Thursday 8 December 2011

Paneb – An Ancient Egyptian Bad Boy?

Have you ever heard of Paneb, the notorious Ancient Egyptian bad boy? These days we hear horror stories on the news all too often about people who commit murder, violence, and theft and display general bad behaviour. But would it be any comfort to you to know that these stories are nothing new, and that even in a small worker’s village in Ancient Egypt there was one of these rascally characters living and, for a while at least, flourishing?

This ancient Egyptian villain of our story was a man called Paneb, and he was born in the workman’s village of Deir el-Medina around 1244 BC during the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramses II. Deir el-Medina was a unique community set in a hollow of the cliffs on the west bank of the Nile at ancient Thebes, peopled by the workmen who cut and decorated the magnificent tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings and their families.

Our bad boy Paneb was one of these workman, and he would have worked long hours in the dark, hot, stuffy conditions of the pharaoh’s tomb.  Paneb had been raised in the home of his adopted father Neferhotep, who had also generously provided Paneb with his education. At Deir el-Medina, jobs were passed down from father to son, and Paneb succeeded to Neferhotep’s coveted position as one of the two foremen of the gangs of workmen in the Valley of the Kings. Paneb, however, was not the type of guy who would repay these kindnesses with the respect and consideration due to his adopted father.

Deir el-Medina - Own Image

However, before we go on any further with Paneb’s tale of debauchery and criminal behaviour, we have to ask how come we know so much about an ordinary ancient Egyptian workman? Well we know so much about Paneb’s dubious career because of a remarkable papyrus, the Papyrus Salt 124, which is now housed in the British Museum.

Papyrus Salt 124 was probably initially found at Deir el-Medina and it arrived in the British Museum from the collection of the early 19th century collector and Egyptologist, Henry Salt, who had obtained it in the Luxor area.  Putting an exact date on the papyrus is problematical, although a clue comes from a later recorded event where one of Paneb’s descendants in year 29 of the pharaoh Ramses III referred to Paneb’s trial taking place during the time of the Vizier Hori.

However, Hori fulfilled the office of Vizier from the reign of the pharaoh Siptah through to the reign of Ramses III, a period of many years.  The first translation of the papyrus was not released until 1870, when it was published by François Chabas with a short summary, and the first translation into English was in 1929 by Jaroslav Cerny. Papyrus Salt 124 is in the form of a letter to the Vizier of the day, Hori, and consists of  a list of accusations against Paneb all designed to let the Vizier know that Paneb was not fit to hold the post of foreman in the Valley of the Kings. The letter was written by a scribe called Amenakht, who, as he was Paneb’s adoptive father’s brother and believed that the post of foreman should have been his, was not what we might have called an uninterested and unbiased party.

It is fair to say that Amenakht did not hold back when it came to his accusations against Paneb, and the papyrus mentions murder, adultery, tomb robbing and general debauchery.  So whatever the truth is about these accusations, it is clear that he had managed to very badly rub Amenakht up the wrong way. Paneb was a married man and had produced at least ten children with his wife the Lady Wabet, but according to Amenakht’s accusations, this did not stop Paneb from committing adultery and even violating women of the village against their will.

One of the bitterest accusations in the papyrus is that Paneb had violated the Lady Yemyemwah against her will on top of a wall, which was very unwise of Paneb if it was true, as this lady was Amenakht’s sister. He also managed to fit in a very lengthy affair with a lady of the village called Hunro, who herself had gone through three different husbands in this time.  One of Paneb’s sons, who was called Aapakhte, was almost as disreputable as his father and even got involved in some of his exploits with the ladies.

Drunkenness and fighting were apparently a way of life for Paneb, and he reputedly managed one night to scrap with and injure nine successive men. Before his adoptive father Neferhotep was killed, Paneb had himself chased him and threatened to kill him. Neferhotep was murdered on the orders of a shadowy figure called ‘Msy’.  It is not really known who this ‘Msy’ was, but it could have been an ephemeral Pharaoh called Amenmesse or one of his agents.

By this time the area around the ancient city of Thebes was very unsettled, with the Pharaoh Seti II fighting for dominance in the region with Amenmesse, although evidence shows that Amenmesse did gain control over Thebes for several years during Seti II’s reign. Whether Paneb was involved in this incident is not known, but it was alleged that Paneb had bribed the Vizier Pra’emhab with a gift of five of Neferhotep’s servants in order to persuade him to give him Neferhotep’s job as foreman.

 Paneb also seemed to have had a very casual attitude towards other people’s time and property, even if the property belonged to pharaoh himself.  When he was promoted to foreman he was working on the tomb of Seti II, and one of the accusations in the papyrus was that he stole stone from the tomb and had the workmen use this stone to build pillars in his own tomb at Deir el-Medina.

He also allegedly took a chariot cover, a statue, and some fine oil, incense and wine that belonged to pharaoh. In the Valley of the Kings the tools used by the workers were very valuable, but that did not deter Paneb from taking them and even breaking one before he could return it. It seemed as though he used the workmen as his own personal workforce, as he made them build a plaited bed for him and also made their wives weave clothes for him.

Paneb was also accused of tomb robbing, which was regarded as a very serious crime because to disturb the eternal rest of a pharaoh was regarded as sacrilege. His rebellious act of sitting on the sarcophagus of Seti II, would have been seen as a hugely disrespectful act. Among the objects that he purloined from tombs supposedly included a mummified goose from the tomb of one of Ramses II’s daughters and a bed and other funerary articles from the tomb of a fellow worker called Nakhtmin.

No one is really sure what happened to Paneb in the end. Soon after these accusations were made against him, Paneb and his son Aapakhte disappear from the records of the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina. Some experts believe that he was executed for his crimes, as there is an ostraca dating from year 5 of Ramses III which refers to the ‘killing of the chief’.

This chief could well have been Paneb, but as there is no name mentioned on the ostraca, it may not have been him. Also this would have meant that Paneb would have been around 67 when he was executed, which was a very great age for an ordinary Ancient Egyptian worker. Paneb is also known from his damaged tomb in the cliffs at Deir el-Medina and also from a carved offering table that would have once stood at the entrance of his tomb, so that his descendants could make their offerings to their deceased ancestor.

So do you think that Paneb was really as bad as he was portrayed by the obviously bitter and resentful Amenakht? Or was he just a bit of character, who liked a bit of drunken debauchery and petty crime, which made it easy to make all those accusations stick?  Unless some further evidence is unearthed from the sands of Egypt, we shall probably never really know, but Paneb’s story shows that despite the passage of the years and our advanced technology, we are not so different from those Ancient Egyptians, and that human nature never really changes.

1 comment:

  1. Perfect article.But i believe the civilization and the more technology would tame the humanbody and may open his eyes more to be more greedy.Above all,Crime is a highly percentage reasoned by psychaic state which may the civiliztion it self help and make it easy to flourish.
    Thanks for valuable informations.
    An Egyptian English speaking tour guide. Khalid Sedeek