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Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
20th Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Ramesses IV
Ramesses III
Hellenized: Rhampsinitus

Ramesses III on the lid of his stone sarcophagus from KV11.

Reign 1186-1155 BC
(31 years)

Usermaatre Meryamun
The Justice of Re is Powerful,
Beloved of Amun

Ramesses Heqaiunu
Born of Re,
Ruler of Heliopolis
Horus name Kanakht Aanesyt
Strong Bull, Great of Kingship
Nebty name Werhabusedmitatenen
Great of Sed Festivals
like Tatenen
Golden Horus Userrenputmiatum
Rich in years like Atum
Consort(s) Tyti, Iset Tahemdjeret, Tiye
Issues Amunherkhepeshef, Ramesses,
Pareherwenemef, Khaemwaset,
Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI (?),
Ramesses VIII (?), Meryamun,
Meryatum, Mentuherkhepeshef,
Pentawer, Duatentopet
Father Setnakhte
Mother Tiye-Mereniset
Died 1155 BC
Burial KV11
Medinet Habu,
Barque Shrine Temple at Karnak,
Khonsu Temple at Karnak

Usermaatre Meryamun Ramesses III (reigned 1186 B.C.E. - 1155 B.C.E.) was the second Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty and is considered to be the last great New Kingdom king to wield any substantial authority over Egypt. According to Jürgen von Beckerath, Ramesses III reigned from March 7, 1183 to April 16, 1152 BC.[1] This is based on his known accession date of I Shemu day 26 and his death on Year 32 III Shemu day 15 for a reign of 31 Years 1 Month and 19 days.[2] (alternate dates for this king are 1187/1186 to 1156/1155 BC). The Ancient Greeks knew him as Rhampsinitus which is a corruption of Ramesses III's popular Egyptian name: Ra-messu-pa-neter[3]


Ramesses III was the son of Pharaoh Setnakhte and Queen Tiye-Mereniset. His first Queen Tyti was his sister.

Tenure & chaos

During his long tenure in the midst of the surrounding political chaos of the Greek Dark Ages, Egypt was beset by foreign invaders (including the so-called Sea Peoples and the Libyans) and experienced the beginnings of increasing economic difficulties and internal strife which would eventually lead to the collapse of the Twentieth Dynasty. In Year 8 of his reign, the Sea Peoples, including Peleset, Denyen and Tjekker, invaded Egypt by land and sea. Although Ramesses III defeated them in two great land and sea battles, he seems to have incorporated them as subject peoples and settled them in Southern Canaan. This policy may have contributed to the formation of new states in this region such as Philistia after the collapse of the Egyptian Empire. The heavy cost of these battles slowly exhausted Egypt's treasury and contributed to the gradual decline of the Egyptian Empire in Asia. The severity of these difficulties is stressed by the fact that the first known labor strike in recorded history occurred during Year 29 of Ramesses' reign, when the food rations for the favoured royal tomb-builders in the village of Set Maat her imenty Waset (now known as Deir el-Medina), could not be provisioned. The main reason for this deficiency was due to the massive and extended 1159 BC to 1140 BC eruption of the Hekla III volcano in Iceland, which expelled large amounts of smoke and rock into the atmosphere thereby causing large-scale failures of the crop harvest.[4] The presence of significant quantities of volcanic soot in the air prevented much sunlight from reaching the ground and also arrested global tree growth for almost two full decades until 1140 BC. The result in Egypt was a substantial inflation in grain prices under the later reigns of Ramesses VI-VII whereas the prices for fowl and slaves remained constant.[5] The eruption, hence, affected Ramesses III's final years and impaired his ability to provide a constant supply of grain rations to the workman of Deir el-Medina community.[6]

Osirid statues of Ramses III at his temple at Medinet Habu.

These difficult realities are completely ignored by the images of continuity and stability presented in Ramesses' official monuments – most of which seek to emulate his more famous predecessor, Ramesses II. He built important additions to the temples at Luxor and Karnak, and his funerary temple and administrative complex at Medinet-Habu is amongst the largest and best preserved in Egypt – however, the uncertainty of Ramesses' times is apparent from the massive fortifications which were built to enclose the latter. No Egyptian temple in the heart of Egypt prior to Ramesses' reign had ever needed to be protected in such a manner.

