RANSACKING RICHES


Almost all ancient Egyptian pharaonic tombs were robbed and ransacked during antiquity. The only exception is the tomb of Psusennes I, which was found unspoiled yet in poor condition due to the moist climate of Lower Egypt.

The most famous and opulent pharaonic tomb ever found is that of Tutankhamun’s. The wealth of his tomb is estimated at a staggering three-quarter of a billion dollars. His solid gold innermost coffin has been appraised at around $13 million.

He died in his late teens, so he had not yet amassed riches anything near that of other kings such as Ramesses II and Thutmose III. As Tutankhamun was a relatively minor pharaoh compared to Thutmose III and Ramesses II, it’s safe to say that the value of their grave goods could have been several billion in dollars.

The staggering wealth that was entombed with a typical Egyptian Pharaoh was so vast that the guards keeping them safe could easily be corrupted and bribed.

But as Egypt was a coinless civilisation until the Persian Period (5th century BC) stolen items from tombs couldn’t simply be sold at the local market. Lifted tomb valuables would need to be traded to a ‘fence’ who would pay the tomb robber in grain or other practical goods. Then, the fence would forward the item to a higher (corrupt) official or artisan who could reuse or meltdown the material (gold) for use in jewellery making or smithing.

Tomb robbers risked their lives breaking into tombs, but if they were successful, it was worth the risk.

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