Ramesses Menpehtyre c. 1293-1291 BC

Horemheb would have overseen the coronation of Pa-Ramessu as Ramesses. The succession was settled. Not long after, the former Vizier buried his old friend in KV 57. By taking the role of Horus to the Osiris Horemheb, and performing the rituals at the interment, Pa-Ramessu asserted his right as heir and began his independent rule as Ramesses I.

Upon ascending the throne, each Egyptian king assumed a royal titulary. The five names he would bear as king were political and theological statements of his intentions as ruler, rather like the first 'State of the Union Address' of an American president. The royal titulary of Egyptian kings of the New Kingdom consisted of five names. One was the birth name, the name by which we usually know these kings. Pa-Ramessu dropped the definite article at the beginning of his name and took the more classical form: Ramesses The name by which contemporaries referred to him as king was Men-pehty-re, “Re is the one who is enduring of strength.” This name suggests strength and positive action. It also recalls the throne name of Ahmose, Neb-pehty-re, the founder of the XVIIIth Dynasty. Ramesses was conscious of being the founder of a new dynasty. His faith in his brilliant son, Seti, and his energetic, fearless grandson, Ramesses, assured him that the dynasty would be enduring and strong, with kings as glorious as Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep III. The name may have also emphasized the essential Egyptian-ness of the family, even though they came from the North and were dedicated to Seth. Ahmose had been the king who defeated the Hyksos and drove them from Egypt. By choosing this name Ramesses I also asserted that he would have dominion over the nations of the Levant who had once ruled Egypt from his home town.

The first name in the titulary is called the Horus Name, and it too can announce a king's intentions. Ramesses chose “Strong Bull, Flourishing of Kingship.” The phrase "strong bull" had been used by most of the kings of the XVIIIth Dynasty, and so spoke of continuity. The bull's power and vitality promised a king who would defend the borders of his country and assure its prosperity. The word for 'flourishing' also means green, and renewed. As Vizier, Pa-Ramessu had acted as a good gardener for his country. He had pulled the weeds and cultivated the soil, now was the time of harvest. No longer would kingship be questionable, as it had been under Akhenaten, nor weak as under the child Tutankhamun and the impotent Ay, but evergreen.

The second name is called the nebty, or "Two Ladies" name, for the images of a vulture and cobra, the goddesses Nekhbet and Wajet, which precede it. He chose “Appearing as king like Atum.” Atum was the creator god, the first consciousness of the cosmos, the father of all the gods. By choosing this name, Ramesses linked his enthronement with the first moment of creation of the universe. He appeared as king like the very embodiment of royalty, the first god, the first king. This name also promises the dynasty to follow, just as Geb and Shu, Osiris and Horus followed Atum. And sadly, Atum is often shown as an old god, the god of sunsets. This was an appropriate image for a king who may have been sixty years old.

Finally, there was the Golden Horus name. “He who establishes truth throughout the land.” This was a statement of fact, even more than of intention. The new king had spent his youth and maturity establishing ma'at, truth and justice throughout Egypt. Every official who had ever met him or had to report to him— and it would have been nearly every one in the country— knew his quality. The title may also have been a last comment on the old Amarna kings and the heresy, for Akhenaten had asserted that he was 'living in truth.' The Golden Horus dismisses Akhenaten's claim, even as Ramesses and his family would strive to erase the heretic from history.

As King, Ramesses continued the work of restoration and consolidation he had shared with Horemheb, but also began to leave his own mark upon the country. Stele and scattered inscriptions attest to an ambitious building campaign. In the Sinai, he worked on the temples of Hathor. On a stela now in Brussels he proclaimed that,

His Father Atum brought him up while he was a child [to] act with loving heart, renewing monuments that had gone to ruin, and illuminating the name of 'his mother Hathor, Lad[y]. of Turquoise - one who made a path to her, (something) not in others' minds.

The attention to detail that had earned him promotions in his career as soldier and civil servant, marked him as king. Having addressed the goddess Hathor in the North, he turned his mind to Nubia, and ensured the delivery of the proper offerings for Min-Amun at Buhen. His Buhen stela continues the work of providing priests and servants for this temple. He does not state the source of the priests and prophets, but the workshops are to be filled with “slaves, male and female, of the captures (made by) His Majesty…” This same stele speaks of works done in Memphis:

Now, His Majesty was in the city-quarter of Hatku[Ptah (in Memphis) doing what pleas]ed his father Amen-Re, and Ptah South-of-his-Wall, and all the gods of Nile-land,….

In the Southern capital of Thebes, he began to transform Horemheb's fore-court at Karnak into the Grand Hypostyle Hall in Karnak. This work would be continued by his son and completed by his grandson. Hathor, Ptah, Min-Amun and Amun-Re had received his attention. Fragments from Abydos and Heliopolis show that buildings were begun for Osiris, Re-Horakhty, and Atum. In the tradition of the great kings of the Middle Kingdom and the XVIIIth Dynasty, he erected an obelisk. Only fragments remain of the great works he planned and undertook. In a reign of less than two years, Ramesses I was unable to carry out his building program. His plans would be completed by his son, Seti I.

During his brief reign, the aging king relied on his strong son. A dedicatory stela made by Seti I for his father at Abydos gives a touching glimpse into their relationship.

It was he, indeed, who created my beauty; he made great my family in (people's) minds. He gave me his counsels as my safeguard, and his teaching was like a rampart in my heart. See, I am a son useful to him who fashioned me, (I) keeping alive [the name of my progenitor]. I [was perspicacious] and adept at doing what(ever) he said.

Royal stele are important documents which tell us where and what kings built; it is rare for such personal, human feeling to appear on them. Seti speaks of the time when he aided his father as Vizier or co-regent:

I (thus) speak out about what I did for him until I became Ruler of the Two River-Banks. I came forth from the womb as a bull (=guardian) of what was right (maat), I being already primed with counsels of instruction. While he was (very) Re effulgent, I was with him like a star at his side, . . .

During the XVIIIth Dynasty, there seems to have been no consistent pattern to the treatment and status of royal sons. Royal daughters can be seen taking part in ceremonies as priestesses, but it is rare to see the king's sons, or to know who among them was the 'crown prince.' Amenhotep III, for example, sired many daughters during his thirty-eight year reign, but we know of only two sons, Djehutymes (who would have been Tuthmosis V, had he lived,) and a younger brother who succeeded his father originally under the name Amenhotep IV, and later as Akhenaten. Akhenaten portrayed his six daughters by Great Royal Wife Nefertiti hundreds of times on monuments, but we are left to infer that Tutankhamun was his son; no royal princes were shown at Amarna.

Dynasty XIX, by contrast, would come close to the pattern of Dynasty XII of the Middle Kingdom. A crown prince would be acknowledged who would assist his father in governing the country. Seti appears to have shared power with Ramesses II, as the latter, in his old age, relied upon his thirteenth son, Merenptah. Ramesses II had gloried in his many sons; we know the names of many of the successive crown princes who predeceased their father. Merenptah would rely on Seti II. Even into Dynasty XX, Ramesses III would depict his many sons on the walls of his temples. The pattern had been set by Ramesses I and Seti I, whose pride in their human family with its Northern, military heritage, played a large part in their lives.

Did Seti act as Vizier or co-regent for his father? The late Bill Murnane addressed this issue in Ancient Egyptian Co-regencies (University of Chicago, Oriental Institute, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, No. 40, 1977). Murnane concluded that the evidence that father and son ruled together as kings is mildly ambiguous, but "very attractive." The most powerful piece of evidence is a statue base from Medamud with two symmetrically carved inscriptions. On the right side, Ramesses I is referred to as "the Good God, the likeness of Re who shines on the Two Lands like the Horizon-dweller; . . . Menpehtyre." The other side reads in part, "the Good God, the star of the land, at whose appearance everyone lives. . . Menmaatre " - the throne name of Seti I. This suggests that the two ruled together, with Seti as the junior partner, the 'star' to his father's 'sun.' This is the same language used in Seti's memorial chapel inscription from Abydos already quoted: "I was with him, like a star at his side."

