Herodotus on Rhampsinitos (Ramessess III)

Herodotus tells that the king was very wealthy, and constructed two large statues and a gateway in the temple of Hephaistos (Ptah). The name Rhampsinitos may have been a combination of “Ramssess” and “Neith“, leading many to suggest that he was Ramessess III of the twentieth dynasty (at the end of the New Kingdom). He also confirmed that his successors were not as wealthy (which certainly fits, as the rest of the Ramesside kings were far less powerful).

Rhampsinitos apparently arranged for a treasury to be built to store all of his gold, but the builder constructed a secret way into the chamber. When he neared the end of his life, he told his two sons his secret and they broke in and stole a large amount of gold. The king was confused because the seals on the heavy doors were unbroken, but the thefts continued. So the king set several traps around his treasure and one of the brothers became ensnared. He told his brother to cut off his head (so he would not reveal the identity of the family) and make good his escape, which he did (taking his brother’s head with him).

The king had the body strung up and guarded, to bring out the grieving family and his mother demanded that her son get the body or she would tell the king. He made friends with the guards and got them drunk, stealing the body while they slept off the wine. The pharaoh was furious and demanded that his daughter sleep with all the men of the city to try to find out who the thief was (even Herodotus did not believe that part). The thief heard about the trick, but wanted to sleep with the princes, so he took a severed arm with him (honestly) and when she tried to grab him (why didn’t he just not tell her?) she grabbed the severed arm instead. Nice. The king was so impressed (?) with this that he pardoned the thief and arranged his wedding to the princess.

Herodotus: Pharaohs

Copyright J Hill 2010