April 19, 2012

Ramses III and the Sea Peoples

Ramses III and the Sea Peoples
The written and graphically illustrated account of Ramesses' fight against the Sea Peoples is recorded on the walls of his great and remarkably well-preserved mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. The written account occurs on the outer wall of the Second Pylon, north side; it is the longest hieroglyphic inscription known. The graphic representations are carved on the outer north wall of the temple.


Having halted for a while in Syria, the Sea Peoples resumed their march overland to attack Egypt. This was not simply an act of war, it was with intent to force their way into Egypt and settle - they were a nation on the move, complete with women and children and family possessions piled high on ox-carts. At sea, their fleet of no mean proportions kept station with the march. Ramses realized that rapid movement was called for; despatches were sent to the eastern frontier posts to stand firm at all costs until the main Egyptian army could be brought up. The clash came at the border and the slaughter of the invaders was great, as the reliefs depict. Pharaoh was everywhere in his chariot and, according to the canon of Egyptian art, represented at far greater size than any of the other participants.

Although the land invasion had been scattered, there was still the threat from the sea. The Sea Peoples' fleet made for the mouth of one of the eastern arms of the Nile, to be met there by the Egyptian fleet. What transpired is rather interesting because the Egyptians had never prided themselves on being great sailors. They hated the sea, wdj wi, the 'Great Green', as they called the Mediterranean, but here they were fighting what was virtually a landlocked battle. Ramses had ranks of archers lining the shore who poured volley after volley into the enemy ships as soon as they were within range. Egyptian 'marine' archers are shown calmly standing on the decks firing in unison, the enemy ships being hauled alongside with grappling hooks. The enemy dead fall before the onslaught in contorted postures and Ramses returns victorious, by the grace of Amun, the god of Thebes. This was really the beginning of the build up of the fabulous wealth of the priesthood of Amun that was to have such disastrous consequences in the next dynasty.

Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu
Although no follow-up campaign to pursue the Sea Peoples back into the Levant is recorded in the Great Harris Papyrus, or on the walls of Medinet Habu, such a move would have been reasonable. It is interesting to note that the great entrance gateway to the temple is actually modelled on a Syrian fortified tower, a migdol, such as are clearly seen on the reliefs of Seti I and Ramses II at Karnak. Ramses III's building was merely an ornament, an ancient Egyptian 'folly' in a way, but he did have a use for it because on the walls of some of the upper rooms are scenes of him dallying with the ladies of his harem.

Related Web Search :
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