The Tomb of Horemheb – TT78

The owner of the TT78 Theban tomb is called Horemheb Horemheb (Hrw-m-h3b, Hr-m-hb, Heremheb, Horemhab, Haremhab, “Horus is celebrating”), as was the well-known pharaoh, but the two characters are not contemporaries: our Horemheb lived about 80 years before the sovereign. Through its texts and images, this tomb makes an important contribution to knowledge of the Egyptian culture of the middle of the XVIIIth dynasty.
Although he has not reached the highest levels of power, Horemheb held important titles in the civil, military and religious spheres and enjoyed royal favour. Witness to this are the dimensions of his tomb, the variety of his titles, and the variety of decoration in the tomb, whose style and execution make this monument one of the jewels of the eighteenth dynasty and a summit of Egyptian funerary art. A notable historical fact is that in the chapel of Horemheb, and that of Menna TT69), there are the oldest known tomb representations of scenes of the judgment of the dead.

TT78 is a fine example of the artistically high-quality burials made at the top of Sheikh Abd el-Gurna Hill between the reigns of Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotep III. Part of the decoration dates from the reign of Thutmosis IV (~ 1413-1403 BC) and another part from that of Amenhotep III (~ 1403-1365 BC). But one also learns from the texts that Horemheb was previously in the service of Amenhotep I (~ 1439-1413 BC). He therefore served three pharaohs (and lived under four, since he was probably born under Tuthmosis III.

The upper parts of the monument have remained accessible and show the graffiti of visitors and traces of habitation. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the tomb was visited by Champollion, Rosellini, Wilkinson, Hay, Burton and Lespsius. In 1894 the first description was published by Bouriant, largely incomplete, especially in terms of texts. These were republished by Helck, but here again incompletely. In 1901, the tomb was cleaned, then two years later equipped with metal doors. The wall paintings, which have many gaps, were restored in 1911 and 1916 by Robert Mond.

Court titles

Horemheb was rewarded with twenty-two honorific titles, which give information on the rank of the holder and the esteem in which the sovereign held him. These honorary titles are always placed at the beginning of the person’s titulary:

“Prince and Count”, “Familiar of the King”, “Great Confidant of the Lord of the Two Lands”, “Favorite Confident”, “Beloved of the Perfect God”, “Nearest of Horus”, “close to the Lord of the palace”, “fan bearer on the right of the king”, “true scribe of the king, who loves him”, “companion of the Lord of the two lands”, “companion of the bearer of the force”, “the eyes of the king through the land”, “one of those who bring good into the royal house and who comes out of it loved”, “beloved”, “from a beloved.”

Titles related to an office

Horemheb held twenty-one different office titles, with five variants in writing. It can be seen that the range of all these titles covers three spheres, military, civil and religious.
• The military titles of Horemheb are in the transverse room and date from the reign of Thutmose IV. We see that he reached the highest levels of the army: he began as Royal Scribe, then became true royal scribe and finished up as Overseer of all the scribes of the army.
He will reach the top, becoming One responsible for recruiting and organizing troops: all soldiers and active officers are then subordinate to him. This explains why, in the banquet scene, there are no less than five army commanders among the guests.
• His office functions included the military and civil sphere, and it is he who receives the tributes of foreign countries, and who controls the populations. He is also Overseer of Cattle“, “Overseer of Birds and Fish, which gave him control over hunts and royal estates.
• His offices in the temples of Karnak and in the domains of Amun (drawing Brack-049) are of the greatest importance :Overseer of the fields of Amun“, “Overseer of the cattle of Amun“, “One in charge of the constructions of Amun“, “Chief of the Priests of Upper and Lower Egypt. Their representation is confined to the long room; the latter having been decorated under Amenhotep III, these titles were therefore effective under the reign of that king.

