08 August 2016


(Click here for Part I of this post)

How a modest ceramic bowl became immodestly important

This ceramic bowl once contained fresh food as an offering to an honoured dead person, a revitalizing snack, as it were, served up by a relative or funerary priest.  The bowl was found in Tomb QH33 (Qubbet el-Hawat) at the bottom of the southern shaft just beside the wall that had closed the western burial chamber (plan, below left).  The bowl bears an ink inscription written in the hieratic script declaring the name and proud title of the deceased: 
               Sattjeni, Daughter of the Governor
The title "Daughter of the Governor" ranked near the top of the provincial tree, following the example set by the royal house, in dignity just one level down from the more exalted "King’s daughter".  A noble "Daughter of the Governor" always retained her title regardless of marrying a man belonging to another family; she would always be identified, first and foremost, as a member of the ruling family -- even until death and into the afterlife, as was the case with Lady Sattjeni, daughter of the Governor Sarenput II. 

Because the inscribed bowl was left just outside her funeral chamber, we can be sure that Lady Sattjeni was the woman whose body was found, mummified and wrapped in linen, in the beautiful double cedar coffin, inside the chamber.

Painted double Eyes of Horus (Wadjet), symbol of protection, royal power, and good health.
The inner coffin is  decorated with hieroglyphics and the double Eyes of Horus, the 'Wadjet'.  The 'Wadjet' would protect her soul both in the tomb and in the afterlife.

A Mummy's Story

Lady Sattjeni's life story illustrates the importance of women in the provincial ruling dynasty when, as happened at Elephantine, the male line went belly-up, leaving no direct male heirs. Her brother, Ankhu (as we saw in Part I) was old enough to have organized his father's funeral and to have inherited the title of Governor, but he died very soon afterwards, leaving his two sisters behind.  So the right to rule the southernmost province of Upper Egypt had now to pass through a "Daughter of the Governor", in order to maintain the blood line of their great-grandfather, the dynasty's founder.  

First into the breach was Sattjeni's elder sister, Gaut-Anuket.  Her task  was precisely to produce male children. She married a certain Heqaib (II) who was not a member of ruling family, but who was raised to the office of governor on the basis of his wife's lineage.  Gaut-Anuket was as good as her loins, and produced a son, Heqaib-Ankh. Unfortunately, she died while Heqaib-Ankh was still a child, thus thrusting the burden of dynastic legitimacy onto her younger sister, Sattjeni. With brother and elder sister dead,  Sattjeni was the last heiress standing on behalf of her deceased father, Sarenput II.  In short, the inheritance rights of the dynasty now flowed through her veins.

Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano, the Egyptologist who led the excavation of Tomb QH33, recaps what happened next: 

Heqaib III in royal pose
Then the governor Heqaib II married his wife’s younger sister, Sattjeni (V) or vice-versa, she married him. [my emphasis]. Sattjeni had at least two more children, Heqaib III and Ameny-Seneb, who would later become governors of Elephantine.  Once Heqaib II passed away, his eldest son Heqaib-Ankh automatically became governor of Elephantine.  After Heqaib-Ankh’s [untimely] death, his stepbrother Heqaib III received the rule of Elephantine through the inheritance of his mother, Sattjeni, Sarenput II’s daughter. 

When Heqaib III died, her younger son Ameny-Seneb succeeded to the office in turn.  Sattjeni and her sister had served their family well, and so smoothed the succession over a period of some 30 years. However, there's a hint that all was not beer and skittles in Elephantine with perhaps some nasty sibling rivalry between the brothers. And, even a suggestion of skulduggery.

To understand what happened, we look at their tomb.

QH33* consists of an immense unfinished courtyard that leads to a giant door almost five meters across (16.5') and into an equally wide corridor which enters a monumental hall with six square pillars.

