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Egypt: The Private Tomb of Rekhmire on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes)


The Private Tomb of Rekhmire

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

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While it may be non-royal, the tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100) is one of the most interesting on theWest Bank atLuxor (ancientThebes). Located on the southeastern slope of the Sheikh Abd el-Qurna hill, it is one of the largest of the private tombs.

Rekhmire was avizier, the highest ranking official under the pharaohsTuthmosis III andAmenophis II during a period when Egypt's empire stretched to its farthest extent and was at the peek of her prosperity. We find that his great grandfather and grandfather also were also viziers. He was responsible for the area of Egypt extending fromAswan north toAssiut. In addition, he was also the mayor of Thebes and the Steward of theTemple of Amun at theKarnak Complex. Theexplanation of his duties as a vizier found within his tomb is one of the most important administrative texts of the New Kingdom. Except for a brief mention on an ostracon and papyrus, all that we know of Rekhmire comes from his tomb.

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The tomb was entered at lest twice within a hundred years of Rekhmire's burial by robbers, who carried off most of its content. The first westerner to explore the tomb was Frederic Caillaud, a Frenchman who copied some of its scenes of daily life between 1819 and 1822. There color paintings were published in 1831. The importance of the tomb is evidenced by a stream of later travelers, including Sir Gardiner Wilkinson (1825), Champollion and Rossellini (1828), Bonomi (1832) and Hoskins (1832).

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Like most private tombs, Rekhmire's is fairly simple, consisting of a courtyard leading into a vestibule that is 20 meters in length (66 feet) and then a long chapel that is 25 meters in length (82 feet). The chapel is certainly the most interesting part of the tomb, with a ceiling that is three meters (10 feet) at its entrance but rises to eight meters (27 feet) at its rear. It therefore provides some 300 square meters of space for the fine decorative program. Interestingly, there is no ritual shaft to be found in the tomb, leading archaeologists to believe that Rekhmire was never buried in this tomb, but rather in a yet unknown tomb in theValley of the Kings.

The decorative program begins in the vestibule with an archaic style similar to Middle Kingdom tombs, and extends into the chapel where the work is exceptional. Multiple themes deal with common elements found in tombs, including the Opening of the Mouth ritual and the Beautiful Feast of the Valley festival, but also include absolutely unique scenes, giving us a complete and detailed account of many aspects of daily life. These paintings also have a high state of preservation with good color.

Upon entering the vestibule, the wall to the left (southwestern) we find in five registers scenes depicting the products of Upper Egypt, including text describing the goods. On the next wall (western) is found autobiographical text, describing his duties as a vizier and providing us with one hundred of his other titles. Then on the northwestern wall there are scenes depicting the tributes paid to Egypt by foreign countries. The tributes are divided into five groups of items, which are then recorded by scribes. These groups include:

  • The people of Punt who bring incense trees, baboons, monkeys and animal hides.
  • The people of Kefti (probably Crete), carrying pots and cubs.
  • The Kushites (Nubians) who bring animals of equatorial Africa (giraffes, leopards, baboons, monkeys and dogs), offering ivory, animal hides and gold.
  • The Retenus or Syrians, who bring pots, carts and weapons, along with various animals (horses, a bear and an elephant).
  • The fifth group consists of people from various lands.

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On the eastern side of the southern wall, we find Rekhmire, who's image is lost, inspecting tributes from Lower Egypt, along with the workshops of the craftsmen working in the temples. On the eastern wall are scenes depicting several of Rekhmire's relatives, while on the eastern side of the northern wall we find products coming from the Egypt's Mediterranean coast, along with scenes of winemaking, fishing and hunting.

While the quality of work in the Chapel is outstanding, regrettably, the ceiling is so high that it is difficult for tourists to see the decorations on the upper part of the chamber at its rear. Entering the Chapel, we find on the western wall six registers with scenes of Rekhmire supervising the gathering and preparation of food stuffs allotted to the temple. Next, there are eight registers with scenes representing the types of labor carried out by craftsmen who worked for Amun's temple. These include potters, carpenters, decorators, goldsmiths, sculptors and masons.

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Next, there is a series of ten registers. These show the actual funeral procession heading for the necropolis, the installation of obelisks, nine of Rekhmire's friends hauling the catafalque, a pilgrimage toAbydos, the cleansing of the deceased and a dance scene with the ritual slaughter of animals.

The back wall of the chapel has a niche high above the floor which once held a stele, now to be found in the Louvre Museum. Below the niche is a false door. This decorative element that dates back to the Old Kingdom symbolically leads to the Afterworld. There is also a scene of Rekhmire bowing before Osiris while his son, Menkeperreseneb, gives his father and Merit, his mother, offerings. Texts provides the formulas of the offerings.

On the long, eastern wall of the chapel we first find paintings of three of Rekhmire's sons, including Menkeperreseneb, Amenophis and Senusert, in the presence of Rekhmire andMerit. Next are ten registers which sown rites carried out in front of a statue of Rekhmire, including the ritual slaughter of animals, the cleansing of the deceased, preparation of food. Next comes a wonderful painting, in ten registers, showing the funeral banquet. This is probably the best artistic work in the tomb. Here, both male and female musicians wear bright clothes and play diverse instruments including lutes, tambourines, flutes, harps and castanets. The guests sit on mats while they are served their meal. We also see the deceased's sons and daughters offering wreaths of flowers to Rekhmire and his wife.

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The last scenes on the eastern wall portray Rekhmire taking a boat journey in order to receive a high decoration from the Pharaoh, Amenophis II. Again, we also find his son presenting him with flowers, along with dignitaries and petitioners being granted an audience with Rekhmire as a vizier.

Again, this is one of the finest private tombs on the West Bank at Luxor, and the artwork throughout the tomb highlights the extraordinary talent of the craftsmen and artists who who built it.

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