1-888-834-1448

Egypt: History - Dynasty XX (Twentieth Dynasty)


Twentieth Dynasty

It was not until after the defeat of Pinhasi that his title of King's Son of Cush, together with other offices which went with it, could be annexed by a personage of vastly greater importance. The earlier stages of Hrihor's career are wrapped in mystery. His parentage is unknown, for he never mentions either father or mother. That his overwhelming power rested upon his tenure of the post of high-priest at Karnak is certain, since his name is almost invariably preceded by the epithet 'First prophet of Amen-Re', King of the Gods'. We shall soon find him portraying in that capacity. It is unlikely that so important a post, commanding as it did the accumulated wealth of centuries, should have been left vacant for long. It is natural to suppose that Hrihor was the immediate successor of Amenhotpe. There is no evidence, however, that he passed through the various priestly grades which normally led up to the high-priesthood, from where it has become fashionable to suppose that originally he, like King Haremhab before him, had previously been an army officer. It is true that together with the son and grandson who succeeded him, he habitually used the title 'Commander of the Army', or 'Great commander of the army of Upper Egypt', but those functions may have been dictated merely by the necessities of the times. They may have been prompted by his taking over the dignities of Pinhasi, whose governorship of Nubia he is unlikely ever to have exercised. At some uncertain moment, he also laid claim to the title of vizier, though there are grounds for thinking that this post was actually in another's hands. There is one tenuous clue which might account for Ramesses XI having chosen him to become high-priest. His wife Nodjme, who by reason of her marriage to him would naturally acquire the station of 'great one of the concubines of Amen-Re' was the daughter of a lady named Hrere, who bore the same title and was consequently in all probability the widow of Amenhotpe. If so, Hrihor may have attained his principal honor through marriage, though his own strong character will in any case have played a large part in the appointment.


The development of this great pontiff's ambition may best be seen in the temple at Karnak which Ramesses III had begun to erect in honor of Chons, the youngest member of the Theban triad. The original founder and his son Ramesses IV had succeeded in completing no more than the sanctuary and the surrounding inner chambers. It was not until the reign of Ramesses XI that the building was continued southwards with a hypostyle hall. In some of the scenes of this hall Ramesses is shown making offerings to the local gods in the traditional fashion. In others Hrihor obtains a predominance never before accorded to a mere subject. It is not entirely unnatural that as high-priest of Amen-Re' he should be depicted sensing the on-coming or halted bark of the supreme deity, especially since mention of Ramesses is made in the words with which Amun expresses his gratification at the splendid monument bestowed upon the city by the king. However, on four of the eight columns occupying the center of the hall, it is Hrihor who with unheard-of presumption caused himself to be displayed performing some ritual act before one or other member of the triad. In two of the three dedicatory inscriptions running along the base of the walls, Hrihor alone is named as the donor, the king's person being completely ignored. When, possibly only a year or two later, Hrihor added a forecourt still farther south. We here find him with the royal uraeus upon his brow or even wearing the double crown, though still arrayed in the costume of the high-priest. What is still more significant , he has now, in the absence of any allusion to Ramesses, assumed the full titulary of a Pharaoh, with a Horus-name of his own and separate cartouches for Prenomen and Nomen: 'Horus Strong-Bull-son-of-Amun, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, lord of the Two Lands, First-prophet-of-Amun, bodily son of Re', Son-of-Amun-Hrihor.'

