Merneptah or Merenptah (reigned July or August 1213 BC - May 2, 1203 BC) was the fourth pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He ruled Egypt for almost ten years, from late July or early August 1213 BC until his death on May 2, 1203 BC, according to contemporary historical records. He was the thirteenth son of Ramesses II, only coming to power because all his older brothers had died, including his full brother Khaemwaset or Khaemwase. By the time he ascended to the throne, he was probably around seventy years old. His throne name was Ba-en-re Mery-netjeru, which means "The Soul of Ra, Beloved of the Gods".
Merneptah was probably the fourth child of Isetnofret I, the second great royal wife of Ramesses II. Merneptah was married to Queen Isetnofret II, his great royal wife. She likely was his full sister and she bore the same name as their mother. One of their sons, Prince Sety-Merenptah, would succeed him as Seti II. They also were the parents of Prince Merenptah and a daughter, Twosret, who would become the great royal wife and queen of Seti II and, ultimately, pharaoh in her own right.
Merneptah was probably the thirteenth son of Ramesses II. This is a result of his father's advanced age and that he outlived many of his heirs (in his 90s, Ramesses II was one of the oldest pharaohs in Egyptian history, if not the oldest). By year 40 of Ramesses II, Merneptah had been promoted to Overseer of the Army, and in year 55 of Ramesses II, Merneptah was officially proclaimed heir and crown prince as Ramesses celebrated his eightieth birthday. After becoming heir, Merneptah took on new responsibilities in administration, mainly becoming prince regent for his elderly, and perhaps senile, father for the last twelve years of the king's life.
According to one reading of contemporary historical records, Merneptah ruled Egypt for almost ten years, from late July or early August 1213 BC until his death on 2 May 1203 BC. Alternatively, astronomical calculations of a potentially reported annular eclipse (Joshua 10:10-14) that precedes Merneptah's Canaanite campaign against the Israelites, which would place the beginning of his reign in 1209 or 1210 BC.
Merneptah had to carry out several military campaigns during his reign. In the fifth year of his rule, 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 Nile 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:
Later in the inscription, Merneptah receives news of the attack:
An inscription on the Athribis Stele, now in the garden of Cairo Museum, declares "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 that 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 fifth 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 Clarence Stanley Fisher.
Merneptah's successor, Seti II, was a son of Queen Isetnofret. 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 of Upper Egypt and Kush during the middle of the reign of Seti II. Only after he overcame Amenmesse, was Seti was able to reassert his authority over Thebes in his fifth year. It is possible that before seizing Upper Egypt, Amenmesse had been known as Messuy and had been viceroy of Kush.
Merneptah suffered from arthritis and atherosclerosis and died as an old man after a reign that 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. Merneptah 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.
Merneptah was the 13th son of Ramses II.
Merenptah was the 13th son and eventual successor of the famous Ramses II.
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 responsibilities, ruling as prince regent for the elderly king throughout the last twelve years of his reign.