Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt

Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt
1189 BC–1077 BC
Portrait of Ramesses IX from his tomb KV6.
Portrait of Ramesses IX from his tomb KV6.
Common languagesEgyptian language
Religion Ancient Egyptian Religion
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
Historical eraIron Age
• Established
1189 BC
• Disestablished
1077 BC
Preceded by Succeeded by
Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt
Twenty-first Dynasty of Egypt

The Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt (notated Dynasty XX, alternatively 20th Dynasty or Dynasty 20) is the third and last dynasty of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom period, lasting from 1189 BC to 1077 BC. The 19th and 20th Dynasties together constitute an era known as the Ramesside period. This dynasty is generally considered to mark the beginning of the decline of Ancient Egypt at the transition from the Late Bronze to Iron Age. During the period of the Twentieth Dynasty, Ancient Egypt faced the crisis of invasions by Sea Peoples. The dynasty successfully defended Egypt, while sustaining heavy damage.


After the death of the last pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, Queen Twosret, Egypt entered into a period of civil war. Because of lost historical records, the cause of the civil war is unknown. The war was ended with the accession to the throne by Setnakhte, who founded the 20th Dynasty of Egypt.

From the reign of Setnakhte and his son Ramesses III, Egypt faced the crisis caused by the invading of the Sea Peoples. These invasions formed part of a series of linked crises in numerous Mediterranean civilizations. Together, these crises are often referred to as the Late Bronze Age collapse.

The Sea Peoples caused considerable damage to the people of Egypt, visible in the historical record. One inscription reads:

"All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could resist their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya on – being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people and its land was like that which had never existed. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared for them."

— Inscription from the second pylon of the temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu

Not only Egypt was affected by the Sea People invasions. The empire of the Hittites, a long-standing rival to Egypt, collapsed, never to rise again. (In the inscription quoted above, the Hittites are called "Hatti".)

With the victory in the Battle of Djahy and the Battle of the Delta during Year 8 of Ramesses III's reign, Egypt successfully repelled the invading Sea Peoples, protecting Egypt from ruin like other Bronze Age civilizations. During the Twentieth Dynasty, many of the temples were built to display the power of Egypt. However, they also indicate the political ascendancy of the priesthood over the pharaoh.

The Twentieth Dynasty declined because of drastic climate change, infighting in the royal family, and growing power of the priesthood and nobility. Following the death of Ramesses XI, the last pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty, a period of chaos ensued. This was ended by Smendes, a member of the Egyptian nobility, who became the first Pharaoh of the 21th Dynasty.


Upon the death of the last pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, Queen Twosret, Egypt descended into a period of civil war, as attested by the Elephantine stela built by Setnakhte. The circumstances of Twosret's demise are uncertain, as she may have died peacefully during her reign or been overthrown by Setnakhte, who was likely already middle aged at the time.

20th Dynasty

A consistent theme of this dynasty was the loss of pharaonic power to the High Priests of Amun. Horemheb, a pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, had restored the traditional Ancient Egyptian religion and the priesthood of Amun after their abandonment by Akhenaten. With the High Priests now acting as intermediaries between the gods and the people, rather than the pharaoh, the position of pharaoh no longer commanded the same kind of power as it had in the past.


Setnakhte stabilized the situation in Egypt, and may have driven off an attempted invasion by the Sea Peoples. He ruled for about 3-4 years before being succeeded by his son Ramesses III.

Ramesses III

In Year 5 of his reign, Ramesses defeated a Libyan invasion of Egypt by the Libu, Meshwesh and Seped people through Marmarica, who had previously unsuccessfully invaded during the reign of Merneptah.

Ramesses III is most famous for decisively defeating a confederacy of the Sea Peoples, including the Denyen, Tjekker, Peleset, Shardana and Weshesh in the Battle of Djahy and the Battle of the Delta during Year 8 of his reign. Within the Papyrus Harris I, which attests these events in detail, Ramesses is said to have settled the defeated Sea Peoples in "strongholds", most likely located in Canaan, as his subjects.

In Year 11 of Ramesses' reign, another coalition of Libyan invaders was defeated in Egypt.

Between regnal Year 12 and Year 29, a systematic program of reorganization of the varied cults of the Ancient Egyptian religion was undertaken, by creating and funding new cults and restoring temples.

