The false scarabs of Necho
“Burgundian” stone
E.9569 : 20 X 13.5 X 9 cm.
E.9570 : 24 X 17 X 10 cm.
Royal Museums of Art and History,
Inv. E.9569 and E.9570.


The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484-420 BC) tells in Book IV of his Histories how during the reign of King Necho of the 26th dynasty (ca. 610-595 BC), Egyptian sailors successfully made the first complete expedition around the African continent: 

Libya shows clearly that it is surrounded by the sea, except where it borders on Asia. Nekos king of Egypt made this discovery first known. When he had stopped the digging of the canal connecting the Nile to the Arabian Gulf, he sent Phoenicians in ships, with orders to sail on their return voyage past the Pillars of Heracles until they entered the northern sea and so returned to Egypt.
The Phoenicians set out from the Red Sea and sailed the southern sea. Whenever autumn came they landed and planted grain in the part of Libya they had reached, and there they waited for harvest time. Then, after gathering the crop, they continued their voyage, so that two years had passed. It was in the third year that they rounded the Pillars of Heracles and returned to Egypt.”

Whether this journey was effectively made is not conclusively demonstrated by Egyptian sources from the same period. However, in 1908, Jean Capart (1877-1947), who at the time was the curator of the Egyptian collection for the Royal Museums of Art and History, was able to purchase two monumental stone scarabs which had lengthy inscriptions in hieroglyphics on their bases. These two texts, which complement each other, tell the story of the return of this expedition around Africa, led by Padineith, the head of the King’s fleet.

Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that the scarabs were forgeries, produced at the initiative of Pierre Bouriant, the son of the Egyptologist Urbain Bouriant (1849-1903). Pierre Bouriant had himself studied Egyptology and had composed the texts on these scarabs based on authentic reports of expeditions in the Pharaonic age. From 1908 onwards, numerous Egyptologists challenged the authenticity of these documents and in the end, to his chagrin, Capart had to admit his mistake.


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