The Military Campaigns of Seti I
Seti I, the second king of Egypt's 19th Dynasty, clearly signaled his ambition to restore Egypt's prestige of the earlier 18th Dynasty when he adopted the title, "Repeater of Birth" for his Horus name, which alluded to an inauguration of a new beginning of Egypt's greatness. He fought a number of campaigns of which three were in Canaan and Syria. For the first time, perhaps since the reign of Tuthmosisi IV, this pharaoh personally lead the army into Egypt's Asiatic possessions, serving notice that there had been a break with the policies of the Amarna period. In doing so, he laid the foundations for the great contest of arms between his son Ramesses II and the Hittites at Kadesh.
Much of what we know about Seti I's campaigns into Palestine and Syria come from the Exterior North Wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak, and from several victory stele discovered at Beth-Shan.
However, this information is sometimes fragmentary, and it should be noted that many scholars disagree, for example, on the extent of his first campaign, as well as the order and events of other military actions under Seti I. In addition, little or no information exists for many of the specific battles that must have taken place. The first campaign is a fine example. Furthermore, though we may identify a number of place names referred to in various records left to us, others are problematic to say the least.
Seti I's First Campaign into Palestine
We are told of the reason for Seti I's first campaign into Palestine on the exterior North Wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak:
"Year 1 of Uhem-mesut [renewal of birth], King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of he two Lands, Menmare, given Life.
"One came to say to his majesty: 'The vanquished Shasu, they plan (rebellion). Their tribal chiefs are gathered together, rising against [?] the Asians of Kharu. Theyu have taken to cursing and quarreling, each of them slaying his neighbor, and they disregard the laws of the palace." The heart of his majesty L.P.H. was glad on account of it. Lo, as for the Good God [Neter-nefer], he rejoices to begin battle, he is delighted to enter into it, his heart is satisfied at seeing blood, he cuts off the heads on the rebellious-hearted, he loves an hour of battle more than a day of rejoicing. His majesty slays them at one time. He leaves not a limb among them, and he that escapes his band as a living captive is carried off to Egypt."
Kharu, sometimes translated as Horu, was defined by Amenhotep II as a specific people, as are the Shasu and the Retenu. The people of Kharu most likely lived in a section of Syria. The name Shasu, according to Donald Redford, literally means "a people who move on foot", which would explain why they have often been referred to as Bedouins in many references. It has been suggested that they lived in the plains of Moab and northern Edom (thought to be southern Jordan)
However, he basically exploited the opportunity provided by reports of a nomadic incursion into the northern Sinai and conflicts between a number of cities in eastern Canaan, using it to assault a various cities in Lebanon.
Seti I probably departed from the border fortress of Tjel, modern el-Qantara which is located somewhat south of the Mediterranean Sea on the Suez Canal, with three armies, or divisions consisting of the Armies of Amun, Re and Seth. His forces passed through Raphia (modern el-Arish) and probably captured the city of Gaza in Canaan, which might be a candidate for Pekanan, before heading on to Beth Shan.
We learn from this wall in the Hypostyle hall recording the various scenes of battle at Pekanan that:
King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Menmare (Seti I). The destruction which the mighty sword of the Pharaoh L.P.H. made among the vanquished of the Shasu, from the Fortress of Tharu to Pekanan, when his majesty marched against them like a fierce-eyed lion, making them carcasses in their valleys, overturned in their blood like those that exist not. Everyone that escapes his fingers says: 'His might toward distant countries is the might of his father Amun, who hath assigned to him a victorious valor in the countries'."
In this record at Thebes (modern Luxor), Seti I's Tharu (Sile, or Tjaru)
Pekanan, which is depicted on a hill surrounded by trees. This city is also mentioned during the reign of Ramesses III in the Papyrus Harris. Pekanan probably refers simply to Canaan and to his first decisive battle in the region, giving us little insight to the actual location. However, some archaic records seem to point to it being a specific place name.
In the Reliefs on the exterior of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, Seti I goes into battle at Pekanan protected by the vulture Nekhebet, guardian of the South and the falcon guardian of the north depicted protecting him above his head. Standing in his chariot, Seti fires arrows on the enemy Asiatics, whose formations scatter in disarray. In the reliefs, a few of the enemy escape and manage to reach the sanctuary of the fortress but they are portrayed in surrendering to the onslaught of pharaoh. Within these depictions, the enemy, called Shasu in the text, are characterized by thin bony faces with very pronounced wrinkles, a vanishing forehead, long arched noses and a pointed beard. They are dressed in aprons gathered by a belt and a long piece of cloth that they wrap around their chests. There arms mostly consist of battle axes and spears.
