Papyri are named after the people who discover them or own them. So, papyrus Harris is named so because Harris owns this papyrus. It’s a papyrus that is written during the reign of the next pharaoh, Ramses III—Ramses Mery-Amun, and it records a history of his reign.
Royal Papyrus with a Commoner
Papyrus Harris was a royal papyrus—the archive of Ramses III—that turned up in the tomb of a commoner. Now, how could that happen? While there is no concrete answer to this, we can have a theory to explain this.
Ramses III is buried in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings along with his papyrus, which is an archive of his reign. The tomb is, later, robbed and the papyrus is stolen. Now the papyrus has no intrinsic value since it’s paper basically, so the robber figures out a way to sell it. It must be remembered that most people in Egypt are illiterate and very people few can read scribes. And the robber probably doesn’t know what the papyrus says so he tries to sell it as a “Book of the Dead.”
Back then, many wealthy Egyptians were buried with “Books of the Dead”, these are papyri intended to help your journey to the next world, to assure that you’ll make it successfully. This administrative record of Ramses III is sold to somebody as a “Book of the Dead.”
List of Ramses’ Achievements
The Papyrus Harris tells about Ramses’ achievements who was a great pharaoh. First of all, it lists all the gifts that he gave to the temples of Egypt. One of the things the pharaoh did—it was a kind of business agreement between the king and the gods—was when you went out and battled and you were successful, you brought back gifts. And you donated a lot of it to the temples, because the gods had looked upon you favorably with your battle. So Ramses lists all of the gifts he gives to the temple, and it’s an immense quantity of oils, linen, land, etc.
By the end of this dynasty, the temple of Amun at Thebes is going to own 90 percent of all the temple lands in Egypt, they had the cattle, the produce, everything. As Papyrus Harris lists all of this, we can see that Ramses is living during an economic boom. It gives an accurate picture of a booming Egypt. Papyrus Harris is an important source of Ramses’ military campaigns, too.
Ramses’ Mortuary Temple
Papyrus mentions Ramses’ temple called Medinet Habu – while this is the modern Arabic name for it, it’s really called “United With Eternity.” This is a mortuary temple where Ramses is going to be united with eternity.
A mortuary temple is a place where the pharaoh is going to be worshipped after his death. We are going to have priests forever, bringing food, beer, bread, to the temple for the soul of Ramses. And Ramses assures this by giving land to the temple.
Mortuary Temple as Fortress
The mortuary temple is unique in many aspects. It is huge, with 30 feet thick walls built out of stone. Temples are meant to last forever so these are built out of stone, unlike palaces and houses that will last just a generation and hence built out of mud brick.
The temple had three functions. If you look at the entranceway to Medinet Habu, you will see that it’s in the shape of a Syrian fortress. Ramses obviously thought that at some point he was going to have to defend Egypt in the south, maybe, where the temple is in Thebes on the Western Bank. So he builds his mortuary temple to serve double function as a fortress. There are places on the top where archers could stand behind crenellations and shoot their arrows. So first, it’s the only mortuary temple we have that looks like a fort.
This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Temple as a Palace
Another function that the temple serves is as a palace. Ramses actually lived there, though not permanently. He’s ruling from the north where his capital is, and would come south for the festival of Opet, which was the greatest festival in Egypt at the time.
One of the things that amazes people when they see the palace of Ramses III, a great king of Egypt, is how small it is. There are no great rooms. And the reason is, there’s nothing architectural that enables you to build a room in those days. You can’t have a large piece of stone spanning a roof, there was no way to support a large open area. So it’s really a cramped area. But this is a palace, a fortress, and the mortuary temple of Ramses.
Common Questions About Papyrus Harris as a Historical Record of Ramses III
Papyrus Harris is named so because Harris owns this papyrus. It’s a papyrus that is written during the reign of the next pharaoh, Ramses III—Ramses Mery-Amun, and it records a history of his reign. The Papyrus Harris tells about Ramses’ achievements who was a great pharaoh.
The Papyrus mentions Ramses’ temple called Medinet Habu, a mortuary temple where Ramses is going to be united with eternity. The mortuary temple is unique in many aspects. as it was built to serve three functions. Besides being a temple, the papyrus mentions, Medinet Habu also served the role of his fortress and palace.
A mortuary temple is a place where the pharaoh is going to be worshipped after his death. So, in Ramses’ Medinet Habu, we are going to have priests forever, bringing food, beer, bread, to the temple for the soul of Ramses.