The Women Who Created a Legendary Pharaoh: The Hidden Advisers of Ramesses II
Ramesses II is considered one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt. Regardless if this is an exaggerated statement or not, his reign had very distinct stages. With the disappearance of two of the most important women in his life – his beloved wife and mother – something in his politics changed.
Ramesses was lucky to grow up in the court of the disciplined and demanding pharaoh Sety I, who was known for his rule and his handsome face. When Sety died, Ramesses was the one who sat on the Egyptian throne of the king-god.
Tuya – Mother and Guide
Tuya was a daughter of a military officer named Raia and a woman known as Ruia, who could have been a priestess. Apart from her ruined tomb, QV80 in the Valley of the Queens, she appears in several monuments and reliefs. She is always depicted at the side of her husband or son, like a supportive wall for the colossal statue.
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She became a student of Queen Sitre, Sety’s mother, and grew up as a well-educated young princess. When Sety became a pharaoh, Tuya was already well-prepared for the new role in her life. Her education was impressive. The young queen had to learn many things about languages, reading, rituals, history, religion, etiquette, and diplomacy. Tuya was a perfect candidate to become the Great Royal Wife of the Pharaoh.
Statue of Tuya from the Vatican. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Ramesses II’s royal parents took care to prepare him to become a great and successful ruler. They succeeded, because their son became a legendary king of Egypt. When her husband died, Tuya continued to look after and guide their son.
The number of Ramesses’ achievements is as remarkable as the number of monumental temples he had built during his lifetime. However, it is very easy to see that his mother had an impact on his reign. The most famous battle Ramesses fought took place in the 5th year of his reign. The battle of Kadesh became legendary for his actions. As the years passed, he became the most successful king of his time.
When Tuya died during the 22nd year of his reign, something changed about his politics. Earlier, he was like a better and more powerful version of his father, but with time he became more focused on the situation inside the country. Some researchers claim that he may have gotten tired with the intensive actions, wars, and conquering of new lands. However, it is also possible that the death of his mother, and another important woman in his life soon after, had changed the famous Egyptian pharaoh.
The great Sesostris (Rameses II) in the Battle of Kadesh ( Public Domain )
Nefertari – The Lover and Inspiration
Nefertari and Ramesses met when they were both very young. Reliefs and inscriptions describe a rare true love in the royal palace. She was related to the Amarna dynasty and probably Nefertiti's family. Ramesses must have been brave and very much in love to marry a princess related to the rebellious family of Akhenaten. The dynasty from Amarna was supposed to be forgotten forever, and the priests of Amun had an aggressive campaign to damage all the depictions of the pharaoh and his family.
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Ramesses was happy with Nefertari and his heart was completely broken when she died so soon after his mother had passed away. He ordered an important and emotional inscription be added to her tomb; in which Nefertari addresses a great goddess: "[...] Descend, mother Nut, spread yourself onto my body so that you can place me between the eternal stars which are in you, and that I do not die [...] " and the goddess replies: "[...] I spread onto my daughter's body, the Osiris, the king's great wife, mistress of the Two Lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified, in the very name of Nut, Ra himself has purified you. Your mother Nut will be pleased to lead you towards the horizon, you are justified by the great god" (translation by Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri).
Tomb wall depicting Queen Nefertari, the great royal wife of Pharaoh Rameses II. ( Public Domain )
The King Alone…But Not Lonely
Nefertari died around the 25th year of Ramesses’ rule. The woman who replaced her was Isetnofret, however, it seems that his heart could not be fully mended. That doesn't mean that he became a lonely man though - apart from Isetnofret he had a huge harem of lovers. Compared to other pharaohs, Ramesses liked to visit the harem very often. These visits provided him with more than two hundred children.
Aswan Rock stela with Three Sons; Upper Register: King, Isetnofret and Khaemwaset before Khnum. Lower register: Princes Ramesses, Merneptah and Princess Queen Bint-Anath. ( Public Domain )
It is very easy to conclude that after the deaths of Tuya and Nefertari, Ramesses was still an important pharaoh - but his reign was less surprising, successful, full of innovative thinking, and rich in ambitious goals. Ramesses II was a powerful ruler, but without the energy he had had before losing two very important women in his life.
Mummy of Ramesses II. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Ramesses II had many children and wives. He died when he was more than 90 years old, and his last child was born after his death. However, he had lost something he couldn't get back without the two inspirational women who were also his best friends and advisers. Ramesses lost his creativity, fresh ideas, and sharp way of thinking. Some may say that this analysis is a misinterpretation, and there were many other reasons for these events, but it is also possible that the pharaoh received his inspiration from two beloved women in his life… and wasn’t the same person when they had departed.
Top image: The Younger Memnon part of a colossal statue of Ramesses from the Ramesseum, now in the British Museum. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0
J. Tyldesley, Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, 2006.
J. Tyldesley, Ramesses: Egypt's Greatest Pharaoh., 2001
K.A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, 1983.
W. Grajetzki, Ancient Egyptian Queens: A Hieroglyphic Dictionary, 2005
The tomb of Nefertari Merytmut QV66, available at: