Ramesses XI (Ramses XI), the Last New Kingdom Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt

Ramesses XI, the Last New Kingdom Pharaoh

by Jimmy Dunn

The cartouches of Ramesses XI

Ramesses may be translated as " Re has Fashioned Him", and Ramesses XI's Epithet was Khaemwaset Mereramun Netjerheqaiunu, which means, "Appearing in Thebes, Beloved of Amun, God, Ruler of Heliopolis". His throne name, Menmaatre Setepenptah translates as "The Justice of Re Remains, Chosen of Ptah". We believe that he reigned for some 28 years on the throne of Egypt between 1098 and 1070 BC, though to give him credit as the true king of the Two Lands throughout this period might be an exaggeration. We know little about his family, other than that he had a daughter by the name of Henuttawy.

Ramesses III was the last great pharaoh of Egypt, and there is no question that, by the time of the last Pharaoh of Egypt's 20th Dynasty, Ramesses XI, at the tail end of the New Kingdom, Egypt's glorious empire was well into its twilight years. From the vary beginning of Egypt's history, kings had sent its representatives north into southern Syria to the city of Byblos, for various trade, and they would have normally been accepted as honored visitors and given whatever they required for their Egyptian King. However, we are told just how far Egypt had fallen by this time in the Tale of Wenamun, now preserved in Moscow. When Wenamun was sent by Ramesses XI to Byblos to secure cedar for a new barque of Amun at Thebes, he was robbed on his journey. On arrival in that ancient port, he was required to pay for the wood, that might in an earlier era been given freely, but now had no money for its purchase. Such was the fate of Egypt only one Dynasty past the time of Ramesses the Great, no more than several hundred years before.

A hacked depiction of Ramesses XI making offerings

It must be noted that, while many generalities about the reign of Ramesses XI are agreed upon by Egyptologists, specifics vary dramatically. There is no question that some, if not much of his reign was marked by a division of control in Egypt between the north and the Theban region south. The crisis that had gripped the Theban region in the previous decades grew worse, with persistent trouble from Libyan attacks that prevented workmen on the West Bank from completing their duties, tomb robberies, famine (the "year of the hyenas"), and even civil war. What is in disagreement, or arguable, is the various parties' alliance, or at least the degree of alliance, to the king in Lower (northern) Egypt. It would seem that repeatedly, individual's who were possibly sent to Thebes by the king to Thebes to establish order instead established themselves as at least de facto rulers of Lower Egypt.

It seems likely that Ramesses XI did not take control of a completely undivided Egypt upon his ascent to the throne after the death of Ramesses X. The previous regimes had witnessed an elevation in the power of the priesthood at Thebes, and as early as the reign of Ramesses IX, a High Priest of Amun named Amenhotep had himself depicted on the same scale as that king on two reliefs at Karnak. Apparently, that priest survived through the reign of Ramesses X and at least up until the twelfth year of Ramesses XI's reign.

A cartouche of Ramesses XI

At some point prior to that time, Panehsy (Panehesy) who was the viceroy of Nubia, marched north with Nubian troops, possibly at the request of Ramesses XI, to restore order in Thebes. However, whether he did so on behalf of the king or on his own seems questionable due to alter events, which might even indicate that the High Priest, Amenhotep, was perhaps, more under the control of Ramesses IX than might be otherwise evidenced. Apparently, in order to feed his men and perhaps even to help limit the power of the High Priest, Panehsy was either given, or perhaps usurped, the office of "overseer of the granaries". Obviously, this would have certainly brought him into conflict with the priesthood of Amun, for that temple owned the bulk of the land and its produce. This event escalated into a civil war, as, during a period of eight or nine months sometime between years 17 and 19 of Ramesses XI's reign, Paneshy besieged the high priest at the fortified temple of Medinet Habu.

We do not know if the High Priest, Amenhotep, survived this attack, but strangely, he may have appealed to Ramesses XI for protection, which appears to have resulted in an even wider civil war. We are told that Paneshy marched north, reaching as far as Hardai in Middle Egypt, which he sacked. He may have even driven farther north, but his advance was eventually met by the king's army and he was driven back. Paneshy eventually had to retreat to Nubia where he apparently caused trouble for some years before his death.

A rather poorly formed Calcite Shabtis from the tomb of Ramesses XI

In the interval, the army of the Pharaoh, under the leadership of a general Piankh, drove on into Thebes, where he too seems to have usurped power from the king. He seems to have taken on the titles of Paneshy and even styled himself as vizier. Whether the former High Priest died in the siege at Medinet Habu or not, after his death, Paneshy also became high priest of Amun. With these high offices, General Piankh began a period of the wehem mesut, or "renaissance", a term used by earlier kings at the beginning of the 12th and 19th Dynasties to indicate that the empire had been reborn after a period of chaos. Now, Theban documents began to be dated by the years of the renaissance rather than that of the King in Piramesses, so we find correspondence between years one and ten of the renaissance and the king's reignal years nineteen through twenty-eight.

After the death of Piankh, his son-in-law named Herihor took over his offices and assumed control of the south. However, Herihor's rule of southern Egypt was not so much of an usurpation as one of tacit recognition by both he and Ramesses XI of each other's sphere of influence. It was Herihor who had built the temple of Khonsu, dedicated to the moon god son of Amun, which lies just within the southern termenos wall of the Karnak complex. Here, depictions of both Herihor and Ramesses XI were carved at the same scale, though not in the same scenes. Though Herihor's name and titles are depicted in a royal cartouche in the forecourt of this temple, it would seem that there was cooperation between the two. Egyptologists disagree on which of these two men died first, but irregardless, upon the death of Ramesses XI, Smendes came to the throne in the north and the Third Intermediate Period was born, as the glory of the New Kingdom passed into history.

It should be noted that, while Ramesses XI had a tomb excavated in the Valley of the Kings (KV4) opposite Thebes (modern Luxor) on the West Bank, it was never finished, and apparently it was not used for Ramesses XI's burial. In fact, after having been fully investigated in 1980, many fragments of material relating to earlier royal burials found in the debris. It would seem that the tomb was put to use as a workshop where some of the royal mummies in the process of being transferred to other hiding places were stripped of any valuables that could be used to bolster the Theban regions ailing economy. Thus far, Ramesses XI's mummy has not been identified.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs) Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H. 1966 Thames and Hudson Ltd IBSN 0-500-05080-5
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Valley of the Kings Weeks, Kent R. 2001 Friedman/Fairfax ISBN 1-5866-3295-7