Tag Archives: Ramesses II

Celebrating Jubilees in Ancient Egypt

As Queen Elizabeth II marks an historic 70 years on the British throne, it seems timely to reflect on what is known about Pharaonic attitudes to such regnal milestones. Although the term ‘heb-sed’ (or ‘sed-festival’) is often translated as ‘jubilee’ in English, it seems to have had a particular set of ritual and religious associations that do not imply simply the numerical commemoration of the accession of a ruler. The rituals were often – although not exclusively – tied to a king’s 30th regnal year. While after that point a heb-sed seems to have been celebrated intermittently every few years, several kings seem to have celebrated heb-seds before that point. As so often, the Egyptological quest for a neat pattern often has to reckon with the rather more complex realities of human behaviour.

Heb-sed scenes of Niuserre from Abu Ghurab

Elements of the episodes associated with the heb-sed – such as ritual running and the king seated under a baldachin – are attested from as early as the First Dynasty, with fuller scenes from the sun temple of the Dynasty 5 king Niuserre at Abu Ghurab. From the earliest Pharaonic times, the king is shown in both 2- and 3-dimensional representations as wearing a so-called sed-festival ‘cloak’ – although the appearance of this garment seems broader than contexts narrowly defined as relating to the heb-sed, and it ought to be remembered that – as Christina Riggs has demonstrated – cloth imparts an elevated status and sanctity, so the act of shrouding affirms the divine status of the wearer generally. Egyptology has adopted the misleading term ‘mummiform’ for such three-dimensional images in architectural contexts, although this formulation is likely the wrong way around: mummified bodies, swathed in linen, emulate the amorphous forms of gods – not the other way around.

King Osorkon II pours water from a ritual hes-vessel, on a block from his ‘festival hall’ at Bubastis. This block has been cleaned for Manchester Museum’s reopening in 2023.

Such ritual actions were about rejuvenating the king, proclaiming or promoting his divinity, and marking the occasion in monumental records. These had the aim of impressing the gods, and while they might have included large numbers of participants these tended to be elite people, temple or palace staff and would have been inaccessible to most of the population. The so-called ‘Festival Hall’ of Osorkon II at Bubastis is decorated with scenes showing human participants as well as gods. Such divine presence was ensured during the reign of Amenhotep III but creating statues of a series of deities – notably some 1000 sculptures depicting Sekhmet – several of whom carry the epithet ‘lord/lady of the heb-sed’. Inscribed pottery vessels from Amenhotep III’s palace at Malqata imply high officials donated lots of food and wine to the festivities – ‘bring your own bottle’ for a right royal knees-up.

A key organiser of the celebration of Ramesses II’s sed-festivals was his fourth son, Prince Khaemwaset. Khaemwaset was High Priest of the god Ptah at Memphis, and seems to have wished to place himself at the front and centre of marking his father’s heb-sed, which appears to coincide with a great emphasis on the king’s divinity.

Model blocks of Khaemwaset

Manchester Museum holds several ‘foundation deposits’, often-inscribed objects made of alabaster, granite and faience – essentially model blocks which carry the names of both Ramesses II and Khaemwaset. The faience example places the king’s titulary above a sign for ‘heb’ or ‘festival’ and the blocks are likely included in the foundations of an extension to the temple of Ptah at Memphis known as the ‘West Hall’, associated with Ramesses II’s first heb-sed. While these objects are tied to a particular (series of) event(s), they are not the ancient Egyptian equivalent of so many sets of commemorative china. They actively effect the perpetually divine status of the king, having been transformed (or at least enhanced) by heb-sed rituals.

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Lecture 17/07/15: “Making Colossal Statues in Ancient Egypt”

“Making colossal statues in Ancient Egypt”

by Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt & Sudan

1pm Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum

FREE but booking advised

More info here

As part of our programme of events for the exhibition “Making Monuments on Rapa Nui”, I will be giving a lecture on how the ancient Egyptians created colossal monuments.

Like the Rapa Nui of “Easter Island”, the ancient Egyptians are well-known for creating impressive, over-lifesize stone statues. This talk explores the means of quarrying, transport and ritual activation of colossi in ancient Egypt, and asks why we find such monuments so appealing today.


Colossus of Ramesses II at Memphis

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Texts in Translation # 14: The stela of Ramose (Acc. no. 1759)


Detail of Ramose from his stela

This finely carved limestone stela (60.5cm in height) comes from the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of King Ramesses II. The stela was dedicated by an important man named Ramose, who held the title of Senior Scribe in the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina during the reign of Ramesses II (c. 1279-1213 BC).

Ramose is known from over 40 individual monuments from the Theban area. According to accounts on ostraca, he was appointed by the Vizier Paser as Scribe of the Tomb in year 5 of Ramesses II – a role in which he served until at least year 38 of that king. His position afforded him the opportunity to commemorate himself in a range of monuments. The large number may have been motivated by the desire of Ramose and his wife for a child; the couple eventually adopted a son called Kenhirkhopeshef – a scribe well-known to Egyptologists as a keen collector of papyri. Ramose might also have received an income from outside the Village, and his association with the cult of Ramesses II seems to have made him particularly prominent amongst the workmen.

Stela of Ramose (Acc. no. 1759)

Stela of Ramose (Acc. no. 1759)

In the Manchester stela, Ramose addresses Ptah, the ‘patron’ god of craftsmen, and his daughter Maat, the personification of cosmic justice.

Caption above Ptah and Maat:

Ptah, lord of Truth, king of the Two Lands, beautiful of face, who fashioned the gods, great god, lord until eternity. Maat, daughter of Re […]

Purity, purity for your Kas, in every good thing.

Text in front of Ramose:

Giving praise to Ptah, lord of Truth, king of the Two Lands, with beautiful [face], [who is on] his great throne, lord of destiny, who creates fortune, who sustains the two lands with his crafts, and kissing the earth for Maat, daughter of Re, mistress of the sky, mistress(?) of all the gods, eye of Ra, who is before him, with beautiful face, who is in the barque-of-millions, lady of the Estate of Amun, so that they may give a good burial after old age in the Theban necropolis, the district of the Two Truths, for the Ka of the Osiris, true scribe in the Place of Truth, Ramose, justified.

Ramose_outlineThe original context of this stela is not clear. It may have been moved to the Ramesseum long after Ramose’s death. Interestingly, however, Quibell recorded finding parts of the nearby temple of Tuthmose IV reused in the Ramesseum; Ramose appears to have held an important position in the mortuary temple of Tuthmose IV prior to becoming Senior Scribe at Deir el-Medina – implying that building material was perhaps already being taken from the temple of Tuthmose IV whilst there was still an active cult there. Ramesses II is certainly well-known as a recycler of the monuments of his ancestors; the creation of his own “temple of millions of years” seems to have sealed the fate of others.
The reading of this text has benefited greatly from the suggestions of Angela McDonald, and is based on a new annotated translation by Mark-Jan Nederhof.

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Prince Khaemwaset’s signature deposits: being part of History

Alabaster block of Khaemwaset, from a Memphis foundation deposit. Acc. no. 4947

Alabaster block of Khaemwaset, from a Memphis foundation deposit. Acc. no. 4947

A guest blog post from Nicolas de Larquier, currently on an internship at the museum, discussing some objects he has been working on, and the motivations of one of ancient Egypt’s most well-known personages.

Khaemwaset was the fourth son of king Ramesses II. His name is particularly known for being considered as the first known Egyptian historian. Even if the title could be a bit excessive, it is clear that Khaemwaset had a real interest in ancient times and especially for kingship lineage. He also has been shown to be a kind of “conservator”, by reshaping the Memphite sacred landscape and restoring some Old and Middle Kingdom monuments. But of course, one should keep in mind that Khaemwaset was mostly acting in regard to Ramesses II’s desire to promote his own kingship in reference to his great predecessors. Nevertheless Khaemwaset’s historical awareness can’t be denied and he clearly had a personal way to confront the past. He also obviously wanted to leave his own mark in a way that is different to the one we are accustomed to see in Ancient Egypt.

The Manchester Museum holds a deposit from Memphis, published by Flinders Petrie in 1909, composed of three small brick-shaped plaques (in alabaster, basalt and faience) inscribed in the name of Ramesses II. On the sides of two of them, and on the back of the third one, Khaemwaset’s name and main title are inscribed too.

Here is the description of that deposit, given by Petrie in Memphis I, p. 8: “Over the region now occupied by the pond near the West Hall, there has been a building of Ramessu II, now entirely destroyed. Only the west side of its foundation is left, and in the sand bed of it a foundation deposit was found, shewn on PI. XIX. The large block of alabaster has the cartouches of Ramessu II on both of the faces, and the inscription of “the high priest of Ptah, the royal son, Kha-em-uas” on both of the edges. The lesser tablet of green glazed pottery has similar names on the faces and edges ; and the black granite tablet has the names of Ramessu on one face, and that of Khaemuas on the other face. These are some of the finest deposit blocks that are known ; they rest now at Manchester.

Plate 19 from Petrie's 'Memphis I', showing the blocks of Khaemwaset

Plate 19 from Petrie’s ‘Memphis I’, showing the blocks of Khaemwaset

In his article “Khaemwese and the Present Past: History and the Individual in Ramesside Egypt”, Steven Snape hypothesises that this deposit could be attributed to the West Hall – a structure from the Ptah enclosure in Memphis – probably built for Ramesses’ jubilees. And indeed, if we know Khaemwaset especially for having been behind the architectural reorganisation of the Memphite sacred landscape and necropolis, or for the construction of the Apis Burials at the Serapeum, one may know that he was also in charge of the five Ramesses II’s jubilees celebrated between the years 30 and 42 of his reign.

Faience plaque from the Khaemwaset foundation deposit (Acc. no. 4949)

Faience plaque from the Khaemwaset foundation deposit (Acc. no. 4949)

The inscription on the “lesser tablet of green glazed pottery” is unfortunately much more difficult to read today than when Petrie found and published it. For this, the photograph presented on pl. XIX of Memphis I is really interesting. Moreover, a parallel for this tablet can be seen at the British Museum (EA49235). The latter has no provenance known and was purchased in Cairo. It is very similar to our own example in Manchester, and should come from Memphis too, maybe from the same type of deposit, perhaps from the very same West Hall of the Ptah enclosure.

In 1907, Petrie found a deposit in South Giza composed of a lot of anonymous shabtis but also Khaemwaset ones. The majority of these items are held by the Petrie Museum in London. It is not possible to determine the exact place where the deposit was found from the Petrie’s diary but Stephane Pasquali proposes as a provenance the Ro-Setjau area, and highlights a possible relation of this deposit with the Shetayet Shrine of Sokar. Indeed, Steven Snape presents the Shetayet shrine as an important site for quasi-funerary deposition and signals that some Khaemwaset shabtis have been found in that context.

Deatil of block 4947, with Khaemwaset's titles: "Sem-priest of Ptah, King's Son, Khaemwaset, justified"

Deatil of block 4947, with Khaemwaset’s titles: “Sem-priest of Ptah, King’s Son, Khaemwaset, justified”

But the point here is to question the value of the Khaemwaset’s deposits. Are they classical, canonical votive deposits or do they serve an extra purpose? There is a close relationship between Khaemwaset and Ro-Setjau as can be seen in his proper titles; we also know that he ordered there, as a personal project, the construction of a building, the Hill-Shrine, that could be seen from Memphis. It seems obvious that the historical awareness of Khaemwaset makes him work in three parallel ways : first of all he may have really wanted to restore monuments from ancient times, but always to create a link between his father’s kingship and the glorious kings of the Old Kingdom, and after this he had probably wanted to make his own name enter the History. For this, we could wonder if his deposits are not like a kind of a signature, as well as the ‘labels’ he inscribed on the pyramids and other monuments and statues. Indeed, Khaemwaset shabtis were also found during the Serapeum excavations when his tomb still waited to be discovered. Those shabtis could come from quasi-funerary deposits. They could also be just votive, but in a place where the Khaemwaset mark is so strong for having being the designer of it, one could certainly think that there is more to understand…

This may be the same for the deposit held in Manchester. Why did Khaemwaset inscribe his name on the edges and back of those tablets? Certainly to share with his father the benefits of such an offering but why not also to claim his part of the monument’s creation?

Nicolas de Larquier is a Student Curator from the French National Institute for Cultural Heritage (INP) currently working at the Manchester Museum.

