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Early Nineteenth Dynasty (about 1290–1279 b.c.e.)–Nineteenth Dynasty (before 1213 b.c.e.


Fourth Son.

Khaemwase was the fourth son of Ramesses II and the second son of Queen Istnofret, a secondary wife. He thus held high rank among Ramesses' 115 children. Khaemwase was probably born while his grandfather, Sety I, was still king (1290–1279 b.c.e.). As a boy of about five, he accompanied his father on military campaigns in Lower Nubia to the south of Egypt. He also followed his father to war as a teenager. But Khaemwase had interests other than war.


Khaemwase became a priest of the god Ptah in Memphis when he was in his twenties, in Year 16 of his father's reign, about 1263 b.c.e. Among his first duties as priest was to supervise the burial of the Apis bull. The Apis bull was an animal born with particular markings and considered especially sacred to the god Ptah. There was only one Apis bull at a time. Khaemwase supervised the bull's burial in 1263 b.c.e. and again in Year 30 of his father's reign, about 1249 b.c.e. For later bulls, he built a special burial-place called the Serapeum. This new burial place developed over time into an extensive building full of hallways and chambers leading in multiple directions like a maze. The building was in use for nearly one thousand years until King Nectanebo built a new burial place for the Apis bull. But knowledge of the Serapeum and Khaemwase's role in it continued to fascinate readers during the time when Demotic literature flourished. The fact that Khaemwase was also buried in the Serapeum must have added to popular interest in him later.

Fictional Khaemwase.

A thousand years after his death, Khaemwase was the main character in two important Demotic stories. In Khaemwase and Naneferkaptah, Khaemwase steals a magic book from Naneferkaptah, the man charged by the god Ptah to guard it. After an attempt to win the book in a game, Khaemwase ran away with it. Ghosts then pursued him, he lost his good name, and finally his father Ramesses II convinced him to return the book. In Khaemwase and his son Si-Osiri, Khaemwase and his wife's much desired, long-awaited son turns out to be a magical spirit. As a boy he is a skilled magician. Later in life during a contest with another magician, Si-Osiri disappears. Finally, Khaemwase's real son is born. These lively tales preserve detailed legends, perhaps inspired or at least sustained by knowledge of the Serapeum.


K. A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II (Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 1982).