Haremhab Appointed
to Administer Egypt

It is regularly admitted that it is not known how and when Haremhab became king of Egypt. Some think that he was the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty; some place him at the beginning of the Nineteenth Dynasty.(1) He was not the son of a king, nor was he the father of Ramses I, who followed him.(2) “Nothing is known of his antecedents.” (3) He was appointed by a king to rule the country, and some time after a campaign of conquest or re-conquest against Ethiopia he was designated by the king to be crowned. Nowhere is found the name of the king who appointed him to this extraordinary office. Who could the appointing monarch have been? It was often surmised that he was Akhnaton. But Akhnaton had sons-in-law who followed him on the throne, Smenkhkare and Tutankhamen. Often this role is ascribed to Tutankhamen—but the youthful king was followed by an old general, Ay, the maternal grandfather of the two young princes. Was it Ay who appointed Haremhab to administer the land for him, and then, in his own lifetime, crowned him? But “of Haremhab’s relation to Ay we know absolutely nothing.” (4) And if there is no historical link between Haremhab and Ay, the last known king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, does any compelling reason exist, or even any ground whatsoever, to place Haremhab immediately after Tutankhamen or after Ay, where we usually find him in books on history? A likely ground is not only non-existent, but everything confounds such placement of the “appointed pharaoh.”

Had Haremhab been a prominent official in the days of el-Amarna, he, like other generals and courtiers, would have had a sepulchral chamber built for him in the necropolis of Akhet-Aton (el-Amarna).(5) But no tomb, nor any other monument of his, was found there. However, while yet a general, he built for himself a tomb near Memphis, a place rather neglected during the Eighteenth Dynasty; later he prepared another tomb for himself at Thebes.(6)

The finely sculptured Memphite tomb of the “Great Commander of the Army” Haremhab was discovered early in the nineteenth century. At that time it was dismantled and its blocks with inscriptions and bas-reliefs were scattered among many private and public collections. Through subsequent decades scholars spent efforts in trying to trace the parts and collate the pictures and texts. Some blocks described in older publications have since been lost—a block seen many years ago in a private collection in Alexandria is such a case. The museums of Leyden, Vienna, Bologna, and Berlin preserve disunited portions of the tomb. More sculptured blocks have been retrieved in the newly-resumed excavations by the Egypt Exploration Society, beginning in 1975.(7)

Haremhab’s own statement of his title at the time his sepulcher near Memphis was being prepared is:

Chosen of the king, Presider over the Two Lands [Egypt], in order to carry on the administration of the Two Lands, general of generals of the Lord of the Two Lands.(8)

Such titles no officer under the king had ever borne. Under what ruler he thus served is not certain, but whoever he was, such power in the hands of a subject must necessarily have endangered his throne.” (9) On another fragment from his tomb he is called “The commander-in-chief of the army, Haremhab,” and on still another, “Deputy of the King, presiding over the Two Lands.” (10) But in the pictures next to these inscriptions he wears the diadem with the uraeus, a cobra, the emblem of royal power in Egypt.

The scholars are thus compelled to the conclusion: “Incongruity in the tomb: Throughout its reliefs the figure of the general Haremhab wears the uraeus.” (11) It is unique in Egyptian representational art that a uraeus should crown the head of a person who does not occupy the throne. An explanation was offered that the uraeus must have been added to the diadem at some later time, after Haremhab was crowned.(12)

The bas-reliefs in the tomb in various scenes show Haremhab in a pose of submission before a king, but the figure of the king is regularly erased on the surviving fragments; the figure of the king was deliberately destroyed in ancient times. On one bas-relief Haremhab is shown with his right arm lifted in adoration of the king whose figure, probably much larger than that of Haremhab, is not preserved; in his left hand Haremhab holds a fan, and throughout the texts he carries the honorific title “the fan-bearer to the right of the king.”

On another block (Berlin fragment), Haremhab is shown in front of another group of Egyptian dignitaries; he and the rest of them display obeisance by bending their bodies before the king whose likeness is not preserved; Haremhab, though in front of those who pay homage, is not depicted larger than the others in the group: nor does he wear a diadem on this bas-relief.

Dignitaries of foreign lands, Syrians being prominent among them, are shown as paying homage and affirming their role of vassals to the king, whose likeness is destroyed.

The text, reconstructed by Gardiner, makes it appear that the foreign chiefs availed themselves of Haremhab’s good standing with the king to assure him of their loyalty.

