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Curse of the Pharaoh

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"There is no one in this world who can ever be my master. All who enter beware the Wrath of the Pharaoh."
Anubis, Soul Eater

An Adventurer Archaeologist just discovered a new pyramid from Ancient Egypt, and decides to explore it, getting hit by an incredibly lethal curse in the process. Or, if you want to include an Asshole Victim, just somebody who was interested in Robbing the Dead, often ending in Death by Materialism.

This concept became popularized in Western media after the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 led to a rise in interest in Ancient Egypt. Shortly after the excavation, over twenty people died in short order, including its financier Lord Carnarvon. Magazines took these events to be the "Curse of Tutankhamun", printing stories claiming that King Tut's tomb was engraved with hieroglyphs warning that "death would swiftly follow" those who disturbed the Pharaoh's eternal slumber. In reality, nothing of the sort was written anywhere in the tomb, the idea being entirely made up to sell a story and all the deaths being basically accidents befalling a tiny portion of the over a hundred people involved in the excavations.note 

Similar to the Indian Burial Ground, it seems that a pharaoh's eternal resting place is always cursed... Compare Gypsy Curse and Hollywood Voodoo, other ethnic curse stereotypes.

Sub-Trope of Curse. May have been set by a Nepharious Pharaoh and/or involve a Mummy. The pyramid itself is an Ancient Tomb, and may be a Temple of Doom full of Death Traps. No relation to Curse of The Ancients.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fate/Prototype, the Rider of Fragments of Sky Silver, Ozymandias, has a Noble Phantasm that summons all of the great tombs and pyramids of Egypt as a massive fortress in a Reality Marble. Within it, Servants who are not Semi-Divine are locked out of their ability to use their Noble Phantasms. Trespassers are also subjected to a noxious poison that cripples Servants and kills humans in two seconds.
  • In Chapter 3/Episode 3 of Soul Eater, the necromancer witch Samantha tries to create an army of mummies for her own bid at world conquest. However, when she tries this with the mummy of the Pharaoh Anubis, he is resurrected as an Undead Abomination that devours her, proclaiming that anyone who dares violate the sanctity of his tomb will share her fate.

    Comic Books 
  • Played with in The Goon with Seti the South Side Mummy. In life he was a brutal and insane pharaoh (mostly as a result of inbreeding) but not smart. After an archaeologist disturbs his tomb, he returns to torment him by destroying everything the archaeologist loves. When the archaeologist winds up in trouble with the mob, he proposes to pay off his debt by other means: tricking the dim-witted mummy into being a hitman by telling it that the target is a close friend of his.
  • Subverted in Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh: Tintin is exploring the pyramid of Pharaoh Kih-Oskh, and finds a room full of dead, mummified Egyptologists, which he initially thinks is "The Pharoah's revenge!" However, it turns out there's a more mundane explanation — the tomb is being used as the base of operations for an international drug-smuggling gang, and they've been murdering anyone who gets in.
  • Wonder Woman (1942): Diana, Etta, Bobby, Glamora and two Holliday College professors run afoul of a curse in an Egyptian tomb, which is relayed to them by the spirit of the pharaoh there entombed. Once the ancient Egyptian is defeated his mummy, which had been missing before, materializes in his tomb calling into question if the entire adventure was some kind of mass hallucination.

    Fan Works 
  • Undead Robot Bug Crusaders: In Unusual Lives: Big Book of Ghouls, mummies as a result of these are discussed:
    Class M: Mummies

    A rather iconic form of ghoul, class M's are, naturally, the result of dark magic infusing the bodies of dead lords and pharaohs who have been mummified. Why such beings felt the need to remain bound to the mortal plain to terrorize anyone who enters their tombs is unclear, but no one can debate that they are effective deterrents.

    Highly Contagious, as classs tend to ensnare their victims. The original class M's have no known cure, but secondary classs can be easily cured.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Played for Laughs in Bubba Ho Tep. The only times the titular mummy talks, it's full of profanity. The mummy's cursing.
  • In Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, the theft of the emerald from the eponymous "Crypt of Tears" is believed to have placed a curse on the thieves.
  • Several adaptations of The Mummy seem to involve this:
    • The Mummy (1932): Explorers find the remains of a High Priest named Imhotep who was buried alive in the desert. His casket contains a warning that death will meet anyone who opens the casket. This is ignored by the explorers and the Priest is brought back to life when one of the explorers reads the "Scroll of Life" which causes the rising of Imhotep. Imhotep then proceeds to try to revive a dead lover (which was why he was buried alive as it was sacrilege), killing anyone who gets in his way.
    • The Mummy (1959): Similar to the 1932 version except that an Egyptian warns the explorers to not enter the tomb at all and the Mummy (named Kharis in this version) is specifically focused on killing the people who entered his dead lover's tomb.
    • The Mummy (1999): Despite warnings from a band of Medjay, a group of explorers find the remains of Imhotep. When his book of the dead is read by one of them, Imhotep comes back to life and kills members of the expedition to regain his strength and eventually revive his deceased lover.
    • The Mummy (2017): The mummy this time is a Princess who tried to summon Set but was caught and then buried alive. After her tomb is discovered and her remains are removed, she starts cursing the people transporting her and begins feeding on people to regain strength.
  • The Pyramid: A group of archeologists investigate an Egyptian pyramid long buried underneath the sands only to discover it is actually a prison for Anubis, who is very hungry.
  • Viking Huntress: Rune of the Dead has a non-Egyptian variant. A group of Vikings have been raiding and trading for two years without much to show for it, when they find an old tomb. They dig it up, despite the protagonist's father's misgivings about Robbing the Dead, and find GOLD! Next morning, they start murdering each other for a bigger share.

  • Diogenes Club:
    • The imagery around this is invoked in "Egyptian Avenue", but it's subverted in multiple ways. The tomb is neither ancient nor Egyptian, but a Victorian crypt in the heart of London which was mocked up to look like one. The interred isn't a Pharaoh (except possibly in his own mind), just a rich eccentric who was caught up in 19th century Egyptmania. And the curse isn't his, but that of his servants, trapped in the tomb when he took his Pharaonic pretensions a bit too far, and trying to warn people that his descendent is about to do the same thing with everyone who works for him.
    • The plot of Seven Stars kicks off when an ancient Egyptian tomb is excavated by Victorian Egyptologists, who return home with the tomb's contents, a trail of death following them. The deaths are caused by the mummy, which has reanimated in an attempt to reacquire the Jewel of Seven Stars that was buried with him. However, it's not a case of the tomb being cursed: the jewel itself is an Artifact of Doom, and was buried to keep it from causing any more trouble; the mummy is ultimately trying to help in the only way it can.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ron goes to Egypt and visits a series of ancient Egyptian tombs, which are full of the mutated corpses of Muggle (non-magical) explorers who died of curses. Apparently the (wizard) emperors back in the day put crazy curses on their tombs to keep out sacreligious Muggles.
  • The Hercule Poirot short story "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" is set at the excavation of the fictional Pharaoh Men-her-Ra. Poirot is employed by the widow of the curse's first victim to protect her son, who has joined the expedition. Poirot quickly realises the "curse" is a combination of natural causes and murder, and the story ends with him saying that anyone who believes in the Curse of the Pharaoh doesn't understand the Ancient Egyptian belief system at all. (Agatha Christie was married to an archaeologist.)
  • Magic, Metahumans, Martians and Mushroom Clouds: An Alternate Cold War: In 1950, an archaeological dig accidentally frees Ramses XI from his tomb, allowing his army of mummies and animated statues to conquer Egypt... though to his credit, once he catches up with the times he's a decent leader and better to the people than the military dictatorship they were dealing with beforehand. After cutting deals with America and Israel, he's able to solidify his rule.
  • In Mort, the pyramids of Tsort are filled with statues of horrible monsters. The priests say they come to life at night and prowl the corridors for tomb robbers.
    Ysabell: What a horrible superstition.
    Mort: Who said anything about superstition? ... When the Tsorteans put a curse on a place, they don't mess about.
  • In the satirical work Motel of the Mysteries two archeologists from the future mistake a motel room with two bodies inside for a tomb. After the archeologists and other people who helped excavate the room die in strange ways the tomb is believed to be cursed, and closed to public forever.
  • Sir Henry Merrivale: In The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, an archaeologist dies from a scorpion sting soon after unearthing a tomb. Two of his colleagues vanish soon after a prophet curses them. They're faking their disappearances and plan to publicly reappear to discredit the supernatural hysteria behind the "curse". One of them is nearly murdered for real by an Opportunistic Bastard, but turns out to have been only been Left for Dead.
  • The Three Investigators: In The Whispering Mummy, Professor Yarbrough was one of the six people who opened a tomb twenty-five years ago, and now he thinks the mummy is whispering to him. Of the others, three have since died, and the other two were badly injured in a car accident that killed the expedition leader. Yarborough dismisses the deaths and injuries as a coincidence (although it turns out one of his dead colleagues was murdered while trying to sell treasure he stole from the tomb), and the mummy's whispering turns out to be a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Some characters in Blood & Treasure believe that all the bad things that happened in the show since the tombs have been discovered are because of this.
  • House of Anubis: Being that the show is themed around Ancient Egypt, this concept comes up a lot. Most notably, the Frobisher-Smythes died after exploring an Egyptian tomb, leaving their daughter an orphan and their home in possession of the antagonistic and cruel Victor Rodenmaar Sr. When making a school play about this story, Nina wrote that the Frobisher-Smythes were cursed and killed by Anubis for desecrating a pharaoh's pyramid, and the plot of Season 3 revolves around Robert Frobisher-Smythe having actually been cursed for that very reason, forced into a deep sleep until he could be awakened by The Chosen Many- including the descendants of his archaeology team, who'd raided the tomb and been responsible for the curse.
  • Invoked in Leverage. One member of the team gets a museum director who has recently studied a mummy to think that there's a curse (using drugs and technology to fake symptoms). Then another member of the team gets him to believe that the "curse" is just a superstition to explain away the effects of a fungus. The whole thing is designed to trick him into moving the sarcophagus.
  • Moon Knight 2002: In "The Tomb", the tomb is guarded by undead Heka priests who wake in response to the cult breaching the entrance. Steven also quips that opening Alexander the Great's sarcophagus is probably not a good idea, but nothing comes of that or defiling the corpse to get Ammit's ushabti.
  • Subverted on Mystery Hunters: One episode explores the alleged curse of Tutankhamun's tomb, noting how many of the explorers who discovered the tomb, along with some other people who later visited his tomb, seem to have ended up dying not long afterwards. It is pointed out though that some of deaths were not related to the tomb (one visitor was sick before coming to Egypt while another died from a shaving related incident) not to mention that one explorer who discovered it, Howard Carter, lived quite a while after finding the tomb. Other Egyptian curses are briefly mentioned but are dismissed as being more like "do not trespass" signs rather than being actual curses.
  • Poirot: Exploited by the murderer in "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb ", who used the fact that he and the murder victims were all members of an expedition that unearthed a Pharaoh's tomb.
  • Primeval: In "S3 E1", Sarah initially thinks the Pristichampsus is the ancient Egyptian demoness Ammut come to punish her for messing with the Sun Cage until Connor convinces her otherwise. After he inadvertently damages part of the Sun Cage, Sarah has a bit of fun at Connor's expense by telling him there's a curse on the artefact, later confessing to Abby she made it up to mess with his head.
  • Quantum Leap: In "The Curse of Ptah Hotep", Sam finds himself in Southern Egypt during the excavation of the tomb of a pharaoh, but strange occurrences ensue. Is it the result of the mummy’s curse?
    “As for any who would disturb the tomb of King Ptah-Hotep, death will swallow him.”
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: In [["Young Indiana Jones And The Curse Of The Jackal Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal]]", Kha was a high-ranking official rather than a Pharaoh, but there's still a curse on his tomb. Indy is for a time convinced that this is why Rashid was killed — until Lawrence admits he overdid it when telling him late-night ghost stories about cursed tombs and the spirits of the dead.

