Sety I

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Sety I

Late Dynasty 18 (1316? b.c.e.–1279 b.c.e.)

Patron of Architecture

Personal Life.

Sety I was the second king of Dynasty 19. He ruled from 1290 b.c.e. to 1279 b.c.e. His father was Ramesses I, the founder of the dynasty. His son was Ramesses II, who was even more famous than his father as a builder. Sety's reign is important to the history of Egyptian architecture, however, because the model of the Heliopolis temple gateway that he commissioned is the only surviving architectural model from ancient Egypt.

Description of the Model.

The model is a large rectangular block of reddish-brown quartzite. The dimensions of the base are 28 by 87.5 by 112 centimeters (11 by 34 by 44 inches). The top of the base is cut back to create a platform for the temple. Ten steps lead up to the platform. The top of the model was carved with ten recesses that originally contained the elements that represented the building and statuary in front of the building. Three sides of the model are carved with scenes of Sety I and inscriptions that describe the king making offerings to the Egyptian sun gods named Atum and Horakhty. The king is represented twice on the front and three times each on the sides of the model. The inscriptions also reveal that the recesses originally held models of the pylons, doors, flagstaffs and obelisks of the holy of holies of Atum's temple, probably at Heliopolis, but possibly another temple of Atum at Tell el Yeudiah, the spot where the model was discovered about 1880. The inscriptions also describe the materials used to make the elements of the model. The pylon was white crystalline limestone. The doors were described as bronze, but were probably wood overlaid with bronze. The flagstaffs were mesdet -stone, but usually real flagstaffs were made from cedar trees. The model obelisks were carved from greywacke, a highly prized Egyptian stone that was quarried in the Wadi Hammamat. Actual obelisks were carved from red granite, as is Sety's actual obelisk from Heliopolis now located in Rome. The shapes of the recesses make clear where each of the elements would have been set. There are also additional recesses in the model that are not described in the inscriptions but can easily be reconstructed from knowledge of actual Egyptian temples. The long recesses behind the pylon towers held the walls of the building. The square recesses in front of the tower held standing statues of Sety I. The four remaining recesses shaped like rectangles with one short side replaced by an arc accommodate the shape of a sphinx. There are recesses to hold four sphinxes that here represent the processional way of the temple, commonly decorated in actual temples with long rows of sphinxes. The temple is approached by a stairway. This arrangement is known in temples from Amarna which predate the model by fifty to seventy years. The stairs suggest that the temple was built on a hill, just as the temple at Heliopolis was. This hill was called the "High Sand" and represented the first hill to emerge from the water at the beginning of time. On this hill the god Atum created the world, according to Egyptian belief.

Purpose of the Model.

The precious materials used to create this model suggest that its purpose was not as an architect's model, but may have been part of a religious ritual called "To Present the House to Its Lord." This ritual is the last in a series of five rituals that the Egyptian king performed to dedicate a new building. The rituals included "Stretching the Cord" (surveying the site), Spraying Natron (purification of the site), Cutting a Trench (digging the foundation), Striking a Brick (taking the first mud brick from its mould), and finally when the building was complete, Presenting the House to Its Lord. Such models are represented in reliefs of this ritual at Esna, Edfu, and at Kawa.


Alexander Badawy, A Monumental Gateway of King Sety I (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1972).

Peter Brand, Monuments of Seti I (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1999).