The discovery of a tomb at Dra Abu el-Naga (Luxor) at the end of 2022 was somehow lost in all the excavation news in Egypt last year (although, of course, it was mentioned in the news section in AE 136). The tomb of the Thirteenth Dynasty vizier Ankhu was a very exciting find for several reasons. There are very few known burials of officials from the Thirteenth, and Ankhu was one of the most remarkable officials of this dynasty, so finding his tomb is of special importance.
The Thirteenth Dynasty (c.1795 to after 1650 BC) consisted of a large number of kings, many with short reigns, which gives the impression of a particularly unstable period. However, looking at the administration, a different picture emerges. The evidence from the holders of palace and provincial offices suggests that there was great stability in the administration. A number of officials are better known than many of the kings of the period, and the vizier Ankhu is one of the most prominent.
Ankhu came from an influential family that managed to hold the office of vizier for several generations. Before the recent discovery of his tomb, Ankhu was known from a large number of monuments, and is better attested than many of the short-reigning kings of the period. Indeed, some scholars have argued that, at this time, the vizier was the real power at the royal court, placing the kings on the throne or removing them when necessary, although recent research is more cautious about this. Nevertheless, Ankhu is attested under at least two kings: Khendjer (c.1790 BC) and Sekhemrasewadjtawy Sobekhotep II (c.1780 BC), who are separated by several intervening kings. While these kings came and went, the vizier Ankhu stayed in office.
Ankhu’s family might be traced back to the reign of king Amenemhat III (c.1855-1808 BC) in the Twelfth Dynasty. An official named Zamont appears in rock inscriptions in Lower Nubia, and also in a letter written in Lower Nubia but found at Thebes. He was there on missions for the king, suppressing local riots. On his mission he bears the titles ‘official’ and ‘mouth of Nekhen’. These are prestigious court titles, but do not tell us much about his actual role. However, it seems that he was promoted under Amenemhat III to the position of a vizier, perhaps at the end of his career. The vizier Zamont, also called Resseneb, was married to a woman called Henutpu. Both had several children. One of them was the priest of Amun, Senebefni; the other was a certain Ankhu, who followed in his father’s footsteps. As a young man, he was also ‘mouth of Nekhen’ and later ‘great one of the tens of Upper Egypt’, as attested on some monuments. As a vizier he is mentioned in several of the most essential documents of the Thirteenth Dynasty.
Perhaps the most important document concerning Ankhu is Papyrus Boulaq 18. (Boulaq was the name of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in the 19th century.) This is a palace account, recording two weeks of deliveries of goods and other economic activities for the Theban palace. There is some dispute over which king is mentioned in the papyrus, as his name is not well preserved; nevertheless, it must be a ruler of the mid-Thirteenth Dynasty. Several banquets are listed with the names of all people attending. The lists of officials at these banquets are strictly hierarchical, the highest official always at the top, the lower ones at the end. Unsurprisingly, the vizier Ankhu always appears at the top of these lists, and also receives the largest amount of food. After him appear several officials with the title ‘royal sealer’ and different functions, such as ‘high steward’, ‘overseer of troops’ or ‘overseer of fields’.
In this papyrus, a queen called Aya appears, too. She was the main wife of the unknown king. Interestingly, she is also known from a stela now in Würzburg in Germany. The stela is broken and the name of its main owner is lost. However, it is clear that Queen Aya was a member of his family. One other person mentioned is the ‘overseer of the half domain’ Wepwawet-hotep, who was evidently in some way related to the queen. Now the vizier Ankhu was married to a woman called Mereret. The couple had a daughter with the name Senebhenas who was married to this Wepwawet-hotep. Therefore Ankhu was evidently related to the king’s house.
Furthermore, Ankhu is known from a number of administrative documents. Several letters written by him or his secretary have survived. They preserve his orders to lower officials. A stela now in the Louvre Museum reports the renovation of the Osiris-temple at Abydos, by an official called Ameny-seneb. The stela also mentions Ankhu, and we learn that he had his office in Thebes. In the Thirteenth Dynasty, the vizier’s office was divided between two men, one in charge of Lower Egypt, the other in control of Upper Egypt. Ankhu was the Upper Egyptian vizier, unsurprisingly as many of his monuments come from Thebes and Abydos. A related stela (in the Louvre Museum, too) also bears the name of King Khendjer, who is known from a few documents, but also from his pyramid at Saqqara.
Seals, statues, and Monuments
While there are many documents mentioning Ankhu, few were set up by him. There is a cylinder bead bearing his name in the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and seal impressions found in Nubian fortresses, most likely from sealed letters written by the vizier’s office.
However, the most amazing ensemble relating to Ankhu is a group of three almost life-sized statues placed in the Temple of Amun at Karnak. The statues were reinscribed in the Third Intermediate Period, providing evidence that they were still highly regarded as works of art. They depict Ankhu, his father Zamont, and his mother Henutpu. The latter statue is remarkable, as it is the only Middle Kingdom statue of a woman placed in this temple. The statue of Ankhu and his father shows them sitting on a block, wearing a long garment with a string around the neck which disappears on the chest under the garment. This is the typical vizier’s attire that was only fully developed in the Thirteenth Dynasty. It is uncertain what was hanging from the string as it cannot be seen under the garment. A seal seems to be the most probable option. Ankhu was buried at Thebes, and in 2022 an Egyptian mission found his burial with a huge inscribed sarcophagus still in place.
Other monuments related to Ankhu are objects set up by people who worked for him, including two chapels. The chapels themselves are lost, but their relief decorations are preserved in different collections around the world. One chapel belongs to the ‘reporter of the vizier’ Senusret, the other one to the ‘housekeeper’ and ‘treasurer’ Sahathor. The reliefs in each show the officials in front of gods, but there are scenes of daily life too, showing family members, musicians singing and playing the harp, and also people at work: peasants shown at the harvest, including women collecting grain, providing glimpses of life in Egypt around 1780 BC. Even a foreigner is depicted. He is referred to as ‘Asiatic’ and is shown with light skin, while all male Egyptians are depicted with darker red skin.
Ankhu had several children. His daughter Senebhenas has already been mentioned. There are also two sons known, who both became vizier. One of the sons was called Resseneb, the other, Iymeru. Neither is well attested in our sources, and it seems possible that they were not long in office. It is possible, too, that they were viziers in Lower Egypt. Officials from Lower Egypt are not well attested in the Middle Kingdom, as the cemeteries of this period are badly destroyed, and few people from Lower Egypt travelled to Abydos to set up a stela there. Middle Kingdom stelae from Abydos are a very important source for Middle Kingdom officials.
Resseneb was evidently named after his grandfather Zamont Resseneb, the first vizier in the family. He is mainly known as ‘scribe of the vizier’, the position he held before becoming vizier. Iymeru is known from a small statuette, now in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. The statue also refers to Ankhu as his father. This information is important as there was another vizier Iymeru in charge shortly after. This vizier was again a powerful man known from many monuments, but it seems that he was not related to the family of Ankhu.
There is very little that can be said about the actual life of these people. It can be assumed that Ankhu had a house in Thebes; he certainly had estates, too, that supplied him with food and some income. The king did not pay his officials with money (money was only introduced into the economy of the ancient world about 1,500 years later). Instead, certain estates were connected with titles at the royal court, providing the needed income for the title-holders. After the official died, the estates reverted to the king. We do know that viziers had an office at Thebes, as it is mentioned in many seals and seal impressions found in Nubian fortresses. Obviously, the southern vizier in Thebes was so powerful because he also managed the Nubian provinces. Seal impressions with the name of Ankhu, which were used by Ankhu or his officials to send dispatches to the Nubian fortresses, were found at Mirgissa. There is some discussion as to when these Nubian fortresses were conquered by the powerful Kerma empire. Evidently, under Ankhu, these fortresses were still in Egyptian control.
The family of Ankhu was certainly one of the most important in the early Thirteenth Dynasty, with family members holding different important positions in Upper Egypt. One family member even managed to become king. These people are mainly known from stelae and statues – the only tomb found so far is that of Ankhu. It is hoped that further excavations will provide more information about the lives of this important family and their contemporaries.
Wolfram Grajetzki is a regular contributor to AE and the author of several books focusing on the Middle Kingdom in particular. He is Honorary Senior Research Associate at University College London/University of Pisa, and produces a range of Egyptology books through his company Golden House Publications.
- W Grajetzki (2009) Court Officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (London: Duckworth Egyptology).
- A Ilin-Tomich (2021) ‘The vizier Ankhu and the dual vizierate in the late Middle Kingdom’, Journal of Egyptian History 14 (2): 145-169.
- S Thomas (2011/2012) ‘An unnamed statue of a Late Middle Kingdom vizier’, Ancient Egypt 69 (December): 10-14.