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THE central figure of Egyptian history has always been, probably always will be, Rameses the Second. He holds this place partly by right, partly by accident. He was born to greatness; he achieved greatness; and he had borrowed greatness thrust upon him. It was his singular destiny not only to be made a posthumous usurper of glory, but to be forgotten by his own name and remembered in a variety of aliases. As Sesoosis, as Osymandias, as Sesostris, he became credited in course of time with all the deeds of all the heroes of the new Empire, beginning with Thothmes III, who preceded him by 300 years, and ending with Sheshonk, the captor of Jerusalem, who lived four centuries after him. Modern science, however, has repaired this injustice; and, while disclosing the long-lost names of a brilliant succession of sovereigns, has enabled us to ascribe to each the honours which are his due. We know now that some of these were greater conquerors than Rameses II. We suspect that some were better rulers. Yet the popular hero keeps his ground. What he has lost by interpretation on the one hand, he has gained by interpretation on the other; and the beau sabreur of the "Third Sallier Papyrus" remains to this day the representative Pharaoh of a line of monarchs whose history covers a space of fifty centuries, and whose frontiers reached at one time from Mesopotamia to the ends of the Soudan.

The interest that one takes in Rameses II begins at Memphis, and goes on increasing all the way up the river. It is a purely living, a purely personal interest; such as one feels in Athens for Pericles, or in Florence for Lorenzo the Magnificent. Other Pharaohs but languidly affect the imagination. Thothmes and Amenhotep are to us as Darius or Artaxerxes – shadows that come and go in the distance. But with the second Rameses we are on terms of respectful intimacy. We seem to know the man – to feel his presence – to hear his name in the air. His features are as familiar to us as those of Henry the Eighth or Louis the Fourteenth. His cartouches meet us at every turn. Even to those who do not read the hieroglyphic character, those well-known signs convey, by sheer force of association, the name and style of Rameses, beloved of Amen.

This being so, the traveller is ill equipped who goes through Egypt without something more than a mere guide-book knowledge of Rameses II. He is, as it were, content to read the Argument and miss the Poem. In the desolation of Memphis, in the shattered splendour of Thebes, he sees only the ordinary pathos of ordinary ruins. As for Abou Simbel, the most stupendous historical record ever transmitted from the past to the present, it tells him a but half-intelligible story. Holding to the merest thread of explanation, he wanders from hall to hall, lacking altogether that potent charm of foregone association which no Murray can furnish. Your average Frenchman straying helplessly through Westminster Abbey under the conduct of the verger has about as vague a conception of the historical import of the things he sees.

What is true of the traveller is equally true of those who take their Nile vicariously “in connection with Mudie.” If they are to understand any description of Abou Simbel, they must first know something about Rameses II. Let us then, while the Philæ lies moored in the shadow of the rock of Abshek,1 review, as summarily as may be, the leading facts of this important reign; such facts, that is to say, as are recorded in inscriptions, papyri, and other contemporary monuments.


Rameses the Second2 was the son of Seti I, the second Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty, and of a certain Princess Tuaa, described on the monuments as “royal wife, royal mother, and heiress and sharer of the throne.” She is supposed to have been of the ancient royal line of the preceding dynasty, and so to have had, perhaps, a better right than her husband to the double crown of Egypt. Through her, at all events, Rameses II seems to have been in some sense born a king,3 equal in rank, if not in power, with his father; his rights, moreover, were fully recognized by Seti, who accorded him royal and divine honours from the hour of his birth, or, in the language of the Egyptian historians, while he was “yet in the egg.” The great dedicatory inscription of the temple of Osiris at Abydos,4 relates how his father took the royal child in his arms, when he was yet little more than an infant, showed him to the people as their king, and caused him to be invested by the great officers of the palace with the double crown of the two lands. The same inscription states that he was a general from his birth, and that as a nursling he “commanded the body guard and the brigade of chariot-fighters”; but these titles must of course have been purely honorary. At twelve years of age, he was formally associated with his father upon the throne, and by the gradual retirement of Seti I from the cares of active government, the co-royalty of Rameses became, in the course of the next ten or fifteen years, an undivided responsibility. He was probably about thirty when his father died; and it is from this time that the years of his reign are dated. In other words, Rameses II, in his official records, counts only from the period of his sole reign, and the year of the death of Seti is the “year one” of the monumental inscriptions of his son and successor. In the second, fourth, and fifth years of his monarchy, he personally conducted campaigns in Syria, more than one of the victories then achieved being commemorated on the rock-cut tablets of Nahr-el-Kelb near Beyrût; and that he was by this time recognised as a mighty warrior is shown by the stela of Dakkeh, which dates from the “third year,” and celebrates him as terrible in battle – “the bull powerful against Ethiopia, the griffin furious against the negroes, whose grip has put the mountaineers to flight.” The events of his second campaign (undertaken two years later in order to reduce to obedience the revolted tribes of Syria and Mesopotamia) are immortalised in the poem of Pentaur.5 It was on this occasion that he fought his famous single-handed fight, against overwhelming odds, in the sight of both armies under the walls of Kadesh. Three years later, he carried fire and sword into the land of Canaan, and in his eleventh year, according to inscriptions yet extant upon the ruined pylons of the Ramesseum at Thebes, he took, among other strong places on sea and shore, the fortresses of Ascalon and Jerusalem.

The next important record transports us to the twenty-first year of his reign. Ten years have now gone by since the fall of Jerusalem, during which time a fluctuating frontier warfare has probably been carried on, to the exhaustion of both armies. Khetasira, Prince of Kheta,6 sues for peace. An elaborate treaty is thereupon framed, whereby the said Prince and “Rameses, Chief of Rulers, who fixes his frontiers where he pleases,” pledge themselves to a strict offensive and defensive alliance, and to the maintenance of good-will and brotherhood forever. This treaty, we are told, was engraved for the Khetan prince “upon a tablet of silver adorned with the likeness of the figure of Sutekh, the Great Ruler of Heaven;” while for Rameses Mer-Amen it was graven on a wall adjoining the Great Hall at Karnak,7 where it remains to this day.

According to the last clause of this curious document, the contracting parties enter also into an agreement to deliver up to each other the political fugitives of both countries; providing at the same time for the personal safety of the offenders. “Whosoever shall be so delivered up,” says the treaty, “himself, his wives, his children, let him not be smitten to death; moreover, let him not suffer in his eyes, in his mouth, in his feet; moreover, let not any crime be set up against him.”8 This is the earliest instance of an extradition treaty upon record; and it is chiefly remarkable as an illustration of the clemency with which international law was at that time administered.

Finally, the convention between the sovereigns is placed under the joint protection of the gods of both countries: “Sutekh of Kheta, Amen of Egypt, and all the thousand gods, the gods male and female, the gods of the hills, of the rivers, of the great sea, of the winds and the clouds, of the land of Kheta and of the land of Egypt.”

The peace now concluded would seem to have remained unbroken throughout the rest of the long reign of Rameses the Second. We hear, at all events, of no more wars; and we find the king married presently to a Khetan princess, who in deference to the gods of her adopted country takes the official name of Ma-at-iri-neferu-Ra, or “Contemplating the Beauties of Ra.” The names of two other queens – Nefer-t-ari and Ast-nefert – are also found upon the monuments.

These three were probably the only legitimate wives of Rameses II, though he must also have been the lord of an extensive hareem. His family, at all events, as recorded upon the walls of the Temple of Wady Sabooah, amounted to no less than 170 children, of whom 111 were princes. This may have been a small family for a great king three thousand years ago. It was but the other day, comparatively speaking, that Lepsius saw and talked with old Hasan, Kashef of Derr – the same petty ruler who gave so much trouble to Belzoni, Burckhardt, and other early travellers – and he, like a patriarch of old, had in his day been the husband of sixty-four wives, and the father of something like 200 children.

For forty-six years after the making of the Khetan treaty, Rameses the Great lived at peace with his neighbours and tributaries. The evening of his life was long and splendid. It became his passion and his pride to found new cities, to raise dykes, to dig canals, to build fortresses, to multiply statues, obelisks, and inscriptions, and to erect the most gorgeous and costly temples in which man ever worshipped. To the monuments founded by his predecessors he made additions so magnificent that they dwarfed the designs they were intended to complete. He caused artesian wells to be pierced in the stony bed of the desert. He carried on the canal begun by his father, and opened the waterway between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.9 No enterprise was too difficult, no project too vast, for his ambition. “As a child,” says the stela of Dakkeh, “he superintended the public works, and his hands laid their foundations.” As a man, he became the supreme Builder. Of his gigantic structures only certain colossal fragments have survived the ravages of time; yet those fragments are the wonder of the world.

To estimate the cost at which these things were done is now impossible. Every temple, every palace, represented a hecatomb of human lives. Slaves from Ethiopia, captives taken in war, Syrian immigrants settled in the Delta, were alike pressed into the service of the state. We know how the Hebrews suffered, and to what an extremity of despair they were reduced by the tasks imposed upon them. Yet even the Hebrews were less cruelly used than some who were kidnapped beyond the frontiers. Torn from their homes without hope of return, driven in herds to the mines, the quarries, and the brick-fields, these hapless victims were so dealt with that not even the chances of desertion were open to them. The negroes from the South were systematically drafted to the North; the Asiatic captives were transported to Ethiopia. Those who laboured underground were goaded on without rest or respite, till they fell down in the mines and died.

That Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the captivity,10 and that Meneptah, his son and successor, was the Pharaoh of the Exodus,11 are now among the accepted presumptions of Egyptological science. The Bible and the monuments confirm each other upon these points, while both are again corroborated by the results of recent geographical and philological research. The “treasure-cities Pithom and Raamses” which the Israelites built for Pharaoh with bricks of their own making, are the Pa-Tum and Pa-Rameses of the inscriptions, and both have recently been identified by M. Naville, in the course of his excavations conducted in 1883 and 1886 for the Egypt Exploration Fund.

The discovery of Pithom, the ancient Biblical “treasure-city” of the first chapter of Exodus, has probably attracted more public attention, and been more widely discussed by European savants, than any archæological event since the discovery of Nineveh. It was in February 1883 that M. Naville opened the well-known mound of Tel-el-Maskhutah, on the south bank of the new sweet-water canal in the Wady Tûmilât, and there discovered the foundations and other remains of a fortified city of the kind known in Egyptian as a Bekhen, or store-fort. This Bekhen, which was surrounded by a wall 30 feet in thickness, proved to be about 12 acres in extent. In one corner of the enclosure were found the ruins of a temple built by Rameses II. The rest of the area consisted of a labyrinth of subterraneous rectangular cellars, or store-chambers, constructed of sun-dried bricks of large size, and divided by walls varying from 8 to 10 feet in thickness. In the ruins of the temple were discovered several statues more or less broken, a colossal hawk inscribed with the royal ovals of Rameses II, and other works of art dating from the reigns of Osorkon II, Nectanebo, and Ptolemy Philadelphus. The hieroglyphic legends engraved upon the statues established the true value of the discovery by giving both the name of the city and the name of the district in which the city was situate; the first being Pa-Tum (Pithom), the “Abode of Tum,” and the second being Thuku-t (Succoth); so identifying “Pa-Tum, in the district of Thuku-t,” with Pithom, the treasure-city built by the forced labour of the Hebrews, and Succoth, the region in which they made their first halt on going forth from the land of bondage. Even the bricks with which the great wall and the walls of the store-chambers are built bear eloquent testimony to the toil of the suffering colonists, and confirm in its minutest details the record of their oppression: some being duly kneaded with straw; others, when the straw was no longer forthcoming, being mixed with the leafage of a reed common to the marshlands of the Delta; and the remainder, when even this substitute ran short, being literally “bricks without straw,” moulded of mere clay crudely dried in the sun. The researches of M. Naville further showed that the Temple to Tum, founded by Rameses II, was restored, or rebuilt, by Osorkon II of the twenty-second dynasty; whilst at a still higher level were discovered the remains of a Roman fortress. That Pithom was still an important place in the time of the Ptolemies is proved by a large and historically important tablet found by M. Naville in one of the store-chambers, where it had been thrown in with other sculptures and rubbish of various kinds. This table records repairs done to the canal, an expedition to Ethiopia, and the foundation of the city of Arsinoë. Not less important from a geographical point of view was the finding of a Roman milestone which identifies Pithom with Hero (Heroöpolis), where, according to the Septuagint, Joseph went forth to meet Jacob. This milestone gives nine Roman miles as the distance from Heroöpolis to Clysma. A very curious manuscript lately discovered by Signore Gamurrini in the library of Arezzo, shows that even so late as the fourth century of the Christian era, this ancient walled enclosure – the camp, or “Ero Castra,” of the Roman period, the “Pithom” of the Bible – was still known to pious pilgrims as “the Pithom built by the Children of Israel”; that the adjoining town, external to the camp, at that time established within the old Pithom boundaries, was known as “Heroöpolis;” and that the town of Rameses was distant from Pithom about twenty Roman miles. 12