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Foundation Deposits in Ancient Egypt & Sudan

Cartouche plaques in faience. Foundation deposits of Ramesses II. Acc. no. 1846a-b.

Cartouche plaques in faience. Foundation deposits of Ramesses II. Acc. no. 1846a-b.

In ancient Egypt and Sudan groups of objects were buried at specific points, such as the corners of buildings, during foundation rituals to mark the construction of temples and tombs – rather like symbolic ground-breaking ceremonies at the beginning of the construction of modern buildings. These ‘foundation deposits’ were deliberately chosen to symbolically ensure the effectiveness and longevity of the building, and included faience plaques in the form of sacrificed animals, model tools, pottery and basketry.

Foundation deposits take the form of different sized pits, which were often lined with mudbrick. During his excavation of the 12th Dynasty pyramid temple of Senwosret II at Kahun, W. M. F. Petrie found a foundation deposit and stated:

In the middle of the temple area a hole 31 inches square was excavated in the rock about four feet deep, to contain the foundation deposits. Into this the four sets of objects [model tools] were thrown, without any arrangement or order.


Faience plaques of trussed oxen. Acc. No. 1560

Although foundation deposits became gradually more common during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, they reached the height of their popularity during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BC). Manchester Museum’s collection includes a range of deposits from different sites and periods, including over 100 faience plaques symbolising offerings in the form of parts of oxen, ducks, flowers and fruit, like these plaques of sacrificed headless oxen [Acc. No. 1560, left]. We chose to display most of these – many for the first time – in the new Egyptian Worlds gallery, to emphasise their quantity.


Acc. No. 8579

Sometimes faience plaques with the name of the pharaoh in a cartouche were also buried in the foundation deposit – also a useful dating tool – such as these examples found in a foundation deposit at the temple of Ramesses II in Western Thebes (the Ramesseum) preserving the name of Ramesses II [Acc. No.1846a-d]. We also have a group of copper model tools, including these model hoes, from a foundation deposit at the temple of Queen Tausret in Western Thebes [Acc. No. 1595].


Acc. No. 8581

Foundation deposits have also been found beneath royal pyramids in Sudan, including these beautiful faience cups preserving the names of the Kushite kings Aspelta [Acc. No. 8581] and Anlamani [Acc. No. 8579], both excavated by the Harvard-Boston expedition from the royal pyramids at the site of Nuri in Sudan.

– Anna

Anna Garnett is Trainee Curator in Egypt & Sudan at the British Museum and Manchester Museum. Follow her blog here.

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MAES lecture: Dr. Robert Morkot, ‘Abu Simbel: Exploring and Understanding the Temples’

Monday 10th September 2012, 7:45pm, Days Inn, Manchester

The first lecture of the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society programme for 2012-13 will be Dr. Robert Morkot (University of Exeter): ‘Abu Simbel: Exploring and Understanding the Temples’

The temples of Abu Simbel are amongst the most famous and recognisable of Egyptian monuments. This is largely due to their relocation during the UNESCO campaign of the 1960s. However, they have been icons of ancient Egypt since the first European encounters with them in the early 19th century. Nevertheless, overawed by the architecture and engineering, the actual purpose and meaning of the temples are rarely considered. In this talk we look at the early travellers and their ‘discovery’ of the temples, and then explore the location and purpose of these spectacular creations.

£3.00 for members or £5.00 for non-members

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Texts in Translation #8: The stela of Mery-Re, Overseer of Works on a colossal statue (Acc. no. R4566 1937)

Stela R4566 1937

Stela R4566 1937. Photo courtesy of Steven Snape.

This small (21cm high) basalt stela of Mery-Re is a modest commemoration of a man responsible for the construction of a mighty monument. Mery-Re was ‘Overseer of Works’ on the colossal statue named ‘Re-of-Rulers’, one of the many colossi of Ramesses II (c. 1279-1213 BC). Ramesses followed his illustrious predecessor Amenhotep III in creating a large number of colossal statues of himself, each with its own name. Giving a statue a name imparted it with a separate divine identity, making the colossus suited to being singled out for worship as a fully fledged deity. These named statues, what we might term cult colossi, were usually set up outside temples, at what one scholar calls the “boundary between the sacred and the profane.” They appear on a number of other stelae, being adored by range of ordinary people.