The most sacred part of the tomb is the shrine, the Naos, which was constructed in the centre of the western wall of the hall.  This is where the consecrated statue of the governor would be placed, to receive eternal offerings from his family, descendants, and a coterie of funerary priests. All the naoi in the tombs at Qubbet el-Hawa were constructed specifically for the funerary cult of a governor and for no one else; furthermore, a governor was buried in a subterranean chamber below his naos.

Reconstruction of a funerary statue in its naos
The northern naos of QH33 is the largest and most magnificent among the Middle Kingdom shrines in the necropolis. It is richly decorated with all the necessary elements (jambs, architrave, cavetto cornice and niche; a sampling of which is seen, left). There can be no doubt that this was where the governor who built QH33 had planned to install his statue and near where he would be buried.

It didn't work out that way.  

He was usurped.

Along the same wall, there is a second (southern) naos, much simpler than the first -- really just a hollow -- without any architectural embellishment. This makes QH33 unique among the Governors' tombs in the necropolis, in having two naoi: the rest of have just one.  A five-metre-long shaft (16') descends from the southern naos to two burial chambers below. The western chamber lies precisely below the naos.  Inside was a badly decayed coffin containing the body of a 28-30 year-old male, and his mummy mask (below, left). Luckily, some wood at the head of the coffin survived and on it was written the name of the deceased -- Heqaib.

Mummy mask of Heqaib III
Since naoi at Qubbet el-Hawa were constructed only for the funerary cult of governors, and this burial was directly under the southern naos, it is obvious that this Heqaib must be the deceased governor Heqaib III, Lady Sattjeni's elder son.  Q.E.D.

Which raises the question: who was buried in the 12-metre deep (40') main northern shaft? 

His younger brother Ameny-Seneb, that's who.

What must have happened is this.

When Heqaib III became Governor, he began the construction of his future tomb, QH33.  He did not live to finish it (indeed, he died, as we now know, before he was 30). So his brother and successor went on with the work but, despite the rights of primogeniture, he appropriated the best location for his own burial. So, down the deep main shaft, in the chambers that the archaeologists are still excavating, must lie the body of the second-born son. Naturally, Ameny-Seneb could hardly bury his elder brother without governatorial honours: so he constructed a southern naos, which had not been part of the original tomb plan, and usurped for himself his brother's shrine, the bigger and better naos

But these are not the only surprises hidden in QH33. 

As time went on, Ameny-Seneb was also called upon to bury (at least) one of his step-brothers.  For, after the death of Heqaib II, our Lady Sattjeni had remarried. If her choice of first husband was somewhat eccentric -- marrying her elder sister's widower -- what are we to think of her second marriage, to an official named Dedu-Amen, an individual of negroid [Nubian] ethnicity? The couple had two sons, a Sarenput (named after her father) and Amenemhat (after the reigning pharaoh), both of whom would have shared the negroid features of their father, Dedu-Amen.  

And so it proved to be.  

Mummy bandage mentioning Sarenput's mother
Archaeologists recently found Sarenput's burial chamber in the north-east corner of the courtyard of QH33. He had been buried in a magnificent coffin, now greatly decayed, but most of the hieroglyphic texts on the fringes were preserved, giving the title and the name of the owner: 'The Overseer of the House, Sarenput'.  And, on a scrap of mummy bandage (left), his filiation, 'begotten of Sattjeni'. 

Bio-anthropological study of his mummy puts his age at death at about 25 years and confirms that his ethnic type is negroid -- in contrast to his step-brother Heqaib III, who was of Mediterranean type. Since Sarenput and Heqaib III had the same mother (Sattjeni), the ethnic difference can only be explained by their having had two different fathers: Heqaib III (son of Heqaib II), and Sarenput (son of Dedu-Amen).

