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The stunning temple of Seti I in Abydos - Egypt

The Stunning Temple of Seti I in Abydos, Egypt

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Seti I is one of the lesser-known pharaohs of the New Kingdom period of ancient Egypt. However, his temple in Abydos is among the most famous, cited by many as the most impressive religious structure still standing in Egypt.

Seti I’s place in history was overshadowed by that of his son, Ramesses II, arguably one of the greatest pharaohs in Egyptian history. Yet, Seti was an important character in his own right, as he was one of the pharaohs who had to bring order back to Egypt and re-establish Egyptian sovereignty over its eastern neighbors (Syria and the Levant) following the social disruption caused of Akhenaten’s religious reforms. Seti was also responsible for commissioning the construction of a grand temple in Abydos, often referred to as the Temple of Seti I or the Great Temple of Abydos.

A view down the axis of the hypostyle hall of the temple of Seti I at Abydos. (ernie /Adobe Stock)

A view down the axis of the hypostyle hall of the temple of Seti I at Abydos. (ernie /Adobe Stock)

Seti I’s Temple on Osiris’ Sacred Lands

Abydos has a special place in the sacred landscape of ancient Egypt, as it was believed to be the place where Osiris was buried. Thus, Abydos was an important cult center for Osiris. A number of temples dedicated to Osiris, all of which were located in one area, were built prior to Seti I’s reign. The Temple of Seti, however, was built on new ground to the south of said temples.

Seti’s temple was mainly built of limestone, though parts of it were constructed with sandstone. Although work began under Seti, the temple was only completed during the reign of his son, Ramesses II. This is visible in some of the temple’s reliefs depicting Ramesses slaying Asiatics and worshipping Osiris.

Chapel dedicated to Amun Re at the Temple of Seti I in Abydos, Egypt. (kairoinfo4u/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Although Ramesses II completed the temple, most scholars believe that the best artwork at the site was created during Seti I’s lifetime. Seti had artist’s depict him with many of the gods presented in the temple and Ramesses added in some scenes with him and his father as well as representations of his successful military campaigns.

Entrance to the Temple of Seti I. (CC BY SA 2.5)

Like the temples of his predecessors, Seti’s temple was dedicated to Osiris, and consisted of a pylon, two open courts, two hypostyle halls, seven shrines, each to an important Egyptian deity (Horus, Isis, Osiris, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah) and one to Seti himself, a chapel dedicated to the different forms of the god Osiris, and several chambers to the south.

In addition to the main temple, there was also an Osireion at the back of it. Various additions to the temple were made by later pharaohs, including those from the Late, Ptolemaic, and Roman periods.

The Osireion at the back of the Temple of Seti I. (MariaJose /Adobe Stock)

A Declaration of Legitimacy to the Throne

The Temple of Seti played an important role in his family’s claim as a legitimate royal household. Prior to the ascension to the throne by Seti’s father, Ramesses I, Seti’s ancestors were merely warriors, generals at most. Without royal blood in his veins, Seti had to consolidate his position, and one of the ways to do so was to build temples.

Seti taking a flail from Horus. (BasPhoto /Adobe Stock)

In addition to the worship of Egypt’s traditional gods, Seti’s temple had another feature that made his rule legitimate. This was the Abydos King List, which was found carved on a wall of the temple. The Abydos King List contains the names of 76 kings of ancient Egypt, predecessors whom Seti acknowledged to be legitimate pharaohs.

On the other hand, earlier rulers who were considered illegitimate, such as Hatshepsut and Akhenaten, were conveniently omitted from the List. The Abydos King List was arranged in three rows, each containing 38 cartouches. While the first two rows consisted of the names of his predecessors, the third row is just a repetition of Seti’s throne name and praenomen (personal name).

As Akhenaten’s religious reforms did away will the old gods, Seti’s dedication of his temple to Osiris and other important Egyptian deities symbolized a return to the traditional way of life, thus allowing himself to be seen as a restorer of order.

Drawing of the Abydos King List. (PLstrom/CC BY SA 3.0)

Apart from being an important legitimizing tool for Seti’s dynasty, the Abydos King List was also an incredibly important document for our understanding of the kings of ancient Egypt, especially those from the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period. Although the List provides the order of the Old Kingdom rulers, it is far more valuable for the fact that it is the only known source for the names of many of the kings from the first two dynasties of the First Intermediate Period (Dynasties 7 and 8).

The Temple of Seti at Abydos was a strategic building project on the part of Seti I in order to bolster his family’s claim to the Egyptian throne. This desire for legitimacy has also indirectly benefitted us today, as Seti I left behind a list of kings that helped patch some holes in the history of Egyptian kingship, as well as a spectacular monument that continues to be visited by thousands of people every year.

Top Image: A view down the axis of the hypostyle hall of the temple of Seti I at Abydos. Source: Irene Soto/CC BY 2.0

By Ḏḥwty


Dunn, J., 2013. Egypt: The Temple of Seti I and the Osireion at Abydos. [Online]
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Lonely Planet, 2014. Temple of Seti I. [Online]
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Memphis Tours, 2014. Abydos Temple | Temple of Seti I | Ancient Egypt. [Online]
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Sacred Destinations, 2014. Abydos, Egypt. [Online]
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Tsurugi's picture

I don't think the Oseirion is a part of Seti's temple. The construction is vastly different, almost completely unadorned, and sits 50ft lower in elevation. The floor of the uppermost level is below seasonal high water levels of the Nile, and the lower levels are basically permanently immersed.
Indications are that water levels have not changed appreciably from the date given for construction of Seti's temple to modern times. IMO this not only implies it would have been virtually impossible for the Oseirion to have been built during the time of Seti, it indicates an antediluvian date of construction, some time during the Last Glacial Maximum when global sea levels were much lower.

One other indication that the Oseirion was not built by Seti's engineers is the awkward, uncharacteristic right-angle turn in the temple structure, without which it would have extended directly overtop the Oseirion. This appears to suggest the engineers discovered the Oseirion while digging the foundations for the temple and were forced to modify the foundation plan.

Pic 2 I wonder if his bright yellow eyes is original! Gives a mysterious look

I am curious if the list does mention Amenhotep IV, Akhenaten's original designation. The article stated that it did not list Akhenaten or Hatshepsut, but what about other names that would apply to them?


Sheila T-S

For so many years I wanted to visit Egypt to see for myself all these wonders.

And now that my ids are grown and I'm free to do as I like, they tell me Egypt is too dangerous now in certain parts

Sunny Young

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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