Whether formally as co-regent or as Vizier, Seti assisted his father, particularly in the military sphere. The Abydos stele continued:

I subdued for him the lands of the Fenkhu, and I repulsed for him dissidents from the desert, (so that) I might protect Egypt for him at this wish, and I organized his kingship for him there, like Horus on the throne of Wenennufer. I chose Truth for him every day, and I wore it.

I mustered his army and gave it unity of purpose. I sought out for him the condition of the Two Lands, and I wielded for him my strong right arm as his 'Bodily Protection' in foreign lands whose names were hitherto unknown. I was a valiant hero before him.

These wars would have been the source of the slaves that Ramesses I dedicated in the Temple of Buhen.

Now his Majesty, the King of S & N Egypt, Menpeh(ty)re, given life, de-creed the establishment of sacred offerings for his father, Min-Amun residing in [Buhen]:

. . . Likewise, [this temple] was filled with prophets and priests; and his workshops filled with slaves, male and female, of the captures (made by) his Majesty, . . .Menpeh(ty)re.

As an older man, with only a year or so left to live, it's unlikely, though possible, that Ramesses himself went into battle. It seems much more reasonable to assume that the captures were actually made by Seti.

What were these wars, and why were they fought? It may seem strange that Ramesses began his short reign with battles or raids into Western Asia, and that Seti, and later Ramesses II, would spend so many years campaigning there. Had Horemheb been content to let things slide in the Levant, choosing instead to consolidate his borders and his power at home? Or were the relations between the two 'superpowers' Egypt and Hatti such that Egyptian armies could not freely move into Palestine or Syria to quell rebellions and safe-guard trade roads? The records of Murshili, a Hittite king contemporary with Ay and Horemheb, do not speak of armed conflicts after his seventh year. Bill Murane suggested that this silence might be interpreted as "resumption of diplomatic relations."

That there was indeed a treaty between the Hittite Empire and Egypt signed during the reign of Ramesses I (or possibly during the last years of Horemheb) is suggested by a reference to an 'earlier treaty' by the King Hattushili III. Such a treaty would have freed Ramesses and Seti to pursue the usual Egyptian strategy in West Asia: to protect Egyptian interests by maintaining the stability of the small kingdoms of the area. A more effective Egyptian control of their sphere of influence in West Asia would lead eventually to direct conflict between Egypt and Hatti as the two manoeuvred for po-sit ion. During the reign of Seti, the conflict finally broke out over Kadesh, a town made famous by a later battle of Ramesses II.

As vizier to Horemheb, Ramesses' duties had been outside of the military. Now, with his son, he set about reforming the army, preparing it to restore Egyptian power and influence in West Asia. The glorious days of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep III would return and trade goods from the East would flow again into Egypt.. By the end of Ramesses' life, Seti had begun to restore normal military and commercial operations by putting down a rebellion in the Shasu Lands, not because the rebels themselves were any threat to Egypt, but because "the hills of the rebels, they could not be passed on account of the Shasu enemies who were attacking …"

But by now Ramesses was dying. If he had been born in the last years of Amenhotep III, he would have been at least sixty, a good though not remarkable old age for an ancient Egyptian. There are no accounts of his death, and the mummy tentatively identified as his shows no overt signs of illness or injury, He was succeeded, as planned by the able Seti:

He went to heaven. Then I arose upon his throne. It is I who keep his name alive, I being like Re at the dawn since I assumed my father's regalia. See, I am now king on the seat which he has enlarged, on the throne that he occupied. This land belongs to me as it did to my father.

Seti buried his father in the Valley of the Kings, and dedicated a portion of his own mortuary temple at Gurna to his father's memory. Though Ramesses would have begun work on his own tomb immediately upon his accession, his short reign forced a change of plan. According to Reeves and Wilkinson in The Complete Valley of the Kings,

. . . the first corridor is the most abbreviated of any royal tomb in the valley, the two niches at the sides of the second stairway are only half executed, and the improvised burial chamber was cut immediately at the foot of this stairway.

