Pharaoh Ramses I (Paramessu) 

Paramessu acted as Horemheb's vizier as well as holding a number of military titles including that of Commander of the Fortress of Sile, an important stronghold on the land bridge connecting the Egyptian Delta with Syria-Palestine. The role assigned to Paramessu reveals Horemheb's preoccupation with the military situation in Egypt's northern territories. Paramessu's family came from Avaris, the former capital of the Hyksos. It is significant to recall the role of its local god Seth during the Hyksos time. Horemheb also built a temple for Seth at Avaris, then the Ramesside Royal Family considered the god Seth to be their royal ancestor, and a fragment of an obelisk, recently discovered on the seabed off the coast of Alexandria, shows Sety I as a sphinx with the head of the Seth-animal offering to Re-Atum.
When Horemheb died childless, Paramessu succeeded him as Ramses I. With him, began the Nineteenth dynasty, although there is some evidence to suggest that the Ramesside pharaohs considered Horemheb as the true founder of the dynasty. Ramses I must have been old when he ascended the throne, since his son and probably also his grandson had already been born before his accession. During his short one-year regency, and may be even before, his son Sety was appointed vizier and commander of Sile. Sety also held a number of priestly titles linking him with various gods worshipped in the Delta, including that of High Priest of Seth.

Pharaoh Sety I

Sety I must be credited with the great amount of restoration of the traditional temples, continuing the efforts of his predecessors. Everywhere, inscriptions of pre-Amarna pharaohs were restored, and the names and representations of Amun hacked out by Akhenaten were re-carved. He also started his own building program: in the great religious centers of Thebes, Abydos, Memphis, and Heliopolis, new temples were erected and existing ones expanded. Among the latter was the Temple of Seth at Avaris, a city that was soon to become the new Delta residence of the Ramesside rulers. At Karnak, Sety continued the construction of the Great Hypostyle Hall begun by Horemheb, which was connected with his own mortuary temple at Abd el-Qurna, directly opposite to Karnak on the west bank of the Nile.
At Deir el-Bahari, he made some restorations at the Temple of Hatshepsut. At Abydos, Sety I built a magnificent temple for the god Osiris. The famous King-List in this temple, a list of the royal ancestors participating in the offering cult for Osiris, provides the first evidence that the Amarna Period was completely obliterated from official records. In the list, Amenhotep III is directly followed by Horemheb, and other sources indicate that the years of regency of the kings from Akhenaten to Ay were added to those of Horemheb. Sety I reopened several old quarries and mines, including those in the Sinai. He also sent expeditions to Nubia for captives who could be employed as cheap labor.
Sety I began his first year of regency with a relatively small campaign against the Shasu in Southern Palestine soon followed by military expeditions further north. In a later war, he moved into territory held at the time by the Hittites and managed to reconquer Qadesh. Sety I had a campaign against the Libyans which probably took place before his confrontation with the Hittites. On the northern exterior wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall are reliefs documenting the Libyan and Syrian campaigns during his reign. These battle reliefs arouse the feeling that we are looking at a real historical event. The regency span of time in which Sety I ruled the country is obscure. The 11th year of his regency is the peak of his rule that is highly attested. But he may have ruled for a few years more. Towards the end of his reign, he appointed his son and heir Ramses II as his co-regent.

