Ramesses the Great: Egypt’s King of Kings

The life, dramatic reign, and enduring legacy of the pharaoh Ramesses the Great, with lessons for the present, from internationally acclaimed Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson

“The author succeeds in bringing this distant age to life through telling detail and insightful analysis. . . . Whenever he can, the author takes advantage of opportunities to peer beneath the mask.”
— The Economist

Ramesses the Great: Egypt's King of Kings
Ramesses the Great: Egypt’s King of Kings

Ramesses II ruled the Nile Valley and the wider Egyptian empire from 1279 to 1213 B.C., one of the longest reigns in pharaonic history. He was a cultural innovator, a relentless self-promoter, and an astute diplomat—the peace treaty signed after the Battle of Kadesh was the first in recorded history. He outbuilt every other Egyptian pharaoh, leaving behind the temples of Abu Simbel; the great hypostyle hall of Karnak; the tomb for his wife Nefertari; and his own memorial, the Ramesseum.

His reputation eclipsed that of all other pharaohs as well: he was decried in the Bible as a despot, famed in literature as Ozymandias, and lauded by early antiquarians as the Younger Memnon. His rule coincided with the peak of ancient Egypt’s power and prosperity, the New Kingdom (1539–1069 B.C.).

The subsequent history of Ramesses’ mummy is every bit as dramatic as his initial reburial and rediscovery. In 1975, a French doctor, Maurice Bucaille, noticed that the body, kept under inadequate conditions at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s polluted city center, was deteriorating rapidly.

At the request of the French government, it was flown to Paris for scientific study and treatment. The international media, always eager for a sensational story concerning ancient Egypt, concocted a false report that the pharaoh had been issued with an Egyptian passport, which gave his occupation as “King (deceased).”

What is true is that the mummy was greeted on arrival at Paris’s Le Bourget airport in September the following year with full military honors before being taken to the Musée de l’Homme for examination.

In this authoritative biography, Toby Wilkinson considers Ramesses’ preoccupations and preferences, uncovering the methods and motivations of a megalomaniac ruler, with lessons for our own time.

Ramesses the Great: Egypt’s King of Kings, by Toby Wilkinson (#aff)