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When excavating historical Egyptian sites in the past, there was a limited list of Egyptian Pharaohs that were known in ancient times, mainly through the Bible etc. It was not until the decipherment of the hieroglyphics that the list began to expand. I asked an AI engine what was the likely list that was know to the ancients, but I doubt its veracity. For example I was surprised to see Tutankhamun in the list and got me to wondering how could he have possibly been known in ancient times (based on his lack of achievements compared to the other Pharaohs), and if he was, does anyone know the source?

  • Narmer (Menes) - Traditionally considered the unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt.
  • Khufu (Cheops) - Builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
  • Khafre (Chephren) - Builder of the second-largest pyramid at Giza.
  • Menkaure - Builder of the third and smallest pyramid at Giza.
  • Tutankhamun (Tutankhaten) - Famous for his tomb and the treasures found within it.
  • Akhenaten - Known for his attempt to establish a monotheistic religion centered around the sun god Aten.
  • Hatshepsut - One of the few female pharaohs, known for her building projects and trade expeditions.
  • Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great) - A powerful and long-reigning pharaoh known for his military campaigns and building projects.
  • Thutmose III - A successful military pharaoh who expanded the Egyptian empire.
  • Seti I - Father of Ramesses II and a notable military leader and builder.
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    What makes you doubt that Tutankhamun was known in the ancient world?
    – Steve Bird
    Nov 19, 2023 at 12:06
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    Only because he built nothing, and achieved nothing of note. Whereas all the other Pharaohs list were notable.
    – Alexander
    Nov 19, 2023 at 12:14
  • When Tutankhamun 'built nothing' how did that leave a tomb to be discovered? Did you really mean, broadly, T built nothing but his own tomb? Nov 20, 2023 at 20:18
  • Yes, that is what I meant. Most well know Pharaohs were known in the ancient texts due to their building programmes but probably more for their conquests or military campaigns. Also the activities of Horemheb would not have helped.
    – Alexander
    Nov 21, 2023 at 1:35
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    @Alexander Tutankhamun built plenty for the 9 years he had to reign, but his successors tore it all down.
    – Spencer
    Nov 22, 2023 at 11:33

2 Answers 2

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There is a chance Tutankhamun was never really out of the historical record.

The elephant in the room here is, of course, the vast amount of material found when Howard Carter excavated Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. It will overwhelm just about anything you might find in a casual Google search, not to mention an AI summary on the subject.

So, it's necessary to find some pre-1922 material on Tutankhamun.

William Flinders-Petrie's 1896 book A History of_Egypt, Volume 2: The XVIIth and XVIIIth Dynasties is probably the state of knowledge of Tutankhamun at the time, and has this to say:

Of this reign we know scarcely anything, except from the fine tomb of Hui. The paintings on that show that the princes of the Rutennu in Syria, and of Kush in the Sudan, were both subject to Egypt, and brought offerings and tribute. This points to a continuity of Egyptian power, and shows that whatever changes had gone on inthe fall of Akhenaten's ideals, the vitality of Egypt abroad was not entirely destroyed.

Flinders-Petrie goes on to say that

The claim of Tutankhamen to the throne was through his wife, Ankhsenpaaten, altered to Ankhsenamen, the daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten; he may also have been descended of the royal family, though the fact that he calls Amenhotep III. his father (on the Barkal lions, B. Mus.; Rec. xi. 212)

He didn't imagine the thing that most scholars think today: Tutankhamun's father was Akhenaten himself.

A lot of the pre-1922 knowledge of Tutankhamun comes from Flinders-Petrie's own excavations at Amarna, which he began in 1891. Tutankhamun's successors, notably Horemheb and the first pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty, did their best to wipe out the memory of Akhenaten and Tutaknhamun, the best example being their omission from the Abydos King List of Seti I.

This involved disasembling their rival's buildings, and many of the stone blocks from the buildings so destroyed were reused in new buildings. Reassembled by modern scholars, their actions ironically preserved a record of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.

(I wonder if Tutankhamun's tomb opening being buried in debris from the tomb of Seti I was all that accidental.)

If you follow some of the citations in Flinders-Petrie's book, you will see that Auguste Mariette found some jars bearing the name of Tutankhamun while excavating a bull burial at the Serapaeum of Saqqara in 1852.

