Pharaoh Seti I: Father of Egyptian Greatness
Nicky Nielsen
Pen & Sword, 2018
194pp, 12 colour illustrations, three maps, three plans
Hardback, £19.99

By a strange coincidence, some 2,750 years after his death, the great pharaoh Seti I has found two biographies of him published within a year of each other. The second is Sethy I King of Egypt. His Life and Afterlife, 2019, by Aidan Dodson.

The foreword to Dr Nielsen's biography notes: '[it is hoped] this brief biography is enough to convince the reader that Seti I is a man entirely worthy of detailed study.' This is indeed extremely true and has been particularly well met by Professor Dodson's detailed and well-illustrated biography of Seti. Dr Nielsen takes the broad brushstroke approach; Seti doesn't make his appearance until page 41, being preceded by an extensive 'Setting the Stage', that is more appropriate for a general book on ancient Egypt.

Seti was a military man, his father Paramessu was one of Horemheb's (the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty) generals. Paramessu took the name Ramesses I, founding the 19th Dynasty, and during his short eight-year reign placed his son Seti 'like a star' beside him. Seti's subsequent military career as pharaoh is well documented by laudatory stele within Egypt and also far beyond its boundaries. This is well covered in the book along with the magnificent series of battle reliefs on the outer north wall of the great temple of Amun at Karnak. What is often not appreciated is the fact that many of Seti's many building projects were completed, even usurped, by his vain-glorious son Ramesses II. However, interspersed throughout the book are large sections headed 'Excursus' that go into great detail about aspects that are more appropriate for a general book on ancient Egypt. Some are so detailed and lengthy that Seti seems to have almost only a walk-on part.

The 13 foreign language sources cited in 'Selected Sources' would not be easily accessible, physically or linguistically, for the general reader for whom this 'brief biography' is aimed. In it there are some major omissions: Belzoni's Narrative… is not listed there although pages 143-9 recount his discovery and description of Seti's huge tomb in the Valley of the Kings and the citation of his book only appears in the text on page 149.

John Taylor's detailed publication and description of Seti's magnificent sarcophagus in Sir John Soane's Museum is only referred to in a footnote, no. 22 on p181, and not listed in 'Sources'. An important publication that is missing is The Tomb of Seti I (1991) by Erik Hornung which reproduces Harry Burton's 222 black and white photographs from 8 x 10-inch glass plates and provides a complete photographic documentation of the whole tomb.

Not least among a number of unhappy errors in the text, on page 98, the great goddess Mut, wife of the Chief of the Gods, Amun, would not have relished being referred to as his mistress. Similarly, the wife of Tutankhamun was Ankhesenamun, not Ankhsunamun [sic] cited five times as such.

A brief a biography as this is, it is very much a simplistic overview. To really find out about Seti's life, monuments, and reign, which laid the foundation for the greatness of his son Ramesses II, the reader should turn to Aidan Dodson's book Sethy I.

Peter A Clayton

 

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