Amenpanufer

An audacious thief who ransacked the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, Amenpanufer was caught in about 1111 BC. Tomb robbing was considered a particularly serious offense in ancient Egyptian society, and Amenpanufer’s arrest, torture, and confession constitute one of the first recorded criminal trials. The proceedings have also offered historians a vivid illustration of the waning power of the Egyptian government, which by Amenpanufer’s lifetime was no longer able to protect the sacred tombs of its kings. According to the trial records, Amenpanufer was a mason who worked in the quarries near Thebes. Along with a gang of about seven accomplices, he broke into several tombs in the Valley of the Kings, where most Egyptian pharaohs were buried, and stole gold and jewels buried with the royal mummies.

Although raiding tombs was a capital offense, the culprits in Amenpanufer’s gang were hardly the only tomb robbers of the era. Many of the artisans and craftsmen employed at the Valley of the Kings dabbled in theft, especially after the incumbent pharaoh, Ramses IX, was unable to pay their salaries. Amenpanufer said he “fell into the habit” of robbing tombs years before his arrest. Many of the authorities, apparently, were happy to look the other way. At his trial, Amenpanufer disclosed that he had been caught breaking into a tomb once before, but had bribed a local official to release him. The looter was caught again only when the pharaoh established a royal commission to investigate the robberies.

The specific tomb Amenpanufer confessed to violating belonged to King Sobekemsaf II, who had ruled some 500 years earlier. The thief was tortured before confessing and giving a detailed description of his break-ins. The records were found on scrolls of papyrus in the nineteenth century. Amenpanufer’s fate is unknown. The Egyptians considered grave robbing an offense against the gods, however, and punishment was usually severe. Whatever happened to him was sufficiently gruesome that it was still remembered thirty years later, when another man accused of robbing tombs said, “I saw the punishment which was inflicted on the thieves…. Is it then likely that I should seek such a death?”

ADDITIONAL FACTS

  1. The tomb of the pharaoh who had Amenpanufer executed, Ramses IX, was itself robbed in ancient times. His mummy was found intact in 1881, however, and is now stored at a Cairo museum.
  2. Tomb robberies had become so common that authorities in Egypt gave up trying to guard the hundreds of burial sites scattered around Thebes. Instead, they moved the mummies to a few centrally located caches and guarded those. The first—and only—mostly intact, original tomb was Tutankhamen’s, located in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings.
  3. Mummification was intended to keep bodies intact for the afterlife. Kings, important clergy, and even cats were mummified in ancient Egypt. The practice began to dieout after 1000 BC because of the time and expense involved
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