The Joy of Museums

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Tabnit Sarcophagus

Tabnit sarcophagus

The “Tabnit Sarcophagus” is the sarcophagus of King Tabnit of Sidon, a Phoenician ruler. The sarcophagus created in the early 5th century BC, has two separate inscriptions, one in Egyptian hieroglyphics and one in the Phoenician script. Discovered in 1887 at a Necropolis near Sidon together with the Alexander Sarcophagus and other related sarcophagi. Tabnit’s body was found floating perfectly preserved in the original embalming fluid.

The tombs were discovered in 1887, and the curator of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum arranged for a full excavation and the transfer of the sarcophagi to Istanbul. During the excavation, the workmen opened the Tabnit sarcophagus and found:

“a human body floating in perfect preservation in a peculiar fluid”.

While the curator was at lunch, the workmen overturned the sarcophagus and poured the fluid out so that the secret of this mysterious liquid was lost forever. The Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription on the sarcophagus reads:

“I, Tabnit, priest of Astarte (Ishtar), king of Sidon, the son of Eshmunazar, priest of Astarte, king of Sidon, am lying in this sarcophagus.
Whoever you are, any man that might find this sarcophagus,
don’t, don’t open it and don’t disturb me,
for no silver is gathered with me, no gold is gathered with me, nor anything of value whatsoever,
only I am lying in this sarcophagus.
Don’t, don’t open it and don’t disturb me,
for this thing is an abomination to Astarte.
And if you do indeed open it and do indeed disturb me,
may you not have any seed among the living under the sun,
nor a resting-place with the Rephaites (dead ancestors).”

History does not record the fate of the workmen who opened the sarcophagus. Tabnit’s now decomposed skeleton is at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                        Tabnit Sarcophagus
  • Year:                        c.500 BC
  • Material:                 Basalt
  • Writing:                  Phoenician
  • Discovered:            1887
  • Find Site:                Sidon, in current day Lebanon
  • Museum:                Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey

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” Love and hate always exaggerate.” Hebrew Proverb

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Photo Credits: 1) By oncenawhile [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons