Rekhmire held office during the last years of the reign of Thutmes III and the early years of Amenhetep II. These were heady times in Egypt. After Hatshepsut had departed the throne, Thutmes III undertook a series of military campaigns that greatly increased Egypt’s power abroad and brought the country a degree of wealth unknown in previous dynasties. The pharaoh launched huge building programs and richly supported the arts and crafts. Egypt continued to thrive under his successor, Amenhetep II, and the great projects continued.
Nearly all these activities were supervised by Rekhmire. He oversaw projects throughout Egypt, managed the vast royal estates, supervised temples, judged court cases, checked irrigation schemes, attended official ceremonies, chaired administrative meetings, managed the civil administration, maintained state security, approved rates of taxation, and collected the taxes. Rekhmire was fully aware of his talents as Egypt’s senior administrator, and he proudly and at length quoted his pharaoh’s description of the vizier’s duties in inscriptions on his own tomb walls:
‘Then his majesty said to him: “Look you to this office of vizier. Be vigilant over [everything that] is done in it. Behold, it is the support of the entire land. Behold, as to the vizierate, behold, it is not sweet at all, behold, it is bitter as gall…Behold, it does not mean giving attention (only) to himself and to his officials and councilors, not (yet) making [dependents] out of everybody….Therefore, see to it for yourself that all [things] are done according to that which conforms to law and that all things are done in conformance to the precedent thereof in [setting every man in] his just desserts. Behold, as for the official who is in public view, the (very) winds and waters report all that he does; so, behold, his deeds cannot be unknown….”
Rekhmire describes, with no false modesty, how well he handled this difficult job: “I judged impartially between the pauper and the wealthy. I rescued the weakling from the bully. I warded off the rage of the bad-tempered and I repressed the acts of the covetous. I cooled down the temper of the infuriated. I wiped away tears by satisfying need. I appointed the son and heir to the position of his father. I gave bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, meat, beer, and clothing to him who had none. I succored the old man by giving him my staff and caused old women to say, ‘What a gracious act!’”
He sounds like the ideal bureaucrat. But later in his career, Rekhmire fell out of favor at court and may even have been stripped of his titles. No offspring are known to have succeeded him to government office, although he had at least five sons and several daughters. There is no evidence that he was ever buried in TT 100, but there are indications that part of the tomb decoration was deliberately mutilated and his name destroyed.
TT 100 was known to most nineteenth century explorers. Some of its scenes were published by Frederic Caillaud in 1831, but the tomb was not cleared until 1889 and not completely published until 1943.
In plan, TT 100 looks like many other cruciform-shaped tombs at Thebes, but in section it is unique. Beyond a standard transverse corridor, an inner room extends nearly 25 meters (82 feet) into the hillside of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qurna. At the entrance, the ceiling is 3 meters (10 feet) high. But the ceiling of the inner room slopes steeply upward, reaching a height of over 8 meters (26 feet) at its western end. The result of this strange design was to give Rekhmire’s tomb over 300 square meters (3200 square feet) of wall surface, all of which was decorated with painted scenes of the highest quality. In the transverse hall, the scenes deal with personal and business matters and contain lengthy texts describing the duties of the vizier, the administration of temple holdings, and Rekhmire’s activities during the reign of Amenhetep II. The inner room has scenes of arts and crafts, daily life, funeral banquets, and burial rituals. The famed nineteenth century British Egyptologist Sir John Gardner Wilkinson said in 1835 that the paintings of this tomb shed more light on ancient Egyptian culture than any other source known.
At the ENTRANCE to the tomb, prayers to Ra-Harakhty, Amen-Ra, Thoth, Osiris, and other gods are accompanied by Rekhmire’s boastful claims of having close relations with each.
On the right half of the front (east) wall of the TRANSVERSE HALL, Rekhmire has included texts describing in some detail his duties as vizier. The British Egyptologist Percy Newberry believed that the accompanying scene was meant to show the actual audience hall in which Rekhmire held court, and if you look closely you will see thin columns with palm leaf capitals, walls that define a large chamber, and a raised dais on which Rekhmire sits. Distributed around that chamber are numerous officials and petitioners. The text accompanying the scene goes into considerable detail about Rekhmire’s duties, even noting that in the audience hall he has to “sit on a backed chair, a reed mat being on the ground, the chain of office on him, a skin under his back, another under his feet, and a [canopy] of matting over him.”
The Duties of the Vizier is one of the most important documents to come down from the New Kingdom, but some Egyptologists wonder what prompted Rekhmire to write it. The British Egyptologist T. G. H. James says, “The very act of composition suggests that all was not well; to find it necessary to set down precepts for action which would have seemed self-evident in happy times, incorporates a kind of condemnation of the moment of composition.” He suggests that Rekhmire was being “hypocritical” by including the Duties in his tomb; after all, his fall from grace may well have been the result of official malfeasance.
To the right of the text, tax collectors are at work in Upper Egypt, receiving deliveries of gold rings, cattle, monkeys, grain, honey, pigeons, cloth, and beads. Surprisingly, there are no sheep or pigs, common animals in ancient Egypt. Tax dodgers are led forth by guards armed with heavy sticks. Between them and a figure of Rekhmire, four mats lie on the floor of the hall, covered with what Egyptologists believe to be rolls of leather. There are ten rolls on each mat, and some scholars identify them as the forty sheshemu or law books that Rekhmire would have consulted when adjudicating legal cases. Others identify the objects as batons, symbols of authority awarded by the vizier to local administrators.
Similar taxation scenes appear on the left (north) half of this front (east) wall, recording deliveries from districts in Middle Egypt. In the center of the wall, Rekhmire inspects rations and furniture to be delivered to the temple of Amen at Karnak. Wooden statues of Thutmes III are shown in the top register, and statues of stone in the register below. The statues include one that stands with ducks hanging from his arm, holding an offering slab, and another with his feet resting on a kneeling Nubian. This latter scene is unique. More than thirty different kinds of temple furnishings are shown at right, including shields, spears, quivers, necklaces, axes, and pots.
On the left (south) side of the chamber’s rear (west) wall, Rekhmire receives huge quantities of tribute on behalf of the king from various foreign countries, proof that, as the accompanying text states, “Every land is subject to His Majesty.”
In the upper register, ostrich feathers and eggs, myrrh trees, ivory tusks, gold, leopards, cheetahs, monkeys, and baboons are brought from the land of Punt, a country on the Red Sea coast in what is now Eritrea.
In the register below, tribute comes from Keftiu, the island of Crete, and includes silver, gold, bronze, and lapis lazuli. Note the dress of the Cretan bearers, who wear phallus sheaths and high-topped laced shoes.
Next come Nubians, bearing ebony, gold, leopard skins, ostrich feathers and eggs, various semi-precious stones, and live animals including hunting dogs, a leopard, a baboon, and an elegant giraffe with a small green monkey climbing on its neck. A small herd of cattle is drawn with strangely deformed horns.
The Retenu from Syria come next, and in the bottom register, Nubian and Syrian captives. At the far left of the Syrian procession, men bring a brown bear and an elephant as part of the tribute. In the bottom register, note the women dressed in elaborate bell-shaped layers of cloth, some with baskets on their backs held in place by a head straps, bearing their young children.
On the right (north) half of the rear (west) wall, men press grapes, gather birds and fish, clean them and preserve them in jars. These are standard scenes, more fully described in the tombs of Menna and Nakht.
To their left is an elaborate hunting scene (see also TT 56: Userhet). Usually the Egyptians indicated chaos, discord, fear, and death by omitting the ground line in scenes and randomly placing the figures. Here, multiple ground lines meander across the surface and figures move in different directions. The result is the same: the scene depicts chaos. Panic-stricken ostriches, gazelle, and antelope try without success to flee the spears and arrows of Rekhmire. At middle left, a hyena tries to pull an arrow from its chest with its teeth. Blood spurts from a wounded gazelle. Small mammals try to hide themselves beneath desert shrubs. A rabbit, ears flapping, races toward a small bush. But there is no escape.
The hunting ground is encircled by a fence of braided ropes. The animals are trapped, and Rekhmire, as the saying goes, is shooting fish in a barrel. (Such corralled hunts were practiced as recently as the 1930s by Egypt’s last king, Farouk.)
In the upper register at right, the dead game lies in a great pile, their numbers tallied by a scribe. The hunt is not sport but provisioning for the afterlife.
The second room is called THE PASSAGE and its scenes deal with two broad subjects. On the right (north) wall, Rekhmire treats his activities as vizier and mayor and depicts various stages of his funerary ritual. On the left (south) wall, he illustrates the many workshops that he supervised for the Temple of Amen at Karnak. We will begin with the left wall, rightly considered one of the most important in all Egypt for the study of minor arts and crafts. Because the ceiling rises so dramatically, some registers are nearly impossible to see without ladders or binoculars. But they are of such interest that we will refer to them.
Near the beginning of the left wall, a seated figure of Rekhmire faces the entrance. The scenes he views deal with provisioning the storerooms of the Temple of Amen. In the top register, bags of tiger nuts are dumped in great piles, measured, then ground in a mortar made from the trunk of a tree. Tiger nuts (Cyperus esculentus), wah in ancient Egyptian, habb al-’aziz in modern Arabic, are still eaten in Egypt. They have a sweet flavor tasting like a cross between coconut and almond and are popular on festive days in Luxor, eaten after being soaked in water. After mixing with water, the resulting dough is placed in a three-legged kneading trough to which pastry chefs add fat, then fried in a large pan.
Farther left, men blow smoke into a cylindrical clay beehive and remove the combs of honey. A lone bee hovers forlornly before them. The honey is packed into jars and sealed, and some of it will probably be eaten with the tiger nut cakes. This is one of a few scenes of beekeeping known from dynastic times, although honey was the principal sweetener in ancient Egypt (they had no sugar), and it played a major role in Egyptian cooking and medicine.
In the register below, between the entrances to vaulted temple storerooms, piles of ostrich feathers, skin shields, elephant tusks, baskets of grapes, sacks of nuts—the goods we saw in the first chamber being received by Rekhmire as taxes from Upper Egyptian districts and as tribute from foreign countries—await inventory. There are some light touches in these otherwise formal scenes: at right, a man strains to carry a huge jug of wine; nearby, monkeys scamper about the piles of dom, trying to steal the sweet-tasting fruit.
The flat-topped building at left is called the Double Treasury of Gold and Silver, and piles of precious metals stand ready to be placed inside.
To the right of these activities, other groups of men are engaged in various crafts. Bead makers, leather workers, carpenters, masons, and sculptors work intently to complete projects for the temple. These are some of the most accurate depictions of craftsmen from the New Kingdom and provide unrivalled information on how they made these superb works.
In the uppermost register, a bead maker uses a single bow to power three drills at once, a feat that would have required considerable skill. Behind him, other men string beads into necklaces and collars. Note how their long, curved fingers suggest the delicacy of the work. Farther left, a man with a crank drill hollows out stone vessels.
In the register below, leather workers prepare two different styles of sandals, saddles, ropes, and leather rolls for writing documents. One man stands next to an animal hide stretching or softening leather on the three-legged post. At left, several men stretch a skin, then cut it to the required shape. One man uses his teeth to pull a leather thong through a hole he has punched in the sole of a sandal. Farther left, a skilled worker has cut a piece of leather into a continuous spiral, to make leather strips, perhaps to be used in the rigging of ships.
Below (at right), a craftsman finishes gilding a statue of the king while another inspects the shrine that will house it. The statue is of blackest ebony, and its color indicates its intended association with Osiris. Two men at left sit beside a glue pot heating it on a small fire. One of them applies adhesive to a piece of veneer. Behind them, a cabinetmaker smoothes the surface of a box with an adze. Note the carpenter’s square and the dovetail jig lying next to him. Below, a man saws through a plank that has been lashed vertically to a post; a wedge has been jammed into the cut to prevent the saw from binding. Such techniques are still used today. Here, as elsewhere in this scene, the bare wood is carefully painted to show its grain. A man uses a bow drill to make holes along the edge of a bed through which rope will be passed to weave a mattress. The drill bit, made of bronze, is held in place by a small cup in the man’s hand. Next, four men put the finishing touches on a shrine elaborately crafted of fine woods. Nearby, workmen carve chair legs with feet shaped like lion’s paws. Other craftsmen cut, drill, saw, and sand pieces of wood. Good quality wood was a scarce and valuable commodity in Egypt—nearly all of it was imported and came only in small sizes—and it took considerable skill to create large objects from many small pieces of ebony, cedar, and other woods.
In the next lower register, metalworkers fashion elegant vases and ewers from gold (the yellow rings in this scene), silver (the white rings), and bronze. At right, five rings of gold lie in the balance pan, the precise equivalent of the weight shaped like a bull’s head lying in the other pan. Two other weights, one with the shape of a hippopotamus, lie beneath the scale. The top of the balance has the head of the goddess Ma’at on it to ensure honesty and accuracy. The man at right distributes gold and silver to the workmen and keeps track of its precise weight. That weight will later be compared to the weight of the finished products, to help prevent theft. The long-haired man at left, preceded by three workmen, may be the master craftsman who has come to oversee the gold.
At left, a man kneels before an anvil on which he has placed a gold ring. The ring lies beneath a piece of material, probably to keep it from being scratched as the man beats with a hammerstone. Slowly, he will turn the gold ring into a sheet of precious metal thin enough to be shaped into vessels, or beaten further into paper-thin gold leaf. In the two half-registers at the left, men fashion large vessels. Two men at top work with hammers and strange-looking anvils to shape a vessel. Nearby, a fire is used to soften the metal for soldering or chasing. At left, a man with a hollow reed and a pair of tongs holds a piece of gold in an open flame that crackles and spits as he blows air onto it. Below, four men engrave and polish huge gold jars.
Three men carry ingots of Asiatic copper to the workshop. Four hearths are operating there, each fueled with charcoal. At right, a man dumps another basketful of charcoal on the floor, ready to be shoveled into the hearths. The heat of the fires is made more intense by means of foot-operated bellows made of wood and leather.
The men raise the springless bellows by lifting a foot and pulling the cord, then depress it by pushing down with their foot. The reason that four hearths are working simultaneously is because of the size of the object they are making. It is a massive bronze doorway that is to be installed in Luxor Temple. The molten metal must be poured rapidly to prevent a great drop in temperature, and this requires that a supply be available without interruption to be poured quickly into the mold. The mold has seventeen funnel-shaped vents in its top, and two workmen deftly maneuver a large crucible with flexible sticks, pouring molten metal into each vent in turn. It seems almost impossible to believe that so large and heavy an object could be cast as a single piece, and it is true that no such door has ever been found. But there are textual references to doors of this size, and the two completed door leaves standing at the upper left of the scene belie any alternative explanation.
In the next register below, men make bricks for a construction project at the Temple of Amen at Karnak. This is an especially interesting scene: the brick-making methods shown here can be found unchanged in almost any Egyptian village today, and the use of the bricks for building the ramp shown here tells us how the ancient engineers were able to construct huge temples. At left, men fill jars with water from a small tree-lined lake. One man stands to his waist in the water, another dips from the shoreline. The water will be added to mud and wheat chaff by workmen who use an adze and their feet to obtain the proper mixture. Other men fill baskets with the wet mud and carry it to masons who shape the bricks in molds, then place them in the sun to dry. After two days, the finished bricks are then carried to the building site. The text says the building is a sanctuary at Karnak, but we do not know which one.
