Tabnit sarcophagus

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Tabnit sarcophagus
Tabnit sarcophagus.jpg
The sarcophagus in its current location
Material Basalt
Writing Phoenician
Created c.500 BC
Discovered 1887
Present location Istanbul Archaeological Museums

The Tabnit sarcophagus is the sarcophagus of the Phoenician king Tabnit of Sidon (c. 490 BCE),[1] the father of King Eshmunazar II. The sarcophagus is decorated with two separate and unrelated inscriptions – one in Egyptian hieroglyphics and one in Phoenician script. It was created in the early 5th century BC, and was unearthed in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey at the Ayaa Necropolis near Sidon together with the Alexander Sarcophagus and other related sarcophagi. Tabnit's body was found floating perfectly preserved in the original embalming fluid.[2][3] Both the sarcophagus and Tabnit's decomposed skeleton are now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.[4]

The sarcophagus, together with the Eshmunazar II sarcophagus, were possibly acquired by the Sidonians following their participation in the Battle of Pelusium (525 BC),[5] and served as models for later Phoenician sarcophagi.[6]


Cross-section of the Ayaa Necropolis. The Tabnit sarcophagus is at the bottom left.

The tombs near Sidon were discovered in 1887 by the American Presbyterian minister William King Eddy (the father of William A. Eddy). William Wright sent a letter to The Times with news of Eddy's discovery and imploring the British Museum to "take immediate measures to secure these treasures and prevent their falling into the hands of the vandal Turk". This alerted the new curator of the fledgling Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Osman Hamdi Bey, who arranged for a full excavation and the transfer of the sarcophagi to Istanbul.[7]

During the excavation, the workmen opened the Tabnit sarcophagus and found "a human body floating in perfect preservation in a peculiar fluid". Whilst Hamdi Bey was at lunch, the workmen overturned the sarcophagus and poured the fluid out, such that the "secret of the wonderful fluid was again hidden in the Sidon sand".[8][2] Hamdi Bey noted in 1892 that he had kept a portion of the sludge that remained in the bottom of the sarcophagus.[9]


The inscription is known as KAI 13. The Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription shows that the sarcophagus was originally intended for an Egyptian general named "Pen-Ptah" (p3-n-pth).[10]

Closeup of the phoenician language inscription

𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤕𐤁𐤍𐤕 𐤊𐤄𐤍 𐤏𐤔𐤕𐤓𐤕 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤑𐤃𐤍𐤌 𐤁𐤍
𐤀𐤔𐤌𐤍𐤏𐤆𐤓 𐤊𐤄𐤍 𐤏𐤔𐤕𐤓𐤕 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤑𐤃𐤍𐤌 𐤔𐤊𐤁 𐤁𐤀𐤓𐤍 𐤆
𐤌𐤉 𐤀𐤕 𐤊𐤋 𐤀𐤃𐤌 𐤀𐤔 𐤕𐤐𐤒 𐤀𐤉𐤕 𐤄𐤀𐤓𐤍 𐤆
𐤀𐤋 𐤀𐤋 𐤕𐤐𐤕𐤇 𐤏𐤋𐤕𐤉 𐤅𐤀𐤋 𐤕𐤓𐤂𐤆𐤍
𐤊 𐤀𐤉 𐤀𐤓𐤋𐤍 𐤊𐤎𐤐 𐤀𐤉 𐤀𐤓 𐤋𐤍 𐤇𐤓𐤑 𐤅𐤊𐤋 𐤌𐤍𐤌 𐤌𐤔𐤃
𐤁𐤋𐤕 𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤔𐤊𐤁 𐤁𐤀𐤓𐤍 𐤆
𐤀𐤋 𐤀𐤋 𐤕𐤐𐤕𐤇 𐤏𐤋𐤕𐤉 𐤅𐤀𐤋 𐤕𐤓𐤂𐤆𐤍
𐤊 𐤕𐤏𐤁𐤕 𐤏𐤔𐤕𐤓𐤕 𐤄𐤃𐤁𐤓 𐤄𐤀
𐤅𐤀𐤌 𐤐𐤕𐤇 𐤕𐤐𐤕𐤇 𐤏𐤋𐤕𐤉 𐤅𐤓𐤂𐤆 𐤕𐤓𐤂𐤆𐤍
𐤀𐤋 𐤉𐤊𐤍 𐤋𐤊 𐤆𐤓𐤏 𐤁𐤇𐤉𐤌 𐤕𐤇𐤕 𐤔𐤌𐤔
𐤅𐤌𐤔𐤊𐤁 𐤀𐤕 𐤓𐤐𐤀𐤌

ʾnk tbnt khn ʿštrt mlk ṣdnm bn
ʾšmnʿzr khn ʿštrt mlk ṣdnm škb bʾrn z
my ʾt kl ʾdm ʾš tpq ʾyt hʾrn z
ʾl ʾl tptḥ ʿlty wʾl trgzn
k ʾy ʾrln ksp ʾy ʾr ln ḥrṣ wkl mnm mšd
blt ʾnk škb bʾrn z
ʾl ʾl tptḥ ʿlty wʾl trgzn
k tʿbt ʿštrt hdbr hʾ
wʾm ptḥ tptḥ ʿlty wrgz trgzn
ʾl ykn lk zrʿ bḥym tḥt šmš
wmškb ʾt rpʾm

I, Tabnit, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, the son of Eshmunazar, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, am lying in this sarcophagus.
Whoever you are, any man that might find this sarcophagus,
don't, don't open it and don't disturb me,
for no silver is gathered with me, no gold is gathered with me, nor anything of value whatsoever,
only I am lying in this sarcophagus.
Don't, don't open it and don't disturb me,
for this thing is an abomination to Astarte.
And if you do indeed open it and do indeed disturb me,
may you not have any seed among the living under the sun,
nor a resting-place with the Rephaites.


