Were ancient Egyptian Pyramids used to bury dead kings?

Pyramids of Giza. Source Picturesque Egypt by Georg Ebers 1885.

The answer according to the current scientific evidence is … YES    (no, I'm not shouting)

Because that is how archaeology works, we collect evidence from as many sources as possible, and if it all points in one direction we draw conclusions.  The pseudo crowd bleating that we all follow the party line in an elaborate cover up may work for politicians (looking at world politics consider me sceptical), but in science a whole bunch of fields rely on accumulating evidence … no evidence = no theory. 

… or rather you can have as many theories as you like at home over a cabernet sauvignon, but for anybody with half a brain to believe them you have to prove it in writing, with evidence. 

And because archaeology is an organic process of accumulating information and upgrading our understanding, we continue to study, dig and write.  In fact you cannot get a senior qualification in Egyptology without producing some voluminous dissertation that adds to what we know and/or disproves an earlier theory. 

Image via Wiki.

Early career academics are therefore always messing with the ‘party line’.   

Equally if you have ever attended an Egyptology conference you would know getting Egyptologists to agree on anything that has a low percentage of evidence is an unachievable goal.  Getting us all to keep an out of date conspiracy running for the sake of a bunch of long dead antiquarians is actually quite a fascinating idea. 

I want to attend that secret meeting.

And that’s the trick, because pyramids have been believed to be resting places of Egyptian kings for centuries of archaeological research.  If nobody in Egyptology has been able to debunk that idea at any time in the past 200 years (and trust me they would happily do it), then with this process of constantly acquiring new evidence that supports the early assumption, one has to assume very big tombs for dead rich guys is the solution. 

Notwithstanding, by the way, that if you take tomb out of the equation, then I really want to know where all these kings were buried?  Kings in a culture that for about 3000 years really liked to bury their royalty with gi-normous style … if they are not tombs then that is incidentally a hell of a lot of kings and queens with missing tombs.

Tombs of the Napatan kings from the north cemetery at Meroe in Sudan. Image via Wikipedia.

Context: Pyramids
Contrary to the rather one-eyed approach of the internet and media, there are not 2 or 3 pyramids in Egypt, rather there are actually over 100.  However, this number depends on the definition you use, like say size: about 130 + for the monumental ones, about 30 if you only include pyramids of kings, and ignore queens, princesses and high officials.   

If you include the pyramids of the Napatan kings who ruled Egypt in the 1st millennium, there were a whole lot more than this, and if any basic pyramid is taken into account regardless of scale or cost we are into the thousands.

The rest of the pyramids in Egypt and Sudan appear to get much less press or interest from the public than the 3 quite big ones… I guess size really does matter ….  This is not unlike the assumption that there are only a few actors in Hollywood based on the media reporting of same, when rather there are thousands of actors. 

Roman geographer and historian, Strabo, 64 BCE-24 CE. Source Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

But modern humans, when they can’t obsess over monarchs or dictators, replace them with celebrities and that applies to ancient Egypt as well.  Therefore many people today have maybe heard of 3 famous (now) Egyptian kings - like Cleopatra, Tutankhamen, Ramesses II, and 3 famous pyramids (but not just now, I mean 2 are ENORMOUS, they’ve been famous for thousands of years).

The 3 really big pyramids everybody talks about are the Giza pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure and date to the Old Kingdom, specifically to the 4th Dynasty (2520-2390 BCE).  They are near Cairo in Egypt on the west bank of the Nile on the desert plateau of the river’s old flood plain, originally quite close to the Nile itself in antiquity (it has moved a lot in 4500+ years). Where they stand is the middle of an enormous ancient cemetery that runs north south along the west bank.

Ibn Abd el Hakim, muslim historian 803 CE- 871 CE.  Source Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

“there was nothing found in any pyramid to prove they were tombs”
I see this statement around the traps and the level of ignorance entailed in it is actually mind boggling, try reading some lightweight archaeology books, kids, or watch a few pro docos, and I would not have to write this… full stop…  However, as there is actually too much evidence to list here, I will be using a discrete selection of evidence that I find interesting.

In fact, quite a lot of pyramids have had all sorts of interesting tat in them, not least being big stone sarcophagi in their main chambers.  Sarcophagi are btw enormous coffins of carved stone with an equally whopping lid in which the king’s mummy was preserved for eternity (if treasure hunters over the past 4500 years haven’t messed about with it). 

Granite sarcophagus of Khufu. Image via Wikipedia.

Cheops/Khufu: In the pyramid of Khufu (who died ca 2447 BCE) for example the sarcophagus chamber has sported this title since 1646 CE when an English mathematician and astronomer, John Greaves, entered the chamber and documented a porphyry (it is actually granite) sarcophagus that was only lacking the lid. He recorded that it was 7 ft 3″ long with enough room to contain a mummy, but no mummy, because the main pyramid had been the destination of preference for looters for millennia.

Particularly due to the ancient legends that treasure was hidden in it.

Source Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

So more than 470 years ago an academic described the pyramids as tombs on the basis of the sources available to him: he also cited classical Greek, Roman and Arab authors who had rummaged about in them and written their impressions down, and he too claimed the pyramids were king’s tombs, more importantly he cited the evidence he found on entering the pyramid: a big granite coffin in the main chamber. 

Chephren/Khafre: The pyramid of Khafre, son of Khufu (died ca 2439 BCE) on the other hand was first opened in 1818 by the resourceful Italian circus performer and engineer Giovanni Belzoni and he too found that the main pyramid chamber contained a stone sarcophagus. Again granite and set into the floor this time, but still retaining the lid, which was broken.  Within this giant coffin he found no human remains, but rather cattle bones.

Basalt sarcophagus of Menkaure.  Image from Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

Mycerinus/Menkaure: The smaller pyramid of Menkaure, son of Khafre (ca 2396) was gleefully dynamited and then explored in 1837 by plucky yet unscrupulous Englishmen Richard Vyse and John Perring, and they found that the main chamber too had a large basalt sarcophagus with the remains of a lid. The sarcophagus is now lost, having sunk with the ship it was carried on in 1838 while being moved to the British Museum, because they thought it would be safer there (!!!).  Remains of a wooden anthropoid coffin were also found near the chamber in the passage along with human bones, but this is now believed to be a later burial, regardless that it actually names Menkaure.

Wooden coffin naming Menkaure.  Image from Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

The smaller pyramids
There are also smaller ‘satellite’ pyramids around the 3 larger ones.  Khafre has only one largely destroyed pyramid G IIa that is originally thought to have housed the ka statues of this king, due to a wooden box with damaged pieces of a shrine on a sled designed to hold a funerary statue found within it.

The smaller pyramids beside Khufu’s pyramid were built for 3 of his queens, whose identity is still debated, but these were probably Hetepheres I (his mum G Ia), whose almost complete burial, with alabaster sarcophagus, but no mummified queen, was discovered in a separate shaft there, and queens Meritetes I (G Ib) and Henutsen (G Ic).  

Another 3 smaller pyramids beside Menkaure’s were again most likely his queens, with one (G IIIa) having a granite sarcophagus in the main chamber when Vyse and co entered it. Pyramid G IIIb on the other hand contained a granite sarcophagus and female human remains. The name of Menkaure was also chiselled on a slab on this ceiling. The occupants of these pyramids are unknown, however GIIIa may have been for queen Khamerenebty II.

Giza pyramids. Source Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

And that is just 7 smaller and 3 larger pyramids with traces of funerary occupation. I simply cannot go on listing the rest.  

Therefore one of the main arguments of the pseudo crowd is false; that there was nothing in any pyramid to indicate that they were tombs … wrong … pyramids did have coffins that were presumably used to inter dead royalty and a smattering of body parts or mummies.   

Considering the amount of tourists that have gone through over the last 2500 years, it is surprising some still had objects with dedications to these dead people, or the odd royal statue, piece of a shrine or administrative seals.  The Saqqara pyramids on the other hand contained lots of stone funerary vessels naming their dead kings.

Pyramid texts within the pyramid of Unis, Saqqara. Image via Wikipedia.

Written evidence: 
Funerary texts
There are further pyramids to the south at Saqqara, which like Giza was the necropolis for the capital of Egypt, at Memphis, east of the plateau.  These, like the pyramids of Pepi I and II, Teti and Unis, have extensive funerary texts chiselled into the inner stone walls that were designed to resurrect the dead king or queen in the afterlife and naming them so repeatedly you might think the gods had short attention spans in the late 3rd millennium.

In the 6th Dynasty it was de rigueur for kings and queens to cover their pyramid’s inner walls with these texts that much later would be streamlined onto Middle Kingdom coffins (Coffin Texts) and then written on papyri and called the Book of the Dead.  They are the oldest examples of ancient Egyptian literature and constitute lengthy offering and rebirth rituals that were intended to unite the dead royal’s ka and ba souls, so that they may be become akh ‘spirits’ and dwell among the gods in the heavens for eternity.

Currently 11 Egyptian pyramids are known to contain pyramid texts on the walls of the passages and chambers, and these texts have been translated and published extensively since the late 1800s.  They all repeatedly name the dead king or queen, and they also contain a invocation demanding that the gods guarantee that their pyramid tomb will last for eternity (Utterance 599).

The pyramids had on topic names (this is my fave)
So the way to write pyramid in ancient Egyptian is mr (or mn-nfr) and unsurprisingly it is written with an upright pointy triangle hieroglyph that looks like a pyramid… rebus signs have their uses. This sign is used as a symbol to indicate the context is a pyramid in inscriptions on architecture, like say at a pyramid sanctuary for worshipping a dead king, and it is also used in texts.

And for clarity, which btw was a thing the ancient Egyptians were quite good at, the pyramids and the vast temple complexes around them all had names that were recorded on the structures so that it was clear who they were for and how they should be referred to: for example the name netjery-menkaure ‘Menkaure is divine’ is carved within the Menkaure temple complex to name his pyramid. 

A smattering of names of various pyramids in the cemeteries west of Memphis are:

4th Dynasty to 6th Dynasty
Khufu      - achet-khu-fu -            ‘horizon of Khufu’ or 'pyramid tomb of Khufu'
Djedefre  - sehedu-djed-ef-re -    ‘starry canopy of Djedefre’ or ‘Djedefre is a star’
Khafre     - wer-kha-ef-re -           ‘the pyramid of Khafre is great’
Userkaf    - wab-sut-user-ka-ef -  ‘the pyramid sanctuaries of Userkaf are sanctified’
Sahure      - kha-ba-sahu-re -       ‘the pyramid ba of Sahure is manifest’
Neferirkare - ba-nefer-ir-ka-re -    ‘the pyramid ba of Neferirkare is perfect’
Niuserre    - men-sut-ni-user-re -  ‘the pyramid sanctuaries of Niuserre exist’
Unis          - nefer-sut-unis -          ‘the pyramid sanctuaries of Unis are perfect’
Teti I          - djed-sut-teti -            the pyramid sanctuaries of Teti are lasting’
Pepi I         - men-nefer-pepi -       ‘pyramid of Pepi’ or ‘is established and perfect’
Merenre    - kha-nefer-mer-en-re - ‘the pyramid of Merenre is perfect in appearance’, or appears in splendour'

Overkill?  … But these are only highlights, and not the name of every pyramid from Egypt.

'Horizon of Khufu' ...'akhet' - 'horizon' is btw another way of writing 'tomb'. My drawing.

As is relatively clear, the names illustrate the function of these funerary complexes which was to guarantee the rebirth of the dead king – allowing his ka and ba soul to unite so that he is reborn as a god, like the sun god Re was believed by the ancient Egyptians to be reborn every day at dawn ('kha') and then over the day travels through the heavens for eternity, hence the horizon reference for Khufu’s pyramid. 

Pretty standard Egyptian funerary symbolism actually.

Every name of a pyramid above was written with the hieroglyphic sign to indicate exactly what they were referring to …  a pyramid … as I said, clarity was a thing in Egypt. Whether a modern translator chooses to insert the word or not, the subject is clear..  

That pyramids each had names is yet another tedious indicator that the complexes were designed to guarantee a dead king eternal life … call me crazy, but all the signs appear to read ‘tomb’ built by ancient Egyptians … not little green men from Sirius or some mysterious Atlantean civilisation.

But wait … there’s more

It is not all just about dead rich guys these days and excavations in the last 20 years at Giza have focussed on the nitty gritty of pyramids and their sanctuary complexes.  Archaeologists there have excavated and studied the worker’s village of the people who built the pyramids in the middle of the 3rd millennium, from the reigns of Khafre to Menkaure.

This town housed about 20,000 people, with long dormitory-like buildings built to accommodate a large temporary workforce (the latter only worked during the off season of the agricultural year), and this workforce would have consisted of full time specialists, plus that larger rotating Egyptian worker population. 

The excavators have also found evidence for cooking enormous quantities of food for these people; beef and fish bones, vessels for bread and beer, kitchens and ovens, and large mud brick silos that were used for storing grains for making beer and bread. There is also a workers cemetery at the site containing bodies with abundant evidence of very heavy physical labour in their lifetimes.

What were all these people doing there in 2500 BCE if they weren’t building the things?  Admiring the laser show (while pulling iron)?

The most recent discovery (2013) that has added to our understanding of pyramid building is a group of damaged documents from Wadi el Garf on the Red Sea in Egypt.  These papyri document the provision of food supplies and the transportation of limestone to Giza from Tura related to the building of Khufu’s pyramid.  They name a brother of Khufu, Ankhkaf, as in charge of the work at Giza and another official who worked under him. They also specify that the work was for the ‘horizon of Khufu’, his pyramid.

So what has standard boots in the dirt trench archaeology found out about the building of pyramids at Giza? … that there is evidence for the housing and feeding of very large numbers of Egyptian workers and that officials were travelling Egypt transporting the various hard and soft stones that were used for the structure, casings and for architectural features.

Pyramid from the tomb chapel of Sennedjem at Deir el Medina, western Thebes. 
Early 19th Dynasty.  Image via Wikipedia

Conclusion - Egyptian pyramids were tombs for dead rich people
The 3 great pyramids of Giza were neither the first pyramids (the earliest true pyramid is Djoser’s in the 3rd Dynasty, 2584-2565 BCE), nor were they the last.  The ancient Egyptians built pyramids of varying sophistication to commemorate their dead for the duration of the pharaonic period.  The only thing that noticeably changed about these was scale and proportions.   

Unsurprisingly it turned out that building ENORMOUS stone pyramids was a massive drain on the economy. 

Who would have thought?

So they started building more sensible scale mausoleums and by the Middle Kingdom from ca 2100 BCE) kings were still building pyramids, but less imposing ones (50-61 metres in height is small, right?).  By the New Kingdom (ca 1500 BCE) your average pyramid was smallish and used as a landmark for the memorial chapel where the funerary offerings and rites were performed for those families in the 18th Dynasty who could afford a posh burial.

Egyptian kings and queens however had by that time learned the hard way and had stopped putting enormous stone ‘come and loot this for fabulous treasure’ inverted arrowheads on their resting places for eternity … go figure. 

And it only took them about 1000 years to work that one out.

Andrea Sinclair

Source Howard-Vyse 1840.II.

References and further reading
J.P. Allen 2005. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.
John Greaves 1752. Pyramidographia, or, a Description of the Pyramids in Egypt.
R.W.  Howard-Vyse 1840. Operations carried on at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837: with an account of a voyage into upper Egypt, Volume II.
M. Lehner  1997. The Complete Pyramids. 
M-A. Murray 2005.  ‘Provisions for the Pyramid Builders: New evidence from the ancient site of Giza’. Archaeology International.
N.C. Strudwick 2005. Texts from the Pyramid Age.
J. Tydesley 2006. Egypt. How a Lost Civilization was Rediscovered.

On the net
The Eloquent Peasant Blog 2014. Oldest papyri ever discovered document pyramid building, or more reasons why the aliens did not build the pyramids: http://www.eloquentpeasant.com/2014/11/19/the-oldest-papyri-ever-discovered/

R. Pearse 2017. ‘The log book of Inspector Merer from Wadi al Jarf and the pyramid of Cheops / Khufu’: https://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2017/09/27/the-log-book-of-inspector-merer-from-wadi-al-jarf-and-the-pyramid-of-cheops-khufu/

National Geographic 2016. ‘The Pyramid Builders' Village in Egypt’: https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/history/the-pyramid-builders-village-in-egypt.aspx

Smithsonian 2015, ‘The World’s Oldest Papyrus and What It Can Tell Us about the Great Pyramids’: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ancient-egypt-shipping-mining-farming-economy-pyramids-180956619/

Live Science 2014. Photos: Amazing Discoveries at Egypt's Giza Pyramids:

Scota, the Egyptian princess who wasn’t

King’s daughter of his body, his beloved, Meritaten. Actually queen Kiya with Meritaten
carved over her later from the Copenhagen Glyptotek, my photo.

