The Feud of the Ramesides
The Feud of the Ramesides
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter concerns the events following the death of Rameses II, with a particular focus on his successor Merenptah's heir, Sethy II, as well as the mysterious figure of King Amenmeses. Much debate has surrounded King Amenmeses, concerning both his origins and his exact position in the late Nineteenth Dynasty. As to the former, there is evidence that he was a son of Sethy II. As regards his position, while he was long believed to have had an independent reign directly after Merenptah's death, the evidence now seems to indicate that his usurpation took place within the reign of Sethy II. The chapter goes on to examine the reign of another king, Siptah, who had ascended the throne following the death of Sethy II.
Sethy II and Amenmeses
The decade occupied by the reign of Rameses II’s successor, Merenptah, was an eventful one. In particular, an invasion of a coalition of Libyans, and Mediterranean peoples known as the ‘Sea Peoples,’ had to be repulsed in the fifth year of his reign, while other operations included the one recorded ancient Egyptian encounter with the Israelites, at this point apparently an unsettled group somewhere in Palestine. More peaceably, grain was shipped to the Hittites to relieve a famine, a manifestation of continued alliance between the Egyptian and Anatolian peoples.
Merenptah’s heir was Prince Sethy-Merenptah A, who may be seen depicted, with the titles of Executive, Royal Scribe, Generalissimo, and Crown Prince, on a number of his father’s statues, as well as in battle scenes where, given Merenptah’s advancing age, he may have been in actual charge. Thus, on his father’s death he assumed the throne as Sethy II. Probably already in middle age, he began work on his tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV15), documents dated to his first and second regnal years surviving in the archives at Deir el-Medina. However, at this point, King Sethy suddenly disappears from the Theban record, his place apparently filled by one Amenmeses.
Much debate has surrounded King Amenmeses, concerning both his origins and his exact position in the late Nineteenth Dynasty. As to the former, there is evidence that he was a son of Sethy II, by his principal wife, Takhat, probably a younger daughter of Rameses II, and thus her husband’s aunt. He also appears to have served Merenptah as viceroy of Kush, under the name Messuy: representations of the latter at Amada in Nubia show this worthy with a uraeus added to his brow. (p.124)
As regards his position, while he was long believed to have had an independent reign directly after Merenptah’s death, the evidence now seems to indicate that his usurpation took place within the reign of Sethy II. Since the latter’s intended heir seems to have been a Prince Sethy-Merenptah B, it would seem likely that Amenmeses’s seizure of power was an attempt to displace his elder brother from the succession. If so, it seems to have been only partially successful, for Amenmeses’s rule does not appear to have extended as far north as Memphis which, together with the Delta and the dynastic seat of Pirameses, remained in the hands of Sethy II.
Nevertheless, Amenmeses is well attested in and around Thebes, as well as in Nubia, where his rebellion seems to have originated. At Thebes, he began his tomb, adorned the temple of Karnak—where the old high priest, Roma-Roy, appears to have been one of his adherents—with a number of fine statues (fig. 46), and undertook work in a number of sanctuaries. Amenmeses’s control of Nubia, not surprising if he had indeed previously served as viceroy, is displayed by a number of items there bearing his name—including a stela of Year 1 at Buhen. Interestingly, while the names of Sethy II were attacked by Amenmeses, many examples of Merenptah’s names were also erased on his orders, perhaps reflecting a personal animosity toward that king, who may have prematurely terminated the viceroyalty of Messuy, probably the future Amenmeses.
The period of Amenmeses’s rule saw a number of dramatic events within the workmen’s community at Deir el-Medina. These concerned the chief workman, Neferhotep, and his foster son, Paneb. The latter was a hot-headed individual, who had made a number of violent threats against Neferhotep and other members of the community. Paneb was successfully prosecuted by his father in the court of the vizier Amenmose, and suffered punishment at the latter’s hands. Paneb, however, later gained his revenge, succeeding in persuading King Amenmeses to (p.125) dismiss the vizier, the head of the government; shortly afterwards, Nefer-hotep was murdered. Paneb thereafter crowned his remarkable career by being elevated to chief workman, and continued on a career littered with accusations of fraud, rape, and theft until apparently removed from office around the end of the dynasty, some ten years later.
