Ancient Egypt and Archaeology Web Site

Turin Royal Canon

Turin Royal Canon
Papyrus dating to the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213) inscribed in Hieratic with a list of the names of Egyptian rulers (originally numbering about three hundred), evidently copied from a more complete original.

When it was first acquired by Bernardino Drovetti in the early nineteenth century, it seems to have been largely intact, but by the time it had become part of the collection of the Museo Egizio di Turin, its condition had deteriorated. The diligent work of egyptologists Jean-Francois Champollion and Gustavus Seyffarth ensured that the many fragments were placed in the correct order, but many parts are missing.

The list included the Hykos rulers (often left out of other King Lists), although they were not given Cartouches and a hieroglyphic sign was added to indicate that they were foreigners. Apart from the names of each of the rulers, the list also cited the precise duration of each reign, and occasionally provided a summary of the numbers of years that had elapsed since the time of the semi-mythical ruler Memes. There was also an attempt to go back beyond the reigns of known kings and to assign regnal lengths to the series of unnamed spirits and gods who had ruled before the appearance of the human pharaohs. It was presumably this type of document that provided Manetho to with the basis for the history that he compiled in the early third century bc, which has supplied the sequence of dynasties still used by Egyptologists.

Jean-Francois Champollion
Champollion arrived in Turin, at the invitation of Count Costa Secretary of State for Sardinia-Piedmont, on 7th June 1824 after a journey through the Alps that was perilous.  Champollion was then the only person to have mastered the translation of hieroglyphs and was able to read much of the huge collection in Turin (purchased from Drovetti by Charles Felix King of Sardinia in 1824). 

Sir Alan Gardiner's Turin Royal CanonChampollion was sent to a room that held pieces of papyri that were considered unusable because they were fragmented.  Writing to his brother, Jacques-Joseph, he reported "on entering the room which I will henceforth call the Mausoleum of History I was seized by a mortal chill in seeing a table 10 feet in length covered in its entire expanse with a bed of debris of papyri at least half a foot deep". The papyri had fragmented during their journey from Egypt to Italy and had been largely complete when Drovetti purchased it.  Over the coming months he wrote "I have seen roll in my hand the names of years whose history was a totally forgotten; names of gods who have not had alters for fifteen centuries... the last refuge of a memory of a king who in his lifetime perhaps found himself cramped in the immense palace of Karnak".

Among the remains he found 50 pieces of a manuscript he dubbed the 'royal canon'.  The Turin Royal Canon, as it is now known, lists over 300 Egyptian rulers.  The list includes foreign rulers, excludes others and has the length of reigns.  Even more staggering is that he recognized the importance of this document, to establish a chronology, with his unique ability to translate - without which these scraps of history would have been lost forever. No other pieces of the papyri could be found, and this has caused gaps in the list, he wrote "I confess that the greatest disappointment of my literary life is to have discovered this manuscript in such a desperate state.  I will never console myself - it is a wound which bleed for a long time".

Presentation at the Museo Egizio di Turin
The museum has the Canon displayed in a small room off of the main area.  Because the papyrus has hieratic script on both the Recto and Verso the is presented in a glass case with a mirror at it's rear.  This allows a view of both the King-List and the Tax-List.
Modern chronology of ancient Egypt rests partially on the writings of Manetho in his Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt).  He would have had access to a number of sources for his work and we can speculate that the Turin Canon was one of those.

 Picture 159 2

Picture 159 1, turin royal canon

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson
The Keys of Egypt, Lesley and Roy Adkins
Royal Canon of Turin, Alan Gardiner

Museo Egizio di Torino, Italy.

Egyptology through Images : Last updated on 02-November-2017