Menmaatre Seti I (also called Sethos I after the Greeks) was a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt (Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt), the son of Ramesses I and Queen Sitre, and the father of Ramesses II. As with all dates in Ancient Egypt, the actual dates of his reign are unclear, and various historians claim different dates, with 1294 BC – 1279 BC and 1290 BC to 1279 BC being the most commonly used by scholars today. These two dates are dependent on the chronological system used by a particular Egyptologist. The ancient Egyptians counted time from a king's accession day as Year One of a Pharaoh's reign. When a Pharaoh died or fell from power, the following day immediately became Year number 1 of his successor's reign. To identify Seti I's Year 1 with a specific BC year, a chronologist must not only take into account the existing evidence from various sources, but which set of interpretations that he/she finds valid, so different chronologists and historians can have different views on the subject.
The name Seti means "of Set", which indicates that he was consecrated to the god Set. As with most Pharaohs, Seti had a number of names. Upon his ascension, he took the prenomen mn-m3‘t-r‘, which translates as Menmaatre in Egyptian, meaning "Eternal is the Justice of Re. His better known nomen, or birth name is technically transliterated as sty mry-n-ptḥ, or Sety Merenptah, meaning "Man of Set, beloved of Ptah". Manetho incorrectly considered him to be the founder of the 19th dynasty.
Hence, no clear evidence supports the hypothesis that Ramesses II was already a co-regent under his father. Brand stresses that:
Ramesses' claim that he was crowned king by Seti, even as a child in his arms [in the Dedicatory Inscription], is highly self-serving and open to question although his description of his role as crown prince is more accurate...The most reliable and concrete portion of this statement is the enumeration of Ramesses' titles as eldest king's son and heir apparent, well attested in sources contemporary with Seti's reign.
Seti I's reign length was either 11 or 15 full Years. While the English Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen believes that it was 15 years, circumstantial evidence currently suggests that the shorter figure is the right one. There are no dates known for Seti I after his 11th Year which is significant if he enjoyed a reign of 15 Years because he is quite well documented in the historical records. A continuous break in the record for his Year 12, 13, 14 or 15 appears somewhat unlikely.
More importantly, Peter J. Brand noted that the king personally opened new rock quarries at Aswan to build obelisks and colossal statues in his Year 9. This event is commemorated on two rock stelas in Aswan. However, most of Seti's obelisks and statues — such as the Flaminian and Luxor obelisks were only partly finished or decorated by the time of his death since they were completed early under his son's reign based on epigraphic evidence. (Ramesses II exclusively used the prenomen 'Usermaatre' in his first year and did not adopt the final form of his royal title--'Usermaatre Setepenre'--until late into his second year.) Brand aptly notes that this evidence calls into question the idea of a 15 Year reign for Seti I and suggests that "Seti died after a ten to eleven year reign" because only two years would have passed between the opening of the Rock Quarries and the partial completion and decoration of these monuments. This explanation conforms better with the evidence of the unfinished state of Seti I's monuments and the fact that Ramesses II had to complete the decorations on "many of his father's unfinished monuments, including the southern half of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak and portions of his father's temples at Gurnah and Abydos" during the very first Year of his own reign. Critically, Brand notes that the larger of the two Aswan rock stelas state that Seti I "has ordered the commissioning of multitudinous works for the making of very great obelisks and great and wondrous statues (ie: colossi) in the name of His Majesty, L.P.H. He made great barges for transporting them, and ships crews to match them for ferrying them from the quarry." (KRI 74:12-14) However, despite this promise, Brand stresses that
...there are few obelisks and apparently no colossi inscribed for Seti. Ramesses II, however, was able to complete the two obelisks and four seated colossi from Luxor within the first years of his reign, the two obelisks in particular being partly inscribed before he adopted the final form of his prenomen sometime in [his] year two. This state of affairs strongly implies that Seti died after ten to eleven years. Had he ruled on until his fourteenth or fifteenth year, then surely more of the obelisks and colossi he commissioned in [his] year nine would have been completed, in particular those from Luxor. If he in fact died after little more than a decade on the throne, however, then at most two years would have elapsed since the Aswan quarries were opened in year nine, and only a fraction of the great monoliths would have been complete and inscribed at his death, with others just emerging from the quarries so that Ramesses would be able to decorate them shortly after his accession....It now seems clear that a long, fourteen-to fifteen-year reign for Seti I can be rejected for lack of evidence. Rather, a tenure of ten or more likely probably eleven, years appears the most likely scenario.
The German Egyptologist Jürgen von Beckerath also accepts that Seti I's reign lasted only 11 Years. Seti's Highest known date is Year 11, IV Shemu day 12 or 13 on a sandstone stela from Gebel Barkal but he would have briefly survived for 2 to 3 days into his Year 12 before dying based on the date of Ramesses II's rise to power. Seti I's accession date has been determined by Wolfgang Helck to be III Shemu day 24, which is very close to Ramesses II's known accession date of III Shemu day 27.
After the enormous social upheavals generated by Akhenaten's religious reform, Horemheb, Ramesses I and Seti I's main priority was to re-establish order in the kingdom and to reaffirm Egypt's sovereignty over Canaan and Syria, which had been compromised by the increasing external pressures from the Hittites state. Seti, with energy and determination, confronted the Hittites several times in battle. Without succeeding in destroying the Hittites as a potent danger to Egypt, he reconquered most of the disputed territories for Egypt and generally concluded his military campaigns with victories. The memory of such enterprises was perpetuated by some large pictures placed on the front of the temple of Amun, situated in Karnak. A funerary temple for Seti was constructed in what is now known as Qurna (Mortuary Temple of Seti I), on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes while a magnificent temple made of white marble at Abydos featuring exquisite relief scenes was started by Seti, and later completed by his son. His capital was at Memphis. He was considered a great king by his peers, but his fame has been overshadowed since ancient times by that of his son Ramesses II.
Seti I fought a series of wars in Western Asia, Libya and Nubia in the first decade of his reign. The main source for Seti’s military activities are his battle scenes on the north exterior wall of the Karnak Hypostyle Hall, along with several royal stela with inscriptions mentioning battles in Canaan and Nubia.
In his first regnal year, he led his armies along the “Ways of Horus,” the coastal road that led from the Egyptian city of Tjaru (Zarw/Sile) in the north-east corner of the Egyptian Nile Delta along the northern coast of the Sinai peninsula ending in the town of “Canaan” in the modern Gaza strip. The Ways of Horus consisted of a series of military forts, each with a well, that are depicted in detail in the king’s war scenes on the north wall of the Karnak Hypostyle Hall. While crossing the Sinai, the king’s army fought local Bedouins called the Shasu. In Canaan, he received the tribute of some of the city states he visited. Others, including Beth-Shan and Yenoam, had to be captured but were easily defeated. The attack on Yenoam is illustrated in his war scenes, while other battles, such as the defeat of Beth-Shan, were not shown because the king himself did not participate, sending a division of the army instead. The year one campaign continued into Lebanon where the king received the submission of its chiefs who were compelled to cut down valuable cedar wood themselves as tribute.
At some unknown point in the reign, Seti I defeated an incursion of Libyan tribesmen on his western border. Although defeated, the Libyans would pose an ever increasing threat to Egypt in the reigns of Merenptah and Ramesses III. The Egyptian army also put down a minor “rebellion” in Nubia in the 8th year of Seti I. Seti himself did not participate in it although his Crown Prince, the future Ramesses II, may have.
The traditional view of Seti I’s wars was that he restored the Egyptian empire after it had been lost in the time of Akhenaten. This was based on the chaotic picture of Egyptian controlled Syria and Palestine seen in the Amarna letters, a cache of diplomatic correspondence from the time of Akhenaten found at Akhenaten’s capital at el-Amarna in Middle Egypt. Recent scholarship, however, indicates that the Empire was not lost at this time, except for its northern border provinces of Kadesh and Amurru in Syria and Lebanon. While evidence for the military activities of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Horemheb is fragmentary or ambiguous, Seti I has left us an impressive war monument that glorifies his achievement along with a number of texts, all of which tend to magnify his personal achievements on the battlefield.''
Seti's well preserved tomb (KV17) was found in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, in the Valley of the Kings; it proved to be the longest at 136 meters and deepest of all the New Kingdom royal tombs. It was also the first tomb to feature decorations on every passageway and chamber with highly refined bas-reliefs and colorful paintings - fragments of which, including a large column depicting Seti I with the goddess Hathor, can be seen in the Museo Archeologico, Florence. This decorative style set a precedent which was followed in full or in part in the tombs of later New Kingdom kings. However's Seti's mummy was not discovered until 1881, in the mummy cache (tomb DB320) at Deir el-Bahri, and has since been kept at the Cairo Museum.
His huge sarcophagus, carved in one piece and intricately decorated on every surface (including the goddess Nut on the interior base), is in Sir John Soane's Museum, in London, England; Soane bought it for exhibition in his open collection in 1824, when the British Museum refused to pay the £2,000 demanded. On its arrival at the museum, the alabaster was pure white and inlaid with blue copper sulphate. Years of the London climate and pollution have darkened the alabaster to a buff colour and absorbed moisture has caused the hygroscopic inlay material to fall out and disappear completely. A small watercolour nearby records the appearance, as it was.
From an examination of Seti's extremely well preserved mummy, Seti I appears to have been less than forty years old when he died unexpectedly. This is in stark contrast to the situation with Horemheb, Ramesses I and Ramesses II who all lived to an advanced age. The reasons for his relatively early death are uncertain, but there is no evidence of violence on his mummy. His mummy was found with its head decapitated, but this was likely caused after his death by tomb robbers. The Amun priest carefully reattached his head to his body with the use of linen cloths. It has been suggested that he died from a disease which had affected him for years, possibly related to his heart. The latter was found placed in the right part of the body, while the usual practice of the day was to place it in the left part during the mummification process. Opinions vary whether this was a mistake or an attempt to have Seti's heart work better in his afterlife. Seti I's mummy is about 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) tall.