Horemheb the Usurper: Monumental Oversight in a Project of Utter Destruction —Part II
By all counts, Horemheb was not only forced to remain subservient until the death of his immediate predecessor, Pharaoh Aye – a vizier-turned-ruler – but had faced a challenger in Nakhtmin (or MinNakht), an obscure Amarna personage who was also a general in the army before he was elevated to the position of Crown Prince by Aye. Filled with utter contempt for the iconoclastic beliefs and actions of King Akhenaten, Horemheb unleashed his fury on the solar capital Akhetaten. It is therefore an absolute wonder that he allowed his name and image to be engraved on the back of a stele originally dedicated by the Heretic. Did it not matter that this object was tainted by the presence of images of the reviled family?
A limestone sculpture, from the Temple of Amun in Thebes, depicts Horemheb standing beside the state god whose worship he further restored after Tutankhamun; and followed it up with a thorough backlash on the Amarna Period. Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy.
The Origin of Greatness
Horemheb himself had humble beginnings and hailed from Hutnesu (or Hnes) modern Kom el-Ahmar Sawaris in northern Middle Egypt. It is sometimes suggested that he is to be identified with a certain Paatenemheb who had a modest tomb at Amarna, which was incidentally never finished. The titles of this Paatenemheb, however, only partly coincide with those of Horemheb. “The pre- royal career of Horemheb is not traceable with confidence back into the reign of Akhenaten,” informs Dr Marianne Eaton-Krauss.
This wall relief on the Tenth Pylon at Karnak Temple shows Horemheb making offerings to Amun Ra. The king was determined to bring order to the realm following the state of confusion that was witnessed during the Amarna epoch. (Photo: Rémih / CC by SA 3.0 )
For an accurate picture of Horemheb’s role under Tutankhamun one must turn to his lavish Saqqaran tomb; the one that he abandoned after becoming Pharaoh. Several scenes were altered here ever so subtly—for example, a uraeus was added to the brow of the Generalissimo. Most of the titles and offices Horemheb lists on the walls of this tomb are identical to those which appear in the Coronation Text. Here, he harps on his divine election and appointment to various offices by Tutankhamun and attempts to drive home the point that he was the uncrowned king of Egypt whilst the boy-king was alive—until Aye nominated a Crown Prince, Nakhtmin, and wrecked his plans. “On a statue of the man probably carved during the reign of Ay, Nakhtmin is designated ‘king’s son’. If Ay had intended that Nakhtmin should succeed him, it was an ambition which Horemheb was destined to foil,” posits Dr Nicholas Reeves.
An uninscribed speckled black granite group statue, assumed to represent King Horemheb, seated with the Osirian Triad: Isis, Horus and Osiris. From Abydos. Egyptian Museum Cairo.
In order to make his succession sound legitimate, which it most probably was given the circumstances, Horemheb worked hard to reinforce this at every stage. “In his restoration inscription in the Upper Colonnade of the temple of Hatshepsut at Dier el-Bahari, Horemheb calls Thutmose III “father of his fathers,” but whether this might indicate a remote claim to royal blood, or just a view of the inherent unity of the monarchical succession, is uncertain,” explain Dr Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton.
A painted limestone relief from the Memphite tomb of Horemheb shows him seated before an offering table. This elaborate sepulcher was built when he was a Generalissimo; the uraeus on his brow was added after he became pharaoh.
Dismantling the Solar City
As the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, when Horemheb finally assumed the mantle of kingship, he set about systematically destroying all vestiges of the hated Amarna interlude. Including the reviled name of Akhenaten, he ruthlessly expunged the names of all other kings of that period from the records: Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun and Aye. In all certainty, the mood of the monarch was a direct reflection of that which prevailed amongst his subjects; for they had collectively endured a dark phase – the likes of which had never been witnessed before. Akhetaten, the capital city that Akhenaten had established, was one of the major scenes of action insofar as the policy of obliterating the history of the age was concerned.
What began with Horemheb fructified under the Ramesside rulers. The Abydos King List of Pharaoh Seti I shows the cartouches of Amenhotep III and Horemheb beside each other, with no record of the Amarna Kings who reigned in between—including Tutankhamun.
