This monument is a source of information of prime importance on the history of Egypt under the reign of Tutankhamun. The reliefs, chiselled by forever anonymous craftsmen, are ever among the most accomplished recovered in ancient Egypt and are a major source for the history of the art.
The tomb from the time in which he was not yet Pharaoh Horemheb was discovered a first time in the 19th century, then it disappeared again under the sands. It was rediscovered in 1975 by Geoffrey Martin and his team who cleared the monument in four seasons of excavation.
Nothing precise is known about the career of Horemheb before the reign of Tutankhamun, but it is certain that he didn't arrive overnight to the position of Generalissimo of the army, uppermost of all works of the king and Regent to the young king.
Some have proposed to recognise Horemheb (Hor-em-Heb = Horus is in festival) in one close to Akhenaton, a soldier by the name of Paatenemheb (Pa-Aten-em-Heb = The Aton is in festival).
When Horemheb makes Memphis, under Tutankhamun, the place to construct his tomb he is to the summit of his power, but nothing indicates a future royal destiny.
However that may be, Horemheb doesn't speak of his parentage, which suggests that he was probably of modest origin and that he was a self-made man. One knows that his family was from Herakleopolis, close to the entry of the Fayum, whose tutelary god was Herishef, a god with the head of a ram. Nevertheless no monument of this city makes allusion to Horemheb, and it seems that he had no particular devotion for its god, no more that he erected a place of cult worship there for his family (at least nothing has been found).
Erik Hornung thinks that his place of birth was probably located in the nome of the Falcon, the 18th nome of Upper Egypt. However that may be, Horemheb always showed a particular devotion to the Great Falcon God Horus, with whom one often finds him represented during his reign, as in the statuary group of Vienna.
The architectural studies reveal three successive stages in the construction of the monument (see plan), undoubtedly corresponding to his rise in influence following victorious military campaigns in Asia.
When Horemheb reaches royalty, he would construct for himself another tomb, conforming of course to his function of King-God, in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, but it is not impossible that he had at heart to finish his civil tomb if it was not already complete, by adding to it his kingly attributes, in as much as his first wife (Amenia?) was already buried there.
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Contrary to custom, his second wife, the Great Royal Wife Mutnedjemet, also seems to have been buried there, in Saqqara and not with her royal spouse in Thebes.
The Necropolis of Memphis during the New Kingdom.
Many great officials of the New Kingdom chose the site of Saqqara to construct their "home of eternity". It is hardly surprising since Memphis (of which Saqqara is the cemetery) was always the administrative capital of Egypt. They essentially chose the area situated to the South of the causeway of Unas, but also a area situated close to the funerary complex of the pyramid of Teti.
This area had been occupied centuries before by mastabas of the Old Kingdom. The architects didn't hesitate to dismantle them to reuse their blocks and use their funeral wells which they remodelled in some cases. In the same way elements of the enclosure wall of pyramid of king Djoser (3rd Dynasty) have been recovered in the masonry of the tomb of Horemheb. As an anecdote, fragments of the colonnade have been returned to their original place by Jean Philippe Lauer more than 3000 years after they had been dismantled by the quarrymen of Horemheb…
Horemheb chose a site a little to one side, probably to be sure to allow sufficient space and thus avoiding possible later intrusions into his tomb.
Around the time of Tutankhamun a modification in the design of the tomb occurs, at least for certain nobles of very high rank.
Those, who alone had the means and the sufficient influence, abandon tombs dug into the side of the cliff (hypogeums) for a new type of monument which G.T. Martin called «fall - temple». These tombs reproduce, in miniature, a «Temple of the Millions of years» royal (improperly named as funeral temple), and it is very likely that their function was very similar. These tomb-temples were inspired by the open air temples from the time of Akhenaton, the same derivation as the solar temples of the 5th Dynasty.
It is undoubtedly the reason for which this new type of tomb was preferred to the mastaba, traditional in Saqqara and which is more solid, better protecting the reliefs, and does not break up…
Architecture of the surface structure of the tomb
It consists of a forecourt, a great pylon through which is the entry to the monument, the open courtyards, the cult chapels and storehouses.
The one of Horemheb being, to date, the oldest known where stone was also used, in the shape of beautiful blocks of fine Tura limestone.
The interior courtyards and the chapels, as well as the outside faces of the pylon were decorated with the help of these carefully adjusted blocks, decorated with scenes and hieroglyphic inscriptions engraved and painted (except the pylon).
The three phases of construction
The first phase of the construction included two courtyards and the western chapels, that is areas C, D and E of the plan. Courtyard C was in mud bricks, undecorated and without relief.
The second phase consists essentially of the development of courtyard C, which becomes a room, the statue room, flanked on each side, separated by a thick mud brick wall, a store room with an arched roof. The group was covered. The front opened onto a new courtyard.
The last phase sees the erection of the present pylon in the east, and the demolition of the west wall of the previous courtyard which becomes a pillared courtyard.
Many details in the choice of the scenes suggest that Horemheb himself even supervised the progress of work scrupulously, selecting what he considered as his most heroic deeds, which gives a decorative program very different from that of a Theban tomb of the same period, and of numerous unique scenes in Egyptian iconography. In a general manner the quality of the preserved reliefs is exceptional and constitute one of the high points of the parietal art of the New Kingdom.
Only The last portion of the tomb, dating of the end of the reign of Tutankhamun or even the reign of Horemheb himself has merely been painted and not sculpted.
The Forecourt and Pylon
The forecourt (plan, A) of the tomb was paved. It has not been well restored.
It leads to a great pylon of mud bricks, undecorated, of 7m. in height, divided in two parts as is usual in a temple.
The part turned toward the outside was dressed with a facing of limestone of which some of the blocks have been put back in place are a reminder of its existence. This pylon was not decorated (it was a royal privilege).
The First Courtyard (plan, B)
The entry gives way to a the first great courtyard largely to open sky (view T 01; TC 01; TC 17; TC 18). An engraved colonnade of about 3 metre high supported a peripheral roof intended to protect the reliefs from the elements and to provide shade for the visitors.
The pavement under the colonnade is raised slightly in relation to the central portion of the courtyard, with a system for the drainage of water.
None of the columns have been recovered intact, they have been restored according to the one recovered in the second courtyard. These columns each include a scene engraved in an oblong setting and turned toward the centre of the court, showing Horemheb in perpetual worship before the sun (view T 04).
One finds here, at the same time, the Amarnian influence, but also the very particular devotion of which Horemheb always evidently gave in respect of the Great Solar God Horus, as we have already seen.
The decor has nevertheless largely disappeared. Some among the blocks are in European museums, notably in Leiden (see bottom of page 2). Some restorations have can be made from these blocks and put back to their place of origin.
The rest of the scenes include aspects of the career of Horemheb, as well as of the scenes of contribution of the necessary offerings to the funerary cult.
In the northwest corner of the courtyard is the access to funerary well N°4, Horemheb's underground burial complex.
South Wall :
This was the last erected before the accession of Horemheb to the throne. Only a very careful exam permitted the recovery of a sketched decoration, historically very interesting. One sees some foreigners there which could be a delegation, containing Libyans, Asians, Nubians (which one will find elsewhere in the monument) but also a man from the islands of the Aegean sea (or could be a Greek). The accompanying text has disappeared.
Another interesting relief (T 03) partially shows the "Window of Appearances" of a royal palace. In the finished scene one would have represented the sovereign distributing the reward of gold to Horemheb in the courtyard below.
West Wall :
One finds here, next to the door leading to the statue room, a stela. The one which one sees nowadays is a replica, the original being in the British Museum (view T 02). It carries the longest preserved text of the tomb (25 lines).
At the top, Horemheb is worshipping three deities: Ra-Horakhty, Thoth and Ma'at.
