The Two Royal Stelæ of Beth-Shan

By: Alan Rowe

Originally Published in 1929

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IN the MUSEUM JOURNAL for December, 1923, there appeared the photographs of the two large basalt stelæ discovered that year in the Rameses II level on the Beth-shan tell, one of these stelæ being made by Seti I and the other by Rameses II. The former stela, which had some fragments missing from it when unearthed, is in the Palestine Museum, while the latter stela is in the UNIVERSITY MUSEUM. The missing fragments of the Seti monument came to light in 1925 ; there is a cast of this monument in the UNIVERSITY MUSEUM.

A tall stone stela with many rows of hieroglyphs covering the body and two standing figures below a winged eye at the top
Stela of Seti I, found at Beth-shan. The fragments found since the previous publication of this stela are included here.
Image Number: 30127

Across the top of the Seti stela, which is vaulted, is the solar disk with wings and uræi of the god Horus of Behudet (Edfu), below which is written: “Behudet, the great god, of variegated plumage, the lord of heaven.”

Underneath are two figures, that on the right representing Rā-Harmachis. The god is hawk-headed, has the solar disk on his head, holds the was sceptre of happiness in his right hand, and the ānkh symbol of life in his left hand. Over him is written: ” Rā-Harmachis, the great god, the lord of heaven, grants all life to him (i. e., the king.)”

Facing the god, and on the left side of the stela, is the other figure, which represents king Seti I himself. He wears a short tunic, and has the royal uræus on his head; in his left hand is a pot of incense, and in his right a libation pot, both of which he is presenting to Rā-Harmachis. The text in front of him states that he is “Making [offerings of] incense and libations.” Seti has his throne name, etc., written above him: ” The good god, the lord of the Two Lands (i. e., Upper and Lower Egypt), ‘Men-Maāt-Rā’, granted life like Rā.” Behind the king are the words: “All protection and life are behind him”, while between him and the god are a libation pot and a lotus resting on an altar stand.

The Horizontal Lines of Text

The twenty-two horizontal lines of text below the above scenes give, in the following order:

  1. The date of the stela, which is ” Year I, month III of summer, day X “, i. e., 1313 B. C.—Beginning of line 1.
  2. The five “great names” of the royal titulary.—Lines 1-3.
  3. A general description of the bravery and other qualities of the king.—Lines 4-13.
  4. A detailed description of the driving back from Hamath and Pella, on the east side of the Jordan, of a league of foes who had been attacking Beth-shan and Rehob, on the west side of the river.—Lines 14-22.

The text states that a messenger came to inform Seti that the wretched chief of Hamath, a city at the entrance of the Yarmûk Valley, had collected to himself many people and had made an alliance with the people of Pella, a city opposite Beth-shan, on the east side of the Jordan. (At the time the messenger reached Seti, the king, who was in the course of reconquering Palestine, which had been lost to Egypt since the el-Amârna era, was probably journeying east¬wards down the Valley of Esdraelon, and may indeed have been resting at Megiddo, an important town some little distance to the northwest of Beth-shan.) The messenger also stated that the chief was attacking Beth-shan and beleaguering Rehob, a city a little to the south of the former place (see map). Upon hearing this news Seti at once sent the first army of Amen to Hamath, the first army of Rā to Beth-shan, and the first army of Sutekh to Yenoam, a city perhaps situated to the north of Lake Hûleh, and overthrew his enemies “in the space of a day”.

translation of the hieroglyphs at the top of the stela
The Top of the Seti Stela

This is one of the earliest mentions in the hieroglyphic records of the Egyptian army divisions. We next meet with them in the account of the battle of Rameses II with the Hittites, at Kadesh, on the River Orontes (where the Hittites had established themselves during the el-Amârna era), in which battle another army, that of Ptaḥ, also took part. In the Kadesh battle the army of Rā was somewhat badly cut up. The Ptaḥ army probably remained with Seti at Megiddo, which may explain why it was not mentioned on the Beth-shan stela. Doubtless among all these troops there were many Mediterranean (Ægean-Ana-tolian) mercenaries, including the redoubtable Sherdenen, who must have formed the major part of the garrison left at Beth-shan by Seti. A few of the cult objects in the Beth-shan temples were perhaps introduced by these mercenaries, some of whose burials are fully described in the MUSEUM JOURNAL for March, 1927.

transcription of all the hieroglyphs on the stela
Horizontal text on the stlea of Seti I.
Image Number: 30125
Sketched map showing the area around the River Jordan ending at the Dead Sea
Sketch map showing places referred to in the stela of Seti I, etc.
Image Number: 142543

