Rameses II – A Leader Among Leaders
This is the first post in an ongoing series that will look at key leaders throughout Time and their enduring legacy, including key attributes applicable to leaders today
I am a great believer that leaders are made, not born. That being said, there is much in the way of literature out there regarding how leaders come to be. Undertake any literature review on the subject and you will find there is a position regarding how leaders are made (and how it is done), or that leaders are born (as if by some divine right!) or perhaps, you will find there is even something in between.
In short, one thing is certain and that is leaders rise to the occasion. However, in this context, leaders are either good or bad, and again, perhaps even something in between.
Leadership is simple, yet complex and thus challenging. The list of leaders that have been tested time and time again is extensive. Just ask: Rameses II, Alexander the Great, Tang Taizong, Caesar, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Queen Victoria, Ghandi, Churchill, Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, Peter Drucker, Bill Gates.
Today, I thought I might focus on, perhaps my all time favourite leader, the Egyptian Pharaoh – Rameses II (1292-1186 BCE) or as he was also known: Rameses the Great and ‘Keeper of Harmony and Balance’(Gebril, 2019; Mark, 2009).
Rameses caught my attention as a six year old boy when I received a book from my dad on Ancient Egypt that had magnificent pictures in it regarding the fabulous temple complex he built at Abu Simbel. Kristin Baird Rattini (2019) describes Abu Simbel as follows: “At its entrance, four 60-plus-foot-tall seated statues of him serve as sentries. Dedicated to the sun gods, the temple extends 185 feet into its cliff via a series of three towering halls. Scenes depict Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh as well as the pharaoh and his principal wife, Nefertari, making offerings to the sun gods.” It is also interesting to note that Ramses also built a second, smaller temple nearby for Queen Nefertari.
In her book, A Thousand Miles up the Nile (Edwards, 1891), Amelia B Edwards said of Rameses: He was born to greatness; he achieved greatness; and he had borrowed greatness thrust upon him. Amelia certainly knew how to turn a phrase. If you ever get the chance to read her book, you can feel the romantic description used to pull you back in time to the ‘Land of Pharaohs.’ And yet, underneath it all, we know that Rameses family had very humble origins (Karima, 2016). His grandfather, Rameses I through military prowess, elevated their commoner family to the ranks of royalty (Rattini, 2019).
Rameses was just 24 when he ascended the throne of Egypt (Prahl, 2019). He then went on to rule for a further 66 years, in what is referred to as a Golden Age of Ancient Egypt. It is interesting to note, that his father Seti 1, made Rameses a general at the age of ten (Valjak, 2018) and prince regent at the age of 14 (2007 Wikipedia Schools Selection, 2007). So, by the time he became Pharoah, he had ten years under his belt regarding kingship and war.
Pharaohs, as a rule, did not acknowledge their children, let alone the capabilities they may have possessed. At the very most, they might acknowledge the crown prince, perhaps (Karima, 2016). Wente, Baines and Dorman (2021) comment that for the first time in more than a millennium, Rameses as Pharaoh had his princes prominently represented on monuments. It is said Rameses sired some 100 children or more (some say tas many as up to 170 offspring!). Of his children, he acknowledged at least 30 princes and 30 princesses publicly (Theban Mapping Project, 2021). During his long life he trained at least 12 sons to be crown prince, as most of his children died before he died (PBS, 2006). Of the primary princes from his two queens, he treated them with equal regard and respect (Mark, 2009). So, he was seen by the people as humane by going against custom and was generally well liked (Hays, 2018).
Rameses did fight in many successful wars, but had one major blemish, the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites (Geni, 2019). However, after this inconclusive battle and a further series of successful wars, he signed the Eternal Peace Treaty with the Hittites. So, by the time he was in his 40’s, he began to rule over a peaceful and successful kingdom right through until the end of his days.
When he died in his early 90’s, his subjects were very distraught. Most people did not live beyond the age of 40 at that time. So, it was quite likely that most of his subjects, at his passing, had been born during his reign (PBS, 2006).
There are those who contend that Rameses was neither great nor was he a good general. Dailymi (2021) cites some Egyptologists (William Hayes, Kenneth A Kitchen – see further comments below) who considered him a despot (Dailymi also mentions those who considered him as far sighted and master diplomat – H Schlogl, Nicolas Grimal). Others mention that he was an apparent megalomaniac (Real Life Villains Wiki, 2021; Putthoff, 2020 pp39 – 47). Both Amelia B Edwards and Kenneth Kitchen (noted egyptologist and Rameses II specialist) mention Rameses may have been a despot or megalomaniac, but we must put this into the context of the societal norms at the time i.e. we cannot judge him by today’s standards. He was no better or worse than any other ruler throughout that part of the world (Dunn, 2021). John Ray comments when Rameses successor came to the throne and undertook an audit of imperial spending “one gains the impression that the excesses of the previous reign had left the throne close to bankruptcy (Ray, 2017).”
Personally, I don’t share the negative points of view because, as any leader knows, to achieve what Rameses did as the ruler of Egypt he had to possess some amazing leadership abilities. Resting on one’s laurels, being vindictive and only talking about oneself does not lead to a successful kingdom. Sure, it might survive, but such a kingdom would not have prospered the way Egypt did at that time. Dorman and Faulkner (2021) postulate: “Ramses II must have been a good soldier, despite the fiasco of Kadesh, or else he would not have been able to penetrate so far into the Hittite empire as he did in the following years; he appears to have been a competent administrator, since the country was prosperous, and he was certainly a popular king. Some of his fame, however, must surely be put down to his flair for publicity: his name and the record of his feats on the field of battle were found everywhere in Egypt and Nubia.”
Of course, what happens afterwards may be an issue. A war within the family broke out ten years after the passing of Rameses (Karima, 2016). Although Egypt remained an ongoing influence in the region (Dorman and Faulkner, 2021) the “New Kingdom” collapsed after the reign of Smendes nearly 150 years later (Mark, 2016). However, when it is all said and done, Rameses legacy is still felt today (Sandvick, Krebsbach and Lambrecht, 2018).
Three Key Leadership Traits
So, when we look at the achievements of Rameses, there are three key leadership attributes that he possessed:
- Diplomacy. He understood the importance of gaining financial and security interests by means other than war.
- Public relations. He understood that a positive message would make the biggest difference to his people.
- Commitment to great architecture and Infrastructure. He had a grand vision and understood economic security.
After 14 years of conflict, the Eternal Peace Treaty (also known as the Silver Treaty) between Egypt and the Hittites was signed by Ramses and the Hittite King: Hattusili III. It would also seem that Hattusili’s wife, Queen Puduhepa was part of the diplomatic resolution as her seal is found on the treaty (Silver, 2010). A copy of the clay tablets setting out the treaty are prominently displayed above the entrance to to United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York (Andrews, 2020). The Eternal treaty is the earliest known peace accord whose text has survived in key monuments in both Egypt and Ancient Anatolia (Turkey). Among the treaty’s articles, both sides agreed to extradite refugees and not exact retribution after their return. Further, they agreed to aid one another if attacked by foreign or domestic enemies (Rattini, 2019). In addition to the treaty, Rameses also married not one, but two Hittite princesses (at different times). It’s interesting to note that Puduhepa in due course did have something to say to her “brother” about such arrangements (Silver, 2010).
The lesson from Rameses regarding diplomacy is this: there are times as a leader when you need to draw a line in the sand, take a deep breath and look at how you can go forward, together, instead of pursuing ongoing conflict that is destructive. Whichever way you look at it, both kings were magnanimous. In later correspondence, Nefertari in a letter to Puduhepa referred to both kings as brothers (Silver, 2010). Rameses understood that he needed access to the Hittite controlled ports and the countries that bordered Hittite territory. Hattusili certainly needed an ally to discourage potential usurpers at home in order to secure a lasting peace for posterity (Wikja.org, 2021). By all accounts both rulers went on to have a good relationship. I guess that is the ultimate in being professional: rise above your personal interests.
The Master of Spin
Rameses, was without a doubt a master spin doctor. However, as all good leaders know, to seal the deal, to inspire and lead, you need to talk it up. The battle of Kadesh was inconclusive. Neither the Egyptians nor the Hittites won. What we find regarding the outcome of this battle is that Rameses was quick to return home and publish far and wide that Kadesh was a successful campaign and that he, single handedly, won the day. Remarkably, the Hittite king used the same strategy with his people (Rattini, 2019).
