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Sometimes, Not Even Death Protects You from the Taxman

September 3, 1987

GIZA PLATEAU, Egypt (AP) _ If you think you have problems with the taxman just think of the tribulations of those ancient Egyptians who failed to cough up for the Pharaoh’s coffers. They’re still paying for their evasions more than 4,000 years later.

Tomb paintings soon to be opened to the public depict a tax collector holding one unfortunate culprit by the scruff of the neck and beating him to force him to dig deeper into his loincloth. The taxpayer’s agonized face peers out in warning to those who dare fight the system.

The paintings are on the wall of one of two tombs honoring fifth dynasty officials. The tombs, which go on display Sept. 7, give graphic glimpses of life in ancient Egypt’s mysterious Old Kingdom.

Some richly colored frescoes show the ancients harvesting fruit, fighting in Pharaonic boats, fishing, planting, cavorting as acrobats, gorging themselves at banquets, hunting and offering sacrifices to their gods.

The tombs belonged to a family of officials who collected money for the mighty Pharaoh Cheops, who built the Great Pyramid more than 4,600 years ago. The family later preserved his cult.

″The father, Iy Mery, would have been in charge of the cult,″ said Zahi Hawass, Giza Plateau’s antiquities inspector general. ″Not only was he a prophet but also the scribe of the archives and steward of the great estate, responsible for gathering whatever was necessary to maintain the cult.

″As the tombs show, his sons had the same jobs.″

Although money was not used in ancient Egypt, peasants were expected to dedicate time, foodstuffs or wine to the Pharaoh. Obviously, not everybody agreed with the practice, and as the tomb paintings show, Pharaonic justice was heavy-handed.

The story of the woebegone delinquent taxpayer is illustrated on wall paintings in the tomb of Iy Mery’s son, Nefer Bau Ptah. The tomb is a large structure with open courtyards winding into an offering chamber bearing his name and that of Cheops. In most parts of the structure, time has worn away the original vivid colors.

″The tax collector is holding the evader by the neck and beating him severely,″ said Egyptologist Amal Samuel, pointing toward the figures.

″Everybody had to give. Here the scribes are registering seeds that were grown. Here a man is throwing grain into a vat. Here cattle are being dragged for the count. Here scribes are recording the donations on registers, and when the rolls were finished, your name had better be there.″

Ancient Egyptians painted tombs with scenes designed to put the soul of the occupant in familiar surroundings.

When Dr. Ahmed Kadry, chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, opens the tombs to tourists, it will be the first time they’ve been seen by the public since their discovery in 1922.

Kadry will also open on Sept. 7 a newly reconstructed mud-brick temple built about 12 centuries after the Great Pyramid by the horse-loving, trick- riding young prince who would become Pharaoh Amenophis II.

The 18th-dynasty structure was built at the base of Giza Plateau, next to the ever-smiling Sphinx, which Amenophis worshiped as a sun god.

Amenophis gained renown for his military prowess and considered himself a formidable athlete.

″Amenophis II came to this area for military training in one of the ancient capitals, Memphis,″ said Hawass, the antiquities inspector general. ″What we find is evidence that as a young man he was more interested in riding horses, doing trick riding in the desert and hunting in the nearby Valley of the Gazelles″ than in his military studies.

″The priests complained to his father Tuthmosis III about the risks, but the Pharaoh answered he was proud of his son and they should give him all the horses in the royal stable,″ Hawass said.

″Amenophis II then built a temple to the Sphinx as a sun-god so that he could make pilgrimages to the shrine when he was riding in the desert.″

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