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Ramses III

Depiction of Rameses III
Depiction of Rameses III

Ramses III was the Second pharaoh in the 20th Dynasty of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Egyptologists recognize Pharaoh Ramses III as the last of the great pharaohs to rule Egypt with substantial power and authoritative central control.

Ramses III’s long rule witnessed the gradual ebbing of Egyptian economic, political and military power. This decline was presaged by a debilitating series of invasions exacerbated by many of the internal economic issues that had plagued previous pharaohs.

His muscular military strategies earned him the description of ancient Egypt’s “warrior Pharaoh.” Ramses III successfully expelled the invading “Sea People” whose depredations had triggered devastation amongst neighboring Mediterranean civilizations.

Through his protracted exertions, Ramses proved able to save Egypt from collapse at a point in time when other empires disintegrated during the Late Bronze Age. However, Ramses III’s efforts were in many ways a temporary solution as the economic and demographic carnage wrought by the wave of invasions debilitated Egypt’s central government and its ability to recover from these enormous losses.

Facts About Ramses III

  • Second Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty of Egypt’s New Kingdom
  • Believed to have reigned from c. 1186 to 1155 BC
  • His birth name Ramses translates as “Re has fashioned him”
  • Expelled the Sea People from Egypt and waged war in Nubia and Libya
  • Modern forensic analysis revealed Ramses III was murdered.
  • Pentawere his son and likely participant in the royal assassination plot member may have been buried in Ramses’ tomb
  • Last pharaoh to reign over Egypt with authority.

What’s In A Name?

Pharaoh Ramses III had several names intended to signify his closeness to the divine powers. Ramses translates as “Re has fashioned him.” He also included “heqaiunu,” or “Ruler of Heliopolis” in his name. Ramses’ adopted “Usermaatre Meryamun” or “Powerful is the Justice of Re, beloved of Amun” as his throne name. An alternates spelling of Ramses is “Ramesses.”

Family Lineage

King Setnakhte was the father of Ramses III while his mother was Queen Tiy-merenese. Little background illuminating King Setnakhte has come down to us, however, Egyptologists believe Ramses II or Ramses The Great was the grandfather of Ramses III. Ramses III succeeded his father to Egypt’s throne upon his death in c. 1187 BC.

Ramses III reigned over Egypt for around 31 years until c. 1151 BC. Ramses IV, Ramses V and Ramses VI, the following three pharaohs of Egypt, were Ramses III’s sons.

Details of Ramses III’s royal house in the surviving records are sketchy, despite his long rule. He had numerous wives, including Tyti, Iset Ta-Hemdjert or Isis and Tiye. Ramses III is believed to have fathered 10 sons and a daughter. Several of his sons predeceased him and were entombed in the Valley of the Queens.

Royal Murder Conspiracy

The discovery of trial transcripts recorded on papyrus show there was a conspiracy to murder Ramses III by members of his royal harem. Tiye, one of Ramses’ three wives had set the plot in motion in a bid to place her son Pentaweret on the throne.

In 2012, a study team announced CT scans of Ramses III’ mummy had shown evidence of a deep cut to his neck, which would have proved lethal. They concluded Ramses III had been murdered. Some Egyptologists believe that rather than dying during the trial, the pharaoh had died during the assassination attempt.

Altogether the trial transcripts identify 40 people who were prosecuted for their part in the conspiracy. The Harem Conspiracy Papers show these assassins were drawn from the ranks of harem functionaries associated with the pharaoh. Their plan was to spark an uprising outside the royal palace in Thebes to coincide with the Opet Festival, before murdering the pharaoh and staging a palace coup.

All those involved in the failed conspiracy were deemed to be guilty during their trial, notably the Queen and Pentaweret. The guilty were forced to commit suicide or were subsequently executed.

A Time Of Strife

Ramses III’s lengthy rule was beset by a series of tumultuous events. Egypt’s influence in the ancient world was sustained for more than 2,000 years by the judicial application of its enormous wealth and military manpower. However, the ancient world as the pharaoh knew it was experiencing a series of major economic and social upheavals. Conflict gripped the area around the Mediterranean causing several empires to collapse during Ramses’ time on the throne.

Social dislocation, surging homelessness and the erosion of the social compact between the pharaoh and his people sparked turmoil throughout Egypt. The world’s first recorded strike by workers occurred during Ramses’ time on the throne. For the first time, the central administration was unable to pay its worker’s food rations and the labor force walked off the site.

Changing Construction Priorities

Confronted by the expanding wealth and influence of Egypt’s religious cults together with the rising power and influence of the nomarchs amidst rising complaints of abuse of office and corruption, Ramses III focused on examining and reorganizing Egypt’s inventory of cult temples.

Rather than constructing new temples, Ramses III’s strategy was to appease the most powerful cults through large land donations to their temples. More than thirty percent of agricultural land was in the hands of the priesthood and their cult temples by the time of Ramses III’s death.

Ramses III’s main contribution to Egyptian architecture was Medinet Habu, his mortuary temple. Completed in the 12th year of his rule, Medinet Habu has extensive inscriptions telling the story of Ramses’ campaigns to expel the Sea People. While few relics dating to King Ramses III’s time survived in the actual temple, Medinet Habu remains one of Egypt’s best-preserved temples.

With his mortuary temple complete, Ramses III turned his attention to Karnak, commissioning the construction of two smaller temples and a series of decorative inscriptions. Memphis, Edfu and Heliopolis all benefited from renovations conducted under Ramses III’s supervision.

Despite his apparently having survived the harem plot, Ramses III died before the trial ended. He was entombed in a monumental tomb prepared for him in the Valley of the Kings. Today, his tomb is referred to as “The Tomb of the Harper” after a scene featuring a pair of male blind harpists discovered by archaeologists.

Reflecting On The Past

It was Ramses III’s misfortune to be born into a tumultuous age. For a pharaoh keen to bring peace and prosperity to his land, Ramses III was forced into waging a series of successful military campaigns, which ultimately sapped Egypt’s economic and military health.

Header image courtesy: Asavaa / CC BY-SA

David Rymer BA MBT

David is a freelance writer, non-fiction and fiction author and university lecturer in journalism, marketing and law. He has been based in the Middle East for over a decade travelling extensively in the region, including Egypt indulging in his passion for archaeology. He amuses himself in his down time by writing.

David can be found at @daviddoeswords and www.zaharablu.com

Cite this article

David Rymer BA MBT, "Ramses III," Give Me History, April 2, 2020, https://givemehistory.com/ramses-iii.

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