Ramesses' two main names, shown left, transliterate as wsr-m3‘t-r‘–mry-ỉmn r‘-ms-s–ḥḳ3-ỉwnw. They are normally realised as Wesermaatre-meryamun Ramesse-hekaiunu, meaning "Powerful one of Ma'at and Ra, Beloved of Amun, Ra bore him, Ruler of Heliopolis".

Conspiracy against the king

Thanks to the discovery of papyrus trial transcripts (dated to Rameses III), it is now known that there was a plot against his life as a result of a royal harem conspiracy during the celebration of Medinet Habu. The conspiracy was instigated by Tey, one of his two principal wives (Isis and Tey), over whose son would inherit the throne. Isis's son, Ramesses IV, was the eldest and the chosen successor by Ramesses III rather than Tey's son Pentawere. It is not known if the plot succeeded because the body of Ramesses III shows no obvious wounds while the crown passed to Ramesses III's own designated successor--Ramesses IV. Some have put forth a hypothesis that a snakebite was the cause of the king's death but this proposal has not been proven. Ramesses III may perhaps have initiated the trials himself to capture the perpetrators of the conspiracy late in his life. His mummy includes a protective amulet to protect Ramesses III in the afterlife from poison. The servant in charge of his food and drink was among the listed conspirators.

The documents also emphasize the extensive scale of the conspiracy to assassinate the king since 40 individuals were tried in all. Chief among them was Queen Tey and her son Pentawere, seven royal butlers (a respectable state office), two Treasury overseers (commonly the position of powerful Viziers), two Army standard bearers, two royal scribes and a herald. There is little doubt that all of the conspirators were sentenced to death: some of the condemned were given the option of committing suicide by poison rather than execution. In the case of Tey and her son Pentawere, their means of death is not known but their royal tombs were robbed and their names erased to prevent them from reaching the afterlife. The Egyptians did such a thorough job of this that the only references to them are these ancient documents and the remains of their tombs.

It has been recently suggested that Pentawere, being a noble, had been spared the humiliating fate of the other conspirators. The others would have been burned alive with their ashes strewn in the streets. Such a punishment would serve to make a strong example since it conveyed such a religious gravity for ancient Egyptians who believed that one could only attain the afterlife if one's body was mummified and preserved. In other words, not only were the criminals killed in the physical world, but also in the afterlife. They would have no chance of living on in the next world, a kind of 'second death'. Pentawere, however, may have been given the option to commit suicide and so avoid the harsher punishment of second death. This would have allowed him to be mummified and, according to common belief, move on to the afterlife.


The Great Harris Papyrus or Papyrus Harris I, which was commissioned by his son and chosen successor Ramesses IV, chronicles this king's vast donations of land, gold statues and monumental construction to Egypt's various temples at Piramesse, Heliopolis, Memphis, Athribis, Hermopolis, This, Abydos, Coptos, El Kab and other cities in Nubia and Syria. It also records that the king dispatched a trading expedition to the Land of Punt and quarried the copper mines of Timna. More notably, Ramesses began the reconstruction of the Temple of Khonsu[7] at Karnak from the foundations of an earlier temple of Amenhotep III and completed the Temple of Medinet Habu around his Year 12. He decorated the walls of his Medinet Habu temple with scenes of his Naval and Land battles against the Sea Peoples.

The mummy of Ramesses III was discovered by antiquarians in 1886 and is regarded as the prototypical Egyptian Mummy in numerous Hollywood movies. His tomb (KV11) is one of the largest in the Valley of the Kings.

External links


  1. Jürgen von Beckerath, Chronologie des Äegyptischen Pharaonischen, Phillip von Zabern,1997, p.190
  2. E.F. Wente & C.C. Van Siclen, "A Chronology of the New Kingdom" p.235 in Studies in Honor of George R. Hughes, (SAOC 39) 1976, ISBN 0-918986-01-X
  3. Rhampsinitus Online Encyclopedia
  4. Frank J. Yurco, "End of the Late Bronze Age and Other Crisis Periods: A Volcanic Cause" in Gold of Praise: Studies on Ancient Egypt in Honor of Edward F. Wente, ed: Emily Teeter & John Larson, (SAOC 58) 1999, pp.456-458
  5. Frank J. Yurco, op. cit., p.456
  6. William Edgerton, The Strikes in Ramses III's Twenty-Ninth Year," JNES 10, pp.137-145
  7. Khonsu Temple at Karnak
Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
Twentieth Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Ramesses IV