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Hello, mummy!

This week’s instalment returns to the Ramesside Period as we take a look at the mummy of the pharaoh, Merneptah.

The mummy of Merneptah (Source: Science Photo Library).

Merneptah was the fourth pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. He was the thirteenth son of Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, and inherited the throne as his elder brothers had all died before their father. As a result of this, Merneptah was in his sixties when he became pharaoh, and only ruled Egypt for just under ten years before his death. Merneptah is believed to have been the son of Isetnofret, the second wife of Ramesses II. He was married to Queen Isetnofret who, due to her name, is believed to have been his sister, named after their mother. He is also presumed to have been married to Queen Takhat, with whom he fathered his successor, Seti II. Merneptah’s other children were the prince Merneptah, the future Queen Tausret (the wife of Seti II), prince Khaemwaset, and princess Isetnofret.

JE 31408 The victory stela of Merneptah in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

During his reign, Merneptah carried out several military campaigns, including a victorious fight against the Sea Peoples and the Libu, a Libyan tribe, at the city of Perire in Year 5 of his reign. The Libyans and the Sea Peoples were threatening Egypt from the west so this campaign was essential to ensure Egypt’s continued security.

The victory stela of Merneptah (left) records the king’s victory in the form of a poem, the last few lines of which record a separate victory, this time in Canaan:

The princes are prostrate, saying, “Peace!”

Not one is raising his head among the Nine Bows.

Now that Tehenu (Libya) has come to ruin,

Hatti is pacified;

The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe:
Ashkalon has been overcome;
Gezer has been captured;
Yano’am is made non-existent.

Israel is laid waste and his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow because of Egypt.

A monumental granite sphinx surrounded by the gateway, columns, doorways and windows of the palace of Merneptah at Memphis, the best preserved royal palace ever excavated in Egypt (Source: The Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology).

Ramesses II had created a new administrative centre at Piramesse, but Merneptah moved it back to Memphis, the cult centre of the god, Ptah. He constructed a beautiful palace (above) at the city. The palace was excavated in 1915 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology led by Clarence Fischer, and was the most complete and best preserved royal palace to be excavated in Egypt.

Merneptah built his mortuary temple of the west bank at Luxor. Although it was mostly destroyed, it has been extensively restored by the Swiss Institute of Archaeology in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The stone sarcophagus of Merneptah in KV8 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

His tomb, KV8, was located in the Valley of the Kings. The burial chamber, which was at the end of 160 metres of corridor, contained a set of four nested sarcophagi. The outer sarcophagus was so large that parts of the corridor pillars had been demolished then reconstructed to enable the sarcophagus to be brought into the burial chamber.

The mummy of the king was not discovered in KV8, but in a cache of nineteen royal mummies in KV35, the tomb of Amenhotep II. The cache was discovered by Victor Loret in 1898. The mummy was unwrapped in 1907 by Grafton Elliot Smith, who noted that the pharaoh was in ill-health when he died. His mummy had also been badly damaged by tomb robbers – the right clavicle was broken, the right arm was torn off, the anterior abdominal wall had been hacked through, and the mummy had been hacked into with an adze which left numerous cuts on the body, including the skull.

The mummy of Merneptah now resides in the Royal Mummies room in the Cairo Museum.

Bibliography and further reading:

The Theban Royal Mummy Project – Merneptahhttp://members.tripod.com/anubis4_2000/mummypages2/19A.htm#Merenptah

Elliot Smith, G. 1912. Catalogue General Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire: The Royal Mummies. Le Caire : Imprimerie de L’institut Francais D’archeologie Orientale. 65-70. Available from: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/eos/eos_title.pl?callnum=DT57.C2_vol59

Manassa, C. 2003. The Great Karnak inscription of Merneptah: grand strategy in the 13th century BC. New Haven, Conn, Yale Egyptological Seminar.


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