But there's something we missed in all the archaeology. All of these scholars were classically trained, and knew that the Hellenistic priest Manetho had compiled a list of Egyptian kings from priestly records. Passed down to us from some epitomes in Africanus, Josephus and Eusebius, and ultimately the Byzantine scholar Syncellus. It's a millennia-long game of telephone at every step.

Nevertheless, Flinders-Petrie goes to a lot of trouble trying to map Manetho's list to the known monument-based chronology, and identifies (p.25, PDF page 46) Tutankhamun with one "Rathos" (Eusebius/ Africanus) or "Rathotis" (Josephus), via a shaky bit of philology:

Next, Ratothis [sic] is said to be the brother of Akenkhres, while we know that Tutankhamen was the brother-in-law of the previous queen, having married another daughter of Akhenaten; the name Aten'tut'ankh (altered later to Amentutankh) may have been rendered by the orthodox as Ra'tutankh, and so have originated Ratothis.

It's a very shaky and controversial identification, but if "Rathohis" is Tutankhamun, then we have a continuous historical record of him passed down from the time he lived. If not, we have to rely on archaeology, and Mariette's report of the jars he found in 1852 will have to be the answer.

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Tutankhamun (Tutankhaten) - Famous for his tomb and the treasures found within it.

Here, you're seeing the limitations of current AI systems.

Tutankhamun was not famous in ancient times for his tomb, or the treasures within it, because the location of his tomb was lost fairly soon after his death.

Instead, he was known during his reign because he was Pharoah, and there are inscriptions from that time referring to his ancestry, in a somewhat confusing manner. After his reign, Horemheb and his successors did their utmost to make sure Tutankhamun (along with his father) was forgotten - the Abydos King list of Seti I simply skips Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. This was because Akhenaten had changed the official religion to Atenism. Tutankhamun changed it back, but the successors seem to have preferred to pretend that none of this ever happened.

Nowadays, he is famous for his tomb and the treasures found within it. That's because it is the only Pharoah's tomb found in the modern era that was basically intact and un-looted. Since Tutankhamun's reign was short and troubled, the magnificence of the goods found in it imply a lot about the tombs of the Pharoahs of wealthier times in ancient Egypt.

The AI engine you used was not distinguishing between the view of Tutankhamun in his own time, and in the present day. This is not surprising, because the AIs that write coherent language do it entirely on the basis of generalisation of the language samples they were trained on. They don't understand the content of what they're writing at all.

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    I fully agree with the limitations of the AI engines and are incapable, from analysing and justifying the results. But it would still be good to know the source for the knowledge of Tutankhamun's reign. I have read Carter's diaries and he was clearly aware of Tutankhamun but was due (very likely) to the decipherment. All the ancient sources for the existence of other pharaohs came from papyri and tablets from the Hittites and other nations, but I am not aware of any mention of Tutankhamun which leads to the conclusion that he could not have been known prior to the decipherment?
    – Alexander
    Nov 19, 2023 at 12:43
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    I don't find your frame challenge relevant. It attacks the reason OP asked the question, not the question itself. The question itself is relevant-- Horemheb and his successors did their utmost to make sure Tutankhamun was forgotten - The Abydos King list of Seti I simply skips Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.
    – Spencer
    Nov 19, 2023 at 15:07
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    Honestly, he's mostly famous for a SNL Skit about him that went the 1970's equivalent of Viral. Of course the unusually extensive coverage of the "treasures" at the time was what the the skit was making fun of, but unlike the exhibit, every household in America at the time had access to the TV show. I remember kids singing this at school.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 19, 2023 at 22:27
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    @T.E.D. He is very famous internationally. Even here in Central Europe, when you ask random people if they know some name of a pharaoh, they will know Tutankhamun (in the local pronunciation and otrhography). Some US TV sketch is irrelevant there. Nov 20, 2023 at 14:53
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    @T.E.D.: I concur with Vladimir. Off the top of my head I can cite Toutankhamon (French spelling) and Cleopatra as Egyptian monarchs. It just so happens that both of them are taught in history books in France: Toutankhamon as the stereotypical pharao when learning about antiquity, and Cleopatra due to her relationship with Julius Caesar. Nothing to do with any SNL skit. Nov 21, 2023 at 13:14

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