This scene is one of the best pieces of evidence we have proving that ancient Egyptians used ramps in building constructions. And it shows how huge structures—a hypostyle hall in this case—might have been built. After the floor was laid, the first course of stone for walls or pillars was put in place and the space between the stone blocks filled with mud brick and rubble. A low ramp was built and stones for the second course were then dragged into place atop the first. More brick was added and the ramp was raised. A third course of stone was added, and the ramp raised again. When the building was completed and its roof was in place, the entire structure was packed with mud brick. As the brick was removed, artists stood on the brick, using it as a descending platform, and smoothed and decorated walls and columns from the top down.
The men working in the brickyard are unusual. They are referred to in the accompanying text as “captives,” and they appear to be Syrians and Nubians. The Syrians have stubble on their chins and their chests are covered with blond hair, features foreign to Egyptians, who regularly shaved their entire body. A few of the Syrians here are even shown with blue eyes.
At right, ships bring more stone to the building site and men dress it, using strings and pegs to ensure that the blocks are perfectly square. Below, sculptors carve two colossal royal statues from red granite. Men work on scaffolding surrounding the huge statues, and a scribe outlines an inscription on the back of the right hand statue, which will later be carved. A limestone sphinx and an offering table are smoothed and polished, and one workman awkwardly bends down to correct a small imperfection on the table’s base.
The remainder of this wall is given over to scenes of Rekhmire’s burial ceremonies. The bottom three registers deal with the procession to the tomb and food offerings, watched over by the Mistress of the West. The next three are watched by Anubis and continue the procession. The top three, overseen by Osiris, deal with offerings and purification rituals.
The scenes on the right (north) wall are to be “read” from right to left, bottom to top.
At far right, ships sail toward Thebes, and in the lower register, they moor there. Rekhmire has returned from an audience with his pharaoh, Amenhetep II, and is welcomed home by members of his family.
To the left are Rekhmire’s funerary banquets, one for the women of his family, another for the men. The women’s banquet is the more interesting, and the artist has shown the guests dressed in tight-fitting robes, elaborately bejeweled and coifed. These are static scenes, formal, unmoving and lacking emotion, with two exceptions. One is the scene of servant girls. Note how their hair coyly falls and hides the girls’ faces. The other exception is the girl in the center of the scene who stands with her back to us in a three-quarter view that is unique in Egyptian art. The figure is almost erotic in contrast to the other, formal figures here and is very well done, even though the artist erred in drawing her feet, which cross each other in an anatomically impossible manner. Musicians play stringed instruments, both in the women’s hall and in the men’s. Butchers prepare meat for the meal and, unusually, care has been taken to show that the cuts of beef are well-marbled.
Farther to the left, a statue of Rekhmire stands in a shrine on a boat towed by priests across a pond in his garden. It is not clear whether the garden is one in this life (in which case the building on the left might be his home) or in the next life (in which case it might be his tomb). The scene is charming in its execution, the trees drawn as if they lie on the ground so that the artist could show them—date and dom palms and sycomore figs—in their most recognizable form. Such bird’s-eye views are common in Egyptian art. The garden is formally arranged, divided into several nesting rectangles that may indicate terracing. A water carrier stands in the upper right corner, preparing to irrigate the trees. At left, a priest offers up incense beside the pond. This is a funerary scene, perhaps part of the Beautiful Festival of the Valley.
The right (north) wall of the passage nearest the door deals with the Opening of the Mouth ritual
From” The Illustrated Guide to Luxor” by kent R.Weeks ,published by the American University in Cairo Press. Copyright © 2005 White Star S.p.a