ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian institutions: The Mansion of Millions of Years
    Facing eternity
    Functions of the Mansion
      The memorial temple
      The royal cult temple
      Economic aspects
    First use of the term
    Temple names
    The Mansions

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The Mansion of Millions of Years

Aerial view of the Ramesseum     The Mansion of Millions of Years, Hw.t-n.t-HH-m-rnp.wt,[1] was the mortuary temple of a New Kingdom pharaoh, replacing the ka-chapels, Hw.t-kA,[2] or the Hr.j,[3] the pyramid superstructures and their adjacent mortuary temples of earlier times.

An aerial view of the Ramesseum, one of Ramses II's Mansions of Millions of Years
License: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0
Source: CyArk on Wikimedia

It was physically separated from the royal tomb, but housed at times the remains of esteemed courtiers: Senenmut's tomb was erected in the precinct of Hatshepsut's mortuary temple.[4]
    Apart from serving as temples for the cult of the king, the Mansions of Millions of Years at Thebes were dedicated to Amen, who by this time had become a sort of a state god inextricably involved with the kingship, those at Memphis to Ptah, another creator god, and the Heliopolitan Mansions to Re.[5] Other deities such as Hathor, Re-Harakhte, Anubis, and Sokar were also housed in the Mansions at times.[6]

Facing eternity

    Mansions of Millions of Years were expected to serve the kings forever–the Mansion of Amenhotep III's was also called Divine Temple of Eternity [7]–not so much as physical structures perhaps, though much care and labour had been invested in their erection, but as places where the king was in the company of the gods, meeting them when they periodically left their sanctuaries and were carried in processions by the royal mortuary temples.[8]
    The kings, having lived a human life and died a human death, had to try and fit into an unknown world so much more extensive. Divine time was on a different scale from human time, the gods viewing a lifetime as an hour.[9] Of Amen the Ramessides thought that he transcended time:
You have announced what will happen in the future, in millions of years, for eternity is before you like yesterday which has passed. [9]
Time did not end after death or melt into a timeless eternity, but continued to be punctuated with occasions dependent on the passing of days and years. Mut, for instance, was said to have promised the pharaohs Millions and millions of years and jubilees.[10]

Functions of the Mansion of Millions of Years

The memorial temple

    ka-chapels were built since prehistoric times for royals and increasingly for other members of the elite, and for gods.
From the borders of the heavens and the underworld I have come today, after passing by the ka-chapel of Hathor on which are fastened the four posts of the firmament.
Coffin Texts, spell 378 [11]
    Since the New Kingdom royal ka-chapels are rarely mentioned anymore, but their functions were not neglected. They were taken over by the Mansions of Millions of Years, where priests served the needs of the deceased king, strengthening and revitalizing his ka by offerings and rituals.[12]
    Being in close proximity to the gods was certainly one of the main features of the Mansions. The dead king, like any other 'justified' human was identified with Osiris, being referred to in his tomb as Osiris-king (wsr-nsw) followed by his name. In Thebes he also merged with Amen-Re. This apparently did not mean that he was one with these gods, but rather that he was part of their retinue, joining for instance the ennead of minor deities following Amen who were thankful to Amenhotep III for his hospitality:
he made us rest in the palace, in his Mansion of Millions of Years [13]
    At Thebes one of the year's religious highlights was the Amen procession from Karnak to Luxor, when the god left his temple and was carried in his bark by all the royal Mansions standing side by side. Since the reign of Hatshepsut he also entered them all, one after the other.
    The pharaohs not only shared their Mansions of Millions of Years with the gods but at times also with a deified predecessor. Ramses III built a chapel for Ramses II in his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu.[14]

The royal cult temple

    Some at least of the Mansions of Millions of Years served as royal cult centres, with rituals similar to those with which gods were worshipped. Seti I for instance built a number of them.[32]

The colossi of Memnon The so-called Colossi of Memnon, colossal statues of Amenhotep III which flanked the entrance to his temple at Thebes
License: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Source: Hajor on Wikimedia

    During the New Kingdom the king was worshipped at Thebes as a local manifestation of Amen while he was still alive. He was not venerated as a person, but rather as an embodiment of divine kingship. As such he was referred to as "the God", pA nTr, "the Great God", pA nTr aA or just "Great God", nTr aA, like many deities. And just as gods were the lords of their cult centres, pharaohs too were assigned divine lordship over towns or countries: Amenhotep III for instance was called Nebmaatre-Lord-of-Nubia at Soleb. His name was written without a cartouche when his individual ka was addressed, the cartouche was drawn around it to denote the royal ka, which all pharaohs shared as divine rulers of the country and which had to be strengthened by ritual offerings and Sed-festivals of rejuvenation. The colossal statues, twt aA(t), most famously those of Amenhotep III or Ramses II, expressed this continuity of kingship. [31]

