The pharaoh Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, may have just been great at lying. New findings suggest that the great pharaoh’s military achievements have been exaggerated.
A mural depicting Ramses II battling against the Nubians [Photo by Roderick Dailey]
It seems that the tendency of leaders to spread fake news has been in vogue since ancient times. Ramses II, the third pharaoh of Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty, reigned from 1279 to 1213 BCE. He’s often considered to be the greatest and most powerful of all of the Egyptian Empire’s pharaohs, and is known to have been a prolific warrior king who led Egypt to war against many nearby nations.
But is it possible that this may be less true than we believed?
A new study now suggests that the great pharaoh may have conducted his own campaign of fake news. Archaeological evidence shows that Libya, a nation Egypt was said to have been at war with during Ramses II’s reign, may have actually been more of an amiable neighbor than a bitter enemy.
Was Ramses called "the Great" for the right reasons? [Photo by Mujtaba Chohan]
An archaeological excavation in an area 200 east of Egypt’s border with Libya has aided in busting the ancient and fearsome reputation of Ramses II. Archaeologists found a collection of cow bones, sickles, handstones—evidence of cattle farming and a collection of agricultural tools. These artifacts were dug up just five miles away from an Egyptian fort built within Libyan territory.
The implication is that instead of two warring nations, Egypt and Libya were actually peaceful neighbors, at least during the reign of Ramses II. After all, the findings suggest that Egyptian farmers were able to settle down on Libyan land seemingly without the need for a military presence.
It’s also therefore possible that not only were the Egyptians and Libyans trade partners, but Egyptians learned agricultural techniques from Libyans as well.
“The type of agriculture practiced in the region around the fort is sustained by very limited rainfall and required in-depth knowledge of hydrological conditions, water storage etc,” said Egyptologist Nicky Nielsen, lead author of the study. "The Egyptians were used to a far more fertile agricultural system supported by the Nile Inundation. It is difficult to imagine that an Egyptian garrison would be able to set up a functional agricultural system in such an alien environment without local know-how.”
Many of Egypt's iconic pieces of architecture, including Abu Simbel, were built during the reign of Ramses II.
Ancient inscriptions suggested that the two nations were at war, but archaeological evidence shows two nations coexisting and exchanging goods and knowledge. The researchers suggest that Ramses II himself may have purposefully created the narrative of war to present his reign as something that it was not.
Ramses II possibly felt the pressure of being a member of a military dynasty. The fact that his father, Seti I, was himself a successful warrior may have added to the pressure. Egyptian pharaohs also typically portrayed themselves as warriors, and Ramses II may not have wanted to be the odd man out.
Still, this doesn’t mean that Ramses II wasn’t a good leader. He commissioned the construction of more monuments than any other pharaoh, and he had remarkable architectural achievements. He can still be called “the Great”, just not for the reasons he may have wanted.
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