Tile with Syrian chief

New Kingdom, Dynasty 20, reign of Ramesses III
1184–1153 B.C.

Findspot: Thebes, Medinet Habu, Palace of Rameses III, Notes: Egypt (Thebes, Medinet Habu, palace of Rameses III)


Height x width: 25 x 6 cm (9 13/16 x 2 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Polychrome faience

On View

Egyptian New Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 210)


The Ancient World


Tile and inlays

Ramesses III was the last great military pharaoh of the New Kingdom. In his fifth year on the throne he defeated the Libyans and brought them back to Egypt as slaves. In his eighth year he faced an even greater threat: a confederation of displaced eastern Mediterranean tribes on the move, including Greeks and Philistines, known collectively as the Sea Peoples. Fresh from their victory over the Hittites, the Sea Peoples attempted to invade Egypt with the intention of settling there. Ramesses roundly defeated them both by sea and by land, recording his victories on the walls of his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, “United with Eternity,” which remains the best-preserved royal mortuary temple on the west bank of Thebes.

As the king was occasionally obliged for ritual and other reasons to stay at the mortuary temple, suitable quarters had to be arranged for him there, and so the temple complex included a ceremonial palace of mud brick luxuriously decorated with multicolored faience tiles and inlays. The two main entrance doorways showed the king as a sphinx trampling his enemies. Rows of bound foreigners on the lower jambs continued the theme of pharaoh’s victory. The artists reproduced the foreigners’ ethnic costumes and physiognomies according to convention.

Shown here in his finery, bound and helpless, is a Syrian, from one end of the Egyptian empire. The Syrian in his fringes and tassels has a low forehead, prominent nose, and long, pointed beard. Other tiles featured Nubians, Libyans, Amorites, Philistines, Bedouins, and Sea Peoples. Ironically it was the descendants of the militant Libyan tribes settled in the Delta by Ramesses III who in the Third Intermediate Period, in Dynasty 22, ascended pharaoh’s throne.


From Medinet Habu, Palace of Ramesses III. 1903: purchased for the MFA from Mohamed Mohassib, Luxor, Egypt by Albert M. Lythgoe as part of a group (including 03.1566-03.1577; 03.1578a-i) for £300. (Accession Date: January 1, 1903)

Credit Line

Emily Esther Sears Fund