Memphite Tomb of Horemheb

Memphite Tomb of Horemheb

Horemheb (c.1323–1295 BC) was the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Prior to his ascension to the throne, during the reign of Tutankhamun (c.1336–1327 BC), he was the highest‑ranking military officer in the realm, and held other titles as lofty as “the King’s Deputy in the Entire Land”. He was ultimately buried in the Valley of the Kings as would befit his royal status. Before this, however, Horemheb had naturally begun work on another tomb, in Saqqara.

          This tomb is the largest in the New Kingdom cemetery south of the causeway of the Fifth Dynasty King Unas (c.2375–2345 BC). Like the other major tombs in this cemetery, it is a temple‑tomb, so named because it reflects the structure of contemporary great state temples. It is entered through a pylon gateway preceding two open‑air courtyards that themselves precede the inner rooms of the chapel, where Horemheb’s cult was practised. The central room was surmounted by a pyramid, a solar symbol of rebirth. The burial chamber was underground, accessed through a vertical shaft cut through the floor of the inner courtyard. The discovery of the bones of a fetus along with a female skeleton, possibly of Horemheb’s wife Mutnedjmet, in his Memphite tomb shows that it did not go unused.

The reliefs in this tomb include scenes depicting Horemheb carrying out his duties. One scene shows representatives of foreign rulers pleading before Tutankhamun, with Horemheb acting as intermediary. Two scenes in particular show his exalted status prior to his rise to kingship. Here, he is depicted followed by rows of foreign captives, being publicly rewarded with the Gold of Honor by Tutankhamun himself. The Gold of Honor was awarded by kings to their officials for exceptional service. The tomb is decorated with funerary scenes as well, one of which depicts the Opening of the Mouth ritual.

            The location of this tomb was not always known. It was discovered in the early 19th century, when this area of Saqqara was explored by tomb‑robbers and art dealers, who then sold their findings to museums and collectors abroad. These were not limited to statues and other portable objects. Entire sections of wall relief were removed, and none of the provenance was recorded. Horemheb’s Memphite tomb was particularly affected, and its location was subsequently forgotten. Thankfully, it and the New Kingdom cemetery were eventually rediscovered in 1975.

Location