However, from Pekanan, Seti I continues on to Beth Shan. At Beth Shan (Beth Shean), he may have split his forces to send some to Hamath and some to Reheb, the same probably as Beth-rehob (2 Sam. 10:6, 8; Judg. 18:28), a place in north of Palestine (Num. 13:21). It has been suggested that Hamath was far to the north of the other recorded battles, but others have suggested that it was just south of Beth Shan. However, some scholars suggest that he split his forces prior to Beth Shan, sending one division to Beth Shan and the others along the coastal road towards Hamath and Yenoam
In Beth Shan a stela was unearthed that records:
Live the Horus: Mighty Bull, Appearing in Thebes, Making the Two Lands to Live; the Two Goddesses: Repeating Births, Mighty of Arm, Repelling the Nine Bows; the Horus of Gold: Repeating Appearances, Mighty of Bows in All Lands; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands: Men-maat-Re [Ir]-en-Re; the Son of Re, Lord of Diadems: Seti Mer-ne-Ptah,(full titulary of Seti I) beloved of Re-Har-akhti, the great god. The good god, potent with his arm, heroic and valiant like Montu, rich in captives, knowing (how to) place his hand, alert wherever he is; speaking with his mouth, acting with his hands, valiant leader of his army, valiant warrior in the very heart of the fray, a Bastet terrible in combat, penetrating into a mass of Asiatics and making them prostrate, crushing the princes of Retenu, reaching the (very) ends of (m) him who transgresses against his way. He causes to retreat the princes of Syria (Kharu), all the boastfulness of whose mouth was (so) great. It is the strength of his father Amen that decreed to him valor and victory.
'The wretched foe who is in the town of Hamath is gathering to himself many people, while he is seizing the town of Beth-Shan. Thereupon his majesty sent the first army of Amen, 'Mighty of Bows,' to the town of Hamath, the first army of the Re, 'Plentiful of Valor,' to the town of Beth-Shan, and the first army of Seth, 'Strong of Bows,' to the town of Yanoam. When the space of a day had passed, they were overthrown to the glory of his majesty, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Men-maat-Re; the Son of Re: Seti Mer-ne-Ptah, given life.
Seti I probably attacked a number of cities during this campaign, perhaps including Acre and Tyre along the coast. It is suggested that he captured Pella upon his return journey. Besides his military action against Pekanan, we are also provided with some of his heroic actions at Yanoam.
Yanoam is described in archaic text as being Tell el-Na'am in the Sahel el-Ahma southwest of Lake Tiberias, nine kilometers south of Tiberias. It was probably located on a wooded hill between two lakes on one of the Lebanese watersheds. Little is actually known of the battle, though in scenes on the exterior walls of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, Seti I gallops into a swarming mass of the routed enemy consisting of chariots and foot soldiers. Most of the opposing army has been vanquished with arrows and javelins of the king, Seti I. In depictions, Seti I is in the act of smiting two of the enemy in their chariots, whom he has seized by the throat. Other soldiers are hiding behind trees, and have sorrowful faces.
In this campaign, Seti I has also been depicted returning to Egypt with a number of captives, bound together at their throat, wrists or elbows.
Little other evidence exists for Seti I's other actions on this campaign. The records in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak here, pick up on Seti I's return to Egypt from a fortress on a hill at a location known as Raphia (now Rafah and Rafiah), which is just on the line of the Egypt's modern Sinai territorial holdings. "Guardian King of the Black [Egypt] who causes the chiefs of Kharu [Palestine] to cease every contradiction of their mouths."
The depictions at the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak record one of the only representations we know of the road across the northern Sinai desert. Above and below the horses in these scenes are mentioned the fortified stations established at the waterholes along the army's path home.
Departure from Raphia for the Desert Road and the Bedouin Ambush
Along the route of this return home, Seti I's army is ambushed by Bedouins, and he is forced to turn back against them to engage them in battle. However, the courageous pharaoh again puts these enemies to flight and once more exterminates the pillaging bands. Those that do not die in this battle are depicted as rows of prisoners who's hands and arms are bound and attached to their necks by a cord, the end of which is held by the king.