As regards Pa-Rameses, the other “treasure-city” of Exodus, it is conjecturally, but not positively, identified by M. Naville with the mound of Saft-el-Henneh, the scene of his explorations in 1886. That Saft-el-Henneh was identical with “Kes,” or Goshen, the capital town of the “Land of Goshen,” has been unequivocally demonstrated by the discoverer; and that it was also known, in the time of Rameses II as “Pa-Rameses” is shown to be highly probable.13 There are remains of a temple built of black basalt, with pillars, fragments of statues, and the like, all inscribed with the cartouches of Rameses II; and the distance from Pithom is just twenty Roman miles.

It was from Pa-Rameses that Rameses II set out with his army to attack the confederate princes of Asia Minor then lying in ambush near Kadesh;14 and it was hither that he returned in triumph after the great victory. A contemporary letter written by one Panbesa, a scribe, narrates in glowing terms the beauty and abundance of the royal city, and tells how the damsels stood at their doors in holiday apparel, with nosegays in their hands and sweet oil upon their locks, “on the day of the arrival of the War-god of the world.” This letter is in the British Museum.15

Other letters written during the reign of Rameses II have by some been supposed to make direct mention of the Israelites.

“I have obeyed the orders of my master,” writes the scribe Kauiser to his superior Bak-en-Ptah, “being bidden to serve out the rations to the soldiers, and also to the Aperiu [Hebrews?] who quarry stone for the palace of King Rameses Mer-Amen.” A similar document written by a scribe named Keniamon, and couched in almost the same words, shows these Aperiu on another occasion to have been quarrying for a building on the southern side of Memphis; in which case Turra would be the scene of their labours.

These invaluable letters, written on papyrus in the hieratic character, are in good preservation. They were found in the ruins of Memphis, and now form part of the treasures of the Museum of Leyden.16 They bring home to us with startling nearness the events and actors of the Bible narrative. We see the toilers at their task, and the overseers reporting them to the directors of public works. They extract from the quarry those huge blocks which are our wonder to this day. Harnessed to rude sledges, they drag them to the river-side and embark them for transport to the opposite bank.17 Some are so large and so heavy that it takes a month to get them down from the mountain to the landing-place.18 Other labourers are elsewhere making bricks, digging canals, helping to build the great wall which reached from Pelusium to Heliopolis, and strengthening the defences not only of Pithom and Rameses, but of all the cities and forts between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Their lot is hard; but not harder than the lot of other workmen. They are well fed. They intermarry. They increase and multiply. The season of their great oppression is not yet come. They make bricks, it is true, and those who are so employed must supply a certain number daily;19 but the straw is not yet withheld, and the task, though perhaps excessive, is not impossible. For we are here in the reign of Rameses II, and the time when Meneptah shall succeed him is yet far distant. It is not till the King dies that the children of Israel sigh, “by reason of the bondage.”

There are in the British Museum, the Louvre, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, some much older papyri than these two letters of the Leyden collection – some as old, indeed, as the time of Joseph – but none, perhaps, of such peculiar interest. In these, the scribes Kauiser and Keniamon seem still to live and speak. What would we not give for a few more of their letters! These men knew Memphis in its glory, and had looked upon the face of Rameses the Great. They might even have seen Moses in his youth, while yet he lived under the protection of his adopted mother, a prince among princes.

Kauiser and Keniamon lived, and died, and were mummied between three and four thousand years ago; yet these frail fragments of papyrus have survived the wreck of ages, and the quaint writing with which they are covered is as intelligible to ourselves as to the functionaries to whom it was addressed. The Egyptians were eminently business-like, and kept accurate entries of the keep and labour of their workmen and captives. From the earliest epoch of which the monuments furnish record, we find an elaborate bureaucratic system in full operation throughout the country. Even in the time of the pyramid-builders, there are ministers of public works; inspectors of lands, lakes, and quarries; secretaries, clerks, and overseers innumerable.20 From all these, we may be sure, were required strict accounts of their expenditure, as well as reports of the work done under their supervision. Specimens of Egyptian bookkeeping are by no means rare. The Louvre is rich in memoranda of the kind; some relating to the date-tax; others to the transport and taxation of corn, the payment of wages, the sale and purchase of land for burial, and the like. If any definite and quite unmistakable news of the Hebrews should ever reach us from Egyptian sources, it will almost certainly be through the medium of documents such as these.

