THERE is little dispute about the reign of Amenhotep III’s father and predecessor, Tuthmosis IV. Here the archaeological evidence agrees with Manetho that his reign lasted eight years. We are therefore now in a position to present a chronology, working backwards, for the three-quarters of a century or so that preceded the Israelite Exodus:
When did these kings actually reign? A convenient starting point in trying to answer this question is the reign of Tuthmosis IV’s grandfather, Tuthmosis III, which is accepted as having lasted fifty-four years. However, two possible dates have been suggested for his accession. Those scholars who allotted a long reign to Horemheb and refused to accept the existence of a coregency between Akhenaten and his father favour 1504 BC while supporters of a short reign and a coregency prefer 1490 BC, which, because of the arguments put forward in the three preceding chapters, I, too, prefer.
Although the reign of his successor, Amenhotep II, has also been the subject of argument, the twenty-three years accepted by Gardiner seems on the bulk of the evidence available to be nearest to the truth. Amenhotep was succeeded in turn by his son, Tuthmosis IV, whose length of reign, together with those of Amenhotep III, the four Amarna kings, Horemheb and Ramses I, are given in reverse order in the table above. How long his son, Seti I, sat on the throne has been the subject of considerable controversy, with estimates of the length of his reign ranging from as high as fifty-nine years to as low as eleven. We are on safer ground, however, with his successor, Ramses II, who is known to have ruled for sixty-seven years, although here again two dates have been put forward for his accession, 1304 BC and 1290 BC. I prefer 1304 BC, the date favoured by supporters of a short reign for Horemheb and an Amarna coregency. If we subtract 1304 BC from 1490 BC we are left with a total of 186 years to be allotted between eleven kings as follows:
Subtracting this total of 157 years from the 186 years to be allotted between these kings, we are left with twenty-nine years for the reign of Seti I.
The reason for the confusion surrounding the length of time he sat on the throne lies in the conflicting evidence available and, in some cases, the way it has been interpreted. Although the highest surviving date of Seti is Year 11, Manetho gave Seti a long reign (fifty-one years according to Africanus, fifty-five according to Eusebius and fifty-nine years according to Josephus). These dates were brought into question by a figure in the Karnak scene depicting Seti’s campaign against the Shasu in his Year 1. The figure, which bore the name Ramses, was identified as the future king, Ramses II, shown here sufficiently grown-up to take part in his father’s battles. Clearly, if this was the case and Seti had a long reign, Ramses II would have been well over a hundred years old when he died after his own sixty-seven years on the throne.
The impossibility of this prompted Gaston Maspero, the French Egyptologist, to shorten Seti’s reign considerably: ‘I had first supposed his reign to have been a long one, merely on the evidence afforded by Manetho’s lists, but the presence of Ramses II as a stripling, in the campaign of Seti’s first year, forces us to limit its duration to fifteen or twenty years at most, possibly to only twelve to fifteen.’1
James Henry Breasted, the American Egyptologist, took a different view. He began by pointing out that Ramses appears at Karnak ‘in a scene of the Libyan war, without a date, far from the scenes of the Shasu war of Year 1, on the other side of the door. This appearance of Ramses with his father was therefore not necessarily in his father’s first year, as has been so often assumed.’ He then goes on to say: ‘Furthermore, a close examination of the accompanying figures will show, first, that this scene is no proof that Ramses ever appeared in battle with his father at all, and, second, that Ramses was not the first heir to Seti’s throne.’ He bases his argument on the fact that a second prince, described as ‘first king’s son, of his body’ – the name that follows is missing – is shown in the scene. ‘ … The historical conclusion here is important: the “first king’s son” of Seti I was not his successor, Ramses; that is, that Ramses II had an older brother, who did not reach the throne.’2
Breasted then went on to argue that the figure of the king’s first-born son was not in the scene when it was completed, but was added by the elder prince at a later date. It was also clear that, at a later date still, probably after his elder brother’s death and he had become the heir, Ramses chiselled out his brother’s figure and the accompanying inscriptions and inserted his own figure ‘for his own figure is not original in the scene’.3
The highest date we have for Seti is Year 11, on a stela from Gebel Barakal in Nubia. This has been taken as his last year. Yet, in the light of the available evidence, the arithmetic doesn’t work, whether one starts with the childhood of Ramses III and works forward or with his death and works backward. The essential facts are:
• Ramses has himself recorded the story of his childhood and accession in a narrative to be found in Seti I’s temple of Abydos, and the account is confirmed by other evidence: ‘From the time I was in the egg (a baby) … the great ones sniffed the earth before me; when I attained to the rank of the eldest son and heir upon the throne … I dealt with affairs, I commanded as chief the foot-soldiers and chariots. My father having appeared before the people, when I was but a very little boy in his arms, said to me: ‘I shall have him crowned king, that I may see him in all his splendour while I am still on this earth!’ … “Place the diadem upon his head,” said he.’4
In many other inscriptions Ramses stresses that he was a mere child, not a young man of fighting age, while his father ruled the country.
• The precise identity of the heir whose inscription Prince Ramses usurped has since been established as someone named Mehy. He appears to have taken part in all of Seti I’s campaigns, from the first against the Shasu, and to have enjoyed a favourable position, at least up to the king’s Year 8 when his wars in western Asia came to an end. Moreover, as Seti’s war reliefs were carved on the exterior of the northern wall of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak some time after these wars had come to an end, it suggests that Mehy was regarded as Seti’s heir up to that time. Yet, as Mehy himself was not included in these scenes originally and he is known to have inserted his figure at a later date, this could take us even to Seti I’s Year 10.
The Abydos story tells us that Prince Ramses was about ten years of age when his father took the unusual step of appointing him as ‘eldest son’ and heir to the throne. This cannot have happened earlier than at least Year 9 when Mehy seems to have been regarded as heir to the throne.
• It is generally accepted, from examination of his mummy, that Ramses II was about ninety-four when he died, having ruled for sixty-seven years. This would point to his having come to the throne at the age of twenty-seven. If his father had ruled for only eleven years, Prince Ramses could not have been a child, as he claims, in the early stages of his father’s rule and would have reached his tenth year before his father came to the throne.
• Seti gave his son wives, beautiful ‘as are those of his palace’, plus three of his heiress sisters, which – in the light of the above evidence of the time he was appointed ‘eldest son’ and heir to the throne – indicates that Seti ruled long after his Year 9 or 10.
• Later, Prince Ramses became an army commander and is thought to have been in charge of a campaign in the south at the time his father died.
Some further light is thrown on the length of Seti’s reign by the career of a man named Bekenkhons, who, as a youth, worked for eleven years as an ‘overseer of the training-stable’ for Seti I before joining the priesthood. On his statue, now in Munich, he gives details of his priestly career, which lasted seventy years, during the last twenty-seven of which he was the High Priest of Amun. The statue was dedicated in the reign of Seti’s son, Ramses II, while Bekenkhons was still alive.
From another source we know that Bekenkhons’ successor as High Priest of Amun was a man named Rome-Roy, who also served under Ramses II. As we know that Ramses II ruled for sixty-seven years, even if we make the unrealistic assumptions that Bekenkhons died and was succeeded by Rome-Roy in the very last year of Ramses II’s reign, the former’s priestly career must have started no later than three years before Seti’s death. Adding on the eleven years he served in the training-stable, and making another assumption, that he joined the king’s service in Seti’s Year 1, means that Seti’s reign must have lasted at least fifteen years – and, on the balance of probabilities, even longer.
Another argument against a short reign is the fact that Seti I’s mummy convinced Maspero that he was well over sixty when he died, which means, if he ruled for only eleven years, that he was well over fifty when he came to the throne. It is difficult to match such an advanced age with the figure of the mighty warrior who fought the Shasu in Sinai immediately after his accession and then proceeded to head further campaigns in south and north Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Libya. Nor can we believe that, had he been that old when he came to the throne, his heir had not yet been born.
The amount of construction work in which he was involved is another indication of a substantial reign. Only Pharaohs who ruled for a considerable time – Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III and Ramses II, for example – were able to leave great buildings. Seti I completed a funerary temple that had been started by his father, Ramses I, at Kurnah in Western Thebes. Although the pylon of the temple, which he dedicated to the cult of himself and his father, is no longer to be found, the façade, with lotus-bud columns, is still in perfect shape, together with a number of the chambers in front of the sanctuary. The decoration is very carefully executed.
At Abydos, the centre of worship of Osiris, god of the dead, Seti built a great and beautiful temple which Maspero describes in the following terms: ‘The building material mainly employed here was the white limestone of Turah, but of a most beautiful quality, which lent itself to the execution of bas-reliefs of great delicacy, perhaps the finest in Ancient Egypt … When the decoration of the temple was complete, Seti regarded the building as too small for its divine inmate, and accordingly added to it a new wing, which he built along the whole length of the southern wall; but he was unable to finish it completely .. .’5
Another great architectural work, started by Seti and completed by his son, Ramses II, is the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, described by Maspero as ‘this almost superhuman undertaking’: ‘The hall measures 162 feet in length, by 325 in breadth. A row of 12 columns, the largest ever placed inside a building, runs up the centre, having capitals in the form of inverted bells. One hundred and twenty-two columns with lotus-form capitals fill the aisles, in rows of nine each. The roof of the central bay is 74 feet above the ground, and the cornice of the two towers rises 63 feet higher … The size is immense, and we realise its immensity more fully as we search our memory in vain to find anything with which to compare it.’6
All of this great building work must have required a great deal of time in planning, the cutting and transportation of stone, and painting and decorating to a perfect finish, certainly longer than eleven years, particularly when Seti I was engaged in his many wars during the early part of his reign.
A further pointer to a substantial reign is the fact that evidence from the south shows that, while Seti ruled Egypt, there were two viceroys for Kush, Amenemopet, son of Paser I, and Yuni.7 This is unlikely to have been the case had Seti ruled for only eleven years.
If the arguments in favour of a reign of twenty-nine years for Seti I are accepted, this would mean that he was born in Year 2 of his father, which seems possible from the above evidence.
We are now in a position to construct a chronology for the period that concerns us:
On the basis of this chronology of Egyptian history and the chronology of the Sojourn set out in an earlier chapter, we can make the following deductions:
• Akhenaten was born in Year 11 or 12 of his father, 1394 BC;
• Akhenaten fell from power and fled to Sinai in 1361 BC at the age of thirty-four or thirty-five;
• If Akhenaten was Moses, he was around sixty when he returned to Egypt and led the Exodus in the reign of Ramses I.
Whether or not Akhenaten lost his life at the time he fell from power, which has been widely assumed, will be argued in a later chapter.