Tag Archives: Sehel Island

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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