Ramesses the Great

Ramesses II, the son of Seti I and grandson of Ramesses I and dubbed "the Great" by modern scholars, was the most renowned Egyptian king. His lengthy reign, lasting almost sixty-seven years, was marked by cosmopolitan luxury at home and aggressive campaigning abroad. Ramesses dominated the era with his "bigger is better" attitude, overshadowing all of his successors and usurping countless monuments belonging to his predecessors. He covered Egypt with temples, ranging from diminutive chapels to massive rock-cut sanctuaries, dedicated to the gods as well as to himself, and overflowing with statues. According to Amelia Edwards, a nineteenth century traveler and novelist, Ramesses' "pride was evidently boundless·[and] he was neither better nor worse than the general run of Oriental despots·ruthless in war, prodigal in peace, rapacious of booty, and unsparing in the exercise of almost boundless power."

Ramesses II was no less grandiose in his personal life, with eight wives, numerous concubines and reportedly more than 100 children. The importance of his family was demonstrated by their frequent depiction on Ramesses' many monuments, especially his favorite wives, Nefertari and Isetnofret. The tomb prepared for Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens is often considered the most beautifully painted in all of Egypt. Living more than 90 years, Ramesses II outlasted many of his own children, succeeded by his thirteenth son, Merenptah, himself at least 60 years old when he assumed the throne.

Unfortunately, Ramesses II's formidable reputation could not protect him after death. His enormous tomb (KV 7) was looted in the following dynasty and his mummy reburied in the Deir el Bahri cache with those of his father and grandfather. Flooding in modern times has left the tomb severely damaged and nearly inaccessible. What few fragments of decoration remain visible provide a tantalizing glimpse of the tomb's original beauty. Perhaps equally fascinating is the recent excavation of KV 5, the expansive burial complex of more than 50 of Ramesses' sons. With over 95 chambers in a unique layout, KV 5 is the largest Egyptian tomb found to date, though like that of Ramesses II, it has also suffered major flood damage.

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