Haremhab’s Contemporaries

Haremhab and the Crown Prince Sheshonk. According to this reconstruction, Haremhab began his career under the last kings of the Libyan Dynasty. We get a first glimpse of him in the tomb of the prince Sheshonk, son of Osorkon II and his wife Karoma. The prince, named as successor to his father, died young, still during his father’s reign, and never assumed the royal diadem. The king built for him a funerary chamber in Memphis, where the prince had served in his lifetime as the high priest of Ptah. The excavations of Samaria, discussed above, revealed that the Libyan king Osorkon II was not a contemporary of Ahab, as is usually asserted, but reigned after the time of Jeroboam II—i.e., after ca. -744, which marks the death of Jeroboam II, but before the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians in -722.

The tomb was discovered in 1942, and its clearance and publication were entrusted to Ahmad Badawi.(1) At the entrance to the tomb, on the lintel of the doorway, Badawi found an incised relief showing Haremhab kneeling in front of a talbe bedecked with offerings; behind Harmhab can be seen the deceased prince, also in a kneeling position. Haremhab’s cartouche is somewhat damaged; a deliberate attempt had been made to erase it. But from what remains Badawi could identify the figure in front of the crown prince as that of Haremhab.

In the accepted scheme of history Haremhab is supposed to have reigned some six hundred years before the funeral chamber for Prince Shoshenk, son of Osorkon II, was built. But what incentive would the builder of the tomb have to decorate the monument with the figure of Haremhab and his cartouche? This king did not enjoy such reputation that six centuries after his death a Libyan prince should prominently show himself and Haremhab in an offering scene. There was nothing in the memory of Haremhab that an occupant of a tomb of about -725 would consider as bringing salvation or possessing magic against unclean spirits. Therefore Haremhab’s figure and cartouche in a Libyan tomb made historians wonder and grope for a solution.

One detail needs an explanation: Haremhab is depicted as a king, his name enclosed inside a cartouche, sign of royal power—this at least twenty-five years before his appointment as king by Sennacherib. One could assume from this that he was a viceroy of Memphis under the last Libyan kings, continuing in that position under the Ethiopians, until his defection to the Assyrian side in -702. As such he could well have enjoyed the privilege of using the insignia of royalty.

Haremhab and Tirhaka. In this reconstruction Haremhab and Tirhaka, the Ethiopian, are contemporaries; in the conventional version of history they are separated by more than six centuries, Haremhab being dated to the late fourteenth and Tirhaka to the early seventh. A certain scene, carved on one of the walls of a small Ethiopian temple at Karnak, shows them together. The scene proves not only the contemporaneity of Haremhab and Tirhaka, but also permits to establish a short period in their relations from which it dates. De Rouge in his 1873 study of the monuments of Tirhaka, describes the relief:

Tirhaka is standing and takes part in a paneguric. An important personage, named Hor-em-heb, a priest and hereditary governor, addresses to the people the following discourse in the name of the two forms of Amon: “Hear Amon-ra, Lord of the Thrones of the World and Amon-ra, the husband of his mother, residing in Thebes! This is what they say to their son, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt [Neferatmukhure] son of the sun, Tirhaka, given life, forever: ‘You are our son whom we love, in whom we repose, to whom we have given Upper and Lower Egypt; we do not like the kings of Asia _ _ _’”(2)

The monument must be dated to the time early in Haremhab’s career when he was acting as priest and governor under his brother Sethos. Egypt was then allied with Ethiopia, actually under Ethiopian domination, and was bracing itself to meet the armies of Assyria; for Sennacherib had shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage” and was advancing to the border of Egypt. The Egyptian-Ethiopian army which had gone to block him had suffered a crushing defeat at Eltekeh in Palestine. The declaration “We do not like the kings of Asia” was appropriate for the moment. The ways of Tirhaka and Haremhab would soon part: Tirhaka would flee to Ethiopia and become the bitterest enemy of Haremhab, who would go over to the side of Sennacherib and campaign against the Ethiopian king and his own brother Sethos.

The Tomb of Petamenophis. Of the hundreds of rock-cut tombs crowding the Theban necropolis, the Valley of the Kings, one bearing the name of Petamenophis, a high official of the Ethiopian time, early attracted the attention of Egyptologists by its large size and ambitious layout. It was first described in detail by Lepsius in his pioneering work Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien.(3) To have occupied a spatious tomb in this prestigious location, Petamenophis must have been a person of distinction. In his inscriptions he describes himself as “Sealbearer and Sole Beloved Friend, Lector and Scribe of the Records in the Sight of the King, Petamenophis.”(4) The king is not named, but his identity is revealed by an inscription, also reproduced by Lepsius, on a wall in the northern part of the great outer courtyard. Though much damaged in the course of time it contains two names, still clearly legible: Petamenophis, and next to it a cartouche of King Haremhab.(5)

The tomb was later visited and described separately by Wilkinson, by Duemichen, and others, before Maspero, seeing its deteriorating condition and realizing the necessity of protecting it from despoliation, had it sealed at the end of the last century. It remained closed until 1936 when W. F. von Bissing obtained permission to re-open it with the purpose of performing a definitive survey and publication. Braving the “billions of bats” infesting the place and the thick air (the ventilation shafts “left much to be desired”) he persevered, and within two years (1938) published a detailed description of the finds.