Economic aspects

   Ramses III was not overly modest when he described the founding of his Mansion of Millions of Years at Medinet Habu which he dedicated to Amen-Re:
I made for thee an august house of millions of years, abiding upon the mountain of "Lord-of-Life," before thee, built of sandstone, gritstone, and black granite; the doors of electrum and copper in beaten work. Its towers were of stone, towering to heaven, adorned and carved with the graver's tool, in the great name of thy majesty. I built a wall around it, established with labor, having ramps and [towers] of sandstone. I dug a lake before it, flooded with Nun, planted with trees and vegetation like the Delta. [15]
His Mansion was conceived on an ambitious scale indeed; and even if most other pharaohs were not quite as extravagant, their continued building activities were a heavy burden on the New Kingdom economy. They tried to economize by using older, hopefully disused, temples as quarries, but while their investment may have borne fruit in the afterworld, returns in this life were meagre. Travellers like Diodorus Siculus,[16] attracted by the marvels of Egypt, visited the temples in antiquity, but tourism began to have an economic impact in the 20th century CE only, a bit late to consolidate the finances of the 20th dynasty pharaohs and their country in decline.
    As going concerns Mansions of Millions of Years, like other temples, received huge initial endowments and, during the heyday of Egyptian military dominance in the region, they were occasionally given goods looted or extorted from the neighbouring countries. In the words of Ramses III:
I filled its treasury with the products of the lands of Egypt: gold, silver, every costly stone by the hundred-thousand. Its granary was overflowing with barley and wheat; (its) lands, its herds, their multitudes were like the sand of the shore. I taxed for it the Southland (i.e Upper Egypt) as well as the Northland (i.e. Lower Egypt). Nubia and Zahi [17] [came] to it, bearing their impost. It was filled with captives, which thou gavest to me among the Nine Bows,[18] (and with) classes [29] which I trained by the ten-thousand. [19]
In the long run the temples had to make do with the income from the land dedicated to them at their foundation. Controlling significant portions of land and thus of the economy of the country they played a major role in the lives of the local population as landlords.

First use of the term

    The idea of wanting to spend millions of years for (and with) the gods is older than the mansions bearing that programmatic name. A First Intermediate Period inscription at Siut proclaims the making of
a monument (i.e. temple) for the souls of Anubis, that he (King Merikare) might spend for him (the god Anubis) millions of years, that he might repeat Sed Jubilees.
Inscription of Kheti I [20]
    The first mention of a Mansion of Millions of Years is found on a statue of a 13th dynasty vizier who was allowed to set it up in the House of his Lord in the Mansion of Millions of Years 'Satisfied is the ka of Sobekhotep'. Later references all date to the New Kingdom, such as the second oldest reference, Ahmose I's inscription in the quarries of Tura, celebrating the opening of the quarry for cutting stones for his Mansion of Millions of ...., the lacuna having most probably contained the word Years,[8] or Seti I's Nauri inscription decreeing:
His majesty has ordered this Mansion of Millions of Years of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Men-maat-re (named) 'Satisfied is the Heart at Abydos' to be equipped by water and by land in the nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Abydos decree of Seti I [21]

Temple names

    Mansions of Millions of Years bore the names of the kings who erected them: the terms Mansion of Millions of Years or just Mansion was followed by the name of the king. Thus Merenre's temple was referred to as
Mansion of Millions of Years <of> the king of S. & N. Egypt, Baienre Meriamun, in the Domain of Amun in the West of Thebes [22]
Inscription of the Royal Scribe Hori in the mortuary temple of Merneptah
They were also known by epithets, such as Thutmoses III's Sacred Horizon or by a local nickname, which makes it at times difficult to be certain whether a sanctuary was truly a mortuary temple dedicated to the funerary rituals of a king.[23] Nor is it certain that all royal mortuary temples of the New Kingdom were referred to as Mansions of Millions of Years. Thutmose II's temple "Receiver of Life" is nowhere called so, but as Thutankhamen's mortuary temple, known to have been a Mansion, was a copy of Thutmose's, it has been suggested that the earlier king's was a Mansion of Millions of Years as well.[24]

The Mansions

    A pharaoh generally built just one Mansion of Millions of Years: of Thutmose I just one mortuary temple named "United with Life" is known which has not been preserved, Thutmose II's "Receiver of Life" lies between Qurnet Murai and Medinet Habu and Hatshepsut's "Holiest of Holies" was built at Deir el Bahri near the temple of Mentuhotep I.[25]
    Thutmose III on the other hand erected three Mansions: the Henket Ankh ("Offering Life") at western Thebes, the Akh-menu ("Resplendent of Monuments") at Karnak, and the Djeser-Akhet ("Sacred Horizon") at Deir el Bahri. It has been suggested that the Karnak temple was connected with the Amen cult rather than with the king's mortuary cult.[13] It may have been built as an offering of gratitude for the victory at Megiddo and invested with the booty of that campaign; alternatively it may have been Thutmose's Sed-festival temple. Some parts of the temple were dedicated to Amen-Re, others to Re-Harakhte and Horus and still others to the funerary god Sokar.[26] The room in the northern part of the Djeser Akhet temple, which in other Theban Mansions of Millions of Years corresponded to the solar chamber, seems to have served the royal cult, leading some to think that solar and royal cults were combined there.[27]
    Little is left of Amenhotep II's "Receiver of Life" and Thutmose IV's mortuary temple has been destroyed. Of Amenhotep III's "Mansion which receives Amen and Elevates his Beauty" just a few ruins are preserved. Akhenaten of course would not be seen dead in the company of Amen and little or nothing is left of the mortuary efforts of his 18th dynasty successors, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamen, Aye and Horemheb.[25]
    Seti I's temple was named "Effective is Seti Merneptah in the Estate of Amen" and contained a chapel dedicated to Ramses I, whose reign was too short for building a mortuary temple of his own.[25]

Entrance of the temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel Entrance of the temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel after it had been moved to prevent its being inundated
License: Public Domain

    Ramses II built more Mansions of Millions of Years than any other pharaoh. The Ramesseum, The Temple of Usermaatre-Setepenre which was named "United with Thebes" is one of the most impressive. Its hypostyle hall is, according to inscriptions, a resting place of the Lord of Gods in his Beautiful Festival of the Valley.
What careth thy heart, O Amun, for these Asiatics so vile and ignorant of God? Have I not made for thee very many monuments and filled thy temple with my booty, and built for thee my Mansion of Millions of Years and given thee all my wealth as permanent possession and presented to thee all lands together to enrich thy offerings, and have caused to be sacrificed to thee tens of thousands of cattle and all manner of sweet-scented herbs? [28]
The temple at Abu Simbel too appears to have been a Mansion of Millions of Years, with the northern part of the temple assigned to Re-Harakhte and the southern dedicated to Amen-Re.[30]

The temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu The temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu
License: GFL

    Ramses II's son Merneptah built his mortuary temple, of which only the foundations remain, between his father's and Amenhotep III's, using the latter's Mansion as a quarry. No trace of a temple of Setnakht has ever been found.[25]
    One of the best preserved Mansions of Millions of Years is the one of Ramses III at Medinet Habu named "United with Eternity". If Ramses II celebrated his military triumphs in the Levant in his funerary temple, his namesake gave thanks to the gods for deliverance from the Sea Peoples in his.
    The economic constraints on the later Ramessides seem to have been such, that little was achieved during their reigns: Ramses IV began building three temples, Ramses V continued the construction of one of them, which was later taken over by his successor. The later rulers do not seem to have built any funerary temples.[25]


Kathryn A. Bard, Steven Blake Shubert, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge, 1999
Peter James Brand, The monuments of Seti I: epigraphic, historical, and art historical analysis,Brill, 2000
James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906
Margaret R. Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File Inc. 2002
Eric H. Cline, David B. O'Connor, Thutmose III: a new biography, University of Michigan Press, 2006
Alan Henderson Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs: an Introduction, Oxford University Press US, 1961
Kenneth Anderson Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Merenptah & the late Nineteenth Dynasty, Volume 4 of Ramesside Inscriptions, Wiley-Blackwell, 2003
Byron E. Shafer (ed.), Temples of Ancient Egypt, I.B.Tauris, 2005
Claude Traunecker, The gods of Egypt, translated by David Lorton, Cornell University Press, 2001
Jean Yoyotte, The book of the pharaohs, translated by Pascal Vernus, David Lorton, Cornell University Press, 2003

[1] translit. Hw.t-n.t-HH-m-rnp.wt, Wb 3, 2.7-8, also Temple of Millions of Years etc.
[2] translit. Hw.t-kA, Wb 3, 5.14-20
[3] translit. Hr.j, Wb 3, 143.12
[4] Cline & O'Connor 2006, p.72
[5] Yoyotte 2003, p.71
[6] Cline & O'Connor 2006, p.153
[7] Hw.t-nTr.k n.t Dt (your divine temple of eternity), Shafer 2005, p.102.
[8] Shafer 2005 pp.89f.
[9] Traunecker 2001, p.38
[10] Bunson 2002, p.258
[11] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Projekt "Digital-Heka" (Leipzig) => Texte DigitalHeka => Schlangenzauber Mittleres Reich => Sargtexte und Verwandtes => Särge MR => T1C => CT378 => TIC
[12] Bard & Shubert 1999, p.110
[13] Shafer 2005, pp.96f.
[14] Shafer 2005, p.109.
[15] Breasted 1906, Part Four, § 189
[16] Diodorus Siculus, Library of History I 47-49
[17] Zahi: today generally spelled Djahi, Canaan
[18] Nine Bows: term used to denote enemy foreigners.
[19] Breasted 1906, Part Four, § 190
[20] Breasted 1906, Part One, § 403
[21] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Historisch-rhetorische Königstexte (19.Dynastie) => Nauri => Nauri-Felsstele => Abydos-Dekret
[22] Kitchen 2003, p.104
[23] Bard & Shubert 1999, p.815
[24] Cline & O'Connor 2006, p.232
[25] Bard & Shubert 1999, pp.995ff.
[26] Shafer 2005, p.99.
[27] Cline & O'Connor 2006, p.210
[28] Gardiner 1961, p.262
[29] classes: Breasted: Not classes in the sense of castes of society, but classes for successive service in the army or civil offices, or state works or royal estates, with which meaning this word is common in the historical texts.
[30] Shafer 2005, p.115.
[31] Brand 2000, pp.40f.
[32] Brand 2000, p. 392


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