Ramses II, the mighty pharaoh of Egypt’s XIX Dynasty, reigned for an impressive 66 years. His mummy, originally entombed in the Valley of the Kings, now rests on display at the Grand Egyptian Museum. What mysteries lie within this ancient ruler’s preserved remains, shedding light on the glory days of ancient Egypt?

Mummy of Ramesses II

The mummy of Ramesses II was among those found in the Royal Cachette (DB320) at Deir el-Bahari. It was completely covered with linen bandages that bear the king’s name and epithets in Hieratic script. The mummy has silky hair, which was white at the time of death, but has yellowed from the preservative chemicals. His nostrils were filled with resin and seeds, perhaps to better hold their shape.

Ramesses II was originally buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but was later transferred (because of looting) by priests to the tomb of Queen Inhapy. His body was moved again three days later to the tomb of high priest Pinedjem II — this story is inscribed on the linen covering his body.

Mummy of King Ramesses IIMummy of King Ramesses II. Photo: Patrick Landmann

Regarded by many historians as Egypt’s most powerful king, Ramesses II reigned for six decades (ca. 1279-1213 BC), lived to be over 90 years old and is said to have fathered upwards of 100 children. His body was originally entombed in the Valley of the Kings, West Thebes, as was customary for a king, but ancient Egyptian priests later moved it to thwart rampant looters.

In 1881, Ramesses II’s mummy was discovered in a secret royal cachette at Deir el-Bahari, along with those of more than 50 other kings and nobles, including his father Seti I.

In 1974, archeologists noticed its deteriorating condition and flew it to Paris, where it was treated for a fungal infection. Before the journey, Ramesses was issued an Egyptian passport, which listed his occupation as “King (deceased).”

According to the X-rays, the king was suffering from dental problems and severe arthritis in his hip joint. Ramesses II’s mummy was sent to Paris for further studies and preservation. The king most probably died in his late eighties or early nineties.

Subsequent microscopic inspection of the roots of Ramesses II’s hair proved that the king’s hair originally was red, which suggests that he came from a family of redheads.

Mummified body of Ramesses II wrapped in linen with arms crossed over the chest, c.1880-1900.

Mummified body of Ramesses II wrapped in linen with arms crossed over the chest, c.1880-1900.

For a matchless ruler, who, during his reign had risen to every challenge and had enjoyed an incredibly long life span; the Afterlife posed serious difficulties for Ramesses II. His massive “House of Eternity” in the Valley of the Kings (KV7) did not survive looting in antiquity; neither was it spared by the vagaries of nature.

So, during the Third Intermediate Period, loyal priests moved his mummified remains around for safekeeping a couple of times, until it was finally deposited in tomb (TT320) – located high up in the Theban cliffs of Deir el-Bahari – in the company of several other illustrious kings.

The celebrated monarch rested in peace there until 1881 when Émile Brugsch discovered the cache of royal mummies.

Cut to modern times: Ramesses the Great has always been the cynosure of all eyes; during his lifetime and millennia after his death too. Perhaps no other king comes close to Usermaatre’s hold over popular imagination—be they in the form of books, movies or documentaries.

In 1976, Egyptologists noticed that the mummy of Ramesses II was rapidly deteriorating; and flew it to Paris for examination and treatment.

The mummy of Ramesses showcased what Egyptologists called an “excellent” quality of embalming. Despite the destruction made by ancient tomb robbers, the mummy had been fantastically preserved, and the embalming technique fitted the 19th Dynasty time period in which Ramesses II lived and died. This includes techniques of slight and subtle packing.

The mummy of Ramesses II

The mummy of Ramesses II

Ramesses’ mummy is rather famous for the prominent nose, most definitely a trait he had in life, yet the embalmers made sure to preserve this by packing his nose with small seeds, resin and strangely a small animal bone. And as with most mummies, resin-soaked linen is present in the torso too.

Recent CT scans of the mummy showcase that the king died well over 70, as many ailments that come with very old age were present, including arthritis and a hunched back. Study of the king’s bones, teeth, and general remains, do support the historic indication of Ramesses II being over 90 at the time of his death.

Despite his ailments and old age, the king’s mummy measures at 170cm. And when you take into consideration, shrinking with age, with death itself and the shrinking that the drying mummification process provides the body with, it is safe to presume Ramesses II may have been rather tall for his time period and average male height of today.

Although the mummy of the king had been somewhat damaged during the tomb robberies of ancient times, modern analysis is still very clear at providing Egyptologists with an idea of Ramesses’ final years.

The mummy of Ramesses IIThe mummy of Ramesses II

Unfortunately for the king, his teeth were in very bad condition; with Dr. Saleem noting “marked tooth wear and alveolar resorption;”, plus, a large cavity at the root of the left second molar; indicating an abscess that was most definitely very painful.

Coping with an abscess at any age even in modern times is extremely painful, so we can only imagine being over 90 in the ancient world dealing with such pain.

There is no cause of death currently known for Ramesses II. Thus far, all signs point to the king dying elderly, yet the cause of death itself is inconclusive.

CT Scan of the mummy of Ramesses II. CT Scan of the mummy of Ramesses II.


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