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Work Ring of Horemheb

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Bague-sceau au nom du roi Horemheb

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Author(s):
Patricia Rigault

This solid gold signet ring is exceptional for its size and the quality of its workmanship. Spirals are added toward the rounded ends of the very thick ring, and the four faces of the rectangular, rotating bezel are deeply engraved with a crocodile, a scorpion, a lion, and the coronation name of Horemheb, the last king of the 18th Dynasty.

The use of such a ring

The size of the ring indicates that it was not designed to be worn. It probably served as a seal for applying official stamps—a hypothesis supported by the deeply engraved designs. Signet rings of this type, which first appeared in the Middle Kingdom, were common during the New Kingdom.

A specific iconography

One of the larger faces of the rectangular bezel bears a cartouche containing the coronation name of the Pharaoh Horemheb (Djeser-kheperu-re Setep-en-re); the other features a majestic lion—symbol of royal power—together with the hieroglyphs "neb khepesh," meaning lord of strength, an epithet attributed to the king on other monuments. The smaller faces are engraved with a crocodile and a scorpion.

This iconography, frequently used in association with a royal name, can be variously interpreted. The lion and crocodile—images of dangerous elements mastered by the Pharaoh, the guarantor of order—were also symbols of royalty. Moreover, they were believed to have apotropaic qualities, as was the scorpion. Associations such as these doubtless provided sealed documents with further security against disobedience of royal orders. These animals were later represented on the steles of "Horus on the crocodiles."

Horemheb and the end of the 18th Dynasty

The reign of Horemheb brought the splendid 18th Dynasty to a close. Although this king's origins and early life are somewhat obscure, he had a brilliant military career under the reign of the famous Tutankhamun. After the brief reign of Ay, Horemheb came to the throne and took control of Egypt, initiating a period during which order was restored to Egypt after the disruption caused by the reforms of Amenophis IV (Akhenaten) during the Amarnian period. He was quick to demolish Amarnian buildings, reusing the blocks in constructions of his own—notably the temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak. In his determination that the Amarnian period should be consigned to total oblivion, he even substituted his own name for that of his immediate predecessors. Having no children to succeed him, he appointed another soldier his heir—Ramesses, founder of the 19th Dynasty. In addition to a huge tomb in Saqqara, built at a time when he was just a simple officer, Horemheb was also granted a splendid tomb, befitting his royal status, in the Valley of the Kings.

Bibliography

- Les Pharaons, catalogue d'exposition, 2002, p. 61, 442, notice 137.

- ETIENNE M., Heika, catalogue d'exposition, 2000, p. 65.

- DELANGE E., Petits guides des grands musées, Les bijoux de l'Antiquité egyptienne, 1990, p. 15.

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