Tomb of ancient Egyptian mercenary commander found in Egypt

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A 2,600-year-old tomb belonging to a high-status individual titled "Wahibre-mery-Neith," a "commander of foreign mercenaries," has been found by archaeologists in Egypt.

The embalming hoard was discovered in the tomb in 2021 and contains more than 370 clay storage jars that contained the commander's mummification supplies, making it the "biggest embalming cache ever uncovered in Egypt," according to a team of Egyptian and Czech academics (opens in new tab). A few miles south of the enormous Saqqara necropolis, near Abusir (sometimes called Abr), is where the tomb is located.

Wahibre-mery-mummy Neith's was stolen by grave robbers in antiquity, but researchers discovered pieces of his sarcophagus with hieroglyphs carved on them. According to the statement, the glyphs reveal his name and reference a section of Book of the Dead chapter 72 that explains "the resurrection of the departed and his departure to the afterlife."

Wahibre-mery-Neith would have "directed and commanded mercenaries arriving from the Aegean islands and Asia Minor," according to the statement, in his capacity as the leader of ancient Egypt's mercenary soldiers.

According to the statement, the commander lived in either the early or late 27th dynasty (525 B.C. to 404 B.C. or around 688 to 525 B.C.). Egypt was autonomous throughout the 26th dynasty, but during the 27th dynasty, the Persians invaded and took control of the nation.

According to his name and objects discovered in his tomb, Wahibre-mery-Neith looks to be of "local descent" despite the expanding foreign influence, said Miroslav Bárta, the head of Czech excavations in Egypt, in an email to Live Science. It is unknown why he was interred with the biggest collection of embalming materials from ancient Egypt. Bárta stated, "This is a challenging question, and at this point in the study we don't know.

Additionally, 402 faience (glazed ceramic) shabti figures were interred with the commander. Shabtis are frequently discovered in Egyptian tombs because the ancient Egyptians thought that they performed work for the departed in the afterlife. A heart-shaped scarab, an amulet, and an ostracon (a ceramic shard) with more spells from the Book of the Dead engraved on it are also among the discoveries.

Academics respond

To gather their opinions on the findings, Live Science spoke with a number of academics who were not involved in the study. They all thought it was a fascinating finding. According to Günter Vittmann, a professor of Egyptology at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in Germany, "it's undoubtedly an important, interesting, and most welcome discovery, though not unique in this area: the Czechs have been working in Abusir for more than twenty years already, they unearthed several tombs of high officials of the late 26th and early 27th dynasty."

The commander's life may have been very different depending on exactly when he lived. "I believe that our Wahibre spent the majority of his life—possibly the entirety—during the 26th [dynasty]" Ancient history instructor Benjamin Sullivan from Arizona State University informed Live Science via email. If Wahibre had lived in the 27th dynasty, when the Persians governed ancient Egypt, he questioned that he would have taken pride in being a "commander of foreign mercenaries." Sullivan added that the 26th dynasty was when this title was most frequently employed.

A historian who has extensively studied and written on Greek mercenaries in the ancient world, Daniel Gómez-Castro, said that it is intriguing that no armor or weapons were discovered in the grave. According to Gómez-Castro, it's conceivable that Wahibre wasn't a leader on the battlefield or a fighter, but rather a political appointee who oversaw administrative duties like making sure the mercenaries were paid. Wahibre could be related to a "Dinast," a Persian official appointed during the period when they ruled Egypt and had some degree of local power.

According to Stefan Pfeiffer, an ancient history professor at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, if the tomb is indeed from the time of Persian dominance, it shows that the Persians "were so confident in their power that they handed such an important responsibility to local elites." The Persians did this other times as well. According to Pfeiffer, an Egyptian called Udjahorresnet had a tomb that was discovered during the Persian era. He was a top officer for the Persians.