Some Significant Shabtis

Some Significant Shabtis

How Objects Can Illuminate a Period of Political and Cultural Change

 

Edward Mushett Cole

 

Within the shabtis of the Eton Myers Collection there are a number which date to the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Dynasties (1130-991 BC) with an Upper Egyptian provenance. These provide some interesting details about the political and cultural changes that Egypt was undergoing during this period, as well as highlighting some elements which remained unchanged.

Some of the most apparent changes are those to the design and style of the shabtis. One such alteration was the appearance of a new form of head decoration.[1] The new head decoration was the seshed-band. This is the black headband apparent on the shabtis of Masaharta A and Paynefernefer,[2] and something which began to appear early in the Twenty-First Dynasty.[3] Aston has noted that other than the shabtis ascribed to Masaharta A there are no other examples with the seshed-band belonging to individuals who date to earlier than circa 1001-992 BC.[4] This has led him to suggest that the seshed-band was introduced at this point, and that the Masaharta shabtis might belong to Masaharta B, or come from a later renewal of Masaharta A’s burial.[5] Its presence on Paynefernefer’s shabti, however, suggests that its appearance should be dated to Masaharta A’s lifetime (c.1061-1051 BC). This is because Paynefernefer is probably attested with the same title as on his shabti in one of the late Ramesside letters dated to early in the wHm-msw(t) (which dates to c. 1087-1077 BC) and so is unlikely to have survived until c. 1001-992 BC.[6] As a result, the seshed-band may have appeared very early in the Twenty-First Dynasty, but certainly unlikely to be as late as suggested by Aston.

The striated wig worn by ECM 397 (left) was the most popular headdress during the New Kingdom. This style was partially replaced by the seshed headband that gained popularity in the Twenty-First Dynasty during Masaharta A's tenure as High Priest of Amun, as seen on ECM 376 (right).

The striated wig worn by ECM 397 (left) was the most popular headdress during the New Kingdom. This style was partially replaced by the seshed headband that gained popularity in the Twenty-First Dynasty, as seen on ECM 376 (right).

Another change to the style of shabtis from the late New Kingdom into the Twenty-First Dynasty is that from the Twenty-First Dynasty and throughout the rest of the Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 BC), which is that the inscriptions added to shabtis usually only contained the name and titles of their owner, rather than a version of Book of the Dead Chapter Six.[7] This rapid and extensive change to the content of the inscriptions added to shabtis at all levels of the Upper Egyptian elite has been taken as reflecting the known alterations to the purpose and use of shabtis within Egyptian funerary traditions at this point.[8] As a result, shabtis were no longer substitutes for their owners in the afterlife, but instead were increasingly perceived as representing servants or slaves, leading to increasing numbers of shabtis being included within funerary assemblages.[9]

Shabti of Paynefernefer (ECM 376) which is only inscribed with the owner's name and titles. © Eton Myers Collection, University of Birmingham

Shabti of Paynefernefer (ECM 376) which is only inscribed with the owner’s name and titles.
© Eton Myers Collection, University of Birmingham

Finally, these shabtis from late Twentieth Dynasty and early Twenty-First Dynasty Upper Egypt also reveal the changing composition of the elite of that region. A number of the shabtis show the continuity of both individual officials, such as that of the scribe of the treasury of the temple of Amun Paynefernefer,[10] and of the major late New Kingdom Upper Egyptian families, represented by those of Henuttawy and Pinudjem I,[11] from the Twentieth Dynasty into the Twenty-First. Paynefernefer is probably attested in his position at the start of the wHm-msw(t),[12] whilst Henuttawy may have been a daughter of the last king of the Twentieth Dynasty, Ramesses XI, and Pinudjem I was the son of the general and high priest of Amun Pinakh.[13] Others, however, show the appearance of individuals with Libyan names in the highest echelons of Egyptian society. This change in the composition of the elite in Egypt is highlighted by the shabti of Masaharta A (c.1061-1051 BC).[14] Whilst his name is distinctively Libyan in form, his position as high priest of Amun placed him right at the very top of Upper Egyptian society.[15] Whilst there are earlier attestations of individuals with clearly Libyan names, particularly amongst the names of Herihor’s children on the walls of the temple of Khonsu at Karnak, Masaharta A was the first to hold such a senior position in the Egyptian hierarchy.[16] Despite having such a distinctively Libyan name the existence of a shabti with Masaharta A’s name on it reveals that he, at least, adopted Egyptian funerary practices, thus raising questions as to whether he should be considered Libyan or Egyptian, or perhaps a hybrid of both.

