Shawabty of Queen Seshena
Napatan Period, reign of Queen Seshena
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S. 132
Overall: 5 x 2.7 cm (1 15/16 x 1 1/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to Queen Seshena. The female figure wears a tripartite wig. There is one framed column of incised text on the front of the figure and another on the back. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned left above right. One hoe is held in the right hand resting on the right shoulder and the left hand holds a cord to a small rounded bag depicted in raised relief slung over the left shoulder. The object was broken in 2 pieces and is mended. The upper torso and head are missing and the text in front is chipped at the break. There is some red soil encrustation on the front.
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, and 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), Meroe Beg. S. 132 (tomb of Queen Seshena). 1921: 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