Merenptah (Merneptah “beloved of Ptah) Hetephermaat (“Joyous is truth” or “Ma’at rejoices”) was Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt during the nineteenth dynasty (New Kingdom). He was the thirteenth son of Ramesses II by one of his Great Royal Wives, Isetnofret I. Merenptah was probably fairly elderly when he inherited his father’s throne (possibly in his sixties) and may even have been the active ruler for some time before ascending to the throne, as his father was of an advanced age by this time. Nonetheless, he seems to have reigned for a further nine or ten years. Manetho credits him with a nineteen year reign, but it is generally held that he was including a period of co-regency with Ramesses II.
His Great Royal wife was Isetnofret II, who may also have been his sister and was probably the mother of one of his successors, Pharaoh Seti II (most likely Prince Seti-Merenptah). It is also proposed by some (but not accepted by all) that that he was married to Queen Takhat and that she was the mother of Amenmesse who ruled either before, simultaneously, or after Seti II. Finally, he is sometimes named as the father of Queen Twosret (the wife of Seti II who may have acted as regent for Siptah and then ruled in her own right) but there is no evidence to confirm this one way or the other.
The military campaigns of Merenptah are described on the “Victory Stele” or “Israel Stele” installed in his mortuary temple at Thebes, on the Arithribis Stele (now in the gardens of the Cairo Museum) and on the walls of Karnak temple. These texts describe a series of expeditions to Nubia and Palestine to reassert Egyptian control over rebellious vassal states (such as Askelon, Gezer, and Yenoam) and the “Israel Stele” includes the first known reference to Israel (although the determinative makes it clear that it refers to a people rather than a city state). The texts also recount his battles with the Libyans and the Sea People which were the defining feature of his reign. The Libyans had for some time been pressing at the borders of Egypt and Ramesses II had built a series of fortresses in the Western Delta to retrain them.
Although Merenptah maintained friendly relations with Ugarit, Amurru, and the Hitties (to whom he sent a consignment of grain) widespread famine across the Aegean had resulted in the migration of various peoples known collectively in Egypt as the “Sea Peoples”. These armed migrants had already caused the collapse of numerous Greek city states and had begun to eat away at the fringes of the Hittite Empire and they had their sights set on Egypt.
During the fifth year of Merenptah’s reign the Libyan ruler, Mereye, marched on Egypt at the head of a massive army of 16,000 Libyan tribesmen and Sea Peoples. Their intention to settle Egypt was confirmed by the fact that they brought their families and livestock with them. This army was marching towards Memphis and Heliopolis when Merenptah met them in battle and defeated them, killing many and taking numerous captives. On his victory stele Merenptah asserts that the gods had already found Mereye guilty and so his defeat was inevitable.
Following this decisive battle, Merenptah devoted his time to building works and administrative reorganisation. He moved the administrative capital from his father’s city of Piramesses (Pi-Ramesse) in the Delta to Memphis where he built his palace (beside the temple of Ptah) and two temples. He expanded the Osireion at Abydos and undertook building works at Dendera, Heliopolis, Piramesses, and Elephantine. He also established stele at Amada, Amarah West, Wadi Sebua, and Aksha in Nubia, and at Kom el-Ahmar and Hermopolis in Egypt.
Merenptah left inscriptions at Medinet Habu and West Silsila. Perhaps realising that he did not have long to complete his tomb (KV 8 in the Valley of the Kings) and mortuary complex he “borrowed” a significant quantity of masonry from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III.
Strangely he seems to have found time to have several sarcophagi constructed, one of which was later usurped by the Pharaoh Psusennes (Dynasty twenty-one, Third Intermediate Period). His mummy was found in the cache in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35), finally laying to rest the proposition (rejected by most scholars) that he was the Biblical Pharaoh of the Exodus whose body was lost when he drowned chasing after the fleeing Israelites.
Manetho; Amenephthes, Amenophath or Amenophis
Horus Name; Kanakht Haiemmaat
Nebty Name; Iribauertaentjemhu
Golden Horus Name; Nebsenedjaashefit
Prenomen; Baenre Merynetjeru (“The Soul of Ra, beloved of the Gods”
- Kathryn Bard (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
- Peter A Clayton (1994) Chronicle of the Pharaohs
- J Van Dijk (2003) “The Amarna Period and later New Kingdom” in Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Edited by I Shaw
- E Hornung (1999) History of Ancient Egypt
- B.J. Kemp (1991) Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization
- M. Lichtheim (2006) Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II
- M. Van de Mieroop (2010) A History of Ancient Egypt
Copyright J Hill 2011