Words spoken to His Majesty _ _ _ when _ _ _ came the great ones of all foreign lands to beg life from him, by the hereditary prince, sole friend and royal scribe Haremhab, justified. He said, making answer (to the king _ _ _ foreigners) who knew not Egypt, they are beneath thy feet forever and ever; Amun has handed them over to thee. . . . Thy battle cry is in their hearts.” (13)
Despite the lacunae it is clear that “the king is addressed with flattering words and is assured that his might extends over all lands.” (14)

In front of a huddled group of foreigners, none shackled, a personage proclaimed by a group to be an intepreter, speaks to them; Haremhab, also present and shown larger than the interpreter, attentively listens to him. A raised surface above the head of that man had been prepared for the words spoken by him, but was never filled. The foreigners, by their arms lifted in adoration, document the royal presence; the figure of the king, however, as in the rest of the bas-reliefs, is not preserved. Like Haremhab, “the great ones of all lands who came to beg life” listen to what the interpreter has to say. “The words of all lands are of importance,” observes Gardiner, and makes a point also of the fact that Haremhab is seen “in converse with the interpreter,” but he draws no further conclusion from these texts.

On many bas-reliefs of the Eighteenth Dynasty, like those of Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, or Akhnaton, foreigners are shown in the presence of the pharaoh either as prisoners or as vassals, but never is a person designated as interpreter depicted; nor do the bas-reliefs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, with foreigners depicted, show intepreters. Was the king whose likeness we miss not versed in Egyptian?

Another fragment from the Memphite tomb of General Haremhab (no. 1889 from Bologna) has a scene chiseled in low relief showing a horse rider between groups of what appear to be soldiers and laborers, possibly in an armed camp. A horserider is practically unknown from Egyptian art—the Egyptians used horses to draw chariots or wagons, but not to ride horseback. The rider in the scene sits on the horse with no saddle under him. “A person is shown mounted on a horse without a saddle—a representation most unique rarissime) in Egyptian art, and the person has not the appearance of an Egyptian, though he holds in his hand an emblem of a dignitary. . .” (15) But this was the Assyrian way of riding horses—never with a saddle, for the most placing a rug or cloth on the horse’s back to sit upon.

The way the horses are depicted on Assyrian baw-reliefs differs greatly from the ways they are presented in Egyptian, Mycenaean, or Scythian reliefs, and each of these differs also from all others. The design of the horse with its rider on the stone plate in the Bologna collection from the Memphite tomb of Haremhab is not Egyptian, but clearly Assyrian. the prancing horse under a rider with one of the front legs raised from the ground, and also its mane arrangement, and the way the artist generally treats the horse, are eminently Assyrian. The Egyptian steed, never for horseback riding and regularly drawing a chariot whether in war or in hunt, has traditionally two forelegs raised, thus charging in gallop, differs in every detail from the horse under the rider on the Bologna fragment from Haremhab’s bas-relief. The Assyrians are credited with the development of cavalry; in the words of a Hebrew prophet, “Assyrians . . . horsemen riding upon horses.” (16)

The fact that throughout the texts the name of the king is not given is strange, and does not follow established practice, or, one may say, an otherwise unalterable rule: in Egyptian texts the native Pharaoh is always named by his royal names and cognomens, not just as “His Majesty.” Together with the presence of a translator to interpret the words of the king to his vassals, the Egyptian commander-of-the-army among them, and likewise the employ of cavalry, must impress ever stronger that the king whose likeness is absent and whose name is not given was a foreign monarch, and more concretely, an Assyrian king.

In the same tomb the enigmatic king is called “The Great of Strength [who] will send his mighty arm in front of [his army _ _ _ and will] destroy them and plunder their towns and cast fire into _ _ _ and _ _ _ foreign countries will set others in their places.(17)

In Egyptian texts of conquest, the expression “plunder their towns” in not infrequently met with; but “cast fire into [their lands]” is not usual. In the records of Sennacherib and of his son Esarhaddon, as also in those of earlier and later Assyrian kings, the graphic descriptions of their “scorched earth” tactics make clear that casting fire was a never absent feature of their warfare. “I besieged, I captured, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire,” wrote Sennacherib in the record of his second campaign, and similarly of his fifth, sixth, and seventh campaigns.(18) He called himself “the flame that consumes the insubmissive.” (19) This epithet of the great king—"the flame"—is also used by Haremhab: not in describing himself, but in addressing the king who appointed him: “Thy name is flame.” (20) It was a fitting cognoment of Sennacherib, and Harmhab used it too in offering an epithet in lieu of a name to designate the Assyrian king.

