Herodotus on Rhampsinitos
Proteus: Sethnakhte (1200-1197)?
Ramses III (1197-1166)?
Herodotus on Rhampsinitos
Rhampsinitos, perhaps a combination of Ramses and Neith, may have been Ramses III who was the last builder of any
significance of the 20th dynasty.
His residence was at Memphis, the centre of the Ptah worship. Ptah was equated by the Greeks with Hephaestos.
Even if he was known for his wealth and his treasury at Medinet Habu can be seen
to this day, the Amen temples began to overshadow the king, who had to buy the loyalty of the priesthood and their
acceptance of his dynasty's legitimacy.
The pharaohs who followed Ramses III were indeed much less wealthy than
Ramses III, but the rest of the story belongs to folklore.
The period of the last Ramessides was the time when organised grave robbery spread throughout Egypt. From the 14th year of the reign of Ramses IX onwards many tombs were broken into. This phenomeon is reflected in the tale.
After Proteus, they told me, Rhampsinitos received in succession the
kingdom, who left as a memorial of himself that gateway to the temple
of Hephaistos which is turned towards the West, and in front of the
gateway he set up two statues, in height five-and-twenty cubits, of
which the one which stands on the North side is called by the
Egyptians Summer and the one on the South side Winter; and to that one
which they call Summer they do reverence and make offerings, while to
the other which is called Winter they do the opposite of these things.
The Ali Baba story
This king, they said, got great wealth of silver, which none of the
kings born after him could surpass or even come near to; and wishing
to store his wealth in safety he caused to be built a chamber of
stone, one of the walls whereof was towards the outside of his palace:
and the builder of this, having a design against it, contrived as
follows, that is, he disposed one of the stones in such a manner that
it could be taken out easily from the wall either by two men or even
So when the chamber was finished, the king stored his money in
it, and after some time the builder, being near the end of his life,
called to him his sons (for he had two) and to them he related how he
had contrived in building the treasury of the king, and all in
forethought for them, that they might have ample means of living. And
when he had clearly set forth to them everything concerning the taking
out of the stone, he gave them the measurements, saying that if they
paid heed to this matter they would be stewards of the king's
So he ended his life, and his sons made no long delay in
setting to work, but went to the palace by night, and having found the
stone in the wall of the chamber they dealt with it easily and carried
forth for themselves great quantity of the wealth within. And the king
happening to open the chamber, he marvelled when he saw the vessels
falling short of the full amount, and he did not know on whom he
should lay the blame, since the seals were unbroken and the chamber
had been close shut; but when upon his opening the chamber a second
and a third time the money was each time seen to be diminished, for
the thieves did not slacken in their assaults upon it, he did as
follows:--having ordered traps to be made he set these round about the
vessels in which the money was; and when the thieves had come as at
former times and one of them had entered, then so soon as he came near
to one of the vessels he was straightway caught in the trap: and when
he perceived in what evil case he was, straightway calling his brother
he showed him what the matter was, and bade him enter as quickly as
possible and cut off his head, for fear lest being seen and known he
might bring about the destruction of his brother also. And to the
other it seemed that he spoke well, and he was persuaded and did so;
and fitting the stone into its place he departed home bearing with him
the head of his brother.
Now when it became day, the king entered into
the chamber and was very greatly amazed, seeing the body of the thief
held in the trap without his head, and the chamber unbroken, with no
way to come in by or go out: and being at a loss he hung up the dead
body of the thief upon the wall and set guards there, with charge if
they saw any one weeping or bewailing himself to seize him and bring
him before the king.
When the dead body had been hung up, the
mother was greatly grieved, and speaking with the son who survived she
enjoined him, in whatever way he could, to contrive means by which he
might take down and bring home the body of his brother; and if he
should neglect to do this, she earnestly threatened that she would go
and give information to the king that he had the money. So as the
mother dealt hardly with the surviving son, and he though saying many
things to her did not persuade her, he contrived for his purpose a
device as follows:
Providing himself with asses he filled some skins
with wine and laid them upon the asses, and after that he drove them
along: and when he came opposite to those who were guarding the corpse
hung up, he drew towards him two or three of the necks of the skins
and loosened the cords with which they were tied. Then when the wine
was running out, he began to beat his head and cry out loudly, as if
he did not know to which of the asses he should first turn.
the guards saw the wine flowing out in streams, they ran together to
the road with drinking vessels in their hands and collected the wine
that was poured out, counting it so much gain; and he abused them all
violently, making as if he were angry, but when the guards tried to
appease him, after a time he feigned to be pacified and to abate his
anger, and at length he drove his asses out of the road and began to
set their loads right.
Then more talk arose among them, and one or two
of them made jests at him and brought him to laugh with them; and in
the end he made them a present of one of the skins in addition to what
they had. Upon that they lay down there without more ado, being minded
to drink, and they took him into their company and invited him to
remain with them and join them in their drinking: so he (as may be
supposed) was persuaded and stayed.
As they in their drinking
bade him welcome in a friendly manner, he made a present to them also
of another of the skins; and so at length having drunk liberally the
guards became completely intoxicated; and being overcome by sleep they
went to bed on the spot where they had been drinking.
He then, as it
was now far on in the night, first took down the body of his brother,
and then in mockery shaved the right cheeks of all the guards; and
after that he put the dead body upon the asses and drove them away
home, having accomplished that which was enjoined him by his mother.
Upon this the king, when it was reported to him that the dead body of
the thief had been stolen away, displayed great anger; and desiring by
all means that it should be found out who it might be who devised
these things, did this (so at least they said, but I do not believe
the account),--he caused his own daughter to sit in the stews, and
enjoined her to receive all equally, and before having commerce with
any one to compel him to tell her what was the most cunning and what
the most unholy deed which had been done by him in all his life-time;
and whosoever should relate that which had happened about the thief,
him she must seize and not let him go out.
Then as she was doing that
which was enjoined by her father, the thief, hearing for what purpose
this was done and having a desire to get the better of the king in
resource, did thus:--from the body of one lately dead he cut off the
arm at the shoulder and went with it under his mantle: and having gone
in to the daughter of the king, and being asked that which the others
also were asked, he related that he had done the most unholy deed when
he cut off the head of his brother, who had been caught in a trap in
the king's treasure-chamber, and the most cunning deed in that he made
drunk the guards and took down the dead body of his brother hanging
up; and she when she heard it tried to take hold of him, but the thief
held out to her in the darkness the arm of the corpse, which she
grasped and held, thinking that she was holding the arm of the man
himself; but the thief left it in her hands and departed, escaping
through the door.
Now when this also was reported to the king, he was
at first amazed at the ready invention and daring of the fellow, and
then afterwards he sent round to all the cities and made proclamation
granting a free pardon to the thief, and also promising a great reward
if he would come into his presence. The thief accordingly trusting to
the proclamation came to the king, and Rhampsinitos greatly marvelled
at him, and gave him this daughter of his to wife, counting him to be
the most knowing of all men; for as the Egyptians were distinguished
from all other men, so was he from the other Egyptians.
Herodotus , Histories 2.121