North and south walls from a royal pyramid chapel

Nubian
Meroitic Period
about A.D. 225–246


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe (Beg. West), Pyramid 51

Dimensions

Overall: 152.4 x 243.8 cm (60 x 96 in.) Framed (24.1793-a Steel frame palette base /Unistrut connnection): 119.4 x 243.8 x 43.2 cm (47 x 96 x 17 in.) Framed (24.1793-b Steel palette frame base with unistrut connection): 146.7 x 241.3 x 43.2 cm (57 3/4 x 95 x 17 in.)

Accession Number

24.1793

Medium or Technique

Sandstone

On View

Egyptian Late Period Gallery (Gallery 216)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Relief

The chapel walls would have been aligned in an east-west direction, with the seated king at the end of the wall facing east, toward the chapel doorway. He would have appeared in virtual mirror image on each wall, sheltered from behind by the outstretched wings of the goddess Isis. Only one wall preserves this scene intact. The king’s throne takes the form of a lion whose legs are supported by prostrate enemy prisoners. These, like the stack of bows beneath the chair, symbolize his domination of the enemies. The king’s pet dog also appears beneath the throne.

On the south wall, the king is greeted by two rows of male mourners holding palm branches, while the deities Anubis and Nephthys - or priests dressed to look like them - pour water before him, a symbolic eternal quenching of the dead king’s thirst. On the north wall, a priest, offering incense to him, would have been followed by the chief queen and rows of female mourners carrying palm fronds, which symbolized “life” and “protection”.

[Alternate Text:]
One of the last tombs to be built at Meroe, this pyramid was also one of the smallest, reflecting the declining fortunes of the kingdom of Kush in the third century A.D. Recent excavations at Meroe have revealed that the original pyramid was plastered, painted red and yellow, and decorated with a border of stars. The chapel also possessed a columned portico, visible in the reconstruction to the right.

The chapel walls would have been aligned in an east-west direction, with the seated king at the end of the wall facing east, toward the chapel doorway. He would have appeared in virtual mirror image on each wall, sheltered from behind by the outstretched wings of the goddess Isis. Only one wall preserves this scene intact. The king’s throne takes the form of a lion, whose legs are supported by prostrate enemy prisoners. These, like the stack of bows beneath the chair, symbolize the ruler’s domination of his enemies. The king’s pet dog also appears beneath the throne.

On the south wall the king is greeted by two rows of male mourners holding palm branches, while the deities Anubis and Nephthys– or priests dressed to look like them– pour out water before him, to quench symbolically the dead king’s eternal thirst. On the north wall, a priest would have appeared offering incense to the ruler. He was followed by the chief queen and rows of female mourners, who also carry palm fronds.

Note that the men and women are shown separated. In modern-day Nubian society, men and women still are segregated at funeral ceremonies. Even the ancient custom of waving palm branches, symbolizing “life” and “protection,” persists in contemporary Nubian ritual.

Provenance

From Meroë, pyramid Beg. N. 51, chapel. Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition