Papyrus of the month - Royal hymns to Pharaoh

written by Andrea Fanciulli

Royal hymns to Ramesses VI and Ramesses VII

Among the many papyrus fragments stored in Museo Egizio, there are three large fragments of a roll which contains several hymns to the kings Ramesses VI (1145-1139 BC) and Ramesses VII (1138-1131 BC) in hieratic script (Cat. 1892 + 1886 + 1893). 

The underlying theme of the texts seems to be the royal coronation. At the beginning, the pharaoh is chosen by the gods to act as “Great Regent of Egypt” and further on, he is given the office of his father. The king enters the palace and he also make his appearances in the temples of Heliopolis and Thebes, cities connected to royal and divine kingship. The ruler is equipped with numerous Sed-Festivals – a ceremony that celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh – by the gods, so that a long reign is established under the divine legitimation. The king restores order in Egypt, by dispelling any injustice and in doing so, “he causes the best times to arise in Egypt”. The Pharaoh is described as the one who “establishes the face of Egypt”, in other words the one who takes care of Egypt.

The ascension and coronation of a new king

The new king’s ascension to kingship took place at dawn, ideally the day after his predecessor died. The first step was to draw up the list of names of the new king. Letters were sent out across the country to the officials, so that they could renew their oaths. The country and the new king mourned the departed Pharaoh for the canonical seventy-day period.  

(Photo: P. Turin Cat. 1892)

The coronation ceremony was arranged after the funeral and consisted of many events, such as festivals, rites and ceremonies. It followed the ascension and the new ruler would have been bestowed with the crowns and regalia of his office, perhaps for the first time. In nearly three millennia of Egyptian history, many things changed in coronation ceremonies. Some rituals however, likely stayed the same: the Circuit of the Walls re-enacted the original unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, the shooting of arrows to the four cardinal directions asserted the king’s control of these four areas (i.e. the four cardinal points: north, south, east and west). Finally, thanks to the baptism carried out by the priests, the king was blessed by the gods. 

(Photo: Turin Cat. 1381; Nicola Dell’Aquila e Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio) DISCOVER

At the beginning of his reign, the new king travelled throughout Egypt during a ceremonial journey known as “The creation of Order in all Provinces”. He visited several temples and received regalia from the deities, paying homage to the gods in return. Just as a new king ascended the throne ideally at sunrise – a symbol of rebirth and of a fresh beginning – his coronation would coincide with an important date, such as the first day of a new seasonal cycle or of the New Year. The beginning of a new reign was considered the beginning of a new era. 

The climax of the coronation ceremony was the crowning (the precise act of wearing the crown) of the Pharaoh. Before he was crowned, the new king was perfumed with incense and ritually transfigured from a mortal into a living god. Then priests, assuming the roles of the deities, crowned the new king and sanctioned his rule. As the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt were themselves considered as goddesses, this act of crowning finally infused the king with his supernatural power.

The Pharaoh and his crowns

The last hymn on the papyrus stresses the strong relationship existing between the Pharaoh and his crowns. The text below shows evidence of wordplay: each crown is linked to expressions that also highlight qualities of the pharaoh. To showcase this grammatically, it uses pairs of words containing the same root, for example ḥḏ for “White Crown” and “to be white”; sḫm for “Two-Powerful-ones Crown” and “to have power”. Ancient Egyptians used to play with words, like we do nowadays. They used puns to increase the efficacy of their speeches. This technique shows how each crown underlines a feature of the institution of kingship, legitimates the rule of the king and the cause for his celebrations.

[…] Hail to you, you who appeared with the White Crown and it is white when you cross the sky. Hail to you, you who appeared with the “Two Powerful ones” [and you have power over the two lands!] Hail to you, you who have appeared with the Nemes headcloth and all people can come to you exclaiming: “Praised be you! Praised be you!”. [Hail to you, you (who) appeared with] the royal crown and the eldest of Re had appeared to confer his office to his son, his beloved! […]

(Photo: P. Turin Cat. 1954)

But of which crowns does the hymn speak of?

The White Crown (Hedjet in the ancient Egyptian language) was the crown of Upper Egypt, the modern day south Egypt. The Double Crown (Pschent), to whom the ancient Egyptians generally referred to as “The Two Powerful ones”, is a combination of both the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the White Crown, symbolizing the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under a single ruler. The Nemes, another royal symbol, is not really a crown but a striped headcloth worn by the rulers of ancient Egypt.

For more images and information see the database.

Museo Egizio