The Turin King List
The Turin King List is a scriptural canon from the Ramesside period. A “canon” is basically a collection or list of scriptures or general laws. The term comes from a Greek word meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”.
Of all the so-called king lists, the Turin King List is possibly the most significant. Although it has sustained much damage, it provides very useful information for Egyptologists and is also somewhat in-line with Manetho’s historical compilation on ancient Egypt.
The Turin list was discovered in the 1820s by Napoleon’s proconsul in Egypt, Bernardino Drovetti, during his travels to Luxor.
Though his discoveries are commendable, his methods were sometimes destructive – ruining monuments and artifacts for
the sake of easy transportation and more profits – including the Turin King List.
Although at first it was mostly intact, during its journey to Italy it crumbled into many fragments and had to be reconstructed and deciphered with much difficulty. Some very famous Egyptologists worked on piecing together the information, such as Jean-François Champollion and Gustavus Seyffarth.
Still, Drovetti was an important figure in many respects for Egypt and Europe during the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha.
What are King Lists?
Ancient Egyptian King Lists are lists of royal names that were recorded by the ancient Egyptians in some kind of order. These lists were usually commissioned by pharaohs in order to show off how old their royal blood is through listing all the pharaohs in it in an unbroken lineage (a dynasty).
Though at first this may seem to be the most helpful way of tracking the ruling of different pharaohs, it wasn’t very accurate because the ancient Egyptians are famous for omitting information they didn’t like or exaggerating information they felt made them look good.
It is said that these lists were not meant to provide historical information so much as a form of “ancestor worship”. If you remember, we know the ancient Egyptians believed the pharaoh was a reincarnation of Horus on earth and would be identified with Osiris after death.
The way that Egyptologists used the lists was by comparing them to each other as well as to data collected through other means and then reconstructing the most logical historical record.
The King Lists we know of so far include:
- Royal List of Thutmosis III from Karnak
- Royal List of Sety I at Abydos
- The Palermo Stone
- Abydos King List of Ramses II
- Saqqara Tablet from the tomb of Tenroy
- Turin Royal Canon
- Inscriptions on rocks in Wadi Hammamat
Why the Turin King List is Special
All the other lists were recorded on hard surfaces meant to last many lifetimes, such as tomb or temple walls or on rocks… except one: the Turin King List, also called the Turin Canon, which was written on papyri in hieratic script.
It is approximately 1.7 meters long.
This King List seems to have been written during the reign of Ramesses II, the great 19th dynasty pharaoh. It is the most informative and accurate list and goes back all the way to King Menes.
It not only just lists the names of the kings, as most other lists did, but it gives other useful data such as:
- The length of the reign of each king in years, months and days
- It notes names of kings that were omitted from other king lists
- It stretches back to mythic times when gods and mythical kings ruled Egypt.
- It groups together kings by location rather than chronology
- It even lists the names of the Hyksos rulers of Egypt
This last point is quite exceptional considering how much the Egyptians hated recognizing these foreign kings and wouldn’t want to legitimize them. But to remedy that, the Turin Canon doesn’t give their names the usual embellishment of Egyptian pharaohs with cartouches around them. They also had an added hieroglyphs pointing out their foreign origins.
On the backside of the Turin King List is a compilation of tax-assessments.
This immediately gives rise to the question: if that’s the case, then could this list have been of any importance to its commissioner? Or was it perhaps just something a scribe used for practice?
Even more so, since the beginning and the end of the list are missing, the record of kings beyond the 17th dynasty is missing, and no one knows if there was a revealing introduction to the work that could help us better understand it.
Was it truly written in the 13th century BCE as thought? Who is the scribe who wrote it and where did he get his information?
As usual, king lists leave much for debate, and the Turin King List is no exception. Still, until now it is one of the most useful pieces of information about ancient Egyptian pharaohs and their reigns.
Want more in-depth information on it? Check this page out.
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