These 3 metal vases are called situlas and form part of a set used for drinking wine. You can just see the edge of the associated wine strainer at the left of the picture (wine in ancient times had more solid bits than it does now, so you strained it like you do loose tea today).
They are rather beautiful, as well as being made of precious metals (silver for the rear two, electrum in front and gold for the strainer). As well as elegant shape two of them are also decorated around the rim and one at the base with leaf and flower motifs.
They were found in the temple of Bastet at Bubastis as part of a collection of objects that had been buried in antiquity – probably because they were no longer in use for rituals but were still considered sacred so couldn’t just be binned.
The rituals they were used for were probably Festivals of Drunkenness which became a particular part of the worship of Bastet and other goddesses like Hathor in the New Kingdom (which is when these vessels date to), and emulated the drunkenness that pacified these goddesses.
They are now in the Met Museum, acc. no.s: 07.228.17, 07.228.18, 07.228.22 (and 30.8.369 for the strainer).
This rather finely carved vessel is called a lentoid bottle (because of its shape) or a New Year’s Bottle because in Ancient Egyptian culture these vessels were filled with some sort of liquid and given as gifts in the celebration associated with the New Year.
The inscription on the front asks the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut, Khonsu) to give protection to the God’s Father Amenhotep, son of God’s Father Iufaa, and two inscriptions on the sides also ask Montu and Amun-Re to give him a happy new year.
It looks a bit dull today, though you can see that the carved decoration retains some of its original colour. When new it would’ve been much brighter – the original glaze was a bright turquoise against which the dark blue decoration would’ve stood out.
It’s not known where it was found, but it dates to the Late Period and is now in the Met Museum acc. no. 30.8.214.
I talked a little while ago about the length of Egyptian civilisation and its continuity using Khaemwaset’s reconstruction work on Unas’s pyramid as my example, and today my photo is of another example of the deep, deep roots of Pharaonic Egyptian culture.
The implement in the photo is a pesesh-kef, a knife which was used in one of the key funerary rituals throughout ancient Egyptian culture – the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. This was performed on the mummy and it rendered the deceased able to breathe and eat in the afterlife.
It was a ceremony that was also performed on statues, rendering them able to be vessels for the deceased’s ka. This was a key part of what we might think of the soul of a person, and it was this part of your person that received food offerings left at the tomb after your death.
And this example of a pesesh-kef dates to waaaay before the time of Pharaonic Egypt: it was excavated at a place called el-Ma’mariya and it dates to the Naqada I period around 3800-3500 BCE, so something like five to eight centuries before Narmer unified Egypt.
Of course we can’t be at all sure that it was used for the same purposes, but it does demonstrate that the rituals grow out of deep roots in the local Egyptian culture and that even before the concept of Egypt as a country existed elements of that later culture were developing.
When an Egyptian deity was taken on procession its statue was placed in a shrine on a small boat (called a barque) which was carried by the priests. As well as the main deity there was also an entourage, including a sphinx like this one mounted on a pole at the prow.
The Ancient Egyptians called it a “sib”, and it stands poised and alert ready to defend the deity in the shrine – it was described as “trampling the sun god’s enemies”. Accompanying it on its stand are two snakes with raised heads, also protective symbols.
Even though the description references the sun god, I think these sibs appeared on barques carrying other deities – rather than being literal it’s intended to reference the night and day voyages of the sun god in his boat, as are detailed in the Egyptian funerary texts.
It’s not known where it was found, but it dates to the 26th Dynasty (c.600 BCE) and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 2011.96)
This is a close up of the front of the coffin of a woman called Ankhshepenwepet who lived during the second half of the 25th Dynasty, around 2500 years ago. She was buried in the temple grounds of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el Bahri, and her tomb was robbed in antiquity.
Around the middle you can see the deceased being led from the far right of the photo towards several divine beings. Thoth leads Ankhshepenwepet away from the weighing of the heart, which you can just see around the right hand side of the coffin as you look at it.
