Pilgrim flask

Byzantine (Coptic) Period


Overall: 10.2 x 2.4 x 7 cm (4 x 15/16 x 2 3/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


Africa and Oceania, The Ancient World



A pilgrim flask (ampulla) featuring a man with outstretched arms. He is flanked by a palm tree and camel (?) and there is a cross next to each side of his face.

Ampullae were produced in Egypt and Palestine between the 5-7th centuries for pilgrims visiting local shrines. The saint featured on this flask is likely St. Menas, whose cult was centered around Abu Mina (a monastic and cult complex) near Alexandria, Egypt. Pilgrims filled these flasks with blessed oil from the saint’s tomb and wore them around their necks as a form of apotropaic protection or used the oil as a magico-medical remedy. Examples of Menas flasks are found as far as Gaul and there are several examples in the Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne in Marseille, France.

An ampulla from the same mold/workshop is in the Musee departamentale Dobree in Nantes (inv.no. 56.2842  89 (n° de la collection Cailliaud)). The ampulla was found in Antinoe during excavations between 1814-1822.

Perfect condition.

For a collection of Menas flasks from Alexandria in the Coptic Cairo Museum, see Josef Strzygowski, Catalogue General des Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire: Koptische Kunst (Vienna: Imprimerie Adolf Holzhausen, 1904), pp. 222-226 and Tafel XXI.


From Tanis (San el-Hagar). 1884: excavated by William Flinders Petrie for the Egypt Exploration Fund; assigned to the Egypt Exploration Fund in the division of finds by the government of Egypt; October 28, 1885: presented to the MFA at EEF general meeting.
(Accession Date: January 1, 1886)

Credit Line

Egypt Exploration Fund by subscription