Shawabty of King Shabaka Shabaka
Napatan Period, reign of Shabaka
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 15, debris of chambers
Overall: 19.3 cm (7 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty of King Shabaka. The male figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard. There is one unframed column of painted (not incised) text on the front of the figure and possible traces of a single column of text on the back and sides. This mummiforn shape does not have a back pillar or base. No hands or implements are depicted. The object was broken in three pieces and is now mended. The front of the foot is chipped and there are chips missing from the right shoulder and right side of the wig. There is damage on the right side of the top of the head extending from the browline to the back of the head. The tip of the beard is 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), el-Kurru, Pyramid 15 (tomb of King Shabaka), debris of chambers. 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 Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition