Shawabty of King Taharqa

Napatan Period, reign of Taharqa
690–664 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 1, A I 6


Overall: 20.4 x 8.1 cm (8 1/16 x 3 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Red-brown serpentinized rock

Out on Loan

On display at Drents Museum, Assen, The Netherlands, December 15, 2018 – May 5, 2019


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to King Taharqa.The figure wears a bulging bag (khat) headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. There are ten horizontal lines of incised unframed text on the front of body, it does not extend to the back of the figure. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. Here the hands are opposed resting on the chest.In each hand the figure holds a hoe and a cord to a small bag slung over each shoulder. The hoe on the right has a narrow blade and the one on left has a broad blade. There is a slight indentation on the front of the feet, differentiating right from left. There is a small chip on the uraeus but overall this figure is very well made.

In their burial customs, the Kushite kings oriented themselves on the Egyptian model. They adopted the pyramid form, interred the mummified body within expensive sarcophagi, and included with the burial equipment numerous vessels of clay, stone, and precious metals. In the royal tombs of el-Kurru and Nuri, they even gathered hordes of servants for the afterlife in the form of shawabtyes, figurines common in Egypt since the Middle Kingdom. Along the walls of the burial chambers beneath his pyramid at Nuri, King Taharqa placed 1,070 stone shawabtyes in neatly stacked rows. (Sudan catalogue)
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 1 (Tomb of Taharqa), A I 6. 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition