The Eternal Secrets of the XX Dynasty, Setnakht, the Founder, the Sarcophagus of Ramsses III and its Discovery.


The tomb of Ramsses III is one of the longest in the valley, measuring 180 meters, or 262 feet. The relatively straight axis represented the sun god. It remains one of the most mysterious, fascinating heritage ever in our ancient history.

And the enigmatic find of the artefacts of Ramsses III in the other tomb: of Amenhotep II makes it vaguer.

I present here another exciting, extensive report by Marie Grillot. Brilliant! 🙏💖

via égyptophile

The “Two-Part” Story of the Sarcophagus of Ramses III

left: Lid of the sarcophagus of Ramses III – granite – the New Kingdom – 20th dynasty
The Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge – E.1.1823 (gift of Giovanni Battista Belzoni – 1823)
museum photo – copyright © The Fitzwilliam Museum
right: Basin of the sarcophagus of Ramses III – granite – the New Kingdom – 20th dynasty
Louvre Museum by acquisition, in 1826, of the Salt Collection
Main number: N 337 – Usage number: D 1 – Anc. coll.: Salt No. 3835
photo © 2005 Louvre Museum / Christian Décamps

His father’s successor, Setnakht, founder of the XX Dynasty, Ramses III, reigned over the Kingdom of the Two Lands for 31 years, from 1186 to 1154 BC. He died, it seems, in his 65th year, following a palace conspiracy.

His mummified body then joins the “Great Necropolis of the Million Years of Pharaoh” in a long funeral procession, where he will be placed in an imposing granite sarcophagus. His eternal home dug in the main wadi will unfortunately not know peace. Profaned in antiquity, it will also be a regular victim of torrential rains…

Plan de la tombe de Ramsès III – Vallée des Roi – KV 11 – source Theban Mapping Project

If its entrance has remained accessible since antiquity, the other rooms will remain buried under the rubble until the 18th century, when the first “modern” explorers entered it… Before deciphering the hieroglyphs made it possible to reassign it to its proper owner, it will also be called “Bruce’s tomb” from the name of one of them, or even “tomb of the harpist” because of a scene which is represented there.

Tombe de Ramsès III – KV 11XXème dynastie

The masterful pink granite sarcophagus of the pharaoh was probably extracted from the “gold hall” around 1815-1816. Who took up the challenge of this manoeuvre?

With its tank 1.80 m high, 3.05 m long and 1.50 m wide, for an estimated weight of 10 tons and its lid weighing 7 tons, Seventeen tons had to be hauled in this stony and rugged environment, then transported to the Nile, still a few kilometres away…

By what historical coincidences was the “unity” of this sarcophagus broken, tank and lid separated forever?

Was he one of the collateral victims of the war that Bernardino Drovetti, consul general of France in Egypt and Henry Salt, British consul, were then waging in a frantic race in the search for antiquities?

left: Henry Salt (Lichfield, UK – 14-6-1780 – Alexandria, Egypt – 30-10-1827)
diplomat, consul of England in Egypt from 1816 to 1835, collector of antiquities
right: Bernardino Drovetti (Barbania January 4, 1776-Turin 1852)
consul of France in Egypt from 1804-1811, then from 1821 to 1829, collector of antiquities

Giovanni Battista Belzoni is also a character who holds a “key” role… As soon as he arrived in Egypt in June 1815, the one who will be called the “Titan of Padua” had approached Bernardino Drovetti, but had entered, the summer next, in the service of Henry Salt, notably clearing the tomb of Ramses III… He also relates that “Mr Salt had a road made from the tombs of the kings to the Nile for the transport of a large sarcophagus, but it was completely destroyed by one of these desert torrents”…

The tank will be integrated into the Salt Collection, which, thanks to Jean-François Champollion, will be acquired by France. Charles X will ratify the purchase “in February 1826, at the asking price of 250,000 francs”.

Jean-François Champollion “Le Jeune”, decipherer of hieroglyphs
Figeac, December 23, 1790 – Paris, March 4, 1832
Portrait painted in 1831 by Léon Cogniet – Louvre Museum – INV 3294

Champollion will then go to Livorno in mid-March to draw up a descriptive inventory of it and then organize its transport to Paris. In a letter dated July 10, he said: “The collection is entirely on board the “Durance”. It has a “full belly”. He will instruct his brother Jacques-Joseph to go to Le Havre to: “supervise the landing, on October 8” (Jean Lacouture). The precious antiquities then continue their journey, by the Seine, to Paris, where Champollion will receive them at the end of November 1826.

Sarcophagus of Ramses III – granite – New Kingdom – 20th Dynasty
Louvre Museum by acquisition, in 1826, of the Salt Collection
Main number: N 337 – Usage number: D 1 – Anc. coll.: Salt No. 3835
photo © Louvre Museum / Maurice and Pierre Chuzeville

The tank of “the imposing pink granite sarcophagus of Ramses III (Salt n° 3835 – N 337) that Belzoni had snatched from Rifaud (*?)” (Jean-Jacques Fiechter) today occupies a masterful place in the Louvre, in the centre of the “crypt of Osiris”. It has “the shape of a royal cartouche which usually contains the king’s name. Here it was the king’s body that lay inside, watched over by the winged goddesses Isis and Nephthys depicted at both ends. The outer and inner walls are decorated with scenes borrowed from the compositions that adorned the walls of the royal tombs: Book of Amduat (or Book of what is in the other world) and Book of Doors” (Egyptian Antiquities: Louvre Museum visitor’s guide)…

Giovanni Battista Belzoni – The “Titan of Padua”
(Padua, 5-11-1778 – Timbuktu, 3-12-1823)
portrait by Jan Adam Kruseman

As for the magnificent lid, it was loaded on the “Dispatch” leaving for London in the autumn of 1821 and then joined the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where it arrived on March 31, 1823. The museum specifies, “In July 1816, Bernardino Drovetti met Giovanni Belzoni and gave him the granite sarcophagus lid”. He further indicates that “the connection between Giovanni Belzoni and Cambridge is most likely the Reverend George Adam Browne who was associated with Trinity College. The latter was, like Belzoni, a Freemason”.

Sarcophagus Lid of Ramesses III. Find Spot: Thebes, West Bank. Production Place: Egypt. Granite, depth 0.83 m, height 3.05 m, width 1.52 m, weight 7 tons, 1200 B.C. New Kingdom, Nineteenth Dynasty.

Exhibited under the reference E.1.1823, it is presented as follows: “In the centre of the lid is a recumbent figure of the king represented as the god Osiris in the form of a mummy. He wears on his head the crown-atef composed of a mitre flanked by ostrich feathers, a sun disk and a pair of ram’s horns. From his forehead emerges a uraeus, a royal symbol of protection. The king also wears a long braided beard, another divine symbol associated with the god Osiris, and a long wig. The king’s arms are crossed on his chest, and he holds the crozier and the flail in his hands. On either side are the standing figures of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Much of the figure of Isis is missing due to a significant break in the lid which extends from the back part of her head to the base. Nephthys stands on the hieroglyphic sign of gold-nbw. Between the depiction of Ramesses III and Isis and Nephthys are probably four serpents, two of which have the bodies and heads of women. These snake-women, who probably represent the goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet, raise their hands in adoration of the dead king. A hieroglyphic text is inscribed around the outer edge of the lid”.

It is interesting to note that in “The Valley of the Kings” (Kent Weeks ed.), Edwin C. Brock indicates that “fragments of the pharaoh’s sarcophagus were discovered in the K.V. 35 hiding place”… Could this be the missing right part of this lid that the looters had to break to access the mummy, no doubt provided with precious ornaments? The tank is intact; the question deserves to be asked.

Swaddled mummy of Ramses III, painted with a ram-headed falcon spreading its wings and an inscription
photo by Emile Brugsch – Photo credit © Ministry of Culture (France)
Heritage and photography media library, RMN-GP distribution

Concerning precisely the mummy of Ramses III, we know that it did not rest in the tomb of Amenhotep II (K.V. 35) – called the “second royal hiding place” – discovered by Victor Loret in March 1898…

Christian Leblanc gives us some explanations on this subject: “It was in a coffin bearing the name of Ramses III that the mummy of Amenhotep III had been placed in tomb K.V. 35, whereas the mummy of Ramses III was, it, discovered in DB 320. Suppose we can consider the hypothesis that the priests who had probably thought to put Ramses III in K.V. 35 had also placed (placé) the remains of the lid of his granite sarcophagus there. In that case, we can more precisely wonder if our colleague E. C. Brock is not simply alluding not to the remains of a sarcophagus (in stone) but to the wooden coffin which bore the identity of the king. Honesty, it is difficult to see why the priests would have had this fragment of lid transported more particularly to tomb KV35, when the priority was above all for them, in such troubling circumstances, to shelter the remains of the pharaohs. “.

On July 5, 1881, guided by one of the Abd el-Rassoul brothers, Émile Brugsch, Ahmed Effendi Kamal and Tadros Matafian,
delegated by Gaston Maspero, enter the “hiding place of the royal mummies” – DB 320

The DB 320, or “first hiding place of the royal mummies”, found in 1871 in Gournah by the Abd el-Rassoul brothers, will be identified “officially” ten years later by the Antiquities Service. It was then possible to retrace the “peregrinations” of the fifty or so mummies which had been sheltered there from the looters who were rampant at the end of the Ramesside period in the Valley of the Kings. During the 21st dynasty, the high priest Herihor who ruled the Theban region, took the initiative, after the desecration of their eternal residences, to rebury them in the tomb of the princess-queen Inhâpi…

After joining the Museum of Boulaq, that of Giza, and then that of Tahrir, the mummy of Ramses III has been, since April 2021, exhibited at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Fustat…

Marie Grillot

*Jean-Jacques Rifaud was an agent of Bernardino Drovetti


Sarcophagus of Ramses III

Granite sarcophagus lid of Ramesses III: E.1.1823

Rougé, Emmanuel de (viscount), Notice of the monuments exhibited in the Gallery of Egyptian Antiquities, Ground floor room and landing of the south-east staircase at the Louvre Museum, [Egyptian Museum of the Louvre], Paris, Ch. de Mourgues brothers, 1872, p. 173-176, No. 1

Ziegler, Christiane; Letellier, Bernadette; Delange, Elisabeth; Pierrat-Bonnefois, Genevieve; Barbotin, Christophe; Étienne, Marc, Egyptian Antiquities: visitor’s guide, 1, [Louvre Museum, Paris], Paris, Editions of the Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, p. 77-78, ill. p. 78

Giovanni Belzoni, Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Pygmalion, 1979

Jean Lacouture, Champollion, a life of lights, Grasset, 1988

Jean-Jacques Fiechter, The Harvest of the Gods, Julliard, 1994

Kent Weeks, “The Valley of the Kings”, Gründ, 2001

Kent Weeks, Luxor, Tombs, Temples and Museums, White Star Publishers, 2005

Robert Solé, Champollion, self-portraits collection, Perrin, 2012

The Ramesses III (K.V. 11) Publication and Conservation Project

Theban Mapping Project – K.V. 11 – K.V. 35

10 thoughts on “The Eternal Secrets of the XX Dynasty, Setnakht, the Founder, the Sarcophagus of Ramsses III and its Discovery.

  1. As always, another wonderful Egyptian themed post! Thank you so much Aladin for sharing Marie’s fine details, including the photos. There’s a part of me that’s thrilled to discover these hidden tombs and another that wishes they were still hidden. Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

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