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Pharaoh Ramses I: Military Origins, Reign & Missing Mummy

Pharaoh Ramses I: Military Origins, Reign & Missing Mummy

Egyptologists believe Ramses I (or Ramesses I) was descended from a military family hailing from Egypt’s northeast delta region. Horemheb the final king in ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty (c. 1539 to 1292 BCE) was Ramses’ patron possibly due to their shared military heritage. As the aging pharaoh had no sons, Horemheb appointed Ramses as his co-regent just prior to his own death. By this time Ramses was also well advanced in years.

Ramses I ascended the Egyptian throne in 1292 and shortly afterwards elevated his son Seti to be his co-regent. Through this sequence of events, Ramses I founded ancient Egypt’s 19th Dynasty (1292-1186 BCE) which was to change the course of Egyptian history. At a year and four months, Ramses I’s own rule was comparatively brief. Yet his son Seti I was the first in a succession of powerful pharaohs.

Facts About Ramses I

  • Ramses I was the first pharaoh of Egypt’s 19th Dynasty.
  • He was descended from a non-royal military family
  • Ramses I’s reign lasted for less than eighteen months
  • His ascension to the throne marked a peaceful transition to power and the founding of a new dynasty
  • Eleven pharaohs subsequently took his name, including his most famous grandson, Ramses the Great
  • His mummy disappeared early in the 1800s and was only returned from the USA in 2004.

Military Origins

Ramses I is believed to have been born c. 1303 B.C. into a military family. At birth, Ramses was called Paramessu. Seti his father was a prominent troop commander in Egypt’s Nile delta region. Seti’s wife, Sitre, was also from a military family. While Ramses’ family lacked a royal bloodline, Tamwadjesy the wife of his uncle Khaemwaset, also an army officer held the post of matron of the Harem of Amun and was a relative of Huy, the viceroy of Kush, one of Egypt’s most prestigious diplomatic posts.

Paramessu proved to be a talented and highly skilled officer eventually surpassing his father’s rank. His exploits found favour with the Pharaoh Horemheb. Horemheb himself was a former military commander and successfully led campaigns under previous pharaohs. With Horemheb’s support, Paramessu emerged as the right hand man of the pharaoh.

Some of Paramessu’s military titles included: General of the Lord of the Two Lands, King’s Envoy to Every Foreign Land, Master of Horse, Charioteer of His Majesty, Commander of the Fortress, Royal Scribe and Controller of the Nile Mouth.

Fleeting Reign

Paramessu ascended to the throne upon Horemheb’s death around c.1820 B.C. As pharaoh, he adopted a royal name prenomen of Ramses I, which translates as “Ra has fashioned him.” Other titles associated with Ramses I was He Who Confirms Ma’at Throughout the Two Lands and Eternal is the Strength of Ra. Rameses and Ramesses were alternate versions of his prenomen.

Egyptologists believe the Pharaoh Ramses was around 50 years of age when he was crowned, quite an advanced age for the time. His heir Seti, served as Ramses I’s vizier and commanded Egypt’s military expeditions conducted in Ramses I’ reign. Ramses I is thought to have died in c.1318 B.C after reigning for some 16 to 24 months. Ramses’ son, Seti I followed Ramses on the throne.

While Ramses I’s brief time on Egypt’s throne did not provide him with an opportunity to make a significant impact on Egypt compared to other pharaohs, his short reign represented continuity and a peaceful transition of power.

Under Ramses I the work to revive Egypt’s old religion continued. Similarly he commissioned a series of inscriptions on the Karnak Temple’s majestic Second Pylon in Thebes as well as a temple and chapel at Abydos.

Ramses also directed the Nubian garrison in Buhen deep in Egypt’s southern province be strengthened.

Ramses I’s Missing Mummy

At the time of his death, Ramses’ tomb was incomplete. His son Seti I constructed shrines in memory of his father. Ramses’ wife also broke with precedent by buried in a separate tomb, rather than with Ramses when she later died. When it was excavated in 1817 the Pharaoh’s tomb was almost empty. Due to its hasty construction, only the decorations in Ramses burial chamber had been completed. Tomb robbers had ransacked the tomb. Every object of value was missing, including King Ramses’ mummy.

Egyptologists later discovered government officials had overseen a mass reburial of royal mummies including Ramses’ mummy during the turbulent Third Intermediate Period. These mummies were re-consecrated in a cache intended to safeguard those royal mummies from tombs pillaged by tomb robbers.

This cache of royal mummies had been concealed within Queen Ahmose-Inhapi’s tomb. The Egyptian Antiquities Service revealed the extraordinary existence of this mummy cache in 1881. When Egyptologists opened Ramesses I’s coffin, they found it empty.

The mummy’s location remained one of Egyptology’s enduring mysteries until in 1999 Canada’s Niagara Museum and Daredevil Hall of Fame shut its doors. The Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia acquired their collection of Egyptian antiquities. A mummy subsequently confirmed as that of Ramses I using advanced imaging techniques and physical evidence was discovered in the collection. The Carlos Museum hosted an exhibition celebrating the re-discovery of the royal mummy of Ramses in 2004 before returning Ramses’ mummy to Egypt.

Ramses I's mummy

Ramses I’s mummy.
Alyssa Bivins [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Reflecting On The Past

Ramses I was one of the few examples of a commoner rising to the throne of Egypt. While the rule of Ramses I proved fleeting, the dynasty he founded played an important role in Egypt’s history and in Ramses The Great produced one of Egypt’s greatest Pharaohs.

Header image courtesy: Mark Fischer [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr