Ramses I

Though often overshadowed by his successors, Ramses (Rameses, Ramesses) I is a significant pharaoh from Egypt’s New Kingdom period and the founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty. The son of a noble family, the future pharaoh (then called Paramessu) served with Horemheb when both were soldiers, and when Horemheb became pharaoh he made Paramessu his vizier and the high priest of Amun.

In this latter role Paramessu was responsible for finalizing the restoration of the old religion in the wake of the Amarna heresy propagated by Akhenaten a generation earlier.

As vizier, his titles also included reflecting his military background—Controller of the Nile Mouth, Charioteer of His Majesty, the Pharaoh’s Envoy to Every Foreign Land, Royal Scribe, Master of Horse, Commander of the Fortress, and General of the Lord of the Two Lands.

When the heirless Horemheb made Ramses first his co-regent and then his successor as pharaoh (1295 b.c.e.), Paramessu adopted the praenomen (royal name) of Menpehtyre (established by the strength of Ra) and the nomen (personal name) Ramses (Ra bore him).

Ramses’s pharaonic names, his position as high priest, and his devotion to the sun gods displaced by Akhenaten’s Atenism, all point to his commitment to traditional Egyptian religion, which had formed a key part of domestic policy in the last years of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

In a sense Ramses’s religious restoration cleared away the vestiges of the Amarna period in order to prepare Egypt for the clean slate of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Ramses’s reign was brief—only two years, with his son Seti I as co-regent—and important largely because it ushered in the Nineteenth Dynasty, one marked by prosperity and reconquest under the rule of Ramses’s successors.

Ramses’s mummy enjoys at least as much fame as the pharaoh. Sometime in the mid-19th century Ramses’s tomb was looted, his mummy stolen, and—though it may have passed through several hands in the interim—sold in 1860 to a "freaks of nature" museum in Niagara Falls, New York, where it was displayed with other mummies and Egyptiana alongside preserved animals and frontier memorabilia.

Neither the thieves nor the museum’s curator were aware of the mummy’s identity. Eventually, the museum’s Egyptian collection was purchased in 1999 by the Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Gerogia, and the mummy was radiocarbon-dated by researchers at Emory University.

Further scans and other computer-assisted techniques, along with a physical resemblance to the mummies of Seti I and Ramses II (Ramses I’s grandson), made the identification of the mummy as that of Ramses I almost certain. The mummy was returned to Egypt in 2003.