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Mummy of Nodjmet, wife of Herihor

Herihor was an Egyptian army officer and High Priest of Amun at Thebes (1080 BC to 1074 BC) during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses XI although Karl Jansen Winkeln has argued that Piankh preceded Herihor as High Priest at Thebes and that Herihor outlived Ramesses XI before being succeeded in this office by Pinedjem I, Piankh's son based on the decoration program of the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak which depicts the chief priests Herihor and then Pinedjem I, serving in this office but never Piankh.[1] If true, Herihor would have served in office as chief priest—after succeeding Piankh—for longer than just 6 years as is traditionally believed. The following paragraphs are based on the traditional order (Herihor before Piankh) and therefore only give one possible reconstruction.


While his origins are unknown, it is thought that his parents were Libyans.[2] Recent studies by Karl Jansen-Winkeln in ZAS 119 (1992) suggest that Piankh—originally thought to be Herihor's successor—was actually Herihor's predecessor.[3]

Herihor advanced through the ranks of the military during the reign of Ramesses XI and was integral to restoring order by ousting Pinehesy, viceroy of Nubia, from Thebes. His wife Nodjmet, may have been Ramesses XI's daughter—and perhaps even Piankh's wife if Piankh was his predecessor as Karl Jansen Winkeln today hypothesizes.[4] At the decoration of the hypostyle hall walls of the temple of Khonsu at Karnak, Herihor served several years under king Ramesses XI since he is shown obediently performing his duties as chief priest under this sovereign.[5] But he assumed more and more titles, from high priest to vizier, before finally openly taking the royal title at Thebes, even if he still nominally recognised the authority of Ramesses XI, the actual king of Egypt. It is disputed today whether or not this 'royal phase' of Herihor's career began during or after Ramesses XI's lifetime.

Herihor never really held power outside the environs of Thebes, and Ramesses XI may have outlived him by two years although Jansen-Winkeln argues that Ramesses XI actually died first and only then did Herihor finally assume some form of royal status at Thebes and openly adopted royal titles—but only in a "half-hearted" manner according to Arno Egberts who has adopted Jansen Winkeln's views here.[6] Herihor's usurpation of royal privileges is observed "in the decoration of the court of the Khonsu temple" but his royal datelines "betray nothing of the royal status he enjoyed according to the contemporaray scenes and inscriptions of the court of the Khonsu temple."[7] While both Herihor and his wife Nodjmet were given royal cartouches in inscriptions on their funerary equipment, their 'kingship' was limited to a few relatively restricted areas of Thebes whereas Ramesses XI's name was still recorded in official administrative documents throughout the country.[8] Under the Wehem Mesut era, the Theban high priest—Herihor—and Ramesses XI quietly agreed to accept the new political situation where the High Priest was unofficially as powerful as Pharaoh. The report of Wenamun (also known as Wen-Amon) was made in Year 5 of Herihor and Herihor is mentioned in several Year 5 and Year 6 mummy linen graffitos.

The de facto split between Ramesses XI and his 21st Dynasty successors with the High Priests of Amun at Thebes (referred to in Ancient Egyptian as Wehem Mesut) or 'Renaissance' resulted in the unofficial political division of Egypt between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt with the Tanite based kings ruling Lower Egypt from Tanis. This division was not completely ended until the country was finally reunited with the accession of the Libyan Dynasty 22 king Shoshenq I in 943 BC; Shoshenq was able to appoint his son Iuput to be the new High Priest of Amun at Thebes and thus exercise authority over all of the country.

Traditional Ethiopian kinglists name Herihor, and his successors through Pinudjem II, among the rulers of Saba in the Semitic Agazyan Ethiopian dynasty,[9] and he is considered to have ruled Ethiopia for 16 years in addition to being de facto ruler in Egypt. According to Ethiopian historian Tekletsadiq Mekuria, Herihor's father was the former High Priest Amenhotep, and his mother was a daughter of Ramses IV.[10]


  1. ^ Karl Jansen-Winkeln, Das Ende des Neuen Reiches, ZAS 119 (1992), pp.22-37
  2. ^ Ian Shaw & Paul Nicholson, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, 1995. p.124
  3. ^ Karl Jansen-Winkeln, Das Ende des Neuen Reiches, ZAS 119 (1992), pp.22-37
  4. ^ Jansen-Winkeln, pp.22-37
  5. ^ Arno Egberts, Hard Times: The Chronology of "The Report of Wenamun" Revised, ZAS 125 (1998), p.96
  6. ^ Egberts, p.97
  7. ^ Egberts, p.97
  8. ^ Shaw & Nicholson, p.125
  9. ^ C.F. Rey, 1927 In the Country of the Blue Nile
  10. ^ Tekletsadiq Mekuria, History of Nubia, 1959.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lefebvre, M. Gustave, Herihor, Vizir (Statue du Caire, no 42190), ASAE 26 (1926), 63-68
  • Kees, Hermann. Die Hohenpriester des Amun von Karnak von Herihor bis zum Ende der Äthiopenzeit (1964). Leiden: E. J. Brill
  • Bonhême, Marie-Ange. Hérihor fut-il effectivement roi?, BIFAO 79 (1979), 267-283
  • Forbes, Dennis C. King Herihor, the 'Renaissance' & the 21st Dynasty, KMT 4-3 (1993), 25-41
  • Thijs, Ad. In Search of King Herihor and the Penultimate Ruler of the 20th Dynasty, Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 132 (2005), 73-91
  • James, Peter & Morkot, Robert. Herihor's Kingship and the High Priest Piankh, JEGH 3.2 (2010), 231-260
  • Haring, Ben, Stela Leiden V 65 and Herihor's Damnatio Memoriae, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 41 (2012), 139-152