“Overseer of the Eastern Desert,” Middle Kingdom. Known to us primarily through his magnificent tomb, which commands a superb view of the Nile Valley from its vantage point in the eastern cliffs of Middle Egypt, the details of Khnumhotep II's life and lineage were presented in an extensive autobiography that runs around the lowest part of the walls of his tomb-chapel. The brightly colored paintings that cover the remainder of those walls bring his world to life. The decoration of his chapel was laid out to echo the Egyptian cosmos on three levels: the local landscape; the Egyptian landscape; and the landscape of the cosmos as a whole.

Khnumhotep II came to power in the twelfth dynasty, in the Oryx nome, in the nineteenth year of the reign of Amenemhet II (c.1910 BCE); he continued into the reign of Senwosret II. He was the only ruler of the Eastern Desert during his lifetime, with the title “Overseer”; he was not a nomarch. His autobiography tells of building funerary chapels and setting up statues in his principal city of Menat Khufu. It describes the building of his tomb, and it emphasizes the close relationship of his family to the royal house. The most famous event of his reign was recorded in a scene on the northern wall of his chapel; that scene shows a gorgeously attired group of Near Easterners from Shu (men, women, and children), who brought eye-paint to Khnumhotep. That depiction of early international trade took place under the auspices of Senwosret II, represented there by a royal scribe.

Khnumhotep had a large family, and he may even have married several times. His principal wife—the mother of his heir and a number of other children—was a princess named Khety. He also seems to have married, or at least to have had children with, an exceptional woman named Tchat, who—whenever she is depicted in his tomb—usually bears the male title of “Sealer.”

Bibliography

  • Kamrin, Janice. The Cosmos of Khnumhotep II. London, 1997. The tomb is studied and analyzed in depth, and the concept of tomb as cosmograph is developed.
  • Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Autobiographies Chiefly of the Middle Kingdom: A Study and an Anthology. Freiburg, 1988. Includes the most up-to-date translation of Khnumhotep II's autobiography.
  • Newberry, P. E., et al. Beni Hasan, pt I. London, 1893. The primary publication on Khnumhotep II's tomb; includes black-and-white copies of all of the decoration.

Janice Kamrin