second king of the twentieth dynasty, New Kingdom. He was the son of King Sethnakht and Queen Tiy-Merenaset. His two main wives, Isis, the daughter of a foreign lady called Hemdjeret, and the other a queen whose name is not known bore him at least ten sons, including the future kings Ramesses IV, VI, and VIII. The main historical sources for the reign are the inscriptions of the king's funerary temple at Medinet Habu (in Western Thebes) and the pseudoautobiographical history of the reign known as Papyrus Harris I.

Until the fifth year of his reign, apart from the pacification of Nubia, Egypt was at peace, allowing the king to establish his power and to start building Medinet Habu (not completed before Year 12). Then, from Year 5 to 11, he fought three attempted invasions of Egypt: in Year 5, the Libu people of Cyrenaica; in Year 8, the Proto-Hellenic Sea Peoples, who had wrought destruction across the Near East; in Year 11, the coalition of Libyan tribes led by the Meshwesh. Whether a Syrian campaign took place before the Libyan is a matter of conjecture. The wars brought Egypt a new prosperity. After the temple estates had been audited in Year 15 by a countrywide inspection, they received workers, cattle, and all kinds of riches. About Year 20, three expeditions brought back myrrh and incense from Punt, copper from the mines of Timnaʿ, north of Eilat, and turquoise from Serabit el-Khadim, in western Sinai. The Timnaʿ expedition included a battle with Edom. New temples were then built throughout the country, the best preserved being the station temple of the king at Karnak and the neighboring Khonsu temple.

Ramesses III

Ramesses III. Paintings of Ramesses III and Isis, from the tomb of Amunherkhepshef, a son of Ramesses III, in the valley of the Queens. (Coutesy Donald B. Redford)

On the thirtieth anniversary of his accession to the throne, the king celebrated his sed-festival at Memphis. This solemn display of the king's powers was accompanied by some dissatisfaction: in Year 29, the workmen of Deir el-Medina went on strike four times to obtain their monthly wages in grain, which the state's administration, then overworked by the festival's preparation, failed to deliver in time. A year later, a party of high officials, probably prompted by the impending death of the king, plotted with a secondary queen, Tiye, to give the crown to her son Pentaweret instead of to the legitimate heir, Prince Ramesses (the future Ramesses IV). The view that the king fell victim to this “harem conspiracy” remains unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, the conspirators were exposed and about forty people were put to death, revealing a division between the dynasty and the governing class, ominous for any future power. Ramesses IV's idea, to publish at his father's death an apologetical account of that reign (the Papyrus Harris I), was hence obviously calculated to inspire his subjects' gratitude to the dynasty, and to turn that gratitude into loyalty toward himself.

Ramesses III was buried in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, although his mummy would be discovered in the Deir el-Bahri cache. As none of his eight successors, Ramesses IV to XI, achieved anything memorable, he is justly considered the last significant king of the New Kingdom.

Bibliography

  • Edgerton, William F., and John A. Wilson. Historical Records of Ramses III, The Texts in Medinet Habu Volumes I and II. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 12. Chicago, 1936. An excellent translation of the historical inscriptions of the Medinet Habu temple.
  • Grandet, Pierre. Ramsès III, Histoire d'un règne. Paris, 1993. A history of the reign, with all necessary references to other literature.
  • Grandet, Pierre. Le Papyrus Harris I (BM 9999). Traduction et commentaire. Bibliothèque d'étude, 109. Cairo, 1994. An annotated translation of one of the main historical sources for the reign.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth A. Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical, vol. 5. Oxford, 1983. Addenda in vol. 7. Oxford, 1989. A collection of all the sources for the reign (except Papyrus Harris I) in their original hieroglyphic script.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth A. Ramesside Inscriptions: Translated and Annotated, vol. 5. Oxford, forthcoming. An annotated translation of all the sources for the reign.
  • Peden, Alexander J. Egyptian Historical Inscriptions of the Twentieth Dynasty. Documenta Mundi. Ægyptiaca, 3. Jonsered, 1994. An anthology of various sources on the twentieth dynasty.

Pierre Grandet