Judicial Turin Papyrus
Record of the Harem Conspiracy
The Judicial Turin Papyrus is a record describing the crimes and punishment of ancient Egyptians accused of partaking in the now infamous Harem Conspiracy.
Interestingly enough, this was not the first Harem Conspiracy in Ancient Egypt, there were several! But it is the most famous.
The Judicial Turin Papyrus was written during the reign of Ramesses IV, the son of Ramesses III. These conspiracies were an assassination attempt on both of their lives in order for another son of his to take the throne.
Although the accused seem to have succeeded in murdering Ramesses III, as forensic examinations show deep wounds in his throat, they were unable to kill Ramesses IV, who did end up ruling after his father.
The reign of Ramesses III was riddled with many other challenges, such as:
- Internal unrest caused by immigrants,
- Problems with crops,
- Rising grain prices that caused the workers at Deir el Medina to go on strike– which is now considered to be the first labor strike in recorded history
- The growing power of the priesthood whom he had to appease with generous donations
All of these issues plus problems brought instability to the country and the pharaoh.
So banking on the public’s dissatisfaction with how the country was being run, a group of people decided to plot an assassination.
Accusation and Punishment in the Judicial Turin Papyrus
Queen Tiye of the royal harem, who was not a principle wife of the pharaoh, wanted to make her son Pentawere the next inline for the throne instead of the rightful heir Ramesses IV.
Pentawere is assumed to have been between 18 and 22 at the time of this conspiracy. And although there are a couple of mummies that were thought to be his, it’s not for certain yet. But we do know that he may have been given the option to commit suicide, possibly by hanging… and we’ll understand why in a minute.
Queen Tiye, along with other women of the harem, began to bring in officials to aid them in the planning and execution of this new succession.
Those two main officials of the plot were:
Pebekkamen, chief of the chamber – accused of conspiring to incite the public as well as helping to bring in black magic tools into the harem for the purpose of subduing the guards.
And Mesedsure, a butler, was also accused of stirring up the enemies of the king.
Many other men were found guilty of hearing the plots and not reporting them, or helping incite the public.
There were also several wives of the harem gatekeepers and the other women of the harem.
The punishment laid out in the Judicial Turin Papyrus for those involved in the assassination attempt was death. But many of them were given the opportunity to commit suicide.
Those who were executed also had their bodies burned and their ashes scattered – the reason being that the ancient Egyptians believed that in order to have an afterlife, one had to preserve their body and then re-inhabit it after death.
So to take away this possibility was the worst punishment conceivable. It meant complete and total annihilation. And so those given the opportunity to commit suicide were spared that terrible fate.
An interesting twist to this entire event was when some of the judges, such as Mai and Pebes, that were overseeing the trial seem to have tried to influence the course of the trial in favor of the accused.
They, along with the guards that let the criminals out to speak with them, were also punished. They had their noses and ears cut off as a way to have them publicly shamed.
A few times throughout the text of the Judicial Turin Papyrus the pharaoh Ramesses IV is said to have warned the judges to make sure they do not accuse or convict anyone incorrectly…
Black Magic in the Judicial Turin Papyrus
Other than inciting the public against the pharaoh, some were accused of helping bring in black magic tools such as wax figurines and scrolls with spells. They were supposedly given to Pebekkamen.
The records of the black magic were not part of the Judicial Turin Papyrus but actually the Rollin Papyrus and the Lee Papyrus.
The magic was to aid with things like subduing the opponents, making them feeble by manipulating the limbs of the figurines, and imbuing the accused with strength and power.
The two papyri state that although the accused called upon the gods and goddesses through their spells, the deities refused them and frowned upon them. And so they were unable to execute their magic and were found out and brought to justice…
…they were cursed by the divine for their abominable desires.
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