Merenptah 1213 – 1203 BC
In his last years, Rameses II had allowed the whole of the west side of the Delta to fall into the hands of foreigners, and on the east side the native Egyptians were being rapidly ousted by foreign settlers. His extravagant building projects had damaged the economy of the country and the people were impoverished. Now, through neglect, Egypt was in danger of losing the whole Delta, first to foreign immigrants and then by armed invasion.
This is the situation Rameses’ son, Merenptah, inherited. He spent the first few years of his reign making preparations for the struggle which he knew to be inevitable. For the first time in over 400 years, since the Hyksos shepherd kings had seized the delta at the end of the middle kingdom, Egypt was in danger of being overrun.
The Libyan chief, Meryawy, had decided to attack and conquer the Delta he was convinced of an easy victory believing the Egyptians to have grown soft. So confident was he that he brought his wife and children and all his possessions with him.
The night before the decisive battle Merenptah had a prophetic dream, “His Majesty saw in a dream as if a statue of the god Ptah stood before his Majesty. He said, while holding out a sword to him, ‘Take it and banish fear from thee.”
Merenptah had stationed archers in strategic positions, and they poured their arrows into the invading armies. “The bow -men of his Majesty spent six hours of destruction among them, then they were delivered to the sword.”
Then when the enemy showed signs of breaking, Merenptah let loose his charioteers among them. He had promised his people that he would bring the enemy “like netted fish on their bellies”, and he fulfilled his promise. His Triumph-Song shows that he regarded the defeat of the Libyans not so much as a great victory but rather as a deliverance.
“To Egypt has come great joy. The people speak of the victories which King Merenptah has won against the Tahenu: How beloved is he, our victorious Ruler! How magnified is he among the gods! How fortunate is he, the commanding Lord!
Sit down happily and talk, or walk far out on the roads, for now there is no fear in the hearts of the people.
The fortresses are abandoned, the wells are reopened; the messengers loiter under the battlements, cool from the sun; the soldiers lie asleep, even the border-scouts go in the fields as they list.
The herds of the field need no herdsmen when crossing the fullness of the stream. No more is there the raising of a shout in the night, ‘Stop! Someone is coming! Someone is coming speaking a foreign language!’ Everyone comes and goes with singing, and no longer is heard the sighing lament of men.
The towns are settled anew, and the husband man eats of the harvest that he himself sowed.
God has turned again towards Egypt, for King Merenptah was born, destined to be her protector.”
The defeat of the Libyans saved Egypt from utter ruin but her economic and political decline continued at a steady pace. The only other record of this time is of a grain shipment to the Hittites to relieve a famine so it seems the treaty between the two peoples continued to hold firm.
The rest of the dynasty is torn by political struggles for the throne. These pharaohs were all weaklings and their disputes only served to plunge the country into civil disorder.
“The land of Egypt was overthrown. Every man was his own guide, they had no superiors. The land was in chiefships and princedoms, each killed the other among noble and mean.”
Ancient Egyptian Anecdotes
The Ancient Egyptians in their own words
Illustrated Papyri translations edited for the modern reader.