Meet Maiherpri! He was an ancient Egyptian who lived during the New Kingdom. Although he was not royal, he was still important enough to be buried in the Valley of the Kings, which was the main burial place of kings and princes of the New Kingdom.
Maiherpri means “The Lion on the Battlefield” in Ancient Egyptian. He held a few titles, “Child of the kAp,” “Fanbearer of the Lord of the Two Lands,” and “Fanbearer on the right side of the King.” The kAp was an institution connected to the palace where Egyptian royal children and other youths were associated with. The kAp may have been a nursery or school when the children would receive Egyptian education and military training. The fanbearer of the king was as the title states, always beside the king. The title is believed to indicate close ties between the title holders and the king. Later this title was given to the Viceroys of Kush who oversaw the southern area of Nubia. Maiherpri was one of the first Egyptians to receive the title of Fanbearer of the King.
Where and When He Lived
Maiherpri’s exact origins and when he lived are unknown, but there are a couple of theories from Egyptologists. Because of the depiction in his book of the dead, the curly wig found on his head, and the mummy’s skin tone is has been agreed by all that Maiherpri had some Nubian origins, which I will cover below.
Nubia or Kush, was a civilization closely related to the Ancient Egyptians. They settled on areas of the southern Nile in modern day Sudan. They have been both friends and foes of the Ancient Egyptians. Gold was more commonly found in Nubia, which is why the Egyptian world for gold was “nub.”
A long piece of linen with the cartouche (or name) of Queen Hatshepsut has muddled the theories of when Maiherpri lived. Georg Steindorff suggested he could be the son of Thutmose I, Queen Hatshepsut’s father, and Gaston Maspero speculated that he could have been the son of Thutmose IV or Amenhotep III with the kings’ Nubian concubines. These theories are less likely as Maiherpri did not carry the title of “Son of the King.” James Quibell and Georges Daressy believed the tomb was dated to the reign of Thutmose III. Some speculated the possibility that Maiherpri was the son of Hatshepsut and her possible lover Senemut.
A vase found in the tomb dated stylistically to the reign of Amenhotep II, which led multiple Egyptologists, such as William C. Hayes, G.E. Smith, and Cyril Aldred, to agree with this dating. Still, others continue to date the tomb and Maiherpri later and later in the New Kingdom. Gaston Maspero later suggested Amenhotep III based on the discovery of the loincloths found near a box of Amenhotep III’s. And finally, Nicholas Reeves, Alfred Lucas, and J.R. Harris agree on the reign of Thutmose IV.
In general, earlier theories of Maiherpri’s origins have been dismissed and most believe that he may have lived during the reigns of Amenhotep III or Thutmose IV.
So, who was Maiherpri? He was most likely not a royal son of any of the Kings of the New Kingdom, because of his lack of titles. But he could have been of Nubian royalty. During the New Kingdom, sons of foreign chiefs, including Nubian chiefs, were brought to live in Egypt. This practice was a way that Egyptian Kings could indoctrinate the sons of foreign rulers and help promote good relations with other nations. Maiherpri could have been raised within the palace setting, which would explain his title of “Child of the kAp.” He would have been raised alongside royal Egyptian children and other foreign children. Because we have no evidence that he was born in Nubia, he also could have been a child of a wealthy Nubian family that lived in Egypt.
Over the years, Maiherpri may have become a close friend to the king, possibly when they were children, which helped him become a trusted friend of the king. After he received the title of the “Fanbearer at the Right Side of the King,” Maiheperi would not just stand at the king’s right side but could have also served as one of the king’s bodyguards.
His sarcophagus describes Maiherpri as “one who follows the King in his marches to the Northern and Southern foreign countries,” and as the “companion to the King.” This confirms his close relation to the King and indicates that he may have received some military training. Christian Orsenigo, an Egyptologist at the University of Milan, proposes that Maiherpri may have been an officer who was present for the foreign campaigns of the King but functioned as a civil official.
The quiver, arm braces, and arrows found in his tomb may have also been an indication of his military training, though Orsenigo thinks he may have been a hunter rather than an archer. He may have also taken care of the dogs of the king, based on two dog collars found in the tomb.
Maiherpri was 25 to 30 when he died, which generally was a full life in Ancient Egypt. There was no indication of how he died according to his mummy.
Though he was not royalty, he was obviously important enough to be buried in the Valley of the Kings and to be given a generous burial assemblage. Maiherpri’s tomb (KV 36) was between the tombs of King Amenhotep II (KV 35) and an Asiatic official from the 19th Dynasty called Bay (KV13). The tomb shaft that was approximately 26 feet (7.9 m) deep, which led to a small undecorated chamber, approximately 12 feet (3.9 m) by 13 feet (4.10 m).
The tomb was robbed sometime in antiquity, possibly in the 19th-20th dynasties (otherwise known as the Ramesside Period), based on a 20th dynasty ostraca found near the tomb. The robbers had removed the linen bandages on his legs, most likely with a sharp object, but left the torso and head alone. Some jewelry and amulets have presumably been stolen from Maiherpri’s legs. Catherine Roehrig has speculated that furniture, clothing or linens, and metal vases may have been stolen as these items were part of typical funerary assemblages but were not found in the tomb.
The tomb was discovered in 1899 by Victor Loret, a French Egyptologist who was the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service and discovered 10 tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Maiherpri’s tomb, KV 36, was the first substantially intact burial that had been discovered in the Valley of the Kings, until the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Unfortunately, Loret never fully published this tomb, so it has been understudied until recently. Georg Schweinfurth, a botanist who was working for Loret, wrote the only report about where the objects were placed in the tomb. And Georges Daressy published photographic plates of the artifacts in 1902.
