ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Pharaoh Ramesses III - Ancient Egyptian Harem Conspiracy

Updated on September 11, 2018
CMHypno profile image

Cynthia is an administrator, has a degree in Business, Economics, & History, and is a qualified Hypnotherapist. She loves to write & travel.

Mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses III
Mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses III | Source

If you are lucky enough to visit Egypt and stroll around the magnificent mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses III, now known as Medinet Habu, you will probably marvel at the wealth and power of the Egyptian rulers.

But the truth is that Ramesses III was to be the last truly mighty king of the New Kingdom and he was to spend much of his reign repelling invaders from Egypt’s borders.

The Egyptian Empire was also in economic decline at this time, which caused unrest among the people and they were suffering from shortages of food and other basic commodities.

This slump in prosperity even led to the very first general strike recorded in history when the workmen in the village of Deir el-Medina, who dug and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and built the mortuary temples on the West Bank, downed tools in protest at not having been paid in year 29 of Ramesses III’s reign.

These rumblings of unrest and dissatisfaction were even to lead to trouble and rebellion in the most secret, private part of the royal palace, the Royal Harem. You would think that a powerful ruler would be safe and protected in the sanctuary of his own royal apartments.

But as Ramesses III was to discover, even the people who were closest to you and you should be able to trust can turn against you; plotting to take your life as they are seeking power and trying to secure a more prestigious, glittering future for their children.

Ramesses III was the son of the first ruler of the 20th dynasty Pharaoh Setnakht and his wife Queen Tiy-merenese. He had a great admiration for his illustrious ancestor Ramesses the Great and copied him in many ways.

He had several wives, as was customary for Egyptian pharaohs, including ladies called Isis, Tyti and Tiye who bore him many children including the future kings Ramesses IV, Ramesses V, and Ramesses VI.

He named many of his sons after the male children of Ramesses the Great but, as he enjoyed a long reign of 31 years and 41 days according to the Great Harris Papyrus, some of these princes sadly predeceased their father and were buried in rock-cut tombs in the Valley of the Queens.

Although children are supposed to be our greatest blessing in life, it was having many sons that was to prove to be Ramesses III’s downfall.

For the Harem Plot was fomented by one of Ramesses’s own wives, Queen Tiye, who wanted her son Prince Pentawere to ascend the throne of Egypt rather than his father’s presumed heir the future Pharaoh Ramesses IV, a son of rival Queen Tyti.

The fact the king had not taken one of his spouses as the Great Royal Wife or named one of his sons an official heir after the death of two of his other crown prince’s, probably created an atmosphere of uncertainty and ratcheted up the tension in the royal harem.

It was an ambitious plan that was hatched, as not only was the Pharaoh to be killed and replaced by Prince Pentawere, but riots and civil disobedience were going to stirred up outside the palace among the general population to further the prince’s cause.

Fortified gate at Medinet Habu - mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses III
Fortified gate at Medinet Habu - mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses III | Source

Inside the palace itself at least forty court officials and harem ladies were drawn into the plot, many of whom were close to the king, making it a very personal betrayal.

There were royal cupbearers, scribes from the House of Life, army officers and even magicians involved, with one of the palace chamberlains Pebekamun being used to recruit more rebels to the cause.

We know the plot was ultimately discovered and foiled due to a series of remarkable papyri called the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, Papyrus Lee and Papyrus Rollin which have recorded details of the conspiracy, a list of all the plotters, their trials and what punishments they received.

Crucially it does not say whether or not the conspirators were successful in killing the pharaoh. The plan was to murder the king at Medinet Habu during celebrations held for the Opet Festival in 1155 BC, which was year 32 of his reign.

But even if Ramesses was not killed by the plotters, he did die very shortly afterwards. So is there any evidence that the king was murdered or mortally injured during the attack on him?

It might seem surprising to our modern minds, but the plotters did not just rely on physical violence to murder the pharaoh as they planned to work with supernatural forces to kill their ruler, hence the magicians recruited into the Harem Conspiracy.

A powerful book of magic was stolen from the palace library and the plotters used this arcane knowledge to create magical wax figurines that would render the limbs of the king’s personal bodyguard useless and waxen gods that were to overcome the supernatural protection surrounding him.

Although regicide is still regarded as a horrific crime today, it is important to realise the enormity of ordinary citizens murdering an Egyptian pharaoh. Ramesses III would have been regarded by his people as the living manifestation of the gods, whose sacrifices and religious rituals maintained Maat (or balance) and prosperity throughout the country.

So to kill him risked angering the gods and raised the possibility of disrupting the abundance of the land; the wealth, prestige and stability that was the Egyptian Empire.

Whether the plotters were successful in killing the king outright or wounding him so he died some time later is something Egyptologists have been trying to discover for decades since his mummy was discovered in the royal cache at Deir el-Bahri in 1881.

There were no obvious signs of violence on his body; so many experts believed he may have been poisoned. So it was decided that an extensive study of the mummy would be undertaken using modern techniques such as CT scans by Dr Albert Zink and his team from the Institute of Mummies at the European Academy of Bolzano in Italy.

The scans revealed that King Ramesses had a previously undetected wide wound across his throat that had probably been inflicted by a knife with a sharp blade.

The attack had been so savage that the blade had severed the trachea, the oesophagus and most of the major blood vessels in the pharaoh’s neck which would have almost certainly killed him instantly.

The neck of the pharaoh had been concealed with layers of thick linen by the ancient embalmers who had also placed an amulet with the eye of Horus for healing in the afterlife into the wound.

Procession of the Princes at Medinet Habu -sons of Pharaoh Ramesses III
Procession of the Princes at Medinet Habu -sons of Pharaoh Ramesses III | Source

So although the ancient texts did not give definitive evidence of the plotter’s success, modern science had now proved it is very likely Ramesses III was viciously murdered in his own palace in a conspiracy engineered by members of his family and entourage.

However, they did not have long to celebrate their victory as they were rounded up, imprisoned, tried and then very harshly punished.

Some of the main conspirators, including the butler Pebes, were condemned to take their own lives with poison, some were executed and other plotters were mutilated by having their ears and noses hacked off.

Those who were executed were burned to death, which was a very cruel punishment for an Ancient Egyptian as they believed they needed a well preserved body to enter and enjoy the afterlife.

Their ashes would have been scattered to the winds and their names erased, condemning them to wander in the darkness for eternity. Even those who were not directly involved but had known about the Harem Conspiracy and not raised the alarm were punished along with their wives and children.

The fate of Queen Tiye, the instigator of the plot, is not recorded although it is likely both she and her son Prince Pentawere were condemned to commit suicide.

The fate of the young prince has been linked with another mummy found in the Deir el-Bahri royal cache; one of the strangest mummies ever found in Egypt. When the cache was being hurriedly excavated and removed for safety to Cairo, the Egyptologists came across a plain wooden coffin that had no inscriptions or dockets to identify the occupant.

When they opened the lid they were astounded to see the preserved face of a young man who appeared to be screaming in agony. As they had no name for the shocking mummy, he became known as ‘Unknown Man E’ or ‘the Screaming Man’.

Pharaoh Ramesses III depicted at Medinet Habu
Pharaoh Ramesses III depicted at Medinet Habu | Source

It was not only the agonised expression on the face that was disturbing about this burial; the body had not been mummified in the manner expected of a body important enough to have been placed in a royal cache containing some of the greatest pharaohs Egypt had ever known.

For a start the internal organs appeared not to have been removed, the hands and feet had been tightly bound, the body was not wrapped in fine linen and there were no protective amulets or funerary jewelry placed on it.

Most shockingly the corpse was found to be wrapped in a sheepskin, which was thought to be ritually impure by the Ancient Egyptians. Some experts theorised the young man had been buried alive, while others believed he had been poisoned.

However, the expression on his face is now thought to have been caused by the fact that mummy’s heads naturally fall back after death and their mouths fall open.

When Dr Albert Zink’s team subjected the body to CT scans, x-rays and facial reconstruction they found the strange mummy was indeed that of a young man aged between 18 and 20.

They also discovered that rather than having committed suicide or having been buried alive he probably met a violent death as the body had an inflated thorax and there was evidence of strangulation on the skin of his neck.

Also that he had been eviscerated in the usual way and some attempts at preservation had taken place as resin had been forced down the throat. Recent DNA analysis has also shown ‘Unknown Man E’ and Pharaoh Ramesses III shared the same parental lineage.

However, due to the lack of identifying inscriptions it might never be proved without doubt that it is the mummy of the unfortunate Prince Pentawere rather than the body of one of his many brothers or half-brothers.

A
medinet habu:
Madinat Habu, Al Bairat, Luxor, Egypt

get directions

Medinet Habu - Mortuary Temple of Pharaoh Ramesses III

So despite being the ruler of a huge empire and surrounded by bodyguards, it now seems certain that Pharaoh Ramesses III was killed in the Harem Conspiracy.

But the conspirators ultimately still failed as many of them lost their own lives as a consequence and their preferred candidate never got to sit on the throne of Egypt.

Although another eight pharaohs named Ramesses were to reign in succession until the death of Ramesses XI saw the end of the 20th dynasty, the country continued to slip further into decline and economic turmoil.

The once glittering New Kingdom was over. But perhaps the most tragic victim of the plot was young Prince Pentawere, who not only had his chance for a long and active life taken from him but was also damned after his death to never enter the afterlife to enjoy eternity.

Sources:

British Medical Journal press release: http://www.bmj.com/press-releases/2012/12/17/study-reveals-pharaoh%E2%80%99s-throat-was-cut-during-royal-coup

BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20755264

National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081121-screaming-mummy-ramses-missions_2.html

Archaeology Magazine: http://www.archaeology.org/issues/82-1303/world/554-egypt-ramssess-iii-papyrus

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harem_conspiracy

© 2014 CMHypno

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks Wiccan Sage. A bit tough for poor old Ramses III to be murdered by members of his own family after a long reign spent defending the borders of Egypt and trying to keep the economy going to provide for his rather large family

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      Wow, what a story! History is so fascinating, and you tell it so well. It sounds like some answers to this long-time mystery are finally coming together. I've heard of Ramses III and his murder, but I had never heard of the Harem conspiracy. Nice work.

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Glad you enjoyed reading about The Harem Conspiracy Jenn-Anne and it is exciting when ancient mysteries get unravelled

    • Jenn-Anne profile image

      Jenn-Anne 

      4 years ago

      Fascinating hub! I love how modern science has helped untangle some of these ancient mysteries. But even so, some remain. Thanks for sharing!

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thank you for reading the hub and voting it up MG Singh

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thank you for your kind compliments and for reading the hub Mel. Put my knowledge of Ancient Egypt down to a fascination I have had since my earliest years and the fact I spent most of my childhood with my nose stuck in a book. My copy of Leonard Cottrell's 'The Lost Pharaohs' got decidely battered and dog-eared over the years.

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Hi Nell, thanks for reading the hub, It's amazing how the stories of these ancient Pharaoh's mummies are still being revealed even though they were discovered over 100 years ago. Modern forensics are great, but I hope we don't solve all the world's mysteries or it will get very boring lol!

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you for an excellent insight into an incident not well known. Voted up

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      Your superb knowledge of history and intellectual prowess demonstrated by your storytelling abilities continue to fascinate me. I can tell from the way this was written that it was mostly pulled from memory, that you didn't have to do a lot of research to write it, because it was easy to read and not ponderous in the least. Excellent hub!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      Hi Cynthia, another fascinating read about one of my favorite times in history, amazing how they found that he had his throat cut, and the punishments of the conspirators were definitely not for the faint hearted! we learn so much from modern forensics, great hub, and voted up and shared! nell

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Always a pleasure to see you commenting on one of my hubs prasetio30 and I'm glad that you enjoyed reading about Pharaoh Ramesses little domestic problems!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very informative hub. I learn many things here about Pharaoh from another side. Thanks for sharing with us. Voted up!

      Prasetio

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for reading the hub Alicia and glad you enjoyed it. Luckily for me there are lots of other ancient bodies with mysteries attached out there to write about lol!

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Glad you enjoyed it Jodah. Ancient Egypt fascinates me too, so I'm sure there will be more hubs to come

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks FlourishAnyway. What we know about ancient history tends to be dry facts and sometimes an awful lot of speculation. So when we do get some more human details, it shows that things really haven't changed that much. They could have made a reality TV show of pharaoh's court!

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Glad you enjoyed reading the hub about Ramesses III heidithorne. DNA analysis is giving us some answers and putting some of the pieces together, but hopefully further excavation will also turn up further inscriptions and documentary evidence

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for creating another very interesting and absorbing hub about ancient history, Cynthia. As always, it was enjoyable to read.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This is fantastic CM. I have always been interested in ancient history, particularly Egyptology. This was Enthralling stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      This was well written and kept me interested until the end -- much like an Egyptian soap opera!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Another fascinating story from this incredible culture! Now that we have DNA testing, it is answering some (but not all) of the questions we have. Thanks for sharing this. I had not seen too much about Ramses III, since much more attention is paid to The Great and other high profile pharaohs. Have a great day!

    • CMHypno profile imageAUTHOR

      CMHypno 

      4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for your kind compliments Alastar. No I haven't heard about TPTB plundering the Hall of Records, though it doesn't surprise me. Now off to prowl around the internet to find out more! Thanks for the tip off

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      4 years ago from North Carolina

      What a thorough and intriguing write on Ramesse's probable murder. Kudos for putting together such a top-notch article, Cynthia. Have you heard about the Hall of Records being discovered and secretly plundered at night by TPTB?

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)