Some Non-Royal Curses

By: David Silverman

Originally Published in 1987

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Most genuine Egyptian curses take a particular form, and, once established, the pattern remains intact. Those placed on private tombs during the Old Kingdom are usually preceded by a statement such as: “As for any [here is put the title of any one of several profes­sions] who will pass by this monu­ment, may he say a 1000 of…[a variety of provisions]; He will receive… [one of several benefac­tions].” Then follows the threat:

As for anyone who will:
do something evil against this my grave<
seize a stone from this my tomb remove any stone or any brick from this my tomb
enter this tomb in impurity
enter upon these my images in impurity

(the last two can be embellished with: “after he has eaten the abom­ination which the beneficent ones detest”)

which is then followed by the punishment:

he will be judged regarding it by the great god.
I will wring his neck like a goose [or like a bird] and cause those who live upon earth to fear the spirits who are in the West.
I will exterminate his survivors.
I will not allow their farms to be occupied.

Other forms of threat do occur: “As for anything which you shall do against this my grave, the like shall be done against yours.”

Examples of curses from the Middle Kingdom are rarer, perhaps in part because of the use of pro­tective spells that occur in the Coffin Texts.

Every man who will interfere with this my stela, I will be judged with him in the place where judgement is made. (Sethe 1959: 87, 17-18).

As for any people [a variety of professions] who will make a dis­turbance in this tomb or who will destroy its writings or who will do damage to its images, they will fall to the wrath of Thoth. (Sethe 1959:88, 1-3)

Less formulaic are the warnings that occur in the Letters to the Dead, in which those on earth ask the spirits of the dead for aid and advice. Sometimes the living press the issue with a threat: “Am I being injured in your presence?…who then will pour out water for you?” (Gardiner and Sethe 1929:4).

Even private letters can contain expressions of ill will such as that written by one Middle Kingdom woman from el Lahun to another, with the closing expression: “May you be [sick] when you read this.” One of the most touching examples of this type of inscription is the threat written by a mother during the Ramesside Period, who had adopted servants as her children and wanted to assure their position:

She said: “As Amon endures and as the Ruler endures, I make the people whom I have recorded freemen of the land of Pharaoh. Should a son of a daughter or a brother or a sister of their mother or their father contest with them—except for this son of mine, Pendiu—for they are no longer slaves to him, but are brothers and sisters to him, being freemen of the land—may a donkey copu­late with him and a female donkey copulate with his wife, if anyone shall call one of them a slave…”—in the presence of very numerous witnesses. (Translation based on Gardiner 1940:23ff)

Such sentiments are paralleled in a later curse, from the Ethiopian period:

As for the one who will cause this [document?] to remain, his son will remain on his place—one after another. Neither his images nor his name shall be obliterated forever and ever. As for the one who will obliterate [this decree] the power of the goddess Neit will come into being against him forever and ever. His son shall not be caused to remain on his place and a donkey will copulate with him, a female donkey with his wife and his children, and he will falll to the flame from the mouth of Sekhmet. (Translation based on transcription of the stela in Spiegelberg 1903:191-92)

This excerpt come from the article, The Curse of the Curse of the Pharoahs

Cite This Article

Silverman, David. "Some Non-Royal Curses." Expedition Magazine 29, no. 2 (July, 1987): -. Accessed June 17, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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