By Teresa Bedman and Francisco Martín Valentín
From the Instituto de Estudios del Antiguo Egipto
Directors of the Sen-en-Mut Project
Published in “La Aventura de la Historia”
SEN-EN-MUT, THE PLEBEYAN THAT COULD BE KING
At the beginning of the reign of the great Amenhotep I Dyeser-Ka-Re, the second king of the dynasty XVIII of the Egyptian New Empire (towards the 1520 BC), a boy that came marked to become as powerful as the king of the Two Lands himself, saw for the first time the light of the luminous sky of Egypt.
THE ORIGIN OF SEN-EN-MUT
The place where he was born was then called Iuny (the current Armant) and was a frontier slum of the Nome of Uaset, located in the western bank of the river Nile, only twenty kilometres to the south of the glorious capital of God Amun: the glorious Thebes.
Portrait of Sen-en-Mut
of the tomb TT 353
The boy, who was called Senenmut that meant 'the brother of Mut', was born of a simple 'Lady of the House' call Hat-Nefer, and his father was Ra-Mose, a modest local official. We can imagine the environment in which Senenmut gave his first steps; it was an epoch in which Egypt had begun again its ambitious history of expansion and power, after the expulsion of the invading Hyksos from the sacred land of the Nile.
Iuny was, as it has been said, an extreme neighbourhood of the city of Thebes. The local religious and political centre was made up of the temple of the powerful solar God of the war Montu, venerated in the zone since the times of king Montu-Hotep II Neb-Hepet-Ra, of the dynasty XI (towards the 2064-2013 BC.).
The dusty alleys of the city that separated the fresh houses built with adobe, saw this small boy playing, 'the brother of the (goddess) Mut', that, probably, already then, dreamt about reaching the highest positions in the palace of the king. It is sure that the boy Senenmut stood out from his companions. He would be the general that led the soldiers of the pharaoh and played to be the great builder of the temples, while he become engrossed listening the old histories that spoke of the Gods and the pharaohs, and of the heroes that enjoyed the favour of the sovereign of the Two Lands. His other five brothers would look at him with admiration and certain envy, while his two sisters, surely would think that he was more important and beautiful that the own prince heir to the throne.
In every case, he was the only one among all his brothers that would come to reach important positions in the royal court. Truly, Senenmut carried in his face the expression of the man predestined to be powerful among the powerful. His almond and large eyes should have a deep look that mesmerized all the people he spoke to. His aquiline nose, over fleshy and marked lips, expressed the sharpness of his ingenuity and his intelligent and inquisitive character, while his firm chin denoted his determination and firmness to confront the problems and the adversaries.
SEN-EN-MUT BEGINS HIS CAREER
When he reached the puberty, only with ten years, he probably would be sent by his father Ra-Mose to the School of Scribes of the temple of God Montu. It was very important that Senenmut learnt to read and to write. He would always remember how his father told to him the history of Dua-Jety, in which he instructed his son Pepy about how important books were. In them resided all the wisdom and all the power. The man that knew to write would dominate the words of the Gods and, therefore, would be able to have at his service all the opportunities to reach the higher of the world.
Once his studies in the House of the Life of the temple came to an end, he probably joints the army of the pharaoh to practise his duties as scribe. The warlike nature of God Montu, patron saint of his place of birth, would not be alien to the decision of the youth. In fact, being scribe of the troops of the 'Lord of the Two Lands' just as Egypt was conquering a vast territory of influence, out of its traditional borders, in the Syrian area and in Nubia supposed an excellent mean to make his way towards the highest positions of the royal administration. In any case, his connection with the clergy of the God of his town was also very important in the administrative career of Senenmut. In fact, he became 'Inspector of the priests of God Montu of Iuny'.
Therefore, he would begin to serve king Tuthmosis I Aa-Jeper-Ka-Ra (towards the 1496-1483 BC), reaching in times of his successor, his son Tuthmosis II Aa-Jeper-in-Ra (towards the 1483-1480 BC), if not before, the first positions of importance near the royal house.
