Papyrus letter to Paiankh

From Thebes, Egypt
Late New Kingdom, around 1080 BC

'Uncover a tomb among the ancient tombs and preserve its seal until I return'

A large number of papyri were found in Western Thebes in the nineteenth century. They are known collectively as the 'Late Ramesside letters'. The letters mostly relate to the last years of the reign of Ramesses XI (1126-1108 BC), and onwards to the end of the New Kingdom (around 1086 BC). They come from the family archive of the scribe Djehutymose (known as Tjaroy) and his son Butehamun, who worked in the royal necropolis and lived in the village at Medinet Habu.

The general Paiankh was the most powerful man in Thebes. However, for much of this time he was in Nubia, fighting Panehsy, the former viceroy, who had turned against the crown of Egypt in about 1090 BC. It is unlikely that Paiankh succeeded in controlling Panehsy, since Nubia was soon lost to Egypt, though the general probably managed to keep Panehsy from harassing Thebes.

The letter opens in the typical fashion of ancient Egyptian letters, with a long passage of formal greetings before turning to business. It then relates several tasks which Paiankh has asked Butehamun to do, and his response. One says 'Uncover a tomb among the ancient tombs and preserve its seal until I return'. This might be a reference to Paiankh opening the tombs of the earlier kings and stripping them of their wealth to pay for his campaigns. As with so many letters and documents from ancient Egypt, its true meaning is cryptic; both the sender and recipient knew exactly what was meant, though we may not.

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More information


E.F.Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1990)


Museum number

EA 10375



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