The popularity of Ramses II was due, to the training and model of his father. In a relief in the temple of Seti I at Abydos, Seti’s concern with historical continuity is evident: it shows the young boy Ramses, portrayed with the sidelock of youth, reading a papyrus extolled with the names of 67 celebrated predecessors stretching back to the semi-mythical Menes.[i]
As was usual in those days, the threat of foreign aggression against Egypt was constantly at its greatest on the ascension of a new Pharaoh. Subject kings no doubt saw it as their duty to test the resolve of a new king in Egypt. [ii] Similarly, it was incumbent on the new Pharaoh to make it a display of force if he was to keep the peace under his control. Therefore, in his fourth year as pharaoh, Ramses was fighting in Syria in a series of campaigns against the Hittites and their allies. The Hittites, however, were a very burly foe and the war lasted for twenty years.[iii]
One measure of Egypt’s affluence was the amount of time building the kings could afford to carry out, and on that source the reign of Ramses II is the most prominent in Egyptian history, even making allowance for its great length.[iv] It was that, along with his prowess in war as depicted in the temples, that led the Egyptologists of the 19th century to dub him “the Great,” and that, in effect, is how his subjects and people after him perceive him; to them, he was the king par excellence. Nine kings of the 20th dynasty called themselves by his name; even in the period of decline that followed, it was an honor to be able to claim descent from him, and his subjects name him by the affectionate abbreviation Sese.
[i] Jill Kamil Al-Ahram Weekly Online http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/694/he1.htm
[ii] R.O. Faulkner, “Egypt: From the Inception of the Nineteenth Dynasty to the Death of Ramesses III,” Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd ed. vol. 2, ch. 23 1966.
[iii] S. Langdon, “The Treaty of Alliance Between Hattusili, King of the Hittites, and the Pharaoh Ramesses II,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 6:179-205 (1920);
[iv] K.A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: the life and times of Rameses II King of Egypt. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. 1982.
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