The Story of the Valley of the Kings

From the Lecture Series: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier Ph.D., Long Island University

The Valley of the Kings is the burial ground for many important kings of ancient Egypt. It was founded by the third XVIIIth Dynasty king, Tuthmosis, who kept adding glory to ancient Egypt. Kings had nice tombs, with all their important belongings, located next to their mortuary temples. Why did Tuthmosis change the tradition, then?

Picture of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor City, Egypt.
Tuthmosis decided to choose a burial place that could better preserve his life in the next world: the Valley of the Kings. (Image: EvrenKalinbacak/Shutterstock)

Tuthmosis was the third king of the XVIIIth Dynasty in ancient Egypt. He was a brave military man who expanded Egypt’s southern border. He also went as far north as he could, to Mesopotamia, and erected a stela just like he had done at the southern end. This one read, “This is Egypt’s northern border.” His most important innovation, however, was the Valley of the Kings.

Why the Valley of the Kings?

The first pharaoh to be buried in the Valley was Tuthmosis. Before that, pharaohs were buried in pyramids, with all the belongings that tomb robbers could dream of. A pyramid was the least safe place for valuables, and during the First Intermediate Period, almost all of them were robbed. During the Second Intermediate Period, before Ahmose kicked out the Hyksos, pyramids were robbed regularly.

Tuthmosis was smart enough to learn from the past. He wanted to protect his tomb and his next life, so he decided to hide it and keep the location a secret.

Learn more about the seven kings of Dynasty XII.

The Tomb of Tuthmosis

Close up detail of Egyptian hieroglyphics in Valley of Kings.
Tuthmosis decided to keep his tomb, and of the kings after him, as secure as possible and away from the tomb robbers. (Image: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock)

The tomb of Tuthmosis was built by an architect called Ineni. Ineni was a wealthy private person who recorded important events and his autobiography on the wall of his big tomb. About the tomb of Tuthmosis, he wrote, “I inspected the excavation of the cliff tomb of his Majesty alone, no one seeing, no one hearing. It was a work of my heart. My virtue was wisdom. There was not given to me a command by an elder.”

Ineni either was, or tried to imply that he was the only person in charge of such an important project. He then continued with how he should be praised upon it and modeled for future work.

The Valley of the Kings had one thing in common with all the other tombs, and that was its location on the west bank of Thebes.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The West Bank

Ancient Egyptians lived on the east bank of the Nile and associated the west with the dead because the sun died in the west. Naturally, the Valley was also located in the land of the dead, but unlike the previous tombs, it was built under the ground.

The land had always been barren. Even today, nothing grows in the land of the dead and the Valley of the Kings. It was too dry for anything to grow, so Ineni picked it to build the first tomb of the Valley of the Kings. He did not want any chance of future settlement around the area in the Valley.

The Valley of the Kings is called Wadi el Moluk in Arabic. ‘Wadi’ means ‘a riverbed’ and ‘El moluk’ means ‘of the kings’, so the name meant ‘the dry riverbed of the kings’.

Other Specifications of the Valley

Besides being barren, the Valley had only one entrance that could be easily guarded since it was narrow. Next, there was a natural pyramid on top of the high cliffs surrounding the Valley.

A question often asked is that how was the tomb built with ‘no one seeing, no one hearing?’ Ineni could not carry everything and build the tomb entirely on his own.

The photograph shows Valley of the Kings.
Tuthmosis’ decision created one of the most important archeological sites of ancient Egypt and the XVIIIth Dynasty. (Image: Anton Belo/Shutterstock)

One theory is that they used foreign captives as workers to build the pyramid. Then, they killed the captives to make sure no one learned about the place.

The whole Valley is made of white limestone, which is easy to carve. The tombs were all built by chiseling into the limestone. All the chambers were carved into the stones using copper or bronze chisels, which are not that hard. Limestone is also beautiful to polish and paint on.

Tuthmosis started the tradition of burial in the Valley of the Kings, and pharaohs stopped building pyramids after that.

Tuthmosis changed the burial traditions of ancient Egyptian kings forever when he built the Valley of the Kings as an effort to protect his tomb from robbers.

Learn more about the fabulous XVIIIth Dynasty.

Tuthmosis’ Obelisks at the Karnak Temple

Besides such a huge innovation, Tuthmosis also built two obelisks at the Karnak Temple. Karnak Temple had been gaining more importance in the XVIIIth Dynasty since Thebes had been becoming the religious center of Egypt. Thebes was already important as a second capital.

Obelisks were places for the pharaoh to put his glory. There were inscriptions that explained how great the pharaoh owning the obelisks was.

Tuthmosis built the pair of obelisks–they were always built in pairs–to praise Amun, the most important god. Amun was the ‘hidden one’, and his concept matched perfectly with a hidden tomb.

Common Questions about the Valley of the Kings

Q: What is the most famous tomb in the Valley of the Kings?

Tutankhamun is the most famous pharaoh buried in the Valley of the Kings, even though he was not the pioneer of the tradition.

Q: How many kings are buried in the Valley of the Kings?

The Valley of the Kings has around 60 tombs of pharaohs. This was one of the innovations of the XVIIIth Dynasty.

Q: Who was first buried in the Valley of the Kings?

Tuthmosis was the first pharaoh to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. He had decided to hide his tomb from the tomb robbers who had been around for a long while.

Keep Reading
Egypt’s Never Changing Attitude and the Prophecies of Neferti
How the First Intermediate Period Came to Be in Egypt
Different Facets of Egyptian Society and the Daily Life of Its People