One of Ramses offspring, Prince Khaemwaset truly stands apart, and in particular how he helped his father on the public relations front. Khaemwaset held the prestigious post of high priest of Ptah, the patron god of Memphis. Bas-reliefs depict him in his important duty of tending the tomb of Ptah’s sacred Apis bulls in the underground complex known as the Serapeum (Rattini, 2019).
Khaemwaset is also considered one of the first known archaeologists. He was captivated by the thousand-year-old landmarks from the Old Kingdom that surrounded him in Memphis. He inspected and restored several temples and pyramids. At each restoration, he inscribed the names and titles of the building’s original “owners,” as well as his and his father’s names. A millennium after his death, he was still being revered as a scholar and featured in a series of stories about his accomplishments (Rattini, 2019).
The Importance of Infrastructure
Rameses, like any good leader, understood that great architecture and infrastructure are needed to keep the people focussed, make life easier for them (both socially and at work) and to also keep them gainfully employed. We know that previous pharaohs had built impressive pyramids and temples. However under the reign of Rameses, it is said, he turned Egypt into an immense building site, from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Nubia (Deprez, 2021). Much of his construction work was in relation to his image or family. Many historians consider his reign the pinnacle of Egyptian art and culture and the famous Tomb of Nefertari with its wall paintings is cited as clear evidence of the truth of this claim. Nefertari was Ramesses’ first wife and his favourite queen (Mark, 2009).
In today’s world, we find it difficult to understand such an approach, in fact some would say Rameses showed narcissistic tendencies. However, we need to understand Egyptian society at the time: the Pharaoh was divine – a link between the gods and the common people (Williams, 2019: Putthoff, 2020 pp39 – 47)). Pharaonic divinity has always intrigued me. It was never questioned by the populace (despite revolts from time to time). State based religion was important, as it was central to their way of life. Ask any cat that lived in Ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egyptians actually enjoyed life (Mark, 2016) and are not the sombre, spooky people often portrayed in movies and TV shows. They were a colourful people (Ancient Egypt for Kids, 2021). Because they enjoyed life so much, they wanted to make sure they could transition to the afterlife and enjoy it just as much there on the ancestral plane. In addition to such divineship, Ancient Egypt was for all intents and purposes, egalitarian (equal under the law). In particular, Egyptian women had great freedom and enjoyed equality in many aspects re owning land, were able to divorce, were generally paid the same as men for work undertaken outside the home (Andrews, 2020). Nefertari, as Rameses first queen, was revered as an exceptional woman. She played an important role in state and religious affairs. Loved by her people, she was called “mistress of two lands,” a title normally reserved for the king, the “lord of two lands” (Canadian Museum of History, 2021).
Some Final Thoughts
The Eternal Peace Treaty is on display for all to see at the United Nations, above the entrance to the Security Council. The contents of the treaty set out how both kingdoms will be of benefit to each other. The ensuing peace the Treaty provided led to great prosperity and a much better way of life. However, it does make me wonder why some of the current members of the Security Council in today’s world only pay lip service to the ideals of such a revered Treaty?
Rameses II stood bold and proud. He respected his family and involved them in much of what he had to do. He led his people in an open manner and communicated with them through his great structural works. He was considered accessible like none other before him. From a young age his father (Seti I) instilled in him what it meant to be responsible for those around him. He achieved his aim of securing Egypt’s borders, so that for much of his reign, the nation lived in peace, harmony and prosperity.
2007 Wikipedia Schools Selection, (2007). Rameses II. (online) https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/r/Ramesses_II.htm (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Ancient Egypt for Kids. (2021). Daily Life. (online). Available at: https://egypt.mrdonn.org/dailylife.html (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Andrews, E. (2020). 11 Things You May Not Know About Ancient Egypt. History. (online). Available at: https://www.history.com/news/11-things-you-may-not-know-about-ancient-egypt (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Canadian Museum of History. (2021). Mysteries of Egypt. Egyptian Civilisation. Government. Royal Women. (online). Available at: https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/egypt/egcgov4e.html (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Dailymi. (2021). Ramesses II, The Third Ancient Egyptian King (Pharaoh). (online) Available at: https://dailymi.com/world/ramesses-ii-the-third-ancient-egyptian-king-pharaoh/ (Accessed 2 June 2021).
