The labors of Rameses II

Ancient Egypt History





Rameses II



After Seti I, the romantic Rameses II, last of the great Pharaohs, mounted the throne.

Seldom has history known so picturesque a monarch. Handsome and brave, he added to his charms by his boyish consciousness of them; and his exploits in war, which he never tired of recording, were equaled only by his achievements in love.

After brushing aside a brother who had inopportune rights to the throne, he sent an expedition to Nubia to tap the gold mines there and replenish the treasury of Egypt;

And with the resultant funds he undertook the reconquest of the Asiatic provinces, which had again rebelled.

Three years he gave to recovering Palestine; then he pushed on, met a great army of the Asiatic allies at Kadesh (1288 B.C.), and turned defeat into victory by his courage and leadership.

It may have been as a result of these campaigns that a considerable number of Jews were brought into Egypt, as slaves or as immigrants; and Rameses II is believed by some to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

He had his victories commemorated, without undue impartiality, on half a hundred walls, commissioned a poet to celebrate him in epic verse, and rewarded himself with several hundred wives.

When he died he left one hundred sons and fifty daughters to testify to his quality by their number and their proportion.

He married several of his daughters, so that they too might have splendid children.

His offspring were so numerous that they constituted for four hundred years a special class in Egypt, from which, for over a century, her rulers were chosen.

He deserved these consolations, for he seems to have ruled Egypt well.

He built so lavishly that half the surviving edifices of Egypt are ascribed to his reign.

Rameses II completed the main hall at Karnak, added to the temple of Luxor, raised his own vast shrine, the Ramesseum, west of the river, finished the great mountain-sanctuary at Abu Simbel, and scattered colossi of himself throughout the land.

Commerce flourished under him, both across the Isthmus of Suez and on the Mediterranean.

He built another canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, but the shifting sands filled it up soon after his death.

Rameses II yielded up his life in 1225 B.C., aged ninety, after one of the most remarkable reigns of history.

Only one human power in Egypt had excelled his, and that was the clergy: here, as everywhere in history, ran the endless struggle between church and state.

Throughout his reign and those of his immediate successors, the spoils of every war, and the lion's share of taxes from the conquered provinces, went to the temples and the priests. These reached the zenith of their wealth under Rameses III.

They possessed at that time 107,000 slaves—one-thirtieth of the population of Egypt; they held 750,000 acres—one-seventh of all the arable land; they owned 500,000 head of cattle; they received the revenues from 169 towns in Egypt and Syria; and all this property was exempt from taxation.

The generous or timorous Rameses III showered unparalleled gifts upon the priests of Amon, including 32,000 kilograms of gold and a million kilograms of silver; every year he gave them 185,000 sacks of corn.

When the time came to pay the workmen employed by the state he found his treasury empty.

More and more the people starved in order that the gods might eat.


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