An unusually long reign, the last forty-six years of which would seem to have been spent in peace and outward prosperity, enabled Rameses II to indulge his ruling passion without interruption. To draw up anything like an exhaustive catalogue of his known architectural works would be equivalent to writing an itinerary of Egypt and Ethiopia under the nineteenth dynasty. His designs were as vast as his means appear to have been unlimited. From the Delta to Gebel Barkal, he filled the land with monuments dedicated to his own glory and the worship of the gods. Upon Thebes, Abydos, and Tanis, he lavished structures of surpassing magnificence. In Nubia, at the places now known as Gerf Hossayn, Wady Sabooah, Derr, and Abou Simbel, he was the author of temples and the founder of cities. These cities, which would probably be better described as provincial towns, have disappeared; and but for the mention of them in various inscriptions we should not even know that they had existed. Who shall say how many more have vanished, leaving neither trace nor record? A dozen cities of Rameses21 may yet lie buried under some of those nameless mounds which follow each other in such quick succession along the banks of the Nile in Middle and Lower Egypt. Only yesterday, as it were, the remains of what would seem to have been a magnificent structure decorated in a style absolutely unique, were accidentally discovered under the mounds of Tel-el-Yahoodeh,22 about twelve miles to the northeast of Cairo. There are probably fifty such mounds, none of which have been opened, in the Delta alone; and it is no exaggeration to say that there must be some hundreds between the Mediterranean and the first cataract.

An inscription found of late years at Abydos shows that Rameses II reigned over his great kingdom for the space of sixty-seven years. “It is thou,” says Rameses IV, addressing himself to Osiris, “it is thou who wilt rejoice me with such length of reign as Rameses II, the great god, in his sixty-seven years. It is thou who wilt give me the long duration of this great reign.”23

If only we knew at what age Rameses II succeeded to the throne, we should, by help of this inscription, know also the age at which he died. No such record has, however, transpired, but a careful comparison of the length of time occupied by the various events of his reign, and above all the evidence of age afforded by the mummy of this great Pharaoh, discovered in 1886, show that he must have been very nearly, if not quite, a centenarian.

“Thou madest designs while yet in the age of infancy,” says the stela of Dakkeh. “Thou wert a boy wearing the side-lock, and no monument was erected, and no order was given without thee. Thou wert a youth aged ten years, and all the public works were in thy hands, laying their foundations.” These lines, translated literally, cannot, however, be said to prove much. They certainly contain nothing to show that this youth of ten was, at the time alluded to, sole king and ruler of Egypt. That he was titular king, in the hereditary sense, from his birth24 and during the lifetime of his father, is now quite certain. That he should, as a boy, have designed public buildings and superintended their construction is extremely probable. The office was one which might well have been discharged by a crown-prince who delighted in architecture, and made it his peculiar study. It was, in fact, a very noble office – an office which from the earliest days of the ancient Empire had constantly been confided to princes of the royal blood;25 but it carried with it no evidence of sovereignty. The presumption, therefore, would be that the stela of Dakkeh (dating as it does from the third year of the sole reign of Rameses II) alludes to a time long since past, when the king as a boy held office under his father.

The same inscription, as we have already seen, makes reference to the victorious campaign in the South. Rameses is addressed as “the bull powerful against Ethiopia; the griffin furious against the negroes;” and that the events hereby alluded to must have taken place during the first three years of his sole reign is proved by the date of the tablet. The great dedicatory inscription of Abydos shows, in fact, that Rameses II was prosecuting a campaign in Ethiopia at the time when he received intelligence of the death of his father, and that he came down the Nile, northwards, in order, probably, to be crowned at Thebes.26

Now the famous sculptures of the commemorative chapel at Bayt-el-Welly relate expressly to the events of this expedition; and as they are executed in that refined and delicate style which especially characterises the bas-relief work of Gournah, of Abydos, of all those buildings which were either erected by Seti the First, or begun by Seti and finished during the early years of Rameses II, I venture to think we may regard them as contemporary, or very nearly contemporary with the scenes they represent. In any case, it is reasonable to conclude that the artists employed on the work would know something about the events and persons delineated, and that they would be guilty of no glaring inaccuracies.

All doubt as to whether the dates refer to the associated reigns of Seti and Rameses, or to the sole reign of the latter, vanish, however, when in these same sculptures27 we find the conqueror accompanied by his son, Prince Amenherkhopeshef, who is of an age not only to bear his part in the field, but afterwards to conduct an important ceremony of state on the occasion of the submission and tribute-offering of the Ethiopian commander. Such is the unmistakable evidence of the bas-reliefs at Bayt-el-Welly, as those who cannot go to Bayt-el-Welly may see and judge for themselves by means of the admirable casts of these great tableaux which line the walls of the Second Egyptian Room at the British Museum. To explain away Prince Amenherkhopeshef would be difficult. We are accustomed to a certain amount of courtly exaggeration on the part of those who record with pen or pencil the great deeds of the Pharaohs. We expect to see the king always young, always beautiful, always victorious. It seems only right and natural that he should never be less than twenty, and sometimes more than sixty, feet in height. But that any flatterer should go so far as to credit a lad of thirteen with a son at least as old as himself is surely quite incredible.

Lastly, there is the evidence of the Bible.

Joseph being dead and the Israelites established in Egypt, there comes to the throne a Pharaoh who takes alarm at the increase of this alien race, and who seeks to check their too rapid multiplication. He not only oppresses the foreigners, but ordains that every male infant born to them in their bondage shall be cast into the river. This Pharaoh is now universally believed to be Rameses II. Then comes the old, sweet, familiar Bible story that we know so well. Moses is born, cast adrift in the ark of bulrushes, and rescued by the King’s daughter. He becomes to her “as a son.” Although no dates are given, it is clear that the new Pharaoh has not been long upon the throne when these events happen. It is equally clear that he is no mere youth. He is old in the uses of state-craft; and he is the father of a princess of whom it is difficult to suppose that she was herself an infant.

On the whole, then, we can but conclude that Rameses II, though born a King, was not merely grown to manhood, but wedded, and the father of children already past the period of infancy, before he succeeded to the sole exercise of sovereign power. This is, at all events, the view taken by Professor Maspero, who expressly says, in the latest edition of his Histoire Ancienne, “that Rameses II, when he received news of the death of his father, was then in the prime of life, and surrounded by a large family, some of whom were of of an age to fight under his command.”28

Brugsch places the birth of Moses in the sixth year of the reign of Rameses II.29 This may very well be. The fourscore years that elapsed between that time and the time of the Exodus correspond with sufficient exactness to the chronological data furnished by the monuments. Moses would thus see out the sixty-one remaining years of the King’s long life, and release the Israelites from bondage towards the close of the reign of Menepthah,30 who sat for about twenty years on the throne of his fathers. The correspondence of dates this time leaves nothing to be desired.

The Sesostris of Diodorus Siculus went blind, and died by his own hand; which act, says the historian, as it conformed to the glory of his life, was greatly admired by his people. We are here evidently in the region of pure fable. Suicide was by no means an Egyptian, but a classical virtue. Just as the Greeks hated age, the Egyptians reverenced it; and it may be doubted whether a people who seem always to have passionately desired length of days, would have seen anything to admire in a wilful shortening of that most precious gift of the gods. With the one exception of Cleopatra – the death of Nitocris the rosy-cheeked being also of Greek,31 and therefore questionable, origin – no Egyptian sovereign is known to have committed suicide; and even Cleopatra, who was half Greek by birth, must have been influenced to the act by Greek and Roman example. Dismissing, then, altogether this legend of his blindness and self-slaughter, it must be admitted that of the death of Rameses II we know nothing certain.

Such are, very briefly, the leading facts of the history of this famous Pharaoh. Exhaustively treated, they would expand into a volume. Even then, however, one would ask, and ask in vain, what manner of man he was. Every attempt to evolve his personal character from these scanty data, is in fact a mere exercise of fancy.32 That he was personally valiant may be gathered, with due reservation, from the poem of Pentaur; and that he was not unmerciful is shown in the extradition clause of the Khetan treaty. His pride was evidently boundless. Every temple which he erected was a monument to his own glory; every colossus was a trophy; every inscription a pæan of self-praise. At Abou Simbel, at Derr, at Gerf Hossayn, he seated his own image in the sanctuary among the images of the gods.33 There are even instances in which he is depicted under the twofold aspect of royalty and divinity – Rameses the Pharaoh burning incense before Rameses the Deity.

For the rest, it is safe to conclude that he was neither better nor worse than the general run of Oriental despots – that he was ruthless in war, prodigal in peace, rapacious of booty, and unsparing in the exercise of almost boundless power. Such pride and such despotism were, however, in strict accordance with immemorial precedent, and with the temper of the age in which he lived. The Egyptians would seem, beyond all doubt, to have believed that their King was always, in some sense, divine. They wrote hymns34 and offered up prayers to him, and regarded him as the living representative of Deity. His princes and ministers habitually addressed him in the language of worship. Even his wives, who ought to have known better, are represented in the performance of acts of religious adoration before him. What wonder, then, if the man so deified believed himself a god? 


Abshek: The hieroglyphic name of Abou Simbel. Gr. Aboccis.

In the present state of Egyptian chronology, it is hazardous to assign even an approximate date to events that happened before the conquest of Cambyses. The Egyptians, in fact, had no chronology in the strict sense of the word. Being without any fixed point of departure, such as the birth of Christ, they counted the events of each reign from the accession of the sovereign. Under such a system, error and confusion were inevitable. To say when Rameses II was born and when he died is impossible. The very century in which he flourished is uncertain. Mariette, taking the historical lists of Manetho for his basis, supposes the nineteenth dynasty to have occupied the interval comprised within B.C. 1462 and 1288; according to which computation (allowing 57 years for the reigns of Rameses I and Seti I) the reign of Rameses II would date from B.C. 1405. Brugsch gives him from B.C. 1407 to B.C. 1341; and Lepsius places his reign in the sixty-six years lying between B.C. 1388 and B.C. 1322; these calculations being both made before the discovery of the stela of Abydos. Bunsen dates his accession from B.C. 1352. Between the highest and the lowest of these calculations there is, as shown by the following table, a difference of 55 years: 

Rameses II began to reign B.C.

According to




See chap. viii. footnote, p. 140.

See "Essai sur l’Inscription Dédicatoire du Temple d’Abydos et la Jeunesse de Sesotris." – G. Maspero, Paris, 1867.

See chap. viii. p. 140.

i.e. Prince of the Hittites; the Kheta being now identified with that people.

This invaluable record is sculptured on a piece of wall built out, apparently for the purpose, at right angles to the south wall of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. The treaty faces to the west, and is situate about half-way between the famous bas-relief of Sheshonk and his captives, and the Karnak version of the poem of Pentaur. The former lies to the west of the southern portal; the latter to the east. The wall of the treaty juts out about sixty feet to the east of the portal. This south wall and its adjunct, a length of about 200 feet in all, is perhaps the most precious and interesting piece of sculptured surface in the world.

See "Treaty of Peace between Rameses II and the Hittites," translated by C. W. Goodwin, M.A., "Records of the Past", vol. iv. p. 25.

Since this book was written, a further study of the subject has led me to conjecture that not Seti I, but Queen Hatshepsu (Hatasu) of the eighteenth dynasty, was the actual originator of the canal which connected the Nile with the Red Sea. The inscriptions engraved upon the walls of her great Temple at Dayr-el-Baharî expressly state that her squadron sailed from Thebes to the Land of Punt, and returned from Punt to Thebes, laden with the products of that mysterious country which Mariette and Maspero have conclusively shown to have been situate on the Somali coast-line between Bab-el-Mandeb and Cape Guardafui. Unless, therefore, some water-way existed at that time between the Nile and the Red Sea, it follows that Queen Hatshepsu’s squadron of discovery must have sailed northward from Thebes, descended the Nile to one of its mouths, traversed the whole length of the Mediterranean Sea, gone out through the Pillars of Hercules, doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Somali coast by way of the Mozambique Channel and the shores of Zanzibar. In other words, the Egyptian galleys would twice have made the almost complete circuit of the African continent. This is obviously an untenable hypothesis; and there remains no alternative route except that of a canal, or chain of canals, connecting the Nile with the Red Sea. The old Wady Tûmilât canal has hitherto been universally ascribed to Seti I, for no other reason than that a canal leading from the Nile to the ocean is represented on a bas-relief of his reign on the north outer wall of the Great Temple of Karnak; but this canal may undoubtedly have been made under the preceding dynasty, and it is not only probable, but most likely, that the great woman-Pharaoh, who first conceived the notion of venturing her ships upon an unknown sea, may also have organised the channel of communication by which those ships went forth. According to the second edition of Sir J. W. Dawson’s "Egypt and Syria," the recent surveys conducted by Lieut.-Col. Ardagh, Major Spaight, and Lieut. Burton, all of the Royal Engineers, “render it certain that this valley [i.e. the Wady Tûmilât] once carried a branch of the Nile which discharged its waters into the Red Sea” (see chap. iii. p. 55); and in such case, if that branch were not already navigable, Queen Hatshepsu would only have needed to canalise it, which is what she probably did. [Note to second edition.]

10 “Les circonstances de l’histoire hébraïque s’appliquent ici d’une manière on ne peut plus satisfaisante. Les Hébreux opprimés batissaient une ville du nom de Ramsès. Ce récit ne peut donc s’appliquer qu’à l’époque où la famille de Ramsès était sur le trône. Moïse, contraint de fuir la colère du roi après le meurtre d’un Egyptien, subit un long exil, parceque le roi ne mourut qu’après un temps fort long; Ramsès II regna en effet plus de 67 ans. Aussitôt après le retour de Moïse commença la lutte qui se termina par le célèbre passage de la Mer rouge. Cet événement eut donc lieu sous le fils de Ramsès II, ou tout au plus tard pendant l’époque de troubles qui suivit son règne. Ajoutons que la rapidité des derniers événements ne permet pas de supposer que le roi eût sa résidence à Thèbes dans cet instant. Or, Merenptah a précisément laissé dans la Basse-Egypte, et spécialement à Tanis, des preuves importantes de son séjour.” – De Rougé, "Notice des Monuments Egyptiennes du Rez de Chaussée du Musée du Louvre," Paris, 1857, p. 22.

“Il est impossible d’attribuer ni à Meneptah I, ni à Seti II, ni à Siptah, ni à Amonmesès, un règne même de vingt années; à plus forte raison de cinquante ou soixante. Seul, le règne de Ramsès II remplit les conditions indispensables. Lors même que nous ne saurions pas que ce souverain a occupé les Hébreux à la construction de la ville de Ramsès, nous serions dans l’impossibilité de placer Moïse à une autre époque, à moins de faire table rase des renseignements bibliques.” – "Recherches pour servir à l’Histoire de la XIX Dynastie:" F. Chabas; Paris, 1873; p. 148.

11 The Bible narrative, it has often been observed, invariably designates the King by this title, than which none, unfortunately, can be more vague for purposes of identification. “Plus généralement,” says Brugsch, writing of the royal titles, “sa personne se cache sous une série d’expressions qui toutes ont le sens de la ‘grande maison’ ou du ‘grand palais,’ quelquefois au duel, des ‘deux grandes maisons,’ par rapport à la division de l’Egypte en deux parties. C’est du titre très frequent Per-aā, ‘la grande maison,’ ‘la haute porte,’ qu’on a heureusement dérivé le nom biblique Pharao donné aux rois d’Egypte.” – "Histoire d’Egypte," Brugsch: 2d edition, Part I, p. 35; Leipzig, 1875.

This probably is the only title under which it was permissible for the plebeian class to speak or write of the sovereign. It can scarcely have escaped Herr Brugsch’s notice that we even find it literally translated in Genesis 1.4, where it is said that “when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes,” etc., etc. If Moses, however, had but once recorded the cartouche name of either of his three Pharaohs, archæologists and commentators would have been spared a great deal of trouble.

12 This remarkable manuscript relates the journey made by a female pilgrim of French birth, circa A.D. 370, to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the holy land. The manuscript is copied from an older original, and dates from the tenth or eleventh century. Much of the work is lost, but those parts are yet perfect which describe the pilgrim’s progress through Goshen to Tanis, and thence to Jerusalem, Edessa, and the Haran. Of Pithom it is said: “Pithona etiam civitas quam œdificaverunt filii Israel ostensa est nobis in ipso itinere; in eo tamen loco ubi jam fines Egypti intravimus, religentes jam terras Saracenorum. Nam et ipsud nunc Pithona castrum est. Heroun autem civitas quæ fuit illo tempere, id est ubi occurit Joseph patri suo venienti, sicut scriptum est in libro Genesis nunc est comes sed grandis quod nos dicimus vicus . . . nam ipse vicus nunc appellatur Hero.” See a letter on “Pithom-Heroopolis” communicated to "The Academy" by M. Naville, March 22, 1884. See also M. Naville’s memoir, entitled "The Store-City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus" (third edition); published by order of the Committee of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1888.

13 See M. Naville’s Memoir, entitled "Goshen and the Shrine of Saft-el-Henneh," published by order of the Committee of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1887.

14 Kadesh, otherwise Katesh or Kades. A town on the Orontes. See a paper entitled, “The Campaign of Rameses the Second, in his Vth year, against Kadesh on the Orontes,” by the Rev. G. H. Tomkins, in the "Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology," 1881, 1882; also in the "Transactions" of the Society, vol. viii.

