Texts in translation #5: An ostracon showing Amun-Re as a ram (Acc. no. 9658)

Acc. no. 9658. © Paul Cliff

Acc. no. 9658. © Paul Cliff

I recently received an enquiry about the short inscription on this pottery sherd – or ostracon. The piece comes from the collection of Mr George Spiegelberg, a merchant in Manchester and brother of the famous German Egyptologist Wilhelm Spiegelberg (1870-1930). The ostracon shows the head of a ram deity with a rearing cobra before it, sketched first in red and then gone over in black.

The vertical caption reads: Beloved of Amun-Re, Lord of the Sky, Great God.
The text above the ram’s head reads: Amun-Re, the Light of Day.

The provenance of the sherd is most likely to be the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BC) village of Deir el-Medina, built to house the workers involved in the construction of tombs in and around the Valley of the Kings. Hundreds of similar sketches on limestone flakes or pottery sherds – in some sense the equivalent of modern ‘post-it’ notes – have been discovered there. Deir el-Medina was home to a variety of deities, local forms – differentiated by the addition of various epithets – of the gods worshipped in major state temples. Amun-Re was worshipped on the opposite side of the river to the village, at the great temple of Karnak, and is well attested in other contexts in the form of a ram. Here his epithet is ‘Shu en heru’. Shu was the god of air and sunlight, so a literal rendering of the text is ‘the light of day’.

The ostracon was most probably a draughtsman’s trial piece. Apprentices learnt to sketch in red, before a more experienced draughtsman went over this outline in black, correcting any mistakes. While the flake may have had a functional use as a practice piece, it could have served a votive function – as a record of piety – in and of itself.

Although no one is named as being ‘beloved’ of the god (it seems unlikely to me that the name has broken off), the rest of the text all appears to have been written entirely in black. The hieroglyphs fit around the image, within the edges of the sherd – suggesting the text is by a different, more confident hand than the first red outline. By the addition of this short caption, a draughtsman’s sketch is transformed into an explicit depiction of a god.


Filed under Texts in Translation

5 responses to “Texts in translation #5: An ostracon showing Amun-Re as a ram (Acc. no. 9658)

  1. And beautiful cobras too! I can’t help but be struck by the similarity in decoration of the one at the front with some of the clay cobra figurines.

  2. Campbell@Manchester

    Good point, Kasia. Isn’t he lovely?!

  3. Thanks for these “Texts in Translation” posts. I’m trying to teach myself how to read Middle Egyptian so these posts have been quite useful. 🙂

  4. Paul Mooney

    Thanks, Dr. Price, for your attention to the decoration and inscription of this object. I remember e-mailing with you about it when I was in the Manchester on-line egyptology programme back in 2012. My curiosity then and now is with the double-crowned rearing serpent between the ram’s forelegs, and its possible identity. Could it be a combined form of Wadjet and Nekhbet, hence the double-crown? Perhaps less likely, could it represent the king, whom we frequently see being protected between the forelegs of recumbent rams in statuary from Thebes to Nubia? And finally, although the ram isn’t actually Amun himself, but an ‘animal totem’ that accepts prayers on behalf of the god, why is the ram the only bA-form of Amun that routinely wears the uraeus? This is true of rams with both undulating ‘bA-horns,’ and the curved horns associated with Amun. Anthropomorphic Amun doesn’t usually sport the uraeus on his crown(s), although a noted expert told me recently that there are perhaps 3 examples of this occurring, but they are exceedingly rare. Because the uraeus is such a regular feature of these ram-forms, it must have a clearly defined meaning for the ancients which continues to elude us…..or at least me! 😉

    Again thanks for these posts. I especially enjoyed your notes about the Manchester fragmentary Senenmut statue, as well.


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