Rameses III - 1187-56 BCFor two thousand years Egyptian civilisation had been pre-eminent, indeed, Egypt had enjoyed a prestige throughout the know world second to none. By the time of Rameses III, (right) however, the world was going through great upheavals. That long period of stability in the Middle East brought about by Thutmose III and continued by Rameses II's treaties with the Hittites was about to come to an end. This was the time of the Trojan Wars and the fall of Mycenae. A time when age-old empires were weakened by complacent rulers and failed harvests.
It is recorded in the longest know papyrus, the Great Harris Papyrus, that many people throughout the region were made homeless. 'The foreign countries plotted on their Islands and the people were scattered by battle all at one time and no land could stand before their arms.' This great movement of people was well armed and desperate. Known as the Sea Peoples, they obliterated the Hittite Empire and for a while threatened Egypt with extinction also.
But Egypt was not about to give up and sink into oblivion, not yet anyway. There was still one more moment of glory for these most ancient of ancients.
During the first few years of his reign, Rameses III consolidated the work of his father, Setnakhte, by bringing unity to the country. Therefore, in his fifth year when the Libyans attacked, Egypt was well prepared. It had been twenty-seven years since Merenptah had repulsed their last offensive, now again, an organized and efficient Egyptian army easily defeated them.
But this was nothing compared to the second and much greater threat, which came three years later. The Sea Peoples were on the move. They had, by now, desolated much of the Late Bronze Age civilizations and were ready to make a move on Egypt. A vast horde was marching south with a huge fleet at sea supporting the progress on land.
To counter this threat Rameses acted quickly. He established a defensive line in Southern Palestine and requisitioned every available ship to secure the mouth of the Nile. Dispatches were sent to frontier posts with orders to stand firm until the main army could be brought into action.
The clash, when it came was a complete success for the Egyptians. The Sea Peoples, on land, were defeated and scattered but their navy continued towards the eastern Nile delta. Their aim now, was to defeat the Egyptian navy and force an entry up the river. Although the Egyptians had a reputation as poor seamen they fought with the tenacity of those defending their homes. Rameses had lined the shores with ranks of archers who kept up continuous volleys of arrows into the enemy ships when they attempted to land. Then the Egyptian navy attacked using grappling hooks to haul in the enemy ships. In the brutal hand to hand fighting which ensued the Sea People are utterly defeated.
The power of the Sea Peoples was broken in the Nile delta but some, the biblical Philistines, settled in Palestine. With the exception of one more conflict with the Libyans, the rest of Rameses III's long reign was peaceful. Trading contacts were revived with the Land of Punt, law and order was reestablished throughout the country. There was a major program of tree planting and building, the finest example of which is the temple at Medinet Habu.
Rameses III had two principle wives plus a number of minor wives and it was one of these minor wives, Tiye, who was the cause of his destruction. She hatched a plot to kill him with the aim of placing her son, prince Pentaweret, on the throne. She and her confederates stirred up a rebellion and used magic wax images and poison as their weapons. The conspiracy failed and the traitors were arrested but not before Rameses was mortally wounded. Fourteen officials sat in judgment and all the accused, with the exception one, was found guilty and condemned to commit suicide. Rameses died before the trial was completed.
Rameses III's death marks the end of an era. He had ruled for 31 years and was the last of the great Pharaohs. Egypt now began to suffer economic problems and was unable to exploit the revolution of the Iron Age (This began around 1200 BC) because she had no sources of ore. But the most important factor in Egypt’s decline was a break down in the fabric of society. There were disputes between officials and governors and infighting between the north and south. The priesthood became over powerful and eventually they took control of the government. From this time onwards others would determine the destiny of the Mediterranean world. The Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and eventually the Romans were to become the lead players on the stage of international politics. "