  • Mercyful Fate has a song named "Curse of the Pharaohs", which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The lyrics are basically a warning that anyone who disturbs the dead pharaohs of Egypt, like stealing from them, will be hit with a deadly curse.

  • Ectoplasm (2000): The first episode, "The Curse of the Mummy's Curse", has Lord Zimbabwe try to lift a Pharaoh's curse from the Adventurer Archaeologist who disturbs his tomb.
  • The Shadow: In the episode "Tomb of Terror", an Egyptian tomb has been moved and reconstructed at a New York museum, but then the archaeologists involved begin to die. The villain hid a device inside the pharaoh's mummy that killed his rivals.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Inverted in the Dungeons & Dragons module "Pharaoh" — the pyramid isn't cursed, the Pharaoh who built it is (for ignoring his responsibility to rule wisely in favor of building a "theft-proof tomb"), and the only way to lift that curse is to steal two specific artifacts from the pyramid.
  • Tomb Kings in Warhammer Fantasy are all mummified undead kings from a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Egypt that became The Necrocracy. They have the ability to speak a powerful Dying Curse as their physical bodies are (temporarily) destroyed, usually killing their opponent(s) in the process. The setting's lore also describes the Tomb Kings' pyramids, mausoleums or palaces as being cursed, though often that 'curse' consists of making a mortal enemy of an immortal mummy king and his gigantic army, both of whom will stop at nothing to repay the insult you have offered by plundering his kingdom — Settra, the first of the Tomb Kings, is renown for being one of the only beings in the Warhammer world to invade Norsca after a Norscan chieftain plundered his realm and stole his crown.

  • Parodied by LEGO Adventurers. In the LEGO Mania comics, Baron von Barron is subjected to Pharaoh Hotep III's curse after trying to steal the ruby from his tomb. The "curse" is being trapped in a room and being forced to listen to Hotep's groan-worthy "mummy" jokes.

    Video Games 
  • Seems to be happening in Assassin's Creed Origins in the "Curse of the Pharaohs" DLC where deceased pharaohs seem to be coming back to life to attack the people of Thebes in response to the amount of grave robbing that's was occuring in the area. subverted though as the Pharaohs were brought back due to a priestess named Isidora who used an Ancient Artifact called the Apple of Eden. Her motive involves punishing grave robbers but it is more because they murdered her mother rather than a curse the pharaohs themselves placed in their tombs.
  • Courage's Curse: Eustace stole an ancient Egyptian slab, so the ghost of Ramses II has come to get it back, even performing Demonic Possession on Eustace's wife Muriel.
  • Dwarf Fortress: Adventure Mode, amongst many other things, lets you break into an ancient tomb and rob it of its treasure. If you disturb the mummy lying inside, it'll put a curse on you.
  • Subverted in Pharaoh, where not only do tomb robbers face no consequences for getting into a tomb unopposed (they steal the grave goods stocked inside), you get penalized for it via a hit to the Kingdom rating. Fortunately, as there's only one access point to the tombs, you can line a chokepoint with police stations to ensure the thief gets caught before getting to the tomb.
  • Due to the Multiple-Choice Past of the Necroa Virus from Plague Inc., one of the possible origins is from an ancient pyramid. Justified Trope, as said pyramid was built precisely to contain the Necroa Virus, and had been inscribed with many warnings which of course archeologists had ignored.
  • Pokémon Black and White: Yamask and Cofagrigus have the Mummy ability, which changes the ability of an opponent Pokemon if it uses a move that makes contact with them into the Mummy ability. Cofragrigus has the appearance of an Egyptian sarcophagus and the ability invokes the idea of the Pharaoh's curse.
  • The Sims 3: In the World Adventures pack, if one disturbs their sarcophagus or steals their treasure, the Sim would be subject to their curse. If the curse is not treated for two weeks, they would die, and their ghost color will be dusty black.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in Aqua Teen Hunger Force in the episode with the mummy. The mummy's curse seems to be supernatural, but it turns out that the curse of the mummy is actually just a figure of speech; the real curse of the mummy is that he is socially inept, devoid of all manners, gold-digging, manipulative, and a selfish brat. Naturally, the Aqua Teens leave him on the curb once they discover this.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog has an episode about a mummy of a pharaoh cursing Courage's home with three plagues (a flood, a loud song playing non-stop, and locusts) when Eustace refuses to give a stone slab back to him.
  • The first episode of Mummies Alive! starts with a sealed tomb being opened by an archaeologist, despite his partner claiming it's cursed. When the archaelogist enters, it turns out that he's actually just freed Scarab, an evil mummified sorcerer who's been tallying the days to his freedom.
  • Parodied in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Hip Hip Parade". Candace and her mom Linda are taking a girl's day, but Linda makes Candace promise not to try to bust her brothers, or she will suffer the pharaoh's curse. At the end of the episode, Candace gives in to her busting habit, and so an overweight man dressed as a pharaoh shows up to say, "Curse you."
    Linda: I tried to warn you.
  • In the South Park Season 23 episode "Tegridy Farms Halloween Special", Butters visits a museum and collects stamps for his sticker book. He comes across a mummy in a sarcophagus, with a museum employee warning Butters not to put its sticker in his book or a "love curse" will befall him. Butters ignores the warning and does it anyway, causing the mummy to awaken and rampage through South Park and pin the blame on him.

    Real Life 
  • After the tomb of King Tutankhamun was discovered in the early 1920s, rumor quickly spread that it was cursed, with things such as the strange death of the British nobleman who sponsored Howard Carter's expedition to find it. Carter himself, however, remained unscathed by any hypothetical curse.
    • Some years after, a similar thing happened after the opening of the tomb of Casimir IV Jagiellon. Sudden deaths of several archaeologists were later explained as caused by Aspergillus flavus spores (which are hepatotoxic, carcinogenic and generally noxious) present in the tomb.
  • The other "Curse of the Pharaoh" is a euphemism for the sort of "tummy trouble" people get in hot places which only have a sketchy grasp of good food hygiene and water purity, also known as Pharaoh's Revenge, Delhi Belly (in India), and Montezuma's Revenge (in Mexico).
  • Even an Egyptian-themed Las Vegas resort, the Luxor, is said to be cursed, with some writers directly attributing the various deaths, injuries, and disease outbreaks that have happened there to the alleged disrespect shown to ancient Egyptian religious/cultural practices in their reproduction of such. The fact that they built the resort's central building in the shape of an ominous black pyramid doesn't help its eerie reputation, nor does the fact that the original builders cut corners in order to save money and meet deadlines, leading to a building with, among other things, malfunctioning elevators and a foundation that's slowly sinking into the Vegas sand.


Video Example(s):


"Return the Slab"

When a pair of thieves, being pursued by the heat, are forced to hide their mysterious haul, they choose to bury it beside a water pump, intent on coming back for it when it's safe. Before they can leave, however, they are confronted by a mysterious being who demands that they return it or 'suffer his curse'. When the two thieves demand to know what curse, their car is beset by a swarm of locusts. The camera then pans away to reveal that this is happening outside the Baggs' household, and when it pans back, there is no sign of the thieves or their car as the police helicopter passes by.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

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