Ramses III

King Ramses III (who ruled between roughly 1190 to 1150 B.C.E.), was the son and heir of Sethnakht who became the first King of the 20th Dynasty. Sethnatkht’s path to the throne is unclear. It is possible that there was a family relationship between him and Ramses II, but it is just as likely that he grabbed power when the opportunity arose just as Ay and Horemheb had before him.


Cartouche of Ramses III
Cartouche of Ramses III

Ramses III made his own claim to the throne clear by having the words “I did not take my office by robbery, but the crown was set upon my head willingly” inscribed on one of the temple pylons. Although the foriegn wars of King Ramsses III, along his life, even in peaceful times there was wide spread corruption and internal strife in Egypt. This unrest might have led to the harem plot, which occurred later in his reign, when several of his ministers and his wife Queen Ty aimed to have him assassinated during the Opet festival celebrations, intending to make Queen Ty’s son king.

Although the wide use of magic and spells, the plot appears to have failed as the culprits were caught and forced to commit suicide, but as Ramses appears to have died before their trial was complete, who is to say that they did not succeed in killing him after all. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings (KV 11) in an elaborate tomb that was initially intended for his father.

Wars and the Military Power of Ramsses III

Ramses III emulated Ramses II in many ways and he named several of his own sons after those of Ramses II. The original Prince Khaemwaset was one of the more famous sons of Ramses II as he became High Priest of Ptah but this Prince Khaemwaset although he also became a priest of Ptah did not rise to the same heights as his namesake. Nevertheless, he did hold high office and in his youth was ‘fan-bearer to the right of the King’. He was one of Ramses III older sons and it is thought that Queen Tyti may have been his mother but his age at death has never been determined.

During his long period, Ramses III fought several campaigns including the battle with the sea peoples, which is shown on the walls of inner walls of the first pylon. Ramsses III records the following encounter with such foreigners: “The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands.…They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Philistines, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh, lands united.” – In the continuation of this record, Ramses III claims to have defeated all of these forces handily, but that’s likely a bit of bravado, or propaganda.

King Ramses III left us not only a written account of his battles with these foreigners, but also pictures – one of which is this drawing found in his mortuary temple, depicting a sea battle with these foreigners.

For two thousand years Egyptian civilization was second to none. By the time of Rameses III, however, the world was going through great upheavals. The long period of stability in the Middle East brought about by Thutmose III, and continued by Rameses II's victories over the Hittites, was about to come to an end. But Egypt was not about to give up and sink into oblivion, not yet anyway. There was still one more moment of glory for Egypt. During the first few years of his reign, Rameses III brought unity to the country. In his fifth year when the Libyans attacked, Egypt was well prepared. An organized and efficient Egyptian army easily defeated them. Ramses III also defeated other armies that threatened Egypt from the sea. Rameses III had two principle wives plus a number of minor wives and it was one of these minor wives that led to his destruction. She hatched a plot to kill him so she could put her son on the throne. Rameses III’s death marks the end of an era. He had ruled for 31 years and was the last of the great Pharaohs. Egypt now began to suffer economic problems and was unable to exploit the revolution of the Iron Age because Egypt had no sources of iron ore. But the most important factor in Egypt’s decline was a break down in society. There were disputes between officials and governors and infighting between Upper and Lower Egypt. The priesthood became very powerful and eventually they took control of the government. From this time onwards others would determine the destiny of Egypt. The Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and eventually the Romans were to become the lead players in Egypt’s destiny.

Temple of Ramsses III (Mortuary temple )

Before entering the mortuary temple visitors pass under the windowed gateway where Ramses had his pleasure rooms and enter an open space which was once a magnificent garden. Facing, is the deeply carved first pylon, which shows Ramses fighting imaginary battles against the enemies of Egypt but on the inner walls are scenes of battles that he really did fight and win. To the right of the gateway is the temple that Hatshepsut built and on the left is the temple of the Divine Adoratrix, which was added at a later date.

Temple of Ramses III at Medinet HabuTemple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu

Inside the first pylon is a large open courtyard, and on the northern side stands rather fat-legged statues of Ramses in the form of Osiris with wives at his feet. Unfortunately, many of these statues were removed to make way for a Coptic Church, which remained inside the temple until the nineteenth century.

In the second courtyard, a series of reliefs show scribes completing a tally of the dead after a battle with the Libyans. This series is interesting as it starts with the counting of hands, which confused the issue as each enemy had two, and finishes by counting penises of which they only had one.
The temple has a chequered history. Apart from being plastered over with mud and turned into a Coptic monastery, when the Egyptian economy began to crumble it was the scene of a labour demonstration. Workers from Deir el Medina gathered there when they went on strike over their lack of pay and poor conditions of employment. Was this the first organised labour dispute? When social order broke down even further, gangs of Libyan bandits roamed the area and when they were attacked, the entire population of Deir el Medina abandoned their town and took refuge within the temple walls.

Ramesses III Family:

Prince Amun-her-Khopshef (her tomb QV55):

Ernesto Schiapaelli discovered this tomb during the Italian expedition’s second diggings in the Valley 1903. Although, like many other tombs it had been looted probably not long after its completion, its structure and decorations were in good condition. The basic shape of the tomb is similar to that of Prince Khaemwaset, a straight corridor leading first to an antechamber and then to the burial chamber. There are single annexes leading from both rooms.

The main theme of the tomb paintings is Ramses III introducing his son to various gods and there are some fine paintings of him wearing a serpent crown. Amun-her-Khepshef is shown with his hair in a side lock, like that shown below, which was a style worn by children. From this, we can assume that he, like many of his brothers, died in childhood and although estimates of his age at death vary, it is likely that it occurred when he was around fifteen years old.

He was not one of Ramses III senior sons but he did hold many titles and is shown both in his tomb and in the Medinet Habu as being a fan-bearer on the right-hand side of his father, which was a position of importance that several of his brothers held.

At the rear of this tomb is a case which holds a mummified foetus that myth ascribed to a miscarriage his mother (possibly Queen Tyti) had on hearing the news of his death. This is an interesting tale but that is all it is because later studies have discovered that the foetus was moved there from another tomb early in the 20th Century.







Prince Amun-her-Khopshef (QV55)