Thousands of years ago, Egyptians believed that the current life they were living was part of a much bigger process, with the ultimate end of a better life after they pass away, known as the Afterlife. When they were buried, the Ancient Egyptians handpicked items they would like to carry with them to their next life, often including valued possessions such as treasured furniture, clothes, gemstone jewellery, weapons and even sometimes, precious oils. Holding such a vast range of the deceased most expensive possessions, it is to no surprise that the tombs of the wealthy attracted the attention of tomb raiders. Often breaking into the tombs of various Pharaohs, nobility and royalty, tomb raiders robbed the tombs of their valuable contents, commonly sealing the tombs back up upon their exit. In this article, we will be exploring tomb raiders in more detail, looking into the history and origins and some of the most famous tombs that have been robbed to date.
Believed to occur in 1124 BC, the first instances tomb raiding was reported in the Valley of the Kings. Back then, it was the job of the Major to protect the tombs, so when it came out that they had been broken into many decided to blame him for neglecting his duties; some even accused him of being involved in the raiding’s himself, but this was never proved.
Typically, it was the lower classes of society that were found to participate in tomb raiding. Many of the poor were unhappy that the rich were buried with such wealthy treasures they didn’t have any use for, whilst they and their families were having to go hungry. Consequently, it was common for the lower class to raid the tombs, in a desperate attempt to provide for their families. This wasn’t always the case, though; throughout history, tomb raiding has been carried out by all classes of society, from the rich and noble to the serfs. Sometimes, the tombs were raided by those involved in the burial process, including the priests and scribes. Due to knowing exactly what treasures were buried in each tomb, the process for them was simple; on occasion, they were known to have got in and out with the contents without even being found out.
As touched on previously, while it was often the poor that raided the tombs, this was not always the case. It was believed that a large percentage of the tomb raiders were those working for the ruling Pharaoh of that time. Throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of tombs being robbed with the hope of the Pharaoh using the precious goods in his own tomb, when the time came. It was common practice that once a tomb has been broken into, it was acceptable for the remaining goods to be removed. With the belief that only the initial robber would be punished, further raiding could take place without the worry of angering the gods.
Commonly, the tombs were thought to be raided prior to being sealed. Over the years, there have been many occurrences of Egyptians tombs found sealed but with the treasures missing; thus the robbing must have taken place at some point during the burial process before the tomb was sealed. Many of the men working for the pharaoh were involved in the burial process, consequently leaving them with the knowledge of how the tomb was sealed and the best way around any precautionary traps. The tombs were also renowned for being raided by gangs, typically comprising of up to ten men; working together, then men would raid the tombs and hide the treasures within the equipment before fleeing the area.
Often, tomb raiders were never caught. When they were, though, the crime was usually punished by death. Typically, this would consist of being decapitated, impaled or even burned alive. In a religious sense, this kind of death was the worst possible punishment for the raider; if he was burned alive then there would be no body to carry with him into the afterlife, and if he was impaled then it was believed that his body would have to remain in the location of implement to the end of time, meaning that he too would have no body to carry with him into his next life. Occasionally, less severe forms of punishment were inflicted on the robber. This would often involve various forms of torture including chopping off both hands, in an attempt to make the thief confess to his crime.
While some of the tomb raiders were never caught, it was believed that they didn’t go without punishment. According to myth and legend, every one of the royal tombs in Egypt is cursed, meaning that those that enter uninvited will experience a lifetime of punishment in one way another, often resulting in death with the curse following them into the Afterlife.
Many people believe that the tomb of King Tut is one of the most cursed. Apparently, the tomb holds hieroglyphs on the wall spelling out a dreadful curse, affecting any trespassers that entered.
While the idea of the curse is often dismissed by people, believing it to only be the talk of myth and legend, there are many that believe that the curse of tombs is definitely not a myth. A tourist from Germany reportedly found a relic stolen from the Valley of Kings and decided to take the artefact back to Germany with him as a souvenir. Not long before beginning the long journey home, the curse started to take its toll. Struck down suddenly by a bout of unexplained illness, the unnamed man reportedly got worse by the day, eventually resulting in a long and painful death. Following his passing, the artefact was said to have been returned to the embassy by his stepson, along with a note explaining the inexplicable curse.
One of the most famously robbed tombs is that of King Tut. Raided for the first time in 1500 BCE, various items were thought to have been stolen including bronze weapons, stone gars, razors and gilded wood. On the first occurrence, the raiders were believed to have stolen from the antechamber only, after not being able to gain access to the entire tomb. When the tomb was robbed for the second time, though, it was reported that the thief’s raided the entire thing, taking over eight hours to collect up the most valuable items including vast amounts of precious jewellery. Interestingly, certain valuable items were left behind, including several items crafted from solid gold. With this in mind, it is believed that the raiders left in a hurry, therefore ended up leaving behind some of the expensive possessions, even though they would have been some of the easier pieces to extract.
Whether you believe in the ancient curse of the mummies, or decide that the historic tale is merely a myth, leaving the remaining underground treasure untouched is probably your best bet.