MERENPTAH, THE 4TH KING OF EGYPT'S 19TH DYNASTY
by Jimmy Dunn
By the time that Ramesses II died, he had apparently outlived twelve of his sons, so it was his 13th son, Merenptah who
ascended the throne of Egypt. Merenptah was old himself by this time, probably nearly sixty years old, and his reign was
rather dull, as well as short lived (perhaps only nine or ten years) in comparison with that of his father's reign.
According to the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, he ruled from 1213 until 1203 BC, while Clayton provides a reign from
1212 until 1202 BC.
Merenptah (also hetep-her-maat, and commonly also called Merneptah) was the king's birth name, meaning "Beloved of Ptah,
Joyous is Truth). His throne name was Ba-en-re Mery-netjeru, which means "The Soul of Re, Beloved of the Gods". Merenptah
was probably the fourth child of Ramesses II's second principle wife, Istnofret (Isisnofret). He was married to queens
Istnofret (Isisnofret), who must have surely been his sister, and possibly a queen Takhat. His son was Seti-Merenptah, who
probably ascended the throne sometime after his father as Seti II. However, Seti II's reign may have been initially usurped
by a Amenmesse who may have been a son of Takhat, though Takhat's marriage to Merenptah is far from certain.
Merenptah is almost completely unknown until the 40th year of Ramesses II's reign. In fact he may have been heir to the
throne of Egypt for about twelve years prior to Ramesses II's death, but in Ramesses II's year 40, we known the prince was
made General of the Army. Perhaps it is not surprising that what we know of Merenptah's rule is mostly about his military
activities. However, he appears not to have become the heir to the throne until Ramesses II's 55th regnal year, when
Ramesses II was celebrating his 80th birthday, and Merenptah his 48th. In fact, in the last decade of Ramesses II's life,
Merenptah was probably the real power behind the throne, as Ramesses II was well advanced in age.
In fact, he is mainly attested to by three great inscriptions, including 80 lines on a wall in the Temple of Amun at
Karnak, a large stele with 35 readable lines from Athribis in the Delta and the great Victory Stele from his ruined
mortuary temple at Thebes, with 28 lines. All of these text refer to his military campaigns.
The Victory Stele is unique. It was usurped by Merenptah from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes, and is dated
to the third day of the third month of the third season so it may have been written around the summer of 1207. In it,
Merenptah lists enemy conquests, but the most interesting reference is a very rare mention of Israel. It may be the oldest
non biblical reference to that country. Because of this, Merenptah has often been thought to be the pharaoh of the Exodus,
though modern opinion leans against such an identification. In part, the stele states that:
"The princes are prostrate saying: "Shalom!"
Not one of the Nine Bows lifts his head:
Tjehenu is vanquished, Khatti at peace,
Canaan is captive with all woe.
Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized,
Yanoam made nonexistent;
Israel is wasted, bare of seed,
Khor is become a widow for Egypt.
All who roamed have been subdued.
By the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Banere-meramun,
Son of Re, Merenptah, Content with Maat,
Given life like Re every day."
Merenptah apparently did face a number of military problems. These included a "flash" revolt in Syria, which was quickly
crushed. There were also problems on Egypt's western borders involving the southern Libyans and the Sea People, who
apparently had silently infiltrated the Delta, and around year five of Merenptah's rule, attempted an invasion. However,
with rapid mobilization of his forces and a pre-emptive strike, Merenptah was able to vanquish these enemies, apparently
slaughtering many of them. Also, the Libyans apparently inspired the Nubians to the south to also revolt, but Merenptah's
quick response to the Libyans allowed him to immediately turn south and inflict a crushing blow on those rebels as well.
However, Merenptah did attempt to maintain the peaceful relations of his father. The Hittite King in Syria faced a possible
invasion from the north and widespread famine, so under the term of the treaty they had made with Ramesses II, they
requested assistance from Merenptah, who provided them with much needed grain.
One interesting facet to Merenptah's reign was that he moved the administrative center for Egypt from Piramesse (Pi-
Ramesse), his fathers capital, back to Memphis, where he constructed a royal palace next to the temple of Ptah. This palace
was excavated in 1915 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum led by Clarence Fischer, and yielded fine architectural
Merenptah's tomb is number KV 8 located in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor (ancient Thebes). The king
probably died around 1202 BC, but his mummy was not found within his tomb. In the 19th century, this apparently added to
the speculation about him being the Pharaoh of the Exodus, since that king's body would have probably been washed away in
the Red Sea. However, that theory was confounded when, in 1898, his mummy was discovered among 18 others in the mummy cache
discovered in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35).
He also built a mortuary temple that lies behind the Colossi of Memnon on the West Bank at Luxor. Much of it was built with
stone robbed from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. The structure is currently being studied by Horst Jartz with the
Swiss Institute in Cairo. Reports indicate that some of the fragments discovered include well preserved reliefs, perhaps
some of the finest to be found in any temple at Thebes. The Egyptian Ministry of Culture has now decided to turn this
complex into an open museum.
In addition to his tomb and temple we also know that he added to the Osireion at Abydos and also built at Dendera.
Merenptah is further attested to by a "wall stele" at Amada, four almost identical stele from Nubia (at Amada, Amarah West,
Wadi Sebua, Aksha), blocks from Elephantine, a decree from West Silsila, an inscription in the small temple of Medinet
Habu, stele from Kom el-Ahmar and Hermopolis (along with other inscriptions), a victory column at Heliopolis, and several
monument remains at Piramesse.
Merneptah (or Merenptah) was the fourth ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He ruled Egypt for almost ten years
between late July or early August 1213 to May 2, 1203 BC, according to contemporary historical records. He was the
thirteenth son of Ramesses II and only came to power because all his older brothers, including his full brother Khaemwaset
or Khaemwase, had predeceased him, by which time he was almost sixty years old. His throne name was Ba-en-re Mery-netjeru,
which means "The Soul of Ra, Beloved of the Gods".
Merneptah probably was the fourth child of Isetnofret, the second wife of Ramesses II, and he was married to Queen Isetnofret,
his royal wife, who was likely his full sister bearing the name of their mother. It is presumed that Merneptah also was married
to Queen Takhat and one of their sons would become the later nineteenth dynasty pharaoh, Seti II. They also were the parents of
prince Merenptah and possibly the usurper, Amenmesse, and Queen Twosret, wife of Seti II and later pharaoh in her own right.
Merneptah had to carry out several military campaigns during his reign, in year 5 he fought against the Libyans, who-with the
assistance of the Sea Peoples-were threatening Egypt from the West. Merneptah led a victorious six-hour battle against a
combined Libyan and Sea People force at the city of Perire, probably located on the western edge of the Delta. His account of
this campaign against the Sea Peoples and Libu is described in prose on a wall beside the sixth pylon at Karnak, which states:
"[Beginning of the victory that his majesty achieved in the land of Libya] -i, Ekwesh, Teresh, Lukka, Sherden, Shekelesh,
Northerners coming from all lands."
Later in the inscription Merneptah receives news of the attack:
"... the third season, saying: 'The wretched, fallen chief of Libya, Meryre, son of Ded, has fallen upon the country of Tehenu
with his bowmen--Sherden, Shekelesh, Ekwesh, Lukka, Teresh, Taking the best of every warrior and every man of war of his
country. He has brought his wife and his children--leaders of the camp, and he has reached the western boundary in the fields
In the Athribis Stele, in the garden of Cairo Museum, it states "His majesty was enraged at their report, like a lion",
assembled his court and gave a rousing speech. Later he dreamed he saw Ptah handing him a sword and saying "Take thou (it) and
banish thou the fearful heart from thee." When the bowmen went forth, says the inscription, "Amun was with them as a shield."
After six hours the surviving Nine Bows threw down their weapons, abandoned their baggage and dependents, and ran for their
lives. Merneptah states that he defeated the invasion, killing 6,000 soldiers and taking 9,000 prisoners. To be sure of the
numbers, among other things, he took the penises of all uncircumcised enemy dead and the hands of all the circumcised, from
which history learns that the Ekwesh were circumcised, a fact causing some to doubt they were Greek.
There is also an account of the same events in the form of a poem from the Merneptah Stele, widely known as the Israel Stele,
which makes reference to the supposed utter destruction of Israel in a campaign prior to his 5th year in Canaan: "Israel has
been wiped out...its seed is no more." This is the first recognised ancient Egyptian record of the existence of Israel--"not as
a country or city, but as a tribe" or people.
Merneptah was already an elderly man in his late 60s if not early 70s when he assumed the throne. Merneptah moved the
administrative center of Egypt from Piramesse (Pi-Ramesses), his father's capital, back to Memphis, where he constructed a
royal palace next to the temple of Ptah. This palace was excavated in 1915 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum led by
Naneferkaptah was the royal heir, being the son of Merneptah's royal wife, Queen Istnofret (Isisnofret), but he, his wife, and
their heir died before the death of Merneptah, and their story survives in text. Merneptah's successor, Seti II, was another
son of Queen Isisnofret. However, Seti II's accession to the throne was not unchallenged: a rival king named Amenmesse, who was
either another son of Merneptah by Takhat or, much less likely, of Ramesses II, seized control over Upper Egypt and Kush during
the middle of Seti II's reign. Seti was able to reassert his authority over Thebes in his fifth year, only after he overcame
Amenmesse. It is possible that before seizing Upper Egypt Amenmesse had been known as Messui and had been viceroy of Kush.
Merneptah suffered from arthritis and arteriosclerosis in old age and died after a reign which lasted for nearly a decade.
Merneptah was originally buried within tomb KV8 in the Valley of the Kings, but his mummy was not found there. In 1898 it was
located along with eighteen other mummies in the mummy cache found in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35) by Victor Loret.
Merneptah's mummy was taken to Cairo and eventually unwrapped by Dr. G. Elliott Smith on July 8, 1907. Dr Smith notes that:
The body is that of an old man and is 1 meter 714 millimeters in height. Merenptah was almost completely bald, only a narrow
fringe of white hair (now cut so close as to be seen only with difficulty) remaining on the temples and occiput. A few short
(about 2 mill) black hairs were found on the upper lip and scattered, closely clipped hairs on the cheeks and chin. The general
aspect of the face recalls that of Ramesses II, but the form of the cranium and the measurements of the face much more nearly
agree with those of his [grand]father, Seti the Great.