A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Long-Dead Egyptian Kings Continue to Make More Interestng News than President Morsi Does

These are interesting times in Egypt, but they're in danger of being upstaged by the news from the New Kingdom, some 3200 to 3400 years ago.

Just last week we learned that Egyptian King Amenhotep II, seventh pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, was in the news when his toe fell off, and then again when his toe was reattached.

Normally two stories involving a King (or his mummified remains anyway) who's been dead for 3400 years would be enough for a week or even, say, most years. But NO! An even better-known New Kingdom Pharaoh, Ramses III, has also been in the news. And this time it's not just a body part dropping off, but the sort of court intrigue worthy of a soap opera or an HBO mini-series. Egyptologists have reportedly discovered he died of a slit throat, and the Queen is the prime suspect.

The second Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty, Ramses III (1186-1155 BC, more or less) is well known for his wars, his battles with invading Libyans and "Peoples of the Sea" in the disruptions marking the end of the Bronze Age, and his elaborate monuments memorializing his victories, incorporated into the temples of Luxor and Karnak and in his funerary temple at Medinet Habu.

Actually, archaeologists have long known that there was a conspiracy in Ramses' harem in which a subordinate wife, Queen Tiye, was accused of plotting to overthrow him and install her own son as his successor in place of the designated heir, later Ramses IV, who was the son by a more senior wife. (This Tiye should not be confused with the more famous Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten in the 18th Dynasty.)  But the documents were unclear about whether the plot succeeded: the cause of his death was unknown.

The Victim
The mummy is wrapped around the neck (picture) and archaeologists could not unwrap it without damage, but now a CT Scan has shown that in fact, the King's throat was slit. and an amulet placed in the wound. Another cold case file cleared, though a bit late.

As for the presumed culprit, it is uncertain what became of Queen Tiye after the plot, but her son was forced to commit suicide, and she may have been executed. In any event, she is beyond the reach of the law.

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