Coming from a powerful family that had already supplied before him at least two Viziers to Egypt, Rekhmire occupied the Viziership under Thutmose III and remained there in turn until the first part of the reign of Amenhotep.
His tomb (or rather its chapel), TT100, is carved at the base of the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. It is exceptional, and historically important for its pictorial quality, especially in the texts it contains, which explain the various functions and responsibilities of the Vizier as well as his duties. It also contains magnificent scenes of foreign peoples’ payment of tribute and the most comprehensive version of the ritual of opening the mouth in all the Theban tombs. Rather well preserved in its most interesting parts, the chapel is recognizable at the first glance into its long room that directly faces the entrance. It is indeed unique because its ceiling rises gradually along its length up to 8m high at its end.
Images and text are inseparable in ancient Egypt, and this is particularly true in the tomb of Rekhmire which we can illustrate with over 600 photos thanks to the help of many people (see end of article for acknowledgements).
The monument was known by the earliest visitors to the west bank of Luxor and was used in the nineteenth century as a dwelling and for livestock. The first records of it decoration, made by Robert Hay, dates from 1832. Hoskins, Cailliaud, Wilkinson, Prisse d'Avennes and others also copied some scenes. It took until 1889 to see the tomb finally closed off by an iron gate and also for Virey make a complete survey of the monument, which served as a reference for half a century. In 1906, the Metropolitan Museum in New York used three experts for a complete new survey: Norman de Garis Davies, his wife Nina, and photographer Harry Burton. Their work took until 1940 and culminated in the 1944 publication, under the auspices of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of two volumes of the wonderful work that has served us as a working basis for this presentation: "The tomb of rekh-mi-Re at Thebes" (see ).
The monument has undergone a series of downgrades during his long life. During the reign of Amenhotep II, representations of Rekhmire, his wife Meryt and their children have been erased with varying persistance: in the most accessible areas, such as the transverse hall, a complete scratching out of silhouettes was coupled with an overpainting using red paint; in other places, it was limited to gouging out the face. We do not know the reasons for this post-mortem animosity but it was assumed that for such a powerful character, it could not have been done without the consent of the sovereign. It is indeed possible that this Vizier fell into disgrace under Amenhotep II, in any case by the middle of the reign, another Vizier, Amenemopet (TT29), cousin of the famous , was responsible for Upper Egypt.
Be that as it may, Rekhmire was never buried in the TT100. And for a very good reason! The tomb was never intended from the outset to receive a burial since there is no burial vault. The Vizier may have wanted, like the Pharaohs of the time, to separate a chapel of worship from his burial. This burial vault has never been found, or rediscovered, whether a small anepigraphic vault, that a burial was refused, or even that he died in exile from Thebes.
About three-quarters of a century later, the chapel was under attack by the zealots of Akhenaten. The cult of one god, the Aten led to the destruction of images and names associated with Amon and other gods, of the word "gods" in the plural, and even of all other religious imagery related to the Karnak Temple down to even the priests wearing a leopard skin, …
The passage of centuries have added other damage. A second entrance can be seen in the facade () : it is the work of an intruder who installed his home, or his burial in the chapel, badly damaging in this way the text on the Duties of the Vizier (). Subsequently, the entire cross hall served as a residence and the longitudinal room as a stable. Soot, dust, and gouges were added to water seepage and bats to spoil the monument even more. Finally, in 1940 a so-called restoration brushed large wall areas that did not need it with white plaster; a scandal roundly denounced by Norman de Garis Davies.
"wise, like Ra") came from a powerful family of officials: his grandfather Aametju (also known under the name of Ahmose, owner of the ) and his uncle Ouseramon were Viziers before him. It was unlikely that his father Neferuben has exercised that office. There was indeed a vizier named Neferouben but it seems he exercised power only in the North.to have had in the north. Moreover, if the father of Rekhmire was the second most powerful character of the state, his son would not have given him the simple title of "wab-priest of Amon" in his grave..
