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temple-ramses-second

Temple of Rameses II

Temple of Rameses II – Sohag, Abydos. About 300m from Seti I’s temple at Abydos, on the western edge of the village of Beni Mansur, Rameses II built an another temple for himself. This was also dedicated mainly to the Osirian cult but was a more conventional design than his father’s temple. It was built when he was still co-ruler with Seti I. The walls of the temple of Rameses are very reduced, now only about 2m high, but the plan of the structure is still plain to see. The temple’s greatest attraction is the brilliantly coloured painted reliefs which are possibly the finest in any monument built by Rameses II.

The walls of the temple are built of limestone, with sandstone pillars. The first pylon and court are now ruined and the pink granite portal leads straight into a second court surrounded by a colonnade of Osirid pillars on its north, east and south sides. None of the pillars is preserved to their full height and the engaged Osirid statues of the king all lack their heads and shoulders. The north wall of the court depicts processions of priests and offering bearers with a decorated bull and gazelles, as well as soldiers, Libyans and negroes. Also on the north wall there are some interesting graffiti. Some ancient amateur artist incised an image of the god In-hert and a painted priest before him bears the inscription ‘Djed-Iah, the justified, wab-priest of Osiris, Djedi-ankh-f’.

At the back of the court on the western side is a raised portico with two chapels dedicated to Seti I and the king’s deified ancestors on the left and two chapels to the nine gods of the Ennead and Rameses II (and Osiris Khenty-Amentiu) on the right. The shrine of the ancestors once contained a table of kings on its north wall, part of which (the ‘Second Abydos List’) is now in the British Museum.

On the north wall of the portico, Rameses carved nine name-rings of the Asiatic tribes he conquered. A magnificent highly polished black granite gateway, 5m tall and decorated with scenes and inscriptions, which has been restored in the centre of the portico leads us into the first hypostyle hall.

The first hypostyle was decorated while the young Rameses was still his father’s co-ruler though his cartouches were later altered to contain his own pharaonic titles. Eight rectangular pillars supported the roof which is now missing. The decoration of the hypostyle is similar to that in the court and portico, but has a brightly coloured dado on its lower walls depicting the Nile gods. These are painted in different colours; red represents the Nile at inundation, blue represents winter and green, summer. At the western end of the hall’s south wall, a narrow staircase ascended to the roof, though there are now only 12 stairs remaining.

The second hypostyle contains eight sandstone pillars with three chapels on each of the north, west and south sides. The northern chapels are dedicated to Thoth, Min and Osiris. The southern chapels are very badly damaged but it is thought that the central one was dedicated to Osiris with a clothing room where the god’s daily garments were stored. The chapels on the western side of the hall were dedicated to Amun-Re, Osiris and possibly Horus. In the latter shrine on the north wall there is a colourful relief of the goddess Hekat ‘Mistress of Abydos’, usually portrayed as a frog, but in this case showing her human face. Next to her the god Anubis ‘Lord of the Sacred Land’ also has the head of a man rather than the usual jackal. This is the only known example of Anubis with a human head.

The Central shrine on the western side of the hypostyle is the ‘alabaster’ sanctuary of Osiris where we can see a restored statue group in grey granite which was brought from another location in the temple and depicts (probably) Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seti I and Rameses II.

In the corners of the western wall at the north and south are two chambers thought to be statue halls which also have some very colourful reliefs. The each contain decorated niches and the southern chamber has a beautiful relief of Rameses offering to Osiris who is being protected by a winged djed pillar. This is thought to be one of the earliest representations of a symbol which became popular in later dynasties.

Only the lower parts of the exterior walls still exist and the northern and western walls bear a version of Rameses’ Battle of Kadesh in beautiful incised relief, though not as complete as in some of his later monuments. On the southern exterior wall there is the lower part of a calendar of feasts which lists offerings provided by the royal endowment to be presented on the days of the festivals. Beneath this Rameses describes his temple and seems to be accurate in what remains of the text. He describes a pylon of white limestone, granite doorways and a sanctuary of pure alabaster which must have been very beautiful in its time.

