Monuments and Sites of Ancient Egypt

- The Memphite Tomb of Horemheb -

  Saqqara Private tomb of Horemheb:    
  Private tomb of Horemheb   Location and Structure    
        First Courtyard Reliefs    
        Second Courtyard Reliefs    


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When the last king of the 18th Dynasty, Horemheb, was still in charge of Egypt's foreign policy and of the army for Tutankhamun, a private tomb was built for him to the south of the old causeway of Unas' Mortuary complex. Horemheb was not the first powerful courtier of the New Kingdom to build his tomb in this area: some blocks found in the 19th century belonged to some high officials a couple of generations older than Horemheb.

The same area had already been highly used during the Old Kingdom: several blocks from Old Kingdom mastabas were found re-used in the mortuary temple of Horemheb and it would not be surprising if Horemheb's architects simply dismantled the older, unused structures to make place for the new building. They even used blocks that came from the nearby Complex of Djoser, which shows that at the end of the 18th Dynasty, the once majestic monument of Djoser had already fallen into decay. Horemheb's architects were also able to re-use some of the already existing shafts for the tomb's substructure, which only needed to be extended here and there.

This tomb, or at least its mortuary temple, had already been visited by the German expedition of Richard Lepsius in the 19th century. As was customary at that time, several of its reliefs were removed and sold to European museums, among them the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.

Since Lepsius' expedition, the exact location of the tomb had been lost. In order to be able to position its valued reliefs in their archaeological context, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden undertook, in association with the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), several campaigns in Saqqara from the mid 1970's on. It is during these campaigns that the mortuary temple and tomb of Horemheb, and several other New Kingdom dignitaries, were re-located and scientifically studied.

Architectural Overview

Horemheb's funerary monument actually consists of two main parts:

  • the superstructure, shaped like a typical New Kingdom temple
  • the substructure, with the shafts and chambers leading to the actual tomb(s).

Location of the tomb

Map of Saqqara, highlighting the general area of the New Kingdom necropolis to the South of the causeway of the Pyramid Complex of Unas.

Map of the Memphite Tomb of Horemheb Shaft i First Court Reliefs Shaft iv Second Court Reliefs  

Clickable map of the funerary temple of Horemheb at Memphis.
The entrance to the temple is pointed to the East.
Source: Martin, Hidden Tombs, p. 43

The superstructure actually was the funerary complex's mortuary temple, through which access was gained to the subterranean tomb. The main building material that was used for the construction of this temple was sun-dried mud brick, a common and inexpensive material that was used even for royal palaces. The mud brick core that was thus constructed, was cased with blocks of high-quality limestone, most of which were then carved with the most exquisite reliefs.

There may have been a paved ceremonial approach leading from the edge of the cultivation in the east to the temple's entrance.

The entrance gateway was a massive pylon that consisted of two towers, originally at least 7 metres high. Contrary to a normal temple, Horemheb's pylon was left undecorated. This may have been intentional or the result of the fact that Horemheb became king and thus required a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

The pylon is followed by the first colonnaded open court, the walls of which are covered with beautifully carved and painted reliefs. The elegantly shaped columns of almost 3 metres high, flank all four walls of the open court. The western wall has two rows of columns.

A first shaft in the north western corner of this court gives access to two burial chambers, one at 9 metres deep and the other at 17 metres. The lower once belonged to a judge named Khuywer, who lived in the late 5th and early 6th Dynasty. It is not unlikely that this tomb had already been completely plundered before Horemheb built his mortuary temple.

View of the First Court

A view of the First Open Court, taken from the Pylon. The columns have been reconstructed.

To the west of the open court is located the Statue Room, which is flanked by two narrower rooms. These two rooms were originally intended as chapels, but as the temple was extended, they were converted into storage rooms for offerings. Some of the reliefs found in the side rooms are among the finest found in Egypt.

The Statue Room itself once had a vaulted roof. Its walls were not encased in limestone but were plastered with mud and lime. Minute traces of paint found by the research team of the EES and the Museum of Leiden in 1975 suggest that this room was once brightly painted.

The Second Courtyard is a smaller version of the first. The columns are only slightly over 2 metres high and the western wall only has one row of columns instead of two. Two shrines for statues were found in this courtyard. They must once have housed the statues of Horemheb and his wife. One of these statues was found nearby.

A shaft just before the north western columns was intended as Horemheb's original burial place.

The central chapel at the back of the temple was the actual Offering Room where the funerary cult for Horemheb would be celebrated. Two columns once supported its roof. It is not impossible that this chapel was once roofed with a small mud brick pyramid. Nothing remains of such a pyramid and even the offering room is almost completely destroyed.

The side chapels do not appear to have been decorated, unless their walls were originally plastered and painted and nothing subsisted of this decoration. Both chapels were re-used for burials during the Late Dynastic Period.