The translation of the horizontal text is as follows:

  1. Year I, month III of summer, day X. Live the HORUS1 ‘Strong-bull-arising-in-Thebes, making – to – live – the – Two – Lands ‘; TWO LADIES ‘Repeat¬ing-births,
  2. wielder-of-the-scimitar, crusher-of-the-IX-Bows ‘ ; HORUS OF GOLD ‘Repeating-risings, powerful-of-bows-in-all-lands’ ;
  3. KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH, LORD OF THE TWO LANDS Men-Maāt-Rā, ȧri-en-Rā ‘ ; SON OF THE SUN, LORD OF APPEARANCES ‘Seti-meri-en-Ptaḥ’ ; beloved of Horus-of-the-Two-Horizons, the great god.
  4. The good god,2 valiant with his scimitar, a hero brave like Mentu,3 of many captures,
  5. knowing the place of his hand, keen in all his places, speaking with his mouth, doing
  6. with his hands, a leader brave of his soldiers, a fighter brave
  7. in the midst of the warriors, a Bastet4 mighty in the battle, entering
  8. into the dense masses of the Asiatics, making them into a holo¬caust,
  9. treading down the chiefs of Retennu,5 compassing the end of
  10. him who has transgressed his path. He causes to retreat [the chiefs of Kharu], and to cease6 the chiefs of
  11. Kharu7 all the boastings of their mouths! All countries at the end of
  12. the earth, their chiefs [say] ‘ Where are we going to?’ They spend the night
  13. making testification to his name—[saying] mekset, mekset’8—in their hearts by reason of the strength of
  14. his father Ȧmen, who hath adjudged to him bravery and victory. On this day came one9 to speak to his majesty10 to the effect that11
  15. the wretched enemy who was in the city of Ḥamath12 he had collected
  16. to himself many people, was taking away the town of Beth-shan,
  17. had made an alliance with those of Pella,13 and was not allowing to come forth the chief of
  18. Reḥob14 outside [his own city]. Then his majesty15 sent the first army of
  19. Ȧmen (‘Powerful Bows’16) to the city of Ḥamath, the first army of
  20. Rā (‘ Many Braves’) to the city of Beth-shan, and the first
  21. army of Sutekh (‘ Strong Bows’) to the city of Yenoam,17 and it happened that in the space of a day
  22. they were overthrown by the will of his majesty,18 the KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH, ‘ Men-Maāt-Rā’, SON OF THE SUN, ‘Seti-meri-en-Ptaḥ’, granted life.

The Top of the Rameses Stela

Across the top of the Rameses stela, which is vaulted, are the solar disk, wings and uræi of Horus of Beḥudet, who is called “Beḥudet, the great god”.

Underneath are two figures, that on the left representing the god Ȧmen-Rā, who wears the crown with double plumes and holds a scimitar in his right hand and the was sceptre in his left hand. In front of him is written “Words spoken by Ȧmen-Rā, the lord of heaven: ‘ I have given to thee victory,'” etc., while in the two perpendicular lines of text behind him are set out the various benefits the god has bestowed upon the king: ” I have given to thee all boundaries which thou hast wished for to the limits of the pillars of heaven. . . . Thou art as Horus upon earth.”

Facing the god, and on the right side of the stela, is the other figure, which represents King Rameses II himself. He holds a bow in his left hand, his other hand being raised in adoration to the god. On his head is the battle helmet with uræus and plume attached. The hieroglyphs above contain the throne name and personal name of the king (see below, first note on the texts): “THE GOOD GOD ‘Wesr-Maāt-Rā, setep-en-Rā’ ; SON OF THE SUN ‘ Rā-meses-meri-Amen’. Is granted life and joyfulness to him forever like Rā.”

Between the god and the king are representations of various Canaanite vessels which the king has captured as booty and which he is offering to Ȧmen-Rā.

The Horizontal Lines of Text

The twenty-four horizontal lines of text below the above scenes give, in the following order:

  1. The date of the stela, which is “Year IX, month IV of winter, day I”, i. e., 1284 B. C.—Beginning of line 1.
  2. The five ” great names” of the royal titulary.—Lines 1-2.
  3. A general description of the bravery and other qualities of the king, etc.—Lines 3-24.

In cartouche-like enclosures at the bottom of the stela are written the names of the chief foes of Rameses, each enclosure hav¬ing the figure of a manacled captive above it. The names are very much erased, but among them may be read the “Bowmen of the desert”; the “Āamu”; the ” Shasu(?)”; and the “Lords of the North”. The last mentioned are Mediterraneans. The small perpendicular line of text separating the enclosures into two parts reads: “All lands and all foreign countries are under [thy] feet.”

The year in which the stela was erected may very well have been the year when the great citadel comprising No. V city-level was built by the king, for we see from other sources that he was obliged in the previous year to reconquer the cities of Galilee, a Hittite out¬post at Dapur in North Syria, the Hauran, and the region east of the Sea of Galilee, where he left a stela recording his victory.19

It has frequently been stated elsewhere that the stela here described refers to the building of the city of “Raamses” of Exodus, i, 11, but this is not so. The text contains no mention whatever of any such building operations, nor of the Israelites, although it certainly does contain a reference to the famous Delta town of Raamses (Per-Ramessu)—see the translation of lines 9 and 10 of the text below.

When, in line 20, we read that Rameses is to his enemies “like a fierce lion in a pen of goats”, we cannot but help remembering the passage in Jeremiah, xlix, 19: “Like a lion coming up from the jungle of Jordan against the peaceful sheepfold, so will I chase them in a moment from their place.”20

It has not been possible, in the time at our disposal, to make out the signs in many of the weathered places on the monument; and so, for the present, we merely give translations of the various passages which are more easily readable, and postpone a complete translation of the whole of the text. Our readers may be assured, however, that the version now given omits nothing that is vital for a correct general understanding of this precious document.

  1. Year IX, month IV of summer, day I. Live the HORUS ‘Strong-bull-beloved-of-Maāt ‘; TWO LADIES ‘Protector-of-Egypt-conqueror-of-foreign-countries’ ; HORUS OF GOLD ‘Rich-in-years-
  2. great-of-victories’; KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH, SEIZER OF ALL LANDS ‘Wesr-Maāt-Rā-setep-en-Rā’;21 SON OF THE SUN, OF HIS BODY, HIS BELOVED, LORD OF APPEARANCES ‘Rā-meses-meri-Ȧmen’,22 be-loved of Ȧmen-Rā, the king of the gods.
  1. . . . the chiefs of Rethennu23 come making obeisance
  2. . . . His will is powerful before all lands; his frightfulness cleaves their hearts when [he] enters in alone
  3. in the dense masses of the enemy. [Their] warriors are made they into a holocaust. Speaking with his mouth, doing with his hands. At daybreak. . . .
  4. he caused to retreat the Āamu, making to be at peace the fight¬ing which had occurred among everyone; those who desire they come to him all bowing down
  5. at his Castle of Life and Prosperity, ‘Per24-Rā-messu-meri-Ȧmen, Great-of-Victories’. KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH, Wesr-Maāt-Rā-setep-en-Rā’ ; SON OF THE SUN ‘Rā-messes-meri-Ȧmen ‘, great of victories
  6. before all foreign countries like his father Set,25 great of strength . . . widening his boundaries
  7. as much as he likes. . . . All foreign countries are raging, and are made non-existent.
  8. He enters [the fray] alone without another with him26 . . . never has existed his like in any land . . .
  9. . . . Succouring the feeble and the husband
  10. of the widow (i. e., a man who takes care of a widow), protecting the poor, responding to the speech of the afflicted, a brave shepherd in sustaining mankind,
  11. a solid wall to Egypt, a buckler to millions, and a protector of multitudes. He rescues Egypt . . . the Āamu
  12. to crush them. He causes all lands to be under his feet. KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH ‘Wesr-Maāt-Rā-setep-en-Rā; SON OF THE SUN ‘ Rā-meses-meri-Ȧmen’. Seizing his bow27 on
  13. [his] horse, he graspeth his arrows. He is like a circling star among multitudes in the strength of [his] arm. Seizing the rebels
  14. of the ends of the earth, he overthroweth their chiefs together with their soldiers. Is his majesty in their sight like the Bull of Nubti28 (i. e., Set) ;
  15. like a hawk in the midst of the sky to the birds; like a fierce lion in a pen of goats; like a fire
  16. when it seizeth shrubs [with] savageness; a hurricane overturn-ing in their [midst] equipped with shafts of fire. Are they (i. e., the foes) like
  17. bird-feathers before the wind. Never hath been done what he
    hath done in any foreign country. KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH, THE IMAGE OF ȦMEN. . . . ‘ Wesr-Maāt-Rā-setep-en-Rā’,
  18. SON OF THE SUN ‘ Rā-meses-meri-Ȧmen’. Hath made for him his scimitar an everlasting name before all foreign coun¬tries. Never spoke with boastings the SON OF THE SUN ‘ Rā-meses-meri-Ȧmen’.
  19. [He] is an excellent place of refuge for his soldiers . . . KING OF THE SOUTH AND NORTH ‘ Wesr-Maāt-Rā-setep-en-Rā’, SON OF THE SUN, HIS BELOVED, LORD OF APPEARANCES ‘ Rā-meses-meri-Ȧmen’, granted life.
Notes on the Texts

1 The titulary of the kings of Egypt consisted of five “great names”, all of which are given on the monument:

  1. i. The ” Horus” name, as representative of the old falcon-god Horus.
  2. ii. The “Two Ladies” name, as representative of Nekhebet, the goddess of South Egypt, and Wadjet, the goddess of North Egypt. (The “IX-Bows” referred to in this part of Seti’s titulary are the nine main foes of the king.)
  3. iii. The “Horus of Gold” name, as representative of the golden falcon-god.
  4. iv. The “King of the South and North” name, or throne name. Seti’s throne name means, literally, “Permanent-of-truth-is-Rā; begotten-of-Rā”.
  5. v. The “Son of the Sun” name, or personal name. Seti’s personal name means, literally, “Seti-beloved-of-Ptaḥ”.

2 An epithet of Seti.

3 The warrior god of Hermonthis, south of Thebes.

4 The great goddess of destruction.

5 A name for Syria and Palestine.

6 There is some confusion in the text here. The expression di-f kheti, “he causes to retreat”, is well known elsewhere, e. g., “He causes to retreat Libya” (line 5 of the Israel stela of Merenptaḥ); “He causes the Asiatics to retreat” (line 9 of the Rameses II stela of Beisan—Gardiner, The Geography of the Exodus, J. E. Arch., vol. X, part ii, p. 93) ; etc. The word translated “cease” in our text is a misspelling for qen; cf. Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache, part I, p. 177, qen ābā, “to cease boasting”. See also the expression, “He causes the chiefs of Kharu to cease (qen) all boastings of their mouths”, on the relief of Seti I illustrated by Breasted, Ancient Records, iii, p. 44. Cf. Brugsch, Hieroglyphisch-Demotisches Wörterbuch, iv, p. 1464, line 11 from top.

7 Apparently a name for Palestine.

8 The real meaning of these words is uncertain; they could be translated in several ways, e. g., “Protect them! Protect them!” (cf. Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, p. 223). The words may however be Canaanite (?) ones. A somewhat similar expression (mek, mek) appears in line 24 of the Israel stela, where the text presumably indicates that it is “of the speech of the for-eigners”. See Erman, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, English edition, 1927, p. 277.

9 i. e., a messenger.

10 In the original text, the determinative of the word “majesty” (ḥem), has no arms and the flail projects from the knees.

11 On the expression “to the effect that” (er-enti), see Alan Gardiner, op. cit., p. 174, par. 225.

12 Ḥamath is the modern el-Ḥammî.

13 Pella is the modern Khirbet Fâhil.

14 Rebob is the modern Tell es-Sârem.

15 See remarks in note 10 above.

16 Each army had a special name, that of Amen being “Powerful Bows”, or the like, that of Rā “Many Braves”, or the like, and that of Sutekh “Strong Bows”, or the like.

17 Yenoam, according to some authorities, is the modern Tell en-Nâ’ameh, but this is some-what uncertain.

18 See remarks in note 10 above.

19 Breasted, A History of Egypt, p. 436.

20 The Old Testament, an American Translation, ed. by Prof. J. M. Powis Smith.

21 Literally, “Powerful-of-truth-is-Rā; chosen-of-Ra”.

22 Literally, “Rā-has-given-birth; beloved-of-Āmen”.

23 The same as Retennu. See note 5.

24 Per is “House.”

25 i. e., the god Set. “Great of strength” is a title of Set.

26 This must surely refer to the episode at Kadesh on the River Orontes, when Rameses tackled the enemy himself, his soldiers having temporarily deserted him. This was in 1288 B. C.

27 Compare the bow held by the king as shown on the top of the stela.

28 Nubti is the town of Ombos.

Cite This Article

Rowe, Alan. "The Two Royal Stelæ of Beth-Shan." The Museum Journal XX, no. 1 (March, 1929): 88-98. Accessed February 21, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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