Pharaoh Ramses II

Very early in Ramses II's reign, probably still co-regent of his father, he went on his first military campaign to put down a rebellion in Nubia. Reliefs in a small rock temple at Beit el-Wali commemorating the event show the young King in the company of two of his children (the Crown Prince Amunherwenememf, and Khaemwaset) standing proudly in their chariots. In the 14th year of his regency, Ramses II led his first major campaign to Syria, which resulted in that Amuru returned to the Egyptian hold. This was not to last long, for the Hittite King, Muwatalli, decided at once to reconquer Armuru and to try to prevent further losses of territory to the Egyptians, with the result that the following year Ramses II again passed the border fortress at Sile, to declare war directly against his rival.
The battle of Kadesh which followed is one of the most famous armed conflicts of antiquity. In that battle, Ramses, despite the fact that he was unable to achieve his goals, presented it at home as a huge victory described at large in lengthy compositions which were carved on the walls of all the major temples. Many of Ramses' high officials lived and worked in Piramesse, but most of them appear to have been buried elsewhere, particularly in the necropolis of Memphis. About 35 tombs of the Ramesside Period have so far been excavated there, some of them very large. These tombs still have the form of an Egyptian temple, but compared to the tombs of the late Eighteenth Dynasty, the workmanship had declined. Ramses II was the first king since Amenhotep III to celebrate more than one Sed-Festival. The first took place in the 30th year and then another thirteen followed, at first at more or less regular intervals of about 3 years, and then towards the end of his long life, annually. Amenhotep III had become deified during his three jubilees, but in this respect Ramses II had less patience than his great predecessor, for already by the 8th year of his regency, we hear of a colossal statue being carved which was given the name 'Ramses-the-god'. Inside the temples, Ramses-the-god had his own cult-image and processional bark along with the other deities to whom they were dedicated. In reliefs, Ramses II is often shown offering to his own deified self.
Among the King's many sons who held high positions, the second son of Queen Isetnefret, Khaemwaset, was High Priest of Ptah in Memphis and acquired a reputation as a scholar and magician that survived until Roman times. As a high priest of Ptah, one of his duties was to participate in the burial of the sacred Apis-Bull and it is to Khaemwaset that the first galleries of the Serapeum are due. By the 52nd year of his father's regency, Khaemwaset was the eldest surviving son and therefore became crown prince, but at that stage he must have been in his sixties already, and he died a few years later, aging around 55. He was almost certainly buried in the Memphite necropolis and not in the princely gallery tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 5), but whether he was really interred in the Serapeum, as many believe, is less certain.
After Khaemwaset's death, Ramses II lived on for another 12 years until he finally died in the 67th year of his regency, the longest reigning monarch since Pepy II of the Sixth Dynasty. During the last years of his reign, he had become a living legend and he was clearly much admired by his successors. He survived his 12 eldest sons and it was Merenptah (the fourth son of Isetnefret and crown prince since the death of Khaemwaset) who eventually succeeded him.

 The Battle of Kadesh

Ramses II had wrongly been led to believe that the Hittite King was in the far north of Tunip, too scared to confront the Egyptians, whereas in reality he was nearby on the other side of Kadesh. Ramses II had therefore made a quick advance to Kadesh with only one of his four divisions of army and was then suddenly obliged to face the huge army that the Hittite King had prepared against him. The Hittite King first destroyed the advancing Egyptian second division which was about to join the first, then turned around to crush Ramses II and his troops. In his later descriptions of the battle, Ramses II tells us that this was his true moment of glory, for when his immediate attendants were ready to desert him, he called out to his father Amun to save him, then almost single-handedly managed to fight off the Hittite attackers. But Amun heard his prayers and rescued the King by causing an Egyptian support force from the coast of Amurru to arrive.
These forces attacked the Hittites in the rear, and together with Ramses' division reduced the number of the enemy's chariots. With the arrival of the third division, followed by the fourth at the sunset, the Egyptians were able to reassemble their forces and were now ready to face their enemy the next morning. Ramses II refused a Hittite peace offer, although a treaty was agreed. The Egyptians then returned home with many war prisoners and much booty, but without having achieved their goal.
In subsequent years, several other fairly successful confrontations in Syria-Palestine took place, but each time the states conquered on these occasions quickly returned to the Hittite hold once the Egyptian armies had gone home, and Egypt never regained Kadesh and Amurru. After some negotiations between the Hittites and the Egyptians, a formal treaty was signed in the 21st year. Although the Egyptians had to accept the loss of Kadesh and Amurru, peace brought a new stability on the northern front, which means that Ramses II can now concentrate on the western border, which was under constant pressure from Libyan invaders. In year 34, the bond with the Hittites was strengthened by a marriage between Ramses II and a daughter of Hattusili, who is the uncle of the son of the Hittite King Muwatalli. The princess was received with much pomp and was given the Egyptian name Neferure-who-beholds-Horus (the King).
The Hittite Princess was only one of seven women who gained the status of 'Great Royal Wife' during Ramses II's 67-year long reign. Ramses II had been presented with a harem full of beautiful women, but apart from these he had two principal wives, Nefertari and Isetnefret, both of whom bore him several sons and daughters. Nefertari was the 'Great Royal Wife' until her death in about year 25 of his reign, when the title passed on to Isetnefret, who appears to have died not long before the arrival of the Hittite Princess. Four daughters of Ramses also held the title, Henutmire, long believed to have been his sister rather than a daughter, Bintanat, Merytamun, and Nebettawy. These were the most favored among the King's daughters, of whom there were at least 40 in addition to some 45 sons. Many of them appear in long processions on the walls of the great temples built by their father, who was to survive several of his children. They were buried one after another in a gigantic tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 5), which has recently been rediscovered.

  Building Program of Ramses II

Ramses II carried out a vast building program. He began by adding a great peristyle courtyard and pylon to the Temple of Amun in Luxor (that was built by Amenhotep III and completed by the last Eighteenth Dynasty Kings). The courtyard was planned at a curious angle to the rest of the temple, presumably to create a straight line across the river to the site of the King's mortuary temple, the Ramesseum. Ramses II also built a temple for Osiris at Abydos (smaller than his father's, but equally beautiful). During the rest of his reign, he gradually filled the country with temples and statues in his name, many of which he usurped from earlier rulers. Particularly impressive is the astonishing series of eight rock temples in Lower Nubia, including two at Abu-Simbel most of which must have been built by a work-force rounded up from among the local tribes, as is attested in the case of Wadi es-Sebua, built for the king by Setau, the Viceroy of Nubia.
Among the hundreds of statues of deities and kings that Ramses II usurped, those erected by Amenhotep III were particularly favored, as were those made by the kings of the Twelfth Dynasty, the great rulers of the classical period of Egyptian history. Ramses II was also the king who expanded the city of Avaris and made it his great Delta residence calling it 'Piramesse' (House of Ramses). Its location has long been disputed, but it has now been established that it is to be identified with the extensive remains at Tell El-Dab'a and Qantir in the Eastern Delta. The city was strategically situated near the road leading to the border fortress of Sile and the provinces in Palestine and Syria and also along the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, and it soon became the most important international trade centre and military base in the country. Asiatic influence had always been strong in the area, but now many foreign deities such as Ba'al, Reshep, Hauron, Anat, and Astarte, to mention only a few, were worshipped in Piramesse. Many foreigners lived in the city, some of whom eventually became high-ranking officials.

Pharaoh Merenptah

Merenptah was fairly advanced in years when he ascended the throne. He sent several military expeditions abroad: not only to Nubia, but also into Palestine, where he subdued the rebellions of Ashkelon, Gezer and Yenoam. The 'victory stela' that records these victories also contains the first reference in Egyptian sources to Israel, not as a country or city but as a tribe. The major event of his reign occurred in the 5th year, at launching a campaign against the Libyans. There had been a problem even during Merenptah's father and grandfather's reigns, but the fortresses Ramses II had built along the western borders of the Delta were obviously unable to prevent the invasion of a massive coalition of Libyan and other tribes.
According to a long inscription at Karnak (between the 7th pylon and the central part of the temple), Merenptah had actually sent grain to the starving Hittites, who were still Egypt's ally in the East. Many important centers of Mycenaean Greece had been violently destroyed and the western fringes of the Hittite Empire had begun to collapse. The 'Sea Peoples' had also reached the coast of North Africa between Cyrenaica and Mersa Matruh. In this area, the Sea Peoples joined the Libyan tribes and with a force of some 16.000 men marched on Egypt. Bringing their women and children with them, as well as cattle and other belongings, indicate to their obvious planning to settle in Egypt. They had actually penetrated the Western Delta and were moving southwards, threatening Memphis and Heliopolis, when Merenptah confronted them and in a battle that lasted for 6 hours, managed to defeat them. The rest of Merenptah's reign appears to have been peaceful, and the King used it to build at least two temples and a palace in Memphis. He must have realized that he did not have many years left, as his mortuary temple on the Theban west bank is constructed almost exclusively from blocks removed from earlier structures, particularly the nearby temples of Amenhotep III. He died in the 9th year of his reign.

Pharaoh Sety II

After the death of Merenptah, trouble over the succession broke out, as although the next king, Sety II (1200-1194 B.C), was almost certainly the eldest son of Merenptah, a rival king Amenmessu ruled for a few years at least in the south of the country. When exactly this happened is still a matter of dispute: it has been suggested that Amenmessu deposed Sety II for some time between Sety II's 3rd and 5th year of regency, but others have the trouble set in at the beginning of the reign. Whatever the truth may be, Sety II erased and usurped all of Amenmessu's cartouches and later texts refer to the rival ruler as 'the Enemy'.

Pharaoh Siptah

When Sety II died, after a reign of almost six full years, his only son Saptah (1194-1188 B.C) succeeded him. However, Saptah was not a son of Sety II's principal Queen, Tausret. Instead, he had been born to him by a Syrian concubine called Sutailja. More importantly, he was only a young boy who suffered from an atrophied leg. His stepmother, Tausret, therefore remained 'Great Royal Wife' and acted as regent. She was not the only power behind the throne, as there was a powerful official called Bay, described as the 'Chancellor of the Entire Land' who was himself a Syrian. He appears to have been the true ruler of the country at this date. He is depicted several times with Saptah and Tausret and in some inscriptions he even claims that it was he who 'established the king on the throne of his father'.

Queen Tausret

When Siptah died in the 6th year of his reign, Tausret reigned on as sole ruler for another two years, doubtless with the support of Bay. After Hatshepsut and Nefertiti, she was the third queen of the New kingdom to rule as pharaoh. With her death the Nineteenth Dynasty came to an end.