Horemheb the Tutor

The princess seated on the lap of Horemheb, is called Amenemipet. This is probably a daughter of Thutmosis IV. But an official who is represented with a princess on his knees can only be her tutor, an eminent position for an altogether subordinate individual.
This corroborates with what is known of Tuthmosis IV: this pharaoh had come into conflict with the high aristocracy and certain families of priests of Amun and had thus favoured new persons. We find the same situation in the title of Commander of the horses, i.e. general of the cavalry, a title only devolved on principle to the active soldiers of high rank, but sometimes granted to high officials whom the king wanted to honour.

The family of Horemheb

a)- His mother

Her name was Isis. She undoubtedly played an important role in her son’s life and career, despite her modest title of Lady of the House. Indeed, she is represented in the offering scenes at the same size or even larger than her son. She wears gold jewellery, including large disc-shaped earrings – which may reflect a Nubian origin.

b)- His father

We have no information about him, and his name is never mentioned; he is alluded to in the titles of Horemheb which state that he (Horemheb) was loved and came from the body of a loved one, and that his father was beloved.

c)- His wife

She is called Itjuy (or Atjuia) and is represented eleven times in the tomb chapel, but only one representation remains intact. She is referred to as his sister“, the usual term of the eighteenth dynasty to designate a wife. She carries the titles of Lady of the house and Singer of Amun. This last title was reserved for the women of senior officials, and reflects a high social position. Atjuia is always – except once – represented as smaller than her husband, which says a lot about her position compared to her stepmother Isis!

d)- His brothers

• The first, the eldest, was hammered out, both his representation and his name.
• The second, Amenemhat, bears the title of Commander of the Nubian troops of the king.
• The third, has no title.
Amenemhat and Amenhotep are of Nubian origin, as evidenced by their hairstyles and their earrings (which does not mean that Horemheb also was, we simply do not know).

e)- His children

Did Horemheb have any children? It seems certain that the young boy who accompanies him in the hunting scene in the marsh is one of his sons; it is also possible that one of the young women participating in the banquet is his daughter.

General appearance of the tomb


The ground plan is an inverted “T”, classical for the 18th Dynasty, with a short entrance passage that opens into a north-south, oriented, transverse hall, followed by a longitudinal room on the east-west axis of entry.
By convention, it is assumed that the axis of the chapel follows the east-west canonical orientation, although it is deflected somewhat to the north. Thus the entrance of the tomb will be well situated “in the east”, facing the rising sun, as it should be.
There exists in this tomb TT78 what we would call today “abnormalities” , related to incompetence, laxity or constraints imposed by the terrain.

On crossing the entrance, we descend two steps, and, after passing through a small ruined corridor, we end up in the transverse hall, which has two wings, north and south. Just inside the front of the entrance the passage opens out leading to the longitudinal room, narrow and long (“the passage”). At its end (west), it ends in an unfinished room with four pillars. In the north-west corner there is a gallery (“sloping passage”) which leads to the uninscribed underground complex which ends with the burial chamber.
At the left end (south) of the transverse hall was a painted false door and on the right (north) a stele that had either been brought from outside or was plastered on the spot; both have almost disappeared.

The courtyard

The courtyard, roughly rectangular, measures 9 X 7 m. It is unfinished, more or less filled with rubble and it is difficult to recognize it today.
It is carved in a crumbling rock and opens to the southeast; its north-west side constitutes the facade of the tomb, with the entrance to the chapel in the middle. It is possible that this courtyard had a border around the sides of unburnt brick walls.

The facade and the entrance

The tomb facade measures 10 m wide and 4 m high. Almost vertical, it was cut in a rock of bad quality, like the court, and then it was covered with a coating made of Nile mud silt. Around the entrance, there are traces left by two door jambs, which have disappeared; Hari proposed to see them in two rooms of the Turin museum, but it is unlikely.

Above this carved part stood a massive brick wall facade. It was at the top level of this wall – and perhaps also the walls surrounding the courtyard – that funerary coned in the name of Horemheb, were lined up in a channel. They are referenced by Macadam & Davies under number 476.

The transverse Hall

This area, measuring a total of 10.40 m long (20 Egyptian cubits) over 2 m wide (4 cubits), is divided into two wings, north (right) and south (left). The floor is irregular, formed by incompletely flattened rock.
The ceiling is 2.5 m high (5 cubits) and flat. It is decorated with geometric patterns customary at that time, of lozenges formed and surrounded by zigzag lines. In the central part, a false wooden beam was painted.

The passage to the longitudinal hall is correctly centred on the west wall; it is 1.15m long and its entire decor is gone. We then go down to the second hall, which looks like a corridor, by a step of 30 cm.

The longitudinal room

This is 10.50 m long and 2 m wide. The slightly curved ceiling is 2.5 – 2.8 m high and also has a false, painted beam.
The bottom of the longitudinal hall opens on a trapezoidal space of about 7 X 6 m, badly carved out, comprising of four pillars with roughly square sections, 1 m each side, cut out of the rock mass. Three alcoves housed late burials. The appearance of this pillared chamber after the longitudinal corridor was probably inspired by Kenamon tomb TT93, nearby and much older.  This back room is often called “chapel” and represents the privileged – but not exclusive – place where offerings are made.

Shaft and underground room

The only shaft of this tomb is to the north-west of the cult hall. It takes the form of a sloping curve and ends, at 8 m depth, with two brick walls, which were used as both support for the walls and for blocking the sepulchral chamber.
The sarcophagus room is almost circular and is approximately 3.90 m in diameter. All the walls are rough, cut in a bad rock, and uninscribed. Two small annexe rooms remain of unknown significance.

The decoration – General

Only the transverse hall and longitudinal rooms have been decorated.

As often in Gurna, the quality of the rock is not good, forcing the workers to make up the unevenness of the wall with muna (nile silt mixed with chopped straw plaster), sometimes in layers of several centimetres thick. On this first coating, which makes the wall (approximately) flat and uniform, a coarse gray plaster is applied, followed by a very fine white plaster which is smoothed. Finally, we paint on this surface. We have in the TT78 several unfinished places that allow us to follow the technique of application.

The painter begins with red ochre for the sketches; we can see in some places how he corrected and completed them. Prisse d’Avennes had noted some of these sketches (see BNF drawing opposite).
One outlines the sketch with a slight off-white colour to make the background. This is when you apply the true colours: red, yellow, green, blue, very pure white, and black. Beside the usual red for the skin of men, there is a brilliant red especially in the royal scenes, hieroglyphics and meat cuts of the offerings. Insoluble mineral colours are prepared with water using a binder (usually glue).
Overall, the colours are very well preserved. It is mainly black that has faded, a phenomenon that is also observed in other tombs and is probably due to insufficient adhesion of soot particles because the painter used too little glue.

In the tomb of Horemheb, abundant use of green and blue is made. These colours being the most expensive, it is clear that the deceased is showing off his wealth. In addition, they have not been lacquered, unlike other tombs where they are used in smaller quantities. As a result, they were washed off by painters of later ages, in order to recover the pigments.

In the tomb of Horemheb, abundant use of green and blue is made. These colours being the most expensive, it is clear that the deceased is showing off his wealth. In addition, they have not been lacquered, unlike other tombs where they are used in smaller quantities. As a result, they were washed off by painters of later ages, in order to recover the pigments.

TT78 belongs to a group of tombs characterized by the presence of military scenes, whose presence is explained by some of the titles of the owner: TT91 (anonymous), Amenmes (TT89), and Nebamon (TT90). From a stylistic point of view, they would have in common the use of marked contours, characters whose proportions of the face and the body are exaggerated sometimes near the limit of the caricature. However, details are few.
The female anatomy is hardly sensual, except for a sinuous line of the back which, with the raised arms, reveals an “hourglass” size. In Horemheb’s tomb, the girls have wider hips, following a change in the sculpture of the second half of the reign of Amenhotep III.
As in other tombs from the time of Amenhotep III, certain scenes would be stylistically close to scenes of the royal palace on the site of Malqata, at Thebes.


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