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Egypt: Merenptah (Merneptah), the 4th King of Egypt's 19th Dynasty


Merenptah, the 4th King of Egypt's 19th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn


By the time that Ramesses II died, he had apparently outlived twelve of his sons, so it was his 13th son, Merenptah who ascended the throne of Egypt. Merenptah was old himself by this time, probably nearly sixty years old, and his reign was rather dull, as well as short lived (perhaps only nine or ten years) in comparison with that of his father's reign. According to the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, he ruled from 1213 until 1203 BC, while Clayton provides a reign from 1212 until 1202 BC.

Merenptah (also hetep-her-maat, and commonly also called Merneptah) was the king's birth name, meaning "Beloved of Ptah, Joyous is Truth). His throne name was Ba-en-re Mery-netjeru, which means "The Soul of Re, Beloved of the Gods". Merenptah was probably the fourth child of Ramesses II's second principle wife, Istnofret (Isisnofret). He was married to queens Istnofret (Isisnofret), who must have surely been his sister, and possibly a queen Takhat. His son was Seti-Merenptah, who probably ascended the throne sometime after his father as Seti II. However, Seti II's reign may have been initially usurped by a Amenmesse who may have been a son of Takhat, though Takhat's marriage to Merenptah is far from certain.

Merenptah is almost completely unknown until the 40th year of Ramesses II's reign. In fact he may have been heir to the throne of Egypt for about twelve years prior to Ramesses II's death, but in Ramesses II's year 40, we known the prince was made General of the Army. Perhaps it is not surprising that what we know of Merenptah's rule is mostly about his military activities. However, he appears not to have become the heir to the throne until Ramesses II's 55th regnal year, when Ramesses II was celebrating his 80th birthday, and Merenptah his 48th. In fact, in the last decade of Ramesses II's life, Merenptah was probably the real power behind the throne, as Ramesses II was well advanced in age.

In fact, he is mainly attested to by three great inscriptions, including 80 lines on a wall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak, a large stele with 35 readable lines from Athribis in the Delta and the great Victory Stele from his ruined mortuary temple at Thebes, with 28 lines. All of these text refer to his military campaigns.

Right: Artist Portrait of what Merenptah may have looked like

The Victory Stele is unique. It was usurped by Merenptah from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes, and is dated to the third day of the third month of the third season so it may have been written around the summer of 1207. In it, Merenptah lists enemy conquests, but the most interesting reference is a very rare mention of Israel. It may be the oldest non biblical reference to that country. Because of this, Merenptah has often been thought to be the pharaoh of the Exodus, though modern opinion leans against such an identification. In part, the stele states that:

"The princes are prostrate saying: "Shalom!"
Not one of the Nine Bows lifts his head:
Tjehenu is vanquished, Khatti at peace,
Canaan is captive with all woe.
Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized,
Yanoam made nonexistent;
Israel is wasted, bare of seed,
Khor is become a widow for Egypt.
All who roamed have been subdued.
By the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Banere-meramun,
Son of Re, Merenptah, Content with Maat,
Given life like Re every day."

Merenptah apparently did face a number of military problems. These included a "flash" revolt in Syria, which was quickly crushed. There were also problems on Egypt's western borders involving the southern Libyans and the Sea People, who apparently had silently infiltrated the Delta, and around year five of Merenptah's rule, attempted an invasion. However, with rapid mobilization of his forces and a pre-emptive strike, Merenptah was able to vanquish these enemies, apparently slaughtering many of them. Also, the Libyans apparently inspired the Nubians to the south to also revolt, but Merenptah's quick response to the Libyans allowed him to immediately turn south and inflict a crushing blow on those rebels as well.

However, Merenptah did attempt to maintain the peaceful relations of his father. The Hittite King in Syria faced a possible invasion from the north and widespread famine, so under the term of the treaty they had made with Ramesses II, they requested assistance from Merenptah, who provided them with much needed grain.

One interesting facet to Merenptah's reign was that he moved the administrative center for Egypt from Piramesse (Pi-Ramesse), his fathers capital, back to Memphis, where he constructed a royal palace next to the temple of Ptah. This palace was excavated in 1915 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum led by Clarence Fischer, and yielded fine architectural elements.

Merenptah's tomb is number KV 8 located in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor (ancient Thebes). The king probably died around 1202 BC, but his mummy was not found within his tomb. In the 19th century, this apparently added to the speculation about him being the Pharaoh of the Exodus, since that king's body would have probably been washed away in the Red Sea. However, that theory was confounded when, in 1898, his mummy was discovered among 18 others in the mummy cache discovered in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35).

He also built a mortuary temple that lies behind the Colossi of Memnon on the West Bank at Luxor. Much of it was built with stone robbed from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. The structure is currently being studied by Horst Jartz with the Swiss Institute in Cairo. Reports indicate that some of the fragments discovered include well preserved reliefs, perhaps some of the finest to be found in any temple at Thebes. The Egyptian Ministry of Culture has now decided to turn this complex into an open museum.

In addition to his tomb and temple we also know that he added to the Osireion at Abydos and also built at Dendera. Merenptah is further attested to by a "wall stele" at Amada, four almost identical stele from Nubia (at Amada, Amarah West, Wadi Sebua, Aksha), blocks from Elephantine, a decree from West Silsila, an inscription in the small temple of Medinet Habu, stele from Kom el-Ahmar and Hermopolis (along with other inscriptions), a victory column at Heliopolis, and several monument remains at Piramesse.

References:

Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

History of Ancient Egypt, A

Grimal, Nicolas

1988

Blackwell

None Stated

The Lost Tomb

Weeks, Kent R.

1998

William Morrow & Company

ISBN 068815087X

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian

2000

Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Ramesses II: Greatest of the Pharaohs

Menu, Bernadette

1999

Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

ISBN 0-8109-2870-1 (pbk.)

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