Time magazine (November 4) carries an article titled, “Tutankhamen died on his knees, then his body spontaneously combusted,” which is followed with the following statement:

Working together with car-crash investigators, a team of British scientists says that the legendary pharaoh Tutankhamen died after being run over by a chariot while on his knees. http://science.time.com/2013/11/04/study-tutankhamen-died-on-his-knees-then-his-body-spontaneously-combusted/#ixzz2jpEknncO

The article adds that a theory presented last year held that the pharaoh might have died from epilepsy.

What does “die on one’s knees” mean? Was he killed when he was praying on his knees in ritual, which seems to be an extremely unusual occurrence?

Does it have any connection with “die / live on one’s feet / knees” in the saying, “Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees”?

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    In the quoted passage, it sounds like a simple physical description. However, the title of the article sounds more like the figurative use of the phrase. Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 3:09

3 Answers 3


The idiom "on his/her/its knees" usually has the connotation of subservience, surrender or defeat.

to destroy or defeat someone or something Sanctions were imposed in an attempt to bring the country to its knees.

So seeing a headline "Tut died on his knees" immediately evokes an image of Tut being killed while begging for mercy or something equally ill-befitting a great historical figure. As with most headlines, it's designed to catch your eye and get you to read more.

Reading the actual article, however, it sounds like they just meant it literally: he was kneeling down. Who knows why.


Researchers performed a "virtual autopsy" revealing injuries down one side of Tutankhamun's body and showing why he was the only pharaoh to be buried without his heart, which had been damaged beyond repair.

Car crash investigators created computer simulations of the likely scenario to figure out how Tutankhamun died. The results suggest that the boy king was on his knees when a chariot smashed into him, shattering his ribs and pelvis and crushing his heart.


Like Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar... or something.

By the way, if you had Googled "Tutankhamun died on his knees", you might have found a similar source.


I think it means that he got run over by a chariot while on his knees while praying or something. This is because it involves car crash investigators, so I would guess they would know the evidence of being run over while on your knees.

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