Amenmeses’s irregular rule was brought to an end in his fourth regnal year. Nothing is known of the events that surrounded his disappearance from the scene: all that is certain is that Sethy II regained control of the whole country, and set about the removal of Amenmeses’s names wherever they occurred. A number of officials associated with the displaced usurper also seem to have lost their jobs, most notably the Theban high priest, Roma-Roy, who was followed in the office by the former royal secretary, Mahuhy.
Most of Amenmeses’s monuments were appropriated in Sethy’s name, some pieces so thoroughly that hardly any sign of the original cartouches remains. More remarkable, however, was the treatment meted out to Amenmeses’s tomb. In such a situation, one would have expected simple mutilation of the cartouches and figures of the fallen monarch; instead, we find that the raised relief and hieroglyphic signs have been skimmed off the walls, leaving clearly readable scars. What we seem to have is a conscious attempt to remove from the tomb the magical ‘machinery’ that was intended to allow it to pass the dead king from this world to the next. There is no evidence for Amenmeses’s burial, and his tomb was later taken over for the burial of two apparently unrelated royal ladies.
By the time that Sethy II had regained power, he had no more than a year to live; he also now had a new wife, Tawosret (Takhat seems by then to have been dead), a lady of whose antecedents we are wholly ignorant. Work was resumed on his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but both construction and decoration were far from completion when he breathed his last in the IV month of akhet in his sixth year and was buried in the tomb (fig. 47). A mummy anciently labeled as his was found in the KV35 cache of royal mummies, but it is unclear whether it actually belonged to him.
Siptah and Tawosret
The key figure in the days immediately following the death of Sethy II was the chancellor Bay, apparently a man of Syrian origin, with the ‘loyalist’ surname Rameses-khaemnetjeru. Crown Prince Sethy-Merenptah B may have died at the time of Amenmeses’s usurpation, since when, as Bay himself proclaims, the chancellor was able to “establish the (new) king in the seat of his father,” that “father” was apparently none other than the late Amenmeses. (p.126)
The new king, Siptah, was only in his early teens, and thus in need of a regency. This was undertaken by Bay in conjunction with the newly widowed Great Royal Wife, Tawosret; the triumvirate thus established with their young ward is made concrete at one end of the Valley of the Kings, where the three protagonists’ tombs lie within meters of each other. Bay and Tawosret appear together on a number of monuments, with a parallelism that recalls the relationship between Hatshepsut and Senenmut over two centuries earlier.
As can be seen from his mummy, Siptah suffered from a deformed left leg, his foot being forced into a vertical position by a shortened Achilles tendon. This has been diagnosed as being a result of polio, but is far more likely to have been a congenital defect, probably caused by cerebral palsy (itself often the result of birth trauma). At the beginning of the reign, Siptah employed a long-form name, Rameses-Siptah, but for some reason soon altered it to Merenptah-Siptah, also changing his prenomen at the same time.
A modest number of monuments of the young pharaoh are known from Memphis, Thebes, and Nubia, one of the most remarkable being a statue that appears to have originally shown Siptah on the lap of (p.127)
Amenmeses. The latter’s figure was subsequently removed, presumably following a further revision of the official view of the late king that followed a dramatic development in the regency: in Siptah’s fifth year, Bay was suddenly executed on royal order (presumably originating with Tawosret). The following year Siptah was himself dead, on the eve of coming of age and thus no longer requiring a regent. At this point Tawosret assumed full pharaonic titles, with a year-count continuing that of Siptah, whose names were, however, erased in his tomb (KV47—fig. 48), suggesting an attempt to write him out of a narrative in which Tawosret was now to be depicted as Sethy II’s true successor.
Work was immediately begun on constructing a new, ‘king-size’ burial hall in Tawosret’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV14), begun back in the time of her husband, whose names now replaced those of Siptah’s in the part of the sepulcher decorated during the regency. The new hall contained a kingly-style sarcophagus that replaced her much smaller sarcophagus as regent (which was ultimately used for the (p.128) interment of a Twentieth Dynasty prince in what had once been the intended tomb of Bay). Tawosret also founded a memorial temple on the Theban West Bank. It seems that her seizure of pharaonic power was far from universally accepted, as soon after the death of Siptah a rival king arose in the person of a certain Sethnakhte. Within two years Tawosret was out of power and a new dynasty, the Twentieth, had assumed control of Egypt.