Rameses III, King of Egypt: Account of a Conspiracy

by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez

“The next instance worth mentioning of the use of magical figures we obtain from the official account of a conspiracy against Rameses III., king of Egypt about B.C. 1200.

It seems that a number of high officials, the Overseer of the Treasury included, and certain scribes, conspired together against this king apparently with the view of dethroning him. They took into their counsels a number of the ladies attached to the court (some think they belonged to the harîm), and the chief abode of these ladies became the headquarters of the conspirators.

One official was charged with “carrying abroad their words to their mothers and sisters who were there to stir up men and to incite malefactors to do wrong to their lord”; another was charged with aiding and abetting the conspiracy by making himself one with the ringleaders; another was charged with being cognizant of the whole matter, and with concealing his knowledge of it; another with “giving ear to the conversation held by the men conspiring with the women of the Per-khent, and not bringing it forward against them,” and so on.

The conspiracy soon extended from Egypt to Ethiopia, and a military official of high rank in that country was drawn into it by his sister, who urged him to “Incite the men to commit crime, and do thou thyself come to do wrong to thy lord”; now the sister of this official was in the Per-khent, and so she was able to give her brother the latest information of the progress of the disaffection.

Not content with endeavouring to dethrone the king by an uprising of both soldiers and civilians, Hui, a certain high official, who was the overseer of the [royal] cattle, bethought him of applying magic to help their evil designs, and with this object in view he went to some one who had access to the king’s library, and he obtained from him a book containing formulæ of a magical nature, and directions for working magic.

By means of this book he obtained “divine power,” and he became able to cast spells upon folk. Having gained possession of the book he next looked out for some place where he could carry on his magical work without interruption, and at length found one.

Here he set to work to make figures of men in wax, and amulets inscribed with words of magical power which would provoke love, and these he succeeded in introducing into the royal palace by means of the official Athirmâ; and it seems as if those who took them into the palace and those who received them were under the magical influence of Hui.

It is probable that the love philtres were intended for the use of the ladies who were involved in the conspiracy, but as to the object of the wax figures there is no doubt, for they were intended to work harm to the king.

Meanwhile Hui studied his magical work with great diligence, and he succeeded in finding efficacious means for carrying out all the “horrible things and all the wickednesses which his heart could imagine”; these means he employed in all seriousness, and at length committed great crimes which were the horror of every god and goddess, and the punishment of such crimes was death.

In another place Hui is accused of writing books or formulæ of magical words, the effect of which would be to drive men out of their senses, and to strike terror into them; and of making gods of wax and figures of men of the same substance, which should cause the human beings whom they represented to become paralysed and helpless.

But their efforts were in vain, the conspiracy was discovered, and the whole matter was carefully investigated by two small courts of enquiry, the members of which consisted, for the most part, of the king’s personal friends; the king’s orders to them were that “those who are guilty shall die by their own hands, and tell me nothing whatever about it.”

The first court, which consisted of six members, sat to investigate the offences of the husbands and relatives of the royal ladies, and those of the ladies themselves, but before their business was done three of them were arrested because it was found that the ladies had gained great influence over them, that they and the ladies had feasted together, and that they had ceased to be, in consequence, impartial judges.

They were removed from their trusted positions before the king, and having been examined and their guilt clearly brought home to them, their ears and noses were cut off as a punishment and warning to others not to form friendships with the enemies of the king.

The second court, which consisted of five members, investigated the cases of those who were charged with having “stirred up men and incited malefactors to do wrong to their lord,” and having found them guilty they sentenced six of them to death, one by one, in the following terms:—

“Pentaura, who is also called by another name. He was brought up on account of the offence which he had committed in connexion with his mother Thi when she formed a conspiracy with the women of the Per-khent, and because he had intent to do evil unto his lord.

He was brought before the court of judges that he might receive sentence, and they found him guilty, and dismissed him to his own death, where he suffered death by his own hand.”

The wretched man Hui, who made wax figures and spells with the intent to inflict pain and suffering and death upon the king, was also compelled to commit suicide. (See Devéria, Le Papyrus Judiciaire de Turin in Journal Asiatique, 1865; and Chabas, Le Papyrus Magique Harris, p. 169 ff).

The above story of the famous conspiracy against Rameses III. is most useful as proving that books of magic existed in the Royal Library, and that they were not mere treatises on magical practices, but definite works with detailed instructions to the reader how to perform the ceremonies which were necessary to make the formulæ or words of power efficacious.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 73-7.