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Ramesses II – The King of Kings

Ramesses II 1279 – 1213 BC — Ramesses II, son of Seti I, was around thirty years old when he became king of Egypt – and then reigned for 67 years. He had many wives, among them some of his own near relatives, and was the father of about 111 sons and 51 daughters.

As was usual in those days, the threat of foreign aggression against Egypt was always 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. Likewise, it was incumbent on the new Pharaoh it makes a display of force if he was to keep the peace during his reign. Therefore, in his fourth year as pharaoh, Rameses was fighting in Syria in a series of campaigns against the Hittites and their allies. The Hittites, however, were a very strong foe and the war lasted for twenty years.

On the second campaign, Ramesses found himself in some difficulties when attacking “the deceitful city of Kadesh”. This action nearly cost him his life. He had divided his army into four sections: the Amun, Ra, Ptah and Setekh divisions. Rameses himself was in the van, leading the Amon division with the Ra division about a mile and a half behind. He had decided to camp outside the city – but unknown to him, the Hittite army was hidden and waiting. They attacked and routed the Ra division as it was crossing a ford. With the chariots of the Hittites in pursuit, Ra fled in disorder – spreading panic as they went. They ran straight into the unsuspecting Amun division. With half his army in flight, Rameses found himself alone. With only his bodyguard to assist him, he was surrounded by two thousand five hundred Hittite chariots.

The king, realizing his desperate position, charged the enemy with his small band of men. He cut his way through, slaying large numbers as he escaped. “I was,” said Ramesses, “by myself, for my soldiers and my horsemen had forsaken me, and not one of them was bold enough to come to my aid.”

At this point, the Hittites stopped to plunder the Egyptian camp – giving the Egyptians time to regroup with their other two divisions. They then fought for four hours, at the end of which time both sides were exhausted and Ramesses was able to withdraw his troops.

In the end, neither side was victorious. And finally – after many years of war – Ramesses was obliged to make a treaty with the prince of the Hittites. It was agreed that Egypt was not to invade Hittite territory, and likewise the Hittites were not to invade Egyptian territory. They also agreed on a defense alliance to deter common enemies, mutual help in suppressing rebellions in Syria, and an extradition treaty.

Thirteen years after the conclusion of this treaty in the thirty-fourth year of his reign, Ramesses married the daughter of the Hittite prince. Her Egyptian name was Ueret-ma-a-neferu-Ra: meaning ” Great One who sees the Beauties of Ra”.

Although brave in battle, Ramesses was an inept general – and I wonder how Thutmose III would have dealt with the Hittites. Maybe Ramesses also pondered this because he spent the rest of his life bolstering his image with huge building projects. His name is found everywhere on monuments and buildings in Egypt and he frequently usurped the works of his predecessors and inscribed his own name on statues which do not represent him. The smallest repair of a sanctuary was sufficient excuse for him to have his name inscribed on every prominent part of the building. His greatest works were the rock-hewn temple of Abu Simbel, dedicated to Amun, Ra-Harmachis, and Ptah; its length is 185 feet, its height 90 feet, and the four colossal statues of the king in front of it – cut from the living rock – are 60 feet high. He also added to the temple of Amenhotep III at Luxor and completed the hall of columns at Karnak – still the largest columned room of any building in the world.

Although he is probably the most famous king in Egyptian history, his actual deeds and achievements cannot be compared with the great kings of the 18th dynasty. He is, in my opinion, unworthy of the title ”Great”. A show-off and propagandist, he made his mark by having his name, like a graffiti artist, inscribed on every possible stone. Whereas kings such as Thutmose III left a stronger and more dynamic Egypt, after Ramesses death Egypt fell into decline. Luckily for Egypt, her prestige and pre-eminence as a world superpower were such that this process took a long time. Only one other king, Ramesses III (1184 – 1153 BC), was able to temporarily halt this process.