Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh: His Family (Specifically, his Children)

Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh

His Family (Specifically, his Children)
by Jimmy Dunn

How the early, predynastic leadership of Egypt was developed is certainly debatable. However, many Egyptologists believe that the early chieftains gradually gained a sphere of influence because they knew how to harness the Nile River, and the fertility of the Nile Valley. Rather than being warier kings, they knew how to lead others in feeding their people.

Throughout Egypt's pharaonic history, the King of Egypt was thought to intercede with the gods to assure fertile Nile floods, and hence, food to feed the masses. This was one of the reasons that great temples were built, and the priesthood furnished with wealth. When the Nile floods came up short, the king could also be blamed as well. But fertility stretched beyond Egypt's crops. At a time when the world's human population was small, and death at birth or early infancy was considerable, human fertility was also important, and it was most important for the Pharaoh, who needed to produce an heir to the throne of Egypt. We believe that fully one third of all children did not live to reach their fifteenth year.

Ramesses II in his prime years

Producing a crown prince was not always easy, even though the pharaohs often had numerous wives. The ladies of his harem who were expected to produce a future heir were often close family members, including even full sisters at times. Hence, a pharaoh who, even with the "assistance" of a number of queens, prodigiously produced children, including a number of males, might be considerably proud of such a feat. Indeed, Ramesses II of Egypt's 19th Dynasty was such a pharaoh, and because of his long life, this was very lucky, because twelve of his oldest sons would die before their father.


In fact, because Ramesses II featured so many of his children in depictions and statuary, and the fact that we have considerable documentary evidence from this period, we learn much about the treatment and importance of royal children, at least during this period, some of which might seem surprising to us.

For example, Ramesses II provided us with a number of processions of both sons and daughters (sometimes together), depicted on the walls of his monuments at such locations as Thebes (The Temple of Luxor and the Ramesseum) and Abu Simbel. While Ramesses II may have had any number of other children by very minor consorts, those of his principal wives (see also, his women) are ordered apparently by age, only, without regard to the importance of their mothers, with most probably even the children of minor wives following those of Nefertari and Iset-Nofret (his two principal wives). Indeed, the order of this list appears to have probably been the same as the line of succession (for the sons) so that those of Iset-Nofret bearing the same opportunities (given their birth order) as that of Nefertari, Ramesses II's actual chief wife. Of course, it would eventually be Merenptah, a son of Iset-Nofret, who would inherit the throne of Egypt.


Perhaps even more interest, given this information, is Iset-Nofret's apparent lack of real importance to Ramesses II. Her image is infrequently depicted, and when it is, seems to have been the work of her famous son, Khaemwese rather than Ramesses II. Yet we find images and references to her daughter, particularly that of Bent'anta (Bintanath, Bint-Anath, Bintanat) who later became the first of Ramesses II's daughters that he married, which predate those of her mother. In many cases, the princesses of consorts were given more importance then their mothers. In any event, it is very notable that even the sons and daughters of relatively minor consorts were given considerably more attention then their mothers, even though they might have never stood a chance of becoming king.

How Ramesses II interacted with his children is relatively unknown to us. Some children of the minor queens perhaps saw little of the royal court. They may have even been portrayed in the processions simply to enhance their father's reputation, but it would appear that some thought was given to these children, perhaps especially to those who showed talent. For example, we are told of Prince Simontu, who was Ramesses II's 23 son and who served as an able administrator of the royal vineyard at Memphis. Others, such as Prince Ramesses-Meriamen-Nebweben (son number 46) may have been virtually ignored. He seems to have died during his thirties while still living in one of the harem palaces.