Lots of creative myths circulate these days via various media, books, news services, Facebook, Twitter, your second cousin once removed at your dad’s 65th, wherever … but it usually takes one of these monsters repeatedly coming to my attention before I am motivated enough to write some sort of tetchy (yet eloquent) response. 

I do have a life you know …

The myth of an ancient Egyptian princess being the founding ancestress of the British people is one of those repeat offenders.  It hangs around in the dark corners of the internet and offers unsuspecting people candy with alarming regularity. This myth has, I might add, been debunked over the years, but yet it does not die a dignified death.   

Nonetheless, I had not until now come across an overview of the problems written by an Egyptologist, preferably one with some knowledge of the classics and the family that is the pseudo-science crowd’s royalty of preference: the Amarna kings, you know, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tut, all the cool kids..

I mean, what’s with that?

Anyway, one of the main problems with this myth is the narrow, out of date thinking about Egypt, the pharaoh Akhenaten and the Amarna period.  As it happens I tick those boxes with my research, so I thought I’d have a bit of a go at explaining why the story is a crock of shit.

But first the basics

The Scotichronicon 

The modern myth of princess Scota is usually taken from a 15th century CE text by Walter Bower The Scotichronicon, and an earlier text by John of Fordun – The Historians of Scotland, and ‘believed’ to “probably” have existed 500 years previously.  Hearsay however is not evidence and 500 years is still the 9th century CE.  Bower used the text by Fordun as his source, so they are directly related.

Lorraine Evans 2000 uses a chatty, just between us, voice and what the media would
describe as hyperbole, or does she have a classics degree too? Both texts are in Latin.

If an author assures you Scota is in say Nennius, Historia Brittonum, (a 9th c monk from Wales) they are pulling your leg. The story is referred to briefly, names no names, and barely agrees with the later texts (depending on which), Scota is not mentioned.

Nennius Historia Brittonum. Image from Giles 2000, Nennius.

Therefore the first problem here is that no ancient texts corroborate the story of Scota and Gaythelos, not Egyptian nor classical, nada…  and these two texts were written by a Christian era priest (Fordun) and an Augustinian abbott (Bower) in Scotland some 2600 years after the topic they describe.  Although employing their inaccurate chronologies the story is even older. 

They both begin with a mythical account of the discovery of Scotland by a party of Greek refugees and the founding of the line of Scot kings (Irish and Scottish), all being descendants of a Greek or Scythian prince and an Egyptian princess.

Scota and Gaythelos Scotichronicon, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  Image Wiki.

The story in Fordun goes thus:

The founder of Scotland lived during the ‘Age of Moses’ and was called Gaythelos, he was the son of the king of Greece, Neolus or Heolus.  This prince was a bit wayward and led a rebellion against his father, so he was expelled from Greece, then he and a loyal crew of young nobles sailed to Etherea (Egypt) where he conveniently married the daughter of Chencres, the pharaoh of the Exodus. 

Another version has that the Ethiopians had attacked Egypt and Gaythelos was sent with an army to repel them, gaining the daughter of pharaoh as his reward.

Nonetheless this pharaoh Chencres ruled Egypt 18 years until he and his army were drowned in the Red Sea chasing runaway slaves, while Gaythelos stayed home in Heliopolis because he did not approve of ‘pursuing the inoffensive jews’.  The Exodus supposedly occurred in the year 1510 BC -
3689 years after the world was created … say what?
505th year of the Third Age (Moses)
330 years before the Trojan war
760 years before the building of Rome ... now I’m confused

However, on the death of Chencres the cranky Egyptians kicked out Gaythelos, his wife, and their followers.  Already banned from Greece, they sailed west to Spain and then further to Scotland (as one does) after the local Spaniards gave them grief about stealing their land, finally settling in Argyle.   

Another alternative version claims that Scota and ‘Gayel’ pre-emptively fled the wrath of the gods and the plagues of Egypt. 

Gaythelos inconveniently almost immediately drops dead on settling Scotland and his son Hyber takes over and is ancestor of the Scot royal families.   Scota barely rates a mention in the narrative except that she is the daughter of the Exodus pharaoh, however her son Hyber names Scotland after her ....  Yay.

Book of Leinster

There is also another earlier version, the Lebor Gabála Érenn, (Book of Leinster redaction) that has an Irish bias and instead argues that pharaoh’s daughter, Scota, was married to a Scythian or Babylonian prince Nel, son of Fénius, and a descendant of Noah. This Scota was the mother of Goídel Glas (Gaythelos).

Goídel's children (the Gaels), left Egypt and went into exile during the Exodus, and sailed to Scythia, but later roamed about for 440 years, in 4 ships with 24 couples (don't ask me), eventually conquering Spain and building a city.  Goídel's descendant Íth discovered Ireland by looking out over the ocean from a tower, then they all piled into a boat or more and conquered Ireland.

Um yeh

So I am not a British historian and therefore I am not going to go over the problems that may be here in the various mishmashy late medieval narratives from Ireland, Wales and Scotland. 

I will just point out the obvious: like how would a 14th century priest sitting in an abbey in Britain or in fact Ireland have access to historical data that predates the Romans?  In the 12th to 14th centuries historical texts were handed down interpretations of copies of classical Greek and Roman texts and the Bible.  Bower and Fordun for example seem to be using a copy of a copy of Manetho for Egypt.

Syncellus on the kings of the 18th Dynasty, (8th century CE), used Eusebius, 3rd century CE, who used Manetho Aegyptiaca, 3rd century BCE.  Loeb series, Book 350, 1940.

Manetho's original Aegyptiaca is lost and only known now through much later Christian era writers who were interested in the Egyptian kings only in order to date events from the Bible.  The rewrites date from the 1st century to the 9th century CE,  and they do not agree with each other, neither for the date of the Exodus from Egypt, nor for the kings of the 18th Dynasty, particularly the end.  They also have a tendency of throwing in some classical heroes and kings for lols.

The Armenian version of Eusebius, on Manetho (5th century CE). Loeb series, Book 350, 1940.
The version of Manetho by Julius Africanus (2nd-3rd c. CE).
Manetho according to Flavius Josephus (1st century CE).

The versions of Manetho by Theophilus and Josephus date the Exodus to the end of the Hyksos period in Egypt (ca. 1550 BCE), mixing up the Hyksos with the Israelites. Syncellus and Eusebius place the Exodus under a king of the Amarna period, either a son or daughter of Orus (Akhenaten?), Acencheres, or a later king, Cencheres. The Scotichronicon and Book of Leinster take these jumbled up histories, add dashes of Homer and the Bible, and give them local flavour.

Snake oil salesman Ralph Ellis 2006 solving the problem of conflicting dates for the Exodus!

These revised Gaelic folk legends about origins of peoples, had a simple purpose, they were designed to tie the early Scots and Gaels back to the Old Testament stories, basically to give local relevance to the Near Eastern book.  Their intention was not historical, it was parochial and religious, yet these texts are the sole basis for the modern pseudo-claims, excluding some really dodgy archaeology.

Also the chronology is a mess and all stories naturally rely on the Bible as fact.

The Bible narrative

However, this cannot be stressed enough; there is no evidence from archaeology that the Exodus happened, nor if such an event occurred without the fairy story parts, do we have any idea who that pharaoh would be … nothing … any and all suggestions of who he might have been are conjecture.  Manetho is the only source, he is late, written by other people and just a tad inconsistent.

Also the connection of Akhenaten to Moses is a modern western construct stemming from Manetho and from 19th century assumptions about the nature of Atenism.  21st century archaeology has changed our understanding of this a lot, and it involves the rejection of the Theban god Amen and his triad in Thebes, many other gods and temples continued unsullied.

The next issue is that to make a coherent narrative fit what we know now you would have to cherrypick the stories (and Manetho) and throw out anything that doesn’t suit you. 

Which is pretty much how pseudos are playing it... 

Finally, while the original story in Fordun and Bower is about Gaythelos and Hyber, or the grandsons and great-grandsons of Noah in the Irish versions, the modern rewrites are mainly concerned with Scota, who plays no part at all in the originals except by popping out a prince.

But that is not interesting enough today … Oh no, rather, run with the least evidence but the most romantic narrative potential …ooo’oh,  a beeauuutiful Egyptian princess…  who could she be?

Basic context for late 18th Dynasty Egypt

So back to Egypt

What do we have?  The Scottish texts state that a daughter of the Exodus pharaoh was married to a Greek or Scythian refugee prince during the Moses escapade in 1510 BCE and fled west when the Egyptian people got tetchy about who should rule them.  In 1510 btw the 18th Dynasty ancestors of Akhenaten were busy throwing out the Hyksos kings, but let’s just ignore fripperies like chronology and discuss cultural habits instead.

And this presents a really big problem: An Egyptian princess married to a foreign prince in the 18th Dynasty is in the 21st century a very dubious claim, because Egyptian pharaohs never, and I repeat never married their daughters to other princes or kings … number one big no no back in the day …

This was put into eloquent words by Amenhotep III, father of Akhenaten, when a Babylonian king demanded he provide him with an Egyptian princess in a letter from around 1370 BCE. 
This king was a resourceful individual and on knock back was not discouraged and suggested the Egyptians pretended they were sending a princess so he could maintain face at home.

Amarna Letter 4 from the Kassite king to Egypt. Translation from Rainey 2015, The El-Amarna Correspondence.

And that is it, negative evidence ... at this point in time there is no evidence from archaeology or any historical texts from the entire pharaonic period that an Egyptian princess was married to a foreigner, king, prince, or commoner.  The immediate family of the pharaoh was kept close, perhaps because of issues of claims to the throne, either way they just didn’t do it.

But because some monk in 1350 CE says they did the pseudos are having a party. 

Contemporary flights of fancy

The recent crop of publications exploiting Scota for monetary gain have taken the Scottish version and sexed the myth up a bit, by naming names … celebrity names of course.  Most claim that the Amarna princess Meritaten, daughter of Akhenaten, granddaughter of Amenhotep III was the legendary Scota. Another claims it was a younger daughter of the same pharaoh Ankhesenamen.

And as you read this I want you to have the strategic emphasis on the word ‘princess’ in the back of your minds.

Lorraine Evans in Kingdom of the Ark (2000), for example has argued that princess Meritaten and Abimilki 'prince' of Tyre were Scota and Gaythelos, which should get a laugh from the Late Bronze Age archaeologists reading this. 

Abimilki was governor of an Egyptian vassal city in the Levant (coastal Lebanon), a man appointed by Egypt to collect revenue, whose main claim to fame is bitching to pharaoh about his neighbour Sidon encroaching on his land, and when not, begging for troops and food supplies. He governed Tyre from the later years of Akhenaten’s reign into that of king Neferneferuaten (Ankhkheperure/ Smenkhkare, so say from 1343-1333 BCE). 

According to her the couple are supposed to have fled the protests, plague and revolution at the end of Akhenaten's reign in around 1335 BCE.... (in her intro she confusingly dates their flight to 1350 BCE p. 28) ... you do the maths ... from there they travel to Algeria, the Cadiz in Spain and the Canary Islands before ending up in Britain, leaving a long trail of Egyptian descendants and cultural practices in their wake.

Antidiluviana on Facebook

Ralph Ellis on the other hand in Scota, Egyptian Queen of the Scots, (2006) decided that Tutankhamen’s widow Ankhesenamen and pharaoh Ay were Scota and Gaythelos.  He concludes that Manetho made an error with his kinglist and that Horemhab is Orus, somehow mistakenly put before the Amarna period, therefore claiming that Nefertiti is Achencres sister of Rathotis-Akhenaten, and Ay conveniently becomes Harmais!

He also claims that Akhenaten was Aaron and abdicated after a reign of 5 years, then fled with the Israelites, doggedly pursued by Tutankhamen, son of Ay, and his army! ... Pharaoh’s daughter was Akhenaten’s mum, queen Tiye and the Thutmose who died young was Moses! …

Ay and Ankhesenamen marry and flee to Spain to escape the religious persecution of Horemhab and other Egyptians!!

I actually do not have enough exclamation marks for this one, it is high comedy, and again some flexible approaches to chronology.  I particularly enjoyed his fantasizing about the Minoans and Phoenicians being one and the same, and his claims (Evans too) that the Minoans must have been close allies with the Hyksos because of the Minoan paintings at Avaris in Egypt (which actually date 150 years later to Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, not to the Hyksos period).  

How this has any impact on their theories is beyond me, but both authors do it, I assume it relates to the word princess (Minoan this time).

And do not get me started on Ellis’ abysmal translations of hieroglyphic terms.  The book is full of evidence that he has never studied the language.

Spot the inaccuracies here. Robert Sepehr getting some mileage out of the myth.

But anyhoo … those books on Scota were the highlights ... basically every pseudo blog and snake oil salesman has had a go at this British legend from Robert Sepehr, to Graham Hancock, to Ancient Origins (repeatedly), to Uri Geller with his Egyptian treasure on a tiny Scottish island … Amarna princesses are clearly a money winner.

Robert Sepehr above for example basically yoinks the princess from Evans' book, fluffs it up with some pretty pictures and adds all European kings to the stone of destiny.  But I have one more whacky highlight: The Merovingians: the once, the present, and future kings Facebook page have their own special take on the legend where Scota is wife of the Scythian prince Niul.  This time however she was daughter of the pharaoh Smenkhkare, who was biblical Aaron, and niece of pharaoh Akhenaten, who was Moses... eek  

They smoothly argue the connection of Smenkhkare to Aaron by creating a fictional transliteration of the name; Smenkhkaron, which makes no sense in ancient Egyptian, or I need to do a refresher, as I must confess I’ve never heard of an Egyptian sun god called Ron (smnḫ-ka-ron ‘he who the ka of Ron has made potent’?).  I am not sure I buy it ... no way to prove any of that blather, btw.

(To be honest there is a book to be written about the bogus reinterpretation of ancient Egyptian language by complete newbs in pseudo-science.)
So let’s have a proper look at the two slightly less bonkers ideas.

Every man and his dog on the internet calls this head Meritaten. It can only be dated by style to the Amarna period 
and may be a daughter of Akhenaten. Images © Louvre http://cartelfr.louvre.fr/cartelfr/visite?srv=car_not_frame&idNotice=14658&langue=fr

What about Meritaten

Meritaten was the eldest of the 6 daughters of the pharaoh Akhenaten, the son of Amenhotep III and queen Tiye.  She was daughter of the chief queen Nefertiti, you know, the famous one.  Her mum and dad changed the nature of traditional Egyptian religion by raising an aspect of the sun god, the Aten, to chief god of Egypt replacing the powerful Theban god Amen-re, and incidentally making themselves divine in the process.  Her parents were gods.

Meritaten herself was the most prominent of their daughters in royal documents and monuments, she was probably born in about 1355 BCE in Thebes before Akhenaten became king (ca 1352 BCE) and therefore she may have been around 20 when her father died (ca 1335 BCE), she would have been around 30 when Tutankhamen died (ca 1324 BCE, if she was alive then).

Daughters of Akhenaten in a ritual scene with their parents from the tomb of Huya. Meritaten stands at
the front, followed by Maketaten and Ankhesenpaaten.  Image from Davies Rock Tombs of Amarna 15.

But it gets more complicated, because Meritaten was a princess maybe until her late teens, then she becomes queen, and possibly also king of Egypt. Calling her a princess to make your point is manipulative, she was maybe a princess until she was 16 or 17, then she was promoted to a top job. 

Queen and king?

Meritaten with her mother Nefertiti are current favourites to be the female king Neferneferuaten who co-ruled with Akhenaten and ruled Egypt for about 2 to 3 years between Akhenaten’s death and Tutankhamen (1335-1333/2 BCE).  Many assume her mum was Neferneferuaten, because Meritaten is recorded as the great royal wife of Smenkhkare-Neferneferuaten on a chest from Tut’s tomb. Lorraine Evans seems not to be aware of this and other objects, she infers we made the marriage up.

Two figures with king's regalia, that may be Akhenaten and Neferneferuaten.  Unfinished relief from a house in Amarna, Berlin ÄM 20716.  Image © Berlin Museum http://www.smb-digital.de/eMuseumPlus?service=direct/1/ResultLightboxView/result.t1.collection_lightbox.$TspTitleImageLink.link&sp=10&sp=Scollection&sp=SfieldValue&sp=0&sp=0&sp=3&sp=Slightbox_3x4&sp=0&sp=Sdetail&sp=0&sp=F&sp=T&sp=1

Anyway, if you are now confused, we are still coming to terms with it too.  But it was not essential for the pharaoh to be male, the role was male and had to have a female consort, Egyptian kingship was structured around two genders, they weren't quite as fussed about biology.  This Smenkhkare-Neferneferuaten was either her mum (because of the name overlap), a younger sister, or another male heir who died fairly soon after taking the throne.   

Therefore, according to Egyptian evidence Meritaten had a royal husband of one kind or another, and regardless of who they were, this made her a king’s great queen for around 6 years, because she was also titled great royal wife of her dad at the end of his reign. Plus she herself may have actually been pharaoh Neferneferuaten.

That shoots holes in the Abimilki = Gaythelos idea (she can’t be in two places at once).  When Abimilki was politically active Meritaten was co-running an empire. The example of him addressing her (Mayati) as ‘my lady’, and calling himself ‘her servant’, in a letter is actually a reflection of her importance in Egypt, as king’s great wife or co-regent, and it is not proof she was married to an Egyptian vassal.  

A basic knowledge of Amarna diplomatic language would prevent this error in Evans, who provides no other evidence to support this claim and never explains how the two met, were married or where they resided, because she can't.  ‘Prince’ Abimilki rates barely 2 pages of interest before being relegated into the background.  However, if Tyre in Lebanon was Meritaten's city’ she technically had no reason to flee anywhere in 1335 BCE, but hey.

Meritaten being kissed by Akhenaten, with Nefertiti holding Meketaten and Akhesenpaaten.
Maketaten died young. Stele from a shrine in a private house at Amarna, Berlin Museum, my photo.

Meritaten would have been a powerful figure at Amarna at 18, she owned a palace (North Palace) or 2 (Maru-aten), and had a royal tomb prepared there.  She is thought to have had at least 1 daughter Meritaten-tasherit (‘junior’), or 2, if one includes Ankhesenpaaten-tasherit (disputed)… Also one academic has argued she was the foster mother of Tutankhamen (Alain Zivie).

When Akhenaten died in about 1335 BCE, not deposed in a revolution btw, as pseudos claim, or abdicating (how does a god abdicate?), or leading the Israelites to freedom.  He died, and the royal family and the king or kings (Neferneferuaten+) who followed him immediately began putting the old religious system back in place.  There is some evidence the royal family had in fact begun restoring normality while Akhenaten was still king, towards the end of his reign.

The argument for a revolution and of persecutions of loyal Atenists in 1335 BCE that these writers depend on is based on an assumption that Akhenaten somehow suppressed all worship of other gods.  We know now that this is incorrect, he built a city for his personal god and suppressed the cult of Amen-re in Thebes. Other gods continued to be worshipped by the population, even in Amarna, plus the royal family were themselves worshipped at household shrines, such as the relief above.

We also now know that I rebuilt the temples that were in ruins’ is a standard element of royal propaganda that pharaohs used upon coronation and Tut, Ay or Horemhab saying this tells us nothing about reality. 

Therefore the revolution theory in Egyptology went out with the new millennium. 

When Tut and Ankhesenamen came along in 1333/2 it was well on the way to business as usual in Egyptian temples.  Ankhesenamen would have been around 18 and her younger brother 9 years old at that time.  Ay became pharaoh about 10 years later on the death of Tutankhamen at 19, but because of their youth he would have had considerable authority during Tut's reign.

Smenkhkare and Meritaten or Ankhesenamen and Tutankhamen?  Relief possibly from Amarna.
Berlin museum, my photo.

Ankhesenamen and Ay

So there is Ralph Ellis’s theory teetering like a boss.  Ay was an old man when he became pharaoh in 1324/3 BCE, perhaps around 60 to 70 years old, he had held some of the most important jobs in Egypt for about 30 years under Akhenaten, Neferneferuaten and Tutankhamen, and was possibly the brother of queen Tiye (Akhenaten’s mum) father of Nefertiti, grandfather of the royal children, and coming from a powerful Egyptian family.   

He too was active rebuilding the old religious system and temples for the 5 years he was king of Egypt.

God’s father Ay (left) as Tutankhamen slays an enemy, great queen Ankhesenamen
(right).  Image from Davis 1912. The tombs of Harmhabi and Touatânkhamanou.

Ay may have been married to Tut’s widow, his possible granddaughter, queen Ankhesenamen (Meritaten’s younger sister) who would have been around 28-30 on his taking power.  And I emphasise may, because there is only one object used to argue this; a ring in Berlin that has Ay and Ankhesenamen named together, but only their names, no titles.  No other evidence exists.

His chief queen on the other hand was always Tiy, who is the only wife mentioned in Ay's royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  However, if he married Ankhesenamen when king, she, like her older sister Meritaten, was queen of Egypt at least twice, having been Tutankhamen’s chief queen for about 9 or 10 years (and possibly with her dad makes thrice). 

Ay and his wife Tiye recieving honours for service from Akhenaten at Amarna. 
Relief from the tomb of Ay at Amarna.  Image ddenisen at Wikipedia.

They live as royalty for how long and then Ay deserts his favourite wife and goes into exile with a younger woman pursued by angry mobs after Horemhab becomes king? (1319+)  Umm ... what?

Sure, there is evidence that Horemhab had big issues with his predecessor, however they probably won't have been about religious heresy ... my money is on power and proving he had rights to the throne when he was not connected to the royal family, the only logical way he could do this is after pharaoh Ay had died.

And I am placing this here only once ... ancient mortality rates... Ay was doing really well to get to 70.

Royal sisters

Regardless, even if Meritaten had an extra husband, for which there is no evidence, in addition to 2 kings, or Ankhesenamen another 2 or even 3 kings under her ample belt, not much evidence there either ... they had no reason to flee Egypt due to persecution because their dad Akhenaten was a dangerous heretic and people were waving pitchforks in 1318 BCE, about 17 years after he had died.  Nobody can hold a grudge that long.   

But more importantly, we need to stop thinking like Europeans about kings and queens, Egyptian royalty were sacred, beyond the human world, they were responsible for the universe running properly.  Therefore as usual the royal line continued ruling Egypt until the last available successor died, Egypt had already returned to their original religious system when Ankhesenamen was chief queen with Tutankhamen.

Equally when did Meritaten find time to marry another guy and perhaps run off on a ship to the ends of the earth?  According to most pseudos this occurred somewhere around 1350-1335 BCE, which is pretty motivated for someone who either was in papyrus diapers, or kinda busy running an empire (with or without a royal hubby).

If you try to fit either woman into the British legends and current archaeological knowledge they would have had to have fled Egypt after 1319 BCE, then tooled around the Mediterranean for a few years, boat hopping from port to port, lived in Spain for a bit, then settled Britian around the ripe old ages of 50-ish, popping out the heir to the Gaelic peoples, with husbands who would have been in their 70s, or even 90s, or let's be realistic, pushing up daisies.

The claim that a daughter of Smenkhkare was princess Scota on the other hand is singularly hampered by the fact that there is zero evidence of one, (unless they mean Meritaten-junior), plus we still don't know if he ever existed, and if he did, was male.

All of the modern claims above treat the British evidence from The Scotichronicon, Fordun and the Book of Leinster as historically accurate, but simultaneously they strategically leave out the bits that don't fit their puzzle, and sometimes they force pieces in to make them fit (by altering the stories) ... that is actually not how historical science works.

Painted ivory plaque, Amarna princess: Louvre E 14374.  Image © Louvre

Artistic Licence: Princesses?

But did you keep the word 'princess` in the back of your mind while reading this?  

Because what is essential to these romantic concoctions, is the misleading use of the word  to describe these women, which immediately delegates them to inferior status in the reader’s mind.  You know, as unmarried young women in a 19th century oil painting languishing around a palace on pillows shaking a sistrum, eating dates and waiting for a prince, only useful as tools for forming canny political alliances.

The ancient Egyptians simply did not work that way.

Egyptian princesses were considerably more important than that, queens even more so, they all held roles of high ritual importance. Try inserting queen of Egypt into every context where princess is used to sell this tosh and see how that changes the tone a lot.... great queen Meritaten - great queen Ankhesenamen.

Neither woman was an object to be fobbed off as reward for military prowess on some stranger from Scythia or Greece or even Tyre.  Meritaten and Ankhesenamen were chief queens and one of them was quite likely king of Egypt between 1335-1332 BCE.   

The only way you actually quit those jobs in Egypt was by dying. 

When a king died, if living, his chief wife became the dowager queen, a role as ritually important as chief queen.  You were responsible for running the country if the heir was underage, a semi-divine entity, a conduit for the goddesses, Hathor's earthly representative.  You couldn’t just run off to Spain with some guy in your dad’s army, a vassal governor, or your grandfather (urk). 

That we have absolutely no evidence for Egyptian kings allowing anyone to marry their daughters presents similar obstacles.

And don’t get me started on the rubbish chronology and flawed archaeology used to support these flights of fancy.

Andrea Sinclair

References and links
I used Kitchen's chronology for the Amarna kings. There is still some flexibility on the topic of overlaps - possible co-regencies between Akhenaten and Amenhotep III, and later with Ankhkheperure-Neferneferuaten-Smenkhkare.

A. Dodson 2009. Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation.  
A. Dodson 2009. ‘Amarna Sunset: the Late Amarna Succession Revisited’ in S. Ikram and A. Dodson Beyond the Horizon.
A. Dodson and D. Hilton 2004. The Complete Royal Families of Egypt.
N. Kawai 2010. 'Ay versus Horemhab: the Political Situation in the Late Eighteenth Dynasty Revisited'.  Journal of Egyptian History 3:2.
R. Krauss 2000. Akhenaten: Monotheist?, Polytheist?’ BACE 11.
Rainey 2015. The El-Amarna Correspondence
A.-P. Zivie 2009. La Tombe de Maia, Mère Nourricière du Roi Toutankhamon et Grande du Harem.

The rest

Lebor Gabála Érenn English translation online http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/lebor1.html
W. Bower 1867. Scotichronicon. English translation by J.F.S. Gordon.
W.F. Skene 1872. John of Fordun’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation. English translation by F.J.H. Skene.
Giles 2000. Nennius: Historia Brittonum. English translation.
Manetho 1940. Aegyptiaca, Loeb Editions 350.

R. Ellis 2006.  Scota, Egyptian Queen of the Scots
L. Evans 2000. Kingdom of the Ark: The Startling Story of How the Ancient British Race is Descended from the Pharaohs.
Guardian review of Evans: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/aug/27/robertmccrum

Ancient Origins have various articles on Scota/Scotia and gleefully contradict themselves on identity and dates depending on author (because they are not in this for accuracy): Dhwty 2015; David Halpin 2016; Steven Keith 2018; Sarah Young 2019.
J. Colavito on Uri Geller: http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/uri-geller-plans-to-excavate-the-ancient-egyptian-treasure-of-fictitious-princess-scota-on-a-scottish-island-he-owns

Sitchin’s rocket in the tomb of Amenhotep-Huy

Painting of the west wall in the tomb of Huy by Charles K. Wilkinson (1920s), Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. If yo...