A number of ancient Egyptian documents, including the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, record an attempt on the 20th Dynasty pharaoh’s life in 1155 BC, the final year of his reign, and that the chief conspirators were Tiye, one of Ramesses’ secondary wives, and her son Pentawere. The coup, known as the ‘harem conspiracy’ failed, with the throne passing to the king’s designated successor, Ramesses IV, but Egyptologists have long debated whether the assassination attempt was successful.
Now researchers, led by Dr Albert Zink from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman of the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen in Italy, have carried out CT scans of the pharaoh’s mummified remains, revealing a deep cut across his throat that severed the trachea, oesophagus, and major blood vessels.
The researchers’ forensic investigations suggest that the damage to Ramesses III’s throat is unlikely to have been caused after his death, while no accounts of ancient Egyptian embalming methods suggest that opening the throat was part of the mummification process.
Further evidence of foul play came with the discovery of a wedjet (Horus eye) amulet which had been carefully placed inside the wound – perhaps by embalmers, hoping that its healing properties would restore the king in the next world, after which they covered the injury with a thick collar of linen layers.
At the same time, the team have announced the identification of a ‘possible candidate’ for the mummy of one of the culprits, Prince Pentawere – who reportedly took his own life after being found guilty of conspiracy against his father. The remains of 18-20-year-old ‘Man E’ were found in the same royal cache as Ramesses III at Deir el Bahari, but it had not previously been established who he was.
There is no evidence that the man’s internal organs or brain were removed, the team say, and his body had been covered with a goatskin – a material considered to be ritually impure by the ancient Egyptians. This could be interpreted as a post-mortem punishment, the team suggest, though his cause of death remains subject to speculation. His inflated thorax and compressed skinfolds around the neck could suggest violent actions such as strangulation preceding his death, though these effects could also be influenced by decomposition.