Deprez, G. (2021). Why Ramses II Is Known As Ramses The Great? The Collector. (online). Available at: https://www.thecollector.com/why-ramses-ii-is-known-as-ramses-the-great/ (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Dorman, P.F. and Faulkner, R.O. (2021). Rameses II King of Egypt. Britannica. (online) Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ramses-II-king-of-Egypt (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Dunn, J. (2021). Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh An Introduction. Tour Egypt (online). Available at: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/ramesses2intro.htm. (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Edwards, A.B. (1891). A Thousand Miles Up The Nile. London: George Rutledge and Sons. Also: https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/edwards/nile/nile-XV.html (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Gebil, M. (2019). Who Was The Great King Ramesses II? Osiris Tours. (online) Available at: https://www.osiristours.com/great-king-ramesses-ii/ (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Geni. (2019). Rameses II ‘The Great,’ Pharaoh of Egypt. (online) Available at: https://www.geni.com/people/Ramses-II-The-Great-Pharaoh-of-Egypt/6000000000351094247 (Accessed 4 June 2021).
Hays, J. (2018). Rameses the Great. Facts and Details. (online. Available at: http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat56/sub364/item1956.html (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Karima, H. (2016). The Poisoned Legacy of Rameses II. Egypt Today. (online). Available at: https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/4/3131/The-Poisoned-Legacy-Of-Rameses-II (Accessed 4 June 2021).
Mark, J.J (2009). Rameses II. World History Encyclopedia. (online) Available at: https://www.worldhistory.org/Ramesses_II/ (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Mark, J.J (2016). Daily Life in Ancient Egypt. World History Encyclopedia. (online) Available at: https://www.worldhistory.org/article/933/daily-life-in-ancient-egypt/ (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Mark, J.J. (2016). New Kingdom of Egypt. World History Encyclopedia. (online). Available at: https://www.worldhistory.org/New_Kingdom_of_Egypt/ (Accessed 4 June 2021).
Prahl, A. (2019) Biography of Rameses II, Pharaoh of Egypt’s Golden Age. ThoughtCo. (online). Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/ramses-ii-biography-4692857 (Accessed 18 May, 2021).
Puttoff, T.L. (2020). Gods and Humans in the Ancient Near East. Cambridge University Press.
PBS, (2006). Egypts Golden Empire. New Kingdom. Rameses II. (online) Available at: https://www.pbs.org/empires/egypt/newkingdom/ramesses.html (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Rattini, K.B. (2019). Who was Rameses II? National Geographic. (online). Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/ramses-ii?loggedin=true (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Ray, J. (2017). Rameses the Great. BBC History. (online). Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/ramesses_01.shtml (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Real Life Villains Wiki. (2021). Rameses The Great. (online) Available at: https://reallifevillains.miraheze.org/wiki/Rameses_the_Great (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Sandvick, C., Krebsbach, J., Lambrecht, E. (2018). Why Was Ramesses II “Great” and How Did He Influence the History of the Ancient Near East? DailyHistory.org (online). Available at:2021).https://dailyhistory.org/Why_Was_Ramesses_II_“Great”_and_How_Did_He_Influence_the_History_of_the_Ancient_Near_East%3F (Accessed 4 June 2021).
Silver, C. From Priestess to Princess. Iron Ladies of the Ancient World. Archaeology (online). A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. Available at: https://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/iron_ladies/puduhepa.html (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Theban Mapping Project. (2021). Rameses II – Ruler/Tomb Owner 1278 – 1212 BC. Available at: https://thebanmappingproject.com/glossary/rameses-ii (Accessed 18 May 2021).
Valjak. D. (2018). The Vintage News. (online). Available at: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/01/16/ramesses-ii-passport/ (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Wente, E.F., Baines, J.R., Dorman, P.F. (2021). Rameses II. Britannica. (online). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/ancient-Egypt/Egypt-under-Achaemenid-rule (Accessed 2 June 2021).
Wikja.org. (2021). Egyptian-Hittite Peace Treaty. (online). Available at: https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Egyptian–Hittite_peace_treaty (Accessed 3 June 2021).
Williams, E.S. (2019). Was Rameses II Really That Great? History Extra. (online). https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-egypt/was-ramesses-ii-pharaoh-great-brilliant-why/ (Accessed 3 June 2021).