The Private Tombs of Amarna

The Private Tombs of Amarna

by Jimmy Dunn

The Tomb of Ay, the next to last ruler of the 18th Dynasty, though this is not his royal tomb, was the largest private tomb at Amarna

The necropolis of courtiers' tombs at Amarna is interesting because together with the Theban necropolis, it is one of only two New Kingdom agglomerations of tombs that can really be called a necropolis. Some of the most important people who had already begun to prepare their tombs at Thebes built new ones at Amarna, though many of the Amarna tombs were likewise abandoned when Tuthankamun moved the capital back to Thebes.

In 1883, the French sent their Mission Archeologique to Amarna, where they worked intermittently until 1902. They particularly examined the southern tombs, and in the course of their work, uncovered a number of additional tombs that had been left untouched by Hay. They removed rubbish and intrusive burials of a later date, and completed their work in the private tombs in 1893. Unfortunately, various problems prohibited them from publishing their work on the tombs until 1903.

Davies at Amarna

Before their work could be published, another group of explorers showed up at Amarna. This was the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Society), a private organization founded in Britain to further the 'elucidation of the history and arts of ancient Egypt'. Norman de Garis Davies was the Fund's surveyor at this time, and he worked at Amarna between the years of 1901 and 1907. He was instrumental in producing the fund's six volumes on these rock-cut tombs. In Excavating in Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society 1882-1982 edited by T.G.H. James, we are told that regarding the importance of these tombs that:

"The private and state functions in the palace, the entertainments by night and day, the reception of foreign embassies bearing gifts, the investiture of faithful officials with orders, decorations and other honours, the daily visit to the temple, and the ecstatic worship of the Aten at an altar heaped with offerings under the open sky - all these subjects, new to Egyptian art in design and content, are represented in these private tomb chapels with a wealth of engaging detail and an entire absence of funerary ambience. In retrieving them from their decay and gloom, Davies succeeded in rekindling a light that failed."

Entrance to the tomb of Meryra in the Northern Tomb group at Amarna

Entrance to the tomb of Meryra in the Northern Tomb group at Amarna

For six seasons Davies worked almost single-handedly at Amarna, during which time he succeeded in copying all the decorated and inscribed private tombs, which allowed the Fund to produce in six volumes The Rock Tombs of El Amarna, 1903-08.

The simplest form of tomb at Amarna consists mostly of a deep hall with no transverse addition

The type of tomb at Amarna is not unlike most of the 18th Dynasty tombs on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor), though many non-royal tombs are more varied then their royal counterparts. In fact, at Amarna, the tombs appear to have been cut almost by a mass production method in the space of a few years, even though no two are exactly alike in design and decorative features.

In spite of their mass production, these tombs are impressive, and some of the larger examples almost attain the status of rock temples with their imposing facades and columned halls.

At Amarna, these tombs usually consist of a court, surrounded on three sides by a brick enclosure wall, that is situated in front of the rock-cut entrance facade of the tomb. A cruciform plan was sometimes used that consisted of a broad hall followed by a deep hall, both more or less rectangular with rows of columns. There are also several examples of true Theban plans, where the deep hall is followed by the broad hall. In almost all of the tombs a deep statue niche was cut in the rear wall on the axis of the tomb. However, it is occasionally replaced by simple niche. One one side of the first or second hall a shaft or stairway opens into the floor and leads down to the actual burial chamber.

The more complex layout of the tomb of Tutu with borad and deep halls

One very major difference between Theban tombs of the 18th Dynasty and those at Amarna were the decorations. While those at Thebes show the activities of the owners, those at Amarna are always related to the owner's master, the Pharaoh. The scenes accordingly feature Aten and Akhenaten and most everything else revolves around them. In fact, the subjects which occur most frequently are the royal family making offerings before heaped altars under the rays of Aten, usually accompanied by one or more daughters who shake sistrums. In no less than seven tombs, the royal family is depicted at a table, or drinking wine together. With a very few exceptions, the tombs usually show little in the way of funerary scenes.