SEN-EN-MUT AND HATSHEPSUT MEET
Statue of Hatshepsut originating in Karnak.
Cairo Egyptian Museum
Senenmut was in the first place named 'Manager of the daughter of the king', in reference to Hatshepsut herself, older daughter of Tuthmosis I. This implies a difference of age between the young princess and the efficient royal civil servant that justifies all the intimate profiles of the possible love affair that, as it has been suggested, existed among them. In any case, the proximity of Senenmut and Hatshepsut was a fact of official rank since the death of Tuthmosis II, moment in which the mature official began to serve directly his sovereign and lady.
The most curious thing of the case is that Senenmut had already been named tutor of the royal heir Neferu-Re, the older daughter of Hatshepsut and (supposedly) Tuthmosis II, before the last one ascended the throne as king of Egypt, what also seems to indicate the special relations of almost family nature that both, Hatshepsut and Senenmut, had since the adolescence of the future queen.
In the performance of such positions Senenmut should show his exceptional faculties as expert administrative, since very soon he was named 'Servant and Inspector of the royal domains of Hatshepsut and of Neferu-Re', what would permit him to exercise a very direct and absolutely personal control on the enormous riches of both royal women. These positions were complemented with that of 'Tutor of the royal princess Neferu-Re', what was as much as to turn over a daughter to take care of her and of her education.
THE THRONE OF EGYPT IS OCCUPIED BY A QUEEN WITHOUT KING
Dead Tuthmosis II, the young queen Hatshepsut, still almost an adolescent, was on her own. Nevertheless, everything makes us think that Senenmut was very near her. As soon as she was widowed, Senenmut was in charge of carrying out the extraction in the quarries of Aswan, the transportation by the Nile and the erection in the heart of the temple of the God Amun in Karnak of two enormous obelisks allocated to amaze the future generations that contemplated them.
The problem raised in the succession of Tuthmosis II is fully known. A prince born of a concubine, that after would be the future Tuthmosis III, was the heir of the dead king. Nevertheless, Hatshepsut was the first-born of Tuthmosis I and daughter of the Great Royal Wife of this last one, the queen Ahmosis Ta-Sherit. These factors made the queen reconsider the unjust situation in which the destiny had placed her. She could not be regent regarding a prince that was not her son and, besides, she had been the Great Royal Wife of the dead Tuthmosis II. The natural thing would have been that she had reigned if she had been born male instead of female. It can be easily understood that perhaps Senenmut instructed his queen on all these details, making her see that, in fact, she was the one who should be 'the king'.
Temple of Million of Years
of Queen Hatshepsut in Deir el Ba
In this way, Hatshepsut proclaimed herself pharaoh of Egypt, what should happen between the years 5 to 7 of Tuthmosis III. Due to this fact, or at least, in such moment, Senenmut was named nothing less than 'Superintendent of the House of the God Amun', what was equivalent to be the supervisor of all the riches of the omnipotent Theban God. As a result of this title and directly linked with it, Senenmut was made responsible for performing other many functions related to the God Amun, even those of priestly character. This was an important point of support for the attainment of the aspirations of this man.
In this way Senenmut passed to control all the works done in favour of the God Amun, not only in the temple of Karnak, but also in the temple of his divine wife, the goddess Mut. Nevertheless, the most splendid work attributed to our man was the Dyeser-Dyeseru, the great funerary temple built for the queen Hatshepsut in the western edge of Thebes, in the place today called Deir el Bahari.
It turns out to be crystal clear that from the year 7 of the reign of Tuthmosis III, Senenmut had already reached extraordinary powers and influences in the royal house. The proof is given by the monuments made by him. A high number of statues that represent him alone or as the tutor of the royal princess Neferu-Re do proof this. They Senenmut is present in the scenes that show the expedition to the Country of Punt that so much fame gave to the queen Hatshepsut. During the year 15 of the reign he would also perform important ritual roles in the Jubilee of the queen celebrated in that date.
THE MISTERY OF THE 'TOMBS' OF SEN-EN-MUT
But, besides, for greater personal glory of Senenmut, in those moments two important funerary monuments were began to be built. The first one, his tomb, (today catalogued as the TT 71), provided with a chapel that dominates the necropolis from the top of Sheij Abd el Gurnah and the whole of the area; it is strategically located opposite to the magnificent Temple of Amun of Karnak, in the eastern bank of the Nile. A curious issue is that having his beloved mother Hat-Nefer also died in those dates, Senenmut buried her with other members of his family died before in a chamber excavated right under the chapel of his mentioned eternity resting place. This fact supposed an extraordinary privilege for people that had never belonged to the high class.
Detail of the tomb TT 353 of Senenmut
This funerary monument was perfectly connected, from a magical-religious point of view, with his other funerary construction, (today catalogued as the TT 353), located in the area of El Assasif, in the northwest limit of the funerary temple of Hatshepsut, in Deir el Bahari. Actually, we are talking about a long corridor excavated on the ground of slate clay that deepens sixty meters until reaching layers of hard calcareous stone. The hypogeum was provided with three chambers to which we successively descend by the aforementioned corridor. It is evident that the monument is uncompleted as only the first one of the already mentioned chambers has decoration. Nevertheless, the importance of this authentic subterranean path to the Great Beyond, resides in its evident ritual purpose. Connected in its orientation with the tomb of Sheij Abd El Gurnah, it literally penetrates under the patio of the funerary temple of the queen Hatshepsut.
The texts contained inside the decorated chamber are of an enormous importance for the funerary beliefs of the Egyptians. Senenmut, perfectly skilled in the knowledge of these magical rituals, personally selected the texts that would be included in it. We are talking about passages chosen of the ancient Texts of the Pyramids, of the ones of the Sarcophagi and of the Book of the Dead. What is more shocking is that all of them are destined to facilitate the transfiguration of Senenmut into an initiated being, in a luminous spirit that the Egyptians called 'Aj spirit' and they are written in a special system of writing, call 'retro-writing', that only a series of ritualist priests, specialists in this class of magic ceremonies could appropriately interpret. In fact, the inscription that begins the whole of the formulae says the following thing: '¡Oh (you) the ones that live on the Two Lands (Egypt), ritualist scribes that know the secret things, that worship to God, recite the incantations for the Superintendent (of Amun) Senenmut!.
In the western wall of the chamber, Senenmut ordered to include a 'False Door', symbolic-magic entrance so that his transformed spirit could enter and leave the Great Beyond as he pleased. The trip that Senenmut intended to carry out as 'luminous spirit' needed the aid of maps and plans of the subterranean regions by which he would wander and travel. All of them are also represented in this exceptional 'chamber of the time'.
THE FIRST ASTRONOMICAL CEILING OF THE WORLD
But the more surprising of the strange secret monument that Senenmut carried to the same bowels of the temple of queen Hatshepsut is the exceptional 'Astronomical Plan' that he had included in the ceiling of the chamber.
Detail of the astronomical ceiling
of chamber A of tomb TT 353
We are talking about a representation of the constellations of the south hemisphere, of the twelve decans that governed the equivalent lunar months, and of an astral board, thanks to which the nocturnal celestial movements could be measured and observed. In short an amazing interstellar map to navigate the celestial spaces.