The mixing of ethnic types at the highest level of the local elite is surprising (to put it mildly). Even though many Nubians lived within the borders of Upper Egypt, Egyptians normally did not think well of foreigners. Nubians, like other foreigners, were generally despised, at least in their literature:
Attack is valour, retreat is cowardice. A coward is he who is driven from his border. Since the Nubian listens to the word of mouth, to answer him is to him retreat. Attack him, he will turn his back. Retreat, he will start attacking. They are not people one respects. They are wretched, craven-hearted (Boundary stela of Senusret III, 12th dynasty)
These are, however, are stereotyped insults and, obviously, did not stop a 'Daughter of the Governor' from marrying into what must have been an Egyptianized Nubian family.** If her purpose was to increase the supply of eligible male heirs, keeping the dynasty alive through the female line, as Prof. Jiménez-Serrano suggests, she must have believed that their mixed background would not hinder them from taking their place at the top of provincial society.  

Statue of Khakaure-Seneb
As it happens neither son from this marriage became governor. When Sarenput died, his step-brother was still ruling Elephantine, and we know nothing of his brother Amenemhat. The last governor of Elephantine was Khakaure-Seneb (left), almost certainly the son of Ameny-Seneb, thus most likely a direct male heir. He would have been Lady Sattjeni's grandson, and, what really mattered, a descendent of Sarenput I, through the direct and unbroken female line. 

Sattjeni had done her duty to her dynasty. Perhaps her second marriage to Dedu-Amen was her private choice and, I hope, a happy one.

* Visit QH33 on a virtual tour at the project website of PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA.

** I know of only one comparable case: At Middle Kingdom royal necropolis of Dahshur, two stelae were found inscribed with the names of women "who might be concubines of the king, high status female servants, or the wives of some officials also buried at Dahshur or elsewhere. At least one of them was Nubian and seems to be an interesting case of a foreigner in Egypt at a higher social level than expected." (W.Grajetzki, Court Officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, London, 2009, 168).  Also, Grajetzki notes (p. 135) that, at the very end of the Middle Kingdom -- i.e. near the time of Lady Sattjeni -- foreigners do appear in the highest state positions.


As in Part I, plus A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Middle Kingdom Funerary Statues of Governors in Qubbet El-Hawa' in (N. Castellano, et.al. eds) Ex Aegypto lux et sapientia: Homenatge al professor Josep Padró Parcerisa, Barcelona, 2015, 321-34 L. Torok, Between Two Worlds: The Frontier Region etween Nubia and Egypt, 3700 BC- AD 500, Brill, 2009; W.Grajetzki, Court Officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, London, 2009.


Upper left: Ceramic bowl with ink inscription giving name and title of Sattjeni, Daughter of the Governor.  Photo credit:  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, Fig. 2; Photographer: Raúl Fernández Ruiz.

Centre: Inner coffin of Lady Sattjeni in Tomb QH33. Photo credit: In Photos: 3,800-Year-Old Coffin Holds Ancient Egyptian Woman, Live Science, June 2, 2016

Middle left: Granite statue of Heqaib III, kneelng and offering two vases, an attitude which is normally reserved exclusively for kings. Granite. End of 12th dynasty. Sanctuary of Heqaib. Elephantine island. Photo credit: © Stéphane Compoint

Lower left 1: Plan of QH33.  Photo credit: after  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, Plan 1 (Designed by Juan Luis Martínez de Dios).

Lower left 2: Ideal reconstruction of the statue of Sarenput II in its original place (Drawings © Ana Belén Jiménez) in A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Middle Kingdom Funerary Statues of Governors in Qubbet El-Hawa' (Sources, above) Fig. 3.

Lower left 3: Mummy mask of Heqaib III.  Photo credit: PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA 

Lower left 4: Fragmentary mummy bandage mentioning the filiation of Heqaib III ('begotten of Sattjeni').  Photo credit: 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, Fig.5.

Lowest left: Statue of Khakaure-Seneb in the Nubian Museum, Aswan. Photo credit: © Gregory Gulik.


  1. Beautifully written, Judith - Parts I and II. If you could sing, you could have been Anna Russell, since you also see the humour in so much that is only taken seriously by others.

  2. This was fun reading Judith.....thank you for writing it!


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