Due to the volatile political climate of that time, Ramses II strived to secure Egypt’s border from various revolts just as his father had done. These attacks and revolts came from the Nubians, the Libyans, and the Hittites. As a result of these revolts he had built up a huge Egyptian army force of approximately 100,000 men.
Within the first two years of his reign, Ramses II had to protect the Egyptian Mediterranean coast by defeating the Sherden sea pirates who created havoc by attacking any cargo-laden vessels that were in route to Egypt. He strategically posted surprise attacks on these pirates and was eventually able to capture them all in a single battle along with the Lukka and the Shekelesh peoples. This victory then gave Ramses II advantage and control over the Mediterranean coast.
Two years later, Ramses II fought against a Palestinian Prince that was mortally wounded by an Egyptian archer. The Palestinian Prince’s army was forced to retreat and the Prince was taken prisoner. Thereafter, Ramses II was able to safely plunder the Asiatic lands. During this fourth year, he was also able to capture the Hittite state of Amurru in Syria. This provided him with further power and wealth.
Ramses II was a great military commander just like his father had been. He didn’t let up his fight against the Hittites. The Hittites were determined to retain control of North Syria; however, in July 1274 BC, Ramses II recaptured the Syrian City of Kadesh and this became one of his greatest battles as pharaoh. Egypt had lost this city during the reign of the heretic king Akhenaten and Ramses II had taken it back. According to ancient writing, this heroic battle encompassed over 5,000 chariots during battle.
In that same year he also developed a new capital called Pi-Ramses. This new capital became a forefront for manufacturing various battle weapons such as chariots and shields. It was these weapons that most likely helped him achieve victory against the Hittite Empire in Kadesh; however, during this Hittite attack, Ramses II was ambushed and suffered many losses. The battle was mostly a stalemate, but it did not preclude Ramses II from proclaiming victory and showing this through inscriptions on the temples of Ramesseum, Abydos, Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel. There are historians that continue to proclaim that this battle was only a shallow victory for Ramses II because Egyptian forces were not able to really occupy the city or territory around Kadesh.
Seven years into his reign, Ramses II decided to again go into Syria and this time was more successful against the Hittites. Splitting his army into two forces and with the help of his son he was able to expand his territory once again. He continued to move on to northern Amurru into Tunip and captured that city as well; however, that victory was short lived. Within the year the Hittites took the territory back. Ramses II once again battled to recover this territory and this time six of his sons participated in this endeavor.
After 20 years of conflict with the Hittites, Ramses II decided to put an end to the turmoil. An agreement was then made between Ramses II and the Hittite King, Hattusili III, at Kadesh. This peace treaty was recorded in two language versions; Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Akkadian which used the cuneiform script; cuneiform script is one of the earliest forms of written expression. Each agreement included verbiage that accused the other party of “begging for peace” and was most likely done to safe face by both sides. Eventually this agreement was carved into the Temple of Karnak. Thirty four years into Ramses II’s reign and 13 years after the treaty was in place with the Hittites, Ramses II married the daughter of the Hittite prince. Her name was Ueret-ma-a-nefe. This marriage helped to further solidify the treaty and to continue the peace between Ramses II and the Hittite Empire.
In addition to the battles against the Hittites, there are also depictions of campaigns and skirmishes with the Nubians and the Libyans. One temple makes reference to Ramses II fighting a battle against the Nubians with no assistance from his troops. In other instances there are references of Ramses II conquering and crushing the Libyans but no specific details are provided.
So what made Ramses II a great leader? No one knows for sure, but what is known is that at the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, there is a great account detailing Ramses II’s childhood. It indicates that he was made a General at the age of 10 years old and was making administrative decisions at this young age. This leads us to conclude that his father had begun preparing Ramses II (at a very young age) to take the place of Pharaoh upon his demise.
The Hittites were an Indo-European people that had destroyed the Babylonian Empire and thus were feared throughout. Although Ramses II’s father had realized many victories in retaining the disputed territories for Egypt during his reign, he was not able to totally destroy the Hittites before he died; thus, this task was left to Ramses II to handle as the new pharaoh of Egypt. Today we know of Ramses II father’s military victories and successes because these were captured and recorded on the front of the temple of Amun located in Karnak.
Ramses II came to rule over the largest empire known in the ancient world. His rule overlooked territory from the African Desert to the Mediterranean Sea. Overseeing territory of this size was both an advantage and a curse. It was an advantage because it gave him power; however, it was also a curse in that it brought upon many enemies causing much turmoil throughout his kingdom.