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Aerial view of Thebes' Ramesseum, showing pylons and secondary buildings and the Medical Papyri.

Revealing the Ramesseum Medical Papyri and Other Remarkable Finds from the Temple of Ramesses II

The mortuary temple of Ramesses II is one of the most magnificent temples in the Theban necropolis in Upper Egypt. It was discovered by Jean-Francois Champollion, the same man who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs. When he arrived at the temple, he read the name of the pharaoh - Ramesses. The temple is also known as the House of Millions of years, and it was built in memory of the reign of Ramesses II.

Excavating the Magnificent Ramesseum

Ramesses II was one of the longest living, and ruling, kings of Egypt. During his reign, Egypt grew with new temples, buildings, and even cities. Ramesseum was created as sort of the cherry on top of the cake.

Earliest photos of Ramesseum, 1854 by John Beasley Greene.

Earliest photos of Ramesseum, 1854 by John Beasley Greene. ( Public Domain )

The Ramesseum site was noticed for the first time during the summer of 1798 when a team of Napoleon Bonaparte’s researchers arrived in the Theban necropolis. However, they couldn’t identify the name of the city. The engineers from France, Edouard deVilliers du Terrage and Jean Baptiste Prosper Jollois, believed that the Ramesseum was the “Palace of Memnon” described by Diodorus of Sicily during the 1st century BC.

During the second decade of the 19th century, a showman and engineer from Italy named Giovani Batista Belzoni arrived at the Ramesseum. He took many smaller artifacts from the site, but also monumental granite heads of Ramesses II - known as the 'Younger Memnon'. These artifacts became a part of the British Museum’s collection.

The 'Younger Memnon.'

The 'Younger Memnon.' (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Many archaeologists visited the site over the years, but in 1991 a French-Egyptian team started to explore and restore Ramesseum to bring back its glory. They unearthed bakeries, kitchens, and supply rooms at the temple. They were also able to find the school where boys studied writing; preparing them to become professional scribes. One of these researchers may have discovered precious medical papyri at the site.

One of the granite heads.

One of the granite heads. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Special Medical Papyri

Apart from the magnificent monuments and other artifacts dedicated to the mortuary temple, researchers also found a unique treasure – papyri. The discovery of papyri is always a huge success for researchers because time and climatic concerns mean many have been lost. The ones from Ramesseum are dated back to the beginning of the 18th century BC and contain priceless knowledge about people from Ramesses’ time and before.

Like other medical papyri from Egypt, the text explains diseases, anatomy, and suggests possible remedies. The papyri include information on childhood diseases, ophthalmological ailments, muscles, tendons, and gynecology. The manuscript was numbered in parts from III to V. The text was written in vertical columns in hieratic script, which is typical for this kind of papyri.

The Medical Papyri.

The Medical Papyri. ( The British Museum )

Papyrus III discusses the eruption of a volcano, which was probably on Santorini. It explains medical problems related to burned bodies. Moreover, it describes possibilities on how to help the people who suffered from this event.

Papyrus IV describes gynecological issues. It is very similar to another known papyrus – Kahun Gynecological. The text explains problems in labor, newborn babies, and has a contraception formula. Apart from this, one can learn how to predict a baby’s gender. Finally, Papyrus V explains the way humans had to relax their limbs. This papyrus is unique to the set as it is written in hieroglyphic script.

Page 1 and part of page 2 of the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus.

Page 1 and part of page 2 of the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus. ( Public Domain )

The Temple of a Victorious King

The temple is a monument created in memory of Ramesses II’s success. He died over the age of 90, so the list of his achievements is long. The decoration of the temple is focused on his military triumphs. He is presented as a magnificent and powerful ruler whose strength came from the deities he worshipped.

Temple of Ramesses II, Luxor.

Temple of Ramesses II, Luxor. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

According to Lorna Oakes:

“Ramesses recorded his Syrian campaigns on the Great Pylon at the entrance to the temple. The Syrian fortress he destroyed in the eight year of his reign is depicted on the North Tower. There are also scenes from his much-vaunted war against the Hittites, including depictions of the Egyptian army and the Egyptian camp surrounded by a 'fence' of shields, within which the soldiers prepare to do battle. To the right at the end of the papyrus there is a scene depicting the king holding a council of war and another showing captured spies being beaten.”

Apart from this, Ramesses is presented with the god Min. The temple is decorated with depictions of Ramesses II during the celebration of Min. In the hall called the ‘First Small Hypostyle Hall’ Amon, his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu also appear. Ramesses is presented next to them, sitting under the sacred tree. Two deities of writing and scribes, Thoth and Seshat, write his name on the leaves of the tree. This sophisticated representation of Ramesses was prepared to help him stay immortal. All of the Ramesseum was dedicated to Amon, a chief god who was the pharaoh’s patron.

Amun-Min as Amun-Ra ka-Mut-ef from the temple at Deir el Medina.

Amun-Min as Amun-Ra ka-Mut-ef from the temple at Deir el Medina. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The reign of Ramesses II ended a magnificent period in the history of Egypt. The golden age of Egypt ended with his last breath. Although the king is long gone, Ramesseum still stands as a fascinating reminder of the pharaoh and is an exciting site for Egyptologists.

Top image: Aerial view of Thebes' Ramesseum, showing pylons and secondary buildings ( CC BY 3.0 ) and the Medical Papyri. ( The British Museum )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Lorna Oakes, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Pyramids, Temples and Tombs of Ancient Egypt, 2006.

Ramesseum papyri, available at:
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/research_projects/all_current_projects/the_ramesseum_papyri.aspx

Ramesseum by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews, available at:
http://www.touregypt.net/ramseum.htm

The Ramesseum (Egypt), Recent archeological research, by Guy Lecuyot, available at:
http://www.archeo.ens.fr/IMG/pdf/ramesseum.pdf

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