However, the sons of the principal queens, particularly those who were the oldest and therefore had a chance to become king, must have received considerably more attention. Perhaps most of these sons accompanied Ramesses II on military expeditions at one time or another, and several of them ended up acquiring a talent of martial leadership, becoming generals. These included his eldest son, Amenhirkhepeshef, who became General-in-Chief, and Prehirwenemef, his third son who was given the titles, "First Brave of the Army" and later "First Charioteer of His Majesty". Most of the sons were probably give the opportunity to prove themselves in battle, but some appear to have not taken to this way of life, such as Khaemwaset, his forth son. His talents seem to have been of a more intellectual nature, so he was allowed, as others, and even encouraged, to purse a career as a priest. In this, he excelled becoming famous as a sage and as the creator of the Serapaeum at Saqqara. Merenptah, the 13th son of Ramesses II who would be lucky enough to eventually outlived his older brothers and become king, was initially responsible for administration of the Delta region as far south as Memphis. While he may not have been recognized officially as a co-regent of his father, he was probably responsible for the kingdoms stewardship during the final twelve years of his father's long life.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ramesses II's daughters is what became of the minor princesses. We know what became of the most senior of his daughters who lived past the age of puberty. They were wed to their father, a situation which seems not so unpleasant to them as it would of course be today. However, we know little about most of the other, more minor daughters. Some were no doubt lucky enough to have married brothers, who would accept them, for while a minor prince might marry most anyone, the choice for princesses were usually limited to those of their own royal status. Those that did not marry, as well as some who did, no doubt served the temples and gods in some capacity. Some may have even become minor wives of Ramesses II, though mostly as invisible to us as their mother's might have been.

Of Kings and Family

The question that many would ask, is how did the royal family of Egypt compare to our own modern families, or for that matter, even modern royal families. Was there intimacy, and intimate moments? Could we find touching scenes of family life, and was there great love between husband, wife and the kids?

Regrettably, we may never know the answers to these questions, but we might take a stab at a few responses.

For the typical child of the king's harem, and particularly for those of minor kings, intimacy was certainly shared mostly between mother and child. This was probably even true for the youngest children of Ramesses II's principal queens, though at times it is possible that father, mother and their children came together as a family unit. While we find few such depictions during the reign of Ramesses II there are those, for example, during the reign of Akhenaten that do seem to reveal considerable family intimacy, and others from many period that depict ordinary Egyptians displaying great affection for their wives and children. Yet Ramesses II was a hands-on king who spent considerable time during the early period of his reign either traveling back and forth along the Nile, or sometimes away on military campaigns, so he must have had little enough time to form the bonds of fatherhood.

However, we might assume, considering that Ramesses II began his family with both Nefertari and Iset-Nofret prior to his ascending the throne, when his offsprings were few, that we might have witnesses some moments similar to those depicted between Akhenaten, his wife and children. But it is also probable, that as time wore on and the harem swelled, and the eldest of Ramesses II's children passed on before him, that intimacy and deep love might become rare pleasures of this king, his feelings made numb more and more by the memories of earlier losses. In addition, favorites had to be closely controlled, for it probably would have done to show undue emotion to a more joyful younger son at the expense of an Arab parent.

Yet, for those first few, there are certainly allusions to Ramesses II's adoration. Of course, for Nefertari, his first "Chief King's Wife", there is the temple at Abu Simbel and the wonderful tomb in the Valley of the Queens, and there were also apparently separate tombs for several of his daughters who became his queens. We also find, built for at least his elder sons, if not for many more of his children, probably the largest tomb ever excavated in Egypt in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes).

Yet all of this is relevant, and not at all complete proof of Ramesses II's affection for his wives and children, because in the big scheme of things, certain aspects all of these efforts may have simply promoted the kingship, as well as the deification, of Ramesses II himself. Keep in mind, for example, that while the small temple at Abu Simbel may have been built to honor Nefertari, and her images in monumental form may be found on its facade, it is Ramesses II himself that occupies the walls within. Major Sections on Ramesses II

Main Ramesses II Page

Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh - An Introduction

Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh - His Family (Specifically, his Women)

Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh - The Military Leader

See also:

Amun-her-shepeshef, First Son of Ramesses II/

The Bentrech Stele

Leading up to the Battle of Kadesh: The Battle of Kadesh, Part I

The Actual Battle of Kadesh: The Battle of Kadesh Part II

Egyptian Account of the Battle of Kadesh

Nefertari, Tomb of - Valley of the Queens

Qantir, Ancient Pi-Ramesse

The Queens of Ramesses II

The First Peace Treaty in History

The Peace Treaty Document

The Sons (and Daughters) of Ramesses II






Reference Number

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Les Livres De France

None Stated

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Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

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ISBN 0-19-815034-2

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ISBN Not Listed

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Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

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

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ISBN 1-5866-3295-7

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