The removal of entire populations from their lands was a practice peculiar to the Assyrians and their warfare (later also adopted by the Chaldeans); the Egyptians never transferred conquered poeples from one country to another. Yet the last line of the above quoted text from the tomb of Haremhab (” _ _ _ foreign countries will set others in their places” ) refers to such measures. Breasted’s reading of the passage was: “_ _ _ Asiatics; others have been placed in their abodes.” (21) Sargon, father of Sennacherib, removed the last of the Ten Tribes from Samaria and her cities and settled others in their place (II Kings 17:24), and according to his prism inscriptions Sennacherib removed large numbers of people of Judah, over two hundred thousand, from their land to exile.(22)

On a stone from Haremhab’s tomb, discovered serving as a doorpost in a building in Cairo, Haremhab is described as “a henchman at the feet of his lord on the battle filed on this day of slaughtering the Asiatics.” (23) On another fragment (at Alexandria) he is said to have been “sent as the King’s envoy to the sun-disc’s rising, returning in triumph, his attack having succeeded.” (24) Many times in his tomb he is entitled “Great Commander of the Army,” also one who was “chosen by the king to carry on the administration of the Two Lands [Egypt].”

All leads to the conclusion that Haremhab served under an Assyrian king as an appointed military administrator of Egypt.


  1. “It is difficult at the present day to know what position to assign him [Haremhab] in the pharaonic lists: while some regard him as the last of the XVIIIth Dynasty, others prefer to place him at the head of the XIXth.” Maspero The Struggle of Nations, p. 369; cf. A. K. Philips, “Horemheb, Founder of the XIXth Dynasty?” Orientalia 46 (1977).

  2. E. Meyer, Geschichte des altertums Vol. II, pt. I, p. 247; R. Hari, Horemheb et la Reine Moutnodjemet (Geneva, 1964), p. 412.

  3. G. Martin, “Excavations at the Memphite Tomb of Horemheb, 1975: Preliminary Report,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 62 (1976), p. 9.

  4. A. H. Gardiner, “The Tomb of the General Haremhab,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 39 (1953), note 3.

  5. “An individual of the importance of Harmhabi, living alongside the king, would at least have a tomb begun for him at Tell el-Amarna.” Maspero, The Struggle of Nations, p. 342, note.

  6. G. Maspero, The Tomb of Harmhabi and Toutankhamanou (London, 1912).

  7. Annual preliminary reports appear in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.

  8. James Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. III, Sect. 20

  9. Breasted, History of Egypt, pp. 399f.

  10. The Leyden and London fragments.

  11. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. III, sec. 12.

  12. Breasted, Zeitschrift fuer Aegyptische Sprache 38 (1900), pp. 47-50; Martin, “Excavations at the Memphite Tomb of Horemheb, 1976,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 63 (1977), p. 14: “The uraeus has been carefully added. . . .”

  13. Gardiner, “The Memphite Tomb of the General Haremhab,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 39 (1953), p. 5

  14. Ibid., p. 6.

  15. Hari, Horemheb et la Reine Moutnodjemet, p. 74.

  16. Ezekiel 23:112. Cf. Sargon II’s reference to his mounted troops as “my cavalry which never, even in friendly territory, leaves my side.” (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 286.) For representations of horses of Sennacherib, see Sidney Smith, Assyrian Sculptures in the British Museum from Shalmaneser III to Sennacherib (London, 1938).

  17. Gardiner, “The Memphite Tomb of the General Haremhab,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 39, p. 7.

  18. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria, II, 238-250.

  19. Ibid., II.

  20. The hieroglyphic sign for “fire” or “flame” is a noun. Gardiner (op. cit., p. 5) translates not literally “Thy name flares” ; Breasted (Records, III.) renders the phrase more accurately as “Thy name is fire.”

  21. Breasted, Records, III, sec. 11.

  22. A total of 200,125 according to th Taylor Prism.

  23. K. Pfluger, Haremhab und die Amarnazeit (1936), p. 16; also Hari, Horemheb et la reine Moutnodjemet, p. 89 and plate XIV.

  24. The so-called Zinzinia fragment: Breasted, Records, III, sec. 8. Hari, Horemheb et la reine Moutnodjemet, p. 66 and pl. XI.