Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum

Tomb Painting of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum

Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were ancient Egyptian royal servants. They shared the title of Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of King Niuserre during the Fifth Dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs, c. 2400 BCE, and are listed as “royal confidants” in their joint tomb.

The tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum was discovered by Egyptologist Ahmed Moussa in the necropolis at Saqqara, Egypt in 1964, during the excavation of the causeway for the pyramid of King Unas. It is the only tomb in the necropolis where men are displayed embracing and holding hands. In addition, the men’s chosen names (both theophorics to the creator-god Khnum) form a linguistic reference to their closeness:

Niankhkhnum means “joined to life” and Khnumhotep means “joined to the blessed state of the dead’”, and together the names can be translated as “joined in life and joined in death”

In a banquet scene, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are entertained by dancers, clappers, musicians and singers; in another, they oversee their funeral preparations. In the most striking portrayal, the two embrace, noses touching, in the most intimate pose allowed by canonical Egyptian art, surrounded by what would appear to be their heirs.

Critics argue that both men appear with their respective wives and children, suggesting the men were brothers, rather than lovers.

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