The great temples dedicated to the solar deity, the Aten, were dismantled block by block; a fate that befell the sprawling palaces where Tutankhamun had grown up too. The Aten temples in Karnak were also dealt with severely. With the state god Amun firmly back in the driver’s seat, and the damnatio memoriae against the Amarna family now complete, Horemheb ordered for the building material to be carted to Karnak Temple to be used as fill in pylons and pathways—places from where he hoped they would never see the light of day for all eternity.
“Horemheb usurped the monuments of his immediate predecessors Ay and Tutankhamun. To the two great ‘Restoration’ stele that detailed the good works of Tutankhamun he simply added his own name. Embellishments were carried out at the great temple of Amun at Karnak where he initiated the great Hypostyle Hall and added a tall pylon, No. 9. Here he achieved two objects: first, he built the pylon to the glory of Amun on the south side of Karnak; and secondly, he destroyed the hated temple of the Aten erected by Akhenaten by simply dismantling it and using its small talatat blocks as interior filling for the hollow pylon. In one sense, therefore, Horemheb's destructive scheme backfired: by hiding the blocks in the pylon he preserved them for posterity,” observes Peter Clayton.
Thousands of Talatat lie in the precincts of Karnak Temple today. It will take a Herculean effort to piece together this massive Amarna-era jigsaw puzzle. However, we have learned much from many assembled blocks. (Right) The Ninth Pylon built by King Horemheb using Talatat blocks from Akhenaten’s structures as fill. (Photo: Francesco Gasparetti / CC by SA 2.0)
Usurpation Gone Wrong?
With the temples of the Aten torn down and statues of Akhenaten and Nefertiti smashed to smithereens; Horemheb took his project of destruction to the next level when he replaced the names of his predecessors on their monuments with his own. Egyptologists point out that Horemheb, the clergy and the general populace did not detest the Aten as a deity; their grouse was aimed at Akhenaten who propagated its worship at the expense of the rest of the pantheon. If we accept this reading at face value, how then do we explain Horemheb’s usurpation of a stele bearing an image of Akhenaten worshipping the sun disc?
This stele was found rebuilt in a minaret of the 11th century Hakim Mosque in Heliopolis. It shows Akhenaten and his family worshipping the Aten. This object was usurped by Horemheb who had his image carved on its backside. Egyptian Museum Cairo.
Based on the partial line “Which-lifts-Re-in-Heliopolis-of-Re” the unique stele under discussion, present today in the Amarna Room at the Cairo Museum, probably originated in one of the temples dedicated to the Aten in Heliopolis. Inscribed on both sides, the front of this stele shows Akhenaten and his family kneeling and venerating the Aten. Before them stands an offering table stocked with all manner of food. No doubt an attempt was made by Horemheb’s agents in antiquity to erase the figures and chisel out the royal names in cartouches – but all of these seem to have been rushed, haphazard and half-hearted attempts at best. On the backside of this object, Horemheb is depicted offering wine and milk to the gods Atum and Hathor. Figures of Paraemhab, the high priest of Heliopolis, with his arms raised in adoration and a prayer to Atum can be seen in the lower register.
Seen here, the backside of the stele in the previous picture. Horemheb offers wine and milk to Atum and Hathor. Could the Pharaoh who worked hard to erase the memory of the Amarna interlude not have known that his name and images were engraved on an object associated with the Heretic? Egyptian Museum Cairo.
It seems rather bizarre that the officials in charge of executing Horemheb’s policy of damnatio memoriae thought nothing of portraying their Pharaoh – who went all out to reinstate Amun worship and restore order in the land – on the backside of a stele dedicated by the renegade Akhenaten who had dared to proscribe the state deity. Even if we assume that this stele with the reverse side portraying Horemheb were to have been placed with the original side against a wall, could the gods not see what was going on? Was there really any inscription or depiction that could escape the eyes of the omniscient and omnipresent gods? It appears Horemheb was oblivious of this faux pas; for had he gotten wind of it, he would have promptly dispatched those responsible to the Afterlife.
Top Image: A stele from Heliopolis shows Akhenaten worshipping the Aten; design by Anand Balaji (Photo credit: Anand Balaji); Deriv.
By: Anand Balaji
Independent researcher and playwright Anand Balaji, is an Ancient Origins guest writer and author of Sands of Amarna: End of Akhenaten .
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