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Edited by
A survey of the namt i ve source material1
Kim Ryholt
The Assyrian invasion and subsequent occupation of Egypt in the seventh century BC
was a traumatic experience which gave rise to a rich literary tradition in Egypt. In the
temple libraries this tradition lived on until the late second century AD when it seems to
have died out alongside the ancient indigenous cults. The source material is
predominantly written in the Demotic script although there is also relevant material in
Aramaic and Greek. Most of the Demotic material remains unpublished, and only very
brief, preliminary notes have been available. For this reason the material is largely
unknown to scholars, both within and outside the field of Egyptology.
The main purpose of the present paper is to bring this inaterial to the attention of
Assyriologist colleagues, and it is primarily intended as a survey. The survey makes no
claim to include all relevant material, but instead focusses on narratives written in
Egyptian. A single Aramaic text is also included because it seems to be the earliest
testimony to the cycle of Inaros stories which are of fundamental importance. Egyptian
texts that are not strictly narrative, such as the prophecy known as Bokchoris and the
Lamb, are also not discussed on this occasion. A more detailed analysis of the material
will be presented e l ~e whe r e . ~
The present survey is divided into two parts. The first is a discussion of those
historical rulers who exercised their authority during the Assyrian occupation of Egypt
and who, directly or indirectly, play a role in the later literary tradition. The second part
is a presentation of the narratives that concern or allude to the Assyrian invasion and its
I would like thank my friends and colleagues G. Barjamovic and Aa. Westenholz (Copenhagen) and
J.F. Quack (Berlin) for their useful comments on the present paper. Note the following abbreviations: Demot.
ND. = Demorisches NumenDuch. Begrundet von E. Luddeckens, fortgefuhrt von H.-J. Thissen und bearbeitet
von W. Brunsch, G. Vittmann und K.-Th. Zauzich. Wiesbaden, 1980-2000. PNA = The Prosopographp ofthe
Neo-Assyrian Empire. Helsinki.
To be published in the proceedings of the symposium When are We going Where? Thej hct i on oftirne
and space in Demotic literary texts, Leiden, December 12-13, 2002, organized by Prof. J. F. Borghouts and
Dr. J. Dieleman.
The Historical Characters3
The inscriptions of Assurbanipal enumerate twenty Egyptian rulers who ruled during
the Assyrian occupation of EgypL4 According to Assurbanipal they had been appointed
by his father, but most were presumably already in power before Esarhaddon's invasion,
and their authority was merely confirmed by the Assyrian king after an oath of
al l egi an~e. ~ Assurbanipal further states that they were displaced when Taharka later
invaded the north, and that he reinstated them after having defeated the Kushite king who
fled south.
The kings listed by Assurbanipal were all local rulers of small territories at a time
when Assyrian and Kushite kings were engaged in a fierce struggle for control over
Egypt. It is therefore not surprising that very little is known about most of them, and
indeed the majority is not otherwise attested by contemporary sources. Despite their petty
status, literary traditions developed around at least five or six of these rulers, and they
were still remembered many centuries after the Assyrian occupation. These are NikLi
(Necho), PufubiSti (Petubastis), Paqruru (Pekrur), Na!?kP (Nehka), Buk~mani'pi
(Bokennife) and possibly also Na!7rihuruansini (Nakthhornashen). With the exception of
Nahtihuruansini, it is in the cycle of Inaros stories that these rulers appear.6
The six rulers are all listed in The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
However, since the entries are exclusively based on the Assyrian source material, it is
possible to add a number of significant historical and literary details based on the
Egyptian evidence.
Esarlzaddon sorz of Serzrzacherib, the Chief ofAshw
Before turning to the Egyptian rulers, we may first look briefly at the name and title of
Esarhaddon in the literary tradition. The name of Esarhaddon survives in three Egyptian
narratives of which at least two form part of the cycle of Inaros stories, viz. the Inaros
Epic and the Struggle for Inaros' Armor. The manuscripts all seem to date to the second
century AD, and these three literary texts are in fact the only attestations of Esarhaddon's
name (ASSur-c@u-iddinn) written in Egyptian. The name occurs in the following
~r t hogr aphi es: ~
A more detailed discussion of the role and background of the main characters in the Inaros stories will be
presented in my forthcoming paper 'The main Characters of the Inaros Stories'.
The inscriptions are edited end analysed in Onasch 1994. The twenty Egyptian rulers are listed in Prisms
A and C (ibid.: 1 18-1 19).
Such is, for instance, the case with Bokennife who is discussed below.
The cycle of Inaros stories is briefly described below.
Only P. Krall is published to date and hence Demo/. iVb. I 40 only includes this one reference. The
scepticism expressed there by E. von Schuler has later been retracted, cf. Hoffmann 1996: 165 n. 735.
1. P. Krall (the Struggle for Inaros' Armor)
2. P. Carlsberg 80 (the Inaros Epic)
3. P. Carlsberg 68+123 (the Inaros Epic)
5. P. Berlin P 15682 (unidentified story)
The first three manuscripts are from the Fayum province in whose dialect r becomes I in
writing and pronunciation. This explains the writing of 1 where r is expected
(orthographies 1-4). It should further be noted that the signs h and S have the same
phonetic value in Roman times and are more or less freely interchangeable. Hence the
orthographies :slStni, :slSt:ni and :slhrrni (nos. 1-3) are to all intents and purposes
identical and represent something like Aser(zet ai ~i . ~ The fourth orthography, :Ihtrni, is
merely a corrupt form where s is lost, and the fifth, :rss_htni, contains a metathesis of r and
s. The name of Esarhaddon's father Sennacherib (Sin-ah(zi-eribn) is consistently used as
a patronymic. Since the Egyptians had had few dealings with this king, it is perhaps not
surprising that the Egyptian rendering is a popular etymology with no more than a vague
phonetic resemblance. The name is written Wsh-ri~=,fwhere preserved intact in the four
manuscript^.^ Not entirely inappropriate from an Egyptian point of view, it means 'his
name is long'.
The title used for Esarhaddon is 'the chief of Ashur' (p: ~vr Ewr ) which is sometimes
abbreviated to simply 'the chief' (p: wr). The noun wr literally means 'great' and denotes
a 'senior'. It can be used to describe anything from the seniors in a village or senior
officials to rulers of great empires. The Egyptian titles of kingship are normally reserved
for Egyptian rulers.
The name Nikli is Egyptian N- k: . ~, 'Belonging to the kas (i.e. souls)'." and the
toponyms Meinpi and Sai are Mn-nfr and Si (old S:w).
The signs : and r ar e used to indicate vowels, but there is no fixed system for the transliteration of foreign
names and these signs may carry different phonetic values depending on the context. The transliteration of
the Greek names of eponymous priest during the Ptolemies is discussed in some detail by Clarysse in
Clarysse & van der Veken 1983: 13 1-165. Here i t emerges that initial :- can be used to transliterate a-, E- and
L-, and interconsonantal -:- for -a-, -E-, -q-, -0- and - w, while was not yet used to indicate vowels. There is
unfortunately no comparable study of the transliteration of names in the Roman period, but yenerally seems
to be used to represent o and (0, cf. also Brunsch 1982: 7-10.
Because the name is damaged in P. Krall (only the initial w- is preserved), which is the only published
manuscript of the four, i t is not recorded in Dernot. Nb. I.
l o Streck 2001 = PNA 2111,963.
Ranke 1935: 213 no. 16; 1952: 372; Demot. Nb. I 624. The name should be understood N-k:. w rather
than Nklv (so Onasch 1994: 38). It may be noted that i t still retains the original orthography N- k: . w in the
lnaros Epic and other contemporary literary texts despite their very late date, although i t is sometimes written
unetymologicalIy as N:-k:.w in non-literary texts, cf. Denlot. Nb. 1624.
While the rulers listed by Assurbanipal must all be assumed to have been de fucto
rulers, only two of them are actually known to have used the Egyptian titles of kingship
themselves. These are Necho I (Nikli) and king Petubastis (PutubiSti) who is discussed
next. Necho is mostly known for his rebellion against Assurbanipal and subsequent
pardon and reinstatement. These events have been described many times and need not be
repeated here. Very little else is known about Necho who is poorly attested by
contemporary sources in Egypt.12 The most significant consequence of his reign was that
his son and successor Psammetichus I reunited Egypt during a 51-year reign and once
more turned the country into a major political power.
