assassination. This king consciously modeled himself on Ramses II; e.g., in style of titulary, and even in the names of his sons. The most important building of this reign was his great funerary temple in western Thebes (Medinet Habu), superbly published by the Oriental Institute, Chicago, as Medinet Habu, 8 volumes, Excavations at Medinet Habu, 5 volumes, outline reports in Oriental Institute Communications, Nos. 5, 7, 10, 15, 18; historical texts are tr. by Edgerton and Wilson, Historical Records of Ramses III, 1936. See also next reign.

Ramses IV.

Reigned only six years, but according to a famous stela from Abydos prayed for a reign of sixty-seven years like Ramses II. He compiled a list of his father Ramses III’s benefactions to Egypt’s temples to support his succession; the Papyrus Harris is the longest Egyp. papyrus known (135 ft. long); tr. cf. Breasted, Ancient Records, IV, §§ 151ff.

Ramses V.

Son of Ramses IV; reigned only four years, dying of smallpox while still but a youth. His reign is famed for the vast Papyrus Wilbour, part of a land-survey of Middle Egypt, a document of immense value for study of administration and institutions (Gardiner, The Wilbour Papyrus, 4 vols., [1941-1952]).

Ramses VI.

Reigned at least seven years; took over and completed his nephew Ramses V’s tomb in the Theban Valley of Kings with important funerary texts.

Ramses VII.

Reigned seven years; whether he preceded or succeeded the next king is still uncertain.

Ramses VIII.

An ephemeral ruler, highest date being his year 1.

Ramses IX.

Reigned eighteen years. The high-priesthood of Amun at Thebes was ruled by one powerful family; administration was now so lax that even the tombs of the pharaohs themselves were being robbed. Jealousy between the mayors of E and W Thebes brought the scandal to light, leading to a royal commission reported on in a remarkable series of tomb-robbery papyri. See Peet, Great Tomb Robberies of the XXth Dynasty, I-II (1930); Capart, Gardiner, van de Walle, JEA, XXII (1936), 169-193.

Ramses X.

Of this reign of nine years, hardly anything is known.

Ramses XI.

Last of his line, reigned at least twenty-seven years. The state was troubled by Libyan marauders and by civil war involving the viceroy of Nubia and perhaps the death or exile of a high priest of Amun of Thebes. The acute weakness of the state was outwardly resolved by appointing two high officials under the king, one each for Upper and Lower Eygpt. This was marked by a new era and year count from year 19, the so-called “Renaissance.” In the S, one Herihor was army commander, high priest of Amun and vizier; he aspired to royal rank but achieved it only in name. His descendants became hereditary high priests of Amun, a state within the state, during the twenty-first dynasty, which partly explains Egypt’s quiescence in foreign affairs early in the Heb. monarchy (see Land of Egypt). In the N, one Smendes was ruler and succeeded Ramses XI as king, to found the twenty-first dynasty, having (it seems) married a Ramesside princess.

Twenty-first dynasty and after

Psusennes I,

c. 1040 b.c., occasionally adopted the double name Ramses-Psusennes, to stress his link (through Smendes) with the Ramessides, and so his legitimacy of rule. His successors were the contemporaries of David and Solomon (see Pharaoh's Daughter; Land of Egypt). The title “King’s Son of Ramses” was a high honorific title in this and the two following dynasties. This period, cf. Kitchen, Third Intermediate Period in Egypt [1972].


General histories, see Land of Egypt. On Ramessides, cf. W. C. Hayes, Scepter of Egypt, II (1959); R. O. Faulkner, CAH2, II, and J. Cerny, CAH2, chs. 23 and 35 (1966, 1965 respectively). Most records of the period, J. A. Breasted, Ancient Records, III and IV. Foreign links, W. Helck, Beziehungen Aegyptens zu Vorderasien (1962); K. Kitchen, Ramesses II (1974).