I'd love to be able to tell you what she looked like ... but, really, I can't. Her funerary mask (left) was too badly damaged. Anyway, the mask was never intended to be a true likeness. Portraiture was not the point.
Still, it would have at least shown us how she would have liked to be remembered.
Even without seeing her face, however, the archaeologists who discovered her tomb earlier this year knew right away that she was a very important and noble woman.
The excavation was led by Prof. Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano from the University of Jaén in Spain. Work began in 2013, when:
... we discovered the upper part of a chamber, which belonged to a tomb that was probably quarried in the Byzantine period (fifth century A.D.).... [We] thought that the area was disturbed. However, that chamber at the end was not a chamber, but the beginning of a shaft. During this year , we began the excavation of the shaft, and the more that we excavated, the more we got the sensation that a great discovery might appear ... and it appeared! The worker called me, and I went to the bottom of the shaft, where there was a tiny aperture. With a torch, I could have a look inside....
The coffin which he saw through the hole belonged to a woman named Sattjeni, or 'Lady Sattjeni' as she would have been called, for she was of noble birth.
She announced herself (left) to the world of the dead as
Sattjeni, Daughter of the Governor [of Elephantine].
Happily, this woman was known from other local contexts, which allowed the archaeologists to reconstruct the genealogy of the rulers of Elephantine during the later Twelfth Dynasty -- and to pinpoint Sattjeni's pivotal role in that history.
So, first, a little background on her family and home.
The lady was buried in the necropolis at Qubbet el-Hawa (above) across the Nile from Elephantine (modern Aswan; Ta-Seti: 'land of the bow' in pharaonic times); which
was the southernmost province of Egypt.* This is the cemetery where the governors of Elephantine built their tombs. During the 12th Dynasty (ca. 1991-1802 BCE), they constructed huge funerary complexes for themselves and their closest relatives. Members of their courts (officials and servants) were interred nearby in smaller and less-decorated tombs.
A Local Dynasty
Governors ranked just below the pharaoh's royal family and, indeed, they often behaved like little kings within their own territory. Today, we would call them princes -- even though (in theory at least) each and every governor was appointed by the pharaoh and served at his pleasure. In that sense, the office, with its princely title, wasn't hereditary. However, the royal Residence at Memphis was far away to the north, and the 'law of political inertia' was strong, so soon, very early in the 12th Dynasty, a local dynasty arose in Elephantine to govern the province. The office didn't always pass from father to son, but it did stay within the family.
Elephantine was a boom town at the time, profiting from Egyptian expansion across the southern border into Nubia. The province was the jumping-off point for military expeditions -- usually aimed against the warlike Nubian kingdom centred on Kerma, south of the third cataract on the Nile. The governors of Elephantine led these expeditions; on their return, some of the booty and tribute was bound to stick locally. Nubia was also the transit point for African products like gold, ivory, and slaves -- almost all of which were imported into Egypt via Elephantine.
Who was Who?
The founder of the Elephantine dynasty was Sarenput the elder (left) who built himself a gigantic and gorgeously decorated tomb at Qubbet el-Hawa, one of the largest, most beautiful non-royal tombs found anywhere during the Middle Kingdom. Sarenput's elevation to high office was due to his family's close ties with the royal court in Memphis. The pharaoh at that time was Senusret I (1971-1926 BCE). We know, for example, that he gave Sarenput a gift of 300 servants and also sent royal craftsmen to help build the governor's tomb.
In addition to important religious functions,** Sarenput accumulated political power: he was Royal Chancellor+, Governor of the Foreign Lands, and Chief of the Egyptianized Nubians (the subdued populations between the first and second cataract) in the lands then being conquered by Pharaoh Senusret.
A biographical inscription in Sarenput's tomb shows how he vaunted himself:
|Sarenput I and his wife (?)|
I have overturned very ancient rules and it resulted that I reached the sky in an instant....
His Majesty saw to it that I could have a good life. I was full of joy at having succeeded in reaching the sky, my head touched the firmament, I grazed the stars. I appeared like a star. I danced like the planets, my town celebrated and my troops were jubilant.
His grandson, Sarenput the younger, was the next governor. Sarenput II's mother was Hetepet, a daughter of the elder Sarenput, and his father was a man named Khema. Unfortunately, we know nothing more about Khema; perhaps he died quite young.***
Sarenput II was governor for at least 40 years. In addition to a host of religious functions,** he also served as Royal Chancellor+ and boasted two further military distinctions: "King's confidant [who is in the heart of the King] in marshalling troops to the districts of the South", and Chief of the Army in the south.