In Year 29 of Ramesses' reign, the first recorded labor strike in human history took place, after food rations for the favored and elite royal tomb builders and artisans in the village of Set Maat (now known as Deir el-Medina), could not be provisioned.

The reign of Ramesses III is also known for a harem conspiracy in which Queen Tiye, one of his lesser wives, was implicated in an assassination attempt against the king, with the goal of putting her son Pentawer on the throne. The coup was unsuccessful. The king died from the attempt on his life; however, it was his legitimate heir and son Ramesses IV who succeeded him to the throne, who thereafter arrested and put approximately 30 conspirators to death.

Ramesses IV

At the start of his reign Ramesses IV started an enormous building program on the scale of Ramesses the Great's own projects. He doubled the number of work gangs at Set Maat to a total of 120 men and dispatched numerous expeditions to the stone quarries of Wadi Hammamat and the turquoise mines of the Sinai. One of the largest expeditions included 8,368 men, of which some 2,000 were soldiers. Ramesses expanded his father's Temple of Khonsu at Karnak and possibly began his own mortuary temple at a site near the Temple of Hatshepsut. Another smaller temple is associated with Ramesses north of Medinet Habu.

Ramesses IV saw issues with the provision of food rations to his workmen, similar to the situation under his father. Ramessesnakht, the High Priest of Amun at the time, began to accompany state officials as they went to pay the workmen their rations, suggesting that, at least in part, it was the Temple of Amun and not the Egyptian state that was responsible for their wages.[citation needed]

He also produced the Papyrus Harris I, the longest known papyrus from Ancient Egypt, measuring in at 41 meters long with 1,500 lines of text to celebrate the achievements of his father.

Ramesses V

Ramesses V reigned for no more than 4 years, dying of smallpox in 1143 BC. The Turin Papyrus Cat. 2044 attests that during his reign the workmen of Set Maat were forced to periodically stop working on Ramesses' KV9 tomb out of "fear of the enemy", suggesting increasing instability in Egypt and an inability to defend the country from what are presumed to be Libyan raiding parties.

The Wilbour Papyrus is thought to date from Ramesses V's reign. The document reveals that most of the land in Egypt by that point was controlled by the Temple of Amun, and that the Temple had complete control over Egypt's finances.

Ramesses VI

Ramesses VI is best known for his tomb which, when built, inadvertently buried the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun underneath, keeping it safe from grave robbing until its discovery by Howard Carter in 1922.

Ramesses VII

Ramesses VII's only monument is his tomb, KV1.[citation needed]

Ramesses VIII

Almost nothing is known about Ramesses VIII's reign, which lasted for a single year. He is only attested at Medinet Habu and through a few plaques. The only monument from his reign is his modest tomb, which was used for Mentuherkhepeshef, son of Ramesses IX, rather than Ramesses VIII himself.[citation needed]

Ramesses IX

During Year 16 and Year 17 of Ramesses IX's reign famous tomb robbery trials took place, as attested by the Abbott Papyrus. A careful examination by a vizierial commission was undertaken of ten royal tombs, four tombs of the Chantresses of the Estate of the Divine Adoratrix, and finally the tombs of the citizens of Thebes. Many of these were found to have been broken into, like the tomb of Pharaoh Sobekemsaf II, whose mummy had been stolen.

Ramesses IX's cartouche has been found at Gezer in Canaan, suggesting that Egypt at this time still had some degree of influence in the region.

Most of the building projects during Ramesses IX's reign were at Heliopolis.

Ramesses X

Ramesses X's reign is poorly documented. The Necropolis Journal of Set Maat records the general idleness of the workmen at this time, due, at least in part, to the danger of Libyan raiders.

Ramesses XI

Ramesses XI was the last pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty. During his reign the position grew so weak that in the south the High Priests of Amun at Thebes became the de facto rulers of Upper Egypt, while Smendes controlled Lower Egypt even before Ramesses XI's death. Smendes would eventually found the Twenty-First dynasty at Tanis.


As happened under the earlier Nineteenth Dynasty, this dynasty struggled under the effects of the bickering between the heirs of Ramesses III. For instance, three different sons of Ramesses III are known to have assumed power as Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI and Ramesses VIII respectively. However, at this time Egypt was also increasingly beset by a series of droughts, below-normal flooding levels of the Nile, famine, civil unrest and official corruption – all of which would limit the managerial abilities of any king.

