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Amenhotep II and His Time

45 min
11 station

Thanks to the victorious military campaigns of his father, Pharaoh Thutmose III, Amenhotep II inherited an empire that probably reached its greatest extent. The most important cities of Nubia and Syria–Palestine that the pharaoh had conquered were governed and administered by a bureaucracy of Egyptian officials. When Amenhotep died after ruling for twenty-six years, his body was interred in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, known as KV35. The French archaeologist Victor Loret was the first person in modern times to enter the pharaoh’s burial place on 8 March 1898. To his greatest admiration, he found the royal mummy still resting in the sarcophagus. Based on Loret’s careful notes and meticulous documentation, one can imagine the excitement of this sensational archaeological discovery and get a picture of the details. Although the surviving Egyptian sources tell us little about the pharaoh as a human being, we may get much closer to Amenhotep II than one would first think by studying his statues, inscriptions and a range of artefacts, each marvellously crafted for eternity in accordance with the rules of ancient Egyptian art.

Stations

  • Pharaoh Amenhotep II
  • The young and serene, yet mighty king
  • The royal names
  • Block statue of Paser
  • Chariot of Qenamun
  • Fly-shaped pendant
  • Victor Loret and the discovery of the tomb of Amenhotep II
  • Stela of the custodian of the treasury Hormes
  • Canopic set for Djehuty
  • Mummy-shaped coffin of a man
  • Book of the Dead papyrus of Senhotep and Tuy

Pharaoh Amenhotep II

Pharaoh Amenhotep II

Amenhotep was born as a late child at the height of ancient Egypt’s most prosperous period (around 1407 BC). He was not originally the intended heir to the throne, only became his father’s designated successor after his elder brother died. Egyptian custom dictated that the young prince was henceforth raised not by his parents but a staff of experienced officials. Textual records reveal that Amenhotep had nine wet nurses and two high-ranking tutors. Ahmose-Humay, overseer of the harem palace and Min, mayor of Thinis were responsible for preparing the prince for his reign. Amenhotep was 18 years old when he acceded to the throne and adopted the name Aakheperure, i.e., “Great are the Manifestations of Re”. It is more than challenging to say anything about the personality and character of a king living thousands of years ago, but several inscriptions and pictorial representations give evidence that Amenhotep was renowned for his athletic skills and sportsmanship well before his crowning: he claims to have excelled not only in archery but also in rowing, running, riding horses and chariots. The second half of his reign was a period of peace and prosperity in Egypt; the arts flourished, and the sculptors working in the royal workshops produced an array of real masterpieces.

The young and serene, yet mighty king

The young and serene, yet mighty king

Nearly a hundred statues have been identified as representing Amenhotep II, most of which come from temples and were intended to serve ritual functions. Despite the various characteristics they display, none of these statues can be taken as realistic portraiture in the sense of a representation of a specific individual. The works depict a young ruler with a peaceful, serene appearance, whose facial features bear a strong resemblance to the portraits of his father, Thutmose III. It is hardly surprising since Thutmose III was considered Amenhotep’s role model, both in his politics and in the field of art. The stability of Amenhotep’s reign is echoed by the harmonies of the forms and the softness of the features of the sculpture. A prominent feature of his statuary is the king’s depiction, usually with strong shoulders and a muscular chest that reflects Amenhotep’s interest in sports and martial arts.

This tiny sculpture of blue glass, a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian craftsmanship, once formed part of a statue of a sphinx. With a lion’s body and a human head, the figure referred to the unique position the pharaoh held in ancient Egyptian society: as the son of the sun god and heir to Horus on the earthly throne, he himself was a divine being.

The royal names

The royal names

In ancient Egypt, names had a special function. The name given to the person at birth was as an integral part of its owner as his heart. It was meant to define one’s identity and personality, the protection and survival of which was thence ensured by having the names inscribed on various burial goods.

In the time of Amenhotep, the royal titulary consisted of five different names: along with his birth name, the king assumed four more names on the day he ascended to the throne. These latter titles cannot be viewed merely as a representation of the various aspects of the king’s character, but they also serve as a reinforcement of his divine origin and power.

These blue vessels are smaller-scale models of the so-called hes-vases, found in the tomb of Amenhotep II. They were used for libations, i.e., pouring out liquid during the performance of rituals which would achieve a state of purity for the deceased pharaoh in his continued existence in the realm of Osiris. The vases were inscribed with the king’s birth name and his throne name taken on the occasion of his coronation.

Block statue of Paser

Block statue of Paser

The so-called block statues produced for members of the Egyptian elite show the individual in squatting posture, with his crossed arms resting on his drawn-up knees. He thus appears as a square block with only his head sticking out, wearing a wig that reaches his shoulders. Paser’s body is enveloped in a long cloak, leaving only the hands and feet uncovered. The inscription of the round-topped stela, as well as the rectangular-shaped basin, suggest that the statue comes from a funerary context, and it was intended to secure its owner the food and drink offerings essential to eternal life. On the front of the pedestal, the hieroglyph sign for “offering” was carved (representing a piece of bread placed on a rolled mat); below it schematically rendered depictions of loaves of bread of various shapes and beer jars follow.

On both sides of the basin are hieroglyphs with the name of Paser. We can also learn that it was the son of Paser, a high-ranking prophet of Hathor, who dedicated this statue to his father. He is most probably represented by the small figure, standing between the feet of Paser and dressed in leopard skin as a priest. The inscriptions, the image of an offering table and the basin where liquid could be poured could magically substitute for real food and drink even when Paser’s son was no longer able to supply.

Chariot of Qenamun

Chariot of Qenamun

This chariot was found dismantled together with a large bow in the Theban tomb of Qenamun, foster brother of Amenhotep. It was obviously intended for hunting or racing; perhaps its owner wanted to use it in the afterlife as well. An inscription in the tomb claims that Qenamun received the chariot from Pharaoh Amenhotep II as a gift. To date, it is the oldest specimen of a chariot with four-spoke wheels ever found in Egypt, designed to carry two people standing on it: a diver holding a whip and a reign, and one man wielding a bow. The vehicle was constructed with a combination of various types of wood, but thanks to the dry climate in Egypt, they have survived relatively intact, only the leather parts had to be restored. The chariot came to Florence through Ippolito Rosellini, a leader of the Franco-Tuscan expedition (1828–1829), where it was reassembled. Due to its extreme rarity and fragility, it cannot be transported, so an authentic replica has been made, which can be seen here.

Fly-shaped pendant

Fly-shaped pendant

During the Eighteenth Dynasty, both women and men of higher status wore various types of bracelets on their wrists, arms, and ankles. Necklaces of varying lengths made of carnelian or faience beads were hung around their necks. Rings were also widely used, often adorned with auspicious decorative motifs or inscriptions. Their earrings were either ring or mushroom-shaped. From this time onwards, precious stones were frequently replaced by coloured glass paste.

Tiny fly-shaped pendants have been worn by the Egyptians as amulets since the earliest times to protect themselves against evil intent, should they come either in visible (e.g., insect bites) or invisible form (e.g., flying demonic creatures). However, the fly pendant seen here served a completely different purpose. Under Amenhotep II’s reign, fly pendants were given to high-ranking officials as a royal award for their valour and military achievements. These pendants, unlike their amuletic counterparts, were made exclusively of gold, sometimes silver. Because of its tenacity and indefatigable persistence, the fly may have become a symbol of courage and resistance.

Victor Loret and the discovery of the tomb of Amenhotep II

Victor Loret and the discovery of the tomb of Amenhotep II

Victor Loret was born in Paris on 1 September 1859. He visited Egypt for the first time in 1881 as a student of professor Gaston Maspero, then head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, whom he later succeeded in this office. In early 1898, Loret embarked on an expedition along the Nile to Upper Egypt. After stopping at various archaeological sites, he arrived in Luxor on 30 January. In the Valley of the Kings, Loret visited the royal tombs already known to the scholarly community but also found and explored some new ones. His first major discovery was the tomb numbered KV34, that of Pharaoh Thutmose III, father of Amenhotep II, which he identified on 12 February 1898. The excavation continued until the first week of March. On 8 March, the entrance to another new tomb was discovered, which Loret first entered the following day.

Studying the inscriptions by torchlight, Loret immediately realized that he found the burial place of Amenhotep II, to which the number 35 was assigned. He began to survey the tomb during the night and explored the corridors and chambers filled with more than two thousand objects, many of them damaged by robbers during antiquity. Loret produced very rich documentation about the discovery and excavation of both tombs. Each loose and folded sheet of his diary relating to a new day of excavation has the date on one side, and the plan of the tomb section under exploration on the other side, together with the sketches of the finds, the lists of the artefacts and the main events of the working day. The mummy of Amenhotep II and the grave goods were eventually transported to museums and magazines, so the condition of the tomb at the time of its discovery can now only be reconstructed with the help of Loret’s notes and photographs.

Stela of the custodian of the treasury Hormes

Stela of the custodian of the treasury Hormes

In the upper part of this round-topped limestone stela a shen-ring, a symbol of eternity, and a vessel containing water, necessary for ritual purification and regeneration, are flanked by two wedjat-eyes. The sense is divided into three registers: on the left of the uppermost register, the god Osiris, lord of the netherworld, is seated on his throne, and before him is a richly loaded offering table. Behind the table, the custodian of the treasury Hormes is depicted, his hands are raised in the gesture of adoration. He is followed by his son Sapair, holding a large bunch of lotus flowers symbolizing renewal. The two ladies on the right are Hormes’s wife Sati and his daughter-in-law Wadjetrenpet. The middle register shows a double scene of offering, including two couples seated behind an offering table piled with jars, loaves of bread, meat and vegetables: Hormes and his wife on the left, and his parents on the right. Sapair stands in the middle, sprinkling the food with water; behind him is his young son. In the lower register, other male and female members of the family can be seen squatting at a common offering table.

Stelae of this kind were normally set up in easily accessible locations of the graveyard: at first inside the tomb chapel, later in the court, sometimes on either side of the entrance. It was believed that if someone literate were to read aloud the horizontal hieroglyphic inscription at the bottom of the stela – an offering formula that invokes the god Osiris – its owner and his family members would be magically provided with food and drink to sustain them in the afterlife.

Canopic set for Djehuty

Canopic set for Djehuty

The internal organs removed from the deceased’s corpse during mummification were kept inside special containers called canopic jars that had flat, rounded lids in the Old Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom, it became a standard practice to place a mummy mask over the face of the wrapped body, which was considered a divine image of Osiris, the resurrected god. It is the same period when the first canopic stoppers uniformly shaped like human heads appeared, symbolically emphasizing the close bond between the contents of the vessels and the mummy in the coffin, i.e., the unity and integrity of the physical body.

It would be obvious to think that these lids in the form of a human head “personified” the viscera in the vessels as integral parts of the deceased’s body. However, the jars were often inscribed with the names of the four Sons of Horus, who magically protected the internal organs. This suggests that each vessel was rather identified with one of the four deities. The human-headed Amsety protected the liver, the ape-headed Hapi the lungs, the jackal-headed Duamutef guarded the stomach, and the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef was responsible for the protection of the intestines. By the New Kingdom, the shape of the lids has been adapted to the individualized iconography of the Sons of Horus, perhaps to increase their protective power.

Mummy-shaped coffin of a man

Mummy-shaped coffin of a man

The Egyptians believed that protecting the body from decay or destruction and maintaining its integrity were of principal importance for successful regeneration in the hereafter. Dehydrating, embalming, and wrapping the body in strips of fine linen, then placing the mummy in a coffin were, therefore, essential stages of ancient funerary rituals. The black type of mummy-shaped coffin shown here was introduced in elite burials of Thebes around the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty. According to the prevailing doctrine of eternal life of the time, the deceased was reborn in the hereafter as a divine being, identified with the god Osiris, who was frequently portrayed as having green or black skin. Both colours were thus associated with ideas of fertility and rebirth. The coffins iconography with scenes and hieroglyphs, painted yellow on black background, symbolized Osirian regeneration after death.

During his travel around the world in 1892–1893, Archduke Franz Ferdinand paid a visit to Egypt. He might have received this coffin as a diplomatic gift which Frigyes Déri purchased for his collection a few years later for 2,770 kronen.

Book of the Dead papyrus of Senhotep and Tuy

Book of the Dead papyrus of Senhotep and Tuy

The passage of the soul to the afterlife and its subsequent rebirth was thought to be a rather critical and hazardous process. The Egyptians made great efforts to empower the deceased to avoid the threats and dangers he might be facing during his journey and to navigate his way safely through the netherworld. The use of funerary papyri bearing excerpts of the so-called The Book of the Dead became widespread as part of elite burials during the reign of Thutmose III, father of Amenhotep II. Usually, these burials contained a single roll of papyrus which was placed on the mummy. The texts were often illustrated with coloured vignettes produced by gifted scribes and illustrators of the age.

The main scene of this papyrus fragment depicts a couple adoring the barque of the falcon-headed sun god. Like all souls, Senhotep and Tui aspire to take their place on the solar boat and traverse the heaven of the earthly world by day and the lands of the underworld by night in the company of the sun god. However, they can only board the barque if they know and name every part of it. By listing the various parts of the solar boat, the text above the scene would help the couple gain access to the barque of eternity.

The papyrus was originally purchased by the renowned photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877), who is the father of the negative-positive photographic process. Besides his scientific researches, Talbot also displayed a passion for ancient languages. He is remembered as having been one of the first decipherers of the cuneiform inscriptions of Niniveh, but he was also keenly interested in ancient Egyptian script. He might have bought this papyrus for studying hieroglyphs.