To the left, the text on our stela identifies the donor:
Made by the Overseer of Works of (the statue) Re-of-Rulers, Mery-Re.

Mery-Re faces, and offers flowers to, a seated figure of the goddess Satet, on the right. She is captioned: Satet, Lady of Elephantine, Lady of the Sky.

Mery-Re’s graffito on a rock at Sehel Island. Gina Criscenzo-Laycock added for scale.

By chance, friends and colleagues of mine from the University of Liverpool had visited Sehel Island, just upriver of Elephantine Island near modern Aswan, some years ago. Among the many rock cut inscriptions there, they took a photo of one graffito made in the name of Mery-Re, Overseer of Works on the (statue) Re-of-Rulers. This must surely be the same man as depicted on Acc. No. R4566 1937.

Our stela came to Manchester from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome in the 1980s, and its exact find-spot is unknown. However, the dedication to Satet, the local goddess of Elephantine, and the graffiti at nearby Sehel point to an original location in a temple or chapel near Aswan.

Aswan was a major source of granite throughout the Pharaonic Period and it is likely that this is where the colossus named ‘Re-of-Rulers’ was quarried. The formulaic dedicatory phrase ‘Made by…’ may therefore be the result of a command of Mery-Re to a craftsman under his charge, or it may be the work of the man himself – whose own skilled hand had, no doubt, won him responsibility for overseeing work on a colossal statue of the king, and the creation of a god.


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Object biography #6: The crown from a colossal statue of Ramesses II (Acc. No. 1783)

Acc. no. 1783.

Acc. no. 1783.

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, it seemed appropriate to highlight this magnificent fragment from a colossus of another monarch who celebrated 60 years on the throne. It comes from an over-lifesize granite statue of Ramesses II, named in the inscription on the back pillar as celebrating his heb-sed or jubilee festival. Ramesses II was one of only two pharaohs to rule for over 60 years. It is conceivable that the statue from which the crown comes was created for such a jubilee.

The form of the crown is complex. It comprises the tall ‘atef’ crown, with rams horns and flanked by plumes and rearing cobras (or uraei). It is supported from the back by a falcon – an image familiar from the famous statue of King Khafre in the Cairo Museum. The atef is surmounted by a solar disk with a scarab beetle carved within it, thereby combining a range of divine allusions: to Osiris, god of the dead and rebirth; Horus, god of kingship; and Khepri, the new-born sun. This iconographical mixture is very appropriate for a sed festival. This was an occasion to renew the king’s power and legitimacy as a semi-divine ruler after 30 years on the throne, and was repeated at various intervals thereafter. Assimilating with the of the gods – particularly their solar aspects – is a hallmark of the jubilees of Ramesses II.

The crown was found by William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) in the Ptolemaic temple of Isis at Coptos. Nearby, a lifesized statue of the king seated between the goddesses Isis and Nephthys was also discovered. Petrie suggested that this monument had been reemployed in the Ptolemaic temple. Although it cannot be determined when the colossus fell, it may have been reused and reinterpreted in the same way during the Ptolemaic period – almost a millennium after it was first set up.

Cartouches of Ramesses II, over the hieroglyphs for ‘jubilee festival’, framed by notched palm ribs – symbols for ‘years’.

Manchester was just one of several museums that received impressive fragments of monumental statues from sites in Egypt. This inspired 19th Century writers, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley. His famous poem Ozymandias laments the broken state of another of the colossi of Ramesses II, from his mortuary temple at Thebes. The romantic image of the isolated, ruined statue continues to dominate popular perceptions of Egyptian kings today – of vain, tyrannical, larger-than-life figures.

Yet, this crown is only one part of a statue that would have been set up within a temple, and it would have functioned as part of the architecture. It could only have been seen by those with privileged access to the temple. Very few are likely to have been able to fully decode its elaborate symbolism. Rather than simply being intended to impress ordinary people, as is often assumed of colossi, such statues were equally – if not predominantly – addressed to the gods. Colossal statues like the one this crown comes from were statements to the gods that the king was on a par with them.

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