Since Thutmose III'’s time the office of Vizier was split between a Vizier of Upper Egypt and a Vizier of Lower Egypt, and is as vizier South Rekhmire replaced his uncle Ouseramon between the year 28 and year 34 of Thutmose III (1479 - 1425 BC.). On the death of the king, the vizier was first confirmed in office by the young Amenhotep II (1427 -. 1400 BC) and we lose track of him in the course of the reign. The two major titles of Mayor and Vizier had stayed for three generations in the same family. The very great power they would have gained explains, perhaps, why Rekhmire tenure probably ended in disgrace..
The mother of Rekhmire is called Bet and his wife Meryt. Both have the title of
"hekeret Nesut", usually translated as
"royal ornament", an ambiguous term that divides Egyptologists. Some see it as an honorary title, others think it covers a protective function in relation to the guardianship of a member of the royal family, and still others consider that the title refered to women who participated in the festivities of the sovereign (as singer, dancer…), or even simply female senior officials. Anyway, it would not be a title of royal concubines, even if this title does reveal a close connection with the sovereign and with the court. The name of Meryt and her representations are often deleted as are those of her husband. The names of the couple's children were also removed. Some have been reconstructed: the girls are called Takhaout, Mutneferet and Henuttawy; Menkheperrêseneb, the boys, Amenhotep, Mery, and Senouseret Kenamon. In addition, a certain Baky and his wife At are also mentioned, probable relatives of the mother of the Vizier.
Rekhmire carries over one hundred titles in his tomb: traditional titles and laudatory epithets; titles in connection with the administration of the kingdom; titles in connection with the administration of the temple of Amun, and Priestly titles. It is not possible to describe them all here.
Rekhmire chose the bottom of the southern tip of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna to dig its chapel ( and ). The land was unoccupied at the time, but was quickly populated with other graves (as the adjacent drawing by R. Morales clearly shows). The space available allowed the Vizier to realise a large tomb preceded by a large courtyard 19m wide, the boundaries of which are not well defined, as was usual at the time. The facade is quite crudely but some gaps, however, were filled with plaster. There is no decoration. We see to the left of the entrance an intrusive breach which we spoke of above ( and ).
The tomb has a classic inverted T plan; it is oriented north-south according to the compass, but the decor was created according to the canonical east-west orientation, which we will retain in our description ().
Drawings by Güell and Quevedo (see opposite) give all the dimensions of the chapel, please refer to them.
Once past the threshold, one comes directly into the transverse hall, which has two wings, north and south ( and ).In line with the entrance a large longitudinal hall opens, narrow but penetrating over 30m into the hill (called in the texts "the long passage to the West") (). Uniquely, the ceiling follows the slope of the hill and rises to more than 8m high at the west end () which has two superimposed false doors and even a statue in niche above (). According to Davies, this curious layering could have been inspired by the temple of Deir el-Bahri with its superimposed terraces that was a brand new building at the time.
Only doorways and false doors are carved. The rest of the chapel, about 300m², was simply painted with a coat of lime whitewash.
The overall quality of the decorations is quite exceptional. The multicolored hieroglyphic texts of the transverse hall, painted on a gray-blue background but drawn in some places in red, are the finest you can find in an Egyptian tomb and some are a work of art in themselves (, ). At the other places, the hieroglyphics are usually painted in blue. Also worth mentioning is the special care that has been taken in the squaring of the walls from the floor and ceiling, as well as meticulous smoothing of the walls. The eclecticism of the decorative program and the quality of its realisation required great collaboration - you can almost say a narrow complicity - between the architect and his powerful sponsor.
Lintel and jambs carry traditional prayers to Re-Horakhty, Amon-Ra, Thoth and Osiris.
The lintel bears an invocatory offering to twelve deities, those on the left representing the forms of Osiris (). These are
"Amon-Ra, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands in Karnak", "Anubis, who is upon his hill, Lord of To-djeser", "Re-Horakhty in heaven", "Osiris in Orion of the southern sky", "Hathor, Regent of Thebes in Karnak", "Thoth, at the head of Igeret", "Osiris Lord of Life", "Osiris Onnuris", "Osiris, who is Gold of Millions", "Osiris, Lord of Eternity", "Osiris of the places of life", "Osiris at the head of Tenenet in Tenenet". The six prayers on the jambs are made to Mut, Re-Atum-Horakhty, Amon, Amonet, and Osiris.
On the lintel, we read:
"The hereditary prince, the companion who can approach the god (= the king), who is in the heart of Horus, Master of the Two Lands, the dignitary whose heart is open, the Sem-priest, the supervisor of all the ceremonial loincloths, the sab, the chief judge, the voice of Nekhen, the priest of Maat, the daily giver of Ma'at for the Lord of the Two Lands, the mayor of the City (= Thebes) the Vizier, Rekhmire He said: 'It is Hepet who relaxes the restraints that are on my mouth. It is the god of my city that comes forth as Thoth, fully equipped with my magic; he has released the Seth restraints that were on my mouth to oppose Atum. After he (Thoth) has released the (magical restraints), my mouth is not closed, my mouth is opened by Ptah by this, his copper chisel, with which he opens his mouth the gods. I am Sekhem-outet who sits at the side of the great West of the sky. I am the goddess Sahyet, amid the great Baou of Heliopolis. As for the magic and all the words that I have spoken, the Gods stand before them the whole Ennead of Gods and the whole Ennead of Goddesses".
A word about the title sab : It has existed since the Old Kingdom but its meaning has varied over the centuries, from a judicial function to a simple honorary title. Uncertainty remains as to its meaning in Rekhmire’s case and it is better to retain the Egyptian word, without trying to translate it.
These are very damaged, so that the decorative motifs are barely visible. As usual, longitudinal and transverse colour bands imitate wooden beams and bear texts:
Transverse room, central band:
"An invocatory offering to… so they give all that was offered on their altars (gods) to each festival of the sky, the earth and the beginning of each season, taking place in Karnak, (and) the special offerings of three seasons and every day (as well as) the smell of the breeze from the north, of water instead of drawing it from the river, the coming in and going out, opening of the funerary vaultl (so) that the deceased is not prevented from his desires, to take the form of a heron on land and take his place among the followers of God. For the Ka of the Prince, the divine father, the elder, Rekhmire… Heaven is open for you… good and pure food is on the altar… praised by Anubis who is on his hill".
Transverse hall, north wing, central band :
"A invocatory offering to Amun-Re-Kamoutef, which is on his throne, that he should give the conveyance of offerings made to him on his altar every day, and a good funeral in the West, in peace with Osiris. For the Ka of the Prince, the gracious, (the one) the pleasant spirit, an official who is head of the people, the mayor of the City (Thebes) the sab, the supervisor of archives, (the one) guides the steps of the artisan, the spokesman (of the City of) Nekhen, the Maat priest… you Rekhmire who proclaim Maat to the followers of Maat… because he is not blameworthy, the one who is in fear of you. You breathe the breeze from the north, you drink at the place of drawing up the river, O Osiris, Mayor of the City and Vizier Rekhmire. You descend and you are purified in the natron pool; you make yourself divine in the pool of Maat… You live and you do not die, O Osiris Rekhmire, favoured by Anubis, who is on his hill, the master of the Western Necropolis… "
Longitudinal hall, central band:
"… I was a greatly loved, graceful, pleasant of character, great in fame, greatly respected, expert to undertake all sorts of tasks, one who does what is assigned to him, he (the King) knew what had to be done for me in all of his wisdom. He showed me favour on earth… and has repeated endlessly, as one like Horus has made great and the King ennobled due to (my) efforts for his projects because he did prosper from all that I have undertaken;.. it was good and effective upon earth. He ensured that the chapel of my grave will last forever he has made sure that my name remains stable and lasting for millions of years, so my memory lasts forever and forever there".
The texts of the other bands are very fragmentary.