Notes in the margins of the scene termed “rendering accounts” in the mastaba of Mereruka

Published on Egyptological, Magazine Edition 4, February 7th 2012.

By Etienne Vande Walle.
Translated by Diana Gainer, with sincere thanks.
Also available in the original French.


Mastaba of Mereruka

Mastaba of Mereruka. Photograph by Kate Gingell

The mastaba of Mereruka, called Meri, is located at Saqqara, near the pyramid of Teti, next to the pre-existing tomb of his colleague, Kagemni.  Both acceded to the post of vizier during the reign of Teti, at the beginning of the 6th Dynasty.  The vast building is divided into three parts, sheltering, besides the deceased, his wife Seshseshet (daughter of Teti) and their son Meryteti.  Those who visit the tomb cannot fail to notice, at the beginning of the circuit, a scene decorating the lower part of the left wall of the long passage that leads to section A reserved for Mereruka. (Porter & Moss 3:2, p. 523-537, pl. LVI location 23).


Computer link

The reader may usefully consult the book by Duell, The Mastaba of Mereruka, available online (Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, OIP 31) and especially plates 36 and 37.



The scene consists of three registers of which only the bottom one is preserved throughout its length, as well as the lower part of the second register and its far right end, above which a small area of the upper register is also preserved.  On the surviving register at the left, a building is represented, supported by columns with lotus capitals, sheltering three people.  Sitting at the far left and partly destroyed, a man denoted iHy is represented, who bears the titles sAb imy-r… (horizontal) and Hry sStA n ist aAt (vertical).  He holds a document: the position of his hand on the preserved part of the bas-relief resembles that termed “cradling the document” by der Manuelian (1996, p. 572, fig. 4).  Scribal equipment is placed before him.  Facing him are two squatting scribes, pen on ear, busily writing.  These are qAry, who bear the title of sAb sS, and niamxXnm, entitled imy-r pr.

The largest part of the scene is occupied by a procession of defendants – all HqA Hwt – accompanied by guards, most of whom are armed with sticks.  The scene ends with the depiction of a beating.  Ahead of the group, immediately in front of the scribes (who turn their backs to them), are three individuals in positions of submission and respect (Wilkinson, 1999, p. 208).  They are, in order, mrri and wHm.j (Ranke, II, p. 83/1), both HqA Hwt and mDH sS nswt, as well as gfgf (Ranke, II, p. 350/26), HqA Hwt and sS a nswt xft Hr.  Then, between two guards, the last brandishing a stick, comes nDm-ib who is HqA Hwt and imy-r sS aHwt.  Following, finally, mAw, HqA Hwt and imy-r sS mrt and imSttw (?) (Ranke, II, p. 32/13), HqA Hwt and sAb imy-r sS, on both sides of a guard armed with a stick.  At the right end of the register the beating of the HqA Hwt, imy-r sS aHwt ptHSpss is shown, accompanied by a commentary that Montet (1925, p. 148) translates: “Approach the post.”  The post, which is topped by two foreign heads, is shown in profile (see Beaux below), against which ptHSpss is kept by a guard holding his hands, while two of his colleagues wield their sticks to inflict the punishment.  The few remaining details of the middle register suggest a scene with the following structure: at the left, an individual embodying authority faces a standing man and two squatting scribes, behind whom a processional line advances.  At the end of the register, a naked man, who is kneeling, raises his arm above a stick held by a guard, in all likelihood also undergoing punishment.



Mereruka. Photograph by Kate Gingell

The dominant figure is that of iHy, sAb imy- … and Hry sStA ist aAt.  Several combinations are possible between sAb and imy-r to such an extent that it is not possible to complete the first title with complete certainty.  Moreno Garcia (1999, p. 227, note 63) gives it a probable interpretation as a “chief of the scribes.”  As for the second title, the same author translates it as “secretary of the Grand Chamber.”  This is an isolated title, which is not found, to our knowledge, among other titles.  The component is(t) occurs regularly in conjunction with imy in the titles of several viziers (iynfrt, wASptH isi, sSmnfr III, kAgmni) and could be the Palace or an administrative department that has its headquarters there (see Hannig: HL4 p. 77 , no. 1703, p. 217, no. 3798).  Thus, iHy would rub shoulders with the central government.  He is assisted in his tasks by a sAb sS and an imy-r pr.  To translate the first of these titles as ‘judge’ is risky (Vande Walle 2010, p. 328-332; 2011, in press): we see in it, instead, a scribe specializing in judicial matters.  The imy-r pr, for his part, is a steward.

All the people who appear before iHy and his assistants have the title of HqA Hwt accompanied by another title.  HqA Hwt is always mentioned first: thus, this must be the fundamental quality describing the jurisdiction of iHy and of the organization over which he presides.  The other titles of the attendants are:  imy-r sS aHwt (2); imy-r sS mrt (2); mDH sS nswt (2); sAb imy-r sS (1); sS a nswt xft Hr (1).

Note that the group of three HqA Hwt that comes at the head include the two mDH sS nswt and the sS a nswt n xft Hr – these elements with the title make reference to the King.  Strudwick (1985: 215-6) discussed the first of these titles, and suggested that in the 6th Dynasty it would have suffered a significant loss of status resulting in the positions of mrri and wHmi (“prostrate before the tax officials”).  The same author discusses the next title (op.cit. p. 211) which it completes with pr-aA to follow up on xft-Hr.  He discerns a development after which the title sS a nswt xft-Hr (pr-aA) would have gained in importance at that time.  This does not prevent gfgf from adopting the same attitude of submission as his “co-defendants.”  Nevertheless, the jurisdiction ratione personae of iHy is not limited to vulgus pecus.

The imy-r sS aHwt and imy-r sS mrt perform their duties in the agricultural sector: the former are active in the administration of the fields (Hannig HL4, p. 116, no. 2259: Schreibervorsteher der Felderverwaltung) while the latter is involved in the management of a particular category of personnel studied particularly by Moreno Garcia (1998; also Allam, 2004), with respect to mrt, near rxyt, in contrast to the pat, differing from the bAkw, identified with corvee laborers recruited from among the village population.  The author notes (op. cit. p. 79) “the importance of the mrt in the development of formerly unproductive land and in the operation of lands under a corvee regime (st-skA), suggests that they were not subject to permanent servitude, but recruited and forced to work for the benefit of the state.”

As for sAb imy-r sS, it is a widely distributed title (we have identified more than 80 occurrences in the Old Kingdom) which comes in conjunction with many other titles relating to the judicial domain.  iHy would not be a foreigner according to the hypothesis that he bore the same title as ptHSpss who is subjected to a beating, which does not indicate he was the object of special consideration!  Finally, there remain the main actors, namely HqAw (Hwwt), which were the subject of a comprehensive study by Moreno Garcia (1999), according to which this is a civil servant, responsible for the management of territorial entities, invested with this office by the Pharaoh, represented in the tombs “either in the process of controlling agricultural activities, or being accountable to the DADAt … (who works) for the king and not the owner of the tomb” (op. cit. p. 231). The importance of the role allotted to him fluctuates during the Old Kingdom where its presence is attested from the Archaic Period to the end of the 6th dynasty, in view of the administrative reforms which were carried out.  In the time of Mereruka, which interests us, the beginning of the 6th dynasty, “the number of HqA Hwt increases dramatically, in the Egyptian sources, especially in the countryside.”



The scene has been the subject of numerous commentaries: the excavator of the tomb stated in 1938 that it represents “village headmen being brought before local tax officials” (Duell, pl. 36).  Erman – Ranke (1976, p. 132) believe that it is a “special court for landed property,” responsible for “controlling the lists of livestock and the village mayors, in arrears in payment of the rents of their farmers.”  Strudwick (1985) sees an appearance before the “taxing officials” there.  Beaux situates it in the context of a rendering of accounts, the fault committed by ptHSpss being especially heavy, which accounts for the severity of the punishment (see above).  Wenke (2009, p. 286, fig. 6.5) refers to the illustration of the power of the state through the kneeling posture of the defendants [those appearing before a court of justice], terming it for the rest also a rendering of accounts.  Moreno Garcia (1999, p. 227), expressly referring to the scene of interest (op. cit. note 63), discerns the exercise of control over the subordinate staff of the pr-Dt, among which he ranks the HqAw (Hwwt) – control exercised by a Council (DADAt).

The bas-relief, as it actually stands before our eyes, has no inscriptions identifying the authority or specifying such a field of activity.  They may have been on the destroyed part of the wall.


The HqAw and the DADAt nt pr-Dt

One of the principal elements characterizing the scene is the appearance of the HqAw Hwwt, a familiar theme in Old Kingdom tombs.  In many of these, the authority before which they appear is explicitly named: it is the DADAt nt pr-Dt, identified as a council “which functioned as both an administrative organization and as a tribunal in the large areas of the Old Kingdom” (Menu, 2004, p. 180).  Philip-Stéphan (2008, p. 24-5) describes the functions: “charged with administering the various agricultural units composing this set, it functions especially to identify and record the products of the area and to check their consistency against the expected yield.  In case of embezzlement, misappropriation, or suspicious lack of profitability, it can then act as a court and condemn the failing stewards. ”  Moreno Garcia (1998, p. 228) provides an important clarification: “The DADAt of the scenes in the mastabas seems to be the counsel of Memphite officials posted in the countryside to monitor the local authorities and control the resources of the kingdom.”  It would carry out the transposition “to the field of private iconography” of an “orderly administrative practice, in fact, by the Crown in the real world.”

We have found three instances of an appearance of the HqAw before the DADAt nt pr-Dt specifically named, either:

axtHtp : 05 dyn. (ép. Niouserrê), Saqqara (prox. of Ounas), PM 3:2, p. 634, pl. LXV, location (3), reg. VII; Musée du Louvre E 10958; Ziegler, Mastaba d’Akhethotep, pp. 125 sq.; see also the site .

Several HqAw are conducted before the DADAt nt pr-Dt, which is composed of two scribes and an iry mDAt (all untitled) of three assistants armed with sticks.  The first of the defendants is imy-r Tst, a director of herds (HL4 p. 138, no. 2352) or a foreman (Ziegler, Akhethotep, p. 151).  The scene is accompanied by an inscription: Hsb HqAw in DADAt nt pr-Dt.

kA(i)mnfrt: 05 dyn. (ép. Niouserrê); Saqqara (north of Djeser), PM 3:2, p. 467-8; Simpson, The Offering Chapel of Kaymnofret, pl. E.; Mariette, Mastabas, 242-9;

An imy-r pr faces two seated scribes whose backs are turned to an individual going toward them, in an attitude described by Vandier (1964, p. 196, fig. 83, 4) as comparable to that of a scribe, followed by an assistant forcing one of the defendants to bow.  The scene is summed up by the inscription Hsb Hkawy (sic) in DADAt nt pr Dt, the only defendant depicted being surmounted by the reference int.

Ti : 05 dyn. (ép. Niouserrê : see Cherpion, Datation, p. 132); Saqqara (northwest of Djeser : mastaba D 22), PM 3:2, 468 sq.; Osirisnet, Mastaba of Ti.

The mastaba of Ti contains multiple representations of the DADAt nt pr-Dt; that which interests us here is located in the chapel, in the central part of the south wall (photo Osirisnet CHSc_R34).  No fewer than nine people, all sitting in the middle of an imposing scribal building, constitute the DADAt.  Five of them bear the title of scribe (sS) and one that of the iry mDAt.  Facing them, three of the defendants advance, gripped by assistants, some of whom are armed with sticks.  The DADAt and the defendants are separated by an inscription: ipt nt pr-DADAt in Dt, while above the group of defendants stands the reference itt HqAw nwwt r Hsb.

These three occurrences, which date from the same period and come from Saqqara, have the function of each describing the action to which the DADAt nt pr-Dt or the Hsb HqAw proceeds.  There is some uncertainty among the authors regarding the translation of the verb Hsb.  We personally agree with the view that sees a rendering of accounts, based especially on the meaning of the term Hsb in accounting (Megally, Recherches, p. 60).  This rendering must necessarily lead to consideration of the facts produced by the HqAw and results, where appropriate, in sanctions that can take the form of a beating.  The scene in the mastaba of Ti is unusual in associating the actions of Hsb and ipt, the latter translated as “census” (see nt. Bonnamy & Sadek, Dictionnaire, p. 45).  To the extent that such action has the purpose of inventorying a set of goods, it would seem logical that it be preceded by an accurate elaboration of accounts and a “purge” of irregularities, in order to define with precision the quantity of goods to enumerate.

We cite in passing the representation of the HqAw in the mastaba of tpmanx (5th Dynasty, reign of Sahuré: see Cherpion, Datation, p. 227 and 235), located in the necropolis of Saqqara, to the north of the pyramid (PM 3:2, p. 283-4; mastaba D11).  It is part of a market scene that adorns the funerary chapel, the fragments of which are actually divided among various museums.  They were reunited for a traveling exhibition dedicated to the art of the Old Kingdom (Paris, New York, Toronto) for which Peter der Manuelian made the reconstruction.  The part of the scene which interests us represents a parade of HqAw (without other titles) supervised by guards who treat them roughly and threaten them.  Some guards bear a title, including sA pr.  The right side of the register is missing where the officials holding audience should be.  There only remains on the fragment Cairo CG1541 the reference..f n pr-Dt over a squatting figure (probably a scribe), who turns his back on the defendants.  Thus, this is not the DADAt nt pr-Dt but the remaining part of a sentence built on the model (int nDt-Hr nt nwwt).f n(t) pr-Dt.

It is clear that many other tombs contain depictions of DADAt nr pr-Dt to which the HqAw do not belong.  The Council is either depicted alone, without the defendants, in action or walking in procession, or at the time of the appearance before the court of a single defendant or a group of them.  The composition of the DADAt varies in the number and type of its members (see also below).  To the “nuclear” DADAt (imy-r pr, sS, iry mDAt), the scribes of various degrees come to join or to substitute, some of whom have a qualification in legal matters: sAb sHD sS, sAb sS, sS or are active in the management of granaries, of birds: sS Snwt, sS apdw, or of crews: sHD sS aprw.  Others work in the sphere of royal documents: sHD sS a nswt, sS a nswt.

Some people seem to have a special place, in the DADAt or on the periphery of it: for example, the nxt xrw (n Snwt): criers or “tally-men” (Moreno Garcia, 1999, p. 222, 225 between notes 54 and 55); the xAw: measurers; the sHD Hm-kA: servants of the kA (Allam, 1985, p. 1-15) and, in a mastaba, the sS n pr-HD (scribes of the administration of the Treasury who are responsible for “monitoring and controlling the administration and the local resources, making the circuit of the countryside” (Desplancques, 2006, 187).

Among the assistants we note the sA-pr, which Philip-Stéphan (2008, p. 17, note 42) equates with the armed wing of the Treasury, “responsible for inflicting the beating in the rendering of accounts,” and which is translated as “policeman or gendarme,” Andreu (LA 1069) seeing in it (in the Old Kingdom) “a police auxiliary of the economy and of justice.”  As for the defendants who do not bear the title of HqA, it may be an isolated imy-r Snwt, or those responsible for crews (imy-r iswt, xrp iswt).


The Beating

Another element characterizing the scene which interests us is the beating, a theme that is not common in the iconography of the Old Kingdom tombs.  Harpur (1987, p. 169; see also Kanawati, Deir el-Gebraoui, p. 70) points out such punishment in the tombs of ibi at Deir el-Gebraoui, tti-iqr at El-Hawawish, ppi-ankh-Hr-ib at Meir and xntikA ixxi at Saqqara.  Among these sources, we will retain the scene appearing in the mastaba of the last named, built after that of Mereruka, in the same area (“Teti pyramid cemetery”: see Porter & Moss, 3:2, 508-511, pl. LIII, room I, location 15, register II; James & Apted, 1963). It is available on the website of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale [French Institute of Oriental Archaeology] in the article of Beaux under reference 02.pdf. (see Fig. 3).

Three people under a canopy occupy the left side of the space.  At the end, the one named ixxi appears, kneeling in the typical position of the scribe, holding a document.  The applicant bears the titles: smr wati and Xr-Hb (Strudwick & Leprohon, 2005, No. 216, text C).  Facing him beneath the canopy, two scribes write busily, each bearing the title sS n pr-Dt.  Then come five defendants, three of whom are prostrate and two walk bowed, their right hands held by a guard.  The defendants are all HqA Hwt and bear no other titles.  They are characterized by marked obesity, which differs from the svelte shape of the other actors in the scene.  The sex of one of the defendants is apparent.  The scene ends with a beating.  Unlike the scene in Mereruka, two people are clinging to the same post topped with the heads of foreigners (Beaux op. cit. p. 40).  The condemned are naked.  The stick wielded by the guard inflicting the beating is larger than that of his colleagues.  The punishment is accompanied by a commentary: Htpw nfrw n kA.k – n iw mitt which Beaux translates: “beautiful gifts for your kA – never has such a thing happened”!  This comment, coupled with the physical aspect of the administrators of areas, gives satirical overtones to the scene.

The question of the identity of ixxi arises, since two persons named xntikA – ixxi share the tomb (Kanawati 2003, p. 89): the first is a vizier, his complete title being available in Strudwick (1985, p. 125) while the second could be his son, no doubt the ixxi of our scene who faces the vizier.


Stylistically, the scene in the mastaba of Mereruka is similar to that in the mastaba of Khentika: an authority standing under a canopy supported by lotus-shaped columns, a procession of HqAw with supervisory personnel and a beating.  Kanawati (Deir el-Gebraoui, p. 70) rightly suggests a connection between the scenes, also taking into account the overall context in which they move (activities related to fishing).  However, there are significant differences, not the least of which is the composition of the panel showing the authority (what Beaux terms “legal structure”: op. cit. p. 38): in the case of Khentika, it is most likely headed by a member of the family of the tomb’s owner, who bears the titles of smr wati and of Xry-Hb, the two other members being scribes of the pr-Dt (sS n pr-Dt), while in the case of Mereruka, we are dealing with a sAb imy-r (sS), Hry sStA n ist aAt assisted by a sAb sS and by an imy-r pr.

In general, there is a lack of uniformity in the composition of the DADAt nt pr-Dt except for the participation of the scribes and clerks who are part of the vast majority of representations.  The various actions in which the DADAt engages go along with a flexible composition of this Council:

ipt (census) : imy-r pr, sS, iry mDAt, nxt xrw n Snwt, xA

Hsb (rendering of accounts) : imy-r pr, sS, iry mDAt

(Hr) xA (measurement) : sS, nxt xrw n Snwt

Ssp (receipt of goods) : imy-r pr, sS, iry mDAt, xA, sHD Hm kA, nxt xrw, sA pr

The mastaba of Ti contains a depiction of the DADAt nt pr-Dt without mention of the action (Osirisnet, p. 2, photo cpo_p2a).  Its many members, who take their positions in a columned building similar to that of Mereruka and Khentika, occupy three registers.  One of them goes toward Ti who observes the scene (mAA) apdw (n) Hr(w)t n pr-dt in smr wati Ti, with his family.  These are sAb sHD sS, imy-r pr, sHD sS a nswt, sS aprw, and iry mDAT.  Other persons are moving in the opposite direction, away from Ti, namely nxt xrw and sS apdw.  It gives the impression of a division between the members of the DADAt, some emerging from the sphere of power of Ti and others not (including the nxt xrw which Moreno Garcia believes “to be a direct dependency of the Residence, of the king or the offices of the vizier”) (Hwt, p. 225-6).

Finally, we again note the DADAt nt pr-Dt in the mastaba of kAimanx (Junker, Giza, fig. 9) with two sS (n) pr-HD of whom the “chairman” is the oldest son of the deceased (sA.f smsw).  These scribes of the Treasury, however, are part of a central administration in which they carry out an itinerant function, according to Sophie Desplancques (see above).

Besides the fact that many scenes are silent concerning the name of the Council, concerning the specific titles that its members bear, and concerning the nature of the action represented, questions remain about the variable composition of the DADAt and the character of an institution that can include relatives of the tomb owner, at the local level, alongside officials of the central administration (nxt xrw, sS n pr Hd). With the scene called “rendering of accounts” in the mastaba of Mereruka, we wish to draw the reader’s attention to fertile soil for future research.



Translator Diana Gainer.  Diana Gainer studied Egyptian hieroglyphs on the way toward obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1979.  Since then she has completed a Master of Science degree in sociology at East Texas State University (1993) and obtained certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (2003).  Now retired, she blogs about the undeciphered Indus script, comparing it to hieroglyphs, cuneiform, ancient Chinese, and other symbol systems.




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