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Ramses III - Assassinated By His Womens ?

Ramses III

In 1153 BCE, Ramses III, the last great ruler of pharaonic Egypt, died in unknown conditions. In the months that followed, his son and heir Ramses IV tried his father's women, accused of killing him.

For the sake of his son

The account of the trial, focused on four papyri, the main one of which is preserved in the Egyptian museum of Turin, brings to life before our eyes an unknown institution, the harem of the pharaoh. United to a large number of women, in spite of custom, Ramses failed to choose among them a "Great Wife" whose male child would become his normal successor. But he named one of his sons, Ramses - the future Ramses IV - to succeed him. This choice, which is based only on the preference of the pharaoh, is easily questionable. It opens the door to all intrigues, from mothers who wish to see their own offspring reign.

At the heart of the plot is a concubine named Tiyi. Tiyi conceived of Ramses a child named Pentaouret. To put this one on the throne, she decides to assassinate the pharaoh. Skilled maneuverer, she won over to her cause, in addition to her harem companions, the director and a certain number of officials of the institution, external dignitaries such as a butler, a doctor, a steward of the priests, the commander of the troops of Kouch, who is the brother of a harem woman, and finally a general. Twenty-eight men and an indeterminate number of women are involved in the plot.

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The arrest of the conspirators

They also resorted to magic. A conspirator, using a precious grimoire stolen from the royal library, manufactures wax figures on which he pronounces magic formulas; he then introduces them into the harem. Finally, a date is set for the assassination of the pharaoh: it must take place during the celebration of the feast of the Valley, or feast of the Dead, in the palace of Medinet Habou adjoined to the temple for the worship of Ramses III.

The preserved papyri do not tell us how the events unfolded, and the mummy of Ramses III bears no trace of any wound showing violence. Ramses IV, having judged the conspirators, suggests that the plot, if it could not impose another successor than the one chosen by Ramses III, was however fatal to the king. The conspiracy, in any case, was discovered and its members arrested.

Execution or suicide

The report of the trial teaches us that twelve judges, chosen by Ramses IV among the greatest personages, are charged to instruct the affair. The decision of the judges is laconic and without appeal. For each accused, the same formula comes back: "he was brought before the judges of the court; they examined his crimes; they found him guilty; they have made his punishment fall upon him. "Punishment is none other than capital punishment. At least seventeen men and six women are executed. The others, including Pentaouret, Tiyi's son, are "sentenced to suicide". The sentence this time is expressed as follows: "They left him where he was; he took his life. "Strangely, Tiyi, quoted as the soul of the plot, does not appear in the lists of the accused. Maybe she killed herself at the time of the conspiracy failure?

Repetitive plots

The institution of the harem has secreted troubles several times in the history of pharaonic royalty. Already, around 2300 BC, more than eleven centuries before the events mentioned here, King Pepi I had sentenced in the greatest secrecy a queen, whose name is not mentioned, for conspiring against him. In 1962 BC, a scenario identical to this leads to the assassination of King Amenemhat I. There are some details about the events. The women of the harem supported the son of one of them against the legitimate heir. They bribed relatives of the reigning ruler for the murder. The crime was perpetrated during the night, while Amenemhat slept, and in the absence of his appointed successor, gone to war against the Libyans. But, as in 1153, the plot failed: the anticipated return of the heir allowed him to save his crown.

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The pharaoh's harem

The number of women locked up in these places varies considerably from one era to another, reaching several hundred women under Ramses III.

Mixed social origins

They are recruited for the most part from the lower strata of society and see being chosen as an unexpected opportunity for social advancement. All are not intended for the pharaoh. Some will remain virgins, others will be offered by the pharaoh as wives to dignitaries he wants to reward.

Multiple activities

The haram owns land, herds and houses a real textile industry. Maids and wives of modest origin work, spinning, weaving, sewing clothes. The school educates the royal children and those of the high dignitaries and trains the dancers who entertain the sovereign.

Male staff

The management is entrusted to a male staff. These are women's guards, who seem to have never been recruited from eunuchs. But the harem also has its steward, his scribes. At the head of this ensemble is a director of the royal harem.

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