Pharaoh Seti I - Father of Egyptian Greatness, Nicky Nielsen

Pharaoh Seti I - Father of Egyptian Greatness, Nicky Nielsen

Seti I was the second pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, the second of the New Kingdom. His father, who founded the dynasty, only ruled for a couple of years, so Seti’s reign was the first significant one of the dynasty, lasting for a decade. Seti inherited a kingdom that was to a certain extent still recovering from the reign of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who had overthrown the ancient gods of Egypt and attempted to convert the country to the worship of the Aten, or sun disc. Although he had died over forty years before Seti came to the throne, Akhenaten’s reign was followed by two obscure rules, and the famous boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, and the return to a sense of normality only began under Horemheb, the last ruler of the 18th Dynasty.

Seti’s story reminds me of later ‘camp’ emperors of the Roman Empire, men who came to the throne because of their military ability and not because of any direct link to the previous emperors. In this case his father, Ramesses I, was a soldier and administrator who served under Horemheb, and who was eventually chosen as his heir. Seti wasn’t born as a prince, so will have had a relatively normal life before his father became heir. Unsurprisingly we find that many of Seti’s acts were performed to enhance a sense of continuity with the ‘good’ pharaohs before Akhenaten, in particular Ahemhotep III and Thutmosis III, whose prenomens Seti combined as part of his complex full title.

The book is well structured. We begin with a historical background, tracing the development of Ancient Egypt. This is followed by a look at the period from the start of Akhenaten’s reign to the start of Seti’s own rule. They story of his reign is split into four parts, looking at his military campaigns, construction projects, ordinary life and his tomb. Finally there is a look at how Seti re-entered the historical record (both in documentary terms, and physically, with the identification of his mummy). 

For me the most fascinating aspect of this study is the quite amazing amount of detail we have about some aspects of Seti’s life and of the lives of many of his subjects. There is even one period in his reign where we can construct his weekly itinerary, as the records of the palace baker have survived, and they tell us where the Pharaoh’s bread was being sent! We also have a random, but for the period quite remarkable, selection of documents about the lives of relatively ordinary Egyptians – some from surviving working documents, others from records of their achievements in their tombs. These fragments give us a feel for some of the details of ordinary life that we don’t get again until the Roman period.

I might quibble slightly about the subtitle – ‘father of Egyptian Greatness’ – Seti’s reign actually comes rather late in day for that to be the case – starting some 1,400 years after the rise of the Old Kingdom, and only 200 years before the end of the New Kingdom and the start of the final decline of Ancient Egypt as an independent power. Otherwise this is a fascinating study of one of the more successful of the later pharaohs.


1 - Setting the Stage
2 - The Family Business
3 - Smiting Foreign Lands
4 - Houses of Life and Eternity
5 - The Supporting Cast
6 - An Eternal Resting Place
7 - Rediscovering a Ruler

Author: Nicky Nielsen
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 192
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Year: 2018

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