Ancient Pharaoh Was Murdered

DNA samples and CT scans reveal that Ramesses III likely had his throat slashed by his son and other conspirators.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst
Dec 18, 2012

The mummy of Ramesses IIIBMJIn 1155 BC, Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III faced a bloody demise. According to a study published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, his throat was slit by conspirators, and his son, Pentawere, may have led the charge. The study also revealed that Pentawere himself was then likely strangled.

Paleopathologist Albert Zink of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy and his colleagues inferred this new information on the basis of DNA samples and CT scans taken from two mummies—that of Ramesses III himself, and another of a unidentified young man that was found with him in his royal tomb near the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. In the scans of Ramesses III, the researchers identified a 2.7-inch-wide gash across his throat, just below the larynx—a wound that could have caused immediate death, forensic analysts concluded.

Historians had long suspected Ramesses’s demise to be the result of an assassination conspiracy. The Judicial Papyrus, an ancient document of the Egyptian courts, details four separate trials for potential conspirators, including one of Ramesses’s sons, Prince Pentawere—the potential heir to the throne. It was never clear, however, whether the assassination attempt on Ramesses was successful, and how he died has long been a topic of debate. The new findings suggest that Ramesses was, in fact, murdered. “We still cannot be sure that the cut killed him, but we think it did,” Zink told BBC News.

DNA tests then identified the young man as a blood relative of Ramesses III, most likely Pentawere, who, according to ancient court records, was found guilty at trial and took his own life. But examination of the young man’s body revealed an overinflated chest and compressed skin folds and wrinkles around his neck—signs that he may have been strangled.

Though the damage could have been inflicted after he died, there’s no doubt the young man was “badly treated for a mummy,” Zink told the BBC, including being covered with a “ritually impure” goatskin that may indicate a non-royal burial procedure.