Here is the part of the text selected by G.T. Martin, which shows the reigning frame of mind at court after the restoration which followed at the reign of "the heretic" Akhenaton :
"Hail to you who are beneficial and effective, Atum-Horakhty. When you have appeared in the horizon of the sky, praises to you are in the mouths of everyone, for you are beautiful and rejuvenated as the Disk in the embrace of your mother Hathor. Appear everywhere, your heart being glad forever!… Adoration to you, Thoth, lord of Hermopolis, who brought himself into being, who was not born, unique god, leader of the Netherworld!… May you cause the royal scribe Horemheb to stand firmly by the side of the sovereign as you were at the side of the lord of the universe, as you fostered him when he came forth from the womb!… Adoration to you Ma'at, lady of the north wind… may you cause the hereditary prince Horemheb to breathe the winds that are brought forth by the sky…"
(a line drawing and complete text are on )
Besides his religious interest, showing the restoration of the cult of the traditional divinities [NB: he does not make mention of Amun, probably because of the Memphite context of the monument], one finds the whole list of the titles of Horemheb here (with the considerable exception of the one of regent, becoming obsolete with the enthronement of Ay as Pharaoh and the death of Tutankhamun). Some correspond to real functions (probably very lucrative…), others are honorary. They divide themselves into "governmental" titles, for example: "Foremost of the King's courtiers", "Master of the secrets of the Palace"… into military titles: "Generalissimo", "Overseer of the recruits of the Lord of the Two Lands"… into administrative titles: "Sealbearer of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt"… into religious titles: "Overseer of all divine offices"… and of the others: "Overseer of all works of the King in every place", "Overseer of all overseers of the scribes of the King", etc…
Another stela symmetrical flanked the door of entry to the statue room.
The rest are very fragmentary, including festival scenes and others of a military camp. These very fine reliefs are partly in Bologna and Berlin.
However, there remains in situ a part of a historically very important scene, reproduced by G.T. Martin ().
On the right, Horemheb is represented on a very large scale giving gold "collars of honour" to a much smaller character, the arms raised in a sign of recognition. His face is very distinctive: it is that of a man already aged, potbellied, with an aquiline nose which resembles that of the one of the mummy of Ramesses II, and the one of the supposed mummy of . Unfortunately, the block which would have carried the character's name has disappeared, but it is probable that it referred to Pa-Ramessu, the future Ramesses I.
It is a scene of a royal type, which could date from the beginning of the reign of Tutankhamun, at a moment where the king was considered as even too young to officiate, leaving this responsibility to the regent.
The rest of the extremely damaged blocks carry military scenes, notably the representation of a military encampment, with the various corresponding activities.
The rest of the scenes showing Horemheb, greatest of Egyptian characters of his time, in his daily activities have unfortunately only very partially survived.
The Statue Room
On the south wall of a small vestibule, to the east of the statue room, one finds a fine well preserved and nearly complete relief showing an anonymous priest making the ritual of 'Opening of the Mouth' on a seated statue of Horemheb (view T 05). A small character represented behind Horemheb named Sementaui seems to have been a particular favourite scribe of Horemheb for a long time (view TC 04 and G 05). After the death or disgrace of Sementaui he was here replaced by another, Ramose, whose name has been engraved over that of his predecessor.
The actual statue room is a large oblong, once covered by an arched roof whose ancient collapse has caused the disappearance of the ancient paintings which had been made directly on the plaster.
Inscriptions written on the jambs of the entry give interesting information. On those of the east, one finds Horemheb represented before a table of offerings (view T 15 et TC 23). Only on one of the two representations (T 15) does he wear an uraeus on the forehead, added after his accession to the throne.
One can read that he is "greater than the great ones, more powerful than the most powerful… " and one finds numerous references to his military action, which in fact made it possible Egypt to take again its influence in Syro-Palestine and Nubia.
The Ramessides will establish a cult to the memory of Horemheb, of which two lintels testify, dating to Ramesses II, and which show the family of funerary priests who had charge of the monument and the execution of the rituals.
On the west of the courtyard one enters, by a short passage, into the second courtyard. This passage includes laterally the rest (1/3 of the 27 lines of origin) of an important and particularly original hymn to Osiris. Indeed, probably by reaction to the Amarnian period, the religious role of Osiris for survival increased considerably, and takes the same importance as the cult of Ra, of which it becomes the underworld Ba.
The Second Courtyard
This is similar but a smaller version of the first courtyard. The pillars of the colonnade are just over 2 metres in height, and the reliefs are here better preserved. One of the columns was recovered intact and acted as model for the restoration of the others.
G.T. Martin considers the scenes, which have survived, as historically among the most important of all Egyptian history, notably showing the military policy in the days of Tutankhamun and his advisors through the intermediary of the numerous representations of the military functions of Generalissimo Horemheb. The reliefs are marvellous, with concern shown in the depiction of the particularly visible detail in the representations of the foreigners.
In the northwest corner of the courtyard is the access to the funerary well N°1.
East Wall, Southern Part
(views T 06; T 07; T 08; TC 06; TC 07; TC 21; G 06)
On the right-hand side, Horemheb standing. Before him, an officer forces a Nubian chieftain to "smell the ground" as a sign of submissiveness. Behind, six splendidly represented officers observe the scene. Behind them again, long files of prisoners escorted by Egyptian soldiers, curiously represented on a smaller scale, who could be young recruits, of which one knows that Horemheb was the supreme person in charge. The military scribes, magnificently represented, scrupulously record all the details.
Some Nubian prisoners are seated on the ground while an Egyptian brings another captive, while hitting him on the chin (TC 06; TC 06bis). shows a similar scene.
The major part of the south wall can be reconstituted. Are we now within the royal palace (of Memphis) ?. The young king Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhsenamun are seated under a canopy. In the courtyard below, Horemheb is a again rewarded by gold whose heavy necklaces are put in place around his neck (G 03).
Behind him are long rows of captives (views G 07; G 08; G 09; G 10; T 14), solely of Asians (at least in the remaining reliefs). These frightened prisoners are this time manacled and attached by the neck to one another. The women and children taken along in captivity to Egypt are also represented. Their final fate remains unknown.
The set of the military scenes is interrupted by a representation of a seated Horemheb (view TC 23). He holds in his hand the sekhmet sceptre and an uraeus has been added secondarily to his forehead. Attending behind him is the scribe Sementaui, of whom we have already spoken. The accompanying text carries the words "regnal year", but the end is lost. It shows us on the other hand that we are not in presence of a mythical scene but very real historic fact under the reign of Tutankhamun.
Underneath one finds scenes of a butcher's shop and food store (view G 04), reproduced by G.T. Martin (). In the northwest corner, one also finds a representation of chariot harnessing (view G 04 and T 16).
Libyan, Nubians and Asiatic emissaries either knelt or lying on the ground come to implore king Tutankhamun, through the intermediary of his representative Horemheb, to grant them the "breath of life", and therefore his clemency (G 12; T 11). The Regent turns around toward the royal couple to announce their supplication. An interpreter is in charge of the translations.
The rests of texts are difficult to understand but seem to make allusion to the devastation of their country after the passage of the Egyptian army led by the Generalissimo.
This includes funeral scenes. Next to piles of various foodstuffs, some professional mourners lament. The vases recall the ritual breaking of the "red vases" during the funeral ceremony.
Two niches for statuary are even visible, which contained the diads of Horemheb and his first wife Amenia.
The Offering Room
This is the focal point of the monument, and the first part constructed. Its entry opens up to the west of the second courtyard. It adopts a square plan. It was probably covered by a roof in limestone surmounted of a pyramid of mud-bricks, even surmounted of a stone pyramidion. It is here that the funeral service with the offerings took place, since the deceased was buried in the well shaft, situated underneath, which is certainly the case for the two wives of Horemheb.
The decoration has disappeared completely, except for two blocks probably coming from this place and which show Horemheb sowing and ploughing in the fields of Yaru.
In the entry, portions of representations concern women, wives or mother of the deceased. The two small lateral chapels seem to have been uninscribed, or their paintings have disappeared completely.
Symmetrically placed and overbuilt by the partition walls between the offering room and the two flanking chapels, are two funerary wells, N°2 and N°3, as we shall see.