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Work Sarcophagus box of Ramesses III

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

Sarcophage du roi Ramsès III

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Barbotin Christophe

This pink granite cartouche-shaped box once contained the nest of coffins of Pharaoh Ramesses III. The lid is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The outside of the box is engraved with the seventh and eighth chapters of the "Book of Amduat", and the inside with the first chapter of the "Book of Gates." Certain parts of these texts were very carelessly engraved.


The decoration of this monolithic cartouche-shaped block is organized around the large winged figure of Isis at the feet of the deceased (on the flat front of the sarcophagus) and that of Nephthys at his head (on the rounded back of the box). Both long sides are engraved with scenes taken from the "Book of Hidden Chambers" (the Amduat). The decoration begins near the figure of Nephthys at the king's head, with the seventh hour of the Amduat along the right side (looking from the head to the feet), and continues with the eighth hour along the left side. Around the base of the coffin is the palace façade motif - a relic of Old Kingdom sarcophagi (cf. sarcophagus of Abu Roach, Room 14). The inside of the box features large figures of deities from the first hour of the "Book of Gates."

The sun's night-time journey

The Egyptians imagined the sun to travel underground in a boat during the twelve hours of night. The nocturnal sun was represented as a man with a ram's head. Every "hour" (i.e. every stage of his journey) was marked by a particular event: at the seventh hour, for example (right-hand side of the coffin), the sun confronts the snake Apophis, the "evil serpent" of Egyptian texts, who tries to stop him on his course. The sun-god is portrayed armed with knives to destroy him. The left-hand side represents the eighth hour: on the lower register, the creatures of the Underworld are depicted, sitting on the ideogram for fabric (one of the essential funerary offerings). The texts referring to the sun's night-time journey ("Litanies of the Sun", "Amduat", "Book of Gates", "Book of Night", etc.) were composed during the New Kingdom for the exclusive use of the king. As the pharaoh was associated with the sun god and his perilous journey through the night, the royal tomb featured representations of this recurrent event. After the New Kingdom, some of these texts (especially the Amduat) were also used for the benefit of priests and soldiers who were at the peak of their influence at that time (see the papyri in vitrine 4).

Slapdash work

Only two scenes from the Amduat are illustrated on the sarcophagus of Ramesses III, which is characterized by extraordinary carelessness on the part of the scribe who engraved the introductory text to the seventh hour (to the right of the figure of Nephthys). The phrases (and even individual words) are cut up into incoherent elements that cannot be understood without referring to the correct version featured in other tombs. This poor reproduction, without subsequent checking, suggests that, in the late New Kingdom, the monarchy was no longer treated with the respect it had once inspired.

Technical description

  • Sarcophage du roi Ramsès III

    1184 - 153 avant J.-C. (20e dynastie)

    provient de sa tombe de la Vallée des Rois

  • granite, 18 tonnes

    H. : 1,80 m. ; l. : 3,05 m. ; L. : 1,50 m.

  • D 1

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Tomb of Osiris
    Room 323

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