Sethos I


Sethos I
King 1318-1304 BC.
    The son of Ramesses I, Sethos I's ambition was to restore Egypt's Syrian empire and to re-establish her prestige abroad, following the decline it had suffered during the Amarna Period. Ramesses I had been appointed by *Horemheb as his successor, but he died only sixteen months after his accession. His family had no royal blood; they came from the Delta and their personal god was Seth, the deity of Avaris. It was against this background, and probably to emphasise his political and religious legitimacy as ruler of Egypt, that Sethos I undertook certain actions. He not only sought to regain the empire, but also inaugurated a major programme to build and refurbish religious monuments at Thebes and Abydos. He took the additional title of 'Repeater of Births' to indicate that he regarded himself as the inaugurator of a new era.
    His major campaigns are recorded in a series of scenes on the north and east walls in the Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Karnak. In Year 1 of his reign, on his first campaign, the king led his forces out from the border fortress of Sile, along the military coast road from Egypt to Palestine, cleared the wells and entered Gaza. Ultimately, this campaign probably took him further north to the southern end of the Phoenician coast. In a second campaign, he returned and progressed further north along the *Phoenician coast to launch an attack on the town of Kadesh. Then trouble in the western Delta forced him to return to Egypt to fight the *Libyans, before he could return to Syria. Here, in Year 5 or 6, he fought against the *Hittites; his brief possession of the land of Amurru and the town of Kadesh brought him into direct conflict with the *Hittites, but his Treaty with *Muwatallis, the *Hittite king, acknowledged that the Egyptians would cease trying to regain Kadesh and Amurru (which reverted to *Hittite control). It also stated that the *Hittites would recognise Egypt's interests, particularly with regard to the *Phoenician coastal towns.
    Thus Sethos I had restored Egyptian authority in Palestine and even gained temporary control of part of Syria. He had imitated the actions of earlier pharaohs, particularly *Tuthmosis III, by establishing control first in Canaan and then gaining the *Phoenician coastal towns, from which it was possible to launch an attack into central and northern Syria. Further military action was necessary in another area, and in Year 8 Sethos I was forced to move against a *Nubian tribe—the Irem—who planned to revolt against their Egyptian overlords.
    At home, Sethos I continued *Horemheb's policy of restoration, and this was best expressed in Sethos' magnificent religious monuments—the major construction and decoration of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak; the magnificently decorated temple at Abydos; his mortuary temple at Qurna; the work undertaken on the temples of Re at Heliopolis and Ptah at Memphis; and his tomb, which is the finest in the Valley of the Kings. Descending over three hundred feet into the rock, the tomb is decorated with magnificent funerary scenes. It was discovered in AD 1817 by Belzoni, and the fine alabaster sarcophagus is now in the Sir John Soane Museum in London. The mummy of Sethos I was reburied by the priests in the cache at Deir el Bahri and is in the Cairo Museum; it is especially well-preserved, and it can be seen that the king was a strong and handsome ruler.
    From his monuments, it is evident that although Sethos I was originally from the Delta, he maintained Thebes as his state and religious capital. His greatest building was his mortuary temple, built at Abydos, the cult-centre of the god *Osiris. It was designed as a national shrine to win him popularity and support, and includes seven chapels in the sanctuary area, which are dedicated to six major gods and to the deified Sethos himself; there is also a List of Kings giving the names of legitimate rulers from Menes (*Narmer) to Sethos I. The Nauri Decree records the king's endowment of this temple and the safeguards he gave to its staff and its property. The temple accommodated the rituals of the gods and also the king's own mortuary ritual. It was completed by Sethos I's son, *Ramesses II, who also finished other major buildings of Sethos I's reign.
    Sethos I was himself a pious son, and he constructed a chapel for Ramesses I at Abydos. His reign was memorable because he effectively restored Egypt's power abroad and ensured stability at home.
BIBL. Kitchen, K.A. Ramesside Inscrips. Vol. 1. Oxford: 1968 1, pp 6-25 and 2, pp 25-37; Calverley, A.M. and Broome, M.F. The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos. (four vols) London: 1933-58; David, A.R. A Guide to religious ritual at Abydos. Warminster: 1981; Faulkner, R.O. The wars of Sethos I. JEA 33 (1947) pp. 34 ff.; Griffith, F. Ll. The Abydos Decree of Seti I at Nauri. JEA 13 (1927) pp. 193 ff.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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