The Twentieth Dynasty of ancient Egypt (notated Dynasty XX, alternatively 20th Dynasty or Dynasty 20) is the third and last Dynasty of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom period, lasting from 1189 BC to 1077 BC. The 19th and 20th Dynasties constitute an era known as the Ramesside period. This Dynasty is generally considered to be the start of the decline of Ancient Egypt.
History Background of Twentieth Dynasty of ancient Egypt
Upon the death of the last Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, Queen Twosret, Egypt descended into a period of civil war, as attested by the Elephantine stela built by Setnakhte. The circumstances of Twosret’s demise are uncertain, as she may have died peacefully during her reign or been overthrown by Setnakhte, who was likely already middle-aged at the time.
High Priests of Amun
Horemheb, a pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, restored the traditional Ancient Egyptian religion and the priesthood of Amun after their abandonment by Akhenaten. A consistent theme of this Dynasty was the loss of pharaonic power to the High Priests of Amun. With the High Priests now acting as intermediaries between the gods and the people, rather than the Pharaoh, the position of Pharaoh no longer commanded the same kind of power as it had in the past.
Setnakhte stabilised the situation in Egypt and may have driven off an attempted invasion by the Sea Peoples. He ruled for about four years before being succeeded by his son Ramesses III.
Defeat of Enemies
In Year 5 of his reign, Ramesses III defeated a Libyan invasion of Egypt by the Libu, Meshwesh and Seped people through Marmarica, who had previously unsuccessfully invaded during the reign of Merneptah.
Ramesses III is most famous for decisively defeating a confederacy of the Sea Peoples, including the Denyen, Tjekker, Peleset, Shardana and Weshesh in the Battle of Djahy and the Battle of the Delta during Year 8 of his reign. Within the Papyrus Harris I, which attests to these events in detail, Ramesses is said to have settled the defeated Sea Peoples in “strongholds”, most likely located in Canaan, as his subjects.
In Year 11 of Ramesses’ reign, another coalition of Libyan invaders was defeated in Egypt.
Between regnal Year 12 and Year 29, a systematic program of reorganisation of the varied cults of the Ancient Egyptian religion was undertaken by creating and funding new cults and restoring temples.
In Year 29 of Ramesses’ reign, the first recorded labour strike in human history took place after food rations for the favoured and elite royal tomb builders and artisans in the village of Set Maat (now known as Deir el-Medina) could not be provisioned.
The reign of Ramesses III is also known for a harem conspiracy in which Queen Tiye, one of his lesser wives, was implicated in an assassination attempt against the king to put her son Pentawer on the throne. The coup was unsuccessful, as while the king died from the attempt on his life, his legitimate heir and son Ramesses IV succeeded him to the throne, arresting and putting approximately 30 conspirators to death.
At the start of his reign, Ramesses IV started an enormous building program on the scale of Ramesses the Great’s projects. He doubled the number of work gangs at Set Maat to 120 men and dispatched numerous expeditions to the stone quarries of Wadi Hammamat and the turquoise mines of the Sinai. One of the most significant expeditions included 8,368 men, of which some 2,000 were soldiers. Ramesses expanded his father’s Temple of Khonsu at Karnak and possibly began his mortuary Temple at a site near the Temple of Hatshepsut. Another smaller temple is associated with Ramesses north of Medinet Habu.
Ramesses IV saw issues with providing food rations to his workers, similar to the situation under his father. Ramessesnakht, the High Priest of Amun at the time, began to accompany state officials as they went to pay the workers their rations, suggesting that, at least in part, it was the Temple of Amun and not the Egyptian state that was responsible for their wages.
He also produced the Papyrus Harris I, the longest known papyrus from Ancient Egypt, measuring 41 meters long with 1,500 lines of text to celebrate his father’s achievements.
Ramesses V reigned for no more than four years, dying of smallpox in 1143 BC. The only monument attested to him is a stela near Gebel el-Silsila. The Turin Papyrus Cat. 2044 affirms that during his reign, the workmen of Set Maat were forced to periodically stop working on Ramesses’ KV9 tomb out of “fear of the enemy”, suggesting increasing instability in Egypt and an inability to defend the country from what are presumed to be Libyan raiding parties.
The Wilbour Papyrus is thought to date from Ramesses V’s reign. The document reveals that most of the land in Egypt by that point was controlled by the Temple of Amun and that the Temple had complete control over Egypt’s finances.
During Year 16 and Year 17 of Ramesses IX’s reign, famous tomb robbery trials occurred, as attested by the Abbott Papyrus. A careful examination by a vizierial commission was undertaken of ten royal tombs, four tombs of the Chantresses of the Estate of the Divine Adoratrix, and finally, the tombs of the citizens of Thebes. Many of these were found to have been broken into, like the tomb of Pharaoh Sobekemsaf II, whose mummy had been stolen.
Ramesses IX’s cartouche was found at Gezer in Canaan, suggesting that Egypt still had some degree of influence in the region.
Most of the building projects during Ramesses IX’s reign were at Heliopolis.
Ramesses XI was the last Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty. During his reign, the position grew so weak that in the south, the High Priests of Amun at Thebes became the de facto rulers of Upper Egypt, while Smendes controlled Lower Egypt even before Ramesses XI’s death. Smendes would eventually found the Twenty-First Dynasty at Tanis.
As happened under the earlier Nineteenth Dynasty, this Dynasty struggled under the effects of the bickering between the heirs of Ramesses III. For instance, three different sons of Ramesses III are known to have assumed power Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI and Ramesses VIII, respectively. However, at this time, Egypt was also increasingly beset by a series of droughts, below-normal flooding levels of the Nile, famine, civil unrest and official corruption – all of which would limit the managerial abilities of any king.
Pharaohs of the Twentieth Dynasty of ancient Egypt
The pharaohs of the 20th Dynasty ruled for approximately 120 years: from c. 1187 to 1064 BC. The dates and names in the table are mostly taken from “Chronological Table for the Dynastic Period” in Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss & David Warburton (editors), Ancient Egyptian Chronology (Handbook of Oriental Studies), Brill, 2006. Many pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings in Thebes (designated KV). More information can be found on the Theban Mapping Project website.
Usermaatre Meryamun Ramesses III (also written by Ramses and Rameses) was the second Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty in Ancient Egypt. He is thought to have reigned from 26 March 1186 to 15 April 1155 BC and is considered the last great monarch of the New Kingdom to wield any substantial authority over Egypt. His long reign saw the decline of Egyptian political and economic power, linked to invasions and internal economic problems that also plagued pharaohs before him. This coincided with a drop in the cultural sphere of Ancient Egypt. He has also been described as a “warrior Pharaoh” due to his solid military strategies. He led the way by defeating the invaders known as “the Sea Peoples”, who had destroyed other civilisations and empires. He was able to save Egypt from collapsing at a time when many other empires fell during the Late Bronze Age; however, the damage of the invasions took a toll on Egypt. However, his successful defence slowed the fall, although it still meant that his successors would have a weaker military. Rameses III constructed one of the largest mortuary temples of western Thebes, now-called Medinet Habu.
Ramesses III was the son of Setnakhte and Tiy-Merenese. He was assassinated in the Harem conspiracy led by his secondary wife Tiye and her eldest son Pentawere. This would ultimately cause a succession crisis, further accelerating Ancient Egypt’s decline. His son Ramesses IV succeeded him, although many of his other sons would rule later.
Heqamaatre Setepenamun Ramesses IV (also written Ramses or Rameses) was the third Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. He was the second son of Ramesses III and crown prince when his elder brother Amenherkhepshef died aged 15 in 1164 BC when Ramesses was only 12 years old. His promotion to the crown prince:
Is suggested by his appearance (suitably entitled) in a scene of the festival of Min at the Ramesses III temple at Karnak, which may have been completed by Year 22 [of his father’s reign]. (the date is mentioned in the poem inscribed there)
As his father’s chosen successor, the Prince employed three distinctive titles: “Hereditary Prince”, “Royal scribe”, and “Generalissimo”; the latter two of his titles are mentioned in a text at Amenhotep III’s Temple at Soleb, and all three royal titles appear on a lintel now in Florence, Italy. As heir-apparent, he took on increasing responsibilities; for instance, in Year 27 of his father’s reign, he is depicted appointing a certain Amenemope to the vital position of Third Prophet of Amun in the latter’s TT 148 tomb. Amenemope’s Theban tomb also accords prince Ramesses with all three of his sets mentioned above of royal titles. Despite the 31-year reign of his father, Ramesses III, Ramesses IV was only 21 when he became Pharaoh. His rule was dated from 1155 to 1149 BC.
Ramesses VI Nebmaatre-Meryamun (sometimes written Ramses or Rameses, also known under his princely name of Amenherkhepshef C) was the fifth ruler of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt. He reigned for about eight years in the mid-to-late 12th century BC and was a son of Ramesses III and queen Iset Ta-Hemdjert. As a prince, he was known as Ramesses Amunherkhepeshef and held the titles of royal scribe and cavalry general. He was succeeded by his son, Ramesses VII Itamun, whom he had fathered with queen Nubkhesbed.
After the death of the ruling Pharaoh, Ramesses V, who was the son of Ramesses VI’s older brother, Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI ascended the throne. In the first two years after his coronation, Ramesses VI stopped frequent raids by Libyan or Egyptian marauders in Upper Egypt and buried his predecessor in what is now an unknown tomb of the Theban necropolis. Ramesses VI usurped KV9, a tomb in the Valley of the Kings planned by and for Ramesses V, and had it enlarged and redecorated for himself. The artisans’ huts near the entrance of KV9 covered the entrance to Tutankhamun’s tomb, saving it from a wave of tomb robberies that occurred within 20 years of Ramesses VI’s death. Ramesses VI may have planned and made six more tombs in the Valley of the Queens, none of which are known today.
Usermaatre Setepenre Meryamun Ramesses VII (also written by Ramses and Rameses) was the sixth Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He reigned from about 1136 to 1129 BC and was the son of Ramesses VI. Other dates for his reign are 1138–1131 BC. The Turin Accounting Papyrus 1907+1908 is dated to Year 7 III Shemu day 26 of his power and has been reconstructed to show that 11 whole years passed from Year 5 of Ramesses VI to Year 7 of his reign.
Usermaatre Akhenamun Ramesses VIII (also written Ramses and Rameses) or Ramesses Sethherkhepshef Meryamun (‘Set is his Strength, beloved of Amun’) (reigned 1130–1129 BC, or 1130 BC), was the seventh Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of Egypt and was the 9th of the ten sons of Ramesses III.
Neferkare Setepenre Ramesses IX (also written Ramses) (named Amon-her-khepshef Khaemwaset initially) (ruled 1129–1111 BC) was the eighth Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt. He was the third longest-serving king of this Dynasty after Ramesses III and Ramesses XI. He is now believed to have assumed the throne on I Akhet day 21 based on the evidence presented by Jürgen von Beckerath in a 1984 GM article. According to Papyrus Turin 1932+1939, Ramesses IX enjoyed a reign of 18 years and four months and died in his 19th Year in the first month of Peret between days 17 and 27. His throne name, Neferkare Setepenre, means “Beautiful Is The Soul of Re, Chosen of Re.” Ramesses IX is believed to be the son of Mentuherkhepeshef, a son of Ramesses III, since Mentuherkhopshef’s wife, the lady Takhat bears the prominent title of King’s Mother on the walls of tomb KV10, which she usurped and reused in the late 20th Dynasty; no other 20th Dynasty king is known to have had a mother with this name. Ramesses IX was, therefore, probably a grandson of Ramesses III.
Khepermaatre Ramesses X (also written Ramses and Rameses) (ruled c. 1111 BC – 1107 BC) was the ninth Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. His birth name was Amonhirkhepeshef. His prenomen or throne name, Khepermaatre, means “The Justice of Re Abides.”
His accession day fell on one prt 27 (first month of the Winter season, day 27). His highest attested regnal year is year 3. The highest attested date in his reign is either “year 3, the second month of the Inundation season, day 2” or possibly “year 3, month 4 (no day given)”.
Menmaatre Ramesses XI (also written Ramses and Rameses) reigned from 1107 BC to 1078 BC or 1077 BC and was the tenth and final Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt and, as such, was the last king of the New Kingdom period. He ruled Egypt for at least 29 years, although some Egyptologists think he could have ruled for as long as 30. One scholar, Ad Thijs, suggested that Ramesses XI could have reigned for as long as 33 years. The latter figure would be up to 2 years beyond this king’s highest known date of Year 10 of the Whm Mswt era or Year 28 of his reign.
It is believed that Ramesses ruled into his Year 29 since a graffito records that the general and High Priest of Amun Piankh returned to Thebes from Nubia on III Shemu day 23—or just three days into what would have been the start of Ramesses XI’s 29th regnal Year. Piankh is known to have campaigned in Nubia during Year 28 of Ramesses XI’s reign (or Year 10 of the Whm Mswt) and would have returned to Egypt in the following Year.