An attempt at a life

Despite the vastness of his funerary monument, the eight statues portraying him and the other minor objects featuring his name, the life of Harwa is almost unknown. His career spans from 720 to 680 BC when the Nubian kings of XXV Dynasty ruled Egypt. This period of the ancient Egyptian history is one of the most complicated.

Historical context

In the second half of the VIII century BC, Delta and Lower Egypt were under the control of five different kings, each one of them reigning on a limited area (Osorkon IV in Tanis, Tefnakht in Sais, Pef-tjau-auy-bastet in Herakleopolis, Nimlot in Hermopolis and Iuput in Leontopolis) but pretending to be the true and the sole pharaoh. They also ruled Upper Egypt by appointing members of their own families to the most important clerical positions of the powerful and rich theocratic state of the god Amon at Thebes. At that time more prominent than the role of "First Prophet" was that of "Divine Adoratrice of the god Amon". The title is a variant of the "God's wife", existing since the New Kingdom and always attributed to women belonging to the royal family.

Around 725 BCE the five kings formed a coalition against the Nubian ruler Piankhy who had started the conquest of Egypt.

The creation of a Nubian (Kushite) independent kingdom in the southern territories formerly belonging to Egypt was a consequence of the fall of the New Kingdom. The early traces of a central power in Nubia (Kush) date to the beginning of the 10th Century BC. In two hundreds years the kushite kingdom became so rich and powerful as to challenge Egypt.

Piankhy defeated the coalition of Egyptian kings and took the control of Egypt until Memphis. He left the Egyptian kings in their places giving them the position of simple governors and maintained the control over the theocratic state of the god Amon in Thebes promoting his sister Amenirdis I as Divine Adoratrice.

Piankhy and his successors ruled Egypt for about sixty years until the arrival of the Assyrians.


Harwa lived at the beginning of the XXVth Dynasty and held one of the most important positions in the theocratic state of Amon of Thebes attaining the position of Grand Steward of the Divine Adoratrice.

The face of Harwa is well known. There are eight statues of him preserved in various Museums (in Aswan, Cairo, Berlin, Paris, and London). The most realistic of these, depict an old, bald man with large face, almond-shaped eyes and a mouth with thin lips. The body is extremely fat, demonstrating the high state of wealth Harwa attained. He is seated with the left leg raised. This peculiar position goes back to the Old Kingdom and it is completely in keeping with the sculpture of the XXV dynasty where some archaising elements go together with a tendency to portray the person in a realistic manner.

The texts engraved on Harwa's statues tell us that he was born in a family of Theban priests. He was son of the "lady of the house", Nestaureret, and of a priest attached to the temple of Amon of Karnak, Padimut son of Ankhefenamon. Harwa embraced the career of his father. He must have been a young priest when Piankhy conquered Egypt. The unpublished statue in Cairo Museum portraying him with his parents must have been produced in that epoch of his life. The inscriptions carved on the statue mention Harwa as imi-khent, a lowly-ranked priestly position, indicating that he was at the very beginning of his career. When Piankhy conquered Egypt, Harwa must have embraced the Nubian cause and it is perhaps because of his loyalty to the king of the XXVth Dynasty that he attained the highest ranks in the Theban clergy. It is impossible to determine when exactly he was appointed to Grand Steward of the Divine Adoratrice, but he is already mentioned in connection with Amenirdis I (the sister of Piankhy).

Harwa held the position of Grand Steward for about forty years from the time of Piankhy, serving under Nubian pharaohs Shabaqo (713 - 698 BCE) and Shebitqo (698 - 690 BCE), until the reign of Taharqo (690 - 664 BCE). It was during this last reign that Harwa must have began his funerary monument.

New light on the significance of Harwa's life

During the 1997 campaign a limestone ushabty showing features which shed new light on some aspects of the role played by Harwa inside the Theban administration. It is a typically mummiform funerary statuette of the XXVth Dynasty but it holds in his hands the crook and the flail, that is to say, the regalia, the characteristic emblems of the pharaonic royalty. As far as it is known, it is the only example of non-royal ushabty displaying such a characteristic. Furthermore, in the Chapter VI of the Book of the Dead engraved on the body, Harwa is mentioned as "Great of the Greats". These evidences should point out that Harwa had more power than the one deriving from his role and that he can be considered as the real governor of the Theban region on the behalf of the Nubian king instead of the Divine Adoratrice. Also the vastness of his tomb and the high number of his statues can support the hypothesis that Harwa was the most politically influential person of the a state stretching to the First Cataract (a graffito signed by him has been found at Nag'esh Sheikh, near Assuan).

If this assumption is confirmed by further excavations, then the positions of Montuemhat and Petamenophis will have to be reconsidered. They chose in fact to place their tombs east and west of the tomb of Harwa as if they attributed a high reverence to him and considered him a sort of ancestor. In this frame one has to ask: is it possible to speak of a "dynasty" of functionaries governing the Theban region with the consent of the Nubian kings? If this proves to be true, then, as they did not belong to the one family nor did they share the same titles and position, what was the mechanism of succession of these functionaries?

Email me at: tiradritti@harwa.org



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