If you thought, as I did, that Tutankhamen was the greatest pharaoh in ancient Egypt, you would be very mistaken! The ‘Boy King’ Tut barely lived long enough to leave his mark. The fanfare around the discovery of his tomb and all its treasures remain his sole claim to fame!
The title of the greatest pharaoh in the history of Egypt goes to his descendant Ramesses II! Brave soldier & empire builder he is omnipresent in Southern Egypt! Some of Egypt’s most splendid monuments were built during his 66 year reign (1279 – 1213 BC), to pander to his enormous vanity.
His statues tower over entrances to temples – his own and others he had usurped – and are carved into hillsides, and his cartouches (an oval shape enclosing his name in hieroglyphics) are inscribed into anything worth looking at! Son of Seti I and playmate of Moses (also subsequent enemy) and father of nearly a hundred sons, he seems to have been the original dude
His Mortuary temple, the Ramesseum, was reputedly the most spectacular of his temples though much of it is in ruin. Of the colossal statue that once stood guard here and supposedly inspired Shelley’s ”Ozymandias” (Ozymandias is the Greek corruption of his throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re or ”Chosen of Ra”) , only the feet and a badly damaged head remain! And excavations near Cairo hint at the discovery of his famed capital city Pi-Ramesses!
Although his achievements were considerable, he appears to have been the true precursor of present day politicians! Expertly bolstering his faltering image with the help of huge painted reliefs and inscriptions, all glossing over his defeats and glorifying his contribution to battles he had been humiliated in!
The march of the Egyptian empire was halted by the Hittites, under his watch, at the battle of Kadesh and he was forced to accept the humiliating restrictions of a peace treaty. The treaty of Kadesh (1274 BC) – supposedly the first ever such treaty – survives to this day and can be viewed at the Archeological museum in Istanbul and obviously narrates a very different perspective, as do records maintained by the high priests of Egypt!
The palace controlled propaganda seems to have worked (Not that the profusion of free media today helps deflect propaganda much!) for his name was the most favoured by nine more pharaohs after him and no one dared deface his monuments!
Shelley’s “Ozymandias” about the transience of power is just a metaphor and possibly refers to that one broken statue. For contrary to his claim…….a lot remains! The art and the written word remain! Of this vain and powerful man who embellished his achievements and usurped those of his ancestors to stamp his name and his monumental presence indelibly on the face of Egypt! Rameses remains, despite his dissembling, Rameses the Great!
“By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda,
one can make a people see even heaven as hell or
an extremely wretched life as paradise”
~ Adolf Hitler
The Twin Temples Of Abu Simbel