I - Who Was Ramesses I?

Around 1290 BC, the pharaoh Ramesses I, ancestor of Egypt's most illustrious rulers, was buried in a richly painted tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Ramesses entered his tomb expecting to undertake an arduous journey through the underworld. The king could hardly have imagined that his journey would take over three thousand years, winding a path to Atlanta, Georgia.

Ramesses I

At the close of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the Egyptian royal family was in disarray, allowing Horemheb, a military commander of non-royal blood to become the last king of the dynasty. Since he had no heir, Horemheb appointed his military comrade and most trusted advisor, Paramessu, to be his successor. Paramessu, son of Seti, a judge and troop commander from Avaris in the northeastern Delta, began his career as a mid-level military officer, rising rapidly through the ranks. During the reign of Horemheb, Paramessu reached the highest levels of power, surpassing his father's position as troop commander to become "master of horse, commander of the fortress, controller of the Nile mouth, charioteer of His Majesty, king's envoy to every foreign land, royal scribe, colonel, and general of the Lord of the Two Lands."

Paramessu took the name Ramesses when he claimed the throne and founded the 19th Dynasty, becoming the first of eleven rulers by that name, including his grandson, Ramesses the Great. Ramesses had reached at least middle-age when he became king and ruled for only two years. This left him little time to erect temples, statues, or other monuments, and leaves us with little evidence of his reign. In fact, Ramesses did not even have time to complete his tomb (KV 16) in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes.

The tomb of Ramesses I was located in October 1817 by the Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni. Inside, Belzoni found several wooden statues and a red granite sarcophagus with cursorily painted decoration and damage on the lid, where it had been pried open in antiquity.

The plan and decoration of the tomb were abbreviated in comparison to others in the Valley due to the brevity of the king's reign; the niches along the corridor were left unfinished and only the burial chamber itself was decorated.The bulk of the funerary equipment was absent, having been stolen during the late New Kingdom, when tomb robbery in the Valley of the Kings went unchecked. The mummy of Ramesses I was also missing from the tomb.

According to both textual and archaeological evidence, Ramesses I was reburied in a cache of royal mummies during the Third Intermediate Period. At that time, Thebes was ruled by a series of military leaders who also held the prestigious title of High Priest of Amun, the preeminent god of Egypt whose worship was based at Karnak temple. It was the priestly officials of Thebes who re-consecrated and reburied the kings whose tombs had been violated. Recent scholarship has even suggested that the priests themselves stripped the gold and precious materials from the royal mummies and coffins, enriching the Amun Temple through officially sanctioned tomb robbery.