fourth king of the nineteenth dynasty, New Kingdom. Merenptah was the thirteenth son and successor of Ramesses II. Having assumed high military functions during his father's reign, he became heir to the throne after the death of his elder brothers. He was middle aged on his accession and reigned for about ten years.

Merenptah was not renowned for his building program. All religious centers had been restored or rebuilt by his predecessors, and new temples had been erected under the reign of his father, thus Merenptah achieved only compulsory monuments. His rock-cut royal tomb in Western Thebes included splendid wall decorations and had sarcophagi of excellent workmanship, indicating that the royal workshops were very skillful during that time. The ruins of his funerary temple in Thebes, although mostly destroyed, show the plan of an extended precinct. The building material as well as the reinscribed statues of kings and gods, however, were mostly reused from the adjoining temples of Amenhotpe III, in spite of the reopening of sandstone quarries at Gebel es-Silsila. There, a great donation to the Nile god Hapy is celebrated on a large stela. The limestone quarries at el-Babein were reopened with the dedication of a rock-cut chapel to the goddess Hathor. Other building activities are attested in major Ramessid centers: in Memphis, a sanctuary to Ptah and a magnificent palace; at Heliopolis, a temple preceded by a commemorative column (once surmounted by a statue, it anticipated on the triumphal columns of the Roman period); in the Nile Delta, statues and blocks bearing his name were moved from Piramesse and found reused in Tanis and surrounding sites.

Merenptah

Merenptah. Statue of Merenptah in the Cairo Museum. (Courtesy David P. Silverman)

Merenptah's reign is marked by the invasion of the Libyans who were bound in a coalition with the Sea Peoples; Merenptah successfully repelled these groups in his fifth regnal year. Reports of the victory have been inscribed on columns and stelae in Egypt and Nubia. The confederacy of western foes, mainly Lebu and Meshwesh, also included newcomers from the Mediterranean—the Sea Peoples, comprising the Akawash, Turash, Luka, Shardana, and Shekelesh. The battle took place at Pi-yer, on the western border of the Nile Delta, and ended with the triumph of the Egyptian army. Six thousand soldiers were slain, and nine thousand prisoners taken. The chief of the Libyans fled, members of his family were captured, and a great booty was seized by the Egyptians.

The fame of the king is due to the unique mention of Israel in Egyptian sources, which occurs on the Victory Stela once placed in Merenptah's mortuary temple at Thebes (now in the Cairo Museum). In this report, the Libyan defeat is followed by the capture of Palestinian cities and the devastation of Israel. Scenes presumed to illustrate that campaign and attributed to his reign, actually belong to a cycle of scenes depicting episodes from the Near Eastern wars of Ramesses II. Recent scholarship agrees that Merenptah is not the pharaoh of the biblical Book of Exodus. His mummy was found in the tomb of Amenhotpe II, which was used as a royal cache during the twenty-first dynasty, in the Third Intermediate Period.

See also SEA PEOPLES.

Bibliography

  • Redford, D. B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Cairo, 1993. Sourouzian, H. Les monuments du roi Merenptah. Sonderschrift des Deutschen Archäeologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo, 22. Wiesbaden, 1989.
  • Vandersleyen, C. L'Egypte et la Vallee du Nil. Paris, 1995.

Hourig Sourouzian