The pharaoh receives a warm welcome at Tharu, which at the Great Hypostyle hall, is depicted split in half by a canal that is bordered by reds and inhabited by crocodiles. A bridge links the two halves of the city. On the Egyptian side of the city, "prophets, nobles and bureaucrats of the South and North have come to acclaim the return of Neter-nefer on his return from Retenu with a great number of captives."
Return of Seti to the Egyptian Frontier
Here, Retenu simply refers to an area of Palestine.
The Battle with the Kheta
Another scene on the northern, exterior wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak records Seti I's archery battle against the Kheta. However, the timing and circumstances of this battle, and in which campaign it took place, is difficult.
Here, Seti I, crowned by a solar disk, stands upon his chariot firing arrows at the routed army of the "vile Kheta", consisting of both men on chariots and foot soldiers. Some of the enemy are also mounted upon unsaddled horses. The enemy's appearance are considerably different from the Shasu, Lebanese and Palestinians depicted elsewhere. Seti I returns to Egypt with Khetan captives, together with chariots and "the choicest items their country has to offer".
Though in some other reliefs, these Kheta are represented as being somewhat different from the Hittites that Seti I fought at Kadesh, they are nevertheless thought to be Hittites.
Battling the Libyans
From reliefs at Karnak, we also find Seti I battling the Libyans, this time under the name of Horthema, avenging Horus. Several scenes depict Seti I attacking Libyans with Harpagon and Javelins. In one scene we find him threatening a Libyan chieftain, recognizable by the two feathers in his headdress. In another scene, he pins a Libyan chieftain to the ground with his feet while restraining another with his hand. In the scene depicting Seti I with his Javelin, two princes stand by his right and left, one of whom is presumed to be the future king, Ramesses II. However, these depictions of the princes had been reworked several times, so their historical presence is questionable.
Again, Seti I returns home victoriously, and is depicted with two rows of captives with bound arms. Seti I's Battle of Kadesh
There is highly fragmentary evidence that Seti I may have initially attempted to attack the city of Kadesh during one of his earlier excursions into this region of Syria, and he may have had intentions to mount a full scale assault of the city in year three, were it not for the problems that arose on Egypt's Western borders with the Libyans. However, there are some scholars that believe that this earlier campaign to Kadesh was actually the more successful, and that the later campaign in the fourth year lacked success, and itself resulted in the treaty he seems to have arranged with the Hittites Irregardless, in the fourth year of his reign, he did mount a major campaign to retake this former Egyptian vassal state now held by the Hittites.
Less well recorded than his son, Ramesses II's later campaign at Kadesh, Seti I's earlier campaign against this city state may, however, have been more successful. Again, Seti I records this battle on the exterior north wall of the Hypostyle hall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak. Here, situated between two towers of the fortress located on a hill surrounded by various plants is the inscription, "Land of Kadesh, land of Amor".
In this scene we find at the foot of a hill a fleeing ox driver who is begging for mercy. Before an enemy consisting of chariotry and foot soldiers in long robes and daggers in their belts, Seti I's team of horses rears up. Unlike the Kheta, they are bearded and their hair is held by a band or clad in ovoid helmets not unlike those of the Yanoam. However, this battle did involve the Hittites, and the Kheta are generally presumed to have been of that race. The enemy is transfixed by arrows and javelins.
In another scene, the enemy king appears to stand before Seti I on foot, presenting himself before a pylon, and we learn from Seti I that he returned home with considerable booty and many captives. It seems entirely possible that he did capture the city of Kadesh, considering a fragment of a victory stela recovered from that city and bearing Seti I's name. However and despite an apparently resounding victory recorded by Seti I on the walls at Karnak, he seems to have come to an agreement with the Hittite king Muwatallis by which Kadsh and Amurru (the northernmost province of Retenu) were retained by the Hittites (suggested by the annals of Mursilis), in return for the guarantee that they would not interfere with the Egyptian interests in Canaan and Upi. This must have seemed like a satisfactory solution at the time if Seti I's victory was not as resounding as his claims, but for Ramesses II, nothing less then complete control of upper, southern Palestine would suffice. Hence, he fought another battle over Kadesh that would in the end, settle the matter once and for all, in favor of the Hittites.