Beni Hassan tombs

Beni Hassan tombs

Beni Hassan tombs is the name of an Arab tribe that lived in the area. The site lies on the Eastern Bank of the Nile, 20 km south of the city of Al-Minya. It houses 39 rock-cut tombs mostly of the Middle Kingdom but some date back to the Old Kingdom or New Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom tombs are for nomarchs of the Oryx nome decorated with scenes depicting local and regional life during the Middle Kingdom. Of those only twelve are decorated and four open to visitors. Many of these have scenes of violent warfare and military training. 

Beni Hassan tombs
Beni Hassan tombs

The Oryx Nome – is the 16th Nome of Upper Egypt with its capital as Menat Khufu, the Wet Nurse of Khufu. 

Beni Hasan tombs lies on the east bank of the Nile. Due to the quality of, and distance to the cliffs in the west, these tombs were constructed on the east bank, but are otherwise similar to other Middle Kingdom tombs. Most of the tombs have a similar layout, with a carved entrance, and then a large (usually pillared) room containing the painted decoration and burial shafts. They are famous for the quality of their paintings.

Plan of Beni Hassan Tombs
Plan of Beni Hassan Tombs

Tombs of Nomarchs

Beginning around the 4th Dynasty, Egypt was divided into nomes governed by nomarchs. From the middle of the 5th Dynasty, these nomarchs began to acquire more power, especially in Upper Egypt.

When the central government collapsed in the late 6th Dynasty, a period of 150 years of civil war ensued. With the absence of a central authority, the nomarchs took control of their own nomes, and Egypt splintered into a number of feudal states.

This period of decentralized rule and confusion lasted from the 7th through the 11th Dynasties. A nome was a territorial division of Egypt, similar to a governorate or a province. Egypt was made up of 42 individual nomes, each governed by a nomarch.

The nomarch was responsible for tax collection, judicial oversight, and supervision of land projects within the nome. The pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty reestablished a powerful central government. Nomarchs were allowed to retain some of their powers, and they received recognition of a place in the afterlife.

Plan of Beni Hassan Tombs
Tomb Façade with a portico of two Proto-Doric columns

The Proto-Doric columns means before the Greek Doric columns. They are also called: Polygonal columns which means: many sides.

The four most important tombs of Beni Hassan tombs are: Tomb of Baqet III (tomb No. 15), Tomb of Kheti (tomb No. 17), Tomb of Amenemhet (tomb No. 2), and Tomb of Khnumhotep II (tomb No. 3).

Themes Represented at Beni Hassan Tombs

The tombs of the Nobles at Beni Hassan have beautiful scenes of what the deceased wished to have in his afterlife or scenes that would magically make his afterlife a better one. This is because the Ancient Egyptians believed that the pictures and the words can live again with the help of magical powers. 

The owner of the tomb is always represented in a large size to show his importance in the tomb as well as in his nome. He is shown in a variety of scenes or watching a variety of activities such as

1) The tomb owner and his family. 

2) Asiatics in the tomb of Khnumhotep II. 

3) Hunt and fishing scenes. 

4) Offering scenes. 

5) Industries. 

6) Wrestling scenes.

 7) Other kinds of Sports and entertainment

1) The tomb owner and his family. 

Many scenes represented the tomb owner with his wife and children to magically ensure that they would be with him in his eternity. The dogs of the tomb owner are also represented to ensure that they would be with him in the next life. He is usually represented with his close family members including his wife and children as well as sisters, brothers and parents. Those are the people that he would like to be with in the afterlife. 

2) Asiatics in the tomb of Khnumhotep II


An increasing threat to the Middle Kingdom was the Asiatic groups to the northeast. Texts from the Middle Kingdom include Asiatic names suggesting their presence in Egypt during the 12th dynasty. It has been proposed that they probably entered the country as nomadic travelers in parts of the eastern Delta or as workers attempting to flee famines. They traveled to Egypt in caravans; knowledge of this comes primarily from scenes in tombs.

What makes the tomb of Khnumhotep II stand out among the 39 large rock cut tombs at Beni Hasan is the scene of nomadic traders bringing the deceased offerings and gifts including animals. These are called the Aamu group. We can note that the word Heqa-Khasut which means the “Ruler of the Mountainous Lands’ ‘ –the name of the Hyksos, can be seen here by their leader. 

The scene has a text dating it to year 6 of Senusret II (ca. 1897–1878 BC). These Asiatics are represented with their families and animals coming peacefully to visit Egypt, bringing gifts with them. They are wearing richly decorated colorful costumes and have their musical instruments with them.

They were only a nomadic group hoping to settle in Egypt or to have some of its grains. This scene certainly reflects the power of Prince Khnumhotep as he is almost represented as a King receiving gifts from foreigners. Khnumhotep II wanted here to show his powers as a nomarch respected to foreign nations. 

Some theories thought that these scenes represent the journey of Prophet Ibrahim to Egypt but these are weak theories without any proof


3) Hunt and fishing scenes

There is a large-scale figure of Khnumhotep II in his tomb using a bow to hunt in the desert which is on the edge of the Egyptian world, the boundary between order and chaos. It has been interpreted that in this scene Khnumhotep II is assuming the role of the king dominating over the chaotic power of the desert and keeping order and control in his nome. At the same tomb there are two large depictions of Khnumhotep II fowling (bird-catching) in the marshes, one on the north side and the other on the south side of the entrance to the shrine.

To the south he is harpooning two relatively large fish and to the north he is fowling with a throw-stick. These hunting in the marshes scenes help protect the deceased in the afterlife. Beneath him, there are pictures of several people fishing and beneath him on the south side are representations of fighting boatmen.

Hunt and fishing scenes
Hunt and fishing scenes

4) Offering scenes

In several tombs we see the representation of the deceased seated in front of an offering table covered with offerings. His wife and other members of his family would be there too. Rows of people carrying food offerings and bringing live animals were also seen in the tombs. Statues were placed in the chapel itself. The chapel was the location for funerary rituals that supplied the deceased with provisions for the afterlife. The representation of food shown on the wall beside it was to secure that the deceased would be fed for eternity. 

5) Industries

A variety of industries were presented such as pottery making, goldsmith and jewelry making as well as linen making that we shall explain with details. The Linen Making: Flax has been used to make linen in the Middle East since the fifth millennium BC. In Egypt its role was probably more important than in many other cultures, as Egyptians rarely used wool that they considered not clean and cotton was not known during much of their ancient history. The plants were pulled from the ground. 

The stalks were cooked, retted in water or left for a while lying on the ground until they were partly rotted. They were then gathered together, beaten to extract the fibers and finally dressed with a hackle (large comb) removing last remnants of pith and other unwanted matter

Using a comb in making linen
Using a comb in making linen

Spinning scenes in Beni Hassan tombs

The resulting yellowish or grayish fibers were in the form of flat, 60 to 80 centimeters long strips, each consisting of 20 to 40 single fibers. These strips were tied together, made into balls then spun into thread. Egyptian spinners often used two spindles simultaneously, with balls of flax roves lying on the ground or in low containers. Sometimes the spinner stood on a foot-stool in order to have the greatest distance possible between the spindle and the flax. 


A tomb painting at Beni Hasan depicts ancient Egyptian spinners who could use two spindles simultaneously. The prepared ribbons of fibers were rolled into balls and placed in a bucket behind the spinner. The spindle was twirled by rolling the shaft along the hip; the rotating spindle was then tossed into the air, suspended by the yarn. By standing on a platform, long lengths of yarn were spun before stopping to wind on.

Linen Weaving in Beni Hassan tombs

After spinning the flax into thread, the thread needs to be turned into material for making clothes. The Ancient Egyptians used a horizontal loom with a wooden support for the warp beam and a cloth beam that could be rotated. Two women generally worked the loom, in early times crouching as the looms were very low. But sometimes looms were made for three or even four weavers. Two women weavers crouching at a horizontal loom Tomb of Khnumhotep, 12th dynasty, Beni Hassan. 

Two women weavers
Two women weavers

When the Egyptians wanted to show objects which were behind each other on a horizontal/*589 plane, they drew them above each other. Therefore, the loom in this picture may look as if it were vertical when in reality it is horizontal. 

6) Wrestling scenes

On the walls of Baqet’s tomb there is a scene including 200 wrestling positions, seemingly between two different races, while other scenes show an attack on a fortress. Other tombs of Beni Hassan also showed wrestlers. Mostly one wrestler is carrying another to knock him down or is engaged with him to overcome him. The same idea of the hunt scenes can be used here. It was used to show the power of the tomb owner over humans.

Wrestling and military training
Wrestling and military training

7) Other kinds of Sports and entertainment in Beni Hassan tombs

Scenes of entertainment are familiar in Beni Hassan tombs ,We see pictures of young girls dancing as well as young girls and young men doing acrobat moves very similar to our modern gymnastics. Sometimes they used balls while playing or carrying one another. An interesting scene shows how young men held the hands of young girls to whirl them in circles. The idea of the players being young is that their bodies will have good elasticity and will help them move better like today’s gymnastic players. The girls often have long ponytails ending with ball-shapes. 

Gymnastics and Acrobat Dancing
Gymnastics and Acrobat Dancing

The tombs of Beni Hassan include

Tomb of Baqet III (tomb 15)

The tomb of Baqet is the oldest tomb at Beni Hassan tombs, the north wall of the tomb has many painted scenes depicting Baqet and his wife in the provincial community, including the desert hunt with many types of animals. If ever there was an imaginative person, Baqet was one. A strange tomb with scenes depicting a hunt for unicorns, a serpent-headed quadruped, a ‘Sethian’ animal and a griffin. Apparently.

the Egyptians felt that there were evil forces in the desert, and that hunting them helped to preserve order. Others show wrestlers and gazelles involved in strange behavior.

Tomb of Kheti (tomb 17): During the 11th Dynasty, Kheti was a governor of the Oryx nome and the son of Baqet. The tomb has depictions of daily life during the period. The wall paintings here are most interesting in the respect that they show everyday scenes from the Middle Kingdom, with harvests of wine grapes and papyrus, as well as pleasures of music and dancing. Khety and his wife are shown presiding over the activities and watching women dancing and playing sports. The ceiling is erected on lotus – shaped columns.

Tomb of Amenemhet (tomb 2)

Amenemhet is described as the ‘prince of the Oryx Nome’ and was a governor of the Oryx nome. Amenemhet was Great Overlord, or nomarch, during the reign of Senwosret I (1919–1875 BC). The tomb is totally cut in the rock.

All its columns and niches were carved from the stone of the mountain. Centered in the rear is a niche containing a statue of Amenemhet, also carved from the mountain itself.

Paintings illustrating daily life in the Oryx nome and military training decorate the sidewalls. The architecture of Amenemhet’s tomb differs from the earlier style by having a courtyard and a portico with two columns before the entrance to the tomb-chapel.

Here one finds one of two inscriptions within the necropolis that help define Egyptian life in this period. It consists of thirty-two lines on the door. There are also unusual scenes depicting hunting in the desert on the north wall. His tomb is unusual for having a false door on the west, where the dead are supposed to enter.

The tomb chapel is large and rectangular and contains four wide polygonal pillars and two burial shafts. An elaborately decorated ceiling is divided into three naves, each with a vaulted roof. The wall-paintings contain themes similar to earlier tombs, with agriculture and industries, hunting in the desert, military activities and funeral rites with offering-bringers.

A large offering appears across the top of the south wall, before Amenemhet who sits with his wife at a table containing all the produce of his lands. These later tombs also contain a small statue chamber, to the east beyond the tomb-chapel. In Amenemhet’s tomb there are the remains of a statue group which probably depicted the owner with his wife and mother, with an offering table in front.

Tomb of Khnumhotep II (tomb 3)

 A governor under Amenemhet III (about 1820 BC), Khnumhotep is described as ‘the hereditary lord’ and his tomb is beautifully done with scenes of daily life. His biographical inscription within the tomb is 222 columns of text and help define Egyptian life during this period. There are also acrobats over the door. Khnumhotep II was an Egyptian noble who lived during the 12th Dynasty.

He was the hereditary nomarch of Menet Khufu and the Oryx nome of Upper Egypt. According to the inscription in his tomb, Khnumhotep inherited his claim of Menet-Khufu through his mother, on the death of his predecessor, his uncle, Nakht’b.

The tomb follows the architectural style of Amenemhet, with four polygonal columns in the tomb-chapel behind the impressive facade and portico. The same themes are continued in the wall decoration too, but the scenes are more colorful and lively and make this perhaps the most interesting and distinctive of the Beni Hassan tombs.

alsee you can read 

how were Beni Hassan tombs built ?

who are the owners of  beni hassan tombs ?

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