Shabti of Masaharta A (ECM 399). Masaharta was one of the first prominent officials with a purely Libyan name. © Eton Myers Collection, University of Birmingham

Shabti of Masaharta A (ECM 399). Masaharta was one of the first prominent officials with a purely Libyan name.
© Eton Myers Collection, University of Birmingham

The shabtis of the Eton Myers Collection show how even a limited number of objects, many of them without provenance, can provide an interesting snapshot on ancient Egypt, in this case on some of the political and cultural changes from the late Twentieth Dynasty into the early Twenty-First Dynasty.

Endnotes

[1] Schneider 1977: 330

[2] ECM 399 and ECM 376 respectively.

[3] Aston’s ‘Type E’ (2009: 357)

[4] Aston 2009: 363

[5] Aston 2009: 363

[6] He is the probable author of late Ramesside letter 27 to Dhutmose as that individual has the same name orthography and title as the individual named on the shabti, see Černý 1939:42 and ECM 376. That this was recorded on Paynefernefer’s shabti suggests that it was the highest position that he held, and therefore strongly indicates that Paynefernefer was relatively old when the letter was written and thus highly unlikely to still be alive c.1001-992 BC. The same individual is also named on a version of the Book of the Dead, again with the same title of scribe of the treasury of the temple of Amun, in the Museum of Vienna (AE_INV_3860).

[7] Schneider 1977: 330-331

[8] Schneider 1977:319-335; Aston 2009: 356

[9] Schneider 1977: 319-323; Aston 2009: 356

[10] ECM 376

[11] ECM 1605 and ECM 398 respectively.

[12] See Note 5 above.

[13] Kitchen 1986: 41-2; Dodson and Hilton 2010: 200; Palmer 2014: 13-16

[14] Jansen-Winkeln 2006: 228

[15] Leahy 1985: 54

[16] Herihor’s ‘sons’ with Libyan names do not have any titles listed with their names making it impossible to tell what positions they may have held within the Egyptian administration, Temple of Khonsu I 1979: 11-13.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Aston , D. 2009. Burial Assemblages of dynasty 21 – 25: chronology – typology – developments. Vienna.

Černý, J. 1939. Late Ramesside Letters. Brussels.

Dodson, A. and Hilton, D. 2010. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London.

Jansen-Winkeln, K. 2006. ‘Relative Chronology of Dynasty 21’, in E. Hornung, R. Krauss and D. Warburton (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Chronology. Leiden. 218-233.

Kitchen, K. 1986. Third Intermediate Period in Egypt 110-650 B.C. 2nd Edition. Warminster.

Kunst Historisches Museum Vienna, Bilddatenbank

Leahy, A. 1985. ‘The Libyan Period in Egypt: An Essay in Interpretation’, Libyan Studies 16, 51-65.

Palmer, J. 2014. ‘The High Priests of Amun at the End of the Twentieth Dynasty’, Birmingham Egyptology Journal 2, 1-22.

Schneider, H. 1977. Shabtis: An introduction to the history of Ancient Egyptian funerary statuettes with a catalogue of the collection of shabtis in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden. Leiden.

Temple of Khonsu I. Oriental Institute Publication 100, 1979. Chicago IL.

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