Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Enigmas of Tomb KV55: An overview

The tomb designated KV55 belongs to an important, shadowy era of Ancient Egyptian history that has been referred to in previous articles: The Heirs of Akhenaten and The Wives of Akhenaten.  This period of Egyptian history, towards the end of the eighteenth dynasty is referred to as the "Armana period", defined by the reigns of Akhenaten and his heirs, viz. Smenkhkare, [Ankhkheprure] Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay; five pharaohs (with probably one female ruler amongst them) who ruled Egypt during the latter half of the fourteenth century BC.  These years  continue to fascinate Egyptologists and students alike, as they are filled with unsolved questions and riddles relating to various individuals, the order of succession, and the complicated, convoluted familial relationships between the individuals.  It also covers a period of time when Egypt was in religious turmoil; a period that later pharaohs endeavored to erase from the record as much as from the minds and memories of their subjects.  This attempt was for many centuries afterwards largely successful.

The golden mask of Tjuju, mother of queen Tiye, and grandmother
of the mummy in KV55, both discovered by Theodore Davis.
In the early part of the twentieth century a significant number of finds were found in the Valley of the Kings by a retired American financier, Theodore M. Davis, and his team.   Davis, long interested in Egypt, in 1902 decided to become involved in the financing and carrying out of excavations in the Valley of the Kings.  This decision occurred soon after an encounter with a young Howard Carter, then the Inspector-General for Antiquities in Upper Egypt.  Carter was seeking funding to carry out excavations in the Valley, and Davis seemed to have the funds and the resources at his disposal to undertake such work.  Davis could at best be described as being somewhat awkward and prickly in nature, and was considered to be “brusque”, “eccentric” and “difficult”.  However, he seems to have expressed a fondness for collecting antiquities, but was completely unacquainted with excavation techniques.  With Davis’ financial backing to cover excavations in the Valley, Carter had a promise from the Egyptian government granting Davis the right to keep any duplicates of antiquities which he happened to find during the excavations he financed. 

The excavator Theodore Davis, second right, in the Valley of the Kings.

Davis funded numerous excavations in the Valley of the Kings for well over a decade, until he lost interest in 1914.  He passed away soon afterwards, believing that the valley had been exhausted of all finds and tombs.  Despite his ham-fisted approach to archaeology and excavations, Davis was responsible for the discovery of some of the most important finds in the history of Egyptology.  Carter only remained Chief Inspector until 1904, when he was replaced by James Quibell.  It was with the appointment of Arthur Weigall that the method behind the archaeology in the Valley of the Kings changed dramatically.  Where previously Davis had been a silent partner in the excavations, Weigall actively encouraged his patron to participate in the digging first hand.  Davis, the treasure hunter, relished this opportunity that was presented to him.  This change was to affect the way in which excavations were carried out and resulted in some of the most tragic, mindless destruction to the archaeological record anywhere.  The methods employed under Davis were described as being “spoilt by Davis’ interference – generally ignorant experience of the nature of things and of the workmen. [Davis] is old and stupid at times through his stubborn arrogance.  [What] pleases him most is to give in to him and let the work suffer.”

Queen Tiye.
Her mummy was believed by Theodore Davis
to heve been found in Tomb KV55.
The methodology employed by Davis’ excavation teams had been questionable prior the discovery of this tomb.  The method used in KV55 might be considered appalling for its lack of care and respect, having been carried out in a hasty, careless manner. Much mindless destruction occured with inconsistancies in the recording of finds, and various items were stolen.  In some cases, at Davis' behest, priceless artifacts were damaged or destroyed as a feat of showmanship to visitors.  The excavation of KV55 can justifiably be described as a shambles; being more destructive than respectful in relation to the preservation of important finds.  

The entrance to the tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

The tomb itself was located in the centre of the Valley, not far from the tomb of Rameses IX.  Its entrance had been covered by chippings from the quarrying of the Ramaesid tomb.  Having uncovered the opening entrance, a flight of steps was discovered which led downwards to the tomb.  The internal doorway had been well cut, with a figure standing by it. It contained a cemented door blocking covered in plaster.  Unfortunately, no photographs were taken or have survived of the doorway and plastering over it.  Contemporary descriptions state that it was stamped with the Necropolis seal, similar to those found sealing the tomb of Tutankhamun discovered some fifteen years later.  The seal showed a jackal over nine bound captives.  A fragment of the original wall blocking was later found inside the tomb.  The seal of Tutankhamun was reported as to have been found on the wall, however this cannot be corroborated, so should probably be dismissed as a misunderstanding or misinterpretation by its excavator, Arthur Weigall.  Later descriptions, both in Davis’ report on the excavation and elsewhere, state that the blocking had been partially dismantled in antiquity and were later closed off with a loosely built wall.  Perhaps somewhat ironically, the tomb was used as a darkroom during the excavation of that of Tutankhamun, a tomb that the late Davis believed he had already located.

The Tomb entrance at the end of the stairway.

First to enter the tomb proper was Davis, followed by Weigall and finally by Joseph Lindon Smith, an artist.  Smith set about painting watercolours of the interior of the tomb and a few days later was joined by a photographer from Cairo named R. Paul.  Paul set about photographing the tomb; his photographs are now a vital aid to understanding how the tomb was found.  At this point, the majority of the objects were still untouched and in situ.  Also the majority of them were intact despite being in the sorry sad state prior to further deterioration and sloppy handling by the excavation team.  In marked contrast to other tombs that had been found in the Valley, the tomb appeared to be smaller and a more modest affair than others.  It consisted of a single chamber and niche, with steps and a corridor leading in.  The main corridor was covered in more chippings, together with the remains of a door and panel of a large gilded wooden shrine, which were leaning up against the wall.  Although badly damaged and defaced, the remains of the shrine showed exquisite workmanship and design, as can be seen from the recording drawings made by Smith.  Most of the gilt had become detached from the gesso on the panels.  Owing to bad preservation methods employed by Davis and his team, with little interest in preserving the gilding and artwork on the shrine until it was too late; only two panels have survived to this day.
The entrance corridor leading into the main chamber. The wooden
planks were placed to grant visitors access to the tomb.

The inscriptions on the shrine proclaimed that it had been prepared for the burial of Queen Tiye by her son, the infamous heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten.  This led Davis to announce that he had located the tomb of Tiye herself, a grand 18th dynasty queen and daughter of the noble couple, Yuya and Tjuju, who’s tomb Davis had uncovered two years previous.  Without question, the finds made in the tomb of Yuya and Tjuju were significantly more grand and largely intact in contrast to those of KV55.  Nonetheless, Davis, intent on finding a tomb with a royal occupant, was now proclaiming to have found just that.  With the exception of Davis, few belived the tomb to be that of Tiye.  Soon after the discovery of the body, there were disputes as to the gender of the mummy.  Despite these disagreements, Davis was to publish a report (complete with inconsistencies, omissions, and inaccuracies) of the tomb’s excavation under the title of “The Tomb of Queen Tiyi [sic]” in 1910.   
A drawing made by Smith, showing the now lost detail of the damaged gold shrine.

Based upon the drawing made by H.L. Smith, the image on the shrine would appear to have followed a similar style to other Armanan artwork. Had the shrine have survived, it would probably have been amongst the finest surviving works of art from that particular period.  Akhenaten (whose likeness has been crudely hacked out, together with his cartouches and replaced with the name and titles of his father) and his mother, Tiye, are depicted worshipping and making offerings to Aten, the solar disc.  Based upon the drawing and an approximate guess as to the dimensions of the panels, the shrine seems to bear striking similarities to the one later found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Two planks of gilded wood, all that survives of the golden shrine.
Based upon the photographs of R.Paul, the coffin was located in the western part of the tomb, badly decayed and damaged, yet of superb quality.  The coffin was heavily gilded, and inlayed with precious stones.  The lid showed slight anomalies, appeared to have been designed for a woman, yet it was shown wearing a pharaonic beard, the hands showing signs of once having held a crook and flail, part of the kingly regalia and emblems of Osiris.  No inscriptions have survived on the coffin lid as to the identity of its occupant, intended or actual.  All cartouches had been hacked out in a similar crude fashion to those on the shrine.  However, the most shocking damage of all was to the face on the coffin.  It had been savagely torn off below its eyes, destroying any identifying features, as well disfiguring the face, rendering it blind, mute and unable to breathe in the afterlife.

A close up of the badly damaged coffin, taken in situ
in Tomb 55, at time of discovery in 1907.

Edward Ayrton wrote that the coffin itself had rested upon a lion-headed wooden bier, apparantly similar in nature to that which was later found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and which had, owing the flooding from the water, collapsed, and displaced objects that were on the body.  Modern scholarship suggests that this hypothesis is dubious; a recent article by Martha R. Bell has suggested that the damage to the coffin had not occured due to a collapsing bier beneath the coffin, but to the ceiling collapsing above the coffin.  Bell's theory suggests that a section of the ceiling had fallen unto the coffin, breaking it into three pieces.  Beneath the bier were various clay seal impressions.  Davis himself saw little import in reproducing the likeness of these seals in his report.  Fortunately a photograph has survived of these four seals.  The seals are an unusual mix, one showing Amenhotep III’s prenomen and another showing Tutankhamun as a sphinx trampling a captive. 

A likeness of one of the clay seals.

At the turn of the 21st century, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that a significant proportion of the gold from the coffin’s basin had surfaced in the State Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich.  This was the first mention of the basin since its disappearance between 1914 and 1931 from Cairo. Research carried out by Rolf Krauss, of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, stated that the gold had been acquired in the early 1950s from an antiquities dealer based in Geneva, Nicolas Kououlakis.  After various unsuccessful attempts to sell the gold to the museum, it was sent there for restoration and was finally donated in 1984 by the dealer’s daughter.  The surviving pieces of the basin were mounted by the museum’s restoration team on a plexi-glass mount.  The basin does show that cartouches have been removed from the sides, further obscuring the owner of the coffin’s identity.   Subsequent to the restoration efforts in Munich, the basin was finally exhibited for the first time in 2002.  After the exhibition, the remains of the restored basin were returned to Egypt, where they are currently displayed alongside the coffin lid in Cairo.   
The damaged coffin lid, showing the torn-off face, and the excised cartouches.

Scholarship most recently carried out has convincingly suggested that the coffin as well as the canopic jars had originally been designed for a woman; the occupant was to have been Akhenaten’s secondary wife, the “greatly beloved” Kiya.  This suggestion was first proposed in 1967 by the Russian Egyptologist Y.Y. Perepelkin, and later, independently, by the German born Rainer Hanke in 1975.  This identification arose from texts found within the coffin, containing Kiya’s unique titles and form of address viz. “The goodly child of the living Aten, who lives forever and eternity.”  These changes were made to the coffin in its final form, prior to the later vandalism and damage inflicted upon it.
At the foot of the coffin is inscribed an Atenist prayer, and though the text itself refers to a man, Murnane has observed that there are sufficient and significant grammatical errors on the coffin to demonstrate the fact that designated occupant was intended to be a woman.  Aiden Dodson has proposed that the coffin could be seen as a companion piece to the second coffin used in the burial of Tutankhamun, whose physogeny of the facial features are very different from the other likenesses of the king.  Furthermore, the lower half of the coffinettes of Tutankhamun bear the slightly recessed cartouches which once named a very different individual, and these mirror the style and design on the coffin lid in KV55.  In addition, the wings that protect the body in a different style to those which protect a male pharaoh, again lending credence to that the (designated) occupant was indeed once a woman.
The gold foil at the foot of the coffin, showing excised cartouches.
Another striking feature and anomoly in the design of the coffin is the large and unusual wig adorning its head.  It has been suggested by some scholars that the wig itself bears a striking similarity to that in the design of the canopic jars.  Through this similarity, it has been suggested that the coffin and jars had been made to compliment each other.  Possibly the greatest travesty of archaeology related to the remains of the mummy.  All that survives are just the skull and scattered parts of a skeleton.  The deterioration of the mummy appears to have been accelerated due to water having dripped into the tomb through a large crack in the tomb’s ceiling.  The Valley of the Kings has long been prone to occasional torrential floods allowing water to seep in through a crack on the ceiling.

Drawing upon the observations of the tomb’s occupant made by Davis, and upon the photographs taken it appears that the mummy still retained some of its facial characteristics and features, with contemporary descriptions describing it as possessing "leathery lips" and of "teeth that turned to dust" at the touch.  None of the excavation team considered that the remains of sufficient import to take a photograph or make a drawing recording the mummy's appearance, before it “turned to crumbled ashes... [where] nothing remained except a pile of dust and a few disconnected bones.”  The skull of the mummy appears to have been struck a blow by a rock, presumably as a further act of desecration in antiquity.   A gold pectoral, in the shape of a vulture, had been crudely bent around the head, described by Davis as being a “crown”.  The placement of the pectoral on the head is nonetheless an extraordinary act, whoever placed it there.  Edward Ayrton recorded that the tail of the vulture hung over the forehead of the mummy.  This placement of the pectoral could be unintentional, having moved when the bier collapsed.  Some scholars have suggested that placement was as a subversive gesture to the dead occupant, as a mock crown.  The corpse only had a few additional items of jewellery remaining, and these were scant in number.  A gold cartouche was found with part of the early name of the Aten, together with pieces of foil with the same cartouche.  Smith also recovered a broad collar on the chest of the mummy.
The damaged skull of the occupant of the tomb.

Whilst endevouring to rescue finds from the mummy, it further deteriorated rapidly into dust, which in turn mixed with the water in which the coffin lay, and became a "sludgy mess".  In this “mess” were recovered other items of jewellery, missed by Smith, and appear to have been stolen by the workmen in the tomb.  A number of these items were later bought back by Davis and ended up in his private collection, only to be auctioned off in the 1970s.  Since then, most of these items have once again been lost.  All that survives are drawings.  There is still uncertainty as to whether the mummy was wrapped in bandages or not; both Weigell and Davis suggest that mummy bandages were found, dark, hardened, and in a state of decay.  Davis infers the body was wrapped in them, yet according to Weigell they had fallen off prior to the discovery of the tomb.  Both G.L. Smith and Weigell however state that the bandages did not survive handling during the excavation.  Like parts of the mummy, they “crumbled to dust.”

The fragile remains of the body, wrapped in fine linen, was covered with gold lining sheets which may have come loose from the coffin lid.  It was not only in a highly decayed state, but adopting a most extraordinary pose.  The left arm was found folded across the chest, a position which was adopted by female mummies, which might well have lead to some of the confusion of the gender of the mummy. This pose probably reinforced Davis’ belief that he had located the remains of an 18th dynasty queen.  Both arms were adorned with simple gold foil bracelets.  The positioning of the arms has lead to all sorts of theories.  Some have attributed this pose in connection to an attribtution of the body being that of Smenkhkare, and suggesting a homosexual relationship between Akhenaten and Smenkhkare as his consort, adopting the role of "Great Royal Wife."   

Inconsistencies exist in all the reports as to the nature of these gold “sheets”, or “plates” according to Ayton.  Both Davis and Weigell (refering to them as "plates") claimed the body was covered in these sheets, and G.L. Smith reports that a dozen of these sheets were found, placed systematically from side to side.  Some later writers believe that these sheets were not separate protection for the body but infact lining from the coffin itself.  One of the sheets apparently bore traces of the name of Akhenaten, and another was inscribed “beloved of Waenre" [ie Akhenaten] suggesting the possible presence of Smenkhkare. 
Photographic record of one of the gold sheets.

As noted above, six bracelets were found on the body; three on the left upper arm and three on the right wrist. Ayton described them as “broad”, “very thin” and “of a fragile nature.”  Mrs. Andrews, the most neutral observer of the excavation and therefore, probably the most accurate, suggests that the bracelets, together with the sheets and “crown” were not removed until the arrival of the two visiting doctors, responsible for the spurious identification of the body as being that of a woman.  Since then, the bracelets have been subsequently lost or stolen. 
The necklace found with the body in the coffin.
The only surviving piece of jewellery from the remains appears to be that of a necklace, described as being “of gold pendants and inlaid plaques connected by rows of minute beads, ending in large lotus flowers of gold, inlaid with paste.”  However, even this object does not seem to have escaped the nimble fingers of the twentieth century workmen, as various elements of the necklace surfaced in the objects Davis purchased later.  The exact location of the necklace cannot be pinpointed with accuracy.  It does not appear to have been found around the mummy's neck.  The majority of the necklace however has been reconstructed and now displayed in Cairo.   

A coffin lining sheet was also found, recorded by G.L. Smith as being inscribed with the name of Akhenaten – intact.  However this item did not necessarily identify the occupant of the coffin as being Akhenaten, but may well have been part of the original occupant’s funerary goods.  The remains of the body were then placed in a basket, together with the skull, sealed, and then promptly sent to Cairo.  Mummy bands were allegedly found with the coffin, either wrapped outside the mummy or found in the debris surrounding the coffin.  With the exception of Weigell, none of the first recorded writings by the tomb’s excavators make any mention of such bands.  Martha Bell, upon examing the photographs by R. Paul, has suggested that there appear to be gold bands at the side of the coffin, yet these were not recorded in the official reports.  Based upon the photographic evidence, these bands, if indeed they are bands, were made from gold, about two inches thick and may well have had excised cartouches.  If such bands existed however, since their discovery, they have been subsequently lost, presumably stolen.  However, in an exhibition, held in 2005, six bands were displayed together with the coffin basin, and other artefacts from the tomb itself. 

Davis appears to have been determined to prove that the remains were that of queen Tiye, and based his beliefs upon the shape of the pelvis and the female posture and positioning of the arms in the coffin.  Yet subsequent analysis demonstrated the bones have been determined as being without question as being those of a male, and DNA analysis has shown that the identity of the occupant is the father (or a close brother) of Tutankhmun.  Gaston Maspero, Davis' assistant, did not believe the bones to be those of a woman, and initially believed the body to be that of Akhenaten, based in part upon the lining sheet found in the coffin.  He was later to change this belief to that it was the body of the enigmatic Smenkhkare, Akhenaten’s possible successor and/or co-regent.  The age of the body was said to be of a man aged 25-26 years old; an age far too young for Akhenaten when one bears in mind the reforms undertaken in his seventeen year reign.  It was even suggested at the time that the body might be that of Tutankhamun.  Weigall believed that the tomb was possibly acting as the location of a reburial of Akhenaten and his mother, Tiye, who was later moved elsewhere.  In regard to Tiye, it appaears that her remains have been recovered.  The body of the "Elder Lady" of KV35 was recently identified to high degree of certainty through DNA testing in 2010, together with a lock of her hair found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. 
The remains of the "Elder Lady", believed by many to be queen Tiye, together
with an unnamed prince and the "Younger Lady", mother of Tutankhamun.
Conflict amongst Egyptologists still rages to this day as to the identity of the mummy found in Tomb KV55.  Even the most recent DNA testing that has been employed upon the bodies which has determined with a degree of certainty that the mummy is that of Tutankhamun’s father does not offer any further clues as to the identity of the body.  The two most popular candidates being Akhenaten, and the obscure Smenkhkare.  Even the statement of paternity of Tutankhamun is disputed by some, who suggest that the body is in fact that of an unmentioned, unidentified brother.  DNA testing is rather vague still with mummified bodies, and given the numerous incestuous marriages and issue thereof that was prevalent in the royal family at the time, further confusion arises in the difficulty in the determination of exact familial relationships between one member and another.

Nicholas Reeves has convincingly questioned the theores identitying the body as being that of the elusive Smenkhkare owing to the fact that there is no evidence at all within the tomb itself naming nor denoting this individual’s presence.  The “identification” of this body being Smenkhkare has been based upon the supposed age of the skeleton found within the coffin, which has wildly fluctuated over the years, being anything between 20 and 45 years old; and tallying these facts with the assumed age and gender of Smenkhkare.  As Reeves correctly points out, the tomb itself only contains references to Tiye (see above), and to Akhenaten himself, by name and no one else. 

DNA testing of various mummies in the Valley has thrown up a significant problem in identifying the remains of KV55 as those Akhenaten.  The carrying out of the analysis of various remains has suggested that one of the (remains of) two mummies found in KV21 appears to be that of Ankhesenamun and the other being possibly her sister, owing to collelation  between the DNA found in the remains and those of the mummified foetuses in Tutankhamun's tomb.   However, the testing made to the remains of the lady (KV21A) suggested as being those of Ankhesenamun have demonstrated that she is not the daughter of the mummy in KV55.  No other queen has ever been associated with Tutankhamun nor his reign; hence the identification of KV21A as being Ankhesenamun, the third eldest daughter of Akhenaten.  The body shows signs of having suffered from mild club foot, echoing the disability which it is believed that Tutankhamun suffered from. This theory has arisen owing to the presence of numerous canes in the young king's tomb.
The "Vulture pectoral", initially believed to have been a crown by Davis.
Despite the seemingly shambolic nature in which the tomb was found; it has been suggested Martha Bell, who has endeavoured to reconstruct the placement of objects in the tomb as and how Davis and his team discovered them that there was a degree of order to the chaos.  The damage to the various items and the appalling state in which they were found is illusionary and creates confusion, and it is important to consider where the objects were found and what they represent, not their sorry state of preservation.  Some objects were clearly intended for the burial of queen Tiye, as evidenced by there being the remains of part of her (dismantled and probably magnificent) golden shrine.  These were also found with remains of objects such as seals relating to her late husband, Akhenaten’s father and previous pharaoh, Amenhotep III.  The rest would appear to be funerary equipment for use of by her son, Akhenaten, whether originally intended for him (such as the “magic bricks”) or otherwise.

Bell has proposed that the distinction two groups of items is in fact evident, suggesting further that the presence of the shrine and coffin together was incidental, and had not been intended on being used together in a situation of “recycling” goods from other burials.  Readers will be aware, of course, that Tutankhamun’s trove of treasure contained items that had belonged to other members of his family.  However, it is important to note that these items had had their previous owner’s names removed with the names and/or titles of their new “owner”.  This wasn’t the case in KV55.   Bell has proposed that the shrine itself, although it had been dismantled, was in the main area of the tomb itself with coffin and canopic jars placed to the side or edge of the chamber.  The tomb was quite probably not intended as a tomb but appears to have been a cache.  This is backed up by the very nature of the surviving goods, all of which are of a very personal nature, and would have served no purpose to anyone other than whom they were originally inscribed and intended for.  Therefore, it might be suggested that the chamber was intended not for one, but two separate burials, those of mother and son, Tiye and Akhenaten.

This theory gathers support based upon the fact that mother and son were, prior to their likely removal to the Valley of the Kings, probably interred in the same chamber (E) in the rock tombs at Amarna. Both Edwin C. Brock, and Maarten Raven, Field Director of Antiquities from Leiden, have shown from the reconstruction of surviving fragments that a sarcophagus had been prepared for Tiye and placed in the Royal tombs at Amarma.  Granite fragments have been found which can partially reconstruct the walls and lid of the sarcophagus and lid of  Tiye.  Two scenes can be identified on the walls; one showing Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their eldest daughter, Meritaten, pouring a libation.  However, the second scene shows a queen under a canopy.  In addition, the name of Tiye features on the corner posts of both scenes, suggesting that indeed this sarcophagus originally belonged to her.  Other fragments were also found, some bearing name of Meketaten on an indeterminate object, but significantly others appear to have belonged to the sarcophagus of Akhenaten, suggesting that he wished to be, or was initially, buried alongside his mother at Amarna, if not removed at a later date to the Valley of the Kings.  This removal could well have taken place during the reign of Tutankhamun, implied by the presence of his seals close to the coffin and mummy in KV55.  Geoffrey Martin futher suggested that Tiye was a principal figure in royal tomb at Amarna.  Other broken funerary goods were found at Amarna suggesting Akhenaten’s original interment there, mostly broken stone and faience shabti figures.
Canopic jar, with the head bearing the likeness of Kiya

Still unexplained is the gold vulture pectoral, and why it was perhaps reused as an adornment to the head of the occupant of the coffin in Tomb 55 as a “crown”.  Also the unorthodox position of the mummy's arms adopting those of a queen rather than of a king.  And also the walls of the undecorated tomb with no images of the afterlife nor of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, all important and vital constituents of the path of the soul into the West.  On the walls are mason’s marks, suggesting a pillared hall design, much like the tombs at Amarna, yet this design was never realised.  Or, at the time that the occupant(s) were moved to the Valley, there are no motifs or suggestion as to the Atenist belief system surrounding the journey of the Ka [soul] after death.  Even Tutankhamun’s tomb, constructed and doubtless decorated under instruction from his successor Ay (who, no doubt, still adhered to his Atenist beliefs), was complete with images of the traditional gods, and of Ay performing the ritual of opening the dead pharaoh’s mouth.   
The recess or niche, showing one of the canopic jars, as discovered in 1907.

In a small recess or “niche”, perhaps originally intended to be the starting point of a mostly unfinished second chamber were lying the four alabaster canopic jars, presumably those of the occupant.  Despite, once again, the damaged state of the jars with the uraei decorating the brow of each of the jars having been cruelly snapped off.  The jars themselves had been exquisitely fashioned,  being of extremely fine workmanship and quality.  However, once again, like the coffin, the names of their owner had been defaced and chiselled out in antiquity.  The jars also have distinctively feminine features, with the stoppers all showing an attractive young woman in a Nubian style wig, which has lead some experts to believe that these were intended for the burial of the Lady Kiya, owing to her often being portrayed wearing a similar wig in the surviving likenesses of her. 
Recently a tiny fragment of a "sky sign" was exhibited in Munich.  The "sky sign" is fashioned from dark blue glass and has five yellow stars adorning it.  The exact provenance of this fragment is uncertain, with suggestions that it came from the coffin, or from an unknown object, or most convincingly, in an article by Marc Gabolde, that it had been broken off from the canopic jars, forming part of the border where the chiselled out inscriptions had once been.  Amongst the canopic jars, was an object bearing an inscription with the name of its owner.  The object was a “magic brick” fashioned from Nile mud and bearing the prenomen of Akhenaten “Neferkheprure-Waenre”.  Indeed this brick was found with three others in other locations within the tomb, of which two others also bore the pharaoh’s name similarly inscribed, except in hieratic script. 
The magic brick, bearing the name of Akhenaten
Also mentioned in the report are badly decayed boxes, sadly neither photographed nor recorded, which contained funerary goods, as well as a few models of objects such as of a papyrus, model fruits and fragments of a couple of small statues in faience boomerangs, and various vessels for containing cosmetics, etc.  Little else was found within the tomb itself by Davis’ excavation, and only a few objects have been discovered subsequently; copper rosettes from a funerary pall were discovered by Carter in 1921 near the tomb’s entrance and the latest discovery is of an ostracon chip showing a plan of the tomb which possibly dates from the original construction and quarrying of the tomb itself.
The tomb itself was eventually cleared by Ayrton, however, owing to the extremely fragile condition of the shrine, it simply collapsed and crumbled before it could moved, and most regrettably before all the designs upon the panels could be copied by G.L. Smith and therefore have been lost forever.  The excavators had more luck with the badly damaged coffin lid and basin which was carefully dismantled and sent back to Cairo where it was restored.  The basin had crumbled and all that remained were gathered up and placed in cigarette boxes.  These remains consisted mainly of fragments of component inlays and gold foil but unfortunately, soon after their arrival in Cairo, were stolen from Eliot Smith’s laboratory, not to resurface until many years later. 

The ostracon chip, possibly showing a plan of the burial chamber.
It is highly improbable that Tutankhamun, out of respect for his grandmother and father, would have allowed their reburial in tomb KV55 to have been left in such a disrespectful state.   Despite the associations by his court and the priests of Amun with the disastrous reforms that Akhenaten had attempted to implement whilst pharaoh, a re-interment appears to have taken place.  Following the reburial, the tomb was subsequently re-entered on at least one separate occasion.  The tomb had not been ransacked by tomb robbers like most other tombs in the Valley. It appears that it was entered by workmen of the nearby Tomb KV6; that of Rameses IX.  This is suggested by abrupt halt to the quarrying work in the tomb which may suggest that the quarrying workmen realised they were nearing another tomb as the tomb of Rameses overlies that of KV55’s main chamber.  Perhaps the workmen were curious and chose to explore the neighbouring tomb, hence the re-blocking of the tomb after their departure. 
It might be speculated that having successfully uncovered the tomb, the superstitious workmen would have been shocked upon realising that they had uncovered appeared to be the resting place of the pharaoh who had caused so much upheaval for the state and no doubt, in their mindset, greatly displeased and upset the gods.  Inscriptions, cartouches and likenesses were hacked out, not just from the coffin, but also from the splendid god shrine.  The occupant of the coffin had had the gold likeness of his face ripped off, desecrating and blinding the occupant for all eternity.  The identity of the mummy would be lost, the mummy was now deprived of its eyes to see therefore was blind, as well as its mouth and nose to breathe; condemned for eternity.  The protective uraei on the canopic jars were broken off and unceremoniously chucked on the floor with the other fragmentary funerary goods; so that the jars were no longer protected nor bore the kingly status of their contents.  Such anger and hatred, together with the final act of hurling a rock at the coffin, crushing part of the skull inside, seems only likely to have been directed at one individual: Akhenaten. 
A close-up of the damage to the face on the coffin lid.
These later visitors to the tomb appear to have afforded some respect to the other possible occupant of the tomb, queen Tiye.  They removed her body from the contaminating presence of her son, and she was quite probably reburied elsewhere.  Her shrine may well have been intended to follow her to her new resting place.  Any reference to Akhenaten would have been removed from the shrine, not just his likeness but his name too, re-written in red ink and replaced with that of his father, Amenhotep.  The removal of the bulky shrine appears to have proved difficult and awkward, with at least one of the bronze tendons holding the shrine being cut through.  The panels themselves would have knocked and crashed against the walls, leaving traces of the gilded gesso on them.  Chisels were also found in the tomb that might have been used in the dismantling,  Therefore, it appears the shrine was proving too cumbersome to remove, and so what couldn’t be carried out was left just behind.  Many centuries later Davis and his excavation team found those objects where they had been abandoned, the twentieth century wind taking its toll on the final remains of the shrine as the excavators and their visitors trampled to and from the tomb. 

As for Tiye herself, presumably still in her coffin, both she and remaining equipment were removed.  A few objects were overlooked, such as the faience Bes amulets being left behind.  Her body was probably still covered by a linen pall (similar to that found in the tomb of Tutankhamun); a rosette which had been sewn on to it was discovered by Carter in 1921 outside the tomb.  Where Tiye was (once again) reinterred is unknown; her body however, unwrapped and unadorned, had been uncovered previously by Victor Loret in the late nineteenth century in a side annexe to the tomb of Amenhotep II.  Sadly, most of Tiye’s funeral goods have been lost and never been located, although a small broken mask survives and is housed in Berlin, of unknown provenance, and was named as being that of Tiye.
The damaged remains of the "mask of Tiye" in Berlin.

As time has passed since the tomb was excavated, it becomes more apparent that yet more objects from Tomb KV55 were stolen or lost.  Various items were surfacing in Luxor which bore the name of Akhenaten and of the Aten soon after the discovery of the tomb.  Cyril Aldred was able to publish significant parts of Emma Andrews’ diaries detailing some of the plundering that was taking place under Davis’ nose.  Perhaps aware of this blundering taking place, and considering the probable disappointment which Davis was feeling in the ramshackle tomb/cache, he apparantly encouraged his fellow excavators to take handfuls of dirt from the tomb floor, some of which had gold foil in between their grains.  Just two years previous, Davis had found the tomb of Yuya and Tjuja, and although its occupants had not been of royal blood, the finds were more noteworthy and captured the imagination.  Amongst the finds were the excellently preserved bodies of its occupants; together with splendid artifacts, such as the masks on the coffins, and a seat belonging to the Princess Sitamun.  Davis, ever the treasure hunter, seems to have been underwhelmed by the tomb he believed to be of Tiye, and his disregard is evident in the contempt he held for the spoilt finds he made therein.

The seat of princess Sitamun, one of Davis' most dramatic finds
throughout his excavations of the Valley of the Kings.

Mrs Andrews records that “Carter had told him [ie. Davis] of various small and precious things which had been shown to him by a native which had been stolen from Tiyi’s tomb.”  These objects included neferts taken from a necklace, an object with the cartouche of the Aten, and an enamel element from a necklace inscribed with the number 17 in “hieroglyphic characters”.  Independently of Mrs. Andrews’ recording of such events, Arthur Weigell was to describe an identical pendant being found “in the rubbish” of the coffin and mummy.  A number of these items were later tracked down by Carter for Davis, and in the instance of one of the dealers, were returned at no cost to Davis.  Davis however did not choose to include these items in the official inventory of finds made, for concern that the integrity of the entire find might be called into question.  Once again, an accurate archaeological record was sacrificed and certain facts omitted; a tragedy and a travesty for ascertaining information concerning the final resting place of the father of Tutankhamun, perhaps one of the celebrated pharaohs since the discovery of his tomb in 1922.

In 1958, a little over half a century following the tomb's discovery, a letter was sent to the Oriental Institute of Chicago by Theodore Davis’ great-nephew, John A. Allen.  Mr Allen was offering to sell various items from the estate of Theodore Davis to the Institute.  With the letter were sent ink drawings and descriptions of the items.  It wasn’t until 1990 that the museum archivist realised that the provenance of the items Mr Allan had offered to sell were in fact from Tomb KV55.  However the Institute declined Mr. Allan’s offer and the items were not purchased.  Mr Allan was later to sell some twenty items from this collection at Sotheby’s, New York in 1976, and further items in 1986.  Among these items appear to be the necklace element with the number “17” detailed above, in the writings of Mrs. Andrews, and Arthur Weigell.  However, subsequently a similar element appeared on the market, inscribed with the number “16”, and had been sold to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden by an antiquities seller in thee Netherlands.  In turn, this had come from the collection of a certain Baron van der Straeten-Solvay, but how he managed to acquire it remains unknown to this day. Another enigma amongst so many others that continue to surround the nature, as well as the objects, of Tomb KV55.
The gold and enamel element marked with number "16" in the Leiden museum.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Mediæval "Cult" of Saint Ursula

The Middle Ages was responsible for the creation of an enormous cult around surrounding saints, their [purported] remains or relics, as well as the proliferation of reliquaries and shrines, as well as beautifully ornate artwork which included elaborate altarpieces, diptychs, triptychs and numerous paintings.  Part of this veneration arose the ready availability of these supposed relics in the wake of the Crusades and the arrival of the Crusaders in Jerusalem and the Holy Land; the home of Christ and of his disciples.  This was coupled with the publication of “The Golden Legend”, or Legenda aurea, by Jacobus de Voragine, a hagiography with mostly apocryphal tales from the lives of saints.  This work was to prove to be one of the most popular and widely read books in the Middle Ages.  Among the plentiful and fanciful stories of the saints found in the pages is the one telling of the life and martyrdom of St Ursula.

Ursula was to prove to be one of the most popular mediæval saints who was not featured in a Bible story nor had been a religious leader.  Part of her cult of popularity arose in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, and she later featured in various works of art, including a painting by Vittore Carpaccio, that still can be seen in Venice to this day.  Indeed her name became very popular amongst members of the royal family in Mediæval and Renaissance England, who had previously employed mostly Biblical names such as Mary, Anna, and Margaret when naming their daughters. 

The cult of Ursula was widespread, and prolific.  Dedicated to her memory and, without question, one of the finest and most beautiful mediæval reliquaries is that of the Shrine of Saint Ursula; painted and decorated by the Flemish Primitive artist Hans Memling and painted in commemoration of her life and martyrdom, as well as that of ten thousand virgins, at Cologne.  The shrine itself was fashioned from oak, and has been painted with oils.  It measures 87cm x 33 cm x 91 cm, and has been specially constructed to look like a chapel in design.  The shrine itself is made up of various different components; a gilded frame, the walls and roof, and the panels on the sides.  Intriguingly the reliquary was not deigned to be housed in neither a cathedral nor church, but in a hospital; it seems that this was an object of veneration to celebrate the life of Saint Ursula and to draw attention to the splendour of the panels rather than to any relic that may have originally been intended to be contained within.  The shrine itself was designed to be similar to that of a chapel in the Gothic style, with pointed arches, and corner spires.  The roof has been designed to appear as tall as the walls of the “chapel”.  Furthermore, Memling has created the illusion by using tromp-l’oeil traceries around the paintings, suggesting the appearance of three dimensional accenting the roof.
The 15th century Shrine of Saint Ursula, painted by Hans Memling.

The paintings on the panels are unsigned, however it is generally accepted that they are the work of Memling.  It appears that the panels were initially sketched in black chalk, then painted in oils, and were subsequently attached to the shrine itself.  It appears that the shrine was commissioned to replace an earlier shrine at the St John’s Hospital in Bruges, in 1489.  The shrine it was to replace is till located in the hospital to this day.  This commission was made by two nuns, Jasosa van Dudzeele and Anna van den Moortele, both of whom are depicted on the shrine itself, kneeling before the Virgin Mary.  However the shrine itself does not appear to have been commissioned nor design to house a particular relic, nor was it on permanent display, just on the feast day of St Ursula, the 21st of October each year.  The shrine is designed to be much like a chapel in nature, complete with a saddle roof and the panels representing the stained glass windows. 

The imagery that adorns the panels is taken from the legends surrounding St. Ursula as recounted in “The Golden Legend.”  The first of the panels shows the arrival of Ursula’s arrival in Cologne.  Together with Ursula are eleven virgins, as opposed to the eleven-thousand suggested.  As well as depicting Ursula and her entourage, the painting shows a number of buildings in the background, representative of the city which the women have just arrived in.  Among the buildings is painted a house with two large windows.  In these windows are premonitions of the impending fate of Ursula; one showing a likeness of an angel in one window and Ursula herself in another window.  These likenesses represent the story of a visitation made to Ursula, telling her that upon her return to Cologne, she would face a martyr’s death.
The second panel shows the arrival of Ursula and the pilgrims at Basle in Switzerland.  The Swiss Alps can be glimpsed in the background of the cityscape behind the ship and its entourage.  Upon their arrival the pilgrims were to make their way to Rome on foot from Basle, as shown in background once, again a premonition of events to come.  This panel is followed by Ursula’s arrival and audience with the Pope, whom she kneels in front of to receive his blessing.  The buildings, although not Italian in nature, are given a foreign feel to convey that the pilgrims are in Rome.  The panel also shows Ursula’s conversion to Christianity as well as that of her husband, depicted in red.  Other figures are also shown wearing red, including the Pope, Cyriacus, once again drawing attention to their impending martyrdom.  In the background, Ursula is shown to be taking communion whilst her husband, Etherius, is seen to be confessing and other pilgrims are seeing being converted and baptized.  The fourth panel shows the fated groups return to Basle to board the ships to take them back to Cologne, and their destiny with martyrdom. 

The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, in the final panel,
as painted by Hans Memling.

The final panels are the most tragic of the story, showing the martyrdom of Ursula together with the Pope, the virgins and her husband.  Upon their arrival at Cologne once more, Ursula and her group are met by the pagan Huns, called by the Roman rulers to kill the Christians.  The Huns are shown killing the pilgrims, starting with the stabbing of Etherius in Ursula’s arms.  The other pilgrims are then dispatched with arrows from the Huns bows.  The final panel shows Ursula being prepared to be shot with an arrow, leading to her martyrdom.  This scene of execution was due to her spurning the advances of Julius, leader of the Huns, who had hoped to make her his wife, after being captivated by her beauty. 

According to the legends that surround her, Ursula is recorded as being a British saint.  The legend tells that of Ursula being a British princess sent by her father, the Christian king Dionotus of Dunmonia (a kingdom of south-west England) to marry a Pagan Governor Conan Meriadoc, of Amorica.  Ursula went on her voyage across the sea accompanied by 11,000 virgins as handmaidens.  However, upon arrival Ursula and her handmaidens decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome instead.  Upon converting to Christianity, she and her handmaids returned together with the Pope.  Upon arrival in Cologne, her handmaids were all beheaded by the pagan Huns seeking to quash the Christian faith from spreading further.  However, Julius, the leader of the Huns endeavoured to win the hand of the beautiful Ursula. She, however,  refused to return his affection.  Therefore, in anger, he shot for dead for this rebuttal. 
These events are alleged to have taken place in c. 383 AD.   An inscription in Cologne dating from the fourth or fifth century appears to make reference to this massacre.  However, no early Mediæval historians such as Jerome and Gregory of Tours make any reference to Ursula nor the massacre of eleven thousand virgins.  None of the early hagiographers make reference to her existence and martyrdom either so it is questionable as to whether or not Ursula as a historical personality did actually exist.
The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula at Cologne by the anonymous Master of the Small Passion. c. 15th Century.

The ecclesiastical historian Cesare Baronius wrote of the martyrdom of Ursula and the eleven thousand virgins in his Annales Ecclesiatici, which he penned during the sixteenth century.  However, the Annals have been largely disproved and discredited by historians as being mostly fictional in nature.  The story by Jacobus de Voragine is considered to be largely apocryphal in nature.  Therefore, historians have endeavoured with considerable difficulty to find evidence as to the veracity of the life and death of Ursula and of the virgin martyrs.  In Cologne itself, there survives an inscription on a stone located in the choir of the church of St. Ursula which makes reference to the martyrdom of the virgins.  The stone and inscription is purported to date from approximately the fifth century AD and comprises of ten lines recounting events in Latin.  However, the veracity of the inscription has been drawn into question with some historians stating that although a significant part of it indeed does date from the fifth century , i.e. the first eight lines as far as the word “RESTITVIT”, and that the remainder of the lines on it in fact date from the ninth. 

The inscription itself reads:


However, the inscription is ambiguous and vague, being subject to interpretation.  The text itself relates to Clematius, a high ranking knight or senator, who, having been in the Orient, received visions and dreams telling him to visit Cologne and to build a church there, the site of the martyrdom of Christian virgins.  The text however does not refer to when the virgins were killed, nor to their number, and is extremely vague in nature.  However, if indeed the inscription does date to the fourth century,  it is the earliest surviving reference to the virgin martyrs until the ninth century, some five hundred years afterwards.  In the ninth century there are written works relating to the persecution and slaughter of Christian virgins in Cologne, said to have occurred during the reign of Diocletian.  The number of virgins again is not given, however depending on the source, the number varies from just several virgins to a significantly higher number of several thousand.   

A later version of the story surfaces in the eleventh century history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, best remembered for his history of British kings such as Cymbeline, Leah, and most famously King Arthur.  Geoffrey tells how the Pagan Breton Prince, Coranus, having been placed on the throme by the Roman usurper, Maximus,  sent a request to Britain for maidens to marry his men and for the hand of a British princess to form an alliance between the two nations.  When the fleet of ships carrying the princess and her entourage of maidens was crossing the sea, a strong wind blew her towards Germany, where, upon arrival, they decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome instead of heading to Amorica [modern day Brittany].  However Geoffrey’s work is considered to be somewhat questionable in nature by historians, and of a somewhat dubious chronology.  Therefore it cannot be certain where in the time scale of British history do the events which are relayed in his somewhat dubiously titled  "History of the Kings of Britain" do events actually fall.

Despite the continued questioning by scholars as to the veracity of the story/legend, it cannot be denied that Ursula was an important personality in Mediæval Europe and her cult was widespread.  Numerous relics relating to the episode surrounding her death lead to a proliferation of objects out of Cologne including numerous relics of the virgins, as well as one of the axes responsible for the decapitation of the virgins being revered in the Church of St. Mary Axe in the City of London.  In addition to some truly beautiful works of art, the order of the Ursulines was established in the early sixteenth century, an order still devoted to the education of young women in the Christian world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Gnostic Schools of Syria

The Syrian Gnostic Schools drew from heavily from Judaic teaching and thought, as well as that of Platonic school.  Their foundations appear to have emanated from the city of Antioch.  The surviving teachings suggest that the creation occurred in a series of stages, with the final creation being that of a universe comprising of matter.  However this material universe was considered to be primarily evil with the earlier creations, non-material in nature, as being good.  Evil lacks insight in as much as it is in opposition to goodness, yet it is not seen as being of equal standing.  “Good” and “Evil” do not refer to sin and a choice but as descriptive terms within human existence and the distance between goodness, the Plemora and oneness with God and the Logos, whereas evil is being confined within a world of matter.  Neither Good nor Evil have inherent positivity nor negativity respectively in relation to human behaviour or psyche.  The schools themselves identified themselves as Christians, however markedly different and most unlike the Christian doctrine that was to become the orthodox school of thought. 

Following the discoveries of the library of codices made at Nag Hammadi, a significant number of works which appear to have followed the ideas were found and have been translated.  These gospels and treatises generally follow a tradition named Sethian, after Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, who was thought to be the possessor and disseminator of the original gnosis.  Furthermore, those who considered themselves directly descended from Seth considered themselves to be amongst the elite, therefore worthy of achieving gnosis.  The Sethians are identified through their detractors, described by G.R.S. Mead as being the “foes” of the Gnostics.  Their existence is mentioned in the works of Irenæus and also in an anonymous work condemning the Gnostics as heretics by an author named Pseudo-Tertullian, who also is attributed with the writing of a poem against Marcion.  It has been suggested by some scholars that Sethian thought and teachings actually pre-date Christ and that Christian ideas and motifs were later adopted into their doctrines.  However, according to various Sethian works, Christ is identified as being Seth, which is at odds with the ideology that Sethianism predated the various cults of Christ.  The God as seen by the Sethians is one that is beyond description, it is only possible to describe what he isn’t, indescribable through and by rational description. 

Four of the early, lesser-known exponents and teachers of Syrian Gnosticism, together with a brief biography and explanation of their doctrines are given below:


Menander was one of Simon Magus’ followers who propagated Sinonian thought and teaching to such a degree that one of the Early Church writers, Justin Martyr, cited previously for having a particular abhorrence for the teachings of the Magus, recorded his existence and the following he appears to have attracted.  Justin clearly saw the following that Menander had attracted as being of such a threat to the developing “orthodox” Christianity, certainly given that other early teachers were attracting their own large circles of disciples, that Menander deserved a particular mention.  Like Simon Magus, who may or may not have been his teacher, Menander too was from Samaria, born in Capparatea.  Menander, based upon his association with Simon is one of the earliest Gnostic teachers, as well as placing him within the obscure timeframe of Early Christianity; Menander seems to have been teaching in the late first/early 2nd century A.D. 

The city of Antioch, in modern day Syria was where Menander’s doctrines seem to have attracted the most attention and popularity.  Antioch, like Alexandra, was a centre of learning, commerce and ideas; a link between the East and West.  The teachings of Menander appear to have been that of an early formative strand of Gnosis; knowledge [gnosis] and enlightenment being attained through transcendental thought, magic not just through faith.  The followers of Menander and his doctrines were called Menandrists.  The teachings and writing of both teacher and his followers have been lost.  The detractors of Menander suggested he believed himself to be imbued with an understanding of the powers and laws of nature, and were subject to a human will and personality.  Therefore Menander was more of a hierophant in status than a teacher.  

Furthermore, and for this alone Menander might have condemned himself and his teachings, he claimed to be Messiah; a Saviour sent to instruct and teach a path to knowledge to liberate themselves from the lower world, and attain salvation in the gnosis with the higher powers.  Much like Simon’s claims to be the Messiah, this “heretical thought” has often been misinterpreted, in that these men were trying to usurp a divine status afforded by God the father unto Jesus, by virtue of faith, his “son”.  Both Simon and Menander tought that the Saviour was in fact the Word [“logos”] of God, and that the aspiration was to achieve such a state of perfection that one might be at one with the Logos, thereby becoming “Christ” or a Saviour.  According to both Justin Martyr and Irenæus, Menander’s teachings also included the idea that baptism was an internal purification giving immortality to the soul, rather than immortality upon the final death on the final day of Judgment in Orthodox Christian teaching. 

Menander is not to be confused with the Athenian playwright of the third century BC with the same name, nor in relation to the house in Pompeii, referred to in modern terminology as “The House of Menander”, owned by Quintus Poppaeus.  Some scholars have named Menander as being a “proto-Gnostic” and have suggested that his doctrines might even predate those of Simon Magus; other sources have suggested that Menander travelled into Syria and was responsible for the founding of Zaroastrianism thought.


Saturninus [or Satornilos in Greek] is believed to have come from Antioch, and has been named as being the father of Syrian Gnosticism.  Much like Menander, this branch of Gnosticism seems to have been a very strong and powerful branch of early Christianity, inasmuch that Justin Martyr considered him to be of similar standing with the other leading schools of Gnostic teaching and thought of the time; those of Marcion, Basilides, and Valentinus. Tradition has often suggested that Saturninus was the student of Menander, and that his student was Basilides, who in turn was the teacher of Valentinus; one of the most important, intelligent and highly regarded of all the Gnostic teachers, and who’s doctrine of Christianity posed the most serious “threat” to the orthodox traditions that the Early Church fathers were writing their respective Apologies and condemnations against “knowledge falsely told” [i.e. gnosis]. 

Of Saturninus, nothing is recorded of his origins nor any biographical details, but is believed to have been either Greek or Syrian based on that his teachings appear to have originated from Antioch.  Based upon the ethics and conduct of his followers, he seems to have been a particularly strict ascetic.  A strict sense of abstinence seems to have been part of his doctrine, with its abstaining from marriage, and they were strict vegetarians.  This encratism would have been very attractive to the very devout, almost zealous in their devotion.

Very little information survives in regard to Satuninus and his doctrines.  Again, one is reliant upon the writings of his detractors, in particular that of Irenæus, which in turn is probably derived from a lost work, possibly The Compendium, by Justin Martyr.   Saturninus appears to have taught a particular theology which detailed the hierarchies of the Uknown father and his builders; the archangels, angels, and the powers.  He also writes of an anthropomorphic World-saviour, who although appearing as a man, was not in fact a man at all.  This Saviour would defeat evil, but also be the salvation of those with the gnosis within them.  An intriguing difference between Saturninus and Canonical tradition was that Man (more precisely, his outer shell, called the “plasm”) was created by the angels.  His creation was based upon a fabrication of a perfect example being shown to the angels and their endeavours to create something of a similar nature based upon the memory of what they once saw.  After man’s death, the spark within the plasm returns to the plemora.


According to the writings of Eusebius, Basilides was Alexandrian in origin, and his teachings flourished in the early decades of the second century AD.  Much like the other prolific Gnostic teachers, their detractors in the form of the Early Church fathers wrote very little in terms of biographical detail, however it appears that Basilides was married and had a son called Isidore, who’s teachings followed those of his father.  The opponents of Basilides’ teaching dismissed his claims of having received his teachings from St. Matthias, apostle of St. Peter, as being spurious in nature.  Basilides appears to have been highly educated in nature, most probably educated in Hellenic thought and culture, as well as in Egyptian wisdom. 

Practically nothing survives of Basilides and his original teachings are sadly lost to us, other than, as with other early non Proto-Orthodox teachers, through the condemnation of his ideas and teachings by Irenæus, by Hippolytus, by Clement of Alexandria and by the writer known as “Pseudo-Tertullian”.  One of the most intriguing surviving records of Basilides survives not in writing, but in Abrasax or Abraxas stones.  Abrasax stones, sometimes semi-precious, are usually small in size and inscribed with the name “Abraxas” [ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ], and mythical beasts.  The purpose of these is unknown, however it has been suggested that they were protective charms.  Magical papyri have been found with the name of Abraxas, and the name is mentioned in various Gnostic texts, including some of those found at Nag Hammadi.  One of the finest examples of these Abraxas stones was found in the United Kingdom, in the Thetford Trove.  Sadly the Thetford Trove is one of the tragedies of recent excavation and will be discussed elsewhere in greater detail.  However, for the moment, it is sufficient to note that an Abraxas stone was found as far afield as Norfolk in England.  Different interpretations have been given as to the meaning behind these stones and the word “Abraxas”; these have been proposed as meaning the order of the planets according to the Gnostic method of astronomy to Abraxas being a Gnostic deity.  The etymology behind the name remains obscure and open to much interpretation by scholars.

Basildes’ teachings, as interpreted by Irenæus were that the Nous [Mind] was first to be born or created by the Unborn Father.  From Nous came the Logos [Word, or Reason], which in turn lead to Phronesis [Prudence] being born, and who was father in turn of Dynamis [Strength] and Sophia [Wisdom].  Dynamis in turn was father to the Virtues, to the Principalities, and the Archangels. A series of heavens were created by the Archangels until there were 365 in total, therefore as many heavens as there were days in the year.  The first of these Archangels was the god of the Jews, however he sought to make all the other archangels and beings subservient to his will.  This manner and behaviour was the cause of the subsequent animosity against the Jews.  Aware of this attempt at creating a hierarchy, the Unborn Father sent the Nous in the form of Jesus Christ to deliver His followers from damnation.  Basilides further suggested that it was not Jesus who was crucified on the cross, but that it was Simon of Cyrene who was crucified in his stead.  This suggestion is echoed in the Gnostic Text “The Second Treatise of the Great Seth”, again of which the only extant copy was found at Nag Hammadi.  This idea arises from a doctic theology in that Jesus, being divine, could not suffer and did not die on the cross.  Thus Simon, together with carrying the cross also took on the physical appearance of Christ and was crucified instead.  The idea of a substitution at the crucifixion has been reiterated in Islam, in an ambiguous passage found in the Qur'an.

"Wherefore he did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead, so that the latter being transfgured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error,while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them.  For since he was an inceorperal power, and the Nous [Mind] of the unborn father, he transfigured as he pleased, and thus ascended to him who had sent him, deriding, inamuch as he could not be laid hold of, and was invisble to all." [Irenæus: Against Heresies]

"That they said [in boast], 'We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah';- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and to those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not." [Qur'an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) avat 157-158].

Therefore, with Simon having taken Jesus’ form, was crucified instead, and Jesus was returned to his Father.   Therefore through knowledge [gnosis] of Christ, the soul is saved even if the body perishes.  The later fathers condemn this teaching for it devalues martyrdom, as it suggests that men did not die for Christ, but for Simon of Cyrene.

Basilides seems to have been a prolific writer, despite the fact that none of his writings have survived.  Sources however do make reference, though sadly do not quote directly, to a number of these works.  Reference is made in Origen (and subsequently in the writings of Saints Jerome and Ambrose) that Basilides had written his own gospel.  Whether this gospel was Gnostic in nature to Basilides’ own teachings and beliefs or like The Diatessaron by Tatian, we cannot know.  Basilides also wrote various “hymns” or “odes”, again referenced, and dismissed, in Origen as being un-canonical.  Finally a “Gospel commentary” in twenty four books was written.  Only fragments survive in the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria.

In addition to these few fragments that Clement has preserved, there is some hints given as to the ethics behind the teachings of Basilides.  It was through faith that started the spiritual life, however this was the gift of Gnosis (knowledge/understanding) was bestowed to various individuals and not to others upon their souls before it became joined with the body.   Sin results in suffering and that sin is an inherent internal principle or evil, and that suffering is punishment for this act.  Persecution and suffering is as a result of this inherent internal evil, and this had lead the soul to be confused.  Basilides believed that only God the Father to have been created without sin.  Clement suggests that this attitude of Basilides lead to widespread debauchery amongst his followers, an ideology apparently echoed in the teachings of his son which encouraged satisfaction of sexual and sensual desires, a radical digression from the acetic ideals of numerous other Gnostics, and that the soul mind find solace in prayer. 

Any writings against the Gnostic teachings needs to be approached with caution, as the Gnostics were often portrayed as deviant or perverse in nature, however it is interesting to note that as early as Justin Martyr in the mid second century AD of the possibility that it is the Gnostics who are engaged in such practices, and not the Proto-Orthodox Christians.  Basilides’ teachings did not gain as much popularity or recognition as those of Marcion or the dynamic Valentinus, however they do appear to have survived for at least two centuries after his death in parts of Egypt.  Basilides' name was to continue in later tradition, with Carl Jung adopting his name as a pseudonym when writing "The Seven Sermons to the Dead."


Cerdo appears to have been of Syrian extraction, and to have been teaching just prior to the revolutionary teachings of Marcion of Sinope, probably in around c. 130-135 AD, and his teachings appear to have taken place in Rome.  Cerdo appears to have caused a disagreement with the early Christian Church in Rome, and labelled a Gnostic in subsequent times, however quite significantly has not been recorded as having been excommunicated as a result of his beliefs.  It was only with the arrival of Marcion and his contentious ideas that the Church, and that the canon of orthodox teachings and theology was still undeveloped and open to ideas rather than the rigidity and condemnation of heresy that was soon to follow.

One source suggests that Cerdo initially recanted his sins of heresy and was welcomed back into the church by the Pope, Hyginus, however he soon after strayed once again into his heretical beliefs and was excommunicated from the church again.  It has been implied that Cerdo also taught that Jesus was not the son of the God of the Jews, of the Law, and the Prophets.  Other accusations made against Cerdo mirror those later attributed to Marcion; the theology of two gods, and the dismissal of various canonical texts and only selected parts of the Gospel of Luke.  Cerdo was therefore possibly condemned for his [apparent] association with Marcion, for it has appears that Marcion took a number of his ideas, developed them and thus created his own ideas and doctrines.  Also the Church fathers were to state that Cerdo was a follower of Simon Magus, who they were denounce as being the father of all heresy, and therefore through that association alone, Cerdo would have been condemned as well.