The Unifinished Story of Vizier Qar and his Sons

The life stories of the individual members of the family of vizier Qar represent the youngest stratum of Old Kingdom finds from south Abusir, and date to the Sixth Dynasty (23rd century B.C.). Their lives enfolded in the unstable period toward the end of the Old Kingdom, when the power of the provinces rapidly grew at the expense of the king, when the Egyptians were threatened from beyond the frontiers of their country, and when it was even possible to assassinate an Egyptian king.

The end of the era of the builders of the gigantic Old Kingdom pyramids belongs to the epigraphically relatively best documented periods of ancient Egyptian history. The origin of the founder of the Sixth Dynasty, King Teti, is, however, almost completely unknown. His pyramid belongs to the dominant features of the Saqqara necropolis, and the majority of the highest dignitaries from the time of his reign are buried around it. The underground rooms of the pyramid were decorated with the so-called Pyramid Texts – collections of ancient magical and religious texts, the task of which was to secure the king’s immortality after his death, his ascent to the sky and his identification with the highest deities of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Even now, Teti’s burial chamber contains a large stone sarcophagus, which once protected the body of the king.

In the beginning of his reign, Teti had to face numerous political problems, above all those connected with the rise of the power of the country’s highest officials, who appropriated to themselves ever growing shares of the government of the country and of the administration of its wealth. Therefore, Teti married one of his daughters, Princess Watetkhethor, to the dignitary Mereruka, who held the office of the vizier, and was thus the second most powerful man in the state after the king. However, it was also in the time of the reign of Teti that the tombs of some dignitaries serving at the king’s court were intentionally destroyed. This indicates that he was very uncompromising in dealing with his opponents. Nonetheless, in the end he was, at least according to indirect and mediated reports, killed by his own bodyguards.

After Teti’s death, the next important king on the Egyptian throne was his son Pepi I, who built for himself a beautiful pyramid complex in south Saqqara, in an area still inaccessible for tourists. The name of the complex was Mennefer Pepi – “lasting is the beauty of Pepi.” Later, this name began to be used for the Egyptian capital, and it has come down to contemporary times in the form Memphis.

Pepi I reigned for approximately 50 years and his funerary complex was surrounded by at least six smaller pyramid complexes, which contained the burials of the king’s favourite wives. Pepi I also had to face the growing independence of officilas, above all in the southern provinces of the country. Therefore, he married two daughters of Djau, a high official from the city of Abydos in Upper Egypt, whom he subsequently appointed to the office of vizier, i.e. one who de facto oversaw the administration of the entire country. This way Pepi I ensured the loyalty and support of a powerful and almost independent family of dignitaries from Abydos.

One of the last rulers of the Old Kingdom was Pepi II, who, at least accoring to some views, ruled for up to 94 years. In the beginning, however, his mother Ankhnesmeryre II ruled as regent for him. His reign was marked with growing unrests in the south of the country, where, in consequence of the multiplying economical and political problems, the Egyptian army was no longer able to secure the Egyptian frontier. Pepi’s favourite boat builder Anakhet was killed at the Red Sea coast together with his entire expedition, at it was necessary to dispatch a special mission in order to bring their bodies back to Egypt. High Egyptian dignitaries were being killed even in Nubia.

The life story of vizier Qar and his family unfolded precisely in this unstable climate of the Sixth Dynasty. Their modern story began to be written in the autumn of the year 1995. At that time, seven years ago, only after a few days of work in deep sand, the Egytian desert began to reveal one of its many secrets. A tomb complex of an unknown man gradually emerged in front of our eyes. A several meters high stone wall with partially preserved plaster was uncovered with roofing blocks in their original position, exactly as the ancient builders had placed them. A similar situation awaited us also in several other rooms of the tomb. In the course of further excavations, it became clear that this Qar was one of the many dignitaries at the king’s court and that his functions included, among others, also that of a judge. All this information came to light with the discovery of his first cultic chapel. Its walls bore neither relief nor painted decoration, but the western wall contained a large, almost three meters tall false door made of a single huge limestone block, which was covered with inscriptions including the name and titles of the deceased, as well as offering formulae in his favour.

A long roofed corridor connected this room with another, second chapel. The ceiling of this chapel reached the height of almost four meters, and it was formed by large limestone blocks, which we had to remove in order to be able to work inside without being constantly threatened. Its walls were completely preserved, and the entire western wall was taken up by a false door. According to the inscriptions, the owner of this chapel was also a man named Qar. This Qar, however, was a vizier, i.e. the second highest man in the country after the king.