The south part of the ceiling is dedicated to the northern constellations. Twelve circles that represent the twelve lunar months are seen. The circles are separated in two unequal groups by a narrow and long triangle that represents the meridian. In its sharper vertex, the triangle is connected with a constellation with the shape of a bull that is identified with our 'Great Bear'. Updated measurements have allowed the verification that, according to this plan, the Great Bear is located in the exact place or declination that would correspond to it in the sky in the time in which Senenmut lived. Three stellar dates that marked the epoch of Senenmut are represented in the ceiling; three special moments from the religious point of view and of the Egyptian calendar. These are: the midnight from the 18th to the 19th of our month of March, the culmination of the Great Bear; the midnight from the 16th to the 17th of our month of July, moment in which the star Sirius is confused at dawn with the sun, what for the Egyptians marked the beginning of their 'New Year', coinciding with the grown of the river Nile; and the midnight from the 14th to the 15th of our month of November, moment in which the culmination of the main star of the constellation of Orion, assimilated by the ancient Egyptians with the God Osiris, that is to say the mystical resurrection of the God, took place. To the left of this image the goddess Isis is seen, identified with Sothis, behind come Jupiter and Saturn, in the shape of Gods with head of hawk. At the end of this scene Venus can be identified under the aspect of the phoenix. A figure of Seth evokes the planet Mercury.
Curiously, Mars does not appear in this place, which constitutes a great mystery without resolving. The only acceptable explanation, since we know that the Egyptians perfectly knew the existence of the planet Mars is that, during the concrete stellar night represented in the astronomical ceiling of Senenmut, that planet was not visible in Egypt. Besides, the astronomers that have studied the ceiling have been able to determine without doubt the date in which it was designed and represented, what permits the dating of the tomb with accuracy almost precise. In the fifty years that are between 1505 and 1455 BC, only one single night existed in which the planet Jupiter had a determined right ascent, just as is represented in the ceiling, and in which the planet Mars was not visible; that was that of the 14th to the 15th of November of the year 1463 BC, that coincides with the year 16/17 of Tuthmosis III.
Near the entrance of the tomb it was found an ostracon dated in the year 16, what determines the moment in which works were still carried out in the monument. Therefore, it is almost sure that the year 17 was the one in which the Astronomical Ceiling was drawn. It still has to be unravelled what it was supposed to happen the night from the 14th to the 15th of November of that year of 1463 BC. Perhaps it was the moment in which the transformation in life of Senenmut took place, through the initiation rites collected in the walls of the chamber. In fact, we will never know it with accuracy. Nevertheless, we do have constancy that the works of the funerary temple of queen Hatshepsut in Deir el Bahari, built under the orders of Senenmut, ended the same year 16/17, that is to say, in the 1463 BC.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SEN-EN-MUT
We cannot venture anything concrete in relation with the moment in which Senenmut died or which was his luck during the reign of Tuthmosis III. When Herbert Winlock discovered in 1927 the mysterious TT353, it was verified that the same one had not been ended and, strange thing, the entrance had been carefully closed with a wall of adobes arranged by the labourers that had worked in it. The sarcophagus of Senenmut was found, smashed to pieces, in the chapel of the tomb built on Sheij Abd el Gurnah and not, as it should have been reasonable, in the funerary chamber, at the bottom of the well of the tomb. Perhaps it was never placed there?
Standing statue of Senenmut
with Neferu-Re in his arms
The fact that many of his numerous statues have been destroyed, or his name and effigy erased of some places, gave reason to think that, disappeared the queen that had protected him and to which he had served so faithfully, his memory was also attacked and, if he was then still alive, separated of all his positions. But, little more can be told.
But, which is the reason why neither a single remain of his mummy nor of his funerary trousseau has been found, while the tomb of his relatives was found with the bodies of all of them inside, properly shrouded and in their sarcophagi, without any damage?.
The calculations of the investigators handle as the date for the disappearance of Senenmut of the public life, the years 18 or 19 of Tuthmosis III, since for the moment no data after them are known. Nevertheless, it seems that the premature death of his protégée, princess Neferu-Re, was the moment that marked, not only his decline, but that of the queen Hatshepsut herself.
In any case, the memory of this important personage is alive and his mystery to be unravelled. Egypt keeps him jealously amongst its sands, perhaps for ever.
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