Merneptah


Merneptah
King 1236-1223 BC.
    Merneptah, the thirteenth son of *Ramesses II by Istnofret, one of his principal wives, had little hope of becoming king but, because of his father's long reign, previous heirs predeceased *Ramesses II. After the death of the Heir Apparent in Year 55 of the old king's reign, Merneptah became the next successor. Already a man in his sixties, Merneptah had helped to manage state affairs for his father in the city of Pi-Ramesse and in the Delta and he now took on new responsibilites, ruling as prince regent for the elderly king throughout the last twelve years of his reign.
    The later years of *Ramesses II had seen a decline in the vigilance exercised by frontier patrols, and when Merneptah finally became king he had to face several crises almost immediately. Between Years 2 and 5, it was necessary to send expeditions to Canaan and southern Syria to reassert Egypt's influence there, but in Year 5 Merneptah faced a much greater threat. Famine had driven the *Libyans to raid the western Delta and they now formed a coalition with the migrants who arrived in search of a new home. These were the so-called *Sea-peoples, who approached Egypt from the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean islands. Under a *Libyan prince, a coalition of the *Libu, *Meshwesh and Kehek together with some of the *Sea-peoples, advanced on the Delta. They intended to settle in the fertile land of Egypt and brought with them their wives and children, their cattle and their personal possessions.
    Merneptah, mobilised his army and dealt the coalition a grievous blow, emerging from the conflict as the conclusive victor. It was stated that over six thousand had been killed and many prisoners and large quantities of booty were taken, while the *Libyan leader fled in disgrace.
    The conflict is recorded in Egyptian sources: a long inscription in the Temple of Karnak, a stela from Athribis, and a great granite stela, usurped from *Amenophis III and set up in Merneptah's Theban funerary temple. The latter is of great interest because it not only recalls the relief experienced by the Egyptians at their enemies' defeat, but it also includes the only known reference in Egyptian texts to Israel, which was apparently already an established entity in Palestine by Year 5 of Merneptah's reign.
    Until the discovery of this Israel Stela in 1896, scholars had believed that Merneptah was the pharaoh of the Exodus, but since Israel was already established so early in his reign, it has since been necessary to date the Exodus somewhat earlier and it is now usually placed in the reign of *Ramesses II. In addition to this conflict, the *Libu also fermented trouble in Nubia, in order to distract the Egyptians while they attempted to invade through the Delta. Although the plan did not work, Merneptah was forced to follow up his defeat of the *Libyan coalition with a campaign of suppression against the *Nubians.
    Since he was already an elderly man, Merneptah had little time to undertake an extensive building programme. His temple and palace at Memphis no longer survive and his Theban funerary temple, built of stone taken from *Amenophis III's temple, has also disappeared.
    It is assumed that he was buried in his Theban tomb but the mummy was later moved by the priests to the tomb of *Amenophis II for safekeeping, and here, as part of the cache of royal mummies, it was finally rediscovered by V, Loret in 1898.
    The king's burial service was conducted by an unknown prince (presumably a royal son by a minor wife), who was named Amenmesse. The order of the succession is confused at this point, but the throne was possibly seized at Merneptah's death by Amenmesse while the crown prince, Sethos, was away. Amenmesse may have had a brief reign and then the kingship passed to Sethos II (who was probably the afore-mentioned Crown Prince of Merneptah).
    Although he only inherited the throne late in life, Merneptah was an affective and energetic king who continued to uphold the traditions that had been established at home and abroad during his father's reign.
BIBL. Holscher, W. Libyer und Agypter. Gluckstadt: 1937; Smith, G.E. Report on the unwrapping of the mummy of Menephtah. . Ann. Serv. 8 (1907) pp 108-12; CAH ii, ch xxviii; Wainwright, G.A. Merneptah's aid to the Hittites. JEA 46 (1960) pp 24 ff.; Kitchen, K.A. Ramesside Inscriptions. Vol. 4. Oxford: 1968.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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