Nevertheless, the colourful burial chamber is filled with energetic images undoubtedly drawn and coloured by the same workers who had decorated the tomb of Horemheb, - the artists of the Village at Deir el Medina who had been re-organized and revitalized by the peace, order, and good government that the two old friends had provided. Images of the king meeting the gods of the Afterlife, and scenes from the Book of Gates are drawn on the same blue-grey background, and vividly coloured. The images are clear, well drawn, and traditional. We see the King kneeling between two figures who represent the 'souls of Nekhen and Pe' -ancient images for the Northern and Southern Egypt, - an image of balance and unity.

His sarcophagus was to have been as fine as any, hewn from a huge slab of red granite. But there was no time to carve the texts on it, so they were hastily drawn in yellow paint to represent gold. Life sized wooden guardian figures, (such as Howard Carter would find in the tomb of Tutankhamun,) and other wooden deities have survived three thousand years of robbery, stripped of the gold that once embellished them. The king's original coffins, very likely of cedar covered in thick gold leaf, like the second and third coffins of Tutankhamun, have not survived.

Sometime in the twentieth dynasty, he was removed from KV 16 and housed in the replacement coffin found in 1881 in the cache of Deir el Bahri DB 320. Was he then taken from that broken box and placed in the simple black coffin that found its way to the Niagara Falls Museum, and later to Atlanta, Georgia? If so, he has made his way home again, and rests as of this writing (December 2003) in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, only a few miles from his old residence at Memphis.

"Many have passed since the time of the god - and next morning, their very names are forgotten."

Ramesses I, until his recent rediscovery, has been one of the lesser-known kings of Egypt. In a Life and Times of Ramesses I, the times are easy to de-scribe, but his own life often seems to elude us. He slips from us as he works his way through piles of scrolls, hurries off to listen to legal cases, catches the boat for one more tour of inspection, or sits with Horemheb and Seti in late night counsel meetings. It's easy to imagine him as a quiet, effective bureaucrat, a colourless functionary, like those whose tombs fill the cliffs at Gurna, and whose pensive statues fill the shelves of museums. Yet one eye-witness has left his observations and his feelings about the sol-deir who became a king. He has even described the funeral of a man who was deeply loved:

the mourning women surrounded him with litanies. Their hands struck their faces for him. His children's children remember his goodness. Lamentation will be made for him, generation upon generation.

These are the words of Seti I, in his great dedicatory stele for his fa-t her at Abydos. At this holiest of Egyptian cities, Seti built a temple for his father's memory.

My will has spurred me on, during the work. His temple is well set up in the eternal place. . . . I have spoken with my own mouth - my mind was set on constructing his eternal temple with such works that I might honour his bodily form which is in the temple. I made for him a chapel for his spirit, drawn in outline and engraved with the chisel, with the figures of him who created me, made just like him.

On the walls of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Ramesses is seen in company of the gods, but in Abydos, the Ramessid sense of family prevails:

It is his mother who is beside him, inseparably. Those who have gone on before him are assembled before him; and the beloved brother of the king is opposite him. I am his son who keeps alive his name. The God's Mother, her arms embrace him like Isis, she has joined with her father. All his broth-ers and sisters are in their proper places. Because his people surround him, he rejoices.

We see Ramesses most clearly through the eyes of the son, who knew and loved him. Perhaps the soldier and Vizier Pa-Ramessu, and the King Ramesses Menpehtyre, are difficult for the modern mind to grasp because he was so entirely a man of Ancient Egypt. In the tombs of the workers at Deir el Me-dna, he was remembered alongside the deified Amenhotep I and Ahmes-Nefertiri as one of the powerful spirits who would watch over and guard the artists who worked in the Valley of the Kings. His life seems to have embodied the advice of the Sage Ptahhotep, who had held the office of Vizier a thousand years before:

If you are a man who leads,

Who controls the affairs of the many,

Seek out every beneficent deed,

That your conduct may be blameless.

Great is justice, lasting in effect,

Unchallenged since the time of Osiris.