Statue of Ramesses II

Contributed by British Museum

A colossal statue of Ramesses II on display in the British Museum. �? Trustees of the British Museum

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This statue of the Pharaoh Ramesses II was designed to show him as a beneficent ruler, a mighty warrior and a living god. It was erected in the Ramesseum - his mortuary temple, where the cult of Ramesses would continue for centuries. During his reign the annual Nile flood repeatedly reached ideal levels leading to good harvests and a period of prosperity in Egypt. Ramesses himself fathered 85 children with a number of queens during his 66-year reign.

Why was Ramesses II so successful?

Ramesses II is known as one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs - nine further pharaohs tried to emulate his success by taking his name. Although Ramesses was renowned as a warrior-king he suffered several military setbacks. Ramesses owed his reputation to his skills as a self-publicist - he erected more statues than any other Egyptian pharaoh. He even changed or added to the inscriptions on previous pharaohs' statues to glorify himself. This ensured that Ramesses was worshiped as a god for centuries after his death.

The original complete statue weighed 20 tonnes, as much as 36 African Elephants

Who was Ramesses II?

This magnificent sculpture is the upper third of a colossal seated statue that represents Ramesses II, one of the most illustrious kings of ancient Egypt. He ruled his empire for almost 67 years during the thirteenth century BC.

Ramesses, determined to outshine all other pharaohs, called himself ‘ruler of rulers’ and had more monuments and statues created than any other pharaoh.

In the course of his long reign, Ramesses II had seven principal wives and fathered at least 40 daughters and 45 sons. Dying in his nineties, he outlived a dozen crown princes and was succeeded by his thirteenth son, Merenptah.

The twelfth century saw nine more kings with the name Ramesses come to the throne. They were increasingly weak, and during the reign of Ramesses XI the New Kingdom came to an end.

This statue was one of a pair that stood either side of a doorway in the king’s vast mortuary temple on the west bank of Thebes (modern Luxor). This temple was intended for the king’s posthumous cult.

Originally some nine metres tall, the statue was carved from a single piece of granite taken from a quarry 200 kilometres up the river Nile, at Aswan. It was deliberately extracted so that the head would be in red and the body in grey granite. The finer sculptural design was only carried out once the colossus had been erected inside the temple. Colour pigments, now mostly faded, were painted on to make the sculpture appear more lifelike.

Marcel Maree, Curator, British Museum

How to move an object like Ramesses?

The bust of Ramesses II is one of the largest pieces of Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum and weighs over 7 tons.

When we move an object this large, a combined team of museum assistants and heavy object handlers would need to consider many aspects of where it is going to and the space available in which to move it.

When this statue of Ramesses was first brought into the Museum in the 1830s, a hole had to be made in the gallery wall and it was brought in using rope and wooden scaffolding.

Today, due to its size, we cannot lift the statue using equipment such as forklifts. Instead we can lift the object from above using steel gantries and slings (a modern equivalent of rope and wood).

We can also lift the statue from below. Large timbers are used to lower, or ‘rock’, the statue to the ground level where it is placed on heavy duty wheels or rollers.

Both of these processes are long and slow and need a lot of skilled staff and patience. For example, to lower the statue using timbers, you need to lift one side of the statue up and lower the timber by a couple of centimetres and then repeat the action on the other side. So it can take hours to move even a few centimetres!

Evan York, Museum Assistant, British Museum

Comments are closed for this object


  • 1. At 11:47 on 4 March 2010, gail975bb wrote:

    I think that this series is wonderful and to be able to see the articles mentioned, particularly on the British Museum videos is a real bonus. Thank you BBC

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  • 2. At 11:34 on 24 May 2010, Quitedecu2 wrote:

    I would like to know more about the original 'Egyptologist' finder and taker of this statue. How did he tranSPORT IT _ and what happened to the remainder of the statue?
    Francesca Johnson

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  • 3. At 11:36 on 24 May 2010, Quitedecu2 wrote:

    more...I would also like to thank the BM and BBC for making this series available to view. I can no longer travel anywhere and these 'snapshots' are, for me, a wonderful consolation prize!

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  • 4. At 13:53 on 30 June 2010, NealSpencer wrote:


    The remainder of the statue is still at the Ramesseum temple on the West Bank at Luxor.

