Shawabty of King Aspelta
Napatan Period, reign of Aspelta
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 8
Overall: 20 cm (7 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to King Aspelta. The figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. There are 3 remaining horizontal lines of incised text encircling the body. The text is framed and there is a narrow blank area up the center of the back. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. In the left hand the figure holds a whip or flail, and in the right hand a short, straight stick. The implements are finely detailed and in high relief. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The left side of the face and the top of the head are missing. The beard is chipped and the feet and bottom 5 rows of text are missing.
The ancient Nubians included shawabtys in their tombs only in the Napatan Period, about 750–270 B.C. These funerary figurines are based on Egyptian shawabtys, but differ from them in many features of their iconography. For instance, the known Nubian examples are only from royal tombs. Also, they have unique texts, implements, poses and are known to have the largest number of shawabtys included in one tomb. Their function, it is assumed, was the same as that of the Egyptian shawabty, namely to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the shawabty itself in the form of a “Shawabty Spell,” of which versions of various lengths are known. Shorter shawabty inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many shawabtys carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.
From Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 8 (tomb of Aspelta). 1919: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of the Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition