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Ramses II: The Mummy Who Needed a Passport

Ramses II AKA Ramses the Great is remembered in history as one of the greatest pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. He was appointed as the Prince of Egypt by his father at the age of 14, and took control of the thrown just a few years later in his late teenage years on May 31, 1279 BC. He ruled over Egypt as the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty for 66 years, from 1279 to 1213 BC. His reign would be celebrated for many military victories which cemented Egyptian influence in the ancient world - earning him the name the "Great Ancestor".

Early in his reign, Ramses II focused upon establishing an Egyptian stronghold in the Nile region by building cities filled with great temples and monuments. The goal was to seize control of valuable ports that would allow for increased trade and commerce - bringing wealth to the Egyptian Empire. One of these cities, Pi-Ramesses, would be the new capital of Egypt and home to the vast residential palace and zoo of the Pharaoh. The location near the eastern most part of the Nile River would also become the base for his military campaigns across Syria against the Hittite Empire in an effort to regain control of lost lands.

Commanding an army of over 100,000 men, Ramses led multiple military engagements across a 190 mile stretch of the Mediterranean Coast. The wars went on for years, and though many of the territories which had been under control of the Syrians and Hittites were regained in his third campaign, the Hittite Empire proved to be an equal foe with neither able to establish clear victories. The wars had been waged for over 200 years between Egypt and the Hittites to control the eastern Mediterranean lands with heavy casualties on both sides. With growing concerns over other enemies threatening their empires, the Treaty of Kadesh was signed to bring about a truce. It was the worlds first documented peace treaty and was found engraved in hieroglyphics and preserved on baked clay tablets in modern day Turkey. A copy of the treaty is displayed in New York City at the United Nations Headquarters.

Ramses II died in 1213 at the age of 90 years old, outliving many of his wives and children. His conquests had brought the riches to Egypt that he set out for, in both land and supplies, and his reign was the longest of any Egyptian ruler. Later, nine more Pharaohs would take his name in honor of the "Great Ancestor". He was buried in the Valley of the Kings and, as was the Egyptian burial tradition, his body was placed in a sarcophagus which laid inside a grand tomb filled with gold and riches.

Pharaohs were buried with huge amounts of gold and jewelry, as well as valuable items like scepters, oils, games and even boats. For example, King Tutankhamun’s tomb has been estimated to be worth around three-quarters of a billion dollars. The tomb of Ramses II would have most likely contained items worth much more due to his longer reign. The abundant riches were easy to spot in the desert as well - clearly marked by a big pyramid which drew the eyes of the unscrupulous who made plans to raid the tombs at night.

Though the pyramids were guarded, many officials were corrupt and could be bribed or paid off by looters with part of the stolen items. The stolen gold would then be traded to artisans or to the corrupt officials who could have the gold melted down. ​That's why it was a common practice in Ancient Egypt to move a sarcophagus frequently in hopes of stay one step ahead of the looters.

Ramses II was moved frequently, as often as every three days. Any movement of the Pharaohs body was recorded and written on the funerary wrappings of the mummified body. Somewhere along the line, the sarcophagus of Ramses II was lost, leaving his mummified remains exposed to the elements for centuries. When the body was rediscovered in 1881, it was in poor condition and deteriorating but placed on display in an Egyptian museum.

By 1974, the condition of the mummy had reached a critical state, and Egyptian authorities looked for help in preserving their greatest Pharaoh. Experts in France agreed to take on the challenge though faced the unusual and difficult task of transporting the 3,000-year-old mummy to Paris before the preservation process could begin. Adding to the list of difficulties was a legal requirement in Egypt which states that anyone leaving the country, living or dead, must have proper papers. In other words, a passport.

So Egypt issued Ramses II his own passport in 1974 for his trip to France. The passport was good for seven years, and his official occupation was listed as “King (deceased).” The remains arrived at Paris–Le Bourget Airport in 1975 with full military honors appropriate a king. As part of the preservation process, forensic analysis was performed at the Criminal Identification Laboratory of Paris. Professor Pierre-Fernand Ceccaldi revealed some basic details about Ramses: he was plagued by arthritis, poor circulation and hardening of the arteries. He was also suffering from severe dental problems and a hole in his mandible from a tooth abscess (common in the Ancient world) which probably caused his death.

Ceccaldi also found some surprising information in the analysis: the 5'7" battle scared Pharaoh with a strong jawline had an aquiline nose (hooked or Roman nose) and red hair. Not what was expected of an Egyptian King. The professors findings concluded that "hair, astonishingly preserved, showed some complementary data - especially about pigmentation: Ramses II was a ginger haired 'cymnotricheleucoderma'" which means a fair-skinned person with wavy ginger hair.

Gaston Maspero, who first unwrapped the mummy , reported "on the temples there are a few sparse hairs, but at the poll the hair is quite thick, forming smooth, straight locks about five centimeters in length. White at the time of death, and possibly auburn during life, they have been dyed a light red by the spices (henna) used in embalming...the mustache and beard are thin...The hairs are white, like those of the head and eyebrows...the skin is of earthy brown, splotched with black... the face of the mummy gives a fair idea of the face of the living king."

Further microscopic inspection of the hair roots further proved that the hair was originally red, suggesting that he came from a family of redheads. This is especially noteworthy because in ancient Egypt, people with red hair were associated with the deity Set, the slayer of Osiris, and the name of Ramesses II's father, Seti I, means "follower of Seth." Definitely an interesting revelation about Egyptian lineage that was only made possible through forensic analysis - and a passport.

Check out the passport of Ramses II below.


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