    The statue was transported down the Nile by Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian strongman who travelled to Egypt to help construct a hydraulic machine. After meeting the British consul, Henry Salt, he was entrusted with moving the statue. This started on 27 July 1816, with about 80 men moving the colossus using ropes, levers and wooden sledge. It took 15 days to move the statue 1.2km down to the Nile. On November 20, the statue finally departed downstream by boat, arriving in Alexandria on January 10 1817. Thereafter it was shipped to London.

    Neal Spencer, Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

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  • 5. At 13:16 on 1 July 2010, Miles Hodgkiss wrote:

    Forget the politics. Separate yourself for a moment from that obsession. Look at the face. Any man can empathise with its timeless beauty. Why was it stolen in the first place? Because here was the real face of nobility. The Greco-roman route had become a tired hadn?t it? Here was a new dawn that simply had to be brought to a troubled Europe. Parents and teachers should put large pictures of this face up in their homes so that the souls of their children might be refreshed daily in it. Forget Alexander. He was a mug.
    Now, I must beg to differ on the ring of faces that circle the crown. I see the Rams head symbols of Amun not hooded cobra heads. The face holds the expression of dawn. It is bathing refreshingly after sleep in the first warming rays of the rising sun. To me it also makes much more sense to have rams heads given the history. After Akhenaten failed in his attempt at go it alone sun worshiping as a means to get away from the Amun priesthood and their restrictiveness there came the immediate reinstatement by Tutenk(amun) of Amun. Amun was thereafter principle royal deity. Can anyone tell, me all told, how many such heads would there have been circumscribing the crown? Crowns need circumscription don?t they?
    The image of The Buddha has similar inspiring qualities. The Buddha also known as Shaky(amun)i. Get it?

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  • 6. At 13:32 on 9 January 2011, Joseph wrote:

    I am about half-way through the series and find it not only entertaining, but educational. The narratives are refreshingly objective, informative and invite deeper contemplation and conjecture. However, as the series progresses into the more recent history (Egypt, Assyria, Minoa, etc.) the 'objects' become more and more relevant to the today's cultures and nationalities, and causes me to consider, as I listen to the narratives, who are the real 'owners' of these objects? Unearthing artifacts and objects of civilizations or cultures so ancient that no particular group existing today can lay claim to them, makes 'ownership' a simple thing to determine as the object was acquired by finding or barter or boon, but very conscionable to keep. However, in the 18th and 19th century the acquisition of objects of ancient civilizations that predate existing cultures, such as Egypt, Africa, the Americas, China and other Asian countries occurred at a volume that can aptly be described as 'plundering and looting' bothers me so that the thought at times detracts me from fully enjoying the podcast. There are many reasons that were used to justify these actions (scientific study, preservation, and even greed to own valuable and revered art), but I feel the underlying justification was the attitude of the 'superior' or stronger culture toward the 'inferior' or weaker culture. During this period of mass acquisition of art of the lesser cultures, there was also a belief in the superiority of the white races (North Americans, Europeans) and the inferiority of the others as 'men of colour' who (my words) 'don't have the ability or education to appreciate or protect these objects'. In recent years, more and more this idea of the underlying justification for all this looting (legal or illegal) is being recognized and various movements to 'right the wrong' are emerging. Americans have been returning objects taken from Japanese soldiers during the war, and returning things taken from Japan during the occupation, even if they were acquired by simple and legal transactions. (Often the seller has no more right to sell or give away an object of historical significance than they buyer or recipient of the item.) Seeing the statue of Rameses II in a European museum or sphynx in an American institution, makes me wonder how they were acquired and if the countries that produced them want them back. If these countries were to take their issues to the world court, what would be the outcome? I know that if I purchased an auto in an apparently proper transaction, that if the vehicle was found to be stolen, it would be returned to the owner, and I, the buyer, would be out of the cash. The phrase 'buyer beware' applies here, and should it also apply to the countries that acquired these valuable objects of culture and history? Shouldn't we as human beings of the 20th and 21st century, filled with our respect for the cultures, equality and rights of other races and nationalities what was not present in our predecessors of the 18th and 19th centuries, consider ways and solutions for returning these objects to their rightful owners if a claim is made? The acts of returning loved cultural items to their sources would mean more to strengthening mutual respect, inter-cultural relations and world peace than any number of conferences, political declarations, foreign aid programs and so on. We really need to cast away our old 'colonial justifications' for our early actions and replace them with acts based on conscience and respect for all.

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