This painting is in the focal point of the tomb chapel. It shows the seated governor extending his hand towards a table piled-up with offerings. His son, Ankhu, stands behind the table and presents his father with an open lotus flower, symbol of rebirth. Ankhu's small size is conventional: he must have already been of age since, as the painting implies, he was in charge of his father's funeral. Adulthood is confirmed by the next painting in the rear chapel, on which Ankhu is given the title of 'Governor'.
|Sarenput I, Ankhu, and wife (?)|
And therein lies a tale.
For we now have rare insight into what happened next.
|Heqaib II, son of Sathathor|
For, in addition to the son who died so young, Sarenput II had two daughters. The elder was Gaut-Anuket (an unusual name inherited from her great-great-great grandmother [grandmother of Sarenput I!]), and it was she who married Heqaib II -- thus raising him to the highest position in the province.
In effect, he married the boss' daughter.
Their son, Heqaib-Ankh, would become Heqaid II's successor as governor -- but that event was still far in the future. Now, while Heqaib-Ankh was still a child, Gaut-Anuket suddenly died and the dynasty again faced a crisis.
Perhaps Heqaid II was dynastically weak without his wife. Perhaps the Sarenput clan had another candidate for governor, or one might imagine that other clans of Elephantine were vieing for the highest office. We simply don't know. But the next move was simply extraordinary: Sarenput II's younger daughter rode to his rescue. She married her elder sister's widower, thereby restoring his legitimacy and underwriting his power.
That slightly incestuous younger sister was Sattjeni.
Yes, that's the Sattjeni we want: Sattjeni V (as she is known to Egyptologists).
... daughter of one governor, now wife of another and soon to be mother of two more.
Lots of blue blood flowed in her veins. And her bloodline was unusually pure: as a granddaughter of Sarenput II's mother, Hetepet, she was also in the direct female line of descent from the dynasty's founder, Sarenput I. So, just as Hetepet may have passed the office of governor to her son, and Heqaid II reached the top through marriage to Sarenput II's elder daughter, Gaut-Anuket, just so, his second marriage to Sattjeni kept him in office. His son, in turn, survived to become governor, for once a direct male heir.
It certainly looks like power in Elephantine, in the absence of direct male heirs, descended through the female line, just as it did in the royal pharaonic family.
Who they married would rule.
Sattjeni has now become the pivotal figure in the dynasty. We'll read more about what she did in 'What Happened Next?', the second part of this post. Believe me, there's a real surprise at the end.
(Part II of this post, click here)
* Egyptologists call the provinces nomes (after the later Greek name) so their governors are known as nomarchs.
** The governors of Elephantine had, of course, major religious functions and religious offices. The main local deities whom they served were Khnum, god of the first cataract and the annual flood; his consort Satet, Mistress of Elephantine; and the deified Old Kingdom expedition leader, Heqaib, who was a kind of local 'patron saint'. It is only to keep this blog post within reasonable bounds -- and not because it is unimportant -- that I omit any discussion of their religious titles, duties, and offerings.
*** Khema possibly served very briefly as governor between the two Sarenputs. One imposing, still unexplored early 12th Dynasty tomb in the Qubbet el-Hawa cemetery (QH 32) might belong to him or to another important yet-to-be-identified figure.
+ My curiosity piqued by Demetrios' comment (see below), I ran down the original texts. The title normally translated as 'Chancellor' is more literally 'seal-bearer' , i.e. he who wields the seal of the pharaoh.
PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA (Universidad de Jaén). J.C. Sánchez-León & A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Sattjeni: Daughter, Wife and Mother of the Governors of Elephantine during the End of the Twelfth Dynasty', ZÄS 2015, 142, 154–166; H. Willems, The Coffin of Heqata: A Case Study of Egyptian Funerary Culture of the Early Middle Kingdom (Leuven, 1996); OsirisNet: Tomb of Sarenput I and Sarenput II; D. Raue, The Sanctuary of Heqaib; S. Pappas, 'Who Was Sattjeni? Tomb Reveals Secrets About Ancient Egyptian Elite', Live Science; and the blog, History Things;
Top left: funerary mask of Lady Sattjeni. Photo credit: Exhuman la momia de Sattjeni, una dama de la dinastía XII
Above centre: cedar inner coffin holding Lady Sattjeni. Photo credit: Exhuman la momia de Sattjeni, una dama de la dinastía XII
Second centre: Panorama of Qubbet El-Hawa cemetery (with the ruins of a Coptic monastery built into the tombs and on the summit). Photo credit: PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA
2nd and 3rd left: Two reliefs in the tomb chapel of Sarenput I. Photo credit: OsirisNet: Tomb of Sarenput I
4th and 5th left: Two paintings from the tomb chapel of Sarenput II. Photo credit: OsirisNet: to of Sarenput II
Bottom left: Black granite statue of Heqaib II, Son of Sathathor. Photo credit: D. Raue, The Sanctuary of Heqaib. UCLA Encyclopaedia of Egyptology, 12-03-2014, Fig. 11.