In the face of this evidence, it is comprehensible that the older Egyptologists should have interpreted the accession of Hrihor as the final triumph of the priesthood of Amun, and should have assumed that he did not claim the throne until natural or unnatural death had removed the last of the legitimate Pharaohs. Gradually, however, fresh testimony has come to light which compels us to reconstruct the facts in a different way. Instead of dates continuing to be expressed, as normally, in terms of the regnal years of the monarch, a mysterious new era named the Repetition-of-Births makes its appearance. When we recall that the usurper Ammenemes I had adopted the expression Weham-meswe 'Repeater of Births' as his Horus name, and that Sethos I, very nearly the founder of Dyn. XIX, had appended the same words as here to datings of his first and second years. It is obvious that some sort of Renaissance was signified thereby. Fortunately, we are able to determine the exact regnal dated of this. Papyrus Mayer A in the Liverpool Museum is headed 'Year 1 in the Repetition-of-Births' and enumerates precisely the same thieves as are listed on the verso of the already much-discussed Papyrus Abbott, which bears the date 'Year 1, first month of the Inundation season, day 2, corresponding to Year 19'. After much hesitation and discussion, it has been realized that this year 19 could only belong to the reign of Ramesses XI who, however, was known from stele found at Abydos to have survived until his twenty-seventh year. Now it could hardly be doubted that the Renaissance in question referred to some momentous occurrence or decision in Hrihor's career, so that this must have fallen at a time when the rule of the last Ramesses had run only two thirds of its course. The question has been clinched by a relatively recent discovery. A scene and inscription carved upon a wall of the temple of Karnak illustrates one of those oracles which became more and more frequent about this period. A scribe of the storehouse at Karnak had to be appointed, and the name of one Nesamun had been put forward. The god's approval was indicated by a 'great nod' or downward inclination of the bark of Amen-Re' as it was carried in procession on the shoulders of the priests. The importance of this incident lies in the personality of the high-priest who put the question and in the date at the beginning of the inscription. The date is given as 'Year 7 of the Repetition of Births...under Ramesses XI', accordingly in the twenty-fifth year of that king's reign. The figure of the high-priest is accompanied by the words 'The fan-bearer to the right of the King, the King's Son of Cush, the First prophet of Amen-Re', King of the Gods, the Commander of the Army, the Prince Pay'onkh'. Now Pay'onkh was Hrihor's eldest son, and since it is inconceivable that Hrihor should have relinquished the high-priesthood during his lifetime, we cannot but conclude that he died before the seventh year of the Renaissance and at any rate more than a year before his sovereign.

In the light of these circumstances, the Theban theocracy founded by Hrihor assumes a considerably changed aspect. That he united all the powers of the State in his own person and handed them on to his descendants seems clear form the military, judicial, administrative, and sacerdotal titles which he and they bore, but actual assumption of the Double Crown was denied him. So long as Ramesses XI lived, it was he who was referred to as Pharaoh. Within the precincts of the great temple of Karnak, Hrihor might certainly flaunt a royal titulary, even if he could there find for himself no more imposing a Prenomen than 'First prophet of Amun'. In the few cases where his name occurs outside Karnak, it is never enclosed in a cartouche, nor did he ever venture to employ regnal years of his own. The dating by years of the 'Reception of Births' probably refers to some favorable turn in the fortunes of the country, but this did not bring Ramesses back to Thebes where his tomb was left incomplete and unoccupied. Concerning Hrihor's own tomb, our records are completely silent and excavations have revealed no trace of him in the Biban el-Moluk. His wife Nodjme, who apparently gave him nineteen sons and five daughters, seems to have survived him and more will be heard of her later. A long inscription at Karnak may have cast further light on Hrihor's life, but is too fragmentary to supply any useful information. The coffins of Sethos I and Ramesses II, found in the cache at Der el-Bahri, carry dockets stating that in year 6 (clearly of the Renaissance) Hrihor caused those kings to be buried anew, but obviously not in their final resting-place. A statue at Cairo and a stele in the Leyden Museum are the only remaining records of importance, apart form a papyrus which paints so broad and convincing a picture that the often debated question whether it is genuine history or fiction founded upon fact becomes largely academic. Most scholars would probably subscribe to Lefebvre's verdict 'C'est un roman historique'. This fascinating document was bought in Cairo by Golenischeff in 1891 together with two other literary papyri of which one at all events was written by the same hand. It tells the story of the misfortunes of Wenamun, a Theban sent on a mission to Syria at the very close of Dyn. XX. The narrative is dated in a year 5 which, in the light of what is now known must belong to the Renaissance, explained above. Hrihor is the high-priest at Karnak, while Tanis is ruled by that Nesbanebded who subsequently became the first king of Manetho's Dyn. XXI. These two great men are on good terms with one another, neither of them as yet claiming the kingship. The real Pharaoh, namely Ramesses XI, is mentioned only once in a cryptic utterance. In such circumstances, Egypt was evidently too weak to command respect abroad, and the conversations of Wenamun with the princes whom he met afford a revelation of the contemporary world unequaled in the entire literature of the Nearer East. It is for that reason that, departing from our usual habit, we give in the following pages a virtually complete translation.

Year 5, fourth month of the Summer season, day 16; the day on which Wenamun, the elder of the portal of the estate of Amun, lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, set forth to fetch the timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re', King of the Gods, which is upon the river and is called Amen-user-her. On the day of my arrival at Tanis, the place where Nesbanebded and Tentamun are, I gave them the dispatches of Amen-Re', King of the Gods. They caused them to be read before them and they said: 'We will surely do as Amen-Re', King of the Gods, our lord has said.'

I stayed until the fourth month of the Summer season in Tanis. And Nesbanebded and Tentamun sent me forth with the ship's captain Mengebet, and I went down upon the great sea of Syria in the first month of the Summer season. And I arrived at Dor, a Tjekker-town, and Beder its prince caused to be brought to me 50 loaves, one flagon of wine, and one haunch of an ox. And a man of my ship fled after stealing one vessel of gold worth 5 deben, four jars of silver worth 20 deben, and a bag of silver, 11 deben; total of what he stole, gold 5 deben, silver 31 deben. And I arose in the morning and went to the place where the prince was and said to him: I have been robbed in your harbor. But you are the prince of this land and you are its controller. Search for my money, for indeed the money belongs to Amen-Re', King of the Gods, the lord of the lands, it belongs to Nesbanebded, it belongs to Hrihor my lord and to the other great ones of Egypt; it belongs to you, it belongs to Waret, it belongs to Mekamar, it belongs to Tjikarba'al the prince of Byblos.' He said to me: 'Are you in earnest or are you inventing? For indeed I know nothing of this tale that you have told me. If it had been a thief belonging to my land who had gone down into your ship and had stolen your money, I would have replaced it for you from my storehouse, until your thief had been found, whoever he may be. But in fact the thief who robbed you, he is yours, he belongs to your ship. Spend a few days here with me, that I may search for him.'

I stayed nine days anchored in his harbor, and then I went before him and said to him: 'Look, you have not found my money.'

There follows a much broken passage the gist of which may be guessed to be as follows: Wenamun expresses the wish to depart with some ship's captains about to put to sea, but the prince urges him to refrain, suggesting that he should seize goods belonging to the suspected persons until they had gone to search for the thief. Wenamun, however, prefers to continue his journey and after touching at Tyre leaves that port at daybreak. He is soon at Byblos, where Tjikarba'al is the prince. There he comes across a ship that contains 30 deben of silver, which he annexes saying that the money shall remain with him until those whom he addresses have found the thief.

...They departed, and I celebrated in a tent on the shore of the sea in the harbor of Byblos. And I found a hiding place for Amun-of-the-Road and placed his possessions within it. And the prince of Byblos sent to me saying: 'Remove yourself from my harbor.' And I sent to him saying: 'Where shall I go?...If you can find a ship to carry me, let me be taken back to Egypt.' And I spent twenty-nine days in his harbor and he spent time sending to me daily to say: 'Remove yourself from my harbor.'

