17.12.2012 14:55

Ramesses III Was Murdered

Scientific investigations shed light on the outcome of a harem conspiracy against the Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian Museum in Turin is guardian of a papyrus which reports one of the most horrific crimes known to have happened in Ancient Egypt. In the middle of the 12th century BC and within the confines of the Women’s Royal Palace, one of the wives of the Pharaoh, Tiy, is intent on murdering her husband, the god-like King Ramesses III. Her aim is to put her son Pentawere on the throne. But the plot goes awry; the conspiracy is discovered and all those involved are brought to trial and punished. What was not known up to now is what happened to the King himself..


A team of scientists working with the Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, University of Tübingen geneticist Carsten Pusch, and Albert Zink, palaeopathologist at the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC), did computer tomography scans on the Pharaoh’s mummy as well as molecular genetic analysis and radiological investigations. The analysis of the CT images, carried out in both Bolzano/Bozen and Cairo, indicate that the pharaoh’s throat was cut while he was still alive. “The neck wound only became visible through the use of computer tomography”, reports Zahi Hawass who, as former General Secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has had access to the mummy on numerous occasions. “It was clear that Ramesses died in 1156 BC, at the age of about 65, but the cause of his death was not known,” he continues. The injury is hidden by neck bandages.

An amulet for the afterlife

In the CT images, scientists could further make out an amulet in the wound, representing the Eye of Horus, a common charm meant to prevent accidents and restore physical strength. “The slashed throat and the amulet clearly prove that the pharaoh was in fact murdered,” explains Albert Zink. “The amulet was placed in the wound after his death to enable him to recover fully for the afterlife.” But was he murdered as a result of the harem conspiracy, as suggested by the Turin Judicial Papyrus?

Son of Ramesses III identified

The team of researchers found evidence for this in another mummy. With the aid of DNA analyses, the scientists were able to prove that Ramesses III was directly related to a mummy so far known as “Unknown Man E”. It was already assumed that this mummy of an 18 to 20 year old man might be that of Ramesses III’s son Pentawere, who allegedly instigated the harem conspiracy in league with his mother with the intention of stripping his father of power. With the aid of genetic fingerprinting, the research team was able to ascertain a coincidence of 50% between Ramesses’ genetic material and that of the unknown mummy. “The mummy is therefore, in all probability, a son of Ramesses III. To achieve a certainty of 100%, one would need to sequence the genome of the mother”, explains Carsten Pusch, molecular geneticist at the University of Tübingen. Unfortunately, the mummy of Tiy, the wife of Ramesses III and mother of Pentawere, has not been found.

Did the son commit suicide?

Albert Zink and his team also carried out radiological tests on the mummy of Unknown Man E. “What caught our attention was the fact that the body was rather inflated. There was also a strange skin fold on his neck. This could have been the result of suicide by hanging. Furthermore, his only cover was a goatskin – which was considered impure – and he had also been mummified without having his organs and brain removed”, said the scientist.


The body of Ramesses’ son was buried in a way not befitting a prince – which may indicate that he was one of the instigators of the harem conspiracy, offered the chance of suicide to escape worse punishment in the afterlife, as confirmed by the Turin Judicial Papyrus.


The British Medical Journal is publishing the study in its online edition on Monday December 17th at 23:30h GMT (0.30h CET) and in the print edition on December 22nd.

Bozen/Tübingen, 17.12.2012


PD Dr. rer. nat. Carsten M. Pusch
Universität Tübingen
Medizinische Fakultät
Institut für Humangenetik
Abteilung für Molekulare Genetik
Wilhelmstr. 27
72074 Tübingen
Telefon +49 7071 29-76403


Michael Seifert
Universität Tübingen
Wilhelmstr. 5, D- 72074 Tübingen
Telefon +49 (0)7071 / 29-76789



Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
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