The Mummy: A Historical Review of the Film

The Mummy: A Historical Review of the Film

A Story by Ashleigh

A historical review of the film, The Mummy. Originally written for a twelfth grade ancient history class.



                For my ISU project, I have chosen to historically review The Mummy. My three areas of focus are costumes, characters and historical events. I have chosen to show the opening scene of the film to the class, which is exactly seven minutes in length. This historical written report will talk about whether the costumes used in the movie were in fact, worn by Egyptian royalty or not. It will also look at who the characters of Imhotep, Anck Sun Amun and King Seti I were, whether they were real people or fictional characters, their historical significance and links to each other (if any at all) and whether they were portrayed accurately or not in the film. Finally, this report will address the historical events in the film and talk about whether they really happened or not, and whether they were described accurately if they did happen.

                While watching The Mummy, I found that there were a few inconsistencies in the way the actors dressed, but overall the costumes used generally matched historical descriptions of ancient Egyptian clothing. In the opening scene, where the character Anck Sun Amun is introduced, she is shown to be wearing nothing but body-paint and a thin, black netting hanging from her waist. Although the Egyptians often wore clothing showing partial nudity, due to the extremely hot weather in the desert; to completely discard any type of clothing and replace everything with body paint was extremely rare. It did happen among Egyptian royal women occasionally,! but it was not a regular or casual occurrence as the film made it out to be.

                The character Imhotep is usually shown in the movie to be wearing black robes trimmed in gold thread and made of light materials, which appears to be of linen. Ancient Egyptian clothing really was made of linen and for wealthy people like Imhotep, often decorated with gold trim, however ancient Egyptians almost never wore black. The hot desert temperatures would never allow for such dark colours to be worn, as they would absorb the sun’s heat and dehydrate the Egyptian people very quickly. It would be extremely detrimental to their health to wear black in such a hot climate. In reality, almost all Egyptian clothing was made of white linen, because it was light and airy and kept the Egyptian people as cool as possible in the desert.

                As for the makeup and wigs used in the film, most of this is fairly accurate. Anck Sun Amun is shown to be wearing heavy amounts of eyeliner and shadow, which was common in ancient Egypt. One inconsistency however, was that in the film only women were shown with makeup. In truth, both men and women in ancient Egypt wore cosmetics as if they were a natural part of their own skin. No Egyptian ever left their homes without at least a “healthy” amount of eyeliner, and even then, that was considered the bare minimum. The Egyptians in ancient times were very aware and concerned with beauty and appearances. They took great pride in being spotlessly clean, they bathed every day, and wigs and makeup were considered essential attributes to enhance physical appearances (at least among those who could afford them). Both men and women used cosmetics on their eyes, cheeks and lips. They would paint their eyebrows and darken their lashes with kohl, which was a dark, powdery substance. The red powder they used on their cheeks was called ochre. Mostly women wore wigs, but some men did, too. These wigs were usually shoulder-length and either made from human hair or from wool. For wealthy people, the wig would be decorated with gold and beads and curled wigs were worn on special occasions. The historical descriptions of Egyptian wigs are accurate to what Anck Sun Amun is seen wearing in The Mummy, but the description of the makeup is only accurate on the women, because the film did not show the men with cosmetics, which is inaccurate.

                The jewellery pictured in The Mummy is fairly accurate to what Egyptian royalty would have worn. In ancient Egypt, whether you were rich or poor, you wore jewellery. This jewellery served to enhance physical appearance, but was also for protection against evil spirits and demons. King Seti I, Imhotep and Anck Sun Amun, among the other wealthy Egyptians in the movie, would have worn the amount of gold and silver jewellery that they did, if not more. For the poor Egyptians who could not afford gold, they wore brightly coloured beads made of cheap stone and sometimes wood. At many points throughout the movie, characters are seen with decorative snakes wrapped around their arms and ankles. It was believed in ancient Egypt, that snakes were the embodiment of the gods and that was their physical form on earth. Therefore, by wearing snakes on their bodies, they believed the gods would protect them from evil. The various characters wearing decorative snakes around their ankles and their arms is an accurate aspect of Egyptian attire in The Mummy.

                Now that some of the inaccuracies about the costumes used in the film have been corrected, let’s focus a little on historical Egyptian clothing itself. Almost all Egyptian clothing was made of linen, which is a very airy, light material made from flax plants that grew in Egypt at the time. Flax plants have stems that grow to about two feet, with small leaves and blue-coloured flowers. Rather than being cut down, like most other harvested plants, flax was pulled straight out from the ground. The best linens came from flax stems that were only partially ripe, while the fully ripe stems were made into ropes and mats. The flax collected was then woven into linen and sewn for wearing. Women usually wore long tunics that reached down to their ankles, while men wore a similar garment which usually went down to the knees. Shoes were not usually worn in ancient Egypt, as most people preferred to go barefoot, but sometimes they would wear leather sandals, especially among the royalty and the wealthy Egyptians. Grooming was also a very important ritual for the ancient Egyptians. Men wore no facial hair, although the pharaoh would have had a decorative chin-piece which looked like a goatee. They rubbed themselves with scents and oils constantly, as body odour was considered a sign of sin.

                Were Anck Sun Amun, Imhotep, and King Seti I real people in history? Yes and no. Although all three of these characters did exist in Egyptian history, none of them have any historical significance to each other and lived many years apart. The personalities of these three people are also portrayed very inaccurately in The Mummy.

                Who was Imhotep? Imhotep, whose name means “He Who Comes In Peace” is the only person ever recorded in Egyptian history who was not of royal blood. This is because he was a very gifted man with many talents. Imhotep was born as a commoner and became an architect as an adult. He constructed the first pyramid for his pharaoh, King Djoser which was the step-pyramid. Essentially, Imhotep improved upon the original mastaba design by adding several mastabas on top of the first one, gradually decreasing in size. It was called the step-pyramid, because the finished construction looked as if you could walk up to the top as if it were a staircase. Indeed, it was believed that the spirit of the dead pharaoh would escape its tomb and walk up the step-pyramid to the afterlife (the Egyptian version of heaven). Although Imhotep was an extraordinary architect, that is not all he is known for. Imhotep was also a doctor, scribe, vizier and High Priest to the pharaoh, among many other occupations and titles. Imhotep is possibly best known for his knowledge of medicine and the human body. He used this vast knowledge to solve the seven year famine in Egypt and to develop the first medicare system, which we still use today in modern medicine. Imhotep lived under the reign of King Djoser, who’s reign lasted from 2630 to 2611 BC. Imhotep may have lived under as many as four kings, but this is not certain. As a doctor, Imhotep wrote many famous medical texts. He is believed to have written the Edwin Smith Papyrus. This medical text describes over 90 anatomical terms and 48 injuries. Imhotep is described as the "..first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity." Imhotep diagnosed and treated over 200 diseases, 15 diseases of the abdomen, 11 of the bladder, 10 of the rectum, 29 of the eyes, and 18 of the skin, hair, nails and tongue. Imhotep treated tuberculosis, gallstones, appendicitis, gout and arthritis. He also performed surgery and practiced some dentistry. Imhotep extracted medicine from plants. He also knew the position and function of the vital organs and circulation of the blood system. The Encyclopedia Britannica says, "The evidence afforded by Egyptian and Greek texts support the view that Imhotep's reputation was very respected in early times. His prestige increased with the lapse of centuries and his temples in Greek times were the centers of medical teachings." (Sir William Osler) and "In priestly wisdom, in magic, in the formulation of wise proverbs; in medicine and architecture; this remarkable figure of Zoser's reign left so notable a reputation that his name was never forgotten. He was the patron spirit of the later scribes, to whom they regularly poured out a libation from the water-jug of their writing outfit before beginning their work.” (James Henry Breasted). Imhotep’s plaque in his grave stretched from celing to floor, listing all his achievements, which was more than twice as long as most pharaohs! In The Mummy, Imhotep’s portrayal as the pharaoh’s High Priest is accurate, however his connection to Anck Sun Amun and King Seti I is not. Imhotep and Anck Sun Amun lived approximately two hundred years apart and have no historical connection to each other. King Seti I also lived hundreds of years after Imhotep, having absolutely no historical significance to each other. The Mummy also portrayed the character of Imhotep to be an evil, malicious villain who would stop at nothing to raise his beloved Anck Sun Amun from the dead, but by reading the various historical accounts of the real Imhotep, this is clearly not the case.

                Who was King Seti I? King Seti I was a pharaoh of Egypt during the nineteenth dynasty. He was the son of King Ramses I and Queen Sitre and the father of King Ramses II, also known as King Ramses the Great. The exact date of King Seti’s I reign is unclear, but 1294 BC to 1279 BC, and 1290 BC to 1279 BC seem to be the two most widely accepted by scholars. His name means “Of Set”, which indicates that he may have been consecrated to the god, Set. King Seti I reigned for 11 to 15 years and was known for his various battles and the opening of a new rock quarry at Aswan in order to build more grand monuments and obelisks. He is also viewed as the pharaoh who restored order to Egypt after
Akhenaten’s disastrous reign. Akhenaten was the pharaoh who banned polytheism in Egypt and forced the Egyptians to only worship the sun god, Amun Ra and persecuted those who didn’t. King Seti’s I accomplishments seem to have been greatly overshadowed by his son, King Ramses II. As for King Seti’s I historical connection to Imhotep and Anck Sun Amun; there is none whatsoever.

                Who was Anck Sun Amun? Anck Sun Amun, also commonly referred to as Ankhesenamen, was one of six daughters of King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. She was born in year four of Akhenaten’s reign and her three younger sisters were all born by year twelve. During her early life, she lived through the transition of polytheism to monotheism that her father was enforcing and was tearing Egypt apart. She is believed to have married her father and had a daughter by the name of Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit by the time she was twelve. After her father died, she was wed to Smenkhkare for a very brief period. Later she married the famous King Tutankhamen, also commonly referred to as King Tut. They only ever had two stillborn daughters. After Tut’s death, it is believed that Ankhesenamen wrote a letter to the Hittite king asking him for one of his sons to marry, because she had no successors and was afraid. Although this is merely a rumour and has yet to be proven, it may connect with her husband’s death, because the Grand Vizier, Ay was pressuring Ankhesenamen to marry him in order for him to take the throne, which could be the reason why Ankhesenamen may have written the letter and also leads one to believe that Ay may have had a hand in King Tutankhamen’s death. Of course, this is all just speculation. As for Ankhesenamen’s historical connection to Imhotep and King Seti I; there is none whatsoever (once again).

Historical Events
                In The Mummy, the entire movie is based on the tragedy of Imhotep and Anck Sun Amun’s love affair behind King Seti’s I back and the brutal death of all three of the characters. Did any of these events actually happen? The answer to this question is no. Unlike other aspects of the film where there is a little of both history and fantasy, this particular section is completely fictitious with no historical accuracy whatsoever.

                In the beginning of the movie, all three characters are introduced and the love affair between Imhotep and Anck Sun Amun is revealed. King Seti I finds out about the affair and is infuriated. Before he has the chance to serve due punishment, Anck Sun Amun and Imhotep stab the pharaoh to death. Imhotep flees, the pharaoh’s bodyguards chase after him and Anck Sun Amun commits suicide by stabbing herself. Imhotep flees in the middle of the night with the black Book of the Dead to resurrect Anck Sun Amun in Hamunaptra, the city of the dead. Her organs are placed in five canopic jars and Imhotep begins the resurrection. The pharaoh’s bodyguards find him before the ritual can be completed and Imhotep’s priests are all condemned to be mummified alive. As for Imhotep himself, he has his tongue cut off and is thrown into a sarcophagus with a bucket of scarab beetles that eat his innards while he’s still alive. Although this makes for an entertaining Hollywood story, none of this ever happened. Ever.

                In truth, Imhotep lived a very peaceful, prosperous life and died of natural causes. Not only did he not die a shameful death, he was actually honoured by King Djoser and was considered a god of medicine in other cultures hundreds of years after his death. Imhotep never went against his king and lived a dutiful and pleasant life. The floor to ceiling tablet in his tomb describing all of his magnificent achievements proves this, along with various accounts of him and his medical texts. Imhotep also had a wife and children, and no love affair between him and any woman, let alone Ankhesenamen, who lived two hundred years after him was ever recorded. As for the real Ankhesenamen, she was never the mistress of King Seti I, her father being the pharaoh who ruled before him. It is unknown how she died, because her body has never been found, but it seems unlikely that she would commit suicide by stabbing herself. This is due to the fact that Egyptians believed you needed your body intact to pass into the afterlife. Also, suicide would bar you from the afterlife, unless you did it for a noble reason, such as following your master into the afterlife to serve him. Even then, they would never harm or maim their body. The most common forms of suicide would have been poison or a snake bite. If you were bitten by a snake, it was believed that the gods embodied the animal and chose you so you would pass on to the afterlife. Even if Ankhesenamen had committed suicide, she would never have stabbed herself to death. King Seti’s I death is not completely certain, but there are no signs of violence on his mummy. Although his head was found severed from his body, it is more than likely that this occurred after his death by tomb robbers. Most historians believe that King Seti I died of an illness that had affected him for years, possibly related to his heart. He was not stabbed to death by anyone, least of all by Imhotep and Ankhesenamen.

                Did the Book of the Dead actually exist and was it used for resurrections? Yes, the Book of the Dead did exist, but it was never used for resurrections. When a wealthy person or royalty died, they were mummified and placed into a tomb which would be either a mastaba, a pyramid or a rock-cut tomb, depending on the particular dynasty. Buried with them would be the Book of the Dead, which was an instruction manual for the deceased’s spirit on how to get to the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that the spirit would not leave the body until it was ready and when it did leave the body, it may get frightened and confused. The purpose of the Book of the Dead was to explain to the spirit of how to meet Osiris and be accepted into the afterlife, almost as if to comfort the frightened spirit and to help it move on so it can be happy for all eternity. The Book of the Dead was never meant for evil workings or for resurrections at all.

                As for the five sacred canopic jars, this is a blatantly obvious mistake in the film. In reality, there were only four jars. The jars represented the four sons of Horus and each one had a different head. There was a human, a jackal, a falcon, and a baboon. Imsenti was the human and held the liver, Hapi was the baboon and lungs were put into this jar, Duamutef was the jackal and contained the stomach and Qebehsenuef had the falcon’s head and held the intestines. These canopic jars were buried within the tomb along with the mummified person. The fifth canopic jar never existed.

                Although Hamunaptra is an Egyptian city, there is nothing particularly special about it as the film suggested. In truth, Hamunaptra is nothing more than a poorly designed city that Egyptian architects built and rebuilt with no real plan, leaving a haphazard mess of buildings called Hamunaptra. There is no curse upon the poorly planned city, nor is it the burial ground of famous pharaohs.

                As for the priests being mummified alive and Imhotep being eaten alive by scarab beetles, this is all absolutely ludicrously fictitious. The Egyptians did not mummify living people (at least not intentionally) and there is no kind of scarab beetle that crawls under your skin and eats you from the inside-out. The most a scarab beetle can do is bite and burrow deep enough into your skin to cause infections and rashes. Although not pleasant, they are by no means deadly. Even if these kinds of deadly scarab beetles existed in Imhotep’s time, they would not survive until the 1940’s, which is the decade The Mummy takes place in.

                Surprisingly, there are aspects of The Mummy that ring true to historical ancient Egyptian times. The costumes are fairly accurate, with slight discrepancies. Although the characters do not relate to each other historically, they did exist and lived as royals. However, there are major inaccuracies as well, such as the storyline of the film, which in reality never happened at all, and the mistaken references to the mummification process, cities and Egyptian beliefs and religion (which should never be overlooked because religion was everything to the ancient Egyptians). In conclusion, although not bad with the smaller details, The Mummy fails to accurately portray some major aspects of Egyptian beliefs and historical connections between characters.



Various Editors (2007, May). Ankhesenamen. Retrieved April 2007, from Wikipedia- The Free Encyclopedia Web Site:

Various Editors (2007, May). Seti I. Retrieved May 2007, from Wikipedia- The Free Encyclopedia Web Site:

Jimmy Dunn (unknown date). Egypt: Imhotep, Doctor, Architect, High Priest, Scribe and Vizier to King Djoser. Retrieved April 2007, from Intercity Oz, Inc. Web Site:

Unknown Editor (unknown date). Egyptian Life. Retrieved from the British Museum Web Site:

Jessie, Sarah, Courtney (unknown date). Ancient Egyptian Clothing. Retrieved April 2007 from unknown source Web Site:

Ruth Kenyon (unknown date). Hamunaptra- City of the Dead- Page 1. Retrieved from Ruth Kenyon’s Web Site:

Dr. Karen Carr (unknown date). Egyptian Clothing. Retrieved April 2007 from Kidipede- History for Kids Web Site:


© 2008 Ashleigh

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very interesting piece liked the history in this ..overall i thought you did a great job on this ... you should enter this in my universal monsters contest be perfect for my mummy award...

Posted 13 Years Ago

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Added on December 18, 2008
Last Updated on December 19, 2008



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