Now whilst he was offering to his gods, the god seized a young man of his young men and put him in a frenzy and said to him: 'Bring the god up and bring up the envoy who is carrying him. It is Amun who sent him, it is he who caused him to come.' And the frenzied one was in a frenzy during this night, when I had found a ship with its face set towards Egypt and had loaded all my belongings onto it and was watching for the darkness saying 'When it descends, I will put the god aboard so that no other eye shall see him.' And the harbor-master came to me saying: 'Wait here until tomorrow, so says the prince.' And I said to him: 'Was it not you who spent time coming to me daily saying 'Remove yourself from my harbor', and have you not said 'Wait here this night' in order to let the ship which I have found depart, and then you will come again and tell me to go?' And he went and told it to the prince. And the prince sent to the captain of the ship saying 'Wait until the morning--so says the prince.'

And when the morning came, he sent and brought me up, while the god was reposing in the tent where he was on the shore of the sea. And I found him seated in his upper chamber with his back against a window, while the waves of the great sea of Syria beat behind his head. And I said to him: 'Amun be merciful(?).' And he said to me: 'How long until today is it since you came from the place where Amun is?' And I said to him: 'Five whole months until now.' And he said to me: 'Supposing you are right, where is the dispatch of Amun which is in your hand, and where is the letter of the First Prophet of Amun which is in your hand?' And I said to him: 'I gave them to Nesbanebded and Tentamun.' Then he was very angry and said to me: 'Well now, dispatch or letter there is none in your hand, but where is the ship of pinewood which Nesbanebded gave you and where is its Syrian crew? Did he not entrust you to this barbarian ship's captain to cause him to kill you and that they should throw you into the sea? From whom then would the god have been sought for, and you too, from whom would you too have been sought for?' So he said to me. But I said to him: 'Is it not an Egyptian ship and an Egyptian crew which carry Nesbanebded? He has no Syrian crews.' And he said to me: 'Are there not twenty vessels here in my harbor which do business with Nesbanebded, and as for that Sidon, that other place by which you passed, are there not fifty more ships there which do business with Waraktir, and which toil to his house?'

I kept silence at that great moment.

Then he proceeded to say to me: 'On what commission have you come?' And I said to him: 'I have come in quest of the timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re', King of the Gods. What your father did and what the father of your father did, you too will do it.' So I said to him. And he said to me: 'They did it in truth. You shall pay me for doing it, and I will do it. Certainly my people performed this commission, but only after Pharaoh had caused to be brought six ships laden with Egyptian goods and they had unloaded them into their storehouses. But you--what have you brought to me myself?' And he caused the daybook rolls of his fathers to be brought and he caused them to be read before me. And they found entered on his roll a thousand deben of silver, things of all sorts. And he said to me: 'If the ruler of Egypt had been the possessor of mine own and I too his servant, he would not have caused silver and gold to be brought when he said 'Perform the commission of Amun'; it was no gratuitous gift that they used to make for my father. And as for me too, I myself, I am not your servant, and I am not the servant of him who sent you either. When I cry aloud to the Lebanon, the heaven opens and the timber lies here on the shore of the sea. Give me the sails that you brought to carry your ships which are to bear your timber to Egypt. Give me the ropes that you have brought to lash together the cedars which I am to fell for you in order to make them for you...which I am to make for the sails of your ships and the yards may be too heavy and may break and you may perish in the midst of the sea. Behold, Amun will give voice in the heaven having placed Sutekh beside himself. True, Amun fitted out all the lands. He fitted them out after having earlier fitted out the land of Egypt whence you have come. And craftsmanship came forth from it reaching to the place where I am. And learning came forth from it reaching to the place where I am. What then are these foolish journeyings which you have been caused to make?' But I said to him: 'False! No foolish journeyings are these on which I am now engaged. There are no boats on the river which do not belong to Amun. His is the sea, and his the Lebanon about which you say 'It is mine'. It is the growing-place for Amen-user-he the lord of all ships. Truly it was Amen-Re', King of the Gods, who said to Hrihor my master 'Send him', and he caused me to come with this great god. But now see, you have let this great god spend these twenty-nine days moored in you harbor without your knowing. Is he not here, is he not what he was? And you stand chauffeuring over the Lebanon with Amun its lord. As for what you say that the former kings caused silver and gold to be brought, if they had possessed Life and Health, they would not have caused the goods to be brought; it was in place of Life and Health that they caused the goods to be brought to your fathers. But Amen-Re', the King of Gods, he is the lord of this Life and Health, and was the lord of your fathers. They passed their lifetime offering to Amun, and you too, you at the servant of Amun. If you say 'Yes, I will do it' to Amun, and you complete his commission you will live, will be prosperous, will be in health, and will be good for your entire land and your people. Do not covet ought belonging to Amen-Re', King of the Gods--truly a lion loves his property. Let your scribe be brought to me that I may send him to Nesbanebded and Tentamun, the officers whom Amun has given to the north of his land, and they will cause to be brought until I have gone to the south' and I will cause to be brought to you all your deficit as well.' So I said to him.

And he placed my letter in the hand of his envoy, and put on board the keel, the prow-piece, and the stern-piece, together with four other hewn planks, total 7, and he caused them to be brought to Egypt. And his envoy who had gone to Egypt returned to me in Syria in the first month of the Winter season, Nesbanebded and Tentamun having sent gold, 4 jars; 1 kakmen-vessel; silver, 5 jars; coverlets of royal linen, 10 pieces; fine Upper Egyptian linen, 10 veils; plain mats, 500; ox-hides, 500; ropes, 500; lentils, 20 sacks; fish, 30 baskets. And she sent to me coverlets, fine Upper Egyptian linen, 5 pieces; fine Upper Egyptian linen, 5 veils; lentils, 1 sack, and fish, 5 baskets. And the prince rejoiced, and he fitted out 300 men and 300 oxen, and he placed superintendents in charge of them to cause them to fell the logs. And they felled them and they lay there during the winter. And in the third month of Summer they dragged them to the shore of the sea. And the prince went forth and stood by them, and he sent to me telling me to come. And when I had been brought into his presence, the shadow of his lotus-fan fell upon me. And Penamun, a butler of his, approached me saying: 'The shadow of Pharaoh your lord has fallen upon you.' And he was angry with him and said 'Leave him alone.' And I was brought into his presence and he proceeded to say to me: 'Look, the commission which my fathers performed formerly, I having performed it--but you have not done for me yourself what your fathers did for mine. Look, the last of your timber has arrived and is in its place. Do according to my will and come and place it on board, for will they not give it to you? Do not come to look at the terrors of the sea, but if you look at the terrors of the sea, look at my own. Assuredly I have not done to you what was done to the envoys of Kha'emwise when they passed seventeen years in this land and died on the spot.' And he said to his butler: 'Take him and let him see their tomb where they lie.' But I said to him: 'Do not make me see it. As regards Kha'emwise, those envoys whom he sent to you were men, and he himself was a man. But you have not here one of his envoys when you say 'Go and look at your companions'. Do you not rejoice that you can cause to be made for yourself a stele and that you can say on it: 'Amen-Re', King of the Gods, sent me Amun-of-the-Road his envoy, together with Wenamun his human envoy, in quest of the timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re', King of the Gods. I felled it and I put it on board and I provided it with my ships and my crews. And I caused them to reach Egypt so as to beg for me from Amun fifty years of life over and above my fate.' And it would come to pass if after another day an envoy who had knowledge of writing were to come from the land of Egypt and were to read your name upon the stele, you would receive water of the West just like the gods who are there.' And he said to me: 'This is a great testimony of speech that you have said to me.' And I said to him: 'As regards the many things which you have said to me, if I reach the place where the First prophet of Amun is, and he see your commission, your commission will draw profit unto you.'

And I went off to the shore of the sea to the place where the logs ere laid, and I saw eleven ships coming from the sea which belonged to the Tjekker, they saying: 'Imprison him, let no ship of his leave for the land of Egypt.' Thereupon I sat and wept. And the letter-writer of the prince came out to me and said to me: 'What ails you?' And I said to him: 'Do you not see the migrant birds which go down twice to Egypt? Look at them, how they come to the cool waters. Until what arrives am I to be abandoned here? And do you not see those who have come to imprison me again?' And he went and told it to the prince. And the prince began to weep on account of the words that were said to him, they being so painful. And he sent out his letter-writer to me bringing me two flagons of wine and a sheep. And he caused to be brought to me Tentne, an Egyptian singing-woman whom he had , saying: 'Sing to him, do not let his heart be worried.' And he sent to me saying: 'Eat and drink, and let not your heart be worried. You shall hear tomorrow all that I shall say.' The morrow came and he caused his council to be summoned and he stood among them and said to the Tjekker: 'What mean these journeyings of yours?' And they said to him: 'We have come in pursuit of the fighting vessels which you are sending to Egypt with our adversaries.' And he said to them: 'I cannot imprison the envoy of Amun within my land. Let me send him away, and you shall go after him to imprison him.' And he loaded me up and sent me thence to the harbor of the sea. And the wind drove me to the land of Alasiya. And the inhabitants of the place came out against me to kill me, but I forced my way through them to the place where Hatiba, the female prince of the town was. And I found her as she was going out from her one house and was entering into her other house. And I greeted her, and said to the people who stood around her: 'Is there not one among you who understands the language of Egypt?' And one among them said: 'I understand it.' And I said to him: 'Tell my mistress: as far as Ne, as the place where Amun is, I used to hear that injustice is done in every town, but that justice is done in the land of Alasiya. Is then injustice done every day here?' And she said: 'What indeed do you mean by saying it?' And I said to her: 'If the sea is angry and the wind drives me to the land where you are, will you cause me to be received so as to kill me, although I am the envoy of Amun? Look now, as regards myself they would seek me to the end of time. But as regards this crew of the prince of Byblos whom they seek to kill, will not their master find ten crews of yours and himself too kill them?' And she caused the people to be summoned, and they were made to attend. And she said to me: 'Pass the night....

The rest is lost. Wenamun must have succeeded in reaching home, otherwise his report could never have been written. We now stand on the threshold of an entirely different Egypt, but before we pass to the consideration of Dyn. XXI mention must be made of an important series of letters discovered early in the nineteenth century and now scattered among many museums and private collections. The excellent edition by J. Cerny shows that they are all concerned with the life and doings of a scribe of the royal tomb at Thebes named Dhutmose and with his son Butehamun, together with their relatives and friends. Much of the contents turns upon domestic affairs, but there are many allusions to current historic events. Hrihor's son and heir Pay'onkh is now the high-priest of Amen-Re' and it is certain that he never claimed the kingship. The correspondence seldom mentions him by name, but no doubt it is he who is often alluded to as the 'Commander of the Army'. The close relationship between this exalted personage and Dhutmose was due to the latter acting as a sort of agent for him at Thebes, while Pay'onkh was engaged on a campaign in the south, apparently against the former King's Son of Cush Pinhasi. The kinsfolk of Dhutmose express great anxiety for the safety of Dhutmose in his journeyings to bring weapons and other supplies to his chief. Almost a dozen letters emerge from Pay'onkh himself, written by his secretaries in a trenchant style. In three almost identical letters to his mother Nodjme, to Dhutmose, and to another official the general instructs them to stop the mouths of two Madjoi-policemen who have spoken indiscreetly by killing them and having them thrown into the river by night. It would be interesting to know the exact reason for so sinister an order, but at least it testifies to the unhappy state of affairs prevailing at this troubled moment in Egyptian history. There are, added to the letter addressed to Dhutmose, some words that can hardly be construed otherwise than as a reference to the absentee Ramesses XI: 'As for Pharaoh, how shall he reach this land? Whose master is Pharaoh still?'

Back to History of Egypt

Last Updated: June 20th, 2011

Who are we?

Tour Egypt aims to offer the ultimate Egyptian adventure and intimate knowledge about the country. We offer this unique experience in two ways, the first one is by organizing a tour and coming to Egypt for a visit, whether alone or in a group, and living it firsthand. The second way to experience Egypt is from the comfort of your own home: online.