6 – Amenhotep III (1386-1353? BC)
Amenhotep III was the ninth Pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, father of the infamous Akhenaton and grandfather of Tutankhamen. He is widely regarded as one of the great rulers of Egypt because he not only presided over an array of impressive structures; he strengthened and then expanded the nation’s borders while ensuring the land enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity.
He did benefit from the fact that his father, Tuthmose IV, was a capable ruler and left a strong, powerful and wealthy empire. However, Amenhotep was only 12 years old when he came to the throne and soon married his wife Tiye, who he ruled the kingdom with for almost 40 years. Tiye was given the title Great Royal Wife which meant she outranked the Pharaoh’s mother in matters of state.
The Pharaoh continued along his father’s path by creating a range of impressive structures throughout Egypt. He is described as a ‘luxurious’ Pharaoh and his buildings included a pleasure palace near Thebes among the 250 or so projects that were completed during Amenhotep’s reign. The Colossi of Memnon are impressive stone statues and the only pieces left of the king’s mortuary temple. The Pharaoh was known to be a superb diplomat and lavished gifts of gold and other riches upon allies to ensure they remained in his debt. There were also various successful military campaigns during his reign which only served to expand the empire and boost its coffers.
The cult of Amun had grown long before Amenhotep came to power and at that stage; the priests of Amun were almost as wealthy as the royal family. Although he did nothing to interfere with their power directly, he did elevate a minor sun god called Aten to the level of the Pharaoh’s personal deity. This action didn’t curb the power of the priests during his reign. However, it had a profound effect on his son Akhenaton who created a new religion called Atenism. Amenhotep suffered from various maladies in later life including dental issues and obesity. It is possible that he died from an abscess that arose from his dental problems. When he died, foreign leaders sent letters of condolence which show the high regard in which the Pharaoh was held.
7 – Ramses II (1279-1213 BC)
Ramses II, or Ramses the Great, is often given the title of ‘Egypt’s greatest Pharaoh.’ He was the third king of the 19th Dynasty and reigned for approximately 66 years. As he probably didn’t ascend the throne until he was 24 years of age, it is likely he lived to be at least 90; a remarkably long time by the standards of the ancient world.
Ramses was named co-ruler with Seti I when he was 22, and by then, he was already leading campaigns in Nubia. At this point, the Egyptians had a fractious relationship with the Hittites and Egypt lost important trading centers in Canaan and Syria to their rivals. Although Seti took back the crucial center of Kadesh, the Hittite king Muwatalli II, recovered it within a few years.
Ramses launched a successful military campaign against the Canaanites and returned home with plunder and prisoners. Perhaps his biggest achievement was driving the Hittites back at the Battle of Kadesh in approximately 1274 BC. At one point in the battle, it appeared as if Ramses would be defeated. Fortunately for him, the Hittites failed to press home their advantage, and he managed to turn the tide. While Ramses claimed victory; the reality is that a stalemate was achieved. After almost two decades of fighting, Egypt, and the Hittites signed a peace treaty.
Although he was reasonably successful in the military sense, Ramses is perhaps best remembered for his architectural achievements. The Ramesseum, his memorial temple, was the beginning of an almost unmatched period of building in ancient Egyptian history. A few years after becoming Pharaoh, Ramses embarked on the most ambitious building program since the Pyramids. Ancient temples in Thebes were changed to honor Ramses while other notable structures included the temples at Abu Simbel, the complex at Abydos, the hall at Karnak and hundreds of other monuments.
Ramses wisely requested that his carvings were deeply engraved in the stone. In the past, Pharaohs could easily transform the markings of predecessors in an attempt to wipe them from history. He suffered from hardening of the arteries and dental issues in later life but eventually succumbed to old age. By the time of his death, Egypt was a powerful and wealthy kingdom. In the last century or so, some historians have criticized Ramses and claim he was a propagandist while others suggest he was a great ruler. Certainly, all available evidence shows that he was an effective Pharaoh and enriched Egypt while overseeing a remarkable building program.