Sea Peoples in Egypt

The late 13th century BC was a time of uncertainty and conflict for peoples and polities of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean due to the invasion by Sea Peoples, which caused the Late Bronze Age collapse. While there is not much information left to show us why the Sea Peoples began the large scale invasion, the written evidence shows the weakening of central administrations, erosion of political powers, and food shortage might be the reasons.

From Ramses III's mortuary temple at Medinet Habou depicting a chaotic scene of boats and warriors entwined in battle in the Nile delta, it showing that Sea Peoples were seaborne foes from different origins. They launched a combined land-sea invasion that destabilized the already weakened power base of empires and kingdoms of the old world, and attempted to enter or control the Egyptian territory.

While with the victory in the Battle of Djahy and the Battle of the Delta during Year 8 of Ramesses III's reign, Egypt successfully repeal the invading forces of Sea Peoples, the damage that cost the collapse of Eastern Mediterranean world largely damage the trade route of Egypt, due to most of their trading partner had been destroy by Sea Peoples.

Sea Invading from Sea Peoples

Pharaohs of the 20th Dynasty

The pharaohs of the 20th Dynasty ruled for approximately 120 years: from c. 1187 to 1064 BC. The dates and names in the table are mostly taken from "Chronological Table for the Dynastic Period" in Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss & David Warburton (editors), Ancient Egyptian Chronology (Handbook of Oriental Studies), Brill, 2006. Many of the pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings in Thebes (designated KV). More information can be found on the Theban Mapping Project website.

Dynasty XX Kings of Egypt
Pharaoh Image Prenomen (Throne Name) Horus-name Reign Burial Consort(s) Comments
Setnakhte Userkhaure-setepenre Kanakhtwerpehty 1189 – 1186 BC KV14 Tiy-merenese May have usurped the throne from his predecessor, Twosret.
Ramesses III Usermaatre-Meryamun Kanakhtaanesyt 1186 – 1155 BC KV11 Iset Ta-Hemdjert
Ramesses IV Usermaatre Setepenamun, later Heqamaatre Setepenamun Kanakhtankhemmaat 1155 – 1149 BC KV2 Duatentopet
Ramesses V / Amenhirkhepeshef I Usermaatre Sekheperenre Kanakhtmenmaat 1149 – 1145 BC KV9 Henutwati
Ramesses VI / Amenhirkhepeshef II Nebmaatre Meryamun Kanakhtaanakhtu 1145 – 1137 BC KV9 Nubkhesbed
Ramesses VII / Itamun Usermaatre Setepenre Meryamun Kanakhtanemnesu 1136 – 1129 BC KV1
Ramesses VIII / Sethhirkhepeshef Usermaatre-Akhenamun (unknown) 1130 – 1129 BC
Ramesses IX / Khaemwaset I Neferkare Setepenre Kanakhtkhaemwaset 1129 – 1111 BC KV6 Baketwernel
Ramesses X / Amenhirkhepeshef III Khepermaatre Setepenre Kanakhtsekhaenre 1111 – 1107 BC KV18
Ramesses XI / Khaemwaset II Menmaatre Setpenptah Kanakhtmeryre 1107 – 1077 BC KV4 Tentamun


Ramesses XIRamesses XRamesses IXRamesses VIIIRamesses VIIRamesses VIRamesses VRamesses IVRamesses IIISetnakhte

Pharaonic Family tree

The Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt was the last of the New Kingdom of Egypt. The familial relationships are unclear, especially towards the end of the dynasty.

Iset Ta-HemdjertRamesses IIITiye
NubkhesbedRamesses VIRamesses IVDuatentopetAmenhirkhopshefKhaemwaset ERamesses VIIIParahiremenefMentuhirkopshef BTakhat B
Ramesses VIIRamesses VBaketwernelRamesses IX
TytiRamesses X
UnknownRamesses XI


See also

Pharaoh is a historical novel by Bolesław Prus, set in Egypt at the end of the Twentieth Dynasty, which adds two fictional rulers: Ramesses XII and Ramesses XIII. It has been adapted into a film of the same title.

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