Several unpublished stories written in Demotic Egyptian are set in the reign of Necho.
These include the Inaros Epic which is particularly interesting since a significant part of
it concerns a conflict between Necho and Esarhaddon. Also Pekrur plays a role in this
story, and it was therefore clearly based to some extent on the memory of Necho and
Pekrur's historical rebellion against Esarhaddon. It is described below.
PutubiSti, the King of'Sn'nu13
The name PutubiSti is Egyptian PI-ti-wbst.t, 'He whom (the goddess) Bastet has
given',I4 and Sa'nu is Drni (old Drn.t).15
Several historical kings with the name Petubastis are known; one or two with the
prenomen Wsr-ntT.t-rc dating to the ninth century BC, one with the prenomen Shr-ib-rr
who has been dated to the late sixth century, and one with the prenomen Shtp-ib-rc who,
by a process of elimination, has been identified with the king mentioned by Esar-
haddon. l 6
While the historical identification of the king is perhaps not entirely certain, there can
be no doubt that the king mentioned by Esarhaddon is the same king Petubastis who
ruled from Tanis in several of the Inaros stories.17These stories include The Struggle for
the Benefice of Amun and The Struggle for Inaros' Armor in both of which Petubastis
plays the role of an irresolute king who fails to control events.
l 2 What little is known about the reign of Necho I is discussed in Yoyotte 1958: 363-365.
l 3 Mattila 2002 = PNA 311, 1002.
l 4 Ranke 1935: 123 no. 5; Denzot. Nb. 1303.
l 5 So rather than DCnt (Onasch 1994, 52); the -t at the end of the word is the feminine ending, which had
long since become vocalized, and not part of the stem.
l 6 Kitchen 1986: $427. The known attestations of Petubastis Sehetepibre are gathered and discussed by
Habachi 1966: 69-74.
l 7 So already Spiegelberg 1913: 8.
P a q r ~ ~ r u , the King of PiSaptu18
The name Paqr ur u is Egyptian P:-krr, ' The frog',19 and the toponym Pis'aptu is Pr -
spd (> Pi-spd).
Pekrur is one of the rulers about whom we learn the most from Assyrian and Kushite
sources and therefore also one of the more interesting. According to the inscriptions of
Assurbanipal, a group of twenty rulers including Necho, Sarru-lu-dari and Pekrur had
originally been installed by his father Esarhaddon and later been reinstated by
Assurbanipal himself after Taharka had temporarily displaced them. Yet in spite of this,
t he t hree named rulers later rebelled agai nst hi m. Thi s account i s clearly an
oversimplification of t he compl ex political situation at the time. Already under
Esarhaddon there was tension between some of the Delta princes and the Assyrian
occupation, and a query to the sun-god from his reign asks if the chief eunuch $a - ~a bf i -
Su, who had been sent to Egypt by the king, might be subject to an attack by Necho and
S a r m- l ~ - d i r i . ~ ~ This indicates that the attempted attack did not suddenly come about after
Assurbanipal had defeated Taharka, but that Necho and Sarru-lu-dari had in fact been
considered a very real threat for some years.
The attack apparently did not go very far. The three rulers sent messengers to Taharka
proposing to shift alliance after the Kushite king had been forced south, but the plot was
discovered by Assyrian agents. Both Necho and Sarru-lu-dari were captured and sent in
chains to Assurbanipal in Nineveh. There is no mention of Pekrur' s fate which suggests
that he escaped capture.21 This deduction seems to be confirmed by the fact that he later
approached Taharka' s successor Tanutamani. According to the Dream Stele Tanutamani
went north to fight the princes in the Delta, but they barricaded themselves inside their
f o r t r e ~ s e s . ~ ~ After ' many days' the lung returned to his base at Memphis in order to make
plans about how to deal with the defiant princes. Meanwhile a delegation representing the
princes arrived at Memphis and offered their subjugation. This delegation was headed by
Pekrur who is the only prince mentioned by name in this connection.
To judge from the inscriptions of Esarhaddon and Tanutamani, Pekrur must have been
one of the major political powers in the Delta in his time, and this may be seen as the
explanation for the fact that he became one of the main heroes in the Inaros stories. In
several respects he is placed on a par with Inaros; they are the two seniors of their clan,
they fight together against Esarhaddon, they die in the course of the cycle of stories, and
they both have sons who similarly play the role of major heroes. In the Inaros stories,
Bagg 2002 = PNA 3A, 988.
l 9 Ranke 1935: 120 no. 1; Dernor. ND. 1 277.
20 The text is edited by Starr I990 = SAA 4, no. 88, cf. also comments by Nissinen 1998: 148f n. 554.
Pace SpaIinger 1974: 326; 1976: 140, 144 n. 15, who states that Pekrur was 'arrested by the Assyrians',
deported to Nineveh and that 'Both Necho and Paluwu found themselves reinstated in their domains'. These
comments about Pekrur are sheer guess-work; no such dctails are actually provided by the available sources.
22 Text and photographs are published by Grilnal 1981: 3-20. pls. I-IV. and translations include Onasch
1994: 129-145 and Eide el crl. 1994: 193-209.
Pekrur is the leader of Pisopd, at the eastern extreme of the Delta, and he is consistently
referred to as 'the chief of the East' (p: wl- i:bi). This is not a formal title, but an epithet
borrowed from the main local deity Sopdu which refers to the geographical location of
the nome. He is also the father of Petekhons who similarly resides in Pisopd and who is
the main character in the story of Petekhons and Sarpot. According to an unpublished
Inaros story, Petekhons buried Pekrur in N ~ b i a . ~ ~ Whether this has any relation to the
historical contact between Pekrur and Kushite kings Taharka and Tanutamani is difficult
to say, but probably unlikely.
NahkC, the King of Hi t ~i t zSi ~~
The name NabkC survives in late Demotic as Nh-k: which is believed to be a false
etymology of an original Nlzk, 'The desired ~ n e ' . ~ ~ The toponym Hini~zSi is Htv.t-1717-1zsw,
He r a kl e ~pol i s . ~~
We have no historical information about Nehka besides that provided by the
inscriptions of Assurbanipal. He can be identified with the father of Khahor the Weak2'
who is the leader of Herakleopolis and one of the close allies of Inaros' clan in The
Struggle for Inaros' Arnior and the Inaros In both stories he is summoned to
participate in battles, but his role is a relatively minor one. The significance of his epithet
'the weak' (p: gbi) is far from clear.
B~tkurznni'pi, the King of Hathiribi29
The name Bukunnnipi is Egyptian Bk-n-t$, 'Servant of the wind',30 and the toponym
Hutbiribi is Hw.1-hty-ib (> H1v.t-tj-!~r-ib).
The inscriptions of Assurbanipal inform us that the ruler of Athribis was a certain
Bokennife about whom nothing further is stated. After Necho's attempted rebellion and
23 P. Carl sbeg 125.
24 Frahm 2001a = PNA 2111,922.
25 Denzot. Nb. 1 193. The name is not attested in the Hieroglyphic and Hieratic scripts. Denrot, Nb. knows
only the form P:-tzlik, but the Assyrian transliteration shows that the name did not contain an initial definite
article. Many names consisting of a noun exist in both a form with the definite article and one without, and
the present name is found in both forms as Nh-k: and Ph h - k : in P. Krall. The transliteration (P:)-N!t-k: with
nh for t ~h (SO Onasch 1994: 52; Frahin 2001 a = PNA 2AI.922) must be a slip of the pen.
26 Not Pr-h,:j-S=-f't~h-Nn-ns\t~ (so Gomah 1974: 109f: Onasch 1994: 52).
27 The name Khahor has usually been rendered 'Ankhhor' in the past, but we now know that Khahor is a
much more accurate form as also shown by the Greek transliteration X a u p ~ ~ .
28 Kitchen 1986: $426, with reference to the former.
29 Mattila 1999 = PNA 1/11. 350.
30 Ranke 1935: 91 no. 10. No Demotic attestation is known to Dernnt. Nh., but the name occurs in the
unpublished Inaros Epic.
subsequent pardon and reinstatement, this domain was handed over to Necho's son
NabO-Pezibanni, but we do not learn anything about the circumstances behind the
transfer. It has been suggested that Bokennife participated in the attempted rebellion and
hence was removed from ~ f f i c e . ~ ' The Assyrian inscriptions only mention the capture of
two rulers, i.e. Necho and Sarru-lu-dari, but this naturally does not preclude the
possibility that Bokennife might have participated and simply escaped capture. Yet the
Inaros Epic might indicate another state of affairs.
The identity of Inaros has always been a crux, but it now emerges from the Inaros
Epic that he was in fact the son of Bokennife and grandson of Petese. Petese is attested
by contemporary sources as the father of Bokennife and the ruler of Athribis during the
invasion of the Kushite king P i ~ e . ~ ~ One of the major episodes in the Inaros Epic is the
struggle against Esarhaddon in which Necho, Pekrur and Inaros participate. This episode
must surely be based on the memory of the historical rebellion against the Assyrians by
Necho and Pekrur. It is therefore conceivable that Bokennife had just been succeeded by
his son Inaros when the rebellion took place, and that it was the participation of the latter
that led to the transfer of Athribis to NabO-Sezibanni. It should not go unmentioned that
Inaros is not attested by any contemporary sources. The earliest attestation of Inaros
seems to be the Sheikh Fad1 inscription from the early fifth century BC discussed below.
However, the same is true for most of the rulers mentioned by Assurbanipal and
symptomatic of the time. Also Inaros 11, who rebelled against the Persians, was only
attested by literary sources until a few years ago.33
Some time after his death Bokennife was deified at Athribis. The circumstances
surrounding this event are unknown, just as it remains uncertain exactly when the
deification took place. Our only source is a monument erected by king Nectanebo 11, who
ruled 360-343 BC.34
Ncrhtih~lr~ransini, King o f Pikipdi'ri35
The name Naht i hnr~t ansi ni is Egyptian Nht -Hr-t i :-8n. w. 'Horus-of-the-Trees is
3 1
Kitchen 1986 states that ' Doubtless Bnkennefi (...) was one of the conspirators and executed by
Assurbanipal' (p. 393 n. 878) and, more cautiously. that 'Bakennefi (...) was probably slain (665 B.C.) by
Assurbanipal' (p. 395). So too Spalinger 1974: 318: 'Bocchoris (11) took part in a revolt of Egyptian princes
during Assurbanipal's first invasion of Egypt. [ l o which LI~OOIIIOIL' adds:] Thus explaining the disappearance
of the independent ruler of Athribis'. The reference to Bokennife as 'Bocchoris' by the latter is misleading
since this Greek form is derived from a different name (B;k-t~-rn=,fi which was borne by a king of the
Twenty-Fourth Dynasty.
32 For Bokennife and his family, see esp. Habachi 1957: 68-77, and Yoyotte 1961: 364-69.81-92.
33 lnaros I1 is now attested by two ostraca from Manawir, see Chauveau 2003a: 38-40.
" Habachi 1977: 92- 10.5, 157- 161.
Frahrn 2001b = PNA 2111,922.
strong',36 and the toponym Piiapdi'a has been identified with Pr-Spd-m-iLty which was
located somewhere between Memphis and L e t ~ p o l i s . ~ ~ The ruler, Nakhthornashen 11, is
not attested by any contemporary source from Egypt.
Another earlier ruler with the same name is mentioned on the Triumphal Stele of the
Kushite king Piye which provides the only known Hieroglyphic writing of the name (line
117)." Nakhthornashen I is described as a chief of the Ma, i.e. the ruler of a Libyan
Miwi-tribe, with residence in Pr - Gr r . Little is known about this city, but it was
apparently important enough to be the residence of a local ruler in the late seventh
century, and in the first century AD it is described by Strabo (17.1.26) as the metropolis
of the eighth Lower Egyptian nome in the eastern extreme of the Delta.
The name Nakhthornashen is quite rare, and besides the texts of Assurbanipal and
Piye, it is only attested in one further source. This is a Demotic narrative of which
fragments describe a battle with the Kushites. This event is compatible with the historical
situation under both Piye and Esarhaddon, and in view of the rarity of the name, the story
is not unlikely to concern one of the two aforementioned rulers. The story is described
Tlze Stories
Nine stories and fragments which relate or may relate to the Assyrian invasion and its
aftermath are included in the following presentation. There are further stories that
mention Assyrians (I.fwr..w), but it is important to note that this designation is applied to
all people east of Egypt in the area that the Greeks originally called Syria. It is therefore
not always clear in incompletely preserved contexts whether the people so designated are
merely Syrians or specifically Assyrians. This includes a number of unpublished and
mostly smaller fragments, but also the story of Petekhons and S a r p ~ t ~ ~ where 'Assyrians'
apparently serve as auxiliaries in the Egyptian army. These have been understood by the
editors as actual Assyrians, but it is perhaps not without significance that only Syria (Hr)
is mentioned in the story and not Assyria (p: t i n 'ISwr.).
The nine included stories and fragments are:
1. The Inaros Epic
2. The Struggle for Inaros' Armor
3. The Aramaic Sheikh Fad1 Inscription
4. The Story of Ahiqar
36 Ranke 1935: 21 1 no. 5. No Demotic attestation is known to Demo/. ND., but the name occurs in the
unpublished story of Nakhthorshen.
37 The location of Pr-S'd-rn-i:.~~ is discussed by Sauneron 1950.
38 The stele is edited by Grirnal 1981a. A recent translation with commentary is Eide el 01. 1994: 62-1 18.
Nakhthornashen I is briefly discussed by Gomai 1974: 105-107.
39 Edited by Volten 1962 and Hoffmann 1995a.
5. Fragment P. Berlin P 15682
6. Fragment P. Trier Univ. Bibl. S 109A
7. Djoser and Imhotep
8. Naneferkasokar and the Babylonians
9. The Story of Nakhthorshen
The first two or three items in the list belong to the cycle of Inaros stories which deserve
special attention.40 Inaros was the son of Bokennife who ruled Athribis during
Esarhaddon's occupation of Egypt$I and the cycle of stories recounting the exploits of
him and his clan constitutes the largest, connected group of narrative literature from
ancient Egypt. To judge by the extant number of stories and the number of manuscripts in
which they are preserved, Inaros was certainly the most popular hero in Egyptian
literature during the Greco-Roman period. Significantly, the cycle of Inaros stories makes
up one third of the narrative material from the Tebtunis temple 1ibra1-y.42 The cycle also
includes the most substantial stories from ancient Egypt known to date. It has nonetheless
been almost entirely neglected by Egyptological scholars outside the field of Demotic
studies, and even the most recent anthology of literature from ancient Egypt ignores its
existence al t ~get her . ~"
Apart from a number of smaller fragments, three substantial Inaros stories have been
published to date: The Struggle for the Benefice of Amun, which is preserved in four
manuscript^,^ the Struggle for Inaros' Armor, preserved in two manuscri pt ~, 4~ and
Petekhons and Sarpot, likewise preserved in two manuscript^.^^ Two further substantial
stories are unpublished but presently being prepared for publication: the Inaros Epic,
preserved in five manuscripts, and the Bes Story, which is preserved in a single
manuscript. The Inaros Epic relates the exploits of Inaros himself and he also plays an
important role in the Bes Story. The other three stories take place after the death of
Inaros, and the main characters are his son Pemu and other members of his clan. For an
outline of the contents of the published texts, a series of useful summaries published
40 The lnaros stories were formerly known as the Petubastis cycle because the first two that were published
are set in the reign of king Petubastis who plays an active role in both. It has since become clear that the
common denominator for these stories is in fact Inaros. King Petubastis is not mentioned at all in several
stories and the Inaros Epic itself is set in the reign of Necho.
As already described above in relation to Bokennife.
42 Sixty manuscripts containing narrative texts have so far been inventoried. Out of these at least twenty are
Inaros stories. For the contents from the Tebtunis temple library, see my survey to be published in the
proceedings of the symposium Tebtynis rrncl Sokriopoirr Nesos - Leberr itti riirnerzeitlichen Fajrim,
Sommerhausen, December 11-13.2003, organized by S. Lippert and IM. Schentuleit.
43 Simpson 2003.
44 The main manuscript, P. Spiegelberg, is edited by Spiegelberg 1910 and additional fragments are
published by Hoffmann 1995b. Parts of two of the other manuscripts are edited by Tait 2000.
4s The main manuscript, P. Krall, is edited by Bresciani 1964 and Hoffmann 1996. The other is edited by
Ryholt 1998.
46 Edited by Volten 1962 and Hoffmnnn 1995a.
within the last years may be consulted.47 The remaining stories in the above list do not
belong to any known cycles.
1. The Inaros Epic
The Inaros Epic is preserved in at least five papyrus manuscripts from the Tebtunis
temple library, all of which can be dated palaeographically to the first or second century
ADeJ8 One of the manuscripts has pagination which indicates that the Inaros Epic was by
far the longest known narrative from ancient Egypt.J9 The material is very fragmentary,
and more than 250 fragments belonging to the five manuscripts have so far been
identified. Numerous joins have already been made, but many more are likely to follow.
For this reason only a preliminary description of some of the relevant episodes can be
presented here.
The epic recounts the exploits of Inaros, and one of the main episodes is the conflict
between king Necho of Egypt and king Esarhaddon of Assyria. While Inaros is the main
Egyptian hero, also Pekrur plays an important role. The episode can therefore be seen to
have been influenced by the historical rebellion of Necho and Pekrur against the
Assyrians, although this rebellion in fact took place under Esarhaddon' s son and
successor Assurbanipal. Only fragments of the episode are preserved and I shall here
restrict myself to a description of three of these fragments. Their order has not yet been
Esarhaddorl 's Letter- to Inaros
Following a paragraph that refers to mythological events, king Esarhaddon takes
counsel from a certain Sinuqi son of Nabuqen (Sinwki s: Njbtvkn) who is described as
47 Depauw 1997: 88-89, Thissen 1999, Hoffmann 2000: 199-205, Chauveau 2003b; cf. also the individual
text editions. Some of the unpublished material is described by Volten 1951: 72-73: 1967: 150, and Botti
1955: 4-5. Other brief descriptions and comments on the lnaros stories include Quaegebeur 1987: 3; Tait
1994: 21 1; 1996: 183-185; Thissen 1977: 873; 1990: 65-66; and Vittmann 1998: 66-68.
48 The five manuscripts are P. Carlsberg 68+123, P. Carlsberg 80, P. Carlsberg 164, P. Carlsberg 458, and
P. Carlsberg 591, with further, mostly smaller fragments in other collections. A few of the fragments in other
collections have been individually published, but without recognition of the fact that they form part of the
Inaros Epic. P. Carlsberg 80 is briefly described by Volten 1951: 72-73; 1967: 150, and Botti 1955: 4-5, and
the translation of a large fragment from P. Carlsberg 80 - based on Volten and Botti's draft5 - has been
published by Bresciani 1990a: 103-107; I990b: 945-947. Two recent, brief accounts of the Inaros Epic in
Danish are published by Ryholt 2000b: 43-44; 2003: 58-59.
49 According to the pagination of P. Carlsberg 164, the Inaros Epic occupied 46 columns in this specific
manuscript. The number of lines per column is exceptionally large and the size of the signs disproportionally
small, perhaps in an attempt to fit a very large text unto a single roll of papyrus. Converting the number of
signs per column into more familiar formats, the Epic would have occupied about I25 columns in the P.
Krall format or about 140 columns in the P. Mythus Leiden format.
'prophet of BCl and priest of Nabii'. Sinuqi swears by Ahura Mazda which is clearly an
Sinuqi advises Esarhaddon to write a letter to Inaros and to dispatch it with a
messenger. He then informs Esarhaddon about Inaros, and states that he is now 'before
the aforementioned fortress' by which the fortress of Alvand ( j h ~ n t ) is meant. 'He will
not turn to Nineveh, our district, but he will die by hunger [of bread (?)I and thirst of
water,' Esarhaddon is assured. 'Moreover, [the] gate of the fortress of Alvand [is
secure (?)I and they will not open to him until the misfortune [... ...I has perished.' By
'the misfortune' the presence of Inaros is apparently meant. In other words, the gates of
the fortress of Alvand will not open up before Inaros has gone away. The mention of the
fortress of Alvand also seems to be an anachronism since it apparently relates to the
Medes, who built the renowned capital at Ecbatana north of Mount Alvand, rather than
the Assyrians.
Esarhaddon's response is positive, and he praises Sinuqi with the words 'May BCI
look upon you, Sinuqi son of Nabuqen!' He then ends the session and holds a feast. The
text continues: 'Everything which the prophet [had said] to him; [he did] it all. The chief
said: "Let a leather scroll be brought!" It was brought before him immediately. He let be
written upon it some words of a commander which burned more than the [flame], which
were stronger than the stone, which were without [... and which were] colder than the
iron.' The reference to 'words of a commander' (a literal translation) suggests that the
letter contained a military challenge, and it was presumably an attempt to somehow gain
the upper hand on I n a r ~s . ' ~ This, at least, is what one might suspect from a foreign king
in contemporary Egyptian literature. The reason for the harsh wording is said to be
'because of the manner in which [... ...I gave wrath [... ... the] lance of prince Inaros.' The
lance of Inaros seems to represent his military might and is mentioned repeatedly in
Inaros stories.
The letter is now given to a courier. The word used is hgr, a loan-word from Persian
also attested in Greek ayyapoS, 'a mounted courier'. The courier crosses a mountain on a
journey which apparently lasts 'three days and three nights'. He arrives at Inaros' camp
and is questioned by sentries. Eventually the letter is handed over to someone who reads
it aloud to Inaros. Here the fragment breaks off.
The Duel between Inaros and an Assyriarz Sorceress in the Shape of a Grifin
In another fragment, a sorceress approaches the Assyrian king and states 'By :Ir!, the
great fire of the east! I will bring the Egyptian to you'. The king is exceedingly happy to
hear this. 'He made the joy of the world', the text states, and then praises the sorceress in
the same manner that Sinuqi was praised: 'May :ri.. look [upon you!]'. A few lines later
we are told that 'She changed her appearance into a griffin'.
The phrase 'words of a commander' (md.t rvr-m-J's) also occurs elsewhere in the Inaros Epic, when
Inaros challenges a Median opponent during a duel. They seem to be more or less parallel to the expression
'words of a soldier' (n8d.t rmt-knkn), which is sometinles used to describe taunts in connection with duels.
The identity of the deity whose name is written :IC! and :r!.. (the final part of the name
is lost; restore perhaps :r!3 is not without difficulties. Since the Fayumic dialect mostly
writes I for r and the name is actually written with an r once, lICf should most likely be
understood as :rci. In view of the epithet 'the great fire of the east' (p: sti n p: ijbt), it
may be suggested that the name is a metathesis of Atar, the god of fire and son of Ahura
Mazda. It might also speak in favour of this identification that 'the fortress of Persia' is
mentioned in relation to the sorceress, but unfortunately the immediate context is lost.
Elsewhere in the Inaros Epic, Ahura Mazda himself is described as 'the great serpent of
the east' (p: sit C? n p: ijbt) which is perhaps a corruption of the same epithet, st i 'fire'
having become sit 'serpent' through a metathesis. If the proposed identification with Atar
is correct, i t would represent yet another example of the confusion between the Assyrians
and Persians and one that is analogous to the fact that Sinuqi swears by Ahura Mazda.
Whatever the exact identity, there may be a deliberate association between the fact that
the sorceress swears by a god associated with fire and then changes herself into a griffin
since the word 'griffin' (srrj) is homonymous with the word 'heat' ( s d later srrj).
The actual encounter between Inaros and the griffin takes place while Inaros is
camped with his army at the shore of the Red Sea. Gazing out over the sea, Inaros
suddenly sees a creature in the sky 'its wings being spread out, covering the sun'.51 He
fears that this might be the griffin whose nature had once been described to him by the
Kushite ruler. This griffin was an enormous monster of 120 divine cubits length, about 63
metres, which had once roamed Nubia for three years and laid waste the land.52 Soon the
griffin is upon Inaros and his army and causes terrible carnage in the camp. Witnessing
the slaughter, Inaros frets for a moment and then calls out to Pekrur. The rest of the
column is more or less lost. When the text resumes in the next column, Inaros is
recounting how he killed the griffin with an iron-tipped spear, made some kind of armor
(41:) out of its skin, and threw the carcass into the sea. The battle between Inaros and the
griffin is set in a mythological perspective by referring to the two combatants as Horus
'the Great of iMight' and Apophis.
