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Bay shown adoring the cartouche of Pharaoh Siptah on the doorjamb of the Amada temple, Nubia.

Dynasty 19th Dynasty
Pharaoh(s) Ramesses II (?) – Siptah
Titles Chancellor
Fanbearer on the King's Right Hand
Royal Envoy
Royal Scribe
Royal Butler
Burial KV13 (intended)

Bay (ancient Egyptian: bꜣy) was an ancient Egyptian high official of the late Nineteenth Dynasty (12th century BCE) during the New Kingdom. He rose to prominence and high office under Pharaoh Seti II and later became an influential powerbroker in the closing stages of the 19th dynasty. He was generally identified with Irsu[1] (alt. Arsu, Iarsu, Yarsu) mentioned in the Great Harris Papyrus,[2] although no contemporary source connects Bay with Irsu.

Bay's importance is emphasized by the fact that he was given permission, possibly by Seti II but more probably by Siptah, to construct his own tomb KV13 in the Valley of the Kings. His tomb was clearly constructed as part of a triad of tombs, including that of the Pharaoh Siptah and Queen Tausret. This was an unprecedented privilege, the likes of which were rarely accorded to a commoner, let alone a foreigner (though previous exceptions, such as that of Yuya, have occurred). It is possible that Bay was accorded this tomb because he was related to Siptah's potential mother Sutererey, a Canaanite concubine of an unknown pharaoh, perhaps Seti II even of Amenmesses.

Origins and career[]

Bay is called a Syrian (either Hurrian or Harran-born) Asiatic. While his precise background is unknown except for his Syrian origins, Bay is first attested as a king's scribe and butler during the reign of Seti II.[3] These were both offices that were frequently held by Syrians at the time.[4] However, Bay probably entered Egypt's civil administration earlier under a previous pharaoh; either Merneptah, Seti II's father, or even Ramesses II.

Indeed, Bay's first official position may have been that of a priest in the temple at Heliopolis, where a small statue of him has been found. By the time of the death of Seti II, Bay had risen to the post of Chancellor and played the role of "kingmaker." Bay's status at Siptah's court was so great that on several of the young king's monuments, "the chancellor is shown in scenes with the pharaoh on the same scale as the latter, the earliest occasion in which a commoner was depicted in such a manner."[5] Furthermore, Bay explicitly claims, in several inscriptions with reference to Siptah, that it was he who established the king "on the throne of his father" without providing further details on how this came about.[6] Bay was also included in the cult of the mortuary temple of Siptah in Year 3 of the latter's reign.[7] During the same period the KV14 tomb of Queen Tausret was also started, and built as part of a threesome with those of Siptah and Bay. The tombs of Bay and Tausret (2nd building phase) are smaller copies of the royal tomb.

Images of Bay exist showing him standing behind the throne of Pharaoh Siptah, an unusual position for a commoner, and also opposite Tausret on the doorjamb of the Amada temple where he faces the queen. Tablets unearthed by excavators at Ras Shamra prove Ugarit was communicating with Bay of Egypt (RS 86.2230), who described himself the "head of the bodyguard of the Great King, the King of Egypt".

Like Siptah's and Tausret's, Bay's name was later removed from the tomb, probably by the new Pharaohs of the 20th Dynasty, who did not recognise his legitimacy, nor that of any of the late 19th Dynasty monarchs who ruled after Seti II, including Siptah and Amenmesse. If tradition is to be believed, Bay enjoyed an evil reputation: he reportedly seduced Tausret, who then gave him full control over Egypt's treasury.[8] Some even speculate that during this period Bay and Tausret were lovers.[9] But this speculation is unlikely, since Bay died in Siptah's Year 5, at least two years before Tausret assumed the throne.


While it was previously assumed that Bay served under Tawosret and may even have attempted to usurp the throne on her demise,[10] a newly discovered ostracon published by Pierre Grandet in BIFAO 100 titled "L'execution du chancelier Bay O. IFAO 1864," (BIFAO 100 [2000]: pp. 339–345), reveals otherwise. According to the information in Ostraca IFAO 1864, which is composed of two inscribed potsherd fragments that were reunited in February 2000, Bay was executed on or shortly before Year 5, III Shemu day 27 of Siptah, on the king's orders. The recto of the ostracon is essentially a public announcement to the workmen of Deir el-Medina and reads thus:

Year 5 III Shemu the 27th. On this day, the scribe of the tomb Paser came announcing 'Pharaoh LPH, has killed the great enemy Bay. (smꜣ Pr-ꜥꜣ ꜥ.w.s. ḫrw ꜥꜣ Bꜣy)[11]

Although the king is not named, the dating of the ostracon under Siptah is certain and accords well with Bay's last known public appearance in Regnal Year 4 of this king. It is not known what event or palace conspiracy brought about Bay's sudden downfall. However, the prime beneficiary of his death appears to be Tausret, who assumed the throne without opposition a year later when Siptah died. The intention of the public announcement was to tell the Deir el-Medina workmen to abandon all work on completing Bay's tomb. Bay, hence, was not buried in the dignified style which he sought and instead met a traitor's fate.[12] His tomb was subsequently usurped in the 20th Dynasty by Prince Mentuherkhepeshef, a son of Ramesses III.


  1. he Encyclopedia Americana, Grolier Incorporated 2000, p. 28.
  2. James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 398.
  3. Callender 2006, p. 53.
  4. Redford 1992, p. 234.
  5. Callender 2006, p. 52.
  6. Callender (2006) notes that one of Bay's claims regarding the royal succession is listed "on the Aswan stela set up by Seti, the Viceroy of Kush (LD III, 202c); another is recorded at Gebel es Silsila (LD III, 202a);see R. Lepsius, Denkmäler III, pl.202
  7. Callender 2006, p. 53.
  8. Grimal 1992, p.270.
  9. Callender, Gae "The Woman who would be Pharaoh: the life and times of Queen Tausret"
  10. Shaw 2000, p. 297.
  11. Grandet, BIFAO 100, abstract
  12. Callender 2006, p. 54.


  • Callender, G., 2006: The Cripple, the Queen & the Man from the North. KMT Vol. 17, No. 1.
  • Grimal, N., 1992: A History of Ancient Egypt. Blackwell Books.
  • Redford, D.B., 1992: Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press.
  • Shaw, I., 2000: The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt.