This week, I will look at the life of the Pharaoh Horemheb last ruler of the 18th Dynasty. The inspiration for this weeks topic actually came from my last blog on the goddess Nut. As I used an image of Nut from his tomb in the Valley of the King – I had forgotten how colourful it is! His tomb in the Valley of the Kings is also not his only tomb. Since he was never destined to become pharaoh he also has a tomb at Saqqara both are interesting in their own right.
Little is known about his early life, but we can glean from his coronation text that he hailed from Herakleopolis. Herakleopolis is an ancient city near the entrance of the Faiyum in Northern Egypt and was the cult centre of the god Herishef and that he rose to great ranks in the Egyptian military. But how did this military man become pharaoh?
Horemheb lived between 1323 -1295 BC and before assuming the role of pharaoh he was a military man. His military career probably began during the reign of Akhenaten or earlier in the reign of Amenhotep III. He was clearly successful as later during the reign of King Tutankhamun he had risen to the position of generalissimo. A generalissimo refers to “a person who commands all the armed forces of a country, especially one who has political as well as military power” – and yes I did look this up in a dictionary because I had never heard of it!
His list of military credentials are extensive and shows his influence on both political and military decisions. All of these main official titles and epithets can be found across various different inscriptions from his tomb at Saqqara. The main source is a stela found by the wall of the outer courtyard (Figure 1). Which, was the longest surviving text from the tomb. His titles can be broken down into a few categories; The pharaoh and central government, Military, General Administration, Scribal, Public Works and Religious. Included in some of his titles are Master of the Secrets of the Palace, Overseer of (all) offices of the king, High Steward and Overseer of all works of the king in every place.
The rise of Horemehb to Pharoah begins with the death of possibly one of the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egypt, Tutankhamun. With the death of Tutankhamun so also did the royal families male line, his wife Ankhesenamun then became the only surviving member of the royal house founded by Ahmose I in 1570BC. The Egyptian government was then faced with the pressing problem of selecting a new Pharaoh. Whose presence in Egypt was absolutely essential for the running of the country from both an administrative and religious sense. Horemheb was in the north fighting against the Hittites and so a Vizier named Ay was to be ceremonially married to Ankhesenamun thus allowing him to take the throne. This is where another individual enters the picture- Prince Zannanzash. Ankhesenamun wrote to the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I asking him to send one of his sons as she refused to marry Ay and wanted a husband of royal blood, an equal. Suppiluliuma was suspicious at first but, after Ankhesenamun’s assurances, he sent one of his sons. However, the prince never made it to Egypt he was killed at the border, some believe through the machinations of Horemheb. Ay then went on to hold the throne of Egypt for three years and died without an heir and so Horemheb now took on the mantle of pharaoh.
As a quick side note. The end of the 18th Dynasty is way too large to cover here. The people involved for example Ay and the wider political landscape with the threat of the Hittites needs more explanation than I can do here. Take Ay who I have only briefly mentioned. He has a lot of different theories floating around connected to him. Some believe that Ay was potentially Ankhesenamun’s grandfather which is why she wouldn’t have wanted to marry him, others a trusted advisor, others believe a more sinister character power…!
Upon taking the throne Horemheb undertook numerous constructions work at the temple of Karnak, Gebel el Sillsila (creating a Speos – a temple built into the rockface). On an administrative level, he introduced many reforms designed primarily to decentralise the government and the continued restoring of order from the religious reform of Akhenaten’s reign.
A Man with two tombs
During the reign of Tutankhamun Horemheb began to construct his tomb at Saqqara. Many high-profile officials of the New Kingdom chose Saqqara (Memphis) as the location for their tombs as in ancient times it functioned as the administrative hub. Horemheb’s tomb at Saqqara consists of a forecourt, great pylon, the cult chapels and storehouses and through detailed studies has revealed to have three different successive stages of construction. Construction phase one included the building of two courtyards and the westerns chapels (Figure 2) all made from mudbrick and undecorated. Then came phase two which saw the development of courtyard C into a room, the statue room flanked on each side separated by a mud-brick wall and a storeroom with an arched roof. This was all covered the front now opening to a new courtyard. The final phase of construction saw the building of the current pylon in the east and the destruction of the western wall of the previous courtyard which then became a pillared courtyard.
Throughout the tomb, there are several different depictions of Horemheb’s military and public career as well as scenes of mourning his death. Highlights from the tomb included Horemheb on the south wall of the first courtyard appearing before the so-called Window of Appearances, potentially at Memphis, being award with gold ‘collars of honour’ (Figure 3), a stela found by the wall of the outer courtyard and finally a fine statue of Horemheb and either his first wife Amenia or his second Queen Mudnedjmet (Figure 4).
With the accession to the office of Pharaoh, this tomb no longer matched Horemheb’s new position. But, not abandoned completely, the tomb functioned as the burial place of both Horemheb’s wives his Amenia and Mudnedjmet. In addition to that, any depictions of Horemheb in this structure saw the small addition of the kingly uraeus (Figure 5).
Horemheb’s tomb at the Valley of the Kings (KV57)was innovative both in its decoration (sunken relief from the Book of the Gates) and architectural style with his tomb consisting of a single straight corridor with side-chambers rather than the bent axis of the earlier 18th Dynasty. A really good interactive map of the Valley of the Kings has been made by the Theban Mapping Project which I have put down in the references.
The tomb itself is located in the west branch of the southwest wadi. Three sloping corridors lead to a well chamber, pillared chamber and a side descent and a further two sloping corridors lead to a chamber giving access to the burial chamber with several side chambers (Figure 6). The decoration of this tomb combines in part raised relief on a base of blue paint, the only completely decorated section is the Well Chamber and Antechamber (Figure 7). The burial chamber (both sections) are unfinished. However, its walls are inscribed with the first copy of the “Book of Gates”, where monumental gates punctuate every hour of the night, a new concept of the nocturnal journey of the sun. The tomb was plundered during antiquity but the red granite sarcophagus of Horemheb still lies in situ. It is unknown why the decoration of this tomb was only partially complete as it seems that one day the workmen simply packed up and left (Figure 8).
As you can see there are a few unsolved mysteries about the last pharaoh of the 18th dynasty which for me is why I find him so curious and I hope you did too! Are there any other characters you want me to explore from Ancient Egypt?
 Martin, G., 1993. Hidden tombs of Memphis. London: Thames and Hudson. Page 37/8
 Martin, G., 1993. Hidden tombs of Memphis. London: Thames and Hudson. Page 52
 Martin, G., 1993. Hidden tombs of Memphis. London: Thames and Hudson. Page 36
 Martin, G., 1993. Hidden tombs of Memphis. London: Thames and Hudson. Page 36
 Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 149
 Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page149/150
 Martin, G., 1993. Hidden tombs of Memphis. London: Thames and Hudson. Page 49/ 50
 Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 150