The murder of Ramesses III revealed: throat slit in harem conspiracy

An international team of researchers has revealed that Ramesses III, who ruled ancient Egypt from about 1186 to 1155 BC, was assassinated with his throat being slit. New CT Scan images have revealed the wound, which is reported in the latest issue of the BMJ: British Medical Journal.

Historians had known from a preserved papyrus that there was a conspiracy to kill King Ramesses III. Inside the Women’s Royal Palace, one of the wives of the Pharaoh, Tiy, sought to murder her husband so she put her son Pentawere on the throne. But things do not work out for her: the conspiracy is discovered and all those involved are brought to trial and punished. What has not been known up until now is what happened to the King himself.

A scientific investigations led by Dr Albert Zink from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman of the European Academy of Bolzano in Italy undertook anthropological and forensic analysis of Ramesses III. The analysis of the CT images, carried out in both Bolzano and Cairo, indicate that the pharaoh’s throat had been cut while he was still alive. The article in the BMJ explains, “The trachea was clearly cut and its proximal and distal ends were retracted and separated by about 30 mm. A small, focal cortical interruption at the anterior surface of vertebral body was visible, at the seventh cervical vertebra. Accordingly, all organs in this region (such as the trachea, oesophagus, and large blood vessels) were severed. The extent and depth of the wound indicated that it could have caused the immediate death of Ramesses III.”

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Zink adds, “Before now we knew more or less nothing about the destiny of Ramesses III. People had examined his body before and had done radiographs but they didn’t notice any trauma. They did not have access to the CT scans that we do.

“We were very surprised by what we found. We still cannot be sure that the cut killed him, but we think it did. It might have been made by the embalmers but this is very unlikely. I’m not aware of any other examples of this.”

The CT images also revealed that in the wound their is an amulet representing a so-called Eye of Horus, in Egypt a common symbol for guarding against accidents and for the restoration of physical strength. “The slashed throat and the amulet prove clearly that the pharaoh had in fact been murdered,” explains Dr. Zink. “The amulet was placed in the wound after his death to enable him to recover fully for the afterlife.”

The team of researchers also examined another mummy of a younger man buried nearby. With the aid of DNA analyses, the scientists were able to prove that Ramesses III was directly related to a mummy so far known as “Unknown Man E”. One had already assumed that this mummy of an 18-20 year-old man might be that of Ramesses III’s son Pentawere, who allegedly instigated the harem conspiracy in league with his mother with the intention of stripping his father of power. The research team were now able to ascertain with the aid of genetic fingerprinting that there is a coincidence of 50% between Ramesses’ genetic material and that of the unknown mummy. “The mummy is therefore, in all probability, a son of Ramesses III. To achieve a certainty of 100%, one would need to sequence the genome of the mother”, explains Carsten Pusch, molecular geneticist at the University of Tübingen. Unfortunately, the mummy of Tiy, the wife of Ramesses III and mother of Pentawere, has not been found.

Albert Zink and his team carried out radiological tests on this mummy, too. “What caught our attention was the fact that the body was rather inflated. In addition, there was a strange skin fold on his neck. This could have been the result of committing suicide by hanging. Furthermore, his only cover was a goat’s skin – which was considered impure – and he had also been mummified without having his organs and brain removed”, said the scientist.

The fact that the body of Ramesses‘ son was buried in a way not befitting a prince may be an indication for his having been one of the instigators of the harem conspiracy who had been offered the chance of suicide to escape worse punishment in the afterlife, as confirmed by the ancient papyrus records.

Click here to access the article Revisiting the harem conspiracy and death of Ramesses III: anthropological, forensic, radiological, and genetic study, from BMJ: British Medical Journal

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