Rudolf Anthes and ~. Grapow were entrusted with making a cast of the inscription with Haremhab’s cartouche and found that “the name [Haremhab] stands out quite clearly” “steht der name völlig deutlich da” ).

Next arose the question of the tomb’s date and the time of Petamenophis’ career. The archaeologists were unable to agree, except that on stylistic grounds it could not be earlier than Ethiopian time. “Unfortunately,” von Bissing wrote, “in the entire vast tomb, not a single indication was found that would directly yield a date.” (6) But was not the cartouche of Haremhab just the sought-for indication? In the context of the accepted chronology Haremhab’s named carved next to that of the tomb’s owner was rejected as an anachronism, and since no other royal name was found, the date of the tomb was held to be in doubt. Anthes nevertheless arrived at what appears to be the correct estimate when he placed it in the time of Tirhaka.(7)

Year 59 Under Haremhab. A legal document in hieroglyphics composed under Ramses II refers to a contract concluded under Haremhab, and gives, without any further amplification, the “fifty-ninth year.”(8)

Haremhab did not rule Egypt anywhere that long. No era is known in Egyptian history to which the figure could apply. Much was written on the subject, but without a satisfying solution.

It was proposed that Haremhab counted as his own the years of the heretical pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty: Akhnaton, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamon and Ay.(9) But it is now admitted that such a solution would require the sole reign of Haremhab to have lasted not less than twenty-seven years, while his dated monuments cease after year eight,(10) indicating that he reigned but eight years after being crowned.

In the light of the understanding here presented of the true time and role of Haremhab, the thought must come that the “fifty-ninth year” refers to an Assyrian era. On February 26, -747 started the era of Nabonassar; this era was still in use in the second Christian century when Claudius Ptolemy, the Alexandrian scholar, wrote his astronomical treatises.(11)

The year 59 in the era of Nabonassar is the year 689 or 688 before the present era. About this time Tirhaka came from Ethiopia and occupied Egypt. This leads us to the conclusion that the document in question was written at the very end of Haremhab’s reign, just before he was expelled by the Ethiopian king and fled by sea. A few months later Sennacherib embarked on his second campaign against Judah and Egypt.


  1. A. Badawi, “Das Grab des Kronenprinzen Scheschonk, Sohnes Osorkon’s II. und Hohenpriesters von Memphis,” Annales du Service des Antiquités, vol. 54 (1956), p. 159 and pl. IV.

  2. M. le Vicomte de Rouge, “Etude sur quelques monuments du regne de Taharka,” Melanges d’Archeologie, Vol. I (1873). The text was published by Prisse d’Avennes, Monuments egyptiens (Paris, 1847), pl. XXXII (Wall D of the small building of Tirhaka at Karnak). De Rouge’s article is reprinted in Bibliotheque egyptologique 28 (1918), p. 268.

  3. (Berlin, 18~~) Text, pp. 244-245.

  4. F. W. von Bissing, “Das Grab des Petamenophis in Theben,” Zeitschrift fuer Aegyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde LXXIV (1938), p. 2.

  5. Lepsius, Denkmaeler, Text 245 middle.

  6. Von Bissing, “Das Grab des Petamenophis,”

  7. Anthes, Zeitschrift fuer Aegyptische Sprache, 73 (1937), 30f.

  8. The so-called inscription of Mes. See V. Loret and A. Moret, “La grande inscription des Mes,” Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache 39 (1901), pp. 1-39; A. Gardiner, “The Inscription of Mes, A Contribution to Egyptian Juridical Procedure,” Untersuchungen IV, pt. 3 (Leipzig, 1905); G. Maspero, The Tombs of Harmhabi and Toutanlhamanou (London, 1912), p. 33; Revillout, Revue Egyptologique 9 (19~~), 177-187.

  9. This thesis was first formulated by Loret; see above, note 1.

  10. J. R. Harris, “How Long Was the Reign of Horemheb?” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 54 (1968), 95ff.

  11. It is often asserted that the Era of Nabonassar was Ptolemy’s invention; but it is a fact that one of the most important of the Babylonian historical texts, the so-called “Babylonian Chronicle” (B.M. 92502), starts with the reign of Nabonassar, or the year -747. See H. Winckler and J. N. Strassmeier, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, II (1887), pp. 163-168. Cf. D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings (London, 1956), pp. 1-2.