Sarcophagus lid of Ramesses III

In the center of the lid of this sarcophagus, King Ramesses III is depicted as the god Osiris in mummy form. On his head he wears the Atef crown composed of ostrich feathers, a sun disk and a pair of ram’s horns. Emerging from his forehead is a uraeus, the royal symbol of protection. The king also wears a long plaited beard, another divine symbol associated with the god Osiris, and a long wig with lappets. The king’s arms are crossed over his chest and in his hands he holds the crook and flail.

This impressive object is the carved lid of the sarcophagus (outer coffin) of Ramesses III. It is carved from red granite and weighs about seven tons. The other half of the sarcophagus is in the Louvre museum in Paris. It is inscribed with spells, inside and out, intended to help the King on his journey to the afterlife.

Red granite sarcophagus lid of King Ramesses III
Red granite sarcophagus lid of King Ramesses III

The goddess Nephthys stands on the hieroglyphic sign for gold ‘nbw’. In between the depiction of Ramesses III and Isis and Nephthys are probably four snakes, two of which have female bodies and heads. These snake-women, who probably represent the goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet, raise their hands in adoration of the dead king. Hieroglyphic text is inscribed around the lid’s outer edge.

‘The Osiris, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands… Son of Re, Beloved of the gods, Lord of Crowns, Ramesses, Ruler of Iunu…You are a god.’

These words are inscribed in hieroglyphs around the edge of this seven-ton slab of red granite, which once sealed the coffin of the great Egyptian King Ramesses III. It was transported to England in the early nineteenth century by the intrepid Italian adventurer Giovanni ‘The Great’ Belzoni.

The corner of the lid is missing. The tomb was probably broken into at an earlier date (possibly only a few hundred years after Ramesses death) by tomb raiders trying to steal the valuable grave goods that would have been placed alongside the Pharaoh’s mummified body. Archaeologists have recently found several more fragments of the lid whilst working in the tomb of Ramesses III.

Ramesses is shown here as the god Osiris, in mummy form. In ancient Egyptian belief, the living king was thought to be the incarnation of the god Horus. When he died it was believed that he would be transformed into the god Osiris, ruler of the underworld.

New Kingdom, 20th Dynasty, Ramesside Period, reign of Ramesses III, ca. 1186-1155 BC. Now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. E.1.1823