Kemet Klub

Was Ramesses ‘Great’? – The man and the myth of Ramesses II


Dr Henning Franzmeier
6  Weeks. Monday 20th May – 24th June 2024

A Certificate of Completion


At the end of this course you will be able to download a personalised certificate of completion from the classroom. A great way to keep track of your learning and celebrate your Egyptological journey.

Was Ramesses 'Great'? - The man and the myth of Ramesses II
with Dr Henning Franzmeier

6x Monday Evenings 20th May - 24th June 2024
Times: 7.30-9pm (UK Times) to join live.

We love to see you for the live lectures, but if you have to miss one, don't worry, you can of course catch up (or watch again) at your leisure via the recordings. You will have access to the recorded lectures for a whole month after the last live lecture. Recordings will be available until 24th July.

This class will focus on one of the seemingly best-known personalities of Ancient Egypt: Ramesses II. He already exceeded all other Egyptian kings (except probably Pepi II of the Old Kingdom) by longevity. Living about 90 years and reigning almost 67 years, he had a lot of time to shape Egypt and his own legacy. He is present everywhere in Egypt, having left monumental marks in most sites and being remembered as a very powerful person. But what do we really know? Do we have any information on his personality? What does it mean that he is everywhere and what  really is his legacy? This class will give both a chronological overview of his reign and the events that happened as well as elucidate on specific topics such as his construction program. The last session, based on what was presented before, will explore how Ramesses can be seen from the modern point of view.

1) From military commanders to kings Ramesses II was not born into a royal family. In fact, he was born during the last decade of Horemheb’s reign as the grandson of a senior royal official – Pa-Ramessu, the later Ramesses I.   Why,  how (and if) Horemheb chose his successors is not known in detail. Session one will look at the start of Ramesside rule.

2) Becoming king and  securing his reign A young man of approximately 18-25 years of age, Ramesses became king after the death of his father Seti I. The new dynasty having just about 14 years, we can assume that his position was far from secure. This lesson will explore the situation during the first years of Ramesses reign. A particular focus will be laid on the persons around the king, his viziers, priests and  leading officials that helped secure his kingship.

 3) Enemies and brothers, international relations under Ramesses II While the beginning of Ramesses reign is characterized by wars, the most famous one culminating in the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites, everything becomes much more peaceful later on with evidence for flourishing trade networks.  The peace treaty with the Hittites led to probably one of the longest periods in Ancient Egyptian history without major wars.

4)  Ramesses and his monumental ambitions One major reason for Ramesses II fame is his omnipresence in Egypt. All over the country from Nubia to the Delta monuments connected to his person can be found.  This lesson will give an outline of his major projects but also take a closer look at some details such as the widespread reuse of monuments, especially those of the Middle Kingdom as well as Amenhotep III. New research for instance at Dahshur shows the widespread systematic destruction of ancient monuments in his reign, obviously to obtain a large amount of high-quality materials for the construction of new monuments. At the same moment his son Khaemwaset claims to have renovated some major ancient buildings such as the pyramid of Unas. These seemingly contradictory phenomena will be discussed and put into the context of Ramesses reign.

5) An (almost) eternal reign What happens if pharaoh doesn’t pass away?  What if the king is not able  to make decisions and rule effectively? At the time of death, Ramesses might have had at least 100 children and  a huge number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, thus leaving hundreds of family members not only grieving but also fighting for influence and  the throne. This lesson will take a look at these phenomena and discuss whether Ramesses’ long rule and his huge offspring really contributed to the problems arising after his reign which ultimately led to the end of the 19th Dynasty and later on even to the end of the New Kingdom.

6) Good king and hero or military dictator?   Champollion used the famous statue of Ramesses II in the Turin Museum  to exalt the status of Ancient Egyptian Art.  About the same time, Shelley wrote his famous poem Ozymandias, most likely inspired by the fallen colossus of Ramesses II in the Ramesseum. Success of exhibitions such as Ramesses and the Gold of the Pharaohs, currently touring the world illustrate his ability to draw crowds, but there is another narrative. Already Wolfgang Helck in the 1970s called Ramesses II a military dictator, something which Kara Cooney recently expanded in her book “The Good Kings”. It is a question well worth discussing, reflecting our own view on a personality that lived 3200 years ago

Dr Henning Franzmeier

Henning Franzmeier has been working at Qantir-Piramesse for the past 18 years and directed the excavations since 2015. Over the past ten years, he has taught at UCL Qatar in Doha, the University of Innsbruck, and the University of Bologna.

In 2014, he received his PhD from the Free University of Berlin with a thesis on the New Kingdom cemeteries at the Middle Egyptian site of Sedment – a reassessment of the 1920/21 excavations of William Matthew Flinders Petrie. His MA thesis at the University of Göttingen dealt with a well of Ramesses II at Samana near Qantir-Piramesse.

His interests range from settlement archaeology to the history of Egyptology and the analysis of funerary assemblages.

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