The entrance to this cultic room was decorated with representations of servants bringing sacrificial animals, gazelles and cattle. The walls of the chapel proper were almost completely covered with reliefs depicting long processions of offering bearers, priests and servants of the vizier, bringing burial equipment and offerings for the deceased. Butchers are also present and depicted at work, slaughtering and portioning the sacrificed cattle. The registers of decoration immediately below the ceiling of the chapel were reserved for the representaion of the individual collections of objects of burial equipment, above all food, stone and pottery vessels, furniture, various tools, etc. In the western part of the chapel vizier Qar was depicted twice, overseeing his servants with a dignified look. Immediately in front of Qar, we can see his sons, each one of them labelled with his name and most important title. Thus, we learn that their names were Inti, Qar, Senedjemib and Tjenti.

Who, however, was Qar? Was he the same man to whom belonged the first, undecorated chapel? Or were these men two different individuals? The exploration of a long descending corridor, which was only 1 m high and 1 meter wide, soon brought to light the answers to these questions. This corridor began in the area in front of the tomb of Qar and led to the burial chamber hidden deep underground, which contained a huge sarcophagus weighing several tonnes. The tomb, including the sarcophagus, was, however, looted, and nothing but a wooden comb remained from the burial equipment.

Since the tomb contained two chapels, but only one burial chamber, it became clear that it could only have had one owner. The situation may have been as follows. When official Qar had reached the age and position when further advancement in his career was no longer likely, he began to build his tomb. Towards the end of his career he was, however, unexpectedly appointed to the office of vizier. As such, a simple undecorated chapel was no longer sufficient for him, and Qar had to enlarge his tomb and build a new cultic place which would be appropriate to his high position. Qar probably owed his success to the situation at the court, where loyalty and devotion to the monarch were valued above all.

These facts suggested that the tomb was the final resting place of one of the highest ranking men in the Egyptian society, a hitherto unknown “prime minister” of the Sixth Dynasty. In the course of further excavations, several smaller tombs were discovered to the north of the complex of Qar. These tombs belonged to his sons. Interestingly enough, all of them were intentionally destroyed: with the exception of the foundations of the walls and a few blocks, the decoration of the individual chapels was broken into smaller and larger fragments, which were left to lie as they had fallen. Why did this happen? What could have led someone to come and exert an undoubtedly tremendous effort to destroy the tombs of several members of Qar’s family, leaving the tomb of the vizier himself untouched? It appears that Qar probably sided with the right party, the power holders at the Egyptian court, while some of his sons may have unsuccessfuly conspired against the king. Consequently, an order may have been issued to destroy the tombs of these sons, and thus also their afterlife existence.

Further excavations at this place in Abusir could continue first in the year 2000, in the area to the south of the complex of the vizier. Under the desert surface, we discovered a surprisingly well preserved complex of Qar’s favourite son, judge Inti. At first, we uncovered the entrance to the mud brick tomb, which was preserved in its complete height of several meters and cased with quality limestone blocks. Both sides of the entrance were decorated with two standing figures of the official Inti, executed in fine relief, and a long hieroglyphic inscription containing his autobiography. There were also the figures of his two sons, Ankhemtjenenet and Senedjemib, members of the third generation of the family of vizier Qar. Originally, four obelisks stood in front of this decorated façade, as symbols of the son god Re, one of the most highly praised deities of the ancient Egyptian pantheon.

The entrance opened into a small court paved with large limestone blocks, which led into the cultic chapel. Once, priests would enter this chapel every day in order to cover the altar with offerings consisting of food, drinks and incense burnt on fire. The chapel was richly decorated, and its western wall contained a false door. The monolithic limestone stela was painted red in order to imitate a valuable building material – Assuan granite. The inscriptons that covered the false door included offering formulae and titles and name of the deceased. This enabled us to partially reconstruct Inti’s career, who was active as a priest, judge, and member of the law court in the royal palace. The decoration on the walls of his chapel was even more beautiful, finer and better executed than that of his father. We can see the figure of Inti faced by a procession of officials and priests. His wife Merut is kneeling at his feet , and under his chair stads a dwarf holding Inti’s favourite dog Idjem on a leash. Inti himslef is dressed in a white skirt and his chest is adorned with a wide, finely executed collar. His head is covered with a carefully curled wig. The face of Inti indicates that in terms of the quality of work, the tomb owner was very demanding. We know that the owners of ancient Egyptian tombs personally controlled the quality of the work of the builders and craftsmen responsible for the decoration of the monument.This is clear from the scenes from other contemporary tombs, which show the tomb owner carried by servants in a litter chair and controlling the progress of the construction works. The artist who modelled Inti’s face had, as is still apparent today, to twice redo his eyebrows, before he managed to shape them into the correct form. Undoubtedly this was reflected in the height of his payment, which was at that time given in beer jars and bread cakes.

The greatest surprise, however, followed after a few weeks of dangerous works in the 22 m deep shaft situated close to the chapel of Inti, when we enetered the burial chamber. Already in the course of the clearance of the shaft it became clear that the burial chamber was not looted after it had been sealed and its shaft filled – this was indicated by the fact that on various levels in the shafts, objects came to light that had ritually accompanied its filling. Among these were alabaster vessels, pottery, and an offering table. To the west of the shaft was the burial chamber itself. Along its western wall, there stood a huge, 3 meters long and 2 meters high limestone sarcophagus, inscribed with the name and titles of Inti. On the sarcophagus and around it, other parts of the burial equipment were found, such as pottery vessels, copper tools and miniature stone vessels. In front of the sarcophagus, at its eastern side, we found a false door stela, a unique find of extreme value for archaeologists speacialised in the time of the pyramid builders. It appears that the stela served as a symbolical gate for going in and out of the netherworld.

During the documantation of the tomb, however, it became clear that the tomb had, after all, been robbed – it probably happened in the course of the burial ceremonies. The ancient Egyptian workers, whose task it was to ensure Inti’s burial, probably took use of a moment of the negligence of the guards to break into the already sealed sarcophagus and robbed the mummy of the deceased of amulets and other items of personal use. Thus, Inti’s bones were scattered around the entire room and were discovered even on the sarcophagus lid, together with numerous miniature alabaster vessels. This must have happened between the burial itself and the filling of the access shaft. On the basis of modern parallels, we may estimate that five adult men may have needed several days for the filling of such a shaft.

In the same year, the tomb of the oldest son of Qar, Qar junior, was also found. His burial chamber was hidden 16 m below the desert surface, and it was accessed by a short corridor leading from the bottom of the shaft. Its content surprised us in many respects. In the southeastern corner of the chamber, covering several square meters, large two-handled amphorae with flat bottoms were found. Gadually, it became clear that they were exact copies of imported wine amphorae. In the real amphorae of this type, high quality wine was imported to Egypt from one of the ports of Syria-Palestine. This demanded and highly valued commodity was imported precisely from the area of today’s Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, and it was destined for the royal court and the highest officials of the country. But why did Qar possess only copies? Probably, this was the cheaper way. Moreover, in the Egyptian conception of the afterlife, the copy was functionally equivalent to the original.

The opposite corner was filled with hundreds of small copper tools, which, too, were part of the burial equipment of the deceased for the use in the other world. Next to them, bones from the meat of the cattle sacrificed for the deceased were found. Futher west, on the floor of the burial chamber, we found numerous stone vessels and tools, some of which were destined for the symbolical ceremony of the “opening of the mouth,” which was performed in the course of the burial rites in order to revive the mummy of the deceased for the eternal life in the other world. Along the western wall of the burial chamber, a pit was cut into the bedrock. This pit received the burial and afterwards, it was covered with large limestone blocks. Just like in the case of Inti, the burial was robbed and scattered.

The texts on the stoppers of the wine amphorae contained information of utmost importance – the preserved inscriptions included the name and titles of vizier Qar, who was thus probably responsible for the burial and burial equipment of his son.

The last step forward in the exploration of the family of vizier Qar was made in 2001, when another, 16 m deep shaft was found. To the south of its bottom, a burial chamber was discovered, containing a huge stone sarcophagus with the mummy of the third son of Qar, Senedjemib. He, however, did not lie alone in his sarcophagus, his wife lay next to him. Besides the bodies themselves, we found also items of burial equipment, including several alabaster vessels, other stone vessels, copper tools, stone headrests and a beautifully preserved tablet of seven sacred oils. At the head of the sarcophagus, several pottery jars were found, which were filled with Nile mud. This was connected with the idea of resurrection and afterlife, since it was precisely the black Nile mud, from which life was born and crops grew after the annual floods in the Nile Valley.

The greatest surprize, however, awaited the expedition in the end of October 2002: the discovery of the almost intact burial chamber of official Inti (his name is the same as that of the tomb owner). It contained a large and unique funarary equipment, about which you can learn more in one of the other texts.

  Miroslav Bárta

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