Siptah ruled Egypt for around six years following the death of Seti II, near the end of the nineteenth dynasty of the New Kingdom. He seems to have been a young boy when he became king, and evidence from his mummy suggests that he suffered from polio or cerebral palsy. He was around sixteen when he died.

Siptah, from his sarcophagus, John D. Croft, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Siptah, from his sarcophagus, John D. Croft, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Siptah’s origins are a much-debated issue. A person named Ramesses-Siptah was originally thought to have succeeded Ramesses IX but following further discoveries was placed after Seti II. To confuse matters further, he seemed to disappear from the record after his first year and be replaced by Akhenre Setepenre Merenptah Siptah.

A few kings changed one of the names written in their cartouche during their reign, but no others changed both. Yet, both these individuals have the same Horus name (Ka Nehet Mery Hapi) and Merenptah Siptah is never credited with a first year of rule. It is generally agreed that they are one and the same, but his parentage remains elusive.

When he ascended to the throne Tausret, the Great Wife of Seti II, was his regent. However, she never used the title “King’s Mother” so it is unlikely he was her son. His father could have been Seti II, but this too seems unlikely.

If he had been the son of his predecessor it is not clear why he would have required the support of Bay (who is twice referred to as one “who established the king on the seat of his father”) and Tausret to ascend to the throne, or why he was later removed from the records when Seti II was not.

Cartouche of Siptah from the foundation block of his mortuary temple, Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cartouche of Siptah from the foundation block of his mortuary temple, Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Merenptah has also been put forward as his father, but it is not clear why he would have started out as Ramesses-Siptah and later changed his name to Merenptah-Siptah if this was the case, and it would make him the brother of Seti II which would seem to strengthen not lessen his legitimacy.

It has been suggested that his legitimacy was in doubt because he was the son of Seti II by a minor wife (echoing the early rule of Tuthmosis and Hatshepsut). The Great Harris Papyrus refers to a Syrian ruling Egypt after Seti II. Some have proposed that Siptah was this Syrian. Proponents of this view have suggested that Siptah was the same person as Prince Ramesses-Siptah whose mother was Suterery. Yet, there is no evidence that this would make him an illegitimate choice for king, and the son of Suterery was also a son of Ramesses II, so not likely to be the same person. Most commentators now consider the Syrian to be Bay, not Siptah.

A number of fragments from the tomb of Siptah (KV 47) reference “King’s Wife and King’s Mother Tiaa”, but it is generally thought that these items were accidentally introduced into his tomb following a breach into a neighboring tomb (KV 32) which house the mother of Tuthmosis IV who was called Tiaa.

Shabti of Siptah
Shabti, MET

A statue depicting Siptah sitting on the lap of an adult has only added to the confusion. Siptah’s head is missing but his identity is confirmed by the inscription. The adult has been entirely hacked away.

A number of possibilities have been proposed for their identity. Aldred concluded that the figure was a male ruler whose image was intentionally defiled – this ruled out Tausret (being female), Bay (who was not a ruler), and Seti II (who remained in good favour) leaving Amenmeses as the prime candidate. Dodson tentatively supports this conclusion noting that this would probably confirm Amenmeses was his father. This is a view popular with many Egyptologists.

However, Roehrig has pointed out that there is no firm evidence that the figure was male and the statue bears a marked resemblance in pose to the statue of Ankhnesenpepi II and Pepi II which is considered by many to be a visual record of her regency. The images of Tausret also suffered at the hands of Ramesses III, so she could easily fit the bill. Even if the statue does depict Tausret, Amenmeses remains a prime candidate for the role of Siptah’s father.

We know very little about the events of his rule, but this has not stopped the speculation. Around the fifth year of Siptah’s reign, Bay fell out of favor with the king and was executed. Official records refer to him as the “great enemy”. We cannot know whether Siptah, Tausret, or other parties were behind his fall from grace and his execution, but many experts have seen Tausret as the one with the most to gain.

Siptah, from his tomb KV 47 (copyright John D Croft)
John D. Croft, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The following year Siptah died and was buried in KV 47, in the Valley of the Kings. His mummy displays clear evidence of health problems, but it has also been commented upon by numerous experts that the timing of his demise was fortunate for Tausret who became sole king. She replaced references to Siptah in her tomb (KV 14) with the name of her husband, Seti II, which has further damaged her reputation with some. There is also evidence that his name was removed from his own tomb (KV 47), and replaced with that of Seti II. As he seems to have been given a proper burial by Tausret we cannot be sure who was responsible for this. There is also confusing evidence that his name was reinstated in some instances, albeit in paint, by persons unknown.

At some point, his mummy was moved to KV 35 where it was recovered in 1898 by Loret. If Tausret had undertaken a “damnatio memorae” against him as some suggest it is unlikely she would have left his intact mummy in his tomb while attacking his images. Both she and Siptah were left out of the kings lists compiled by their successors, suggesting that they were both seen as illegitimate rulers.

Pharaoh’s Names

  • Horus Name: Ka Nehet Mery Hapi (Strong Bull Beloved of Hapi)
  • Prenomen: Sekha en Ra Meryamun Setemenra (He who is made to appear to Ra, Beloved of Amun, Chosen by Ra)
  • Prenomen: Akh en Ra Setepenra (Effective spirit of Ra Chosen by Ra)
  • Nomen: Ramesses Saptah (Born of Ra, Son of Ptah)
  • Nomen: Merenptah Saptah (Beloved of Ptah, Son of Ptah)
  • Nebti: Sa Aah Iwnu (Made Great in Heliopolis)
  • Golden Horus: … mi Ra (… like Ra)
  • 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, Aidan (2016) Monarchs of the Nile
  • Dodson, Aiden (2016) The Royal Tombs of Ancient Egypt
  • 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

Copyright J Hill 2018