Amenmesse ruled briefly towards the end of the nineteenth dynasty (New Kingdom), but possibly only over part of Egypt. It was originally thought that he ruled in the period following the death of Merenptah, before being ousted by Seti II. More recently, it has been suggested (by Krauss and Dodson) that he managed to gain control of the area around Thebes for a few years during the early part of the reign of Seti.

Amenmesse wearing the Blue War Crown, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This has not been proven, but does chime with the fact that no references to year 3 or 4 of the reign of Seti have been found in Thebes or the surrounding area, while Amenmesses is well documented in that area alone. In the excerpt from Africanus, Manetho credited him with a four year reign, but in both Eusebius and Jerome, gave him a rather unbelievable twenty-six year reign.

The events of this turbulent period are not clear, and a number of scenarios have been put forward by scholars:

  • Amenmesse was a son of Ramesses II, and therefore brother to Merenptah and cousin of Seti II (Yurco, Wilkinson).
  • Amenmesse was another son of Merenptah, making him the brother of Seti II (Kitchen, Yurco, Von Beckerath)
  • Amenmesse was the son of Seti II and his wife, Takhat, who was probably a daughter of Ramesses II (Dodson). It is suggested that Seti II planned for his eldest son Setimerenptah B to succeed him, but Amenmesse (his younger son) tried to assert his right to rule and managed to wrest control of Thebes from his father for a short period.
  • Amenmesse was the Viceroy of Kush during the rule of Merenptah, referred to as Messuy or Messuwy (Krauss, Dodson). Although there are a couple of tantalising hints that this man may have taken on kingly insignia such as the ureaus (although this is disputed by Yurco) and he used the title king’s son himself, the fact that Messuys images and titles were not defaced after Seti II came to power would seem to argue against this. Yurco also notes that ushabti and other burial goods are known from the burial of Messuy at Aniba which would seem to date his death to the rule of Merenptah.
Image of Messuy with added ureaus, from Messuy, Amada and Amenmesse by Aidan Dodson
Messuy at Amada with added ureaus

His other familial relationships are similarly obscure. While it is generally agreed that his mother was a woman named Takhat, Dodson has pointed out that there seems to have been more than one royal woman bearing that name, and the usurping of statues depicting these royal women can make it hard to be sure which woman is being referred to. Similarly, it had been assumed that his wife was a woman named Baktwernel who appears in the tomb of Amenmesse. However, it is now generally agreed that her burial was a later intrusion and she was probably the wife of Ramesses XI. Aldred proposed instead that the wife of Amenmesse was Tia, the mother of Siptah. This would make the accession of Siptah more understandable as a move to mollify the supporters of Amenmesse. It may also confirm Siptah as a relative of Seti II, and explain why he required the support of Tausret as co-regent.

We know little about the reign of Amenmesse. He is referenced in monuments from the Theban area, and his names and titles display a notable Theban bias which may support the suggestion that he only held sway in the south. Although his Nebty name is the same as that of Horemheb (another ruler whose rise to power was by unconventional means) we must be careful not to read too much into this, as Nebty names asserting the divine connections were also adopted by pharaohs (like Ramesses II) who had no need to bolster their legitimacy.

Some consider that the Tale of Two Brothers may be referring to the dynastic difficulties of the period, but more direct evidence of the disruption comes from details of a feud in the Workers Village of Deir el Medina. Papyrus Salt 124 (dated to the beginning of the twentieth dynasty) records that one of the chief workmen (Neferhotep) died and was replaced by Paneb, his adopted son. Neferhotep’s brother (Amennakhte) accused Paneb of numerous serious crimes including rape, theft, attempted murder, bribery and corruption. According to the document, Neferhotep had previously complained about the behaviour of Paneb to the vizier, Amenmose, who had punished Paneb. However, Paneb had then successfully complained to Mose or Msy – possibly Amenmesse himself. Whatever the truth of these accusations, it is clear that this was a fairly turbulent period.

Cartouche of Amenmesse on a jar, Petrie Museum copyright Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

There is little doubt that Seti tried to remove references to Amenmesse’s reign, but he too seems to have been guilty of usurping monuments. As the sculptors often took great pains to entirely remove the name being replaced, we cannot be sure who was named in the original text. Texts in the Cachette Court of Karnak are considered by some to have been originally carved for Ramesses II, usurped by Merenptah, then Amenmesse and finally Seti II! Brand concluded that it was most likely that Amenmesse began removing texts of Merenptah in order to remove a link to the crown-prince Seti Merenptah, whose position he had usurped. Once Seti II had regained or taken control of the monument, he removed the names of Amenmesse replacing them with his own, but leaving any undamaged examples of Merenptah’s name intact.

We do not know how his reign came to an end, but there is no evidence that he was ever buried in the tomb he had planned for himself (KV 10). If he was, it is likely that the burial was despoiled shortly after his death. His mummy did not turn up in any of the later caches and his tomb was clearly defaced. Strangely the cartouches were not entirely removed but rather scarred and scratched, leaving them still readable. References to him in more public places were more thoroughly destroyed.

Pharaoh’s Names

  • Horus Name: Ka nakht mery Maat semen tawy (Strong bull, beloved of Maat, he who strengthen the Two Lands)
  • Horus Name: Nub hebu sed mi Tatenen (Lord of Sed Festivals like Tatenen)
  • Prenomen: Men mi Ra, Setep en Ra (Enduring like Ra, chosen by Ra)
  • Nomen: Amenmesse heqa Waset (Born of Amun, the Ruler of Thebes)
  • Nomen: MAmenmesse Mery Re (Born of Amun, beloved or Re)
  • Nebti: Wer biaut em Ipet-sut (Great of marvels in Karnak)
  • Golden Horus: Aa khepesh saa waset en messu (Great of strength who glorifies Thebes for the one who bore him)
  • Brand, Peter J (2009) Usurped Cartouches of Merenptah at Karnak and Luxor from Causing his Name to Live: Studies in Egyptian Epigraphy and History in Memory of William J Murnane Edited by Peter Brand and Louise Cooper
  • Dodson, Aidan (1987) “The Takhats and Some Other Royal Ladies of the Ramesside Period” from The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 73 (1987), pp. 224-229
  • Dodson, Aidan (1995) “Amenmesse in Kent, Liverpool, and Thebes” from The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 81 pp. 115-128
  • Dodson, Aidan (1997) “Messuy, Amada and Amenmesse” from Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt Vol. 34 pp. 41-48
  • Dodson, Aidan (1999) “The decorative phases of the tomb of Sethos II and their historical implications” from The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 85 pp. 131-142
  • Dodson, A and Hilton, D. (2004) The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt
  • Dodson, Aidan (2010) Poisoned Legacy: The Fall of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty
  • Dodson, Aiden (2016) The Royal Tombs of Ancient Egypt
  • Hardwick, Tom (2006) “The Golden Horus Name of Amenmesse?” from The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 73 (1987), pp. 224-229
  • Van Dijk, Jacobus (2000) “The Amarna Period and later New Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
  • Wilkinson, Richard H. Editor (2012) Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt
  • Wilkinson, Richard H and Weeks, Kent Editors (2016) The Oxford Handbook of the Valley of the Kings
  • Wilkinson, Toby (2010) The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
  • Yurco, Frank J (1979) “Amenmesse: Six Statues at Karnak” from Metropolitan Museum Journal Vol. 14 pp. 15-31Yurco, Frank J (1997) “Was Amenmesse the Viceroy of Kush, Messuwy?” from The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 92 pp. 255-260

copyright J Hill 2018