Mummy of Ramesses II

The mummy of King Ramesses II was among those found in the Royal Cachette (DB320) at Deir el-Bahari. It was completely covered with linen bandages that bear the king’s name and epithets in Hieratic script.

The mummy has silky hair, which was white at the time of death, but has yellowed from the preservative chemicals. His nostrils were filled with resin and seeds, perhaps to better hold their shape. Ramesses II was originally buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but was later transferred (because of looting) by priests to the tomb of Queen Inhapy.

Mummy of King Ramesses II
Mummy of King Ramesses II. Photo: Patrick Landmann

His body was moved again three days later to the tomb of high priest Pinedjem II — this story is inscribed on the linen covering his body.

Regarded by many historians as Egypt’s most powerful king, Ramesses II reigned for six decades (ca. 1279-1213 BC), lived to be over 90 years old and is said to have fathered upwards of 100 children. His body was originally entombed in the Valley of the Kings, West Thebes, as was customary for a king, but ancient Egyptian priests later moved it to thwart rampant looters.

In 1881, Ramesses II’s mummy was discovered in a secret royal cachette at Deir el-Bahari, along with those of more than 50 other kings and nobles. In 1974, archeologists noticed its deteriorating condition and flew it to Paris, where it was treated for a fungal infection. Before the journey, Ramesses was issued an Egyptian passport, which listed his occupation as “King (deceased).”

According to the X-rays, the king was suffering from dental problems and severe arthritis in his hip joint. Ramesses II’s mummy was sent to Paris for further studies and preservation. The king most probably died in his late eighties or early nineties.

Mummified body of Ramesses II wrapped in linen with arms crossed over the chest, c.1880-1900.
Mummified body of Ramesses II wrapped in linen with arms crossed over the chest, c.1880-1900.

For a matchless ruler, who, during his reign had risen to every challenge and had enjoyed an incredibly long life span; the Afterlife posed serious difficulties for Ramesses II. His massive “House of Eternity” in the Valley of the Kings (KV7) did not survive looting in antiquity; neither was it spared by the vagaries of nature.

So, during the Third Intermediate Period, loyal priests moved his mummified remains around for safekeeping a couple of times, until it was finally deposited in tomb (TT320) – located high up in the Theban cliffs of Deir el-Bahari – in the company of several other illustrious kings. The celebrated monarch rested in peace there until 1881 when Émile Brugsch discovered the cache of royal mummies.

Cut to modern times: Ramesses the Great has always been the cynosure of all eyes; during his lifetime and millennia after his death too. Perhaps no other king comes close to Usermaatre’s hold over popular imagination—be they in the form of books, movies or documentaries.

In 1976, Egyptologists noticed that the mummy of Ramesses II was rapidly deteriorating; and flew it to Paris for examination and treatment. The king was issued an Egyptian passport that listed his occupation as “King (deceased)”. The royal mummy was received at Le Bourget airport, just outside Paris, with full military honours befitting a ruler.

New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Ramesses II, ca. 1279-1213 BC. Now in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC), Cairo. JE 26214