An Egyptian visit to Esarhndclon 's Sleeping -qunrters
Only a most tentative reconstruction of a third fragment can be presented at this time
since just the end of the lines are preserved. These mention Pekrur, king Esarhaddon, the
residence of the king, stairs (tltl), a gate, the royal sleeping-quarters (knl1i.t) and finding
someone or something. In the context, it seems a possible reconstruction that Pekrur
51 The manuscript reads hbs p; irn 'covering the ground' which seems to be a mistake for (rbs p: itrt
'covering the sun-disc'; cf. also the much earlier The Proplwcj oJ'Ncferti where the description of chaos
includes the very same words: i f n (~bs.iv, 'the sun-disc is covered' (Helck 1992: 23, 25).
52 A more detailed description of a griffin occurs in the contemporary Myth oj'the Slrn2.s Eye ( P . Mythus
Leiden 15.lff: Spiegelberg 1917: 38-41) which 'schildert den srrj'[i.e. griffin] als das grijsste und rnkhtigste
Wesen auf Erden, das iiber alle irdischen Wesen Macht hat wie der Tod und das Schicksal' (Spiegelberg
1917: 250).
makes his way to the royal palace, enters it, ascends the stairs, passes a gate and enters
the sleeping-quarters of Esarhaddon. Whatever it is that he finds is not clear; perhaps the
king himself, but an object referred to as 'the god's stone' (t: Cit-ntr) is also mentioned
The episode is likely to represent the topos of humiliating the enemy, in this case
Assyria. Like every one else. rulers are vulnerable when sleeping, and to be surprised in
the privacy of the royal sleeping-quarters of one' s palace is, of course, a severe
humiliation. The same motif is attested in the contemporary story of Khamwase and
S i o s i r i ~ , ~ ~ where an Egyptian pharaoh is taken from his sleeping-quarters (knf7.t) in the
palace and brought to Nubia and beaten with 500 blows. The culprit is here a Nubian
sorcerer who uses magic to achieve the evil deed.
2. The Struggle for Inaros' Armor
In the Inaros story known as the Struggle for Inaros' Armor there is a brief reference
to an attempted invasion of Egypt on behalf of Esarhaddon. The passage in question,
which is only preserved in one of the two extant manus~ripts,~%eads:
'Pemu said: Woe and misery! By Re-Harakhte, the Chief of the Gods, the Great God
[--- --- pharaoh] Petubastis on the ... (?)
when the chief of Ashur Esarhaddon son of S[ennacherib ---
---I to take Egypt from pharaoh Petubastis,
I jumped in [--- 1 ---I,
I made very much bloodbath and destruction.
I caused him to return to the east [---'
Pemu, who here takes credit for his role in repulsing Esarhaddon, was the son of Inaros.
There is nothing to indicate that his claim should be understood as anything but
legitimate, but it stands in contrast to the Inaros Epic where he plays no role in relation to
the conflict with Esarhaddon or otherwise. However, there is hardly a need to assume that
the different stories belonging to the Inaros cycle were entirely consistent, and the present
passage is at any rate most likely historical fiction since Pemu would be the grandson of
Bokennife who ruled Athribis during Esarhaddon's occupation of Egypt. Whether Pemu
is even a historical figure remains uncertain and perhaps doubtful.
j3 Edited Griffith 1900; translations include Lichtheim 1980: 138-151. and Ritner in Simpson 2003:
54 P. Kra11 5.6-9: Hoffmann 1996: 163-166.
3. The Aramaic Sheikh Fad1 Inscription
A further text that should be described in relation to the two aforementioned Inaros
stories is a long and most curious Aramaic inscription. I shall describe this inscription in
slightly more detail than is strictly necessary for the purpose of the present contribution
in the hope of making it known to a wider audi en~e. ~'
The inscription, which has been dated palaeographically to the early fifth century BC,
is written inside a Middle Kingdom tomb in a cave in the vicinity of Sheikh Fadl. It was
discovered by Flinders Petrie in the season of 1921122, and first published already in
1923 by G i r ~ n . ~ ~ Within the last ten years, the inscription has been republished twice; in
1995 by Lemaire on the basis of photographs that he made in 1984, and in 1999 by
Porten and Yardeni on the basis of photographs made at an unspecified date by Joseph
Leibovitch.j7 It has suffered considerable damage since it was found, but significant
advances in the decipherment have nonetheless been possible.
The inscription is written in red ink on three of the tomb's walls and divided into
seventeen panels. Although it was already recognized by Giron that no less than three
royal names occurred within the inscription, - sc. Necho of Egypt, Taharka of Kush, and
Esarhaddon of Assyria, - the text seems to have received very limited attention. The most
recent discussion known to me is a contribution by D a l l e ~ . ~ ~ She suggests that the
inscription 'records events during the lifetime of the tomb's occupant', and that it is
'personal biography in Aramaic' belonging to not 'a native Egyptian' but a foreigner who
was 'a very high-ranking officer under Assurbanipal and, perhaps, also Esarhaddon'. I do
not consider this interpretation very likely. The inscription was written about 75 years
after the death of all three kings to which it refers, and this alone would seem to rule out
the possibility that it is a contemporary biography.
To all intents and purposes. the text - as it is preserved - resembles fictional narrative
literature, and Porten cautiously describes it as a romance.j9 Panel 2, one of the better
preserved panels, is set in Heliopolis. It tells the story of a certain Hora (HRc) who has
received a great desire for a certain woman: ' I shall not be able to leave her. I shall lie
with her. I love her abundantly.' He then offers to compensate the woman financially, by
paying her one karsh of silver, in return for her favours. She rejects him, which in turn
leads to an increased offer of 100 karsh of silver that is also rejected. One karsh is about
83.3 grams60and hence 100 karsh is the equivalent of nearly 8 112 kilograms or 18 112
pounds of silver. Porten and Yardeni correctly point out in their edition that these events
" For further bibliography than cited here see Fitzmyer & Kaufman 1992: no. B.3.f.2.
j6 Giron 1923.
57 Lernaire 1995; Porten & Yardeni 1999: 286-299, foldout 5-8.
58 Dalley 2001: 154-155.
j9 Porten 1997: 217.
60 Cf. Porten 1968: 66.
recall the Tabubu episode in the story of Khan~wase and Naneferka~t ah. ~'
Panels 3 and 4 are badly damaged and little can be made out. In Panel 5 the first
preserved mention is made of 'Taharka king of the Kushites' (THRQ MLK KSY; 5A.8,
9; 1 1.8; 12.9) and of 'Pharaoh Necho' (PRcH NKW: 5A. 1 1; 8.12; 12.7). Also a eunuch
Psamshek (PSMSK), i.e. Psammetichus, plays a role. The two kings are mentioned at
least until Panel 12 after which little is preserved. It is also in this panel that the only
preserved mentioned of Esarhaddon is found ('S<R>HDN; 12.12).
One further personal name occurs in the story, and it has been identified in three
places in Porten and Yardeni's edition (5.11. 9.4, 7). The reading SNHRW is suggested,
but the name is nowhere intact and especially the first sign is badly rubbed in all three
occurrences. The hand-copies of the photographs that are presently available cannot help
to settle the reading with certainty, but the issue might perhaps be resolved nonetheless.
We learn from the Inaros Epic that theflourit of Inaros was the reign of king Necho and
that he interacts with both Necho, Taharka and Esarhaddon. It is precisely the same
constellation of rulers that the find in the Sheikh Fadl narrative. In this light i t may be
proposed that the name in question should rather be read YNHRW, an Aramaic
transliteration of the personal name Inaros also attested elsewherea6* It may be noted that
while Lemaire only ventured to suggest a reading of the initial sign in 9.7, he cautiously
read it Y at this place (although as YNHTW and not YNHRW). Moreover, the reading
YNHRW has the advantage over SNHRW that no clear etymology presents itself in
relation to the latter.
The significance of the Sheikh Fad1 inscription is the fact that it - if the name
YNHRW has been correctly read - provides by far the earliest mention of Inaros and,
furthermore, that Inaros already in this context is mentioned specifically in relation to
Necho, Taharka and Esarhaddon. It is therefore regrettable that its contents remain
largely obscure.
4. The Story of Ahiqar
Another text that concern relations between Esarhaddon and Egypt is a Demotic story
about the famous sage Ahiqar, which forms part of a long literary tradition. The sayings
of Ahiqar and the narrative frame in which they are presented have a documented
transmission covering more than a thousand years, during the course of which they were
modified and translated into a number of language^.^' It is still a matter of discussion,
however, whether the original work was composed in Aramaic or Akkadian.
In the present context, it is interesting that the two oldest known versions are
Edited by Griffith 1900; translations include Lichtheim 1980: 125-138, and Ritner in Simpson 2003:
62 Vittmann 2002: 92 n. 53, has independently come to the same conclusion though without reference to the
Inaros stories. For attestations of the name in Aramaic, see both ibid. and Porten 2002: 314.
63 The main editions and translations are Nau 1909, Conybeare pr nl. I913 and Harris el al. 1913.
preserved on papyri found in Egypt. The oldest is an Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine
dating to the late fifth century BC.@ The Demotic version, with which we are concerned
here, dates around the first century AD. Only two small fragments of the latter are
preserved." Their provenance is unknown, but the use of lambdacislns (the use of I
instead of r , as in the name of Ahiqar which is written :Liikl and 3Lligl) indicates a
Fayurnic origin.
Before turning to the Demotic fragments, a brief outline of the story as preserved in
the main versions may be presented. Ahiqar was the highest counsellor of king
Sennacherib. He grows old without having begotten a son and Sennacherib grants him
that his nephew Nadin may be recognized as heir to his office and possessions. Ahiqar
shares his wisdom with Nadin and a whole chapter of proverbs follow. Despite his new
privileges and learning, the nephew turns out to be evil and wishes to supplant his uncle
immediately. He convinces Esarhaddon, who has succeeded Sennacherib, that Ahiqar has
rebelled against him. Esarhaddon orders the execution of Ahiqar, but he is saved by a
man who owes him his life. When the king of Egypt learns that Esarhaddon has lost his
wise counsellor, he presents him with an apparently impossible challenge, to build a
castle in the sky. Ahiqar returns from hiding to rescue Esarhaddon from the humiliation
and is pardoned. He proves able to counter every challenge from the Egyptian king and is
rewarded both by the Egyptian king and Esarhaddon who hands over his nephew for
punishment. Another chapter of proverbs follow, at the end of which the nephew falls
dead. This concludes the text.
The two Demotic fragments clearly belong to the narrative frame and do not preserve
any of the sayings. Unfortunately they hardly preserve a single intact sentence and it is
therefore difficult to establish a definite relation with specific passages in the better
known versions of Ahiqar in other languages. Yet it seems rather likely that the Cairo
fragment might belong to the episode where Ahiqar's nephew has tricked him into
assembling the Assyrian army and then deceitfully convinces Esarhaddon that Ahiqar
and the army have rebelled against him. The crucial line reads ' The army which was
rebelling is the one that has come t o Ni[neveh (?)I' (line 9), which would then be part of
the report to E~arhaddon.~"he Berlin fragment has been compared to the episode where
pharaoh challenges Ahiqar to build a castle in the sky.67 I wonder if it might not rather
@ P. Berlin P 13446. The papyrus is edited by Cowley 1923: 204-248, and Porten & Yardeni 1993: 22-53.
foldouts 1-9, and further translated by Lindenberger 1985 and Kottsieper 1991. The proverbs are translated
without the narrative frame by Grelot 1972: 427-452; revised 2001: 51 1-528, and are studied by
Lindenberger 1983.
65 P. Cairo Nat. Bibl. (inv. no unknown) + P. Berlin P 23729: published by Zauzich 1976: 180-185. His
translation is reprinted in Kiichler 1979: 333-337, and Lindenberger 1983: 310-312, together with a third
fragment (P. Berlin P 15658) which apparently contain sayings and which may or may not be part of the
Ahiqar manuscript. A photograph of the Cairo fragment is published by Sobhy 1930: 3-4, pl. VII.2.
66 Zauzich 1976: 183. The toponym should presumably be restored Nineveh (i.e. in the standard
orthography N: [ ni rv: ] ) , as already suggested by Zauzich, since this city is also the Assyrian royal residence in
other Dcmotic literary texts.
67 Zauzich 1976: 184.
belong to the episode where Ahiqar is saved from the execution ordered by king
Esarhaddon and hidden away, but very little is p r e ~ e r v e d . ~ ~
Comparison is further hampered by the fact that the other version from Egypt, the
Aramaic text, only preserves part of the narrative; the whole episode about Esarhaddon
and the Egyptian pharaoh is lost. This is particularly regrettable since it is precisely this
episode which one would expect to have interested the Egyptian audience, and it would
therefore have been useful to see how it was described in the Aramaic version. As shown
by some of the other texts discussed in this paper, Esarhaddon and the Assyrian invasion
caused a lasting impression and were the focus of Egyptian literature until the coming of
Christianity. The Berlin fragment does in fact mention a 'chief' (p: wr) which could be
the Assyrian king. Esarhaddon is similarly referred to in the Inaros Epic, the Struggle for
Inaros' Armor and P. Berlin P 15682. However, in the Cairo fragment Ahiqar himself is
also referred to by this title (line 12) and it therefore cannot be excluded that the
aforementioned chief might be Ahiqar.
Since only two small fragments of the Demotic story survive, it is impossible to
determine its nature with any degree of certainty. Nonetheless I think it would be a fair
guess that it somehow brought Ahiqar and Esarhaddon, and presumably also the invasion
of Egypt, into the same context as the stories discussed above involving Esarhaddon.
That is, a context in which Esarhaddon is defeated and humiliated. If this is so, then the
Demotic story will not have been a mere translation, but rather an adaptation and perhaps
a very loose one. Whether it would have included sayings of Ahiqar is difficult to say,
and above all one wonders what role Ahiqar played in the story.69 It is, perhaps,
significant that in the Syriac version the Egyptian pharaoh and Ahiqar are on quite
amiable terms although the latter easily outwits pharaoh.
5. P. Berlin P 15682
This is a single papyrus fragment consisting of a full-height strip of a single column.
The text is being prepared for publication by Prof. K.-Th. Zauzich, with whom I read it
many years ago as a student in Wiirzburg. It is written in a typical Fayumic hand, but the
exact provenance cannot be determined.70 A date in the first or second century AD seems
68 One passage reads 'No orie on earth fourirl out what htrtl huppcned to him' (line 4). and two lines before
it is stated that '... you soughr.for us; you did not seek suffering'. The latter could well refer to the time when
Ahiqar saved from king Sennacherib's wrath the third party who later saves him. In this case a conceivable
restoration would be 'Good is what] jorr soughtfor rrs: jou did riot seek suffering'. Both 'ri and t f r are well-
attested antonyms of tllc and would provide this sense.
69 Zauzich 1976: 185 n. 20. mentions the possibility that a further fragment (P. Berlin P 15658), which
might be written in the same hand as the two Ahiqar fragments, could belong to the same manuscript.
70 The hand closely resembles that of the main manuscript of Petekhons and Sarpot, as well as that of an
unpublished papyrus from Tebtunis (P. Carlsbesg 555). The latter is inscribed with a narrative which
mentions Persia. In view of the Iatter fragment, the possibility cannot be entirely excluded that the Berlin
fragment might have come from Tebtunis like so many other fragments in Berlin.
likely. The story mentions Esarhaddon and 'men of the east' (rint.w na i:bt), as well as an
Egyptian entitled 'the king's son Necho son of Pabes'. Further details will have to await
the publication.
6. P. Trier Univ. Bibl. S 109A
This papyrus, which consists of three fragments, was kindly shown to me by Prof.
Barbel Kramer a few years ago.7' Its provenance is unknown, but the text contains no
lambdacism, which can usually be taken as an indication of a non-Fayumic origin
although there are exceptions. The hand is perhaps late Ptolemaic in date. The text
mentions 'the chief of Ashur' (pZ wr Kwr) who is almost certainly identical to someone
who is simply referred to as 'the chief' several times. Also the army of the ruler and
Babylon (Bbl) is mentioned. The papyrus remains unpublished.
