Requires Photography

Shawabty of King Basakheren

Napatan Period, reign of Basakheren
405–404 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid


Overall: 13.1 cm (5 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to King Basakheren. The figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a short beard. There are two incised diagonal lines where the pigtail should be on the nemes. There is one unframed column of incised text on the front of the figure. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. One hoe is held in the left hand resting on the left shoulder and the right hand holds a cord to a small bag slung over the right shoulder. There is no back pillar. The object was broken in two pieces and is not mended. The feet and a large piece from the front of the torso 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 17, Pyramid 17 (tomb of Basakheren), Debris from Room B. 1917: 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition