Ramesses II (Ancient Egyptian: rꜥ-ms-sw Rīʿa-məsī-sū, pronounced [ˈɾiːʕaʔ məˈsiːˌsuw], meaning “Ra is the one who bore him”; c. 1303–1213 BC), commonly known as Ramesses the Great, was the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Along with Thutmose III, he is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, itself the most potent period of Ancient Egypt.
The name Ramesses is pronounced variously /ˈræməsiːz, ˈræmsiːz, ˈræmziːz/. He is known as Ozymandias in Greek sources (Koinē Greek: Ὀσυμανδύας, romanised: Osymandýas), from the first part of Ramesses’s regnal name, Usermaatre Setepenre, “The Maat of Ra is powerful, Chosen of Ra”. His successors and later Egyptians called him the “Great Ancestor”. Other spellings include Rameses and Ramses; in Koinē Greek: Ῥαμέσσης, romanised: Rhaméssēs.
At age fourteen, he was appointed prince regent by his father, Seti I. Most Egyptologists today believe he assumed the throne on 31 May 1279 BC, based on his known accession date of III Season of the Harvest, day 27.
The early part of his reign was focused on building cities, temples, and monuments. He established the city of Pi-Ramesses in the Nile Delta as his new capital and used it as the main base for his campaigns in Syria. He led several military expeditions into the Levant, reasserting Egyptian control over Canaan and Phoenicia. He also led expeditions to the south into Nubia, commemorated in inscriptions at Beit el-Wali and Gerf Hussein. He celebrated an unprecedented thirteen or fourteen Sed festivals during his reign—more than any other pharaoh.
Estimates of his age at death vary; 90 or 91 is considered most likely. On his death, he was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings; his body was later moved to a royal cache, which was discovered in 1881. It is now on display in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.
- Campaigns and battles
- Battle against Sherden sea pirates
- First Syrian campaign
- Second Syrian campaign
- Third Syrian campaign
- Later campaigns in Syria
- The peace treaty with the Hittites
- Kolosstatue Ramses II Memphis
- Campaigns in Nubia
- Campaigns in Libya
- Sed festival
- Building activity and monuments
- Archaeological discoveries
- Festival chair
- Granite bust
- Death and burial
- The mummy of Ramesses the Great
- Spouse and relatives' burials
- As the pharaoh of the Exodus
Campaigns and battles
Early in his life, Ramesses II embarked on numerous campaigns to restore possession of previously held territories lost to the Nubians and Hittites and to secure Egypt’s borders. He was also responsible for suppressing some Nubian revolts and carrying out a campaign in Libya. Though the Battle of Kadesh often dominates the scholarly view of Ramesses II’s military prowess and power, he nevertheless enjoyed more than a few outright victories over Egypt’s enemies. During his reign, the Egyptian army is estimated to have totalled 100,000 men: a formidable force he used to strengthen Egyptian influence.
Battle against Sherden sea pirates
In his second year, Ramesses II decisively defeated the Sherden sea pirates who were wreaking havoc along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast by attacking cargo-laden vessels travelling the sea routes to Egypt. The Sherden people probably came from the coast of Ionia, from southwest Anatolia or perhaps, also from the island of Sardinia. Ramesses posted troops and ships at strategic points along the coast. They patiently allowed the pirates to attack their perceived prey before skillfully catching them by surprise in a sea battle and capturing them all in a single action. A stele from Tanis speaks of their having come “in their war-ships from the midst of the sea, and none were able to stand before them”. There probably was a naval battle somewhere near the mouth of the Nile, as shortly afterwards, many Sherden are seen among the pharaoh’s body-guard where they are conspicuous by their horned helmets having a ball projecting from the middle, their round shields, and the great Naue II swords with which they are depicted in inscriptions of the Battle of Kadesh. In that sea battle, together with the Sherden, the pharaoh also defeated the Lukka (L’kkw, possibly the people later known as the Lycians) and the Šqrsšw (Shekelesh) peoples.
First Syrian campaign
The immediate antecedents to the Battle of Kadesh were the early campaigns of Ramesses II into Canaan. His first campaign seems to have taken place in the fourth year of his reign and was commemorated by the erection of what became the first of the Commemorative stelae of Nahr el-Kalb near what is now Beirut. The inscription is almost illegible due to weathering.
In the fourth year of his reign, he captured the Hittite vassal state of the Amurru during his campaign in Syria.
Second Syrian campaign
The Battle of Kadesh in his fifth regnal year was the climactic engagement in a campaign that Ramesses fought in Syria against the resurgent Hittite forces of Muwatallis. The pharaoh wanted a victory at Kadesh to expand Egypt’s frontiers into Syria and emulate his father Seti I’s triumphal entry into the city just a decade earlier. He also constructed his new capital, Pi-Ramesses. There he built factories to manufacture weapons, chariots, and shields, supposedly producing some 1,000 weapons in a week, about 250 chariots in two weeks, and 1,000 shields in a week and a half. After these preparations, Ramesses moved to attack territory in the Levant, which belonged to a more substantial enemy than any he had ever faced in war: the Hittite Empire.
Ramesses’s forces were caught in a Hittite ambush and outnumbered at Kadesh when they counterattacked and routed the Hittites. The survivors of the latter abandoned their chariots and swam the Orontes river to reach the safe city walls. Ramesses, logistically unable to sustain a long siege, returned to Egypt.
Third Syrian campaign
Egypt’s sphere of influence was now restricted to Canaan, while Syria fell into Hittite hands. Canaanite princes, seemingly encouraged by the Egyptian incapacity to impose their will and goaded on by the Hittites, began revolts against Egypt. In the seventh year of his reign, Ramesses II returned to Syria once again. This time he proved more successful against his Hittite foes. During this campaign, he split his army into two forces. His son, Amun-her-khepeshef, led one party, and it chased warriors of the Šhasu tribes across the Negev as far as the Dead Sea, capturing Edom-Seir. It then marched on to capture Moab. The other force, led by Ramesses, attacked Jerusalem and Jericho. He, too, then entered Moab, where he rejoined his son. The reunited army then marched on Hesbon, Damascus, to Kumidi and finally recaptured Upi (the land around Damascus), reestablishing Egypt’s former sphere of influence.
Later campaigns in Syria
Ramesses extended his military successes in his eighth and ninth years. He crossed the Dog River (Nahr al-Kalb) and pushed north into Amurru. His armies managed to march as far north as Dapur, where he had a statue of himself erected. The Egyptian pharaoh thus found himself in northern Amurru, well past Kadesh, in Tunip, where no Egyptian soldier had been seen since Thutmose III, almost 120 years earlier. He laid siege to the city before capturing it. His victory proved to be ephemeral. In year nine, Ramesses erected a stele at Beth Shean. After having reasserted his power over Canaan, Ramesses led his army north. A primarily illegible stele near Beirut, dating to the king’s second year, was probably set up there in his tenth. The thin strip of territory between Amurru and Kadesh did not make for a stable possession. Within a year, they had returned to the Hittite fold so that Ramesses had to march against Dapur again in his tenth year. This time he claimed to have fought the battle without even bothering to put on his corslet until two hours after the fighting began. Six of Ramesses’s youthful sons, still wearing their side locks, took part in this conquest. He took towns in Retjenu and Tunip in Naharin, later recorded on the walls of the Ramesseum. This second success at the location was equally as meaningless as his first, as neither power could decisively defeat the other in battle.
The peace treaty with the Hittites
The deposed Hittite king, Mursili III, fled to Egypt, the land of his country’s enemy, after the failure of his plots to oust his uncle from the throne. Ḫattušili III responded by demanding that Ramesses II extradite his nephew to Hatti.
This demand precipitated a relationship crisis between Egypt and Hatti when Ramesses denied any knowledge of Mursili’s whereabouts in his country, and the two empires came dangerously close to war. Eventually, in the twenty-first year of his reign (1258 BC), Ramesses agreed with the new Hittite king, Ḫattušili III, at Kadesh to end the conflict. The following document is the earliest known peace treaty in world history.
Kolosstatue Ramses II Memphis
The peace treaty was recorded in two versions, one in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the other in Hittite, using a cuneiform script; both versions survive. This dual-language recording is familiar to many subsequent treaties. This treaty differs from others because the two language versions are worded differently. While most of the text is identical, the Hittite version says the Egyptians came suing for peace, and the Egyptian version says the reverse. The treaty was given to the Egyptians as a silver plaque, and this “pocket-book” version was taken back to Egypt and carved into the temple at Karnak.
The treaty was concluded between Ramesses II and Ḫattušili III in year 21 of Ramesses’s reign (c. 1258 BC). Its 18 articles call for peace between Egypt and Hatti and maintain that their respective deities also demand peace. The frontiers are not laid down in this treaty but may be inferred from other documents. The Anastasy A papyrus describes Canaan during the latter part of the reign of Ramesses II and enumerates and names the Phoenician coastal towns under Egyptian control. The harbour town of Sumur, north of Byblos, is mentioned as the northernmost town belonging to Egypt, suggesting it contained an Egyptian garrison.
No other Egyptian campaigns in Canaan are mentioned after the conclusion of the peace treaty. The northern border seemed safe and quiet, so the pharaoh’s rule was strict until Ramesses II’s death and the waning of the dynasty. When the King of Mira attempted to involve Ramesses in a hostile act against the Hittites, the Egyptian responded that the times of intrigue in support of Mursili III had passed. Ḫattušili III wrote to Kadashman-Enlil II, Kassite king of Karduniaš (Babylon), in the same spirit, reminding him of the time when his father, Kadashman-Turgu, had offered to fight Ramesses II, the king of Egypt. The Hittite king encouraged the Babylonians to oppose another enemy, which must have been the king of Assyria, whose allies had killed the messenger of the Egyptian king. Ḫattušili encouraged Kadashman-Enlil to come to his aid and prevent the Assyrians from cutting the link between the Canaanite province of Egypt and Mursili III, the ally of Ramesses.
Campaigns in Nubia
Ramesses II also campaigned south of the first cataract of the Nile into Nubia. When Ramesses was about 22, two of his sons, including Amun-her-khepeshef, accompanied him in at least one of those campaigns. By the time of Ramesses, Nubia had been a colony for 200 years. Still, its conquest was recalled in decoration from the temples Ramesses II built at Beit el-Wali (which was the subject of epigraphic work by the Oriental Institute during the Nubian salvage campaign of the 1960s), Gerf Hussein and Kalabsha in northern Nubia. On the south wall of the Beit el-Wali temple, Ramesses II is depicted charging into battle against tribes south of Egypt in a war chariot. At the same time, his two young sons, Amun-her-khepsef and Khaemwaset, are shown behind him in war chariots. A wall in one of Ramesses’s temples says he had to fight one battle with those tribes without help from his soldiers.
Campaigns in Libya
During the reign of Ramesses II, the Egyptians were active on a 300-kilometre (190 mi) stretch along the Mediterranean coast, at least as far as Zawyet Umm El Rakham, where remains of a fortress described by its texts as built on Libyan land have been found. Although the actual events surrounding the foundation of the coastal forts and fortresses are unclear, some degree of political and military control must have been held over the region to allow their construction.
There are no detailed accounts of Ramesses II’s significant military actions against the Libyans, only generalised records of his conquering and crushing them, which may or may not refer to specific events that were otherwise unrecorded. It may be that some of the records, such as the Aswan Stele of his year 2, hark back to Ramesses’s presence in his father’s Libyan campaigns. Perhaps it was Seti I who achieved this supposed control over the region and planned to establish the defensive system like how he rebuilt those to the east, the Ways of Horus across Northern Sinai.
After reigning for 30 years, Ramesses joined a select group that included only a handful of Egypt’s longest-lived rulers. By tradition, in the 30th year of his reign, Ramesses celebrated a jubilee called the Sed festival. These were held to honour and rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength. Only halfway through what would be a 66-year reign, Ramesses had already eclipsed all but a few of the most significant predecessors in his achievements. He had brought peace, maintained Egyptian borders, and built great and numerous monuments across the empire. His country was more prosperous and powerful than it had been in nearly a century.
Sed festivals traditionally were held every three years after the 30th year; Ramesses II, who sometimes had them after two years, eventually celebrated an unprecedented thirteen or fourteen.
Building activity and monuments
In the third year of his reign, Ramesses started the most ambitious building project after the pyramids, which were built almost 1,500 years earlier. Ramesses made extensively from the Delta to Nubia, “covering the land with buildings in a way no monarch before him had.” The population was put to work changing the face of Egypt.
Some activities were focused on remodelling or usurping existing works, improving masonry techniques, and using art as propaganda.
- In Thebes, the ancient temples were transformed so that each reflected honour to Ramesses as a symbol of his putative divine nature and power.
- The elegant but shallow reliefs of previous pharaohs were easily transformed, so their images and words could easily be obliterated by their successors. Ramesses insisted that his carvings be deeply engraved into the stone, making them less susceptible to later alteration and more prominent in the Egyptian sun, reflecting his relationship with the sun deity, Ra.
- Ramesses used art as propaganda for his victories over foreigners, depicted on numerous temple reliefs.
- His cartouches are prominently displayed even in buildings that he did not construct.
- He also founded a new capital city in the Delta during his reign, Pi-Ramesses. It previously had served as a summer palace during Seti I’s reign.
Ramesses also undertook many new construction projects. Besides Pi-Ramesses, two of his most significant works were the temple complex of Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum, a mortuary temple in western Thebes.
Ramesses II moved the capital of his kingdom from Thebes in the Nile valley to a new site in the eastern Delta. His motives are uncertain, although he possibly wished to be closer to his territories in Canaan and Syria. The new city of Pi-Ramesses (or to give the full name, Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning “Domain of Ramesses, Great in Victory”) was dominated by massive temples and a vast residential palace, complete with a zoo. In the 10th century AD, the Bible exegete Rabbi Saadia Gaon believed that the biblical site of Ramesses had to be identified with Ain Shams. For a time, during the early 20th century, the area was misidentified as that of Tanis due to the amount of sculpture and other material from Pi-Ramesses found there. Still, it is now recognised that the Ramesside remains at Tanis were brought there from elsewhere, and the real Pi-Ramesses lies about 30 km (18.6 mi) south, near modern Qantir. The colossal feet of the statue of Ramesses is almost all that remains above ground today. The rest is buried in the fields.
The temple complex built by Ramesses II between Qurna and the desert has been known as the Ramesseum since the 19th century. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus marvelled at the gigantic temple, now no more than a few ruins.
Oriented northwest and southeast, the temple was preceded by two courts. An enormous pylon stood before the first court, with the royal palace at the left and the king’s gigantic statue looming up at the back. Only fragments of the base and torso remain of the syenite statue of the enthroned pharaoh, 17 metres (56 ft) high and weighing more than 1,000 tonnes (980 long tons; 1,100 short tons). Scenes of the great pharaoh and his army triumphing over the Hittite forces fleeing before Kadesh are represented on the pylon. Remains of the second court include part of the internal facade of the pylon and a portion of the Osiride portico on the right. Scenes of war and the alleged rout of the Hittites at Kadesh are repeated on the walls. In the upper registers, feast and honour of the phallic deity Min, god of fertility.
On the opposite side of the court, the few Osiride pillars and columns remaining may furnish an idea of the original grandeur. Scattered remains of the seated king’s statues may also be seen, one in pink granite and the other in black granite, which once flanked the entrance to the temple. Thirty-nine out of the forty-eight columns in the great hypostyle hall (41 × 31 m) still stand in the central rows. They are decorated with the usual scenes of the king before various deities. Part of the ceiling, decorated with gold stars on a blue ground, also has been preserved. Ramesses’s children appear in the procession on the few walls left. The sanctuary consisted of three consecutive rooms, eight columns and the tetrastyle cell. Part of the first room, with the ceiling decorated with astral scenes, and a few remains of the second room are all left. Vast storerooms built of mud bricks stretched out around the temple. Traces of a school for scribes were found among the ruins.
A temple of Seti I, of which nothing remains besides the foundations, once stood to the right of the hypostyle hall.
Facade of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel
In 1255 BC, Ramesses and his queen Nefertari travelled into Nubia to inaugurate a new temple, the great Abu Simbel. It is an ego cast in stone; the man who built it intended not only to become Egypt’s greatest pharaoh but also one of its deities.
The great temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel was discovered in 1813 by the Swiss Orientalist and traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. An enormous pile of sand almost completely covered the facade and its colossal statues, blocking the entrance for four more years. The Paduan explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni reached the interior on 4 August 1817.
Other Nubian monuments
Ramesses left other monuments to himself in Nubia and to the temples of Abu Simbel. His early campaigns are illustrated on the walls of the Temple of Beit el-Wali (now relocated to New Kalabsha). Other temples dedicated to Ramesses are Derr and Gerf Hussein (also relocated to New Kalabsha). For the temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal, the temple’s foundation probably occurred during the reign of Thutmose III, while the temple was shaped during his reign and that of Ramses II.
The colossal statue of Ramesses II dated back 3,200 years and was initially discovered in six pieces in a temple near Memphis. Weighing some 83-tonne (82-long-ton; 91-short-ton), it was transported, reconstructed, and erected in Ramesses Square in Cairo in 1955. In August 2006, contractors relocated it to save it from exhaust fumes causing it to deteriorate. The new site is near the future Grand Egyptian Museum.
In 2018, a group of archaeologists in Cairo’s Matariya neighbourhood discovered pieces of a booth with a seat that, based on its structure and age, may have been used by Ramesses. “The royal compartment consists of four steps leading to a cubic platform, which is believed to be the base of the king’s seat during celebrations or public gatherings,” such as Ramesses’ inauguration and Sed festivals. According to the mission’s head, it may have also gone on to be used by others in the Ramesside Period. The excavation mission also unearthed “a collection of scarabs, amulets, clay pots and blocks engraved with hieroglyphic text.”
In December 2019, a red granite royal bust of Ramesses II was unearthed by an Egyptian archaeological mission in the village of Mit Rahina in Giza. The bust depicted Ramesses II wearing a wig with the symbol “Ka” on his head. Its measurements were 55 cm (21.65 in) wide, 45 cm (17.71 in) thick and 105 cm (41.33 in) long. Alongside the bust, limestone blocks showed Ramesses II during the Heb-Sed religious ritual. “This discovery is considered one of the rarest archaeological discoveries. It is the first-ever Ka statue made of granite to be discovered. The only Ka statue previously found is made of wood and belongs to one of the kings of the 13th dynasty of ancient Egypt. It is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square,” said archaeologist Mostafa Waziri.
Death and burial
The Egyptian scholar Manetho (third century BC) attributed Ramesses a reign of 66 years and two months.
By his death, aged about 90 years, Ramesses was suffering from severe dental problems and was plagued by arthritis and hardening of the arteries. He had made Egypt rich from all the supplies and bounty he had collected from other empires. He had outlived many of his wives and children and left great memorials all over Egypt. Nine more pharaohs took the name Ramesses in his honour.
Originally Ramesses II was buried in the tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings. Still, because of looting, priests later transferred the body to a holding area, re-wrapped it, and placed it inside the tomb of queen Ahmose Inhapy. Seventy-two hours after, it was again moved to the tomb of the high priest Pinedjem II. All of this is recorded in hieroglyphics on the linen covering the body of the coffin of Ramesses II. His mummy was eventually discovered in TT320 inside an ordinary wooden coffin and is now in Cairo’s National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (until 3 April 2021, it was in the Egyptian Museum).
The pharaoh’s mummy reveals an aquiline nose and strong jaw. It stands at about 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in). Gaston Maspero, who first unwrapped the mummy of Ramesses II, writes, “on the temples, there are a few sparse hairs, but at the poll, the hair is quite thick, forming smooth, straight locks about five centimetres in length. White at the time of death, and possibly auburn during life, they have been dyed a light red by the spices (henna) used in embalming…the moustache and beard are thin…The hairs are white, like those of the head and eyebrows…the skin is of earthy brown, splotched with black… the face of the mummy gives a fair idea of the face of the living king.”
In 1975, Maurice Bucaille, a French doctor, examined the mummy at the Cairo Museum and found it in poor condition. French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing convinced Egyptian authorities to send the mummy to France for treatment. In September 1976, it was greeted at Paris–Le Bourget Airport with full military honours befitting a king, then taken to a laboratory at the Musée de l’Homme.
The mummy of Ramesses the Great
The mummy was forensically tested by Pierre-Fernand Ceccaldi, the chief forensic scientist at the Criminal Identification Laboratory of Paris. Ceccaldi observed that the mummy had slightly wavy, red hair; from this trait combined with cranial features, he concluded that Ramesses II was of a “Berber type” and hence – according to Ceccaldi’s “race”-based analysis – fair-skinned. Subsequent microscopic inspection of the roots of Ramesses II’s hair proved that the king’s hair was originally red, suggesting that he came from a family of redheads. This has more than just cosmetic significance: in ancient Egypt, people with red hair were associated with the deity Set, the slayer of Osiris, and the name of Ramesses II’s father, Seti I, means “follower of Seth”. However, Diop disputes the results of the study and argues that the structure of hair morphology cannot determine the ethnicity of a mummy and that a comparative study should have featured Nubians in Upper Egypt before a conclusive judgement was reached.
In 1980, James Harris and Edward F. Wente conducted a series of X-ray examinations on New Kingdom Pharaohs’ crania and skeletal remains, which included the mummified remains of Ramesses II. The analysis generally found strong similarities between the New Kingdom rulers of the 19th Dynasty and 20th Dynasty with Mesolithic Nubian samples. The authors also noted affinities with modern Mediterranean populations of Levantine origin. Harris and Wente suggested this represented admixture as the Rammessides were of northern origin.
Scientific analysis revealed battle wounds, old fractures, arthritis, and poor circulation during the examination. Ramesses II’s arthritis is believed to have made him walk with a hunched back for the last decades of his life. A 2004 study excluded ankylosing spondylitis as a possible cause and proposed diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis as a viable alternative, confirmed by more recent work. A significant hole in the pharaoh’s mandible was detected. Researchers observed, “an abscess by his teeth (which) was serious enough to have caused death by infection, although this cannot be determined with certainty”.
After being irradiated to eliminate fungi and insects, the mummy was returned from Paris to Egypt in May 1977.
In April 2021, his mummy was moved from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization along with those of 17 other kings and four queens in an event termed the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade.
Spouse and relatives’ burials
Tomb of Nefertari
Ernesto Schiaparelli discovered the tomb of the noteworthy consort of Ramesses in 1904. Although it had been looted in ancient times, the tomb of Nefertari is essential because its magnificent wall-painting decoration is regarded as one of the most outstanding achievements of ancient Egyptian art. A flight of steps cut out of the rock gives access to the antechamber, decorated with paintings based on chapter seventeen of the Book of the Dead. This astronomical ceiling represents the heavens and is painted in dark blue, with myriad golden five-pointed stars. The east wall of the antechamber is interrupted by a large opening flanked by the representation of Osiris at the left and Anubis at the right; this, in turn, leads to the side chamber, decorated with offering scenes, preceded by a vestibule in which the paintings portray Nefertari presented to the deities, who welcome her. The stairway down to the burial chamber is on the north wall of the antechamber, a vast quadrangular room covering a surface area of about 90 square metres (970 sq ft), its astronomical ceiling supported by four pillars, entirely decorated. Initially, the queen’s red granite sarcophagus lay in the middle of this chamber. According to religious doctrines of the time, it was in this chamber, which the ancient Egyptians called the Golden Hall, that the regeneration of the deceased took place. This decorative pictogram of the walls in the burial chamber drew inspiration from chapters 144 and 146 of the Book of the Dead: in the left half of the chamber, there are passages from chapter 144 concerning the gates and doors of the kingdom of Osiris, their guardians, and the magic formulas that had to be uttered by the deceased to go past the doors.
In 1995, Professor Kent Weeks, head of the Theban Mapping Project, rediscovered Tomb KV5. It has proven to be the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings and originally contained the mummified remains of some of this king’s estimated 52 sons. Approximately 150 corridors and tomb chambers have been located in this tomb as of 2006, and the tomb may contain as many as 200 corridors and chambers. It is believed that at least four of Ramesses’s sons, including Meryatum, Sety, Amun-her-khepeshef (Ramesses’s first-born son) and “the King’s Principal Son of His Body, the Generalissimo Ramesses, justified” (i.e., deceased) were buried there from inscriptions, ostraca or canopic jars discovered in the tomb. Joyce Tyldesley writes that thus far
No intact burials have been discovered, and there has been little substantial funeral debris: thousands of potsherds, faience ushabti figures, beads, amulets, fragments of Canopic jars, wooden coffins … but no intact sarcophagi, mummies or mummy cases, suggesting that much of the tomb may have been unused. Those burials made in KV5 were thoroughly looted in antiquity, leaving little or no remains.
As the pharaoh of the Exodus
Ramesses II is one of the more popular candidates for the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He is cast in the 1944 novella The Tables of the Law by Thomas Mann. Although not a significant character, Ramesses appears in Joan Grant’s So Moses Was Born, a first-person account from Nebunefer, the brother of Ramose, which paints a picture of the life of Ramose from the death of Seti, replete with the power play, intrigue, and assassination plots of the historical record, and depicting the relationships with Bintanath, Tuya, Nefertari, and Moses.
In the film, Ramesses is played by Yul Brynner in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments (1956). Here Ramesses is portrayed as a vengeful tyrant as well as the film’s main antagonist, ever scornful of his father’s preference for Moses over “the son of [his] body”. The animated movie The Prince of Egypt (1998) also features a depiction of Ramesses (voiced by Ralph Fiennes, for both the speaking and the singing), portrayed as Moses’ adoptive brother, and ultimately as the film’s villain with essentially the same motivations as in the earlier 1956 film. Joel Edgerton played Ramesses in the 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings. Sérgio Marone plays Ramesses in the 2015–2016 Brazilian telenovela series Os Dez Mandamentos (English: ‘Moses and the Ten Commandments).
In the 2013 Miniseries The Bible, he is portrayed by Stewart Scudamore.