7. Djoser and Irnhotep
The story of king Djoser and his chancellor Imhotep is preserved in a single papyrus
from the Tebtunis temple library, which can be dated palaeographically to the first or
perhaps second century AD.72
Djoser and Imhotep are both historical figures from the Third Dynasty, around 2650
BC. The extant fragments of the story preserve parts of various events which do not seem
directly related. These include, for instance, the encounter with a spirit. The two main
fragments describe an expedition to Assyria undertaken in order to find and retrieve 'the
forty-two divine limbs'. The divine limbs are the holiest of relics, the remains of Osiris
h i m~ e l f . ~ q n mythical times Osiris had been murdered by his brother Seth, who
dismembered the corpse and spread the body parts all over Egypt in the attempt to
prevent his resurrection. The exact number of body parts varies in different sources. The
number in the present story is a symbolic figure based on Egypt's canonical division in
the Late Period into forty-two nomes, each of which is here ascribed one relic. Thus it
represents the totality of Egypt. Nor should the divine limbs be understood literally; in
the present context they symbolize the sacred images of the Egyptians. The looting of
temples and the removal of deities during periods of foreign invasion or occupation
caused a severe trauma to the Egyptians, and the retrieval of exiled divine images is a
During the Demo~isclw Sottw~ersclzule in Trier, August 26-29,2001, organized by Prof. S. P, Vleeming.
72 P, Carlsberg 85 with minor fragments in other collections. The story is briefly mentioned by Volten
1951: 73, Botti 1955: 4, Barns 1967: 33, Wildung 1969: 91-93; 1977: 130-131, Zauzich 1991: 6, and
Winnicki 1994: 153. A more recent brief account of the story in Danish is Ryholt 2000a: 33-35.
73 Wildung 1977: 131, and Winnicki 1994: 153, refer to the divine images as foreign deities, but this is a
well-attested topos in literature and propaganda during the Greco-Roman period.74
The Duel between Imlzotep and the Assyrian Sorceress
The first of the two main fragments describes an encounter between the Egyptian and
the Assyrian armies. The Egyptian army is led by Imhotep, and the Assyrian army by a
woman who, strangely enough, carries the Egyptian name Seshemnefertum. There can be
little doubt that the woman is actually an Assyrian since she is once referred to as 'the
Assyrian woman' (t: 7iwl.t). The text begins in the middle of a discussion between the
Assyrian king and Seshemnefertum. The king is evidently worried and asks her if she has
everything under control. She calms him, says something about magic, presun~ably about
its efficiency, and then ends her answer with the words: ' Do not worry about it.' The
Assyrian king is not portrayed as a heroic figure, nor would we expect him to be in this
The conversation clearly concerns a duel of magic between Seshemnefertum and
Imhotep which is about to take place. Its beginning is described as follows: 'She made
[an image of Geb.] She cast a spell upon it, and she let it live. She let it go to the
battlefield, and [it] joined the Assyrians. Imhotep made an image [of Nut. He cast a spell
upon it,] and he let it live. He let it go to the battlefield, and it joined the Eg y p t i a n ~ . ' ~ ~
Images that are given life through magic are a frequent ingredient in contemporary
Egyptian narratives; they are often said to be made from wax.76 The deities who are here
summoned to the aid of the duellists have a clear symbolism; they represent heaven (Nut)
and earth (Geb), and the duel accordingly takes on cosmic proportions.
Seshemnefertum creates further divine images, each of which Imhotep counters with a
corresponding image. She then creates a monster, 'a great snake which was one hundred
divine cubits'. The length corresponds to a little more than fifty metres, and the enormous
creature 'made bloodbath and slaughter among the army', a stock phrase in Demotic
narratives. But once again Irnhotep manages to counter her magic. She finally generates a
magical fire which is quenched by Imhotep.
During each successive stage of the battle, the initiative has been that of
Seskhemnefertum, and Imhotep has confined himself to countering her attacks. He now
takes the word and makes a speech. He first addresses his opponent as 'my sister
Seshemnefertum' which, in the present context, signals that he regards her as someone of
equal status to himself. He proceeds to state that 'I have not yet let my hand come out
after her' and that 'there is nothing which she can do if I don't ...'. Although the text is
full of lacunae, the general sense is clear enough; Imhotep is confident that he could
easily defeat her if he wished to do so. Unfortunately the fragment breaks off at this point
and we do not learn how the encounter ends.
74 Winnickj 1994. This topos will be discussed in further detail in the paper announced in n. 2.
75 The names of the deities occur again a few Iines later and are restored on this basis.
76 The application of wax in Egyptian magic is discussed by Raven 1983.
The magical duel finds a close parallel in the contemporary story of Khamwase and
S i ~ s i r i s . ~ ~ There the opponent is a Kushite magician, and once again it is he who takes
the initiative while the superior Egyptian magician merely counters his moves for a while
before finally dispatching him. The Kushite magician is consumed by fire and dies.
Whether the encounter in Djoser and Imhotep had a similar outcome is perhaps doubtful
in view of Imhotep's respectful reference to Seshemnefertum. In another contemporary
story, that of Petekhons and Sarpot, the duel between the Egyptian hero and the queen of
the Amazons ends with the two falling in love and joining forces. It was therefore not
impossible that an Egyptian hero could fall in love with a foreigner, and also in this story
is the female opponent respectfully greeted by the Egyptian as his 'sister'.
The Subnzission o f the Assyrian King and the Retrieval of the Divine Inzages
In the second main fragment the Assyrians have been defeated. The Assyrian king
submits before the Egyptian king with his army and presents tribute of gold and silver.
As it is customary, the Assyrian king is simply referred to as 'the chief and his identity
does not emerge from the extant text.
Then 'Pharaoh said: "I must hurry east because of the forty-two divine limbs."
Pharaoh went to Nineveh with his army and the chief (i.e. the Assyrian king). Thereafter
it came to pass that every single city at which he arrived, its prince came out before him
[with] his tribute. <Pharaoh> reached Nineveh and he settled there with his army. The
chiefs of the east heard of this and they came with their provisions and their gifts.'
The divine images are shortly after discovered at the fortress of riz-Bl (' Ah-Bel?).
Celebrations follow, but at night Djoser is told in a dream that he should not return the
divine images to Egypt immediately. The reasons for this are not entirely clear.
8. Naneferkasokar and the Babylonians
Fragments of the story of Naneferkasokar and the Babylonians are preserved in two
manuscripts, a p a p y r u ~ ~ ~ f r o m Tebtunis dating to the third or second century BC and an
o ~ t r a c o n ~ ~ of unknown provenance from the first century AD. The ostracon is complete
but contains merely the excerpt of a few lines, and only one fragment of the papyrus has
so far been published. It is therefore just possible to make a few preliminary remarks on
this occasion.
The narrative was evidently quite substantial since fragments of the Tebtunis papyrus
77 For references, see note 53 above.
78 P, Carlsberg 303 + P. Berlin P 13640. The Berlin fragment is published by Spiegelberg 1932 and there is
a translation of the fragment in Italian by Bresciani 1969: 675-676; 1990b: 942-944. The more substantial
Carlsberg fragments remain unpublished. They are briefly mentioned by Zauzich 1991: 6, and a few passages
are cited by Chauveau 199 1.
79 0. IFAO Dem. 890: published by Chauveau 1991.
preserve column numbers 19 and 27. The theme of the extant fragments, the conflict
between an Egyptian hero and the king of Babylon, may suggest that also this story was
somehow based on the memory of the Assyrian invasions. However, there is no direct
relation between this story and the Inaros cycle as once assumed.s0 Neither Inaros
himself nor any other member of the cast of the Inaros stories are mentioned in this
The extant fragments describe a conflict with the king of Babylon (lit. 'the chief of
Babel', p: IVY Bbl). His identity does not emerge, but like Esarhaddon in the Inaros Epic,
he swears by the god Be1 several times. The country is referred to as 'the district of
Babylon' (p: ts' Bbl), i.e. Babylonia, and the subjects of the king are called 'the
Assyrians' (n: iir.w). The latter designation is here evidently applied in the loose sense
'Syrians'. The Egyptian hero in the fragments is a certain Naneferkasokar. He refers to
himself as a mighty warrior. but no title or other designation is used in relation to his
name and it is therefore unclear what formal status he has.
The published fragment preserves the vertical half of a single column, and the first
half of every line is lost. This naturally causes some difficulty for the interpretation of the
story. It is told that Naneferkasokar is staying with the king of Babylon, but where and
under what conditions is not clear. At one point (11. 7-8) it is described that
'Naneferkasokar shaved himself. He put on some fine clothes [---I. When the chief saw
him, he laughed. Naneferkasokar could not also laugh.' The context seems to indicate
that the king's laughter is merry, rather than insulting, and that Naneferkasokar is too
grave to laugh.
A conversation ensues. At one point Naneferkasokar says 'May the prince make an
oath for me that I will not be punished'. This request is presumably made because of the
bold statement which follows: 'I have not seen a man who was stronger than me'. The
reaction of the Babylonian king is immediate: 'The moment he said this, the head of the
prince went red'. Naneferkasokar proceeds to describe some terrible event that has or had
befallen Egypt (11. 15-26). Someone has died, apparently a ruler, and the Egyptians
became very 'hard-hearted'. No longer were offerings presented to the gods and the
Egyptians ceased to work altogether. Eventually the generals sought out 'the strongest
one among them', presumably in order to set him up as the new ruler since the next line
mentions a pharaoh who is crowneds1 and enriched with someone's possessions. Next, an
expedition is sent to Egypt's southern border, but a sudden celestial phenomenon brings
an immediate end to it.82
The king of Babylon responds to the story by summoning a series of men, fourteen in
total, from among the satraps. Some costly materials are mentioned, including something
The supposed relation goes back to Bresciani 1964: 9; 1969: 675; 1990: 942; cf. also Lichtheim 1980:
152, Kitchen 1986: $424, and, more cautiously, Chauveau 1991: p. 147 n. 3. Spiegelberg 1932: 177-178, did
not consider the possibility very likely, and i t was rightly rejected by Thissen 1977: 873.
" The noun kbn, which is not read by Spiegelberg, is Coptic klorn 'crown, wreath' (Csum 1939: 104b).
s2 It is stated that 'the sky made ...' before the line breaks of. Spiegelberg 1978: 178 n. 35, suggests that the
passage referred to rain or an eclipse.
made out of 'first-class purple-dyed The king then proceeds to his residence,
'his face being very weak', and also his leaders go away. The final line concludes the
column with the words: 'Is this the one who is stronger than the entire Babylonia? He
will be cursed ...'.
The confusion between the eastern empires is also evident in this narrative. It refers to
satraps, for which the Persian designation is used in the Egyptian transliteration hsrrpn,
and their personal names seem to be Persian. This suggests an Achaemenid setting. Yet
the story concerns the Babylonian king and Babylonia. Spiegelberg compared this
confusion to the Coptic Cambyses Romance, where the Persian king Cambyses and the
Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar are confused. It has since been shown that the
historical setting of the Cambyses Romance is based on the S e p t ~ a g i n t . ~ ~
Matters are not made less complex by the reference to the 15th regnal-year of pharaoh
Pi: in one of the unpublished fragments. The date follows a spatium and clearly forms
the introduction to a new episode in the story. It has plausibly been argued that the royal
name is a Demotic rendering of that of the Kushite king Pi~e.~"his king is best known
from his Triumphal Stele which commemorates his expedition into northern Egypt in his
2 1 st r e g n a l - ~e a r . ~~
9. The Story of Nakhthorshen
The story of Nakhthorshen is preserved in a single papyrus manuscript from
Tebt ~ni s. ~' The colophon of the manuscript records the fact that it was written in the 8th
regnal-year of Claudius, i.e. 47/48 AD.
The setting of the story seems to be based upon the situation during the Twenty-Fifth
Dynasty when the Kushites ruled large parts of Egypt, but it is unclear if it also concerns
the Assyrians. The main character in the surviving fragments seems to be a man named
Nakhthorshen (N!ht-Hr-51). This is the same name as Nakhthornashen (NIit-Hr-it:-Sn.w),
albeit in an orthography that omits the definite article in order to give the name an archaic
air.88 The rarity of the personal name and the setting of the story at a time of conflict with
the Kushites makes it likely that the character of Nakhthorshen is based upon one of two
similarly named historical rulers, Nakhthornashen I who ruled Phagroriopolis in the
easternmost part of the Delta during the invasion by king Piye and Nakhthornashen I1
who ruled Pisapdia north of Memphis during the invasion of king Esarhaddon.
83 The etymology of the word :rgvn is discussed by Vittnlann 1996: 437.
84 Richter 1997-1998: 54-66.
X5 Zauzich 1991: 6.
86 For refercnces. see note 38 above.
87 P, Carlsberg 400 with further, smaller fragments in other collections. The Carlsberg parts are briefly
mentioned by Zauzich 1991: 6, and there is a recent brief account of the story in Danish by Ryholt 2000~: 37.
X8 Such treatment of names is by no means uncommon in Demotic narratives; another example is afforded
by the name P:-rrh-k: var, Nh-k:, the ruler of Herakleopolis discussed above.
Unfortunately i t is difficult to ascertain which of the two is the more likely candidate. No
title, toponyms or other clues that might help with an identification occur in relation to
his name. The only information the extant fragments provide is the name of his father,
PI-hr.6. The name seems perfectly sound, but it is not otherwise attested and is perhaps
The largest fragment preserves part of an episode which commences thus: 'While all
these things took place, the army of the men of the east were outside [... ...I and the four
Kushite rulers had made camp before them. Amyrtaios son of Peftjaubaste went out from
the camp before the sun had set in the evening. He went outside the stockade of the camp
and he hurried up. He looked at the army of the four Kushite rulers which were spread
out before them.' Other fragments describe a battle and great slaughter.
The term 'men of the east' is used in some contexts to refer to the Assyrians, which
could speak in favour of Nakhthornashen 11. However, 'men of the east' can also refer to
men from the eastern Delta where Nakhthornashen I ruled. Perhaps a more important
clue is the fact that the story mentions a pharaoh whose court lies at Tanis. In the reign of
Piye there does not seem to have been a king at Tanis. This had changed by the time
Esarhaddon invaded Egypt at which point Petubastis ruled from this city, and it is
therefore possible that also this story was based upon the memory of the conflict between
the Assyrians and the Kushites.
The narrative material surveyed in the present paper mostly belongs to the final stage
of a long literary tradition, which took its beginning in the wake of the Assyrian invasion
and occupation of Egypt. Whatever stories originally circulated, the material was
continuously re-edited and expanded upon throughout the centuries. One of the striking
traits is, for instance, the conflation of the Assyrians and the Persians, whose invasions of
Egypt from the east were confused in later memory. Also later events seem to have
influenced the stories.
A more detailed discussion of the material will be presented elsewhere, but I may
offer a few remarks already here. It is hardly necessary to emphasize that the stories are
historical fiction and contain little of direct historical value. It would, however, be a
grave mistake to see these narratives as mere entertainment. Many of the n~anuscripts
formed part of the Tebtunis temple library, and the palaeography of the Ahiqar and
Berlin fragments may indicate that they too came from temple libraries in the Fayum.
Narrative material like that preserved in the Tebtunis temple library was widely exploited
by classical authors in their accounts of Egypt's history. This is well illustrated by the
remains of the Aigyptiaka composed by the Egyptian priest Manetho in the third century
BC, which is the only extant native history of Egypt. Also authors like Herodotus and
Diodorus bear full testimony of this. In a few fortuitous instances, Egyptian versions of
specific stories told by these authors have even been identified among the holdings of
temple l i br a r i e ~. ~~
These circumstances lead me to believe that the narrative material was rather selected
and kept as some form of record of Egypt's p a ~t . ~" Th i s might also explain the
predominance of the Inaros cycle and other similar stories in the Tebtunis temple library.
These are texts that mostly celebrate a glorious past where Assyrians - alongside
Kushites, Persians and other foreigners - were defeated and humiliated. Seen in this
light, the material offers a valuable insight to an Egyptian history that was based on a
vague memory but largely invented, and that evolved continuously during the many
centuries of foreign occupation from the Assyrians to the Romans.
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