The Tomb of Pay and Raia at Saqqara

Sep 20, 2019

The Tomb of Pay and Raia at Saqqara by Marteen J. Raven. EES Excavation Memoir 74. London: The Egypt Exploration Society, 2005.

The tomb of the official Pay, at Saqqara, was originally constructed in the reign of Tutankhamun and then adapted by his son and successor Raia. It was used for the family's burials until the reign of Ramesses II, and then plundered soon after the final interment. In the Saite and Persian Periods, the tomb was reused for lower-status burials. First discovered in the 19th century, the tomb was excavated and recorded by the joint EES/National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, expedition between 1994 and 1998. This book, the result of international collaboration by many scholars, provides a full and detailed publication of the tomb's architecture, its relief decoration and the excavated objects. 

Project description

The EES/Leiden expedition began its work in the New Kingdom necropolis at Saqqara in 1975. After the excavation of the tombs of Horemheb, Maya, and Iniuia, the expedition’s attention turned to the superstructure of Pay’s tomb in 1994: “The expedition opened up a rectangular area of about 20 by 15 m, starting with the painted chapel already partly exposed during the previous season. Soon the contours of a large square courtyard emerged from the sand, flanked in the west by three cult chapels and in the east by a vestibule and one more chapel with its doorway on the west side, a feature not seen before in the Saqqara tombs… a great surprise was the presence of an outer court in front of the temple-tomb, a structure clearly added later by Pay’s son and successor Raia.”

After a study and restoration season in 1995, the “excavation of the central shaft was the central task of season 1996: it was found to have a total depth of 22.35 m and the most important discovery consisted of the remains of a limestone sarcophagus of Raia, completely smashed by tomb-robbers… 1997 was again a study season, partly devoted to the elaboration of the human remains from the tomb. Finally, in 1998 work on the tomb of Pay and Raia could be finished with the restoration of the sarcophagus of Raia.”

“The tomb of Pay, which was reused and extended by his son and successor Raia, is positioned to the south-east of the much larger tomb of Horemheb… more tomb-chapels adjoin the monument of Pay on its other three sides.”

“Several elements of its decoration and inscriptions suggest that the tomb was built during the reign of King Tutankhamun.”

“As usual for an Eighteenth Dynasty tomb, the superstructure was constructed in mud-bricks. Originally, it consisted of a peristyle (inner) courtyard, with three offering-chapels in the west and a vestibule flanked by a north-east chapel in the east. The absence of a corresponding south-east chapel has already been noted above. There was a limestone revetment for the doorways, the walls of the courtyard, and the central chapel. The dimensions of the tomb in this original state were approximately 17.00 m from east to west and 10.5 m from north to south. As stated before, the eastern or outer courtyard was added secondarily by Pay’s son and successor, Raia. Its measurements are 6.30 m from east to west and almost 10 m across.”

Decorative program 

“In the four chapels of the tomb (one with limestone revetment and three painted ones), practically the whole wall decoration can be reconstructed… Van Dijk has argued that the New Kingdom tombs at Saqqara can be regarded as the private equivalent of contemporary royal mortuary temples, where the cult of the deceased was integrated into that of the god Osiris and other divinities. This is clearly reflected in the decoration of Pay’s chapels, where great stress is laid on the adoration of various deities.”

“A general movement from east to west can be seen to dominate the decoration of the wall as a whole. Rows of offering-bearers are depicted as entering the tomb in the entrance to the vestibule, in the vestibule proper, on the east, west and north walls of the inner courtyard, and on the north wall of the sanctuary… The offering-bearers are represented with a wealth of food-offerings, drink, sacrificial animals, floral bouquets, and stalks of papyrus (the latter no doubt included because of their connotation with fertility and prosperity).

A notable exception are the men represented on the north wall and west walls of the inner courtyard who are depicted carrying collars, pectorals, and boxes of clothing…”

“The deceased himself is depicted either as the passive recipient of offerings or in the active role of worshipper of the gods. In the former role, he is represented seated, often accompanied by his wife and other relatives, and facing towards the entrance of the tomb. In front of him is an offering-table laden with food, and this is often consecrated by (a) priest(s), usually the deceased’s sons. As a worshipper, the tomb-owner is depicted either standing, sometimes accompanied by relatives, or kneeling.”

“The decoration of the tomb of Pay and Raia displays at least two distinct styles, one of which is connected with the father, the other with the son. The former was created immediately after the Amarna period, during the reign of Tutankhamun. This especially concerns the rather well-preserved representations of the west part of the tomb, which was probably the first to be decorated… A quite different style can be observed in those parts added by Pay’s son Raia; these cannot have been decorated before the end of the reign of Horemheb and probably date to the early Nineteenth Dynasty.”

Documentation method

All scenes and inscriptions have been copied by Geoffrey T. Martin, with some exceptions by Marteen J. Raven. 

“Occasionally certain details mentioned in the descriptions of the wall-paintings do not appear in the line-drawings. This is due to the inevitable loss of parts of the paintings in the interval between their discovery and the moment of recording. Fortunately, there is full photographic record as well, both in colour and in black-and-white, and the descriptions were always checked with these. The inscriptions were first-hand copied by [Jacobus van Dijk], whose fieldnotes (used extensively below) also comprised brief descriptions of the scenes, detailed notes on colour traces, measurements, etc.”

Visual example(s)

Plate 157, Vestibule, Scene 14.

Plate 25, Scene 14, left.

Plate 25, Scene 14, right.

Plate 160, Chapel A, Scenes 61-62, looking south-west.

Plate 65, Scene 61, left.

Plate 67, Scene 61, right and Scene 62.

Plate 58, Stela, detail of Pay’s family.

Plate 59, Stela.

What we think

  • The biggest strength of this publication is the separately developed epigraphic methods regarding the documentation of relief and painted decoration. Naturally, documenting the carved lines of a stela that was found in pristine condition requires a fundamentally different attitude from the artist than indicating traces of pigment preserved on mud plaster.
  • Accordingly, the reliefs of the stela are presented in clean, single-weight, however rather schematic, outlines without indicating the sun-shadow transitions. Paint traces, wherever applicable, appear as subtle dotted outlines while damages and other surface elements are largely omitted from the visual presentation.

  • Painted decorative elements are recorded with the emphasis being on the outlines rather than textures, which aspect – given the condition of the wall paintings - proposes a number of problems. The intention of stylistic accuracy manifests in recording certain brush strokes (with measurable thickness) as shapes rather than single-weight outlines. Some of these “double” outlines are filled with black ink, indicating red paint (somewhat similarly to Davies’s methods used in the first half of the Twentieth century), but some are left unfilled, showing some inconsistency in the visual language. 

  • There are no color codes or other distinguishing textures applied to enhance the outline drawings and orient the observer around the sporadically preserved traces, especially considering that only minimal amount of damage appears to explain the large blank areas interrupting the fragmentary line segments.

  • The representation of damage is kept minimal in order to focus our attention on the recognizable painted details - in which aspect the documentation unquestionably succeeds. However, in our opinion, it would have been more fruitful to augment these line drawings by including more of the contextual elements and paint textures that clearly appear on the photographic material. 

Additional reading

You can purchase “The Tomb of Pay and Raia at Saqqara” from Amazon US and Amazon UK, or through various retailers through BookFinder.

For further information about the various projects of the joint mission of the National Museum of Antiquities of Leiden and the Leiden University (which took over the role of the Egypt Exploration Society in 1999; from 2015, the project has a third partner in the Museo Egizio of Turin), visit the university’s web page, or the mission’s website created and hosted by the supporting society, the Friends of Saqqara.

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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