This is probably due to the fact that, in effect, these tombs were a gift of the king to his loyal followers, and evidently no expense was to be spared in their cutting and decoration. The rock from which these tombs were hewn, however, is a limestone of inferior quality and so the tombs had to have a considerable layer of plaster applied to the walls before being decorated. Yet, the work was very fine. In some instances, the plaster was formed with a spatula while it was still we t, a traditional technique in Middle Egypt known from the Old Kingdom. In several of the tombs, such as those of Pentu (No. 5) and Ahmose, the figures and their surrounding scenes were cut intaglio (carved into or beneath the surface of hard stone) to be filled with plaster and delicately modeled, a unique practice probably suggested by the inlaying of glass and faience tesserae (small pieces) cast in moulds for insertion in walls of mudbrick or limestone. However, this process did not work very well in the Old Kingdom, nor did it at Amarna, where decorations of this type soon fell apart due to shrinkage.

Irregardless of the mass production of these tombs, there was considerable artistic variation. Not fixed by traditional iconography or for that matter, even previous artistic styles, the artists were able to express themselves with a freedom usually not known from earlier work.

Broad Hall in the Tomb of Tutu

Broad Hall in the Tomb of Tutu

Unfortunately, all of the tombs were left to one degree or another, incomplete. This may have been because the king ran out of resources, or in other cases, time had simply run out on the Amarna Period. Only two tombs actually show signs of being made ready for the interment of their owners with completely hewn burial vaults.

The Northern Tombs

Layout of the North Tombs at Amarna



Principle Titles



Overseer of the royal harem

Overseer of the double treasury of the Great Royal Wife

Steward in the house of the Great Royal Wife, Tiye


Meryre (II)

Royal Scribe


Overseer in of the double treasury

Overseer of the royal harem of the Great Royal Wife [Nefertiti]

Chief of the menesh-boat



True royal scribe

Fanbearer on the right of the king

Steward in the house of Akhenaten

Overseer of the court of justice


Meryre (I)

Great of seers of the Aten in the house of Re

Fanbearer on the right of the king



Royal scribe

Kings chief

First servant of the Aten in the mansion of the Aten in Akhetaten

Chief physician

The two legs of the Lord of the Two Lands


One who approaches the person of the king

Chief of Chiefs

Noble of the first rank among the sole companions



First servant of the Aten in the house of the Aten in Akhetaten

Second prophet of the Lord of the Two Lands Neferkheprure-waenre (Akhenaten)

Overseer of the double granary of the Aten in Akhetaten

Overseer of cattle of the Aten

Southern Tomb

Layout of the South Tombs at Amarna



Principle Titles



Royal craftsman, pure of hands

Overseer of all the craftsmen of the king

Overseer of all the works of the king in the house of the Aten

Foremost of commoners

One who accompanies the Lord of the Two Lands in every place

Overseer of the prophets of all the gods




First servant of [Akhenaten] in the house of the Aten in Akhetaten

First servant of [Akhenaten] in the wia-barque

Overseer of all the craftsmen of the Lord of the Two Lands

Overseer of all the works of His Majesty

Overseer of silver and gold Chief spokesman of the entire land



Chief of police of Akhetaten



High steward

Royal scribe

Overseer of the great harem of Pharaoh

Steward of Memphis



Royal Scribe

Steward of Nebmaatre (Amenhotep III)

Scribe of Recruits

General of the Lord of the Two Lands






Mayor in Akhetaten



General of the Lord of the Two Lands

Overseer of the house of pacifying the Aten (?)

Steward of Waenre [Akhenaten] in Heliopolis

Overseer of all works of the king

Royal Scribe

Scribe of recruits

Overseer of the cattle of the temple of Re in Heliopolis

Fanbearer on the right hand of the king



Standard-bearer of the bodyguard of Neferkheprure-Waenre [Akhenaten



Overseer of the double treasury of the Lord of the Two Lands



True Royal Scribe

Scribe of offerings of the Aten

Steward in the House of Aakheprure [Amenhotep II]



Royal scribe

General of the Lord of the Two Lands

Overseer of the works in Akhetaten




Gods Father (it netjer)

Fanbearer on the right of the King

Overseer of all the horses of the Lord of the Two Lands

True Royal Scribe

Chief of Archers

See also:






Reference Number

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul


Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture, The

Arnold, Eieter


Princeton University Press

ISBN 0-691-11488-9

History of Ancient Egypt, A

Grimal, Nicolas



None Stated

History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C.

Badawy, Alexander


University of California Press

LCCC A5-4746