Updated: Feb 10
While crown prince, Seti was placed in charge of the army and sent to recoup some of Egypt's lost possessions in Syria. As king, Seti I continued to confront the Hittites in battle. Without succeeding in destroying the Hittites as a potential danger to Egypt, he reconquered most of the disputed territories of Egypt and generally concluded his military campaigns with success. These military victories are preserved on the outer north and east walls of the Temple of Amun at Karnak.
His greatest achievement in foreign policy was the capture of the Syrian town of Kadesh and neighboring territory of Amurru from the Hittite Empire. Egypt had not held Kadesh since the time of Akhenaten. Tutankhamun and Horemheb had failed to recapture the city, but Seti I was successful and entered the city in triumph, together with his son, the future Ramesses II. This success was not long lived, as Egypt was unable to hold a permanent military occupation at the site and it returned to Hittite control. Ramesses II would later return after his succession and fight one of the largest battles in Egyptian history.
Seti I's Hypostyle Hall
Some of the most exceptional building projects were started during Seti I's reign. At Karnak, he began construction of the great Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun. This was to be completed by his son.
Hypostyle means 'supports a ceiling'. One of the wonders of ancient architecture and planning, the Hall covers an area of 335 x 174 feet. It has 134 gigantic columns of which the inner 12, slightly higher than the outer rows at 75 feet high, had overstory lighting via stone grills through which light entered the Hall. These columns are so massive that one hundred men can stand on the top of one.
The Temple of Seti I
At Abydos, the ancient cult center of the god Osiris, Seti I built what is known as the Temple of Seti I. This was the first major project since Akhenaten's el-Amarna, his city of Akhetaten. According to Archaeologist Peter Clayton, it is undoubtedly the most remarkable temple in all of ancient Egypt. The temple has seven sanctuaries, dedicated for the deified Seti, himself, who actually died during its construction. The temple was also dedicated to the gods Ptah, Ra-Harakhte, Amun-Ra, Osiris, Isis, and
Horus. One of the chambers contained a shrine dedicated to his father, Ramesses I.
In a series of sculpted and painted niches, Seti I is seen making offerings to various gods. The highlight of this temple is the 'Hall of Records'. Here, Seti I is shown with young Ramesses before long official lists of the earliest times to his own reign. Known as 'The Royal List of Abydos', it excludes most of the kings of the Second Intermediate Period and the names of the Amarna Pharaohs, jumping from Amenhotep III to Horemheb.
At the rear of the Temple of Seti I, is one of the most mysterious structures ever found in Egypt. Known as the Osireion, it is located 30 feet below the Temple of Seti I and was constructed by huge blocks of granite that are not typical for the period. The building's name is derived from legend. The location is said to be the burial place of the god Osiris after Isis reassembled him. Another version states that his head was buried here. Most Egyptologists believe that Seti I built the temple at the same time he built his Temple to Seti I. They note the religious texts discovered in the tunnel leading to the monument are inscribed with his names.
Egyptologist Bob Brier disagrees. He believes the Osireion is much older, based on the lower level of construction and the large granite stones used in its creation. Brier believes the temple was most likely built during the Old Kingdom and may be related to the Great Pyramids of Giza. He notes the Temple of Seti I doesn't follow the usual building plan, shaped as it is like an L instead of on a single axis. It may be that they discovered this monument while building the temple, then turned left to avoid it. The nature of the repair work done on one block also suggests how Seti I might have sought credit for work not actually done. Whatever the case, Seti I most likely left his sarcophagus in the Osireion while awaiting burial in the Valley of the Kings.
Seti I was buried in the one of the best decorated tombs in the Valley, tomb (KV17). It was discovered by Belzoni on October 16, 1817. When he first entered the tomb, he found the wall paintings in excellent condition with the paint on the walls still appearing fresh and some of the artists' paint and brushes still on the floor. This tomb proved to be the longest, at 446 feet, and deepest of all the royal tombs. (KV17) was also the first tomb to feature decorations on every passageway.
One of the back chambers was decorated with the ritual of the 'Opening of the Mouth', which stated that the mummy's eating and drinking organs were properly functioning. Believing in the need for these functions in the afterlife, this was a very important and common ritual. The 'Book of the Cow' was also recorded on the walls of the tomb for the first time. Previously discovered in the outermost gilded shrine of Tutankhamun, it explained the reasons for the imperfect state of the world in terms of humankind's rebellion against the supreme god, Ra.
A very long tunnel led away deep into the mountainside from beneath the location where the sarcophagus stood in the burial chamber. Work on the corridor was just abandoned upon the burial of Seti I and did not lead to a secret burial chamber. Various stratagems were employed in an endeavor to defeat the tomb robbers. This included a deep shaft in the beginning of the tomb, a painted false door, a concealed stairway, and a false burial chamber. These of course, did not defeat the tomb robbers.
In the burial hall, Belzoni discovered the magnificent translucent alabaster sarcophagus of the king, which as Belzoni remarked,
'Merits the most particular attention not having its equal in the world'.
The sculpted lid had been badly damaged by ancient robbers, but the lower chest was largely intact. Inside and out, the sarcophagus was carved with hieroglyphs, once filled with blue-green paint. On the inside of the walls and exterior of the chest are texts from the 'Book of Gates'. On the floor of the chest and the outside lid are texts from the 'Book of the Coming Forth By Day'. Also in the burial chamber was a unique astronomical ceiling that showed the constellations of the Northern sky.
Seti I's mummy was the finest of the surviving royal mummies. He was among the Great Cache of Mummies revealed at Dier el-Bahari in 1881. Seti I's wife, Queen Tuya, would outlive him by several years and spend the remainder of her long life with her son, Ramesses II.
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