Shawabty of King Aspelta

Napatan Period, reign of Aspelta
593–568 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 8 (tomb of Aspelta)


Height x width x depth: 26.5 x 8.7 x 5.3 cm (10 7/16 x 3 7/16 x 2 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This royal shawabty of light blue-green glazed faience was made for the Napatan King Aspelta. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a royal nemes headdress and long, plaited false beard. The hands rest on the chest, right above left, holding implements of field work. The right holds a small hoe, and the left holds a hoe and a cord to a bag slung over the shoulder. Eight horizontal lines of hieroglyphic text appear on the legs, with traces suggesting they were filled with black. The text records a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the king. The nose and uraeus-cobra on the headdress are both chipped. The lower portion of the legs is broken and fragmented but has been restored. Some small fragments 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). 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 Sudan. (Accession Date: 1921)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition