Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shabti of King Sety I

The British Museum

Upper part of a blue faience funerary figure

Shabti of King Sety I
Egypt ; 19th Dynasty, c.1279BC

Shabti (also called ushabti, or Shawabti) are magical, clay figures of the early dynasty of the Egyptian empire and were intended to act as substitutes for the deceased, should he be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife.

Shabti is the Egyptian word for "answerer."

Shabti figures first became part of the Egyptian funerary tradition in the Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1750 BC). A number of royal examples are known from the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC), the earliest of which is that of Ahmose, now also in the British Museum; there were of course several hundred in the tomb of Tutankhamun. No shabti has been found in the tombs of any subsequent kings until Sety I (1294-1279 BC), in whose tomb the remains of hundreds were found. Many of these shabti were of wood, and some were crudely shaped; it is said that visitors to the tomb after its discovery by Giovanni Belzoni in 1817 lit them for use as torches. This is one of the finest of the many faience shabti found there.

The figure wears the nemes head-dress of a king, emphasized by the cobra on his brow. The identity of the object as a shabti is made clear by the hoes which the figure holds, and the presence of the 'shabti spell', the text from the Book of the Dead, which indicates that the shabti must do the work that its owner is expected to do in the Afterlife. This text and the details of the figure have been painted in black and applied prior to firing.

F.D. Friedman (ed.), Gifts of the Nile: ancient Egy (London, Thames and Hudson, 1998)

1 comment:

Marie Reed said...

What a wonderful postcard to see first thing in the morning!