The queue of beings is headed by Osiris with Isis behind him, but I think most of them are the judges from the Hall of the Two Maats. These are the divine beings to whom the negative confessions are addressed as the deceased demonstrates they are worthy to enter the afterlife.
The coffin is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 25.3.202.
This rather fine piece is a little over 40cm tall, and represents an ancestor or some sort of revered person. I don’t think the provenance of this piece is entirely known, but other examples have been found in houses or tombs mostly at Deir el Medina dating to the 19th Dynasty.
I don’t think it’s clear what their function was, but one place I looked when looking them up had a drawing of a stela which shows a woman making offerings to a bust like this – so clearly the focus of some sort of ritual.
This example is unusually large and well made, and given how much paint remains it must’ve been particularly vivid and eye catching when it was new. The face has a serene expression that I find compelling, and I like the details like the earrings and the elaborate broad collar.
This coffin belonged to the Noble Lady Shep, and dates to around the 25th or 26th Dynasty (around 2500 years ago). It’s quite a different style to the earlier 21st Dynasty coffins – where they are bright, yellow and busy this one is almost minimalist by comparison!
The scene on the left of her chest (right of the photo) has the Devourer eagerly waiting in front of Osiris. But the scene on the left of the photo shows that she was disappointed – the Noble Lady Shep has passed the Judgement and is escorted by Thoth and Maat to Osiris.
Below these two scenes are, I think, two of the Sons of Horus protecting the deceased. There’s 4 registers of pairs of figures and at the bottom on her feet are two jackals sitting on shrines. Above you can see the bottom of her broad collar necklace and the ends of her wig.
This is an apotropaic rod – it was used to ward off harmful spirits. It comes in four segments, which might be related to the “birthing bricks” used to protect women during childbirth. And it’s covered in protective motifs, particularly protective animals.
This is a Middle Kingdom object but the animals on the top remind me a lot of some Early Dynastic objects that are also in the Met. I don’t know if they had the same meaning or not – the earlier frog & crocodile were donated to temples, these are magic in a domestic setting.
It’s not known where this rod was found, but it’s now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 26.7.1275).
As with almost everything about the way Ancient Egyptians saw the world their deities were not one note entities, even though we try and put them in little boxes when we talk about them today. So Ptah is not just the “creator as craftsman” that I discussed in my last article on him. That was his primary role, but he also had other roles and associations with other deities.
One of the epithets of Ptah is mesedjer-sedjem which means “the ear that hears” – this refers to Ptah’s role as a hearer of prayers from the ordinary person. Many votive stelae dedicated to Ptah in this role have been found, in his temple at Memphis or Deir el Medina as well as other places. They generally depict ears to show that he is listening. One example includes a text from a man called Neferabu who has sworn a false oath in the name of Ptah and is now blind, and the text begs Ptah in his role as “the ear that hears” to forgive him. Also in this role Ptah is found depicted inside chapels that we call hearing ear chapels. Egyptian temples were not open to the public in the way that a church or mosque are and the further into an Egyptian temple you go the more restricted access is, until the inner sanctuary where only the Pharaoh or High Priest can go. So these hearing ear chapels were built on the periphery of the temple where more people had access, and they could go there to leave their prayers for the god inside. Quite often Ptah was depicted in these chapels even if he didn’t have a sanctuary inside the temple proper – he was the hearer of prayers and would help sort things out for you!
As an important deity connected with the state religion Ptah might also be seen as one of the rulers of said state. After the gods made the world (however it was whomever it was did it) the Egyptians thought that various of the gods ruled as kings. Some have stories (like Shu or Osiris), others are just referenced. Ptah is one of the latter – in the Memphite Theology he is referred to as the ruler of a unified Egypt, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, and his name appears first at the head of the Turin King List. But there are no stories. This might just be because none survive – there are surprisingly few mythological narratives that survive from Pharaonic Egypt, most are bits and pieces and fragments that we can see match with a later source (like Plutarch retelling the myth of the death of Osiris). Or maybe he was conceptually king, because he’s a universal creator and an important god in the pantheon, but no-one really thought he was an actual king like the current ruler was king.
And of course as with many Egyptian deities Ptah was worshipped as part of a “family” grouping. The primary triad he is part of is referred to as the Memphite Triad and it was one of the most important ones in Egyptian religion. It consisted of Ptah and his consort Sekhmet, and had Nefertem as their child. The development of the triad didn’t happen all at once – Ptah and Sekhmet were associated and worshipped as a duo before Nefertem was added to make a full triad in the New Kingdom. I put “family” in scare quotes, because the family relationships between Egyptian deities in a triad shouldn’t be treated like a genealogical puzzle – the relationships aren’t necessarily exclusive nor commutative, a god doesn’t necessarily have a consistent pair of parents across all places and all times and nor a consistent consort etc. So Ptah’s “son” Nefertem in the Memphite triad is actually not referred to as his son (tho he is Sekhmet’s son), but in other times and places Imhotep may be referred to as the son of Ptah (with no link to Sekhmet). And the Syrian goddess Astarte is sometimes assimilated into the Egyptian pantheon as Ptah’s daughter (or as Re’s daughter in other contexts).
And not all triads are families anyway. Ptah is also grouped together with Amun and Re, and it seems clear this isn’t intended as a family. This grouping is partly a way of representing “all the important gods”. It’s also part of a strand of Egyptian thought that arises in the New Kingdom that seeks to bring together the various gods and mythologies into a unified scheme which centres the god Amun. So this triad can be seen as three different facets of Amun – Re is his face, Ptah is his body and Amun is his own hidden nature.
There are also other ways that Ptah is associated with other deities. A general rule within the Egyptian thinking about divine beings is that they can overlap, merge or separate at various different points in time (or even different places). Ptah is no exception – whilst he’s venerated as himself on his own from the Early Dynastic Period through to the Roman Period he’s also merged with other deities to form composite deities who can also be quite prominent.
One of these composites is Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, whose statues turn up in non-royal funerary contexts (particularly in the Late Period and afterwards). He represents the whole cycle of life – creation (Ptah), death (Sokar) and rebirth (Osiris). The composite deity is attested from at least the Middle Kingdom, even though the statues aren’t common until the Late Period. He did not spring into existence in a single step – the two Memphite gods Ptah and Sokar merged quite a lot earlier, based on similarities in location, role and associations with minerals. At a later date (but still before the time of the Pyramid Texts) the god Sokar merged with Osiris. By the Middle Kingdom these two composites, Ptah-Sokar and Sokar-Osiris, had merged with each other leading to the worship of the composite called Ptah-Sokar-Osiris.
Ptah and Tatenen became associated as the composite deity Ptah-Tatenen from the reign of Ramesses II. They are linked together in three different ways – firstly both are Memphite deities (and Ptah did subsume several other Memphite deities, like the Apis Bull, over time). The pair can also be seen as the creator and the substance that he creates with – either Ptah as sculptor and Tatenen as the earth he uses, or Ptah as creator and Tatenen as the primeval mound which is the first created land. And lastly Ptah himself is associated with the mineral components of the earth, whilst Tatenen is also an earth god.
The deity Ptah, the deity Pataikos and dwarves are all associated with each other in Ancient Egyptian iconography and thought – the composite deity Ptah-Pataikos is represented as a dwarf in Egyptian art and dwarves are often shown working as craftsmen in Old Kingdom tomb reliefs. Although I can’t disentangle which came first (the association with each other, or with craftsmen) it seems clear that the association of all three with craftsmen is the link that holds them together.
And last, but not least, in his role as a universal creator god Ptah is associated with the waters which existed before creation – personified by the pair of deities Nun and Naunet. As Ptah-Nun he is called the “Father who begot Atum”, and as Ptah-Naunet he is called the “Mother who begot Atum” – inserting him at the very beginning of the Heliopolitan creation myth.
I feel a bit like with this article I’ve come full circle to the beginning of the first in this series on Ptah – he’s everywhere and everywhen, with seemingly a finger in every important pie of Ancient Egyptian religious thought.
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