Herihor, A Ruler but not a King

Herihor, A Ruler But Not a King

by Jimmy Dunn

The Kingly Cartouches of Herihor

Under Ramesses XI at the end of the New Kingdom, the steadily increasing power of the Amun Priesthood at Thebes finally came to a head. Homer said of Thebes in the Iliad, Book 9, that "in Egyptian Thebes the heaps of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes". By this time, the priesthood at Amun was in control of two-thirds of all temple land in Egypt, which was extensive. They also owned 90 percent of all ships, and 80 percent of all factories, as well as many other resources, so their grip on the Egyptian economy was paramount. No wonder that, by the end of Ramesses XI's reign, he was virtually powerless and it was but a short step for the priesthood at Thebes to enforce supremacy, at least in the south. Earlier in Ramesses XI's reign, after Amunhotpe assumed the position of High-Priest of Amun, he attempted to inflate his status, probably resulting in a nine month period when Amunhotpe was "suppressed", clearly as some sort of major civil upheaval, This seemingly included an attack on the fortified temple complex of Medinet Habu on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor). This problem was ultimately settled by Paneshy, who was the Egyptian Viceroy of Nubia. He marched north to Thebes to restore order, and for probably a period of years, continued to hold sway over southern Egypt and Nubia. Apparently this too was unacceptable, and he in

tern was eventually ousted by General Herihor.

A scene from the joint Funerary papyrus of Herihor and his wife, Nodjmet

This all seems to have been, in the end, a situation of the survival of the fittest, for apparently there were never any gains for the king himself. After having driven Paneshy into Nubia, and even though campaigning against the now-renegade Paneshy continued for some years, prosecuted by Herihor's son-in-law and eventual successor, Piankh, General Herihor at least nominally assumed the viceroyalty of his opponent, and additionally was appointed as the High-Priest of Amun. He thus acquired the authority of a military dictator as well as the economic resources of the Amun temple at Karnak. One must wonder whether his appointment to this high office by Ramesses XI was due to the king's stupidity, or more likely forced upon him. However, Herihor's wife, Nodjmet, may have been a sister of Ramesses XI, which might help to explain the king's allowances. Herihor marked the establishment of his new regime by initiating a new dating era, known as the Renaissances, or "Repeating of Births", a term that had previously been used by kings who founded new dynasties. The first year of this system began with the nineteenth regnal year of Ramesses XI. Herihor was this individual's birth name, and he had as an epithet, Si-amun, which can all be translated to mean "Horus Protects Me, Son of Amun". His title became Hem-netjer-tepy-en-amun, which means "The First Prophet [High-Priest] of Amun". It has been suggested that Herihor's family may have been Libyan, though there is no clear cut evidence.

Herihor from the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak

Though clearly dominate over southern Egypt, however, the reason he is not referenced as a true king of a divided Egypt in most sources is that he never took on outwardly the titles of a king, though he did use cartouches, usually reserved only for kings These can be found today within the temple of Khonsu at Karnak. This temple, located on the south side in the complex of Amun at Thebes, was also his most major building work. There, he had constructed the forecourt and pylons. We also here about Herihor in the famous report of Wenamen, who he sent abroad to purchase wood for a new barque of Amun. This report is very valuable to us today, because, not only does it point out Egypt's weakness during this period, it also provides some information on the dynamics of leadership in Egypt while Herihor controlled the south. Herihor apparently sent his envoy not to Ramesses XI, who probably lived in Pi-Ramessse, but rather to Smendes at Tanis, not very far from Pi-Ramessse in the Delta for assistance along his journey. The implications are that, by this point, Ramesses XI was virtually powerless Otherwise, the records of him are the pious restorations written on some of the coffins and dockets on the mummies from the Royal cache (DB 320) of mummies discovered at Deir el_Bahri. Just as in the case of Ramesses IX, there were tomb robberies at Thebes, and at least some of the mummies of previous rulers were initially moved to caches by Herihor in order to save them from vandalism.

A scene from the joint Funerary papyrus, a Book of the Dead, of Herihor and his wife, Nodjmet

Among these mummies was found Herihor's wife, though their joint funerary papyrus, a magnificent illustrated copy of the Book of the Dead, had come on to the antiquities market some years before the formal discovery. A linen docket on the mummy shows that the queen was embalmed in or after year one of Smendes' rule, indicating that she apparently outlived her husband by as many as five years. She had apparently been hidden in another cache of mummies before being transferred to this second cache, and it would also seem that husband and wife were not buried together despite having a joint funerary papyrus. In fact, there has so far been no trace of Herihor's burial apart from this papyrus. Herihor probably died some five years prior to Ramesses XI. One must wonder how different Egypt's history might have been had he outlived Ramesses XI. Nevertheless, the heirs of his office would change Egypt for many years to come. No funerary figurines, canopic jars or other fragments of funerary equipment have ever been discovered. There is good reason to suspect, from rock graffiti, that Herihor's tomb may still remain intact somewhere in the Theban hills.


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Atlas of Ancient Egypt Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir 1980 Les Livres De France None Stated
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul 1995 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers ISBN 0-8109-3225-3
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Seventy Great Mysteries of Ancient Egypt, The Manley, Bill (Editor) 2003 Thames & Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05123-2