Papyrus of the month

“How much is worth my work?” - A so-called ‘Necropolis Journal’

“How much is worth my work?”: A so-called ‘Necropolis Journal’

written by Martina Landrino

A few steps away from the entrance of Room 6, the papyrus Cat.1881+2080+2092/229 is mounted on the left wall. The manuscript had various lifes, traces of which are still visible on its surface. Both recto (front part) and verso (back part) have been repeatedly erased and reused. The result is document similar to a patchwork containing different hieratic texts on the surface of the entire papyrus.

The major part of the recto, written from right to left, is covered by a so-called ‘Necropolis Journal’. The text records various entries delivered within almost one year during the reign of Ramesses IX (1129-1111 BCE), as payment for the workmen of Deir el-Medina. This list of items contains various garments (tunics, shawls, and loincloths), metals (copper, lead, gold, and silver) and especially food (dry and roasted meat, fresh fat, slaughtered geese, assorted fruits, honey, oil, bread, and of course beer).

“Smooth linen: 4 loincloths; smooth linen: 16 shawls; smooth linen: 58 tunics; total: 78. 230 deben of yarn. 100 bundles of fresh vegetable. 71 deben of copper. 60 deben of lead. 20 deben of wax. […] The special rewards, which the Pharaoh gave for the people of the Tomb, rewards: 5000. Entered: 1900; deficit: 3100. Fish: 5000; entered: 1900; deficit: 3100."

(image left: objects from the tomb of Kha)


The other two columns of the recto, written upside down, deal with a judicial case recorded in occasion of a court sitting. Involved in the trial are the deputy of the temple of Ramesses III named Hori, the draughtsman Pentaweret and a priest. Two years before the court sitting the draughtsman gave grain as a loan to the deputy, who paid him off with a female donkey and its filly.

During the trial the attendants of the priest claim that the two animals belonged to their chief. Pentaweret subsequently bought another female donkey and a filly and gives them to the attendants.

“I bought a female donkey from the scribe of the mat Amenhotep, and I gave it to them. […] I bought a small female filly from the scribe Khaemhedjet, and I gave it to them.”

Preserved on the verso, written from right to left, are four different texts. The second and the third columns contain two letters. The first is related to the delivery of some goods.

“Further, I have caused to be brought to you through the captains of the troops of the ships Pkhore: sweet ointment, tishesep-oil, 300 (measures) of kefatawy-oil, adjemem-oil, ointment of the Beduin country, 12 cloths of horses, 5 coverings of chariot, 100 batons and stuffs.”

The latter reports some instructions concerning the work in a temple. 

“This letter is brought to you to the following effect: apply yourself to making them work in the temple of Ramesses Meriamum. Slack not; be not remise.”

A ritual spell

A ritual spell devoted to Amenophis I is copied in the next column, describing part of the offering ritual performed in the temple for the deified Pharaoh. The rest of the texts on the verso are the continuation of the ‘Necropolis Journal’. The scribe did not have enough space to write his text down, therefore he partially erased the previous texts and used the upper and lower margins as well.

Records from a ‘cemetery’

The so-called 'Journal of the Necropolis'

In 1928 Giuseppe Botti and Thomas Eric Peet published Il Giornale della Necropoli di Tebe (The Journal of the Necropolis of Thebes), an edition of two large papyri stored in the Museo Egizio at Turin. In that occasion the two Egyptologists created the term ‘Necropolis Journal’ to describe the two documents. Since then the term is commonly used in Egyptology.

Why such a name?

The inhabitants of Deir el-Medina are known to be the workmen, craftsmen, and artists responsible for the construction and decoration of the royal and noble tombs in the western Bank of Thebes. The ancient Egyptian called the institution who superintended their work ‘the Tomb’. The scribes of the ‘Tomb’ recorded in daily journals on both ostraca and papyri the important information related with the administration of the work and the life of the workmen. Thus, Botti and Peet found appropriate the name ‘Necropolis Journal’.

The content

The content of the ‘Necropolis Journals’ varies from one exemplar to the other. On the ‘pages’ of these documents different kinds of texts are recorded: duty roster; activity and inactivity of the workmen; deliveries of foods, goods and tools; visits of dignitaries; protocols; and all the events that the scribe thought worth to remember.

(for more photos click here)

Museo Egizio