Books Tutankhamun (King Tut)
Egyptian pharaoh
1361 - 1352 BC

King Tut Death Mask

Tutankhamun was the son-in-law of the Pharaoh, Ikhnaton, and himself Pharaoh in the middle of the 14th century BC. The fame of this politically unimportant sovereign is due to the discovery of his tomb still containing the larger part of its equipment. Even in Egypt the survival of royal burial equipment is unique, for the plundering of royal tombs began at a remote date. A pyramid is a gigantic husk of masonry to protect the body of the Egyptian sovereign; but not a single pyramid escaped plundering by ancient tomb robbers. The Egyptian rulers, therefore, abandoned the pyramid and excavated the kings' tombs in the face of the Nile cliffs. For 400 years the excavation of these royal cliff tombs continued; by 1150BC there were over 500. After the fall of the empire about 1150BC not a single known royal tomb was left intact.

The preservation of the burial of Tutankhamun was due to accident, to its small size and to the unimportance of its occupant. The demoralization of the government at the death of Tutankhamun, about 1352BC, was such that the cemetery ghouls found no difficulty in robbing his cliff tomb. Fortunately they were caught in the act, and much of their plunder was returned; although the heavy golden vessels and much other magnificent work was evidently too great a temptation for the officials. The tomb was never molested again, and 200 years later, when the empire was tottering, the architects of Rameses VI, excavating the tomb of this Pharaoh just above that of Tut, ordered the workmen to throw their waste limestone chips down the slope below it, thus completely covering up the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Howard Carter and AssocThe expedition which discovered the tomb was maintained by Lord Carnavon, but the actual discovery was due to Howard Carter, who on November 4, 1922, uncovered the steps leading down to the entrance gallery. For eight seasons (October to April) following, Carter salvaged this magnificent treasure, nearly all of which was placed in the national museum in Cairo.

The mortuary furniture of Tutankhamun will continue to make his name a household word, notwithstanding his lack of political significance. He succeeded to the throne by his marriage with Ikhnaton's third daughter, and he must have been less than twelve years old when he was crowned. A puppet in the hands of the priestly party which was vindictively striving to exterminate his father-in-law's memory, the boy king had little chance to survive. The examination of his mummy showed that he was about 18 years old at his death, after a relatively short reign. The body showed no discernible traces of foul play.

Tutankhamun scene from casket

The scene above is painted on a wooden casket found in Tutankhamun's tomb at Luxor (see #7 in Upper Egypt below-right). The painting shows Tutankhamun riding in a chariot and hunting. Among the animals pursued by his hounds through desert scrub are gazelle, ostriches, wild ass, hartebeest and a striped hyena. Behind the chariot are fan-bearers, courtiers and the king's body-guard.

Egypt in Pharaonic times


The maps to the right are oriented as found on most maps -- north (up) to south (down). The Nile is the world's longest north-flowing river and so the area referred to as Lower Egypt is actually the top and Upper Egypt is to the south or toward the bottom. Total length of the Nile River is 4100 miles. Of this, the last 678 miles downstream (top), from the First Cataract at Aswan (see #9 in Upper Egypt bottom-right), may be navigated without interruption. [For purposes of this page the first one-third (Upper Egypt) of the 678 miles and last one-third (Lower Egypt) to the Mediterranean are shown to the right.]

Egyptian civilization developed along the fertile valley of the Lower Nile, together with the 9,250 square miles of the Delta area, where the first capital of Lower Egypt, Buto (see #1, right), was located. When the Upper and Lower kingdoms were united, the building of the new, combined capital, later known as Memphis (near Saqqara, #2 right), required a substantial deflection of the Nile's course -- the first of many great feats of Egyptian hydrological engineering. Egyptian prosperity depended on development of such skills to control and harness the annual river floods.

From Early Palaeolithic times onwards, for very many thousands of years, the natural fauna and flora of the Lower Nile valley (middle Egypt, not shown) sustained semi-nomadic groups of hunters and food-gatherers, whose stone implements have been found in abundance in the terraces cut by the river, in wadis adjoining the valley and on the surface of the high deserts flanking it. These primitive inhabitants were succeeded in Neolithic and pre-Dynastic times (~7000 - ~3100 BC) by people who adopted a more settled mode of life, food- producers who brought arable land under cultivation and bred cattle. Their racial connections are obscure, but their artifacts are sufficiently distinctive to enable their different cultural groups to be easily distinguished and, in Upper Egypt (southern) at least, to allow their order of arrival in the Nile valley to be determined.

At first there was little intercourse between the peasant communities; each community worshipped its local deity or deities and each developed its own theological ideas. It was this insularity which was largely responsible for the multiplicity of deities and cults in historical times. When the communities were grouped into larger units (later called nomes by the Greeks), they retained much of their religious independence, and it was scarcely affected when, towards the end of the pre-Dynastic period, the nomes became two kingdoms with their respective capitals at Hieraconpolis (see #8), in Upper Egypt, and Buto (#1). In ~3100BC Menes, the king of Upper Egypt, subdued Lower Egypt, united the 'Two Lands' under one crown and built a new capital, later called Memphis (see #2), near the junction of the two former kingdoms. It was about this time that writing in the hieroglyphic script was invented and also that many of the conventions employed in Egyptian art for the next three thousand years were adopted. The Early Dynastic Period (~3100-2685BC) was the most formative age of ancient Egypt, when proficiency advanced rapidly in stone- masonry, copper-smelting and technical skills of many kinds. Living conditions improved, and there can be little doubt that there was a considerable growth in the population. At the beginning of the Old Kingdom (IIIrd-VIth Dynasties, ~2685-2180BC) Imhotep was able to assemble the necessary skill and manpower to build for his king, Zoser, the famous Step Pyramid at Saqqara (see #2), the first monument in Egypt to be constructed entirely of hewn stone.

Step Pyramid

The Step Pyramid (left) of King Zoser (~2667 - ~2648BC) at Saqqara (see #2 in Upper Egypt) was designed by Imhotep. It was built about 1300 years before the reign of King Tut and is the earliest complete building of hewn stone in Egypt. It is the central feature of a large complex of dummy buildings and open courts, surrounded by a high enclosure wall. Both the pyramid and the buildings found at the site were constructed of local stone overlaid with fine white limestone.

Pyramids of the step design were suspended at the beginning of the IVth Dynasty (~2613-2494BC) by geometrically true pyramids, the most outstanding example of which are the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the pyramid of his son, Chephren, at Giza (see #4).


El-Amarna, (right), is the only instance where it has been possible to reproduce the ground-plan of an ancient Egyptian city and to reconstruct the design of some of its principal buildings. This city was built by Akhenaten, the immediate predecessor of King Tut, as his new capital when he abandoned Thebes. It lies on the east bank of the Nile, approximately half way between Cairo (#1 in Lower Egypt) and Luxor (#7 in Upper Egypt), in a natural amphitheater formed by the cliffs of the high desert. The city is about eight miles long and three miles wide at the center and is located about half way between the two sections (Lower-Upper Egypt) of maps shown (above-right).

Tut mask

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