The sarcophagus of Horkhebit, from Saqqara, is very similar in style.

Both the Tabnit sarcophagus and the Eshmunazar II sarcophagus are thought to originally date from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt, which had its capital at Sais.[6] This is partially due to their resemblance to similar sarcophagi such as the Psamtik II-era Horkhebit sarcophagus from Saqqara, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


  1. ^ "Middle East Kingdoms Ancient Central Levant States - Sidon". Kessler Associates. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Gubel, Eric (2003), "Phönizische Anthropoide Sarkophage by Katja Lembke", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 332: 98–100, JSTOR 1357812 
  3. ^ Torrey 1902, pp. 168–9 (footnote): "When the sarcophagus of Tabnit was exhumed, in the year 1887, and the lid was removed, the body of the king was found to be in a very good state of preservation. It was lying in a brownish-colored, somewhat "oily" fluid, which nearly filled the sarcophagus. The eyes were gone; the nose, lips, and the most prominent part of the thorax, which had not been covered by the liquid, had decayed away; in other respects, however, the corpse was like that of a man only recently buried. It was but slightly emaciated; plenty of flesh remained on both face and limbs, and the skin was soft to the touch. The vital organs and viscera had not been removed (a note-worthy circumstance), and were perfectly preserved. Dr. Shibly Abela, of Sidon, a physician of education and experience, remarked that the face showed traces of small-pox; it was not apparent, however, that the king had died of that disease. The color of the skin was described as somewhat "coppery," the tinge being perhaps due to the influence of some substance, or substances, held in solution by the enveloping fluid. The fluid itself may have been partly, or even wholly, rain-water, which finds its way into most of the tombs about Sidon; but in any case it is evident, from the facts just given, that the body of the king had been skilfully embalmed. I do not know that any similar case has ever been observed and reported. After the body had been removed from the sarcophagus and exposed to the sun. it decomposed and shrunk to withered skin and bones in a very short time. My chief authority for these facts is the Rev. William K. Eddy, of Sidon, a keen observer and cautious reporter, who was one of the few who saw and touched the body of Tabnit when it was first exposed to view. Mr. Eddy was positive in his opinion that the king, at the time of his death, had not passed middle life; the face, he thought, was that of a man of less than fifty years of age."
  4. ^ İstanbul Archaeological Museums
  5. ^ Nitschke 2007, p. 71: "Three of these Egyptian sarcophagi manufactured during the twenty-sixth dynasty were apparently acquired by the Sidonians, perhaps as a result of Phoenician participation in Cambyses’ conquest of Egypt in 525 B.C."
  6. ^ a b Nitschke 2007, p. 72.
  7. ^ Jessup 1910, p. 507a: "On the 14th of March a letter came from Mr. Eddy of a wonderful discovery in Sidon of ancient tombs, containing some white polished marble sarcophagi of exquisite beauty and marvellous sculpture. Mr. Eddy had been into the tombs hewn in the solid rock thirty feet below the surface and had measured and described all the sarcophagi of white and black marble with scientific exactness. On the 21st Dr. Eddy received from his son an elaborate report on the discovery which was intended to be sent to his brother Dr. Condit Eddy in New Rochelle. I obtained permission to make a copy for transmission to Dr. William Wright of London, and sent it by mail the next day. Dr. Wright sent it to the London Times with a note in which he expressed the hope that the authorities of the British Museum would "take immediate measures to secure these treasures and prevent their falling into the hands of the vandal Turk". The Times reached Constantinople. Now it happened that the department of antiquities at that time as now was under the charge of Hamdi Beg, a man educated in Paris, an artist, an engineer, and well up in archaeology. When he saw that article of Mr. Eddy's in the Times and Dr. Wright's letter, he said to himself (as he afterwards told us), "I'll show what the 'Vandal Turk' can do!"
  8. ^ Jessup 1910, p. 507b: "One sarcophagus, when the lid was opened, contained a human body floating in perfect preservation in a peculiar fluid. The flesh was soft and perfect in form and colour. But, alas, while Hamdi Beg was at lunch, the over-officious Arab workmen overturned it and spilled all the precious fluid on the sand. The beg's indignation knew no bounds, but it was too late and the body could not be preserved, and the secret of the wonderful fluid was again hidden in the Sidon sand."
  9. ^ Hamdi Bey 1892, pp. 101–103:"Alors seulement nous pûmes enfin voir l'intérieur du sarcophage. Une couche de sable jaunâtre et humide de laquelle émergeaient la face décharnée, les clavicules, les rotules, ainsi que le bout des pieds auxquels manquaient les doigts, remplissait le fond de la cuve jusqu'à 25 centimètres de ses bords... Débarrassé du couvercle, je fis d'abord tirer de la cuve le corps du roi et j'ordonnai de l'étendre sur une planche pour l'emporter dehors et le confier au docteur Mourad Effendi, médecin municipal de Saïda, que j'avais chargé de le mettre en état d'être transporté à constantinople; car tous les muscles des parties postérieures ainsi que tous les organes internes du thorax et de l'abdomen étaient parfaitement conservés. Apres avoir fait vider la cuve, je conservai une portion de la boue formée de sable et de pourriture qu'elle contenait, et je fis passer le reste à travers un crible quand cette boue eut été, au préalable, délayée dans l'eau. Rien n'y a été trouvé, si ce n'est quelques fragments d'anneaux en argent."
  10. ^ Context of Scripture 2.56, P. Kyle McCarter, "The Sarcophagus Inscription of Tabnit, King of Sidon", Brill Online, 2014