15 Anastasi Papyri, No. III, Brit. Mus.

16 See "Mélanges Egyptologiques," by F. Chabas, 1 Série, 1862. There has been much discussion among Egyptologists on the subject of M. Chabas’s identification of the Hebrews. The name by which they are mentioned in the papyri here quoted, as well as in an inscription in the quarries of Hamamat, is Aperi-u. A learned critic in the "Revue Archéologique" (vol. v. 2d series, 1862) writes as follows: “La découverte du nom des Hébreux dans les hiéroglyphes serait un fait de la dernière importance; mais comme, aucun autre point historique n’offre peut-être une pareille séduction, il faut aussi se méfier des illusions avec un soin méticuleux. La confusion des sons R et L dans la langue égyptienne, et le voisinage des articulations B et P nuisent un peu, dans le cas particulier, à la rigueur des conclusions qu’on peut tirér de la transcription. Néanmoins, il y a lieu de prendre en considération ce fait que les Aperiu, dans les trois documents qui nous parlent d’eux, sont montrés employés à des travaux de même espèce que ceux auxquels, selon l’Ecriture, les Hébreux furent assujettis par les Egyptiens. La circonstance que les papyrus mentionnant ce nom ont été trouvés à Memphis, plaide encore en faveur de l’assimilation proposée – découverte importante qu’il est à désirer de voir confirmée par d’autres monuments.” It should be added that the Aperiu also appear in the Inscription of Thothmes III at Karnak, and were supposed by Mariette to be the people of Ephon. It is, however, to be noted that the inscriptions mention two tribes of Aperiu, a greater and a lesser, or an upper and a lower tribe. This might perhaps consist with the establishment of Hebrew settlers in the Delta, and others in the neighbourhood of Memphis. The Aperiu, according to other inscriptions, appear to have been horsemen, or horse-trainers, which certainly tells against the probability of their identity with the Hebrews.

17 See the famous wall-painting of the Colossus on the Sledge engraved in Sir G. Wilkinson’s "Ancient Egyptians"; frontispiece to vol. ii. ed. 1871.

18 In a letter written by a priest who lived during this reign (Rameses II), we find an interesting account of the disadvantages and hardships attending various trades and pursuits, as opposed to the ease and dignity of the sacerdotal office. Of the mason he says – “It is the climax of his misery to have to remove a block of ten cubits by six, a block which it takes a month to drag by the private ways among the houses.” – Sallier Pap. No. II, Brit. Musæ.

19 “Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.

“And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them: ye shall not diminish ought thereof.” – Exodus, chap. v. 7,8.

M. Chabas says: “Ces détails sont complètement conformes aux habitudes Egyptiennes. Le mélange de paille et d’argile dans les briques antiques a été parfaitement reconnu. D’un autre côté, le travail à la tâche est mentionné dans un texte écrit au revers d’un papyrus célébrant la splendeur de la ville de Ramsès, et datant, selon toute vraisemblance, du règne de Meneptah I. En voici la transcription: – ‘Compte des maçons, 12; en outre des hommes à mouler la brique dans leurs villes, amenés aux travaux de la maison. Eux à faire leur nombre de briques journellement; non ils sont à se relâcher des travaux dans la maison neuve; c’est ainsi que j’ai obéi au mandat donné par mon maître.’“ See "Recherches pour servir à l’Histoire de la XIX Dynastie," par F. Chabas. Paris; 1873, p. 149.

The curious text thus translated into French by M. Chabas is written on the back of the papyrus already quoted (i.e. Letter of Panbesa, Anastasi Papyri, No. III), and is preserved in the British Museum. The wall-painting in a tomb of the eighteenth dynasty at Thebes, which represents foreign captives mixing clay, moulding, drying, and placing bricks, is well known from the illustration in Sir G. Wilkinson’s "Ancient Egyptians," ed. of 1871, vol. ii. p. 196. Cases 61 and 62 in the First Egyptian Room, British Museum, contain bricks of mixed clay and straw stamped with the names of Rameses II.

20 “Les affaires de la cour et de l’administration du pays sont expédiées par les ‘chefs’ ou les ‘intendants,’ par les ‘secrétaires’ et par la nombreuse classe des scribes. . . . Le trésor rempli d’or et d’argent, et le divan des depenses et des recettes avaient leurs intendants à eux. La chambre des comptes ne manque pas. Les domaines, les propriétés, les palais, et même les lacs du roi sont mis sous la garde d’inspecteurs. Les architectes du pharaon s’occupent de bâtisses d’après l’ordre du pharaon. Les carrières, à partir de celles du Mokattam (le Toora de nos jours) jusqu’à celles d’Assouan, se trouvent exploitées par des chefs qui surveillent le transport des pierres taillées à la place de deur destination. Finalement la corvée est dirigée par les chefs des travaux publics.” "Histoire d’Égypte," Brugsch: second edition, 1875; chap. v. pp. 34 and 35.

21 The Pa-Rameses of the Bible narrative was not the only Egyptian city of that name. There was a Pa-Rameses near Memphis, and another Pa-Rameses at Abou Simbel; and there may probably have been many more.

22 The remains were apparently those of a large hall paved with white alabaster slabs. The walls were covered with a variety of bricks and encaustic tiles; many of the bricks were of most beautiful workmanship, the hieroglyphs in some being inlaid in glass. The capitals of the columns were inlaid with brilliant coloured mosaics, and a pattern in mosaics ran around the cornice. Some of the bricks are inlaid with the oval of Rameses III.” See "Murray’s Handbook for Egypt," route 7, p. 217.

Case D, in the Second Egyptian Room at the British Museum, contains several of these tiles and terra-cottas, some of which are painted with figures of Asiatic and Negro captives, birds, serpents, etc.; and are extremely beautiful both as regards design and execution. Murray is wrong, however, in attributing the building to Rameses II. The cartouches are those of Rameses III. The discovery was made by some labourers in 1870.

NOTE TO SECOND EDITION. – This mound was excavated last year (1887) by M. Naville, acting as before for the Egypt Exploration Fund. See Supplementary Sheet to The Illustrated London News, 17th September 1887, containing a complete account of the excavations at Tel-el-Yahoodeh, etc., with illustrations.

23 This tablet is votive, and contains in fact a long Pharisaic prayer offered to Osiris by Rameses IV in the fourth year of his reign. The king enumerates his own virtues and deeds of piety, and implores the god to grant him length of days. See "Sur une Stèle inédite d’Abydos,"
par P. Pierret. "Revue Archéologique," vol. xix. p. 273.

24 M. Mariette, in his great work on Abydos, has argued that Rameses II was designated during the lifetime of his father by a cartouche signifying only Ra-User-Ma; and that he did not take the additional Setp-en-Ra till after the death of Seti I. The Louvre, however, contains a fragment of bas-relief representing the infant Rameses with the full title of his later years. This important fragment is thus described by M. Paul Pierret: “Ramsés II enfant, représenté assis sur le signe des montagnes du: c’est une assimilation au soleil levant lorsqu’il émerge à l’horizon céleste. Il porte la main gauche à sa bouche, en signe d’enfance. La main droite pend sur les genoux. Il est vétu d’une longue robe. La tresse de l’enfance pend sur son épaule. Un diadème relie ses cheveux, et un uræus se dresse sur son front. Voici la traduction de la courte légende qui accompagne cette représentation. ‘Le roi de la Haute et de la Basse Egypte, maître des deux pays, Ra-User-Ma Setp-en-Ra, vivificateur, éternel comme le soleil.’“ "Catalogue de la Salle Historique". P. Pierret. Paris, 1873, p. 8.

M. Maspero is of opinion that this one fragment establishes the disputed fact of his actual sovereignty from early childhood, and so disposes of the entire question. See "L’Inscription dédicatoire du Temple d’Abydos, suivi d’un Essai sur la jeunesse de Sesostris." G. Maspero. 4° Paris, 1867. See also chap. viii. (footnote), p. 126.

25 “Le métier d’architecte se trouvait confié aux plus hauts dignitaries de la cour pharaonique. Les architectes du roi, les Murket, se recrutaient assez souvent parmi le nombre des princes.” "Historie d’Egypte:" Brugsch. second edition, 1875, chap. v. p. 34.

26 See "L’Inscription dédicatoire du Temple d’Abydos, etc.," by G. Maspero.

27 See Rosellini, Monumenti Storici, pl. lxxi.

28 “A la nouvelle de la mort de son père, Ramsès II désormais seul roi, quitta l’Éthiopie et ceignit la couronne à Thèbes. Il était alors dans la plénitude de ses forces, et avait autour de lui un grand nombre d’enfants, dont quelques-uns étaient assez âgés pour combattre sous ses ordres.” "Hist. Ancienne des Peuples de l’Orient," par G. Maspero. Chap. v. p. 220 4th edition, 1886.

29 “Comme Ramsès II regna 66 ans, le règne de son successeur sous lequel la sortie des Juifs eut lieu, embrassa la durée de 20 ans; et comme Moïse avait l’age de 80 ans au temps de la sortie, il en résulte évidemment que les enfants d’Israël quittèrent l’Egypte une des ces dernières six années du règne de Menepthah; c’est à dire entre 1327 et 1321 avant l’ère chrétienne. Si nous admettons que ce pharaon périt dans le mer, selon le rapport biblique, Moïse sera né 80 ans avant 1321, ou 1401 avant J. Chr., la sixième année du règne de Ramsès II.” – "Hist. d’Égypte:" Brugsch. chap viii, p. 157. First edition, Leipzig, 1859.

30 If the Exodus took place, however, during the opening years of the reign of Menepthah, it becomes necessary either to remove the birth of Moses to a correspondingly earlier date, or to accept the amendment of Bunsen, who says “we can hardly take literally the statement as to the age of Moses at the Exodus, twice over forty years.” Forty years is the mode of expressing a generation, from thirty to thirty-three years. "Egypt’s Place in Universal History:" Bunsen, Lond. 1859. Vol. iii. p. 184. That Menepthah did not himself perish with his host, seems certain. The final oppression of the Hebrews and the miracles of Moses, as narrated in the Bible, give one the impression of having all happened within a comparatively short space of time; and cannot have extended over a period of twenty years. Neither is it stated that Pharaoh perished. The tomb of Menepthah, in fact, is found in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings (tomb, No. 8).

31 Herodotus, book. ii.

32 Rosellini, for instance, carries hero-worship to its extreme limit when he not only states that Rameses the Great had, by his conquests, filled Egypt with luxuries that contributed alike to the graces of every-day life and the security of the state, but (accepting as sober fact the complimentary language of a triumphal tablet) adds that “universal peace even secured to him the love of the vanquished” (l’universal pace assicurata dall’ amore dei vinti stessi pel Faraone). – "Mon. Storici," vol. iii. part ii. p. 294. Bunsen, equally prejudiced in the opposite direction, can see no trait of magnanimity or goodness in one whom he loves to depict as “an unbridled despot, who took advantage of a reign of almost unparalleled length, and of the acquisitions of his father and ancestors, in order to torment his own subjects and strangers to the utmost of his power, and to employ them as instruments of his passion for war and building.” "Egypt’s Place in Universal History:" Bunsen. vol. iii. book. iv. part ii. p. 184.

33 “Souvent il s’introduit lui-même dans les triades divines auxquelles il dédie les temples. Le soliel de Ramsès Meïamoun qu’on aperçoit sur leur murailles, n’est autre chose que le roi lui-même déifié de son vivant.” "Notice des Monuments Egyptiennes au Musée du Louvre." De Rouge; Paris, 1875, p. 20.

34 See Hymn to Pharaoh (Menepthah) translated by C. W. Goodwin, M.A. "Records of the Past," vol. vi. p. 101.

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