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Flourished Circa 1204-1193 b.c.e.

Foreman at deir el medina


Prejudiced Sources . Paneb is known from his tomb at Deir el Medina, which preserves little information about his life. Unfortunately for Paneb, his historical reputation is entirely based on information supplied in a text written by his sworn enemy, Amen-nakhte, in Papyrus Salt 124. Amen-nakhte believed that Paneb had become foreman through a bribe paid to the vizier, a job that Amen-nakhte believed was rightfully his in the absence of any bribery.

List of Crimes . Amen-nakhte prepared a list of the reasons that Paneb was unworthy to be foreman. Among the reasons were Paneb’s violent temper. But more importantly, Paneb was accused of adultery, bribery, misappropriation, theft, and assault. It is unclear whether Amen-nakhte ever delivered his list of charges to the vizier. The copy that is known to scholars was probably discovered at Deir el Medina, rather than at the vizier’s residence across the river. However, Ostraca Turin 57556, written somewhat later, referred to Paneb’s punishment for theft. This text is the only confirmation that he committed any crime.

Unfaithfulness . Adultery was not a criminal matter in ancient Egypt. It could be used, however, as evidence of wickedness or abuse of power when a supervisor seduced the wife of an employee. Some texts suggest that a wronged husband might murder his wife’s seducer, a situation that would lead to general disorder in a village. Certainly the charges against Paneb, if true, would have interfered with the work on the king’s tomb. Amen-nakhte charged that Paneb slept with the wives of two different workmen. He claimed that “Paneb slept with the lady Tuy when she was the wife of the workman Qenna; he slept with the lady Hel when she was with Pen-dua. He slept with the lady Hel when she was with Hesy-su-neb-ef,” according to his son. In the case of the second woman, Paneb allegedly also slept with her daughter and procured the daughter for his own son—“And when he had slept with Hel, he slept with Webkhet, her daugher. And A’opekhty, his son, slept with Webkhet himself.”

Bribery . Amen-nakhte charged that Paneb became foreman by bribing the vizier Pre-em-hab by giving him five slaves who had previously belonged to the father of the recently deceased foreman, Neferhotep. Amen-nakhte must also have had a stake in the ownership of these slaves since he was Neferhotep’s brother.

Misappropriation . Paneb allegedly misappropriated the time of sixteen workmen to work on his private tomb rather than continue their work on the king’s tomb. He also had the workmen use their official-issue chisels and pickaxes and reportedly even broke a tool in the construction of his tomb. These tools were provided to the workmen for labor they did “for Pharaoh.” This misuse of these men’s time and tools was a constant and persistent problem for the central government, an abuse directly addressed in a decree made by King Sety I (circa 1290-1279 b.c.e.) three generations earlier.

Theft . At the same time, Paneb reportedly had the men steal stone from the tomb of King Merneptah (circa 1213-1204 b.c.e.). He allegedly had them carve four columns from this stone, which they then erected in Paneb’s tomb. Amen-nakhte claimed that “while the stone cutters were standing and working on top of the work of Pharaoh, the people passing by in the desert saw them and heard their voices. And he took the chisels of Pharaoh, (may he live, may he prosper, may he be healthy), and the pickax to work in his tomb.”

Assault . Amen-nakhte also charged that Paneb chased Neferhotep through the village, threatening him that he would “kill him in the night!” Neferhotep was forced to lock himself in his own house and set a guard. Paneb attacked the house with stones and broke down the door. He also beat nine men that night.

Retribution . Neferhotep reported Paneb to the vizier, Amen-mose, who punished Paneb for the assaults. However, Amen-nakhte believed that Paneb was able to force the dismissal of Amen-mose on account of his punishment. Amen-nakhte complained “Now, (he) is not worthy of this office. Indeed he is behaving like the wadjet eye [playing Providence] (although) he is like a madman. He killed these men so that they would not be able to make a report to Pharaoh, (may he live, may he prosper, may he be healthy). Look, I have let the vizier know his behavior.”

Implications . The charges against Paneb, true or not, paint a picture of life at Deir el Medina that is at odds with Egyptian ideals. They demonstrate the kinds of social problems that were possible in a small village that are usually hidden from historical view.


Leonard Lesko, ed., Pharaoh’s Workers: The Villagers of Deir el-Medina (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994).

A. G. MacDowell, Village Life in Ancient Egypt: Laundry Lists and Love Songs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 46–47, 190-193.