Zenith Immortal Egypt with Joann Fletcher


Zenith

Joann Fletcher explains how ancient Egypt's extraordinary story fits together. Joann explores the magnificent Colossi of Memnon, built under pharaoh Amenhotep III.


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Transcript


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Hundreds of tonnes of stone to portray a mighty pharaoh.

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Colossal testament to Egypt's golden age.

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I think it's probably here at the feet of the Colossi of Memnon

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we get a real sense of who Amenhotep III was.

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In my opinion, Amenhotep III was ancient Egypt's greatest pharaoh.

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He presided over the zenith of Egyptian culture and civilisation.

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He is the golden age.

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He is the epitome of everything that made ancient Egypt brilliant.

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The rise of this great civilisation

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was powered by its extraordinary belief system...

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..where the pursuit of the perfect afterlife was everything.

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Capable of withstanding disasters and dark ages...

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..to then re-emerge as the most powerful empire in the ancient world.

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In this episode, I'm going to enter

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what I regard as Egypt's greatest era - the New Kingdom.

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Whoa...!

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What an amazing chamber.

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A time of luxury, grand designs

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and unparalleled splendour.

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Isn't this absolutely beautiful?

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But like all good things, it couldn't last forever.

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Egypt's powerful religion would prove to be its greatest weakness.

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And I'll discover how the priests became so rich,

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their power struggle with the crown destroyed the very unity of Egypt.

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It was this very conflict that would transform this golden age

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into one of decadence and corruption...

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..and would eventually tear Egypt apart.

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And by looking again at Egypt's greatest superstars,

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I'm going to investigate what really happened

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during the glittering New Kingdom.

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Welcome to my story of ancient Egypt.

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The New Kingdom, nearly 3,500 years ago

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and the time of Amenhotep III.

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When Egypt's expression of power and belief

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reached new heights of enormity.

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I've joined an international team of archaeologists,

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who are excavating just one of the vast monuments Amenhotep created...

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his funerary temple.

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Now, being here, you really get a sense of what it must have been like

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3,500 years ago,

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when this place was a building site - much as it is today.

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All these statues all around,

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Amenhotep III's image coming up in their hundreds.

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And yet, as the archaeologists today assemble all these pieces,

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this is, literally, history coming out of the ground piece by piece.

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In the pyramid age,

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royal tombs and funerary temples were a single complex,

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but 1,300 years later, the two were built separately,

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reflecting a new era of opulence,

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epitomising the greatest dynasty of all, the 18th.

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The time of Amenhotep III.

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For centuries, pretty much the only visible remains

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of Amenhotep's funerary temple were his two colossal statues.

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Now archaeologist Dr Hourig Sourouzian and her team

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are finally uncovering the full splendour

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of this once-mighty monument.

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You touch. And it's, it's...

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-It's like glass.

-Yes.

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Covering over 86 acres,

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this was not a tomb like the pyramids,

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but a huge complex.

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The largest funerary temple ever created.

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-It's a massive, massive...

-It's unbelievable.

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You have to imagine

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this is only the major temple, the main temple.

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You have to imagine other temples, processional ways,

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sphinx avenues, magazines,

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workshops, treasures, pools, gardens,

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priests' houses, administrative houses...

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All this was a big city in the...in the capital.

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-Overwhelming in size.

-Yeah. It is.

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This grand design was built as the place

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where his soul could be worshipped for eternity,

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while his mummified body was buried in the Valley of the Kings nearby.

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But during his lifetime, inside the temple,

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a permanent priesthood was employed,

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all ruled over by the pharaoh.

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Amenhotep's massive statues flanked the temple's main entrance.

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Beyond them lay a second pair,

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and then a third.

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Amenhotep's image repeated throughout the temple complex.

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I wish one day they, they find a time machine.

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I go back...

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Can I come? I'll come with you.

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We may not have a time machine, but 15 years of work

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have begun to reveal some of the temple's former glories.

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Normally, these would have been metres up in the air.

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But to actually engage...

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It's so very tactile.

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So very intimate.

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Holding hands with the pharaoh.

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This colossus from the temple's second gateway

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is flanked by one of the best-preserved statues

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of Amenhotep's principal consort, Queen Tiye,

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his Great Royal Wife.

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Here she's standing.

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And by a miracle, having been saved by all the catastrophes

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which struck this temple.

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So he's protected her for centuries, really, hasn't he?

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Carved to be no bigger than Amenhotep's lower leg,

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Queen Tiye's size served to exaggerate

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the pharaoh's superhuman status.

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These massive statues were more than a memorial.

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Each worship is to guarantee the immortality of the king's soul...

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the pharaoh as god.

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This is my great surprise to you.

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And Hourig has saved the very best until last.

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Pull it now.

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Oh...!

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Oh, flipping heck!

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It's Amenhotep's head,

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at three metres tall,

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carved from the finest white alabaster.

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Oh...

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I don't know what to say.

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Over the years, I've seen many of his portraits,

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but rarely one as stunning as this.

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Look at his nose.

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Yeah.

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This is an absolutely amazing portrait...sculpted face

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of Amenhotep himself.

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Never seen anything like it.

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With hundreds of statues like this,

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Amenhotep was multiplying the image of himself

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as Egypt's most powerful god, bringing light and life to the world.

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Because whoever controlled Egypt's religion controlled Egypt.

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And with it, a vast amount of wealth.

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Now, Amenhotep wore gold from top to toe

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and he handed it out to his courtiers as gifts.

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But he also used it as a diplomatic weapon.

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Amenhotep's clever use of Egyptian gold is recorded on stone scarabs,

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like this one.

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They served as the pharaoh's news bulletins,

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which he circulated around his empire with updates inscribed on their base.

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In this case, it was a new marriage of the king.

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It effectively records his marriage to a Syrian princess,

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a princess from the land of Mitanni,

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and it recounts how, having sent gold to the princess' father,

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he then sent out one of his daughters for the pharaoh to marry.

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So a kind of mail-order bride, if you like.

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It reports that her name was Kiluhepa...

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..and that she arrived from Mitanni in Syria,

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with no fewer than 317 ladies in waiting.

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Clearly impressed,

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Amenhotep added the comment,

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"It's a marvel!"

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With this diplomatic marriage, only one of many,

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they were an effective way of securing peace and prosperity.

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Amenhotep was able to utilise his key resource,

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his gold, to kind of get everything he wanted to maintain his status

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as the supreme monarch in the ancient world at that time.

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Gold bought Egypt peace with its neighbours...

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..with Amenhotep III's empire stretching from what is now Syria

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as far as modern Sudan.

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But within Egypt itself, gold had a different use

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and could even guarantee a fast track to the afterlife.

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Emphatically expressed by a great treasure in the museum in Wigan.

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A stunning golden face.

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Originally part of a woman's coffin,

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her life-like features were preserved

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to allow her soul to recognise her in the afterlife.

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Isn't this absolutely beautiful?

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Clearly the gold suggests to us

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that this was someone of very special,

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very high status, very wealthy.

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Although we can never know her name,

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she had clearly spent a fortune in preparing for her perfect afterlife.

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Covered in gold leaf, she stares out at us

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with eyes of alabaster and black obsidian.

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We can really see into the world,

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into the thought patterns of the Egyptians themselves

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because, as stunning as this face is,

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it was simply buried in a tomb -

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literally, buried in a hole in the ground -

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not for human eyes,

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but to be seen by the gods and the spirits of the dead,

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with whom this woman wanted to join.

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And that's why her skin is gold,

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because the gods had golden skin

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and she wanted to be recognised by them as one of their own,

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taken into their eternal care.

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For the Egyptians, it was a special pact between themselves and the gods

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that made their country, made their empire,

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so very powerful, so very special.

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In the golden age,

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this special pact shone more brightly than ever before...

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..with Egypt's wealth poured into their faith in the afterlife.

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And with increasing amounts of gold accompanying the royal mummies,

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their tombs needed to be kept secure at all costs.

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So a secret burial place was established for Egypt's pharaohs,

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on Thebes' west bank.

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The Valley of the Kings.

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It was essential that each royal mummy

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was buried safely in their tomb,

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in a custom dating back to the beginning of time,

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because each one became a royal ancestor,

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whose cumulative souls formed the very essence of Egypt.

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The royal tombs had been desecrated once before,

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breaking Egypt's spiritual link to its ancestors.

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So to prevent this happening again,

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the pharaohs of the New Kingdom chose burial deep in this remote valley...

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..where they could lie undisturbed in rock-cut tombs.

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And this became Egypt's most sacred place.

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Such elaborate preparations for the afterlife

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also fuelled a growing economy.

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And just as in the pyramid age,

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the industry of death shaped the lives of many ordinary Egyptians.

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For not only were there tombs to cut and temples to build,

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but statues, shrines, coffins, sarcophagi

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and all the paraphernalia of the afterlife.

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And with this came all the ingenuity

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of sourcing everything from alabaster to granite to gold.

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This is a copy of the world's earliest surviving geological map,

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dating from around 1150BC and the reign of Ramses IV.

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This map is a guide to the stone quarries and gold mines

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of a 15km stretch of Egypt's Eastern Desert.

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It's almost as detailed as a modern geological map,

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with different colours for the different rock types.

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So over here, these large areas of black are the sedimentary rocks.

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Back here, where it turns pink, these are the igneous rocks, like granite.

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Other little features include areas of gold mining.

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And then throughout, you have this very subtle speckling

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and these are the areas of gravel.

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Known to be very accurate,

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the map was made for one specific quarrying expedition...

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..when 8,000 men were sent into a desert valley 130km from Thebes,

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to mine stone for royal monuments.

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But what's special about this map

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is that it leads us to the ordinary people,

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who were employed by the pharaoh

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to build the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

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It was discovered by archaeologists

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at the workers' village of Deir el-Medina,

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a purpose-built settlement to house the tomb builders,

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architects, artists and scribes, together with their families.

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This would have been a bustling place,

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its streets full of children playing,

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deliveries being made

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and all the colours, sounds and smells of everyday life.

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It's one of the workers who lived here who made the map.

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Now, we even know the identity of the mapmaker, the scribe Amennakhte.

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His distinctive handwriting

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is well known from a range of other literary works,

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from poems to prayers, maps to tomb plans.

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And it's thanks to one particular little inscription,

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with his name on, that we even know where he lived.

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Amennakhte lived here.

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This is the scribe's house.

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Amennakhte was one of the many skilled workers

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that rose through the ranks of society

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in the generations following the reign of Amenhotep III.

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He became the head scribe of this entire village,

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so a very, very important man.

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And yet, it's a very sad tale, as well,

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because as he gets older,

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we know that his eyesight started to fail

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because a prayer of his has survived,

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in which he makes this very personal address

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to the local goddess, Meretseger,

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who lived at the top of the mountain up there.

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And he's imploring the goddess.

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He's saying, "My eyesight is failing.

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"I see darkness by day."

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And for a scribe, for a consummate draughtsman like Amennakhte,

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how sad that would have been.

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Here, Amennakhte prays to Meretseger,

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both of them symbolically portrayed without their eyes.

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It's hard not to resist this image that,

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as he got older and more infirm,

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he would have gone up the steps to the flat roof

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and, with failing eyesight,

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try to focus on the job in hand...

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Trying to mix his paints,

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apply the lines and the words and so forth.

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And needing the full sun on a day like this,

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just to get through the working day.

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But just like his predecessors, who built the pyramids,

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Amennakte would have felt a sense of greater purpose.

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We can imagine him and his neighbours in Deir el-Medina

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working towards a single aim...

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creating the royal tomb.

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The New Kingdom pharaohs had created a new image for themselves.

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Elaborate building schemes, requiring new towns full of workers.

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A strong economy, supporting an ever-grander vision,

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both for this world and the next.

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But the spiritual convictions that had brought Egypt to its zenith

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had also created a serious threat.

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In the New Kingdom, much of the Egyptian state centred on Thebes.

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While its west bank was mainly dedicated to its city of the dead,

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the east bank was where most people lived

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and the site of Egypt's main state temple - Karnak.

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As Karnak was rapidly becoming

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the largest religious complex of the ancient world,

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its influence grew exponentially.

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And likewise, the power of its priests.

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To get a real sense of what's going on, we need to go behind the scenes.

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SHE SPEAKS IN ARABIC

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I'm being allowed through an ancient passageway,

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once only accessible to Karnak's clergy.

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More, more, more wonderful sign.

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It leads to the top of the temple's main gateway

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and gives a view of Karnak not many get to see.

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Just look at that...

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You could fit Notre Dame and St Paul's Cathedrals in here

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and still have acres to spare.

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It is immense.

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Within Karnak, a series of chapels, shrines and sacred precincts

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covered a total area of more than 250 acres.

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This was Egypt's religious heart for almost 2,000 years.

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The reason why Karnak is so vast

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is that every pharaoh poured so much of their wealth

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into this temple.

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Their gold and their spoils of war all filled the temple's coffers.

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And each pharaoh also wanted to build

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their own halls, shrines and obelisks

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in an attempt to outdo their predecessors.

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And yet all to the greater glory of Karnak's chief god, Amun.

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Over the course of centuries,

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Amun had risen from a local Theban god to Egypt's state deity.

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And his worship was the engine that fuelled the nation.

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So every pharaoh had to keep Amun content,

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offering him their wealth and tending to his every need.

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And this privilege fell to Karnak's high priest

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and was performed in the temple's inner sanctum.

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Secret ceremonies at which the only others permitted were the royals.

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Here we are in the very heart of Karnak temple.

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This is where the god lived.

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The god himself lived inside his sacred statue.

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The original wouldn't have been much bigger than this.

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It would have been solid gold.

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It would have lived inside a little golden shrine,

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sealed by a pair of small doors.

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And each morning, the high priest would come in.

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He would awaken the god's spirit.

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He would greet him. He would wash him.

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Anoint him with perfume.

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Apply his eye make-up.

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And then dress him in various linen outfits.

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Apply the small pieces of jewellery to the god's statue.

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And then the god would proceed to enjoy his day.

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Amun received daily meals of the finest foods...

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roast meats, bread, fruit and vegetables,

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accompanied by wine and beer.

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Clouds of incense would drive away evil forces

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and musicians and dancers entertained him.

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And by keeping their most important deity content,

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it was believed that Amun would, in turn,

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make the Nile flood each year,

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make the sun rise each morning

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and maintain Egypt's supreme status.

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The high priests' direct access to Amun

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made them the greatest beneficiaries of Karnak's growing prosperity.

0:24:100:24:14

This tranquil lake is where the male and female clergy bathed,

0:24:170:24:21

twice each day and night, to maintain their ritual purity before the gods.

0:24:210:24:27

Known as "the pure ones",

0:24:320:24:34

they set themselves apart from the rest of society

0:24:340:24:37

with their distinctive appearance,

0:24:370:24:40

achieved through their own set of daily rituals.

0:24:400:24:43

Part of this process of ritual purity

0:24:450:24:48

involved using an array of implements on a daily basis

0:24:480:24:51

to transform their appearance.

0:24:510:24:54

And one of the most important things they did,

0:24:560:24:58

they had to remove all body hair - male and female clergy -

0:24:580:25:01

using razors like this.

0:25:010:25:03

So every day, having to shave their heads and their entire bodies.

0:25:030:25:08

Keep them free from lice and all these kinds of things,

0:25:080:25:10

which would have inhibited their sense of cleanliness.

0:25:100:25:13

It was essential that they also had a very clean mouth,

0:25:140:25:18

because they'd be speaking the words before the god.

0:25:180:25:22

And so they used something which is quite a modern thing.

0:25:220:25:26

Basically, natron salt.

0:25:270:25:29

A kind of bicarbonate, rather like a modern bicarbonate toothpaste,

0:25:290:25:33

which would get their teeth nice and clean.

0:25:330:25:36

Scrupulous not only with dental hygiene,

0:25:380:25:40

they wore reed-woven sandals and robes of pure white linen.

0:25:400:25:45

And having transformed themselves in this wonderful way,

0:25:480:25:52

they also had access to these polished metal mirrors.

0:25:520:25:55

They could then admire their transformed appearance,

0:25:560:26:00

because it was important to distance themselves from the great unwashed.

0:26:000:26:05

For the ancient priests, cleanliness really was next to godliness

0:26:050:26:09

and they were the gods' chosen people.

0:26:090:26:12

As the wealth and power of Karnak's priests grew,

0:26:220:26:25

their authority over Egypt began to rival that of the king.

0:26:250:26:29

Karnak's priests had far-reaching influence,

0:26:330:26:37

active not only by day, but also by night.

0:26:370:26:41

One of these priests was called Nakht.

0:26:430:26:46

He was a priest of the Hours of Amun,

0:26:460:26:48

which basically means he was an astronomer

0:26:480:26:51

and he would sit by night on the flat temple roof,

0:26:510:26:54

which was effectively an ancient observatory,

0:26:540:26:57

and he'd be able to chart

0:26:570:26:59

the progress of the stars and planets in the sky,

0:26:590:27:02

watch the movement of the heavens.

0:27:020:27:04

And by doing so, the priests of Egypt were able to work out

0:27:040:27:08

when to celebrate specific events.

0:27:080:27:11

But of course, what this meant is that Karnak never closed.

0:27:120:27:16

It was a 24-hour-a-day concern.

0:27:160:27:19

It meant the priests were always there.

0:27:190:27:21

It meant the priests were always watching.

0:27:210:27:24

Fully aware of the potential threat posed by the Karnak clergy,

0:27:300:27:34

Amenhotep III employed his own relatives in the temple

0:27:340:27:38

to guarantee their loyalty.

0:27:380:27:40

But such subtle means of control were about to evaporate.

0:27:420:27:45

Enter a new pharaoh...

0:27:470:27:48

..Akhenaten.

0:27:490:27:51

Son and heir of Amenhotep.

0:27:540:27:57

But unlike his father, Akhenaten was no diplomat.

0:27:590:28:03

His zealous ambitions would soon plunge Egypt

0:28:040:28:07

into an age of political and religious extremism.

0:28:070:28:11

Early in his reign,

0:28:150:28:17

Akhenaten found a swift way to stamp his authority on the priests,

0:28:170:28:21

by building a controversial new temple complex at Karnak.

0:28:210:28:24

Now, what we're looking at here is something very, very unusual.

0:28:280:28:33

It's part of a wall from Karnak temple,

0:28:330:28:36

but not the traditional part of Karnak temple.

0:28:360:28:39

It's a section that was built a little way beyond

0:28:390:28:42

and it was a new, revolutionary building.

0:28:420:28:45

It wasn't built like the old-style Karnak

0:28:450:28:47

in huge, big, monolithic blocks of stone,

0:28:470:28:50

but these small easier-to-handle blocks,

0:28:500:28:52

which meant, of course, it could almost spring up overnight.

0:28:520:28:55

But most shocking of all

0:28:570:28:58

were the images that this new temple portrayed.

0:28:580:29:02

Akhenaten had begun to dismantle Egypt's traditional religion

0:29:020:29:06

and replace its many deities with a single god.

0:29:060:29:09

If you look very carefully,

0:29:100:29:12

the images are very different to what went before.

0:29:120:29:16

Amun is nowhere present.

0:29:170:29:19

The god of Karnak himself isn't represented in his own temple.

0:29:190:29:23

Because the god shown here is a form of the sun god called the Aten.

0:29:230:29:27

And you can see the multiple rays coming down,

0:29:290:29:33

ending in human hands,

0:29:330:29:35

giving their blessings to the main figure here.

0:29:350:29:38

And it isn't the high priest of Amun.

0:29:380:29:40

For Amun's priests were no longer in control at Karnak.

0:29:420:29:45

And Amun himself was now replaced by the Aten sun god.

0:29:490:29:54

In fact, life in Egypt was turned on its head.

0:29:560:30:00

And whereas previously,

0:30:010:30:03

courtiers would bow very low before their monarch,

0:30:030:30:06

now times had changed.

0:30:060:30:09

These people have their faces in the dirt before pharaoh.

0:30:090:30:12

They're lying prostrate before him.

0:30:120:30:15

This marked the beginning of a new age.

0:30:150:30:17

It was an age when the only way to reach God

0:30:210:30:24

was through his intermediaries,

0:30:240:30:26

twin monarchs Akhenaten and his wife and co-ruler Nefertiti.

0:30:260:30:31

And when the priests objected, the royal couple closed Karnak,

0:30:330:30:37

sacked its priests and seized its treasury.

0:30:370:30:41

They then moved their whole court 400km downriver from Thebes

0:30:430:30:48

and in less than ten years built a brand-new city.

0:30:480:30:52

Known today as Amarna,

0:30:590:31:01

its palaces, temples and tombs

0:31:010:31:04

were filled with images of the Aten, the sun disk god.

0:31:040:31:09

Gone were the multiplicity of gods to worship.

0:31:130:31:16

Now it was the sun that was celebrated each day

0:31:170:31:20

with hymns, prayers and offerings presented on a truly lavish scale.

0:31:200:31:26

But the couple's vision of Utopia came at a price.

0:31:360:31:39

And when Akhenaten died after a 17-year reign,

0:31:400:31:44

Egypt was bankrupt.

0:31:440:31:46

His son became king of Egypt.

0:31:480:31:51

And although he reigned for less than ten years,

0:31:510:31:54

he still became the most famous pharaoh

0:31:540:31:57

from the whole of Egyptian history.

0:31:570:31:59

Tutankhamen.

0:32:020:32:04

His treasure, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922,

0:32:070:32:11

was the most famous archaeological find of all time.

0:32:110:32:15

Tutankhamen's mask is the epitome of ancient Egypt.

0:32:170:32:21

So very familiar.

0:32:220:32:23

Yet, like so many of his treasures, holding a long-standing secret.

0:32:230:32:28

I've come to Oxford University's Griffith Institute

0:32:340:32:38

to examine the most detailed records of his burial.

0:32:380:32:41

So in this first stack...

0:32:450:32:46

These are all Carter's notes and diaries, journals.

0:32:480:32:52

And then, right at the bottom down here,

0:32:520:32:54

we've got all Harry Burton's original glass negatives.

0:32:540:32:58

Captured on delicate glass slides, these are the original negatives

0:32:580:33:03

taken by Howard Carter's photographer

0:33:030:33:05

at every stage of the ten-year excavation.

0:33:050:33:08

So this shows the very first view they had of the mummy.

0:33:090:33:13

They reveal Tutankhamen's burial in a way not usually seen,

0:33:140:33:19

for this is the linen shroud over his third innermost coffin.

0:33:190:33:24

This is as if the embalmers have just finished.

0:33:260:33:30

The family have laid their wreaths and floral tributes,

0:33:300:33:34

before the lid finally went on.

0:33:340:33:36

What a privilege to actually see this in black and white.

0:33:370:33:40

Wow...

0:33:420:33:44

That's pretty profound, that.

0:33:440:33:45

For all his fabled wealth,

0:33:500:33:52

Tutankhamen was, in life, a fairly insignificant pharaoh.

0:33:520:33:57

But his premature death, after only a decade as king,

0:33:570:34:01

offered Karnak's priests the perfect opportunity

0:34:010:34:05

to obliterate all trace of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the Amarna period.

0:34:050:34:11

And these wonderful photos of his burial treasure

0:34:150:34:19

reveal how they did it.

0:34:190:34:20

On his famous golden throne,

0:34:250:34:28

Tutankhamen and his wife Ankhesenamun are depicted together.

0:34:280:34:32

But all is not what it seems, as recent research has discovered...

0:34:340:34:39

If we look at the back of the queen's head,

0:34:400:34:42

where her wig originally was,

0:34:420:34:44

it's been slightly cut down there.

0:34:440:34:47

The same with Tutankhamen's crown.

0:34:470:34:49

A new crown has been added here.

0:34:490:34:52

So it's little things like this, because headgear regalia

0:34:520:34:55

was crucial in identifying these royal individuals.

0:34:550:34:58

By altering the images, the throne had been customised for Tutankhamen.

0:35:000:35:04

But the biggest giveaway as to whom this once belonged

0:35:070:35:10

is in the deity that looms large above the king and queen.

0:35:100:35:13

So although Amun is also named on this throne,

0:35:140:35:18

it's the Aten sun disk that does take centre stage

0:35:180:35:22

and really does cement this piece as a royal throne from the Armana age.

0:35:220:35:27

So it seems that the two figures

0:35:270:35:29

once believed to be Tutankhamen and his wife

0:35:290:35:32

were originally Akhenaten and Nefertiti.

0:35:320:35:35

Another clue comes from the most famous artefact from ancient history,

0:35:400:35:46

the golden mask of Tutankhamen.

0:35:460:35:49

Or is it?

0:35:490:35:51

Recent research has zoned in on one long-overlooked feature

0:35:510:35:55

and that is the decidedly pierced ears.

0:35:550:35:58

Because it's been suggested that this mask

0:35:580:36:02

was originally made for someone else.

0:36:020:36:04

The research suggests that Tutankhamen

0:36:040:36:07

wouldn't have worn earrings beyond childhood.

0:36:070:36:10

So by the age of 20, when he died,

0:36:100:36:13

he would not have been portrayed with pierced ears.

0:36:130:36:17

This mask was not made for an adult male pharaoh.

0:36:170:36:21

Indeed, when the gold has been compared,

0:36:210:36:24

the face is made of completely different gold to the rest.

0:36:240:36:28

Evidence of soldering is clearly visible on the mask.

0:36:290:36:32

It now seems as if Tutankhamen's own face

0:36:330:36:37

was effectively grafted onto the mask of a previous ruler.

0:36:370:36:41

A previous ruler who had pierced ears for earrings.

0:36:410:36:45

A previous ruler who may well have been a woman,

0:36:450:36:49

who may well have been Nefertiti.

0:36:490:36:51

In fact, it's estimated that around 80% of the objects

0:36:560:37:00

found in Tutankhamen's tomb

0:37:000:37:02

originally belonged to either Akhenaten or Nefertiti.

0:37:020:37:06

And with all of it dumped together like this,

0:37:070:37:10

it was a kind of spiritual decluttering.

0:37:100:37:12

As far as the priests were concerned,

0:37:140:37:17

all this was tainted gold.

0:37:170:37:19

And so the burial of Tutankhamen was the perfect opportunity

0:37:190:37:23

to bury the unwanted past forever.

0:37:230:37:26

While the city of Amarna had been abandoned, then demolished,

0:37:310:37:35

the memory of everything it represented

0:37:350:37:37

was likewise being erased.

0:37:370:37:39

Egypt's state religion was restored.

0:37:410:37:44

Karnak's priests were back in business.

0:37:470:37:49

And Thebes was once again the seat of sacred power.

0:37:520:37:56

And now, the next dynasty of the New Kingdom was in control.

0:38:010:38:05

Having died without an heir,

0:38:070:38:09

Tutankhamen was succeeded by a line of militaristic rulers,

0:38:090:38:13

the 19th dynasty.

0:38:130:38:15

With no direct royal ancestry,

0:38:200:38:22

the new dynasty needed to reconnect with Egypt's illustrious past.

0:38:220:38:27

So it reinstated traditional beliefs,

0:38:270:38:30

in a renaissance led by one of its most influential rulers.

0:38:300:38:34

Seti I.

0:38:370:38:38

His tomb in the Valley of the Kings

0:38:400:38:42

is the largest pharaoh's tomb ever created here.

0:38:420:38:45

Currently closed to the public,

0:38:480:38:50

I've been given special permission to explore this labyrinthine treasure.

0:38:500:38:54

The tomb's inviting us down, further down into the underworld

0:38:570:39:01

and it's just drawing us into the darkness.

0:39:010:39:03

It's a really, really deep tomb, this.

0:39:030:39:05

Its 174 metres of corridors and chambers

0:39:080:39:12

all chiselled out by hand.

0:39:120:39:14

And covered from floor to ceiling in some truly spectacular scenes.

0:39:160:39:21

Whoa...!

0:39:220:39:24

What an amazing chamber!

0:39:240:39:26

Absolutely filled with little gold and twinkly stars.

0:39:260:39:30

But the walls of Seti's tomb carry a clear message...

0:39:310:39:35

..demonstrating the return of Egypt's traditional deities in full force.

0:39:360:39:41

And here we see him, Seti with the gods.

0:39:460:39:50

This is a brilliant chamber.

0:39:570:39:59

Its repeated images of the pharaoh Seti with the gods.

0:39:590:40:03

The gods are back and he's keen to show that.

0:40:030:40:06

And so we see him here...

0:40:060:40:08

..with Anubis,

0:40:090:40:11

the elegant black jackal god of embalming and the dead.

0:40:110:40:15

Here Seti is making offerings to Hathor,

0:40:160:40:19

the maternal goddess of love, who takes all dead souls into her care.

0:40:190:40:24

And Horus, the god of kingship,

0:40:260:40:28

wearing the joint crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.

0:40:280:40:31

Then Seti makes the strongest connection with Egypt's past

0:40:340:40:38

in the portrayal of the ultimate deity in the tomb...

0:40:380:40:42

Osiris, god of the underworld.

0:40:420:40:45

He represents every single pharaoh that's gone before Seti.

0:40:460:40:51

He represents the accumulated powers of the royal ancestors.

0:40:510:40:55

And Seti is keen to show himself in the company of Osiris.

0:40:550:40:59

He's tapping into that greatness that made Egypt such a strong nation.

0:40:590:41:04

Every image, every hieroglyph in Seti's tomb

0:41:080:41:12

harks back to the golden age of Amenhotep III.

0:41:120:41:15

And continuing with this golden legacy,

0:41:170:41:20

Seti's reign was a true renaissance of art and culture,

0:41:200:41:25

with the ultimate jewel in his tomb...

0:41:250:41:28

his burial chamber.

0:41:280:41:29

That is absolutely superb.

0:41:330:41:36

This is really incredible.

0:41:410:41:43

It's taking that night-time sky motif and really, really running with it.

0:41:430:41:47

This is the night sky,

0:41:510:41:53

as seen through the eyes of the astronomer priests.

0:41:530:41:56

And this is where the royal mummy would have lain,

0:41:570:42:01

in its alabaster sarcophagus,

0:42:010:42:03

allowing Seti's mummy, Seti's soul,

0:42:030:42:05

to look up at this spectacular ceiling.

0:42:050:42:08

Egypt's traditional belief system is here writ large,

0:42:130:42:17

covering every surface.

0:42:170:42:20

Egypt was back.

0:42:260:42:27

Seti had brought back the days of glory.

0:42:280:42:31

It's as if the Amarna period had never been.

0:42:330:42:36

And for the average man and woman in the street,

0:42:360:42:38

that was a wonderful thing,

0:42:380:42:40

because order had been restored,

0:42:400:42:43

chaos had been brushed away

0:42:430:42:46

and everything was all right with their world.

0:42:460:42:50

The golden age had been restored.

0:42:560:42:58

But not just for the larger-than-life pharaohs,

0:43:000:43:02

with their glorious tombs and vast monuments,

0:43:020:43:06

but for the majority of Egypt's population, too.

0:43:060:43:09

This included the inhabitants of Deir el-Medina,

0:43:120:43:15

the tomb builders' village near the Valley of the Kings.

0:43:150:43:18

At the edge of the village was a great pit,

0:43:190:43:22

the community dump,

0:43:220:43:24

inside which were discovered

0:43:240:43:26

tens of thousands of pieces of pottery and stone

0:43:260:43:30

covered in pictures and words.

0:43:300:43:32

Written in hieratic script, a kind of hieroglyphic shorthand,

0:43:350:43:39

these are the ancient Egyptian equivalent of Post-it Notes,

0:43:390:43:42

shopping lists and text messages.

0:43:420:43:44

This is the kind of stuff

0:43:470:43:50

-that speaks to everyday life.

-Yeah, yeah.

0:43:500:43:52

What's going on underneath the surface.

0:43:520:43:54

With the help of hieratic expert Dr Glenn Godenho,

0:43:540:43:58

we can catch a glimpse of this intimate world,

0:43:580:44:01

far away from kings and gods.

0:44:010:44:03

Which is your favourite amongst these ones?

0:44:040:44:06

I always go to this one.

0:44:060:44:08

This is really nice because this one's

0:44:080:44:10

basically a list of stuff you take to a party.

0:44:100:44:12

What you've got is tabulated information.

0:44:120:44:15

So you've vertical and horizontal lines

0:44:150:44:17

and in each of those spaces you've got a name and the stuff

0:44:170:44:20

they've brought to that particular event.

0:44:200:44:22

I mean, this person here, the name's missing from this,

0:44:220:44:24

but this person brought the most stuff - about 11 items.

0:44:240:44:27

We've got bread, for example, being brought along.

0:44:270:44:29

Next down, we've got some beer.

0:44:290:44:31

So one jug of beer.

0:44:310:44:33

As well as beer and bread, it lists a veritable feast.

0:44:340:44:38

Fruit, 20 pieces.

0:44:390:44:41

Beans, one jarful.

0:44:420:44:44

Fish, meat.

0:44:460:44:48

And even a cake.

0:44:500:44:52

The thing I like about this is that idea of a community coming together.

0:44:530:44:58

It really does make the ancient Egyptians that more real.

0:44:580:45:01

Because we can relate to them. We all like a good party.

0:45:010:45:03

But of course, life isn't always a party and people fall on hard times.

0:45:040:45:09

This fragment begins with a story of a breakup.

0:45:110:45:14

Hesysunebef divorced the lady Hel.

0:45:150:45:17

And then it goes on to record a heart-warming story

0:45:190:45:22

of support from its anonymous author.

0:45:220:45:24

He seems to have wanted to look after this lady Hel.

0:45:250:45:28

And so the text goes on and it says that the author of this

0:45:280:45:32

spent three years giving one measure of emmer wheat to Hel every month.

0:45:320:45:39

But it doesn't end there.

0:45:390:45:41

So she gives to the author here a sash.

0:45:410:45:44

So a piece of clothing.

0:45:440:45:46

And she says in this line here,

0:45:460:45:49

"To offer it at the river bank".

0:45:490:45:50

The river bank is where the market was, right?

0:45:500:45:53

And she says that she'd like one measure of emmer wheat for it.

0:45:530:45:58

But no-one wanted it.

0:45:580:45:59

Ah...!

0:45:590:46:00

So the text goes on to say that the author

0:46:000:46:04

tried to offer it down at the river bank,

0:46:040:46:07

but he gives a customer review.

0:46:070:46:08

It's right here, one word, "been", which means bad.

0:46:080:46:13

Ah, that's really sad.

0:46:130:46:15

Yeah, so it wasn't even worth one measure of emmer.

0:46:150:46:17

So that is sad. But the author is such a good egg

0:46:170:46:20

that he says that he buys it off of her

0:46:200:46:24

for well over the market value of this thing

0:46:240:46:26

that wasn't even worth one measure in the first place, anyway.

0:46:260:46:29

Nice guy! Pity we don't know his name.

0:46:290:46:31

Yeah, it's a real shame. It's a real shame.

0:46:310:46:33

But at least we have his words.

0:46:340:46:36

One of the many voices from Deir el-Medina

0:46:360:46:39

which still speak to us across 3,000 years of history...

0:46:390:46:43

..telling us of the highs and lows of lives, familiar to us, even today.

0:46:440:46:49

For most people, the New Kingdom had been an age of plenty.

0:46:530:46:56

But it wasn't to last.

0:46:580:47:00

The golden era of wealthy pharaohs was becoming ever more superficial.

0:47:010:47:06

Seti's son Ramses II was Egypt's most prolific builder...

0:47:130:47:17

..overspending on ever more ostentatious monuments,

0:47:190:47:22

the best known of which was his temple at Abu Simbel.

0:47:220:47:26

But such over-the-top building projects emptied the royal coffers,

0:47:270:47:31

as did a series of costly foreign wars.

0:47:310:47:34

So by the time of Ramses III, the cracks had certainly begun to appear.

0:47:350:47:40

As inflation increased, supplies in the state granaries ran low.

0:47:440:47:48

So the grain, which formed the monthly wage rations

0:47:500:47:53

of state employees, like tomb builders and artisans,

0:47:530:47:56

was no longer paid when due.

0:47:560:47:59

And it sparked the first recorded labour strike in history.

0:47:590:48:03

It happened in 1155BC,

0:48:040:48:05

when the tomb builders began to complain

0:48:050:48:08

that their food supplies hadn't been delivered.

0:48:080:48:11

And when it happened again the following month,

0:48:110:48:13

they simply downed tools, marched to the nearest temple

0:48:130:48:17

and shouted, "We are hungry!"

0:48:170:48:19

To make sure their grievances were heard,

0:48:200:48:23

they staged a sit-in at the temple.

0:48:230:48:25

But the state's response only added insult to injury.

0:48:290:48:33

Local officials could only hand round a delivery of pastries.

0:48:360:48:40

Not much use to anyone.

0:48:400:48:43

The indifference of the authorities provoked many more weeks of protest.

0:48:430:48:47

Their grievances only increased.

0:48:500:48:52

And soon, the striking workers had taken to shouting out

0:48:520:48:56

at passing authority figures, including the mayor.

0:48:560:48:59

The workers were finally fobbed off with enough supplies to shut them up

0:49:010:49:06

in time for the pharaoh's jubilee celebration

0:49:060:49:08

to pass by unhindered by trouble.

0:49:080:49:11

But the striking workers

0:49:140:49:15

had highlighted the waning power of the monarchy.

0:49:150:49:19

With the pharaoh now served

0:49:190:49:21

by an increasingly inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy...

0:49:210:49:24

..the glorious bubble of royal extravagance finally burst.

0:49:250:49:29

And the pharaoh's rivals were waiting in the wings...

0:49:330:49:37

the priests of Karnak.

0:49:370:49:39

Having grown powerful through the revenues

0:49:410:49:43

given to the gods they served,

0:49:430:49:45

the writing for the royals was quite literally...on the wall.

0:49:450:49:49

And you can see what I mean in this little-known part of Karnak temple.

0:49:500:49:54

Where the high priest is making a very bold statement,

0:49:590:50:02

but only if you know how to read the footnotes.

0:50:020:50:05

Now this is a fascinating scene.

0:50:070:50:10

We have the pharaoh Ramses IX

0:50:100:50:12

and he's facing his high priest shown here.

0:50:120:50:15

But there's something extraordinary about this scene

0:50:150:50:18

because, for the first time,

0:50:180:50:20

the pharaoh and the priest are shown on exactly the same scale.

0:50:200:50:24

They are the same height. That's why the priest is looking so pleased.

0:50:240:50:27

He has his arms raised as if in triumph.

0:50:270:50:30

Because these guys are so clever,

0:50:300:50:32

they've actually got the pharaoh standing on a box.

0:50:320:50:36

So he's a fraction higher

0:50:360:50:39

and yet, in reality, they're the same height.

0:50:390:50:42

This really shows that the priests are in power.

0:50:420:50:45

They're basically saying to the king,

0:50:450:50:47

"We are the same size as you,

0:50:470:50:49

"therefore we are as important as you are."

0:50:490:50:52

Priests had become full-time politicians.

0:50:580:51:01

Vying with the throne for power,

0:51:010:51:03

they destabilised the balance between church and state,

0:51:030:51:06

the relationship on which Egypt's entire culture depended.

0:51:060:51:11

So great were their ambitions that, by the end of the New Kingdom,

0:51:130:51:17

the priests took control of the entire south.

0:51:170:51:20

And with the pharaoh ruling only the north,

0:51:210:51:23

the country was split into its two ancient halves.

0:51:230:51:27

But even worse was to come.

0:51:310:51:33

It's at Medinet Habu, Ramses III's funerary temple,

0:51:380:51:42

that we can find out just how little interest

0:51:420:51:45

these politician-priests now had in the royal afterlife.

0:51:450:51:49

They were only concerned with their own status and their own wealth.

0:51:500:51:53

Now, this next disturbing part of Egypt's story

0:51:560:52:00

not only spelt disaster for its core belief in the royal afterlife,

0:52:000:52:04

it left a tortuous puzzle for Egyptologists,

0:52:040:52:07

which we are still trying to piece together.

0:52:070:52:10

It's an extraordinary story that begins not in the temple,

0:52:130:52:18

but in a small house built later within the grounds.

0:52:180:52:21

Because the priests' corrupt ambitions

0:52:240:52:27

would be put into practice by the man who lived here.

0:52:270:52:30

His name was Butehamun,

0:52:360:52:38

and as a necropolis scribe,

0:52:380:52:39

he worked in the nearby Valley of the Kings.

0:52:390:52:42

This is the man himself, Butehamun, with his shaven head,

0:52:430:52:46

his starched kilt

0:52:460:52:48

and his arms raised in prayer.

0:52:480:52:50

He's praying to the great god of Thebes, Amun himself.

0:52:500:52:54

Although Butehamun's story doesn't quite live up to this image of piety.

0:52:550:53:00

Because it was here

0:53:010:53:02

that he received a letter of instruction from his boss,

0:53:020:53:05

the high priest of Karnak.

0:53:050:53:07

This is a copy of that letter,

0:53:100:53:12

and its contents are mind-blowing,

0:53:120:53:14

because the high priest is telling Butehamun,

0:53:140:53:17

"Go and perform for me a task

0:53:170:53:19

"on which you have never before embarked.

0:53:190:53:22

"Uncover a tomb among the ancient tombs

0:53:220:53:25

"and preserve its sealed door until I return."

0:53:250:53:28

And although this language is quite euphemistic and cryptic,

0:53:300:53:34

both the sender and recipient knew exactly what it meant

0:53:340:53:38

and it would have a profound impact on Egypt.

0:53:380:53:41

Butehamun had been promoted.

0:53:440:53:46

His new title was...

0:53:480:53:49

Opener of the Gates of the Necropolis.

0:53:490:53:52

So he and his men set out for the Valley of the Kings,

0:53:550:53:59

taking with them tools and bundles of linen.

0:53:590:54:01

Their mission...

0:54:030:54:05

nothing less than the systematic dismantling of the royal cemetery

0:54:050:54:10

in search of gold.

0:54:100:54:11

It was an order to accumulate wealth.

0:54:130:54:15

Tomb robbing itself was nothing new in ancient Egypt.

0:54:220:54:26

But what's different about this looting

0:54:260:54:29

is that it's an order from the ruler of Upper Egypt,

0:54:290:54:31

the high priest himself.

0:54:310:54:33

This is looting sanctioned by the state.

0:54:330:54:36

Knowing the secret location of the royal tombs,

0:54:440:54:47

Butehamun began what was euphemistically referred to as...

0:54:470:54:50

"restoration work".

0:54:500:54:52

The final taboo was about to be broken.

0:54:540:54:56

So Butehamun and his men set to work.

0:55:000:55:02

They break open the seal of every royal tomb.

0:55:030:55:06

They move the lid of the sarcophagus,

0:55:060:55:08

take out the royal mummy in its nest of gold coffins

0:55:080:55:11

and proceed to unwrap each one.

0:55:110:55:14

Next, they strip them of anything of value...

0:55:150:55:18

Gold masks, jewellery and amulets, all taken for the temple treasury.

0:55:180:55:24

As for the mummies,

0:55:270:55:29

they're re-wrapped in fresh linen and all buried together.

0:55:290:55:32

For the cash-strapped priests,

0:55:360:55:38

these royal tombs were no longer inviolable...

0:55:380:55:41

..but little more than a series of dead bodies

0:55:420:55:44

resting amidst the gold they needed to achieve their political aims.

0:55:440:55:48

So for 20 years,

0:55:520:55:54

this very tomb became one of Butehamun's re-wrapping workshops...

0:55:540:55:58

..where archaeologists found fragments of the gold

0:56:000:56:02

prized from royal coffins,

0:56:020:56:05

traces of the lost treasures of numerous pharaohs.

0:56:050:56:08

And Butehamun's handwriting was discovered

0:56:190:56:21

on the re-wrapped mummy of Ramses III.

0:56:210:56:24

With no regard for the sacred,

0:56:300:56:32

even the great pharaoh Amenhotep III

0:56:320:56:35

ended up repackaged in the coffin of Ramses III,

0:56:350:56:40

covered with the ill-fitting lid of Seti II.

0:56:400:56:43

Only one tomb, hidden by rubble,

0:56:500:56:52

escaped the wholesale plunder.

0:56:520:56:54

Yet the ultimate violation of ancient Egypt's soul was now complete.

0:57:050:57:10

Clearly the priest-kings of Karnak had got what they'd always wanted -

0:57:120:57:16

absolute power.

0:57:160:57:18

No longer interested in the royal ancestors,

0:57:180:57:20

who were simply a source of revenue to be robbed and discarded,

0:57:200:57:25

the devout had become cynical

0:57:250:57:27

and the royal afterlife nothing more than an illusion.

0:57:270:57:31

From now on, Egypt's story would be written by invaders

0:57:380:57:42

from far beyond the Valley of the Nile.

0:57:420:57:45

Cambyses was sending a very clear message to the Egyptians...

0:57:450:57:48

I am now in charge.

0:57:480:57:50

But Egypt's secret weapon was its captivating culture...

0:57:520:57:56

Wow, look at that! Look at that!

0:57:570:57:59

Oh, that is... Oh, that is so beautiful.

0:57:590:58:02

..seducing its new rulers from far-flung parts of the ancient world.

0:58:040:58:10

And ancient Egypt's final flowering

0:58:110:58:12

lay in the hands of another great empire.

0:58:120:58:16

Enter the Macedonian superman.

0:58:170:58:19

Enter...Alexander the Great.

0:58:190:58:22

In the third episode, Joann explores the magnificent Colossi of Memnon, built under Egypt's greatest pharaoh - Amenhotep III.

Joann explores the dizzying heights of Egypt's civilisation and the lives of the workers and artisans caught up in Egypt's most ambitious building project: the Valley of the Kings. But this golden age is threatened by the growing power of Karnak's priests. When Amenhotep's successors Akhenaten and Nefertiti strike back at the priests with a religious rebellion, it is their son Tutankhamen who tries to rectify it.

By finding clues in Tutankhamen's treasure, Joann reveals how his early death was a chance for Egypt to start afresh and rewrite history. With the country restored to its former glory, Egypt's fate lay in the hands of Theban priest kings. Joann retraces their final act of desecration - decades of state-sanctioned looting of the Valley of the Kings. This lays Egypt bare, making way for a new era of foreign invaders.


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