In 1902, when Howard Carter was investigating the Valley of the Kings, he discovered a small rock hollow above the tomb of Maiherpri. A box bearing the name of Maiherpri and a fragment of a box with the name of Amenhotep III were both found in the hollow. Two leather loincloths were found inside the box.
The tomb contained over 100 items, which were removed from the tomb and transported to Cairo in 16 wooden crates. Here is a short list of the finds within the tomb.
- 1 cedar sarcophagus
- 2 gilded anthropoid coffins
- Gilded cartonnage mask
- Plant remains
- Meat joints
- Stone and pottery vessels
- A faience bowl
- Four small seals
- Two dog collars
- Two arm braces
- 75 arrows
- 2 quivers
- A game box and pieces
- Canopic jars and chest
- An Osiris bed
- Parts of a necklace
- A gold plate covering embalming incision
- Amulets included heart scarab
- An embalming plaque
- Book of the Dead
- Piece of linen with the cartouche of Hatshepsut
- Two gold pieces on the bottoms of his feet
All of the objects, except the loincloths and the loincloth chest, are all in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Maiherpri had four different coffins: three anthropomorphic (which means it is shaped like a human) (CG 24002-4), and one rectangular sarcophagus (CG 24001). The the three anthropomorphic coffins were supposed to fit inside each other and then be placed in the rectangular sarcophagus. The inner coffin held the mummy inside it and was entirely gilded, depicting Maiherpri with his hands over his chest.
The middle coffin unfortunately did not fit the inner coffin, so it was found overturned in the corner of the tomb. It was also gilded, but it was never finished. Coffins from this period were often coated in a black resin after they were placed in the tomb. Because this coffin did not fit with the other two coffins, the resin was never used. The outer coffin looked remarkably similar to the middle coffin, except it was covered in the black resin.
The outer wooden sarcophagus was over 9 feet long (2.7 m) and coated in the black resin. It is decorated with gold foil images of Anubis, the Four sons of Horus, and Isis. Maiherpri also had a cartonnage mask over his mummy (CG 24096). It depicts a man wearing a black resin and gold foil striped Nemes headcloth. His eyes are inlaid with black and white stone.
Read more below about the three different sarcophagi and coffin, including a translation of all the inscriptions!
The wooden canopic chest was also decorated in gold foil and black resin with the goddesses Isis and Nephthys and the Four sons of Horus. The four canopic jars were used to hold the organs of the deceased to help preserve them into the afterlife. Maiherpri had four calcite canopic jars that interestingly did not all match. All of the jars had four stoppers depicting human heads (ie. the Four sons of Horus), but two had large faces and features and the other two heads were much smaller.
Read more below about the canopic chest and jars, including a translation of all the inscriptions!
The loincloths found within the rock hollow are made out of gazelle skin, which was carefully cut with staggered rows of tiny incisions to make it a mesh. Loincloths were worn by soldiers and Nubians, by tying the top section around the waist to cover the buttocks, and then pulled between the legs and tied in the front. One loincloth and the box was given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the other loincloth was given to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where it was unfortunately stolen.
Maiherpri’s Book of the Dead contains beautiful images of Maiherpri’s travels throughout the afterlife. Maiherpri is depicted with dark black skin and curly hair, both of which are associated in Egyptian art with Nubians rather than Egyptians.
The mummy of Maiherpri was found within the inner coffin with the cartonnage mummy mask still in place. After arriving in Cairo, the mummy was unwrapped in 1901 by Egyptologist Georges Daressy. Maiherpri was perfectly preserved, except for the soles of his feet. He was approximately 5 foot, 4.75 inches (~1.6 m). His teeth were barely worn down, which is a good indication that he was younger. Maiherpri also had pierced ears, which wasn’t uncommon in Ancient Egypt.
Maiherpri does have darker skin which is like the color of his skin depicted in his Book of the Dead. The Egyptian mummification and embalming process did change the color of the mummy’s skin over time, but it is more than likely that Maiherpri was ethnically Nubian. Although he was found with perfect short curls in his hair, it was later discovered that it was a wig that was glued to his bald head. It was not uncommon for Egyptian men and women to wear wigs, but it is unclear what Maiherpri’s natural hair looked like. Christian Orsenigo suggests that based on his Book of the Dead and the non-Egyptian wig, Maiherpri may have wanted to emphasize his origins as a foreigner who was well integrated into Egyptian society.
Sources and Further Reading
Flickr: Merja Attia – Book of the Dead images (Maiherpri with snake, on boat, with his Ba, Ba leaving his tomb, in front of the tomb, whole book of the Dead), two mask images, two coffin images
Flickr: Heidi Kontkanen – One mask image, seven sarcophagi and coffin images
Nile Scribes – Book of the Dead image with Maiherpri with sem priest
Wikipedia user Udimu – Book of the Dead image with Maiherpri’s hands up
Christian Oresenigo article – Maiherpri’s face, Book of the Dead image with cows, tomb shaft picture, all black and white images of coffins, Osiris bed, mummy and loincloths, images of faience bowl, quivers, and glass jar.
Manal B. Hammad & Mariam A. Gerges article – Images of canopic box and jars
Wikimedia Commons: Jeff Dahl – Nubia Map
It would be valuable to prove whether he was purely Nubian or a member of the Egyptian royal family. It would be fantastic to conduct DNA analysis to compare him to the known royal mummies analyzed in the early 21st century.
Whether he was a Nubian prince who grew up & served in the Egyptian court at a very high level, earning a VOK tomb, or whether